Even though Florentin Marfaing is actually French, he had naturally become a mental part of the German skateboard community as “our” Flo, when he went off around the millennium. From the Ruhr-area, where he and his legendary crew “the Force” had torn every contest and spot to shreds, it went on via the Parisian Le Dôme Hubbas straight to the Lovepark in Philly and thereby to a pro board on the Workshop-offspring Seek. His skating back then was simply top-notch. From challenging manny tricks up to fierce rail assaults, Flo had everything in his repertoire and, even today, people are left with gaping mouths upon seeing some of his lines at MACBA in his adoptive homeland Barcelona. He still has a pro board even though in the meantime he tends to work backstage since he has nothing left to prove on his board anyways, the status of a legend is already dead certain. Europe hasn’t seen many of his kind. Reason enough to talk about a life packed with skateboarding.
Flo, what was the fascinating thing about skateboarding when you were a kid?
It simply was that magic. I did a lot of sports as a little boy and I always thought that there is a certain trick within every sport, you just have to understand it. With skating that place was taken by the ollie, from then on you develop your very own technique step by step. You are for sure inspired by many people as well. Let it be the homies in your hometown or the magazines that have been passed around lately. Back then you saw the pros and they did ten tricks in a row and you just thought: “Woah, he’s totally in his zone, how sick is that?” And then I thought: “If they can do it, I can do it too. I have two feet, two legs, two arms and a head as well – then it has to work out for me as well somehow.”
How did the skate scene from back then change in comparison to today?
The biggest difference is that there are way more skaters nowadays for sure. It became much more popular, that’s obvious. The image changed as well. Back then we had a really bad reputation. There were only bad boys on the streets, punks and hip hoppers… Now skateboarding has become so popular that you are no longer a bad kid just because you carry your board in the city. A popularity through which a father takes his kids to the skatepark. Back then the fathers usually took the boards away and said: “That thing is going straight to the closet, you’re going to study.”
Was it like that for you as well?
For sure, it was like that for many of my friends. My mom was in favor of it, but my dad was strictly against it. He always used to say that I have to go to university and that this is just a toy and I will not be able to build a future doing that. For him it was just a toy. He rather wanted me to play tennis.
"After those hubba stories (Josh) Kalis called me and said: 'You need to come to Philly for sure!'"
Did you ever plan on going to university yourself or was it always clear for you that you’re gonna pull through with skating?
I was just skating for years at first and it was cool for me, because around that time there weren’t many sponsored people around. I got lucky because, therefore, I could live and travel really good. That meant good times for me since I got around a lot. Then I financed my drivers license as well but at age 21 I still thought: “Ahh, I don’t really know if I should do this skateboard thing for real.” I was in Southern France at my uncle’s and asked myself whether I should return to Germany to work for the frozen-foods company of my dad. I always had some disputes with my dad and wanted to take a step towards him. But then I met Bastien Salabanzi and he kept on saying: “Come on, let’s go skate. You can work later and drive around in those trucks.” And of course I went skating with him and met the whole crew. I was really into skating again and left the thing with my dad aside. It was cool because I still ranked high at contests and people started to me ask what’s going on with America and that I should maybe check it out over there. It was a battle of whether I should skate or work with my dad. My dad let go, though, once he saw the contracts and everything. Then he thought: “Well, alright. You are earning your money. It’s alright now. Do your thing.” He later supported me as well and is happy for sure. He apologized as well because he just didn’t know how everything worked.
So you were in Southern France for some time and when you were there, you just skated for the fun of it?
Yeah, I was just skating like that over there, even though I still got some boards from Germany. I can’t remember if it was Anders Pulpanek or Ralf Middendorf, but at some point they sent me a package to Southern France. I even continued to have photos that came out in the Monster Magazine, but it was heading in this direction: Get the drivers license and work because that seemed important for my later life. In the end, I never worked for my father but still had a license and got myself a Peugeot 106 in Germany. I drove that junk car till it was completely done too. I was heading towards Paris one night without breaks. I could only use the engine brake or the handbrake. Always in a 100 meter distance to other cars. I’d never do that again. To have my own car was really important for me though. I was able to travel independently and got a piece of my homeland back.
Kickflip Manual Revert Switch Nosemanual Halfcab Kickflip
Was that the time in which the Puzzle and Lordz videos dropped?
It kind of kicked off through that, because I always went to contests with Bastien and Danny Wainwright and we would always rank high. Bastien was always first anyways. And the people from Vans supported me big time. They got tickets for me again and again to get me out of Germany and bring me to contests in England. I really matured on these travels, my English got a lot better. That was such a banging time. Then the Lordz days began. Before that, those dudes came to Germany and there was this Lordz tour and they asked me if I’m down. They came over and later we all drove back to Paris together. I stayed in Paris for two weeks and we went to skate and film every day of course. I even thought to myself: “Sick, you haven’t been to Paris in so long,” because back in the days I usually stayed there with my uncle for three months every summer. I got back to Germany, bought the junk car and returned to Paris. I then stayed there for around five years till Alex Carolino joined. From that point on, top motivation was the order of the day. Everyone was super psyched, because the sessions were so rad. I can’t remember better times than those because it was just really harmonic.
You even became known worldwide after that, especially because you destroyed the Le Dôme Hubbas…
For sure, after those hubba stories (Josh) Kalis called me and said: “You need to come to Philly for sure!” He sent me a ticket right away. Around that time I didn’t really know what to do with my life and it wasn’t really cool when it came to sponsors and everything. After that I made the decision that I for sure want to do skateboarding for a living. Fuck it. I told myself that I’m just gonna do this part, because Anthony Claravall asked me back then, if I’m down to film one and I just had nothing else in my life and therefore nothing to lose. I didn’t want to work for my dad either and in Germany I had pretty much done everything I could. I was in the mags, had every interview that there was at that time, won contests and so on. What was I supposed to do? I had to go somewhere and France was the place that got me to America. After the Puzzle story I landed in Philadelphia. Boom, got to know Kalis, the team managers, Stevie (Williams), Brian Wenning, (Anthony) Pappalardo, Jason Dill and all those guys. Also Chris Carter, the owner of Alien Workshop, was a supercool dude and (Rob) Dyrdek was really cool and friendly as well. All the guys of whom you usually think they might not being so rad were actually really cool.
Where did Kalis get your number from?
I don’t even know, but around that time they already knew that there was this guy on the German flow team. I always thought it was cool to ride for them because I got the fattest packages with ten or twelve boards. The planks were killer straight away. Back then Cliché asked me, if I’d like to ride for them too, but I didn’t want to because I was blown away by Workshop and I could identify with them really good, that might be due to where I lived because I think that the Ruhr-area is very much East Coast oriented. Fat hoodie, big pants – even the spots. You looked at the footage and thought: “It’s like Philly.” Also, I have seen all the videos like Eastern Exposure and they were a big inspiration. When I looked at a mag and saw a switch backside noseblunt that Kalis did in Philly wearing sweatpants and in hip-hop style, I went outside to the town hall market in Mühlheim and did switch back noseblunts for the rest of the day. I thought that was the sickest thing.
How was it like, when Josh Kalis actually called you up?
It was a dream come true, because I already thought before that I’d really like to meet the dude who is inspiring me so much. But I was aware of my label for sure. It might sound a little bit arrogant, but for that time I had done some crazy stuff where people went like: “Dude, how do you even come up with that shit?” I was pushed by American skating so hard and watched skate videos all day instead of going to school. It adds up to that East Coast story that around the time I was hanging out a lot with my friend Fadi (Najras). We were like brothers while Fadis real brother was sitting in jail. It was kind of that lifestyle, street-style, you know.
When you went to America later on, how was it like to hang out with all those guys?
I went there and Josh introduced me to everyone. “Hey Steve, that’s Flo,” Steve cracked some jokes like: “Oh, you’re the best European,” but I tried to talk my way out of it. Tim O’Connor was really funny. Brian Wenning was cool for sure. I saw the people that inspired me and wanted to share my skating with them to let them see how I think. We always had sessions with Wenning, Pappalardo and everyone. One time Kerry Getz came to the TF-skatepark with his crew and Kalis told me: “Yo Flo, it was sick how you ripped today, because we were putting money on you for Seek.” I had a blast in Philly for three month with Josh and the boys and he didn’t want me to leave too. He made some good offers for me to stay, but in my mind I was already gone. For sure it would’ve been cool to stay in the states and ride for them, but I had to get back home.
Why did you have to go back?
Well, I kind of got sick of America towards the end. It was cool for sure and we did some tours with Seek and everything. It was crazy, but I got a little tired, let’s say it that way. Somehow I had enough of America.
"To be sighted in Europe is much harder today, you just have to browse through Instagram and you see the most unbelievable tricks for days"
What did you not like about America?
I had a different image of America and how everything works out over there and then I saw that it is a lot of business in reality. It’s also not allowed to skate on the streets. A cop can take your board. That already fucked me up a bit. That was not the main reason though. You just feel a little homesick, want to sleep in your own bed. I was imagining to go back too, but after three months it was enough of that trip for me. It hit me all at once too. First, I was there and then DC flew us to Miami for a weekend and we did all kinds of crazy things. Everything was possible with those guys. If they wanted to go anywhere, we just flew there. Bam Margera was there from time to time. I knew Bam from Europe already and it was funny to see how they all tick and how the system in America is like in general. They are somewhat more capitalistic than we are. If you have no money in the States, you’re not able to do anything.
Does that mean that the skate-industry over there works differently?
It’s a big business. It’s not comparable to Europe. There’s this structure that always existed, these $800 that board companies pay their amateurs. Then you have your shoe deal and what else not. You can make ends meet easily with your $3.000 a month as average pro or even amateur. Then you know, why they are working so hard for it and rip so hard. Here you think: “Damn, this dude’s off the hook, he’s killing himself, why is he just an amateur?” but the dude gets his $3.000 a month and wants to get $10.000. That’s how it is. It sucks to say it like that and I’m not the kind of guy that likes to talk about money and skateboarding in the same breath, but you have to tell people that, if we would have this structure in Europe, people would skate on a completely different level. If you turn pro in America, your board will be sold around the world. You get your pro-check and the royalties. I went cross country through America on tours and no matter where you go, there is always this one dude that you have never heard of before and he is killing the whole park. He’s not even an amateur. That means, they are under an immense pressure. They have to throw themselves onto the sickest rails. It sounds kind of harsh but it’s the reality.
Lets go back to Philly for a second. Was there ever the idea that you’re gonna ride for Workshop or was it set from the beginning that you’re gonna be on Seek?
Two weeks after I arrived, Josh told me that something is happening but he can’t give me any details yet. I rode Alien Boards at that time, like 7.5 inchers. Then he walks up to me one day and told me that they want to start a new brand. He was talking about Seek and introduced me to the project. We even were as far as saying that we need Carolino for sure. Then Seek was born and I eventually got my pro board and everything was super sick. I thought about going back to America, but my story has always been European. I have always pushed Europe and that was the way I wanted to go and kind of my destiny.
Was it alright for Seek that you stayed in Europe?
I went to America a couple of times too and they were cool with it. Back then, there were barely any brands that were alright with that, but I knew Kalis and the people. They said that we are really productive in Barca too and everything was settled. Carolino and I had a part for the upcoming Seek video, but one day Chris Carter called and told me: “Sorry Flo, but we have to shut down Seek because we kind of left Habitat aside for some time and when we continue to only focus on Seek, we are going to lose Habitat. I’m really sorry, it was a tough decision.” It was done with respect and if it is like that, then it’s just the way it is, but as of then America was pretty much done. I didn’t have a board sponsor till Carolino called me up and said: “Yo Flo, I’m in San Francisco with Jeff Kendall and he said that he always wanted you to ride for Santa Cruz. I’m here right now and riding for them. Come on, lets do this together. USA all over again.” From that point on, I went cross country through America again, met cool people and everything. It was a really rad time.
Someone once told me that you even had offers to ride for Girl but declined because you didn’t like the shape of their boards. Is there a bit of truth in that?
There was something in the room at one point, but I don’t know for sure if it was like the legit Girl dudes from the States. I had huge respect for Girl, because they shaped me big time during my career and I was so stoked when Chris Roberts and Guy Mariano came to Badalona and told me that we should go skate together. I also met Rick Howard, Eric Koston and Marc Johnson at one point. They were all really cool but about the boards, I don’t know, it was like I said earlier. I was totally fixed on Alien because I could identify with it, with that east coast skateboarding, just because of the lifestyle.
You are one of the few Europeans who made it as a pro in America. What advice would you give to someone who wants to achieve the same thing?
You have to be chosen first of all. That means that you already have to rip hardcore to be sighted in Europe. And that is much harder today, you just have to browse through Instagram and you see the most unbelievable tricks for days. You gotta be where skateboarding is taking place. You gotta try to work with the people who work for magazines. As a skateboarder you are your own master and have to do everything yourself. That costs energy, that costs time, you gotta show discipline. That’s where most skaters fail, but the bottom line is that you have to show up and that quite frequently. You gotta rip till the Americans post your shit on the Thrasher site. That’s a quick reference, when they share your stuff. It’s totally absurd but it’s a fact. It has its value. Back then, it was the same with mags and today it’s still the same but with the online stuff.
"You gotta rip till the Americans post your shit on the Thrasher site. That’s a quick reference, when they share your stuff. It’s totally absurd but it’s a fact."
You say that you have to be on point, you need to be professional and get your shit together…
Yeah, that’s plain sailing. You just have to be more professional. You see how much the top athletes achieve and the productivity today is really high. They are basically producing on the assembly line. I don’t have that lifestyle anymore. However, I still get some support from Vans and try to push it with Souljah [Flo’s griptape company, Ed.].
So you don’t live and breath solely on your sponsor-money, but still a 100% on skateboarding?
I’m in some kind of double-cross at the moment. I even thought about quitting, if it doesn’t work out with skating anymore and focus more on business. But as long as I’m psyched and things work out, I have to do it. It’s good for the company too, when the guys see that their boss is down. I bring the stuff to the shops personally too and they like that. We have good quality and I take care of it myself. I’m developing the formula for our grip together with the Chinese, the grain and all that stuff. We have a cool contact and the grip is finally perfect after three years of testing!
How does that work? Do you say: “I would like the grip to be a little rougher, I’d like to have it like this or that?”
We did a lot of tests in laboratories as well. We are really into that stuff and because of that we are only doing grip now because we want to make sure that the quality is on point. We want to patent it as well, so that it’s our grain. It will be like the formula of Coca Cola.
And you take care of all the office stuff as well?
It’s so much work. My day starts at 9:30 am and then I’m only checking e-mails till noon. I see myself as skateboarder in the first place of course but also as salesperson and team manager, because I have been contacting the people for three, four years because Simon Cronenberg [Flo’s partner with Souljah, Ed.] is busy doing other things. We have an international team too. Souljah is build up in Europe for sure and has a Brazilian touch, but we are geared internationally and that’s a lot of work. I’m in steady communication with different people all day. It’s like working two jobs: going skating and selling. Thanks to all the people that helped us on this way!
If you go through your story, you realize that you have always been a skate-rat without bothering too much. Was it like that?
Yes, it was like that. As I said, all the way to the hardware. There were some really cool brands that came up to me and asked if I wanted to ride for them and I rather felt like having ten Alien boards a month via a German distribution. You can’t have better boards, I pretty much ride the best boards in the world. I was actually thinking like that.
That means that you declined better deals, for example Cliché?
Yeah, those were some talks. I don’t want to say anything because I don’t remember the details, but I know that someone from Cliché asked me about it at the Manolo bar. There were some certain offers that were made to me, also from different brands, but I was so focused on my thing with Workshop. I rode for the distribution for five years till I came to Philly and Josh was like: “What, you have been riding for us for five years? I just recently heard about you, why didn’t anyone mention this before!”
Next to all those positive aspects that skateboarding has brought you, was there ever anything that you regret?
I probably made some wrong decisions but I don’t really regret anything. I don’t know how to say it but I have this philosophy in which I have no use for regretting. I’m happy with what I have, with what I am and with the things I experienced. That’s great and therefore I don’t need to regret anything. You’d might get some more money nowadays, but on the other hand I have witnessed the whole evolution of skateboarding. Since ’89 up to now. That carries a lot of meaning. I have seen all the 411’s, all the old Powell videos. I’ve seen it all and experienced some of it, all the different eras. 26 years of skateboarding is a things for itself. Damn, I’m really old when I’m saying stuff like that. [laughs