‚ÄúTHERE IS NOTHING LOWER THAN THE HUMAN RACE….EXCEPT FOR THE FRENCH." - Mark Twain 1878-79
First off, I think those of us familiar with your skating probably all assume that you're from Paris. But that's not the case. Where are you originally from?
I'm originally from Strasbourg. It's on the east side of France at the boarder with Germany. It's a lot mellower than Paris. The summer are hotter and the winter colder. You get your fair share of snowy months. My older brother moved to Paris to study and my younger brother and I started visiting him to skate the city. It had so many more spots and was much more exciting. Later about 8 years ago when I went to college I chose to go to a city close to Paris cause I wanted to skate there as much as I could. I met Soy, Samir, Benjamin, Seb and a bunch of friends and soon enough I moved to Soy's couch and started getting involved in the scene there.
When did you start skating and what would you say was your first motivation to pick up a skateboard?
I got a 57 inches wide 80's supermarket board with rails underneath and no nose when I was around 12. I rolled around with it for while and that was it. I didn't know there were tricks or anything and that damn thing would hardly even roll. I really started skating pretty late when I was 16. The year was 1997. That's when I actually learned about the ollie and that you could do tricks. Skateboarding was (and still is) much more underground in France than in the US so it took me that long to just learn about it. As soon as I did though, I was just mesmerized. What attracted me at first was the aesthetics of it. I thought it was beautiful. Then when I started meeting skateboarders from the local scene I realized there was a lot more to it. Skateboarding had this aura of mystery. There were few skateboarders in my hometown and most of them were eccentrics or dropouts. They were older, listened to music I'd never heard, their clothes were different, some were doing graffiti, some were almost bums or plain nuts, some drank heavily or did drugs (in skateboarding in France, Strasbourg was famous at some point for turning amazing skateboarders into drug addicts or alcoholics for some reason) while others were hardcore straight edge. They just seemed really different from people at school or in my family, more colorful. I didn't necessarily wanted to be like them but I was intrigued and attracted by that crowd. They were from every background. The common ground was that everyone was a little more crazy and creative. Everything in skateboarding had that different edge, exciting and new and I liked it.
The place we skated, the atmosphere there was also something exceptional and exciting. The spot in my hometown where everyone would meet up and skate when I started was the new Museum of Modern Art that had just been built. It was in the middle of the city right next to a really bad neighborhood (Strasbourg is famous in France for its rough areas: in the national competition among ghettos in France for burning the most cars each year, it's been holding the title for almost a decade) and skateboarders were fighting for the territory with thugs and bums. There were always tensions, sometimes fights and you had to watch for your shit. The first summer I went there, there was a fight where a skateboarder kicked the ass of a little gangster. A few days later a bunch of his ‚Äúolder brothers" and friends came to the spot and assaulted the poor guy who was skating there alone that day at that time. He had nothing to do with the fight in the first place but they just wanted to kick some skater's ass. Word had spread in the city that there'd probably be some sort of retaliation so people never showed up alone, but that guy was from the suburbs so he didn't get the memo. They fucked him up good, he had to be rushed to the hospital and he stayed there for a while. He stopped skating after that cause he was so shocked. That happened to a couple of dudes. I remember another guy, he tried to stop some little fuckers who were trying to steal a girl's bag. He slapped one of the kids and another just grabbed a loose cobblestone and threw it at his face and completely broke his jaw. He too stopped skating after that.
Hopefully stuff like that would only happen once in a while but it was scary sometimes just going there, you always hoped you wouldn't be all on your own skating. It was exciting too. There was so much shit going on all the time, especially in the summer. Lunatics everywhere, thieves would be creeping around trying to steal whatever was left unattended, crazy polish bums would get into arguments and throw beer bottles at each other, crew of wannabe gangsters would try to kick us out cause they wanted to play soccer or were just looking for trouble… The place was really alive. It still is, but your perspective changes as you grow older and more confident. It feels a lot less sketchy to me now when I come back cause I got to know some of the oldest thugs a bit over the years, at least they recognize me, and the youngest usually don't fuck with grown men. The kids now have made up funny names for every thug (my favorite is the one they call 20 cents…) and every bum and I'm always happy to see that skateboarders were able to stand their ground in spite of all the craziness that comes with the spot. These two little rich kids I always see there for instance, they got robbed like 5 times already, no kidding. Thugs stole their ipods, their wallets, their phones over and over again. They come early cause they're little kids and they want to skate so bad and each time they're alone and defenseless the gangsters just go at them and steal all their shit. But they keep coming and they lie to their parents saying they just lost their stuff so they won't be forbidden to come back or taken to the shitty skatepark. I think it's sick. I'm always stoked to see them. I mean, I kinda wish they'd grow brains and stop coming when they're alone and stop bringing valuable stuff, but I always admire their perseverance…
For most people, all of this is almost invisible but I find it really fascinating to see how supposedly public spaces like parks or squares can actually be claimed by groups of people and fought for in unspoken battles for years. I'd like to do a documentary on that spot from that angle with my brother someday.
Every city seems to have it's own unique atmosphere while skating there. What's it like skating through the streets of Paris?
Paris is one of the most amazing cities to skate in. The architecture is very diverse and it's quite big so there is all kinds of weird stuff to skate. You barely never get kicked out unless you're blatantly preventing people from going around their business. Labor is quite expensive in France so there are really few security guards in the city. There are lots of really good bust-free plazas in town and it's easy to get stuck at one of them all day. The pavement is smooth everywhere so it's really enjoyable to just cruise around. The only flaw is the weather in my opinion. It rains a lot and there are 5 to 6 months of cold and usually wet winter.
It seems to me like it's one of the least exploited major cities left in the world. Would you agree?
Yeah for sure. It's hard to figure out why. The fact that it's one of the most expensive cities out there must play a roll. When traveling through Europe, few companies can afford to rent a place here for weeks. And even when they can, the weather is really tricky and no one wants to gamble with that when Spain is an hour of plane away.
As far as the local scene's exposure, it's a bit more complicated. There are a few good photographers in town but they are staffed to local magazine that are distributed only in France so you rarely get to see what's happening in the city outside of the country. You barely see any videos coming out of it cause there isn't really any filmer in town. Some kid will have a camera but he won't know how to use it properly. Some other guy will know how to film but he won't have a camera or he'll be working a job and won't have the dedication, energy or will to put some time into it when he's done. It's kind of a mystery why it has been this way for so long. Maybe it's because everything is so expensive here so people are too busy making a living. Or it's the party scene that swallows up all energies in that field. I don't know. The consequence is you haven't seen a video production coming out of Paris cross the French boarders in years.
When and how did you meet Soy Panday?
I met Soy 7 years ago. Samir Krim started a board company in France called Minutia and Soy was skating for them. They were looking for an am and they stumbled on my part in my hometown's local video. They liked it and they asked me to come skate with them in Paris to see how much of a dick I was. After we met they asked if I wanted to skate for the company and I said ‚ÄúYo!" (Unfortunately it went down a few years later). Soy and I instantly became friend. At least that's what he thought. In reality I just pretended so I could sleep on his couch for the next 3 years rent-free.
Haha…how was it living with him?
It was smelly.
No for real it was definitely some good times! I remember especially the year when his brother toured the world and I rented his room so the place was all ours. It's the year I met you. It was 4 years ago. I kinda ‚Äúpaused" my studies for a while and just skated and traveled with Big Soy. It was the first time I felt I had control over my destiny: I could wake up and do pretty much only what I wanted (which means most times I wouldn't even wake up at all). It was all new to me and we had a lot of fun. I miss those days sometimes.
What would you say are the biggest differences between skateboarding in France and skating in the US?
You don't get kicked out nearly as often in France. In people's minds it's only a kid's game if anything. Most of the time they don't pay any attention to you at all. People rarely call the cops and even when they do, they just tell you to leave and that's it. You don't drive half as much in France either. You skate to the spot or you use public transportation to get there. Fewer people skate in France. Skateboarding isn't half as mainstream as it is in the US. The industry is a lot tinier. There isn't really any money for sponsored skateboarders. And it is not a fashionable or ‚Äúcool" thing to be involved in. You definitely will not get laid because you skateboard in France.. I don't know if it's a consequence of all that or not, but the general atmosphere in skateboarding seems more laid back here.
What would you consider your favorite city to skate outside of Paris?
Honestly, at the moment I'm really stoked on skating in Paris and there isn't any other city I'd rather skate. London is cool. I really like New-York as well but probably more for the city itself than for the skating. It's hard as hell to skate in NY. I could live there though. It is one of my favorite places to be. Out of curiosity I looked into how things could work out if I actually wanted to move there. Unfortunately I found out your country has long switched its moto from ‚Äúgive me your huddled masses" to ‚Äúgive me your cash" and it's now virtually impossible for any foreigner who doesn't work for a huge company or has a rare sought skill to get a working visa and be able to stay longer than 3 months. Ah well, I guess I'll have to stick with our legal minimum of 5 weeks of paid holidays and universal health care.
You've been back and forth from Paris to NY a lot over the past year. Staying with me and Steve Brandi. How's that been? Any funny stories about Steve?
Steve is the man. The best story is probably the day we decided it was well worth our time to go to Home Depot to buy a Home Depot shirt and some applications to send to Soy in Paris anonymously. Even though they ended up not selling any shirts and you had to download the applications on the internet or something, we were glad we at least tried to do something to make things right. Other highlights include just creeping around in the city, getting coffee and talking with bums.
Your brother just happens to be a filmer and a photographer. Would you say that has been a big help to you coming up as a skater? I know he's been a big help to us working on the project we've been filming over the past year.
It's amazing to have a brother to skate with in the first place. Mine films well and takes great pictures on top of that so of course it's a rare chance. He indeed helped me a lot throughout the years. He filmed my hometown's local video when he was 15 and the part I had in it is what got me hooked up at first. After that he started shooting photos. 90% of the pictures I had in magazines so far were shot by him. I almost exclusively shoot pictures with him. It's not that I don't like other people's pictures, but he gives me the kind of control over how I want things to look like and what I want to use or not that other photographers don't (for reasons that I perfectly understand). It's a rare freedom and it makes the process a lot more rewarding and pleasant. Filming with him is invaluable cause he knows how to insult me effectively and give me that special look of his that says: ‚ÄúI'm not filming your lousy carcass one more mother-fucking-second if you just intent to fake this trick once more you pussy-ass son of a bitch" which for some reason really does the trick for me. I feel a lot more comfortable filming with him than with anyone else.
The only letdown in this picture perfect situation is that my brother lives in my hometown 350 miles away from Paris, has two jobs (he's a staffed photographer for the French skateboarding magazine Sugar and the filmer/ video editor for Sole Technology in Europe) and a girlfriend. Both of his jobs imply going abroad for several days/weeks at a time so when he comes back and is done with all his work at home as well, he wants to spend time with his girlfriend and strangely not drive 5 hours to stare at his brother's ass through a lens for days like I urge him to do incessantly. So unfortunately he's only able to come film in Paris once every couple of months for a week at the most (which is already extraordinarily kind of him, since he knows I would do no such thing myself if I like him had the choice between that or having sexual intercourse with my girlfriend). Last time he was in town was November. He stayed 5 days. We got rained on for 3 of them. He's coming tomorrow for a week. Soy and I are on our toes. We have each 627 spots to check. The weather forecast says the temperature is gonna drop below 20 and there's a good chance it'll snow. We're basically stoked.
Word on the street is that you've been having to do some filming yourself lately? Been filming Soy?
Like I said there's no one we can call in Paris to film with when we'd want to. I visited Pontus Alv in Sweden last June and I complained about it to him, saying there was so much stuff we wanted to do but couldn't for lack of a filmer, to which he basically replied: ‚ÄúStop crying like a baby, if you want something done, do it yourself or shut up". Seeing that it's exactly what he's been doing himself for the past couple of years and how inspiring it is to witness (he's editing his second video right now that he filmed himself for the most part and he's constantly building amazing stuff to skate in his hometown of Malmo where he lives), I gave it some thoughts and figured: the goddam Viking is right! So I borrowed my brother's camera and have been trying to film more and more when we go skating. I'm trying to film everything fisheye cause I think it looks more dynamic. It's also harder to film. I still screw up sometimes. Good filming doesn't come easy. Soy's been trying to film me a couple of times as well. We're not at a point where I could send you the footage and you wouldn't immediately start throwing up but on our own standards we get by.
Are you ever planning on leaving Paris or are you going to try to stick it out and make some things happen there?
I thought of moving abroad at some point but a while back I made up my mind to stay and put my energy into making stuff happen here. Soy and I are working on something in Paris that will be unveiled this spring (hence the mutual filming). I've recently moved into a new place. Life couldn't be any more wonderful… Wait… It started snowing like mad. We're fucked.