Bastien Salabanzi: Past, Present and Future
From an armchair’s perspective, it might be easy to dismiss Bastien Salabanzi’s story as another cautionary tale, another talented kid chewed up and spat out by a callous skateboard industry. I traveled and shot photos with Bastien during his Flip heyday and the French champ I remember was cocky, full of fun, grown-up beyond his years and always amazing. When he left Flip, it was almost like he left skateboarding entirely. A few insane contest clips popped up here and there, but that was it. But of course, that’s not the whole story. This catch-up interview isn’t either, but it’s nice to get his perspective on things—and to find out that assumptions aren’t always correct, and even better, that Bastien is far from bitter, far from chewed up. And with his new video dropping, maybe even far from finished blowing our minds.
How old are you these days?
Oh my God, I can’t believe it. You were the kid.
Even a kid gets old.
Summer of ’98, petite back Smith Photo: Burnett
What’s your life like right now?
You know, like everybody else it’s kinda crazy with the COVID situation. Everything is kind of on pause, it seems like. So it’s trying to adapt and stay busy. I try to see things in a positive way, you know? It’s a new situation for everybody. I first came to France for Christmas in 2019 I believe, and then I stayed stuck around February, March when shit started to hit the fan with the first confinement in the beginning of 2020. So then I was like, Well, fuck, I don’t really have anything to do in the US right now. The borders are shut down and everything is kinda crazy so I’m just gonna stay in France and kick it. Now one year later I’m still here; it’s pretty crazy.
Backside nollie heelflip, Barcelona, 2001 Photo: Burnett
Old MACBA feels the nollie heel sting. Film sequence, dog! Photo: Burnett
Controversial pool cover in the Malibu hills, March, 2002 Photo: Burnett
What’s your schedule like?
Well, you know, I still skate a lot. In Paris they have this really cool spot called La Republique. They turned this huge plaza into sort of a street plaza, so I go there a lot. I do my skate classes. I try to coach one girl, like a sixteen year old. I see her a couple times a week at least. Then there’s this pretty cool business man, like 45, 50 years old who is back on the board. I try to coach him, too. It’s easy, man. I was stuck for at least a year straight with a really great musician called Youva. When confinement hit it was like, Bro, you can either stay with me or go to your mom’s but you’re welcome here. So he basically did what I did with the skateboard but with a guitar. So we just share a passion for music and stuff so I basically play a lot of music lately. But yeah, just staying on the board and loving it, man.
Nollie lip fakie, chain in teeth, 2001 Photo: Burnett
So you’re in Paris?
Yep. In Paris, close to family, so I took it as a blessing, too. I had just dropped out of Primitive and I would have been stuck in Glendale in that situation. So it’s like, man, that’s kind of a blessing—you’re meeting all kinds of musicians and really cool homies now and you spend time with someone that can basically teach you any tricks, any song, anything you want. And you’re 15 minutes away from your mom, so it could be worse.
Yeah, for sure. What are you like as a teacher? Do you enjoy it?
Absolutely, man. I could feel from an early age that I loved to share my passion or to talk about something that I love or to hear someone talk about something they love. It’s super fun. So yeah, I try to share my vision of skateboarding because I think a lot happens in your head, you know, what goes through your mind when you step on the board. So I don’t only talk about your back foot placement or your flick or stuff like that. I also like to go deeper and I see that they like that shit. You can teach them more than just the kickflip, you know? You can teach about self-confidence or visualization, stuff like that. Skateboarding is not just magic, it’s physics and it’s a lot of mental strength to believe in yourself. You can see the future. Like I told them, before you push and run towards that spot I want you to visualize what’s about to happen in the next ten seconds. I’ve done this many times, you know, hearing Duncan screaming the countdown and I can see myself roll away with those arms up. And I did and it works.
Switch heel in Ybor before crushing the Tampa Pro Photo: Burnett
You’re hearing Dave Duncan screaming the countdown?
I mean, you know, I recall some of the times where it’s your last couple of seconds and you can’t hear a single sound, there’s just you and that big pyramid. That’s really special, when you can step ahead and you’re like, Dude, I got this. I know I got this, I cannot fuck up, and you usually roll away. It’s like, I was right; this feels fun. It feels cool.
So when you’re a little kid, little kids don’t really intellectualize a lot of things, they just do it. What was it like falling in love with skateboarding as a child?
Well, like you said, you don’t really have the age or experience to take a step back and look at the big picture. What’s funny nowadays is like a lot of kids ask me how you get sponsored or how you get out there but I only can tell them so much because at their age I never had the distraction of like, How does this kid have 500 followers more than I do? I never had that. For me it went from I love skateboarding to next thing I know I’m getting free packages and I’m on the cover of a French magazine in the tobacco store. So I never had that pause where you’re sitting at your house wondering, How do you get the next follower? So all I can really tell them is just love what you do, just do it faithfully to who you truly are, don’t try to be somebody else, don’t try to look like somebody else. I really believe that if you have talent and you’re yourself you’ll definitely stick out because you’re unique out there. So just do you.
Wicked tré down Tom and J Wray’s Encinitas double set for his Dec. 2003 interview Photo: Burnett
You left home very early to travel the world. How was that decision made in your family—to leave school and fly to America and then travel around the world?
Well, obviously my mom doesn’t come to that decision from one day to another. It went, like you said, step by step. When I was just a little kid and I started rolling around town I guess I just spent my first year not even learning an ollie but just going to school with my board, going to the sport training with my board. I lived with my board so she had it in her head like, Okay, he’s really into skateboarding. Then we moved to a bigger city where there were skateshops and a crew of skaters and I got so inspired and a year later I was almost as good as the older dudes in the crew. Then the skateshop hit up my mom like, Yo, your child has special abilities or he can learn skating very, very fast and we want to give him free clothes and maybe it would be a good idea if he does contests here and there. So she was like, Damn, okay, he’s good. Okay, cool. Then next thing she knows I go to Ventura for the first time to represent France in the final of the Warped Tour over there when I was 11 or 12 and I ended up in second place. Then Steve Van Doren is calling my mom and so she’s like, Damn, that’s pretty gnarly. And then next thing she knows she has to decide between me staying in the South of France or me going to live with Geoff in Huntington Beach. So it was a gradual thing. She knew I loved it and she believed in me.
Pop-shove tail grab for his first mag appearance, 1998. Excellent reporting, as always Photo: Burnett
Yeah. I was there! I sent you the picture from the Ventura contest when you were 11. What was the last year you went to school? At what age?
I was barely fifteen or something like that. I was like two years away from high school.
Now that you look back, were there any negative consequences for not finishing school?
I mean, something that I often think of, I don’t know if this is gonna answer your question—to answer your question first, I don’t think so. Because obviously you learn things in the street that I would have never learned or found out about growing up over there in the South. One thing that I would tell a mom or a dad to double check they’re taking care of is like what you do once things truly work out for you. In school they teach you about science, about history and shit like this but they don’t tell you what to do once you’re successful, what to do once things really work and everything is going well. Sometimes I don’t think many people are ready for this at all. Not only mentally but I’m talking about how life gets. Even if you’re 20 or 25 you still don’t know shit and they don’t teach you none of that. So that’s the only thing I regret that I didn’t know more about. Or I didn’t give a fuck about like what you do or what is the smart thing to do when things truly work out. So that’s the only thing. But yeah, the second thing is like, you know, nowadays it’s different, but back then that’s how we did things in school.
Less learning, more earning, 2004 Photo: Mapstone
What did Kareem Campbell mean to you as a kid?
Well, I grew up in a city where there were really no skateshops. Everything was so small that you heard stories about somebody or you only had one tape with that dude on it. So we didn’t have much access to skateboarders and Kareem Campbell for instance or Lavar McBride or Tom Penny was sort of a legendary name that you kinda whisper about. You can’t wait for the next video part or that ad coming out just to check the kind of clothes he’s wearing or the color combos he’s going for and you just copy that steez. But you never think you’d have access to actually roll around with that dude. So he was one of the first pros and definitely the first legend or hero to me that I met in person. You know they often say don’t meet your hero because you might be disappointed but I felt the opposite. He was very embracing and very motivating and cool with me. So it was very special. And then of course getting shoes from him with Axion a little bit later was a big thing and a huge motivator to me.
Cab kickflip in OZ, 2003 Photo: Mapstone
Skip’s sesh with that Flip PJ board, 2003 Photo: Burnett
Did you even have to try to learn English or were you so young it just came to you?
No, it was natural. I mean, not that I had special skills but you definitely throw a 14-year-old kid in any country and you have zero friends from your hometown, which means I couldn’t speak French back then. And so you know what really happened is we did two Flip tours back to back and then they stamped my passport after the first three months for another three months without checking that I was about to go home in ten days. So Geoff was like, "Bro, you know if you want you can stay until October," and I was like, Goddamn. I was about to stay for six months. Okay, fuck it. So I called my mom and I told her, "Yo, if I want I can stay another three months." So then what I noticed is that after those six months I could understand pretty much everything no problem. Because Geoff was from Liverpool, Alex Moul was from England, too, with a strong accent, Arto was from Finland, Mark was from Canada and so everyone had their own accent so I had a great training.
Combo machine! Working the cat track at Skip’s ditch Photo: Burnett
Was life in America what you expected?
You mean as a 14 year old?
Another near miss. Track rail, 2002 Photo: Burnett
The new not normal, as seen in 2002’s Sorry
No. I mean, you’ve been traveling a lot in the world and the first rule I think is you already know it’s never gonna be like what you expect or what you heard of. I’ve never been to a place where I was like, Yes, this is exactly what I pictured. So yeah, of course it was a trip. Skating the spots you grew up watching is truly amazing. Meeting Geoff for the first time and what my skateboarding became, you know? Something that I never really told someone was at the first premiere of the Sorry video my brother Augustin was there and we started skating together, you know, so he knew my skateboarding better than anyone else. Then when my part finished and I kickflip front board a 16 or whatever and rolled away he looked at me and he’s like, Bro, I cannot believe that was you that was skating there. What the fuck happened? He was just baffled and he could not relate that he just saw his little bro right here on the tape. Those sessions day and night with Geoff and Arto and all those guys truly transformed my skating into something that my brother could not even recognize or comprehend and I was like, Whoa, okay, fuck. You know, because at that age you never stop. You never look back and say, Oh cool, I got the cover of Thrasher. You just take it in and you’re like, Oh shit, yeah, I deserve all that shit, that’s normal. It’s not. It is not. When you see your brother be like, What the fuck? Who are you, bro? You realize for a second that you’re doing something cool.
With the crew on the Japan premiere tour of Sorry Photo: Burnett
In those days, that’s when I met you, it was just in the van all day, all night, fast food, popcorn, using the Globe t-shirts for toilet paper.
Sorry, Globe. No disrespect.
What was Geoff like? What was your relationship with him like in the early days?
Well, you know obviously you go from South of France to living with the legend. Even when I came to his house he was already so big. You come with a lot of respect, a lot of humbleness and you’re just gonna listen and learn everything, you know? But also it was a trip because he was so different from anything I’d encountered before. Back then he was a straight-up vegan. I’d never seen anyone eating a pizza with nothing real on top of it or eating, whatever, grain for breakfast. It was a trip, the healthiness of his lifestyle, the dedication, how he used to set up his stuff before skating like he’s almost going to a mission to rob a bank or going to war or some shit. I was like, Man, this guy is no joke. He’s not pretending about nothing. The guy’s living it. And that was such a huge inspiration to know what it takes to go out there. So that’s why I love to laugh at Instagram because people pay so much attention about what people see or what impression you get, but the best is when you fuck with people that don’t even care whatsoever about what anybody thinks and just do their own thing. That’s when it really becomes magic. So yeah, I learned that from Geoff. The dude was just on a mission and was not gonna listen to no one and already visualized it and was gonna go straight for it. So yeah, huge, huge mentor for me. And he knows that.
Switch heel in Denver, 2003 Photo: Burnett
I remember the very different contrast between you and Mark Appleyard. You were definitely more street smart, and Mark was a little more sheltered, maybe?
Yeah, for sure. Yeah, it’s an interesting word. I mean, when someone asks me about Mark Appleyard the first thing that comes to my mind is he’s the nicest dudes ever to an extent where you almost worry for him. In the sense where he’s not gonna have that little devil on his shoulder where you know to be careful about this situation or that dude or about this and that. He’s straight-up pure love, kinda like those crazy Rastas that you see in town. But yeah, sometimes you want to make sure he’s all good because not everybody is cool and has good intentions. So yeah, I was kinda tripping how, I don’t like to say naive but I was like, Man, it seems like he comes from another world where everybody’s just super cool and no one’s fucking with nobody. Kinda like you just give your own house keys to a stranger, pure love. So yeah, it was inspiring, too, to see someone that nice. And I think he didn’t change a bit. Thank God for that.
Yeah, he’s from a magical land. It’s called Canada.
Well, you can really tell, dude. He’s one of the nicest people I ever met.
Massive backside 180, 2003 Photo: Nikwen
I remember when you found out that he was still a virgin and he was older than you. Do you remember that conversation?
No, I don’t.
You were like, “Appleyard, why you can nollie heel to noseslide ten-stair rails but you cannot make love to a woman?!”
Oh my God. That’s fucked up. Well, he’s got kids now, a beautiful family.
Back lip in Australia Photo: Mapstone
He made it! He’s done it at least twice. What about Ali? What was your impression of him? ‘Cause he was a very different kind of person, too.
Yeah, for sure. I mean, at first it’s hard to—I mean same thing as Appleyard but another dimension. You know, when you travel, you imagine when you travel in the van with somebody it’s like close proximity for a long hours. So I’d never met someone who didn’t give a fuck about bringing bags of clothes and changing between towns or showering in the morning, none of that shit. So at first I had a hard time—he was cool and open and at first I was very impressed by his non-give-a-fuckness, how real it was. So I was just like, Holy shit. That’s pretty gnarly to be around someone like that. But then within the years I started to know him deeper than that, to another level and then I probably got used to his body odor, too. He is a very complex dude, passionate, super passionate, massive talent. And then we share similarities like our passion for music and skateboarding, both European. So yeah, he became one of my best friends on the team. It used to be funny because everywhere we’d go we never brought a guitar with us on the tour but we used to 100 percent of the time stop, either him or I, in a guitar store and end up with an acoustic guitar in the van so we could just jam all the time. He’s the best dude. I have fond memories with him.
Kicky front nose. Denver, 2003 Photo: Burnett
Have you connected with him since his accident?
No, just a little bit on Insta. Just staying in touch here and there. I heard, it was before the COVID, but he had something planned for Paris and I was pretty excited to be able to see him but obviously that’s not happening with the COVID shit. But hopefully soon.
Half-Cab kickflip in San Diego, 2005 Photo: Burnett
Were you there when Arto got knocked out in San Diego?
No, I wasn’t there. You mean the cartoon in the video?
No, I wasn’t there, thank God. But I heard about it.
BCN, Summer 2001. That dog was a menace! Photo: Burnett
What was it like to see Arto in his prime?
Man, I think game changer is the first thing I have in mind. You don’t come across many skaters that have the physical ability like Arto or Reynolds, Brian Anderson, those big dudes. Reynolds and Arto is a difficult comparison, but the magic feet—I think Arto may have the best ones of all maybe. But I’ve seen him just mirror two benches for days. Back then no one used to just come at a pyramid full speed and switch tré five or six feet in the air. Technically, in his prime he was very impressive. I don’t think I ever saw anything like that. So one of the best skaters to ever step on a skateboard in his prime, 100 percent. Amazing.
Twisted AF on a switch 270 front board. Summer, 2003 Photo: Burnett
What about Ewan? How was Ewan as a roommate?
Same thing, man. Like I said with Ali, it’s you don’t know the dude and you’re young so you have to learn to co-live with somebody. So it’s not always easy when you have different personalities in the same house and then plus you have to imagine we also work together. But, man, so much magic in the Flip squad and the stories that wouldn’t have happened without Ewan. So he’s a strong rock to what we did. And also once I moved out of Geoff’s house so he could probably do other things than take care of me all the time, I ended up living with Ewan and I was super lucky to have someone with that sort of patience and dedication, passion and love for skateboarding to just take care of me, letting me know I was good. It was insane. It wasn’t only about taking me to spots and rolling the camera. He was like a father to me and made sure I was all good at all times. So mad props to Ewan, you know, he’s a father to me a little bit but nobody knows that.
Extraordinary teammates Tom and Arto Photo: Mapstone
Yeah, I know the Flip guys came to be a huge force in the skateboard business. Those guys, they set up all the deals for you, right? Like, they would find you the shoe sponsor, they would get you the clothing sponsor, all that stuff. Is that correct?
Right. That’s how it went. I didn’t have to care about anything. As soon as you had a slot ready for something new or something coming up, boom, next thing you knew you had the deal in front of you. So that was pretty cool.
What were the pros and cons to that arrangement? Now that you look back were there pros and cons to not being in control of your business and financial destiny?
Well, yes, of course. Obviously at that time pros or good parts, positive ‘cause it’s time I don’t spend talking back and forth with companies and plus back in the day I did not know how much a pro skater is getting for this or that. If it’s glasses or if it’s shoes or watches, I didn’t really know anything about that and at first I didn’t want to do anything else. Like I didn’t want to study and talk to the pros to know how much. I didn’t care about none of that. So it was actually perfect for me to be like, Oh shit, okay, I can add this to my bank. Okay, cool, I do that company or I don’t do that company. I had my say. But definitely the part where you’re negotiating and sitting with the brands, I didn’t do that. So that’s awesome, but of course down the road since everything is linked it’s just logical. It’s like a big record company. I’m sure when the deal goes sour with your main one all the connections that you made with other people in your name or whatnot, I’m sure those guys are like, Oh shit, they don’t fuck with him anymore? Damn, is he still reliable? So that’s kind of the counterpart of it. It’s like a castle of cards, you know? The main one down there is starting to shake, I guarantee you that it’s gonna fall in no time. So yes, that’s kind of one thing that sucked but I’m responsible for all of that so I don’t really care. I don’t blame Flip or nothing, if you stay stable and you do your job and you fuck shit up, your castle will never shake and nothing will happen. They set me up right.
So you were at the time the youngest pro skater to ever get a shoe. You were 15 when you got a shoe on Vans?
Yep. I was just about to turn sixteen probably. I started designing it when I was 15.
Kicky Cab at another prime Penny spot. Shelter Island, 2005 Photo: Burnett
What’s your memory of that experience?
I mean, you can imagine, it's pretty crazy to walk in and the building is actually pretty massive. You walk into the design department and you see sketches and materials and fabrics and you’re like, Oh shit, okay, this is it. Just as you can picture it if you were a kid, you know? Yeah, and just running through samples and models, the entire experience is very unreal and then obviously a lot of expectations and wait because it takes a very long time to get it done, which is normal. And then, yeah, you really realize it when you set your feet in there and look down at your board and they’re right there. It really feels special. But something for me is that I found a drawing that I did at my mom’s house. I was at school, I can almost remember, I was looking at a skate magazine and I put the see-through paper and I used to draw the shape of the rider, maybe a crooked grind on the bar or whatnot and then I’d just ditch the magazine and finish it. And I look at the picture, it was funny, I actually drew myself with a hat, maybe an Element hat or whatnot, right? And then my shoes used to say Bastien. So even when I was a little kid at school I was dreaming to have my own shoe. So I was just laughing that an eight year old is dreaming to do this and then it happens. Life is crazy.
There was a point in time where it was pretty clear that the Flip guys wanted you to try to win Skater of the Year. They’d call and tell me all the amazing tricks you were going to do. Do you remember that?
I never heard of that story.
They told me, “Bastien’s gonna kickflip front board El Toro. He’s gonna switch heel Wallenberg.” Jeremy would call me and tell me what tricks you were gonna do.
I mean, I know Jeremy very, very well and I can totally picture him doing something like that. That’s hilarious. But, no, the truth is I never, that’s not how it worked or I never heard of that because how it went down was like I just did my own thing and at the end of the year, a few months before, they would tell me like, Oh okay, it’s coming up, Skater of the Year, so those few months are gonna be very important. Then basically the end of the story was, Yeah, it would be a good idea to take a trip to San Francisco and I was like, Okay, cool. But in my mind I wanted to do some more skating in the South, you know, of California. So I could feel they really really wanted to take the van in SF and I was like, Man, I’m not really feeling that trip. Then they kinda let it slide. They’re like, You know it’d be a good idea to kinda swing by Thrasher, fist bump everybody and let them know that we’re supporting them. I don’t know if they’re gonna like that I’m telling you that, but I don’t give a fuck. Back then I was someone that was cocky and, like, I said I thought I deserved it when I was doing things and so I was like, man, I took it as an affront, like, You’re trying to get it—you’re trying to corner somebody. You’re letting them know like you’re gonna swing by with a birthday cake, like no, man. If I’m gonna get Skater of the Year I wanna get it with the sweat, with the blood. I don’t wanna get it because we swung by Jake Phelps and Thrasher and play like we’re homies and we’re bros. So I said no, fuck that shit, I’m not going. Then I didn’t get it, but I definitely prefer that story right there than me getting it because we came through and we had a huge party or a great time. Fuck that shit.
Surf-style switch front three on a huge Aussie swell, 2003 Photo: Mapstone
What do you remember from that day we went to Wilshire 15 with Ewan?
That the rail was steeper than I thought when I was on top. Then I remember hitting a really big slam. But I did a big mistake, too—you cannot hit your tail on the way up going slow towards a steep rail. Plus, I put one foot on the rail and kinda threw myself back, which is, I kinda saved myself because you don’t want to fall down those stairs. So I kinda did the right thing. You can only do that, like you step on the rail and then you pray, you know?
I feel like you tried a flip trick on Hollywood 16 before that, too.
Yeah, I tried backside flip.
Janky front board in San Pedro, 2005 Photo: Burnett
Yeah, you tried backside flip on Hollywood 16, that wasn’t working, so then we went to Wilshire 15 and it seemed like you didn’t really want to try it. You tried a kickflip back lip and hit on the way up and just flew down backwards. I remember you looked at us and you said, “I could have died!” That’s when I was done. It wasn’t anything against you, but I was worried you thought you had to do some big trick that day.
Oh no, it was never like that.
That’s good to hear. At the time I was worried you were being pressured into it.
That must have been a crazy impression. I can only imagine. So awkward and uncomfortable, fuck that.
The much-maligned crooks back lip to fakie, nobody did ‘em like Salabanzi Photo: Mapstone
I knew you were an amazing skater, but I always think of that day as a very strange time.
Well, every time I saw footage of those spots—Hollywood High or Wilshire—I always thought I had my trick I could do right there. And obviously knowing that you’re there on the spot and there’s a 99-percent chance that we’re gonna get a cool shot and good footage always motivated me to just go out there and give everything I have. So they never needed to tell me what to do on the spot. That’s something that I would never allow. I always said skateboarding is an art and it’s like asking someone to paint a flower and he wants to paint a goddamn bird. So obviously no, but imagine if you have a 15 year old that surfs, you can bring him to a goddamn wave and you’re 90-percent positive that he’s just gonna go out in the water and get a cool little tube or some nice little air and you’re get something out of him. So all they could really do, if that’s what they were trying to do, was just drive me to the right spots. That’s all they needed to do. The rest was all me. I loved skating and no one needed to tell me anything, but if they really wanted to get those tricks, all they really had to do was show me to a spot I’ve never been and just leave me the fuck alone.
Bastien’s Dec, 2003 cover sporting his signature Vans shoe Photo: Burnett
Were you disappointed that you didn’t win Skater of the Year?
No, not at all. I was just a little more disappointed of who actually won it instead of me to be honest.
It was Chris Cole that year. Why were you disappointed it was him?
Well, sure that year he did some crazy crazy shit, man, I’m not taking anything from him. On his board that year he was an animal, just crushed lots of spots. I’m not gonna compare him to me or anything like that, but that year I didn’t think he was gonna win it or anything like this. It sounds like I’m talking shit, but no. When you see who won since day one, the Skater of the Year, that year, I didn’t think he really killed it that much. Appleyard was on fire, too. There was a lot of homies that I seen skate every day that could have been up there, you know? But no, it did not ruin my year or anything like that, honestly. I mean, to be honest, I got more disappointed to not be on the cover of that black history skateboarding issue that you guys did than getting Skater of the Year.
Yeah, that definitely wasn’t supposed to be the complete list of black skaters. There’s no way we could do that. And Atiba wanted to shoot all of the cover photos himself a certain way. That’s why we couldn’t just go, “Hey, have your homie shoot it.” He wanted to do this project his way, it was his vision, so we respected that. Tyshawn and a crew of other people even flew from New York during the heart of COVID just to shoot that portrait. So it was impossible to include everyone, unfortunately.
Oh, okay. You know, outside, if you don’t know that, the symbolism is always that first thing that you see on the cover. So since I didn’t know that I was like, Whoa, okay. Fuck. I guess not.
You didn’t grow up with your father, but then you went to visit him in Africa at one point, right?
Well, I did it when I was 18 for those three weeks. Yeah, I took some time to just do something completely different than skating. It was cool.
With fresh Stevie Ray Vaughan tattoo. March, 2006 Photo: Burnett
How was that experience? Did that give you a new perspective on things?
Yeah, I mean, honestly when I came back I thought someone should have one of those at least once in their life. It’s one of the things that you see on TV or have the knowledge that they exist but seeing it and realizing at 18, it just changed my life. You just come home and you’re able to see, maybe not the big picture but a bigger picture. Those three weeks taught me a lot about what we have and what we take for granted but don’t really realize. Just being around people that live a hard fucking life but don’t complain much and smile about it and thank God to be there and be living and breathing. You’re like, Fuck bro, next time my homie’s complaining about his cracked iPhone screen or that his Instagram account is stuck at 100 followers just give him a good slap in the face and turn on the knob of the water and show him that you can drink out of that any time. Or he can open his fridge and eat whatever the fuck he wants. You need to realize that we are very fortunate to have what we have. So after three weeks there you come home and you’re like, Holy shit, bro, I need to stop fucking complaining and just do the best I can because I’m fortunate as fuck.
Right. I remember when you were a kid you really loved Biggie, but what was the music that really captured your imagination and made you want to play music?
Oh, that came a little later definitely. But still today, the way I play music is inspired a lot by my first love: hip-hop. Later down the road hanging out with people who loved other music, when I first heard like BB King or when I started listening to acoustic guitar and stuff like that, other musical sensibilities started waking up and I was like, Oh, okay, that’s dope. That’s mellow, that’s melancholic or that’s like super easy to express something out of your soul. Like, Okay, when you bend the string you can use it like this or like that. So I found a lot of contact with the music and understanding so I just digged and digged and digged deeper into electric blues and a lot of that. Not only blues, like acoustic, whatever. Music became a big part of my life and kept me going on a skateboard too.
Blues, man! 2015 Photo: Broach
Was it like discovering skateboarding by the amount of time and focus you put into it?
Yeah, definitely. But the thing I loved about music is I went from a super-physical activity where you could get broke for a few days before you can step back on the board to something you can do in the morning, at night or at any time—on the road or in a terminal waiting for a plane. So it’s something that you can have and you can always collaborate with what you’re doing with skating being a part of it. So I love that about guitar and the approach is yes, very similar. The more time you spend with it the better you get. There’s infinite practice, so that’s super fun, too.
When you were filming for all the videos did you have a holy grail of tricks that were ones you worked really hard for?
You mean to actually get it done in the video part?
Catching a piece. Nollie heel front board in 2015 Photo: Broach
Yeah. I know the Cab kickflip front board was a big deal. Were there tricks that were in your sights?
Well, I think now that it’s years and years later some of the parts I can watch back, like maybe you know that line in San Francisco at Third and Army I do half-Cab flip nose, then switch flip then switch heel back 5-0 back 180 out. Everybody knows that I don’t have a good switch flip and when I watch this part, if you don’t know me and you’ve never seen me skate it looks like I can switch flip every day when I wake up, which is not the case. So yeah, when I look back and I see this line I’m like, Man, what the fuck? There’s no way I can do a switch flip like this. It’s something that I would need to try for a good 15 minutes to get at least maybe one like that. Then the fact that I did it in this line looking like that, going fast or whatever, Ewan’s super close to me, I remember the fisheye was literally right there, yeah, I’m kinda tripping. So that feels cool. And then people ask me about the kickflip front board down 16. I tell them that it’s more the mental state that’s hard to get at and to be able to just kickflip off 16 and know that if your board is not there you’re in huge trouble. That’s the hardest part. The fact that I was able to do a kickflip ten out of ten, a lot of people can do that no problem but are you gonna trust your number 11 to save your life? Not a lot of people are gonna take the bet. So I tell them, today I would not do it again, take a bet on that kickflip. But back then I was ready for it. So yes, that’s probably one of the craziest things I’ve done on a skateboard.
So skateboarding has been really slow to wake up to the physical toll that goes with skating. But, like you explained, skateboarding is such a mental game, too. But skateboarding has never really addressed mental-health issues. Have there ever been times in your life where you feel like you had mental-health struggles?
Well, that’s very hard to have an objective judgement about it, but when I look back there’s definitely something that’s sort of linked to what I told you in the beginning about once you become successful or things truly work out for you. When I look back I was definitely unprepared, but I don’t think it’s something that you can truly be prepared for. But maybe if you have the right person around you. I’m not blaming anyone when I say that, but I would have loved to have maybe my big brother around me, someone that’s completely outside of everything. Back then I thought the only thing that matters is what you do on your skateboard and anything else outside of that is nobody’s business. Nowadays sure, with social media and stuff you realize that it’s a lot more than skateboarding. But yeah, when I look back I wish I had more wisdom or more knowledge about how to handle everything. All I focused on was skateboarding and that’s it. So that didn’t help everything around me because I didn’t care enough to be honest when all I would do was skating. I didn’t have the experience or the knowledge to care about anything else so that’s something that kind of sucks when I look back. Then also for sure back then—I didn’t party, like I’m not someone who drinks, who goes down to the bar and stuff like that, but my little guilty pleasure was smoking weed. And when you’re making a good living you can basically smoke as much as you want and that doesn’t help being stable mentally. No, it’s true, when you look back and you think back about decisions or things you did at a certain age and you’re like, Yeah, man, I was definitely smoking too much weed back then to think about something like that. Or even you look back and you’re like, Yeah, that’s me high as fuck right there. But it’s fun, when you’re skating, you’re 18, 20 going around the world and you smoke weed all the time just traveling and skating with your friends. I would not change anything, but 20 years later you look back and think, Maybe I shouldn’t have smoked so much weed all the time and I would have made better decisions here and there. That’s totally normal. That’s part of life. But being mentally stable is part of also not abusing or anything. Once you start abusing alcohol or tobacco or taking pills or weed, that’s negative. So yeah, smoking a lot of weed all day long all the time as much as I wanted was negative because I was abusing. No one should smoke 20 joints a day, that’s not necessary.
We almost didn't get to see the Cab flip front board, rewatch Bastien's unbelievable extra part now
You mentioned being cocky before. Is there a moment you can look back on now with the wisdom of an adult where you’re like, Oh my God, I can’t believe that’s how I acted or I can’t believe that’s how I thought?
Yeah, absolutely. That happens to me a lot when I see contest footage or stuff like that. I put my hand on my face and I laugh, you know? But I also know where that came from. I laugh about it because I also think about the person that does not know me and absolutely is just taking it out of any perspective who wasn’t there and doesn’t know me. So I just think about those dudes and I’m laughing because I look crazy. But I also know where I come from, the competitiveness in my family, within our brothers, my brotherhood. The way we used to always go at each other and talk shit with each other and motivate each other to get better. So I grew up in that spirit where it was not disrespect out to anybody. It’s the way you express yourself when you’re sweating and giving everything you have to something you love. So I grew up watching my brother expressing some achievement he just did and I was like, Man, that’s cool; that’s inspiring; the guy’s just laying that out. I used to be inspired watching NBA and those guys are just laying it out. So to me it was natural. But looking back, 20 years back, yeah, I laugh at it all the time.
It’s called SHOWMANSHIP!
So you had a lot of success in the early years when you rode for Flip, Vans, Etnies and Quiksilver. When you made your break from Flip did you have money in the bank? Were you able to keep some of what you’d made financially?
Oh yeah, absolutely.
Do you still own the house in Huntington?
No, I sold it a couple of years ago right before I moved to Glendale.
Half-Cab kickflip board at Geoff’s high-desert TF – on what would be his final Flip mission, 2006 Photo: Burnett
Okay, so it’s not one of those terrible stories of the rock stars that lost all their money in the end?
No, it’s not. I was able to have a good situation. Like I said, Flip did really good to get the deals and everything at that time. And I was fortunate enough to buy a house at the right time.
Was there a transition phase after you quit Flip?
Yeah, for sure. I mean, quitting Flip is like leaving a family. Staying with them and skating with them, it’s a whole dynamic of a whole world that you say goodbye to not only going back to Europe but everything. In fact I remember sitting in Huntington in my house and I’m like, Man, I do not picture myself hitting up different board sponsors and starting skating with other people, so I was like, Man, just go home. So yeah, I never had that option in my mind or in my heart to do it in the States with another team. So when I came home it was not like a heartbreaking decision. It was honestly from the soul. I was like, It’s either Flip here or nothing. So when I went home of course there was this transition, you know? You left home a while back and now you’re like a young adult and whatnot. But skateboarding was never far, man. Honestly I just needed a break to kind of reboot everything and focus on things I haven’t had the time to. No, it was a natural kind of thing, man, just to focus on other things for a while. Then I was in Paris and I thought, Man, I just want to start skateboarding like I used to. So I traveled to South of France where I came from and just started skating again with the homies back at the park. Just simple. And that’s where I started to find all those double-flip variations on the pyramids and on the flatbars. I was like, Damn, I don’t think anyone really fucks with that, like double-flip backside lip, so I started doing those and then Jart hit me up. I went to do a little contest as well. I did a few little things and then, boom, things started sinking in again out of nowhere.
Flickin’ tré into the future Photo: Burny
Did you ever for a minute think that maybe you would just become a professional musician and play music for a job?
No, never. People used to say like, Oh, you should do this or that with the music. But I thought, I’m never gonna have time because what’s the point of making a band with serious musicians if I’m always on the road because I’m gonna be living on tours? So for me I never had anything else in mind than to keep skating and do parts and film or whatnot. So I never focused seriously on music even though I had the opportunity. I just want to skate while I can. I don’t care about anything else.
Right. So you’ve been able to have music just kind of be more for fun and pleasure?
Yeah, I mean, you know, I do gigs in bars. I get paid and stuff when I have opportunities. I did, for instance, a duo with a singer and we did a few gigs. I did studio sessions, we did a live stream where we’re inside of a studio jamming with a great blues player. That’s on YouTube. So I do a lot of things. I do everything that sounds fun to me. I collaborate with musicians; I record and write music. But for me I just leave it in the oven for now. I’m not taking it that serious. But yeah, I want to put out some of my music on whatever, the Internet and see how people welcome it and then collaborate with people that enjoy the same type of vibe and just let it go where it needs to go. I don’t overthink that part of my life right now because I’m focused on skateboarding and there is a couple of chapters that I wanna write before I can turn the page and focus on music. Music will still be there until I’m six feet under.
Putting in work, 2021 Photo: Greengage
So what are the other chapters you wanna write in skateboarding?
Well, you know, when you’re 35 years old you don’t skate the same way as when you’re 25. You’re a different dude and you think differently and you feel different. So I have ideas of tricks, I have combos of lines, I have manuals or tricks on rails that I’ve never done before. So yeah, there’s a lot of things that I see in my parts that I’m like, Man, what about this? What if I try this combo? So I still want to do so much shit on my board. It still feels just as cool as it did when you’re 15 to learn a new trick or to get a dope line. It still feels the same so I cannot stop right now. All I want to do is skate. I finished that part with Kyle and now it’s like, Fuck, it’s good. I’m happy and I’m proud of it, but I just want to film more now. It’s like getting a tattoo–once you get one you’re already thinking about the next one.
LA daze, 2021 Photo: Greengage
You were in California for a while but I barely knew you were in the States. Were you dealing with some injuries when you rode for Primitive?
Yeah, exactly. They were about to launch the video when I went skating with Spanish Mike and we checked that double set where Gershon had the tré flip in the Transworld video. I tried the switch varial heel a couple of times and then when I kicked the board I just landed completely normally and then instead of rolling away with the speed my leg kind of got stuck into the concrete and twisted my knee in a weird way. I instantly knew that I never felt that pain before and then, yeah, I was right. I just hurt my ligaments very, very bad, ACL, and so I had to have surgery and it took a long, long time. Definitely the hardest challenge I’ve had to face in my life. I broke my arm a few times and whatnot, but this was really hard to come back from. You have to be so patient. Even after a year I didn’t have the confidence to skate like I used to. So I was like, Fuck, okay let’s put some more work. So I stayed pretty much a year and a half doing rehab. The doctor was like, You’re ready to go, but when I skated or did a workout I didn’t believe that I could go for it so of course I wasn’t ready. So yeah, I waited a year and a half until I really felt like I was ready to go and I’m glad I did because I’m good now. But it’s hard to be away from skateboarding for that long, in the States while everything happens with Primitive and the skate world. That was really tough. Thank God I had music, though.
So you split with Primitive. What’s your plan moving forward?
Well honestly, like I told you, since I was a kid I tried not to force anything or plan anything. I really believe that just doing what you really feel, the way you want to do it is gonna resonate more than something absolutely planned out. So like this part I filmed with Kyle, it just naturally happened. We never really planned getting this thing out. So yeah, just want to keep doing that. I told you I’m healthy enough to skate hard and to make those thoughts a reality on the board and I’m super motivated to get it documented and filmed and put another part out. That’s something I really, really love. I’m not gonna hide that I don’t think I’m gonna do another one, so I want to put my soul and heart into something that you think might be your last part. The one with Kyle is more like we started filming because I just came back from the knee and to be honest being on the session with Tiago or Carlos and you’ve only been back on your board—like I didn’t have the confidence and I’m a very proud dude and I didn’t want them to see me like that. Which is totally natural, but I couldn’t get that voice out of my head, like They’re gonna know I’m weak, or What if I miss a kickflip in front of Carlos Ribeiro? So I could not let it loosen up where l could just skate. So I told Primitive like, "Yo, I kinda want to go skate by myself." Or Kyle told me one day, “Bas, man, if you ever”—I think he felt it. That’s the best part. Like he knew that I couldn’t express myself like that. So he’s like, “Man, if you ever want us to go on solo missions, let me know.” And boom, that’s all I needed to hear. And a lot of the footage in that video is actually—the first line that I filmed of official footage after the surgery, the first manual, it’s a very special part. That’s why it doesn’t feel like the last one. It feels like the first one after the surgery.
Don’t sweat the sportswear! Backside NBS in 2021 Photo: Burny
What else should we talk about? I know I’ve asked you a lot of questions.
Yeah, man, I don’t know if you gonna have enough pages for all those words, man.
The Internet is endless. The bottomless internet.
Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Double backside flip on a 2017 Primitive trip Photo: Barton
Bad. Do you live with your kids or are your kids somewhere else?
No, they’re in Bordeaux with their mom. I’m only an hour and a half away, but yeah. They don’t live with me, unfortunately.
Have you shared skateboarding with them? Are they interested in it?
Yeah, absolutely. As soon as they’re old enough to understand. Obviously they’ve always heard and I told them what I do, but once they’re old enough to understand it was a true joy to see his face and for him to try to understand what was going on. Not long after that he was old enough to tell his classmates who I was and they wanted to go sesh at the park with me and I could see his face and be hyped that his dad is having a cool sesh with his homies. So yeah, they love it. He’s killing it. Now my 14 year old is super into wakeboarding. He just showed me his first front flip or whatnot, so he’s just paving his own way over there and just killing it. Then my 12 year old, Jazz, is super into baseball.
Switch heel in a media bubble, 2017 Photo: Barton
With you not growing up with a dad around most of the time, was there things that you wanted to do differently with your kids?
Oh, absolutely. For example, just this, just the fact that I never had the opportunity to show my dad a video part and know what I do. That’s definitely weird. It’s hard to accept. Especially now that he’s gone. He died like a month ago, so that’s even harder. But yeah, that’s something that I told myself, No matter what happens my kids would have all that. No matter if things work out with their mom they will have all that. So I’m glad that I did it and I’m there for them. I know what they’re up to, I know what they’re into, I’m proud of them, I talk to them all the time. They have a father, they have what I didn’t have, that’s for sure.
Who are some of your hugest influences in skateboarding and in life? Who are some of the people that have really inspired you along the way?
Definitely number one is my big brother Damien. He’s like seven years older, so as a little brother I always always looked up to him no matter what he was into. Maybe he didn’t know it but he was my number-one inspiration. That’s why I’m super into what I’m into, from music, skateboarding, doesn’t matter. But also yeah, he introduced me to hip-hop, to all different cultures, cinema, everything. He definitely made a lot of my mental or at least my way of thinking or my drive I have thanks to him. And then I think as a young kid just watching Michael Jordan was just crazy, especially back then when he was in his prime. We used to stay awake at three, four in the morning to see the Bulls play, just to see the magic happen. The way he just dominates and the way he could just take the ball and make it happen. No matter what they needed from him he was just gonna make it happen and win the game. The way he used to do it, too, like make the hardest move look so cool, always with style. But the competitiveness, like I used to be in straight admiration and all that as a young sponge. I had that in the back of my mind as I was skating, being able to control the air and the moment when you leave the ground. Michael Jordan definitely resonates in my heart in everything I did. So that’s another one of the big influences in my life, for sure. I always loved Michael Jordan.
What do you love most about skateboarding?
I think the freedom of it. You don’t need no court, you just take your board and just go out.
A master of his own destiny, 2021 Photo: Burny
4/14/2021An '80s kid from Omaha, Nebraska, Joe fell in love with skateboarding in a time when you really had to want it and eventually made it to the mag. He also ripped! He was sweet man and a true skater. We will miss him terribly. Our love goes out to his family and many, many friends.
3/29/2021Between his two unforgettable Flip appearances Bastien pulled off timeless mind-melters that still don’t make sense today. Enjoy a bonus round of young-buck Bastien going absolutely nuts.
3/29/2021Bastien never ceases to amaze. Two decades deep, his natural gifts and Cab flips remain top-notch. Appreciate the greatness.
3/26/2021From the Baker van to King of the Road to 20-plus years of shooting photos, Burnett’s done a lot of miles and met a lot of folks working for the Mag. Check out who made an impression on Phelper’s right-hand man. As seen in our March 2021 issue.
3/22/2021John’s one of the best pool rippers in the game. When he ain’t attackin' the backyards, you can find him fabricating a skate-inspired bong—trucks and all. Get the lowdown on all things bowl burning, straight from the pages of our February, ‘21 mag.