Introduction by Toto Ghali Interview by Johannes Jacobi Photography by Michael Reusse, Stefan Eisend, Peter Bender & Antony Lenedic Product photography provided by Chris Heap and Pete Hewes
Hey Matteo, thanks for taking the time for this interview. It’s been a while since we heard of you. It’s a pleasure! First of all, please introduce yourself for the newbies who might not know you anymore. Full name, age, where you’re from and where you’re currently living.
Matteo Attanasio – 34 years old. Grew up in Munich, Germany but my mother is from the US and my dad is Italian. Currently I am living in Zürich, Switzerland.
Do you remember around what time you started using wheels under your feet? Still in the times of quads?
Yeah, I actually started rolling at the age of six. As half of my family was in the US I always got hooked up with the latest gadgets from over there. Skateboards, quads or blades – you name it. I received my first pair of in-line skates in summer of 1989.
You were there before the big boom started and you were still there afterwards. We will talk about that later, but let’s talk about your personal career first. What happened after you put on skates? First events, first sponsors, winning events, switching sponsors?! Tell us the whole story.
Well, where should I begin? I got influenced by the quad skaters and skateboarders trying to roll on ramps with blades. Once I was hooked, I started traveling to all the skate spots trying to find other riders. I was very alone in the first years. There wasn’t a real scene and it was hard to find people that were just as passionate as myself. Through traveling, people got to see me everywhere and companies started approaching me as demo rider for promotional events. Throughout my career as a skater I probably got the chance to work with pretty much most of the companies on the market. I started out on Rollerblade and Ultra Wheels. Later on I managed to get on the OXYGEN Europe team where I received my first pro-model. I then hooked up with the Red Bull team. The last years of pro skating I spent with K2 and Red Bull.
Matteos second OXYGEN pro skate, 1997
Opernplatz in Munich, 1995 – Soulgrind
Opernplatz in Munich, ca. 1996 – Trash can gap
So you could make a living solely from skating back then? Or did you work in normal jobs next to skating?
I think most of us riding back in the days were able to make a living from the sport. But in the end it still depended on your business skills. I know many riders, also from other sports, that were talented. But it’s not only about talent… It’s about dedication and working hard for your dream.
What would you say was your biggest achievement in skating in all those years? Becoming German Champion in Vert, winning the FISE or something else?
I wouldn’t name any event as an achievement. Having been in every final for over ten years of riding was my achievement as a pro. I didn’t always win like others but I always was a finalist. My main goal as a pro was to motivate others to ride – not to win competitions.
You became close friends with Bruno Löwe and traveled to all those events back in the day. Are there any memories which stuck out the most when you think about those times?
Wuuhhh, I don’t know where to start here… We have so many great memories! We got to see and do things in a time when it was easy for everyone. Riders where treated like rock stars. Bruno always made sure to raise the level by pulling some crazy stunt which no one else would dare to do… I think you can probably find some of the best moments in our videos from Colorvideo. Just being together with Bruno on the K2 team in my last years was great! Back then we had the feeling we could achieve anything!
Coolhouse Project in Munich, ca. 1995 – Mute Air
Can you give us one example of how crazy the times were? One crazy experience related to whatever you want. Situations, fans, crazy hotel parties, or just skating itself…?
Asia was always pretty wild during my time as a pro. They would have clubs filled with girls just for the skaters… It was really crazy sometimes and you couldn’t believe what some event managers would do to please a pro skater. We would be entertained from 8.00 AM in the morning till late into the night. Of course there where also always people who destroyed their hotel rooms and would end up with bills for reparations which exceeded a couple of thousand dollars… That’s how you burn budgets… One of my best memories in skating is probably being part of the „Vans Warped Tour“. That was traveling across the world with the best riders in Rollerblading, Skateboarding and BMX and having all the great music playing the whole day live, like Pennywise and Unwritten Law.
Are you still in contact with Bruno and the other guys from back then?
Yeah, we hear from each other now and then and even work together sometimes. Gregor, Bruno, Randy and so on… But we all also moved on with our lives and each of us has found their path in life.
Were you involved in the industry, or did you just skate?
I was involved. I think that was a great part of being pro. Especially once I started organizing road trips and film productions… Before that I was doing things like team managing on the side, too.
Opernplatz in Munich, ca. 1996 – Mute wallride
At some point you started to make videos. When did that happen and how?
Well, as I was always in contact with cameras. I learned a lot from people shooting me. Michael Reusse was a great influence during this time. I also felt the need of more people in Europe filming and representing the riders. I bought myself a Hi8 video camera at this time and just started learning. At one point I felt I could pull off my first skate video and made „Eurostyle“. I think that was around ’95 or ’96.
Can you give us a little summary of all the videos you did and maybe even add the year they came out?
I am not sure if I can recall every single project but here are the most relevant:
„Eurostyle“ in 1996
„Roots“ – RPP Teamvideo in 1997
„Project 6“ – RPP Teamvideo in 1998
„Leaving an Impression“ in 1998
„The Mission“ in 1999
„Chaos“ – Daily Bread video in 2000
„Transition“ in 2001
„La Passion“ in 2001
„The Roots Tour“ in 2002
„Movement“ in 2002
I remember you organized big tours and created videos about it and your films always showed – and pushed – European Rollerblading at this time. Did this just happen that way or was there already a bigger idea behind it?
My initial thought in filming was to bring the riders’ lifestyle to the broad public. So it was clear that it had to be about road trips. Later, I found many ideas to eventually create a type of festival tour from the initial concept involving street art, music etc. But times changed for the sport and also in my private life. My first son was born and many things changed for me in life. I still have many of these concepts around and they have never been forgotten. Who knows what will happen in the future…?
I-Punkt Skateland in Hamburg, ca. 1995 – Liu Kang Air to fakie
At what time did you disappear from the sport and the industry and why did that happen? Job, losing the fun in it…?
Around 2000 everyone could feel the market going down and all team budgets were cut. As I am a father I had to also make sure that I could survive in the future. I decided to go behind the scenes and start producing films. Making pictures always was my second passion since I was a kid. I thought this could keep me close to the sport. But even as a producer it was hard to survive in the sport. Together with Bruno we had a couple of good years left till about 2002. After struggling with the sport over these years, I needed a break and focused on other markets which would pay my living as a producer.
Markets like Mountain biking, Skiing, medical stuff… If we ignore the medical part, is it possible to make good money in Mountain biking and Skiing? Or is it only working if you’re doing all kinds of stuff, in many different markets, at the same time?
I think if you are dealing strictly with extreme sports it is probably easier surviving if you are doing business in multiple markets. Most extreme sports presence in the media always changes, depending on the latest fashion. There always remains the core in every sport and if our sport continues growing like Skateboarding did back in the day maybe I will be able return to living again from Rollerblading.
Do you still skate sometimes?
I must admit that I don’t skate a lot. But I do roll every now and then. I still love bowls and mini-ramps. Now that Cesar Andrade and Toto are in Zürich we will probably also skate more vert.
Hypnotic Skatehall in Zug, ca. 1995 – Tweaked Mute Air
You got a family now and you’re also working a serious job. Can you give us a little summary about your work? What are you doing, and is it your own company?
Well, currently I am self-employed. I work as a director, camera man and in digital post-production. Together with Toto I helped set up 21solutions, a media content production provider which is also owned by Toto. We have specialized over the years in various areas like sports, medical and commercial productions.
So you’re sitting in the same office with Toto Ghali (founder of „OUT“)? How did that happen? I mean, how did you find each other working at the same projects outside of rolling?
A couple of years ago I was working up in Davos, Switzerland as a camera man for a medical company. During that time, Toto came by for a visit with his family. Just before he was going to leave he heard of a job offer through the company I was working for and applied. Next thing you know the guy from Marseille is moving to the Swiss mountains with his family to work. After getting fired from there due to budget cuts, Toto decided to return to self-employment. I jumped in to help with his idea and suddenly we had 21solutions running… It is really amazing how this turned out after all these years.
I just watched your Demoreel for 2010. Maybe that’s interesting for our readers as well to get an idea about your work.
Yes, of course. Here’s my Demoreel for 2010:
Besides your video work outside of Rolling it seems like you’re on your way back to the sport as well. You recently released a trailer about a Rollerblading documentary from the 80’s till today. How did you come up with that idea and who else is involved in that project?
The past years I have watched nevertheless what is happening in Rollerblading. And I felt that many people today don’t know where we are coming from. At least here in Europe. I was missing the spirit from the early days in many ways. Toto and many of the other old guys across the world feel the same. I can tell you now that all the old guys are down to support and will be appearing again! But I will keep names to me for now… Toto and I have planned to put out a master piece of which we have always dreamed in the past to show what Rolling is about and how it developed.
Soul Skater – Trailer 1
Soul Skater – Trailer 2
You got great footage from the early years of Rollerblading for sure, but do you think you are still involved enough in the scene to show how Rollerblading has developed in the last years and how it is nowadays? Is that even your goal, or do you simply want to educate the younger generation about how it all started?
We want to educate younger generations with our perspective and experience in Rolling. And even though we haven’t been at all the events over the last years, it does not mean that we have lost contact to all the riders out there… And in the end we all learn the same lessons!
Are we talking about vert only, or also about street? Or Rollerblading in general?
To me it is all about rolling. That is what it was when I was riding. I know this might not apply anymore in all points to recent times.
Can we expect interviews and footage from today as well, or only footage from back in the days?
You can expect the full scope! There are more old and active guys out there then you think. Just because some of them aren’t involved in the business side of it doesn’t mean they’re not shredding anymore! Probably many of them are even more passionate about the sport now then back in the day!
When is the video supposed to be finished?
Currently we are scheduling the project and we are targeting for end of next summer.
The „YOU Messe“ in Berlin a few months ago was the first event you showed up since a long time, if I’m not mistaken. You did a great edit about it right away. How did it feel to meet guys like Rene Hulgreen again and be part of an event like this?
Let’s say it was the first event in Germany that I’ve attended in a long time. But yes, it was great to see many of the old guys. We had a blast. I only had some trouble recognizing all the faces of the younger guys I knew from when they were kids. And Rene is still the same for me: he’s part of the big family and I have a lot of respect for him.
Hannover Ahlem, ca. 1998 – Stalefish
Let’s talk about something controversial. First my impression about it: I always get the feeling that Vert skating didn’t change much since years. Some tricks are getting crazier for sure, but the style is missing and didn’t develop much in my opinion. If I compare guys like Tobias Bucher, Tinu Kunz (R.I.P.) or you with most of the guys of today it’s obvious that you guys had more style and already a more innovative way to skate. That’s missing nowadays for the most part and only people like Sven Boekhorst, Kevin Quentin or Anthony Avella are doing innovative stuff and not only gymnastics on blades. Maybe that’s because the people are learning tricks before they learn how to skate? What’s your opinion on this? How do you feel about the development in vert and in Rollerblading in general?
Spot on. That is what I think, too. Give me three months of training and I’m back competing! The only progression in vert riding has been achieved by the Yasutoko brothers. I think other exceptions like Anthony and Kevin have developed because they always were in touch with older riders like Toto or JeanJean. Everyone has only been looking at tricks – at least that is how it seems. There also seems to be a strong separation between street and vert which didn’t exist back in the day. If you were, and in my opinion: if you are a good rider, you ride street, bowl and vert. But part of this phenomena is for sure our mistake. Meaning all the old riders who kind of disappeared during the same time. No one was left to inspire and guide younger skaters.
That’s a good point. No one left to inspire, that’s how it really looks. And the separation probably happened because Rollerblading developed, but vert got kinda stuck in the late 90s. Seems like you could see vert as a different sport nowadays – not connected to rollerblading how it looks today. Do you think it’s possible to change that, or is it too late already?
As long as people roll things will change and progress – it is in our own interest. Whether one way or the other I will stay positive.
DIV Final in Munich, 1999 – Liu Kang Air to fakie
I read an article with you from 1999. Back then you talked about the problem that some Rollerbladers just don’t want to see the sport on TV and in the mainstream. You talked about pushing the skater owned companies and about the involvement of companies like K2 in the sport. While reading it, I felt like reading an interview from today, which means that even back then we had the same problems. Is our main problem maybe that we are talking and thinking too much about it instead of just doing our thing and maybe working a little bit together instead of hating on each other? What’s your opinion on that topic?
For sure. Most guys in the sport have a huge ego and also have a hard time to collaborate with others. Or they are just simply greedy. But this applies to many areas in life. It’s probably part of getting older and wiser. It is all about being ready to talk and overcome problems. We all struggle whether we want to be authentic and real or rockstars with all the fame. You can’t have both. Just as the skating has progressed, we as people will continue to progress. I am optimistic.
But in the last years almost everybody who became older and wiser left the sport. It’s literally only a handful of guys who stayed and are holding the strings together with their own companies. That’s what makes things so complicated?! Where are all the other older guys?
They all have lives that take responsibility and are learning their lessons in life. Many of us had to find out how to live after skating. Bones get older and hurt. And remember that a lot of them belong to the first generation of athletes in the sport. These guys didn’t have anyone to learn tricks from…
Thanks for taking the time to do this! This is your spot to greet, thank or just to say whatever you want people to know!
I am looking forward to having more time for rolling again and to see all you people out there rolling in the next years!
Nico, Matteo and Luca Attanasio at the „YOU Messe“ in Berlin, October 2010