Photos by Kiku Comino
Interview by Thijs Tel
B: Hi Julian, first off all, thank you for doing this interview!
B: For the people who don’t know you, can you tell us a little about yourself?
J: Sure… I’m a Londoner living in Barcelona, I’ve recently turned 30, I’ve been skating since I got my first skates for my 13th birthday in 1996 and I love it more and more with every year that passes! What else do you want to know?
B: For someone from the cold and wet UK, what is it like to live in Barcelona?
J: Well I’ve been here 2 years now and there are two sides to life in Barcelona. The weekends are amazing because the skate spots are ridiculous, the weather is great, it never really gets cold so you can street skate all year plus there is a good crew of skaters. It’s a pretty small city so you can just cycle or skate to get around town rather than sitting on the train or in a traffic jam for hours. Plus there’s a lot on offer besides the city itself… we have beaches up and down the coast and the south of France and the ski resorts of the Pyrenees are almost on our doorstep. Then again life here is not all sun and skating. I mean when you live and work here it’s different to being on holiday… in the week you work longer hours than in the UK, get paid less, and can’t get much else done because of the Spanish timetable, which is frustrating when you’re from a 24 hour city like London. But come the weekend, I always remember why I’m here!
B: How do you feel about Powerblading? Barcelona seems to be the powerblading hotspot!
J: Yeah, I guess you could say Barcelona is the birth place of the whole movement and a lot of people have picked up on it here. I’ve been mostly riding on a flat setup for the last 3 years anyway and I actually had a UFS Salomon speed frame for years and used to switch frames to commute around town and overtake buses back in London. So the idea of taking that next step and combining those two types of skating that I was already doing is just perfect. That’s what Powerblading is all about, taking the best of the two types of skating to open doors to new possibilities. You can skate fast and smoothly and do tricks, you can hit spots with rough surfaces that were unskatable before or skate long lines and do tricks on the move. It’s inspiring me to do things which never crossed my mind before, and overall I think it will to push the level and the possibilities in skating. It’s also breaking down barriers between so-called “aggressive” skating, “free skating” and whatever other type of skating you can think of. They’ve always been separate sports but now free skaters are realising you can grind while skating around town, and aggressive skaters have rediscovered the fun of just skating around rather than only lining up at a rail. Call it Powerblading if you want, but more importantly the distinction between different types of skating is fading, and we’ve barely scratched the surface. I see a future where people are free skating throughout the city on all surfaces but hitting kinked rails and big ledges and gaps. You could call that Powerblading, aggressive or free skating, but when you take away the labels and the invisible fences, you unlock the true potential of this whole thing, because it’s all rollerblading, and there are so many possibilities.
It’s attracted a lot of controversy though. A lot of people, I’ll say “traditionalists”, seem to think it has no place in what we do. Did those people think the same thing when soul plates got bigger, or when mushroom blading became popular? It’s not some kind of threat to everything we know, it’s just another way of skating, if that’s what you feel like doing. But you don’t have to throw away your other setups just because you have a big-wheel setup. It doesn’t have to be either or. Why not do both? It’s another string to your bow, another board to your quiver! A good surfer has a whole quiver of different boards and will chose the best one for the spot or for what style of surfing they want to do that day. Similarly a good free skier has a setup for powder days and another setup for jibbing rails and hitting kickers in the snowpark so they can do all types of skiing. Rollerblading is no different. If you’ve never skated a spot because you think the floor is too rough or you can’t get enough speed because you’re riding anti-rocker, that’s your setup limiting you. If you can’t do the grind you want to do because you have no groove on your powerblading frames, that’s also your setup limiting you. But if you have a few setups, or maybe a big flat setup which gives you the best of both worlds, then suddenly you’ve eliminated that restriction and you are free to push your skating in different ways. You can ski the backcountry powder and hit the kickers. You can ride the big barrelling waves and the little mellow ones. I hope more skaters will see the potential and go for flat setups and bigger wheels, or have a range of setups so they can chose how and what they skate without limitations. I see powerblading as a big push in this direction. Skating tricks and styles are growing and I can’t think of anything better.
B: You are a manager at PWC (PricewaterhouseCoopers), what exactly does that mean?
J: I work at PwC, and erm, I manage stuff? No, seriously… Long hours and lots of Excel spreadsheets! Haha. I’m a Chartered Accountant and have worked for the firm for almost 7 years, first in London and now I’ve moved to the Barcelona office for a few years. I work as a financial auditor, which basically means we go and visit different companies and check that they’re reporting their annual financial accounts correctly and if not then we recommend how they should be doing their accounting. It’s not all numbers in Excel spreadsheets though… it’s really varied, sometimes the numbers are in Microsoft Word.
No, it is interesting, we see how businesses work from the inside, but I won’t bore you with the details. What I will say is that it can be hard juggling a professional career with skating… I had my blackberry with me at NASS this year to respond to emails before warm ups; I’ve done conference calls from my hotel at the Winterclash; a few years ago I turned up to a client with scars on my face from a face plant on the vert ramp the night before – they all thought I’d been in a fight. I’ve even been known to make spreadsheets of lists of tricks to do. Also I would like to have more time to dedicate to skating and other things which is difficult with this sort of role, although on the other hand it is this choice of career which has made moving overseas so easy for me.
B: What are your thoughts on the state of the industry as it is at the moment?
J: Well, there are really great things going on, but not everything is so good.
The best things are the innovation in product design which is pushing the way we skate, with light-weight boots and new frame designs like flat setup frames, big-wheel setups, shock absorption frames. The growth of skater-owned brands is also a powerful force as they are often the ones leading the innovations and they are also building a strong foundation for the future because those brands are less likely to disappear unannounced like Salomon or K2 have in the past.
As for the bad things, I can’t help but notice how inward-looking we have become and how little is done to attract new people to skating. I mean, if people want better events, more sponsorship, better media, and so on, we have to increase in numbers to get more money in the works, but kids don’t even realise how cool skating is because we’re not on their radar, so would-be rollerbladers end up taking up other sports instead. Videographers could do more to aim their edits and DVDs at people outside of skating rather than making content for people who are already skaters – just go on youtube and see how many parkour or surf videos there are aimed at presenting the sport to outsiders and then try finding anything similar for rollerblading. We also need to be involved in more multi-sport events like NASS and FISE, collaborating with the action sports community to showcase us to the world rather than just to ourselves inside a skatepark. Skate brands could do more to push their stars into the spotlight, showcasing professional skaters to outsiders rather than just to rollerbladers. Also I think skateparks and shops have their part to play by getting people to physically try out skating with hire skates, lessons and camps. It’s easier said than done of course and you can’t put all the blame on specific groups, I guess we can all probably do more to create that interest that is missing.
B: Is there anything skating related that you haven’t done yet, but certainly want to do?
J: To be honest, just progressing and continuing to push my own skating is the most important thing to me right now… learning new tricks and finding new ways to skate. There are so many ways I want to keep pushing my skating and keep pushing skating in general. But besides that I love travelling with skating and discovering new scenes and places and that’s something I want to do more of. There are still so many countries and cities I haven’t skated in and I want to do a lot more travelling with my skates. I’ve also toyed with the idea of starting something new myself… who knows, a skatepark or something. Maybe some day, but not right now…
B: Besides skating there are several other sports you practice, what can you tell us about them?
J: Yeah man, besides skating I also love to ski, skydive and surf as well as a few other water sports. Skating still comes first, but over the last few years I’ve discovered that these sports give me the same feeling of freedom and fun as skating does. In winter here I spend weekends skiing in Andorra, I surf in Barcelona whenever there are waves and I’ve been on surf trips to the Atlantic coastlines of France and Morocco recently. I learnt to skydive back in 2008 and now I’m learning to fly my body in different positions in freefall and in the wind tunnel and to do different manoeuvres – what we call “freeflying”. All of these things are similar to lacing tricks on skates in a lot of ways. For me it’s all about that sense of freedom you get from doing things which have no rules or boundaries, and which should be impossible like gliding along a concrete surface or falling from the sky. The rush you get from the physical movement and the satisfaction from progressing and bettering yourself are also what make these sports so central to my life. Also I would say that doing, or at least following, other sports and having influences outside of skating have had a really positive influence on me. For example, skiing has inspired me to learn new aerial tricks in the skatepark which I used to think I wasn’t capable of doing, watching parkour videos inspired me to learn new kinds of tricks, and it helps me mentally, to think big. A mountain climber goes through hell to reach the summit and base jumpers risk their lives to push the boundaries of human flight – suddenly the drag of driving a few hours to a skatepark to learn something new or the fear of doing a scary trick become insignificant.
B: Finally, is there anything you want to tell our readers?
J: Open your mind to diversity in our sport and culture because it is the best thing that can happen. Why should all rollerbladers fit into a small hole? Let people ride big wheels and small wheels, grind curbs and do double flips, do experimental tricks and keep it old school, train for competitions and just skate street. One is not better than the other, it’s all rollerblading and it’s all pushing the envelope in different ways. Don’t fight it, be a part of it, and we can keep tapping into the potential of what is possible on a pair of skates.