Interview. Amanda Valenzuela and Nivardo Valenzuela
Cover Image. Brett Novak
There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.
Kilian Martin once said that skaters “should be able to open their minds a little more and try different things.” You could say, he has always been about mixing and remixing, opening up to different experiences and finding alternative routes that have lead him to the same destination: freestyle skateboarding. “When I was little I would listen to my mom sing flamenco,” Martin recalls of his early years living in Spain, where he got into punk-rock bands like Ramones, Devo and Toy Dolls. He also credits his early exposure to 80’s cult-classic films, such as The Karate Kid and The Goonies, with igniting his sense of adventure and the attitude towards the things he wants to accomplish. “Those films just really appeal to me,” Martin explains. “Finding a treasure and [having] an adventure like in The Goonies is amazing. Some of those 80's movies are really inspirational and get me in the mood of trying my best at anything.”
Indeed, Martin has evolved a skateboarding style that defies a homogeneous, one-fits-all definition of what skateboarding should be. He pushes his own personal boundaries of skateboarding, just as his athletic abilities test the limits of what can be done with a skateboard. Martin’s style is―partly―a result of his early athletic experiences. In his early teens, for instance, Martin enrolled in a gymnastics school in Madrid. “At that time, I wanted to work out without going to the gym,” Martin explains about what attracted him to gymnastics. “Also, I wanted to learn to do front flips. It looked fun to me.” Around the same time, he awakened a passion for surfing. Living over 4 hours aways from the ocean, however, practicing the sport proved to be a challenge. Growing up watching football (soccer), he was also keen on being a good player, developing his skills in a couple of different teams. When asked about the hometown rivalry between Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid, Martin knows where his loyalty is in this turf war, affirming, "I like Real Madrid."
Given his exposure to football (soccer) and gymnastics, it is no wonder Martin―nimble, deft, and energetic―makes for such an extraordinary skater. Surprisingly, he didn't start getting into skateboarding until he was 16, initially skating mini-ramps and the streets of Madrid. “I like Plaza de Colón (Colon Square) and the amphitheatre in Alcorcón [south-west of the Madrid metropolitan area],” he says about some of his favorite spots to skate in Madrid.
After a year of skateboarding, Martin―unaware that he, too, would one day leave his mark on skateboarding―found inspiration in Stacy Peralta's skateboarding documentary film, Ban This. He realized that freestyle skateboarding really vibed with him, particularly because it allowed him to expand creativity.
Fast-forward a few years, and he has continued to keep an open mind, collaborating in a series of skateboarding videos with filmmaker Brett Novak, where he outpours his athleticism, creativity, and innovative style.
“People try to call out Kilian for ‘copying Rodney’,” Novak comments, “but the only thing Kilian is doing similar to Rodney is that he's doing completely unique stuff. Rodney wasn't known for handstands off stairs, for wall plants, for two board tricks - it's just that he sparks the same emotional response one gets while watching Rodney skate. A mixture ‘holy shit, that's new,’ ‘holy shit, that's amazing’ and ‘holy shit, that's too weird for me to like.’ Ironically (and borderline poetically), Rodney invented almost any trick that a ‘regular skater’ would claim one must do to fit into the ‘not copying category’ (kick flips, heelflips, 360 flips).”
Novak’s re-envisioning of Martin’s style certainly kindles a profound and tangible emotional reaction. In Altered Route, for example, aided by Patrick Watson’s “Adventures in Your Own Backyard” and Novak’s decelerating sequences, Martin slowly explores an abandoned water park, with cut-in images of its former life.
Through dirty winding road, around your feet
The piercing score echoes amidst the solitude and nostalgia of the forgotten arcade, the forsaken dusty landscape, and the purple-orange hues of sunset, as Martin's silhouette navigates its ghostly ruins, synchronously unearthing a subaqueous sense of sadness and loss.
Martin’s skateboarding style transcends the notion that skating is merely a sport. There’s a certain method to the way Martin approaches skateboarding, much like a choreographer composing a dance routine. He tends to write his tricks down in advance before he does them, as an engineer crafting dreams, taking notes and making illustrations in a journal, as they come to him, wherever he may be. With his skateboard in hand, Martin’s creative process channels feelings and ideas that pollinate new perspectives: skateboarding as a dance, as performance art.
VAFFANCULO MAG (VM): Your style of skateboarding―particularly complemented by Novak's savvy weaving and melding of shot sequences and soundtrack choices―is like a dancer experimenting. Do you consider yourself a good dancer?
Kilian Martin (KM): I like to dance with my wife. :)
VM: You collaborated with Ballantine to create a rendition of Bizet’s opera Carmen and worked with choreographer Miguel Elías. Both you and Miguel Elías speak Spanish and the use of the body is an integral part of each of your careers. Even though you each perform in different platforms, was there a mutual understanding or a point of convergence in what both of you were trying to accomplish?
KM: Well, in the beginning I just didn't know how it would work. Even though skateboarding has some dancing in it, it's two different worlds. I wasn't sure. He saw me skating and gave me an idea for a trick that I had never thought of before. After that moment, I was like "wow" let's get more new tricks done. He is an amazing artist.
VM: People have compared you to Rodney Mullen and Darryl Grogan, but you once said that you don’t like to be compared:
“Even though some of the tricks [I do] could look similar. We have our own personality, individuality and our own view of what skateboarding is. It’s true that sometimes you get inspired and influenced by someone to do a trick and that shouldn’t be a bad thing.”
In that same line of being inspired by others, Josefina Ludmer, an Argentinian writer, cleverly pointed out that “[ideas] are not original but viral: they merge with others, change their form, and migrate to other territories.”
Your art/sport is constant creation and re-invention. Do you think the image of the skateboarder as a rebellious, non-conforming youth has faded or, rather, evolved in recent years?
KM: I think it has faded a little bit just because there are so many different people skating. I don't think skateboarders in general should have an specific general image, but just be who they are. At the end of the day, it's just a normal person on top of a wooden board with wheels.
VM: Where do you see skateboarding going in the next few years? Where do you want to take it?
KM: I see skateboarding evolving like it always has. I think we'll see a lot of new tricks. I want to focus on having fun and create tricks for the fun of it, without putting too much attention on what those tricks will add to skateboarding.
VM: You previously stated that skateboarding “is about having fun. It’s not about being the best. It’s about progression. Instead of being frustrated when you compare yourself to others, compete with yourself. That’s the best way to improve.” Did you have any mentors?
KM: I didn't have any mentors. It's better to have skaters find out for themselves if they are skating from the wrong reasons.
VM: You studied marketing and graphic design; and use social media to document much of what you do stylistically, the places you travel to and skate in. You've had a Facebook copycat pretending to be you, and your Instagram posts are full of comments by fans wanting to meet you when you visit their towns. Do you have any concerns about the erasure of privacy in today’s digital world?
KM: I am [concerned] with it, but I feel like it's something that [is] gonna happen. Sometimes it becomes frustrating when you realize that you don't have all the control [of] your image.
VM: You've traveled to countries like India, is there anywhere you haven’t been and want to hit up next?
KM: I'd like to go with my wife to Phuket, Thailand.
VM: You got into skating because living in Madrid it was hard to practice surfing. Now that Brett is taking up surfing, is there a chance your fans will get a glimpse of you surfing and putting your acrobatic skills to work on the water? A collaboration with Brett Novak?
KM: That's not a bad idea. I might have to talk to Brett about it and come out with a "surf escalation."
VM: Lastly, you recently started a collaboration with Suavecito Pomade. What's next for you?
KM: Next is a new video with Brett and my goal is to keep them coming.