Great conversation with 4 time European Champion and 3 time World Champion. He tells us about: his role in the Airflow team developing awesome products, what it takes to make an awesome downhill skateboard and his pursuit of fun outside skateboard racing.
Hi Martin, where are you from?
I grew up in Liestal, Switzerland. Now I live in Zürich. Since the beginning of March, I’ve stayed in Tamara Prader‘s apartment because she’s out travelling and racing until the end of the year.
Who is Tamara?
Tamara is one of a couple of fast swiss longboard girls and she’s dating P-Swiss.
Do you skate with many of the Swiss girls?
Not really. It happens every once in a while.
Who do you skate with?
I used to skate on my own a lot, hitch hiking on my home hills. Recently I started skating more with other people. In Zürich, I also join freeride sessions. We have these cable-cars going up to some cool urban hills.
Do you prefer skating on your own?
Back in the days, when I was still racing, I didn’t want to share information with other racers. I had one friend who I was skating with, his name is Frank Uhlmann. It was awesome skating with him because we were both riding the same race style and we were both safe, that’s usually my main concern when skating with other people.
Have you had any incidents that make you so wary of skating with others?
No, it’s just a fact that riding close with other skaters is dangerous and I’m trying to keep risk low. If I make a mistake it’s my business but taking someone out on the roads we skate in the Alps might end up real bad!
How did you get into skateboarding?
I got a skateboard from my parents when I was about 6 or 7. That was in the 80’s. Picked it up again at the end of the 90’s and one night I saw an X-games race and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I raced my first World Cup in Altbüron Switzerland in 2002.
Was Frank the first downhill skater you met?
No, I started riding downhill speed with someone else. He was doing drugs and I didn’t realize what he was up to: Weird memories.
When did you start riding longboards?
I started riding longboards in 1996. I cut out a board from plywood and I think it broke the next day. I got some better plywood and reinforced that board with a flipped and shortened ski. That was my race board for the first World Cup and World Championships in Kaunertal in 2002.
Why did you decide to build your own board?
None of the shops in my area sold longboards, not even slalom boards.
Were there many people in Europe riding longer boards back then?
Was anyone else riding in Switzerland?
Of course! What do you expect with all these nice hills everywhere?
Who were the pioneers?
I’d say Roli Hafner, Andreas Pfander for Downhill Skateboarding, Yvon Labarthe for everything on small wheels and Olivier Wagner for Streetluge.
What was it about racing that attracted you?
I was a very competitive person. I wanted to know how fast I was compared to everyone else. I liked the challenge. Before racing skateboards, I was competing in free-climbing. I still get sweaty hands when watching climbing comps! It’s not quite the same with skateboarding. When I watch a race, memories come back and I feel again just how I felt at the start line.
Is skateboard racing your biggest love?
How did you do in your first race?
I crashed in the consolation final and got 8th. After that I was hooked and I was so stoked to go to the World Championships!
When was your first full competitive season?
I never had a full season of racing. I was always into other things besides skateboarding. I raced a lot in 2005 but missed the overall World Cup victory.
How did you improve on that first board you made?
I met the guys at Airflow Skateboards who didn’t really know how a downhill skateboard had to look and feel like. So we started exploring.
What is Airflow?
Airflow Skateboards is a Swiss brand that makes performance longboards. The company started making slalom boards because the owner, Chris Hart, was really into slalom. Once I joined, things started shifting over to downhill speed, still with a focus on racing.
Are there many other Swiss making boards?
There are a few brands, yes. The scene used to be bigger some years ago especially in Zürich and I think there were more companies then, but some of them survived as they made the shift to freeriding and downhill.
What killed the others off?
I don’t know what it was. All of a sudden the slalom boards were not cool anymore, who knows? Maybe the market was saturated, even over-saturated?
What were they making at Airflow at the point you joined?
Airflow Skateboards made these typical, narrow, Swiss slalom boards. All of us used to wiggle around cones a lot.
I used to ride a lot and we were pressing boards. My first boards didn’t have any concave at all, looking back from where I am now, it is hard to understand, but it did the job back then. I think around 2005, Airflow started making a foamcore type slalom board. We used the same construction for a downhill race board. It had concave just for the front foot. Every season we built a new composite board. We realized that no one except a few maniacs would pay enough money for these boards. So we decided to design an all wood board which works both for freeriding and racing.
What is the single most important thing about building a speedboard?
I need a coffee refill for that one… Okay, there is no single most important thing. Looking at the boards used in racing, you’ll notice that most boards are nearly equal in width, about 25 – 27 cm. Length varies, usually topmounts are shorter and drop throughs are longer, max. length around 1 metre. Apart from that, opinions are diverse. I’d say it’s important that you feel the board under your feet really, really well. The interaction between the rider’s feet and the board is very important.
What’s your preference?
I’ve always preferred low drop-through boards. It suits my racing oriented style of riding. It’s stable and safe at speeds. It drifts nicely with smooth release for slides. Something which used to be important in racing was that a low board is easier to push at the start of a race and foot braking is definitely easier on a drop-through board!
What is your racing style?
I like having things under control. Back in the day, footbraking was the best way to slow down for corners and I realized that it’s really important to be quick coming out of a turn. Riding clean lines, no unnecessary moving around.
How close are you to having the perfect board?
I’d say we’re really close with the Fuse and the Bracket. Both boards feature the same, unique 3d type concave. While the design process was a bit too complicated and iterative, I’m happy I found out how to do it better and more real time afterwards.
What was your role in developing the Fuse and the Bracket?
The team agreed that we needed a longboard with all kinds of features suitable for freeriding and racing. I studied Industrial Design. During that time, I started to soak up all kinds of information on how to transform 2D materials into 3D, which was exactly what we needed for this project. I was folding a huge pile of paper to find out how to arrange bends in order to get what you now call 3D concave. I’m responsible for most of the recent CAD work at Airflow Skateboards.
You chose to study a course that was applicable to skateboarding?
Not really but my interest in production techniques logically leads to studying transformation from flat to 3D. I’m still learning how to simulate certain things in CAD and there’s plenty of things to still discover.
So you’re the mad scientist, Dr Siegrist!
What makes the 3D concave on your boards different from others in the industry?
The 3D concave on the Fuse and the Bracket is like a tub, it goes up all around and it has very defined bends. These bends help big time cause you know where your feet are without looking at them. Our 3D concave is more complex in the design phase and more complex to model in CAD and not as easy to press compared to simple, more extruded style concaves. After riding a Fuse or Bracket, you will have difficulties riding a less defined concave and you’ll actually feel unsafe riding a simple concave design.
Who is the Airflow team?
We have a core team of really good racers in both slalom and downhill. Chris Hart is the owner of Airflow Skateboards, he loves to ride pools and was Giant Slalom Vice World Champion in 2006. Ramón Königshausen was World Champion in Tight Slalom in 2006 and made the shift over to downhill speed. He’s a champ on race tracks with technical corners. Christoph Batt joined the team last year. He’s one of the fastest guys around, unfortunately he dislocated his shoulder at the World Cup in Peyragudes. There are a few other names and some riders who retired from racing who still show up for a session every now and then.
Do they all have their own models?
Ramón has a tight slalom pro model. I have my pro model speed board and Chris has the C81 which is a composite GS board. We haven’t focused on pro/signature models too much lately.
I’m working with Chris Hart on production and development. There are many things I help with all the time. I’d say my success in racing helped spread the name ”Airflow Skateboards” all around the globe and paired with my design skills, I helped shape the brand to what it is now.
If you could build a perfect track, what would it be?
Oh! I think it would have a bit of everything. Some of my favorite race tracks and mountain passes combined in one road. How insane would that be? Of course it would have an elevator to the very top and in-built timing system with split times. Maybe one day that dream becomes true.
How has your riding evolved since 2002?
What was your favourite season so far?
There isn’t one season that stands out but in terms of racing it was really cool to join the Eurotour in 2010 where I won my last European Champion title.
Does anyone have more Euro championships than you?
I don’t know! I have won 4 official IGSA European Championships and one unofficial in 2003. Christoph Batt has the most 2nd places at the Euro Champs! I’m happy he now rides for Airflow Skateboards.
When did you first skate outside Switzerland?.
That was probably in 2002. I joined the Team Airflow for the Slalom World Championships in Morro Bay USA.
If you had to live & skate anywhere else where would it be?
Where is second best?
That would probably be Norway.
How have your competitions outside Europe gone?
I had track records at Maryhill and in Bathurst. However I never won a race outside Europe, which shows how tough it can be. You have to race different people under different conditions. More recently I’ve had some issues with nutrition. It was nearly impossible to find healthy food in USA last time I was there.
You should have found some nutritious bacon!
What was your best result in a season?
That would have been 2006 where I won the World Champs in Switzerland and the first edition of the Legendary Col d’Izoard race in France. And 2007 where I also won the Worlds and Col d’Izoard. Many best results I’m really fond of.
Gnar! How did it feel to be WORLD CHAMPION?
It was great. My first title in 2004 was a bit lucky because I didn’t even have to race the final. Dalua qualified for the final but crashed in the shut down and had to go to hospital. It was great to win again in 2006 because it was a true race with really good people!
What was the most fun world championship race?
The one in Switzerland in 2006 was the best! Awesome road, awesome people, good feelings!
Have there been any other 3 time World Downhill Skateboarding Champions?
In other categories, yes. Brianne Davies from Canada won the girls three times. Other than that there are a three double World Champions, Kevin Reimer from Canada, Angelina Nobre from France and Jolanda Vogler from Switzerland.
It wasn’t on my to-do list in 1996 but defintely in 2002 after my first World Cup attendance. I knew right away that I can become a World Champion.
Why were you so confident?
I was convinced because the race went well and I knew that my skills would only get better and better.
What does it take to make a World Champ?
You need to know what you can do and then you also need some luck! You might need to be at the right place in the right moment and see the open door right in front of you. That was the case at the Worlds in Jungholz Austria in 2007 where I got into the corner section third behind Bassi Haller and Mischo Erban. Both of them scrubbed too much speed and I had enough space to pass them. I think it’s much more difficult now than it was a few years ago. There are so many talented youngsters with no fear!
When was your most recent World Championship?
That was in 2009 in Bathurst Australia.
None. But of course these titles are nice to have and it helps in many occasions. All of a sudden people in my town would know what I do which wouldn’t be the case without these titles.
Do you get a cup, and have you consumed any drinks out of it?
No, but I got champagne at some events and Riccard every now and then.
Will you be at Calgary?
No, I’m not racing anymore.
You’re enjoying freeriding more?
I got into drifting a few years ago and now I’m just riding for myself, for fun and pleasure! It feels good!
Will we ever see your red suit at a race again?
Do you miss it?
Not at all.
I achieved more than I ever wanted in racing. There’s nothing left to prove.
You were the last European to win a World Championship, do you think one of us can break the current Canadian trend this year?
I hope so, but it will be difficult.
What is your role in the downhill skateboarding family now?
I’ll just continue doing what I do now. Ride for fun. Ride with my friends, when they’re in town. Or travel somewhere and ride with friends. Apart from that of course I want to design some good products.
What other kinds of products are coming out of Dr Siegrist’s lab?
How is it different from the usual planks of wood on a plastic bottle?
While usual balance boards are mainly for side to side movement, the Balance Master rolls in all directions. The deck also has a concave standing platform identical to my promodel concave, flat in the middle and raised edges for toes and heels. It’s a through thought solution you can buy in a shop, compared to a no budget ghetto board. Of course it also costs more. We’ve sold the first batch and people are stoked on it so I think we’re on the right path.
How can people get their hands on one?
It’s available through AirflowSkateboards.com
Any information on new products you want to share with us?
I don’t like sharing before I can deliver! Sorry. Keep your eyes peeled!
Even if I send you some honey covered bacon as a nutritious bribe?
Send me to where I can eat Açai berries, fresh coconuts or fresh whatever.
Haha okay Dr Siegrist, anywhere in particular?
Who are your sponsors?
My sponsors are Airflow Skateboards, Magun Trucks, Abec11 Wheels, Biltin Bearings, Five Ten Shoes and my parents. I also used to get some funds from the government.
Pick 3 numbers between 1-39.
1, 33, 17
1 – What do you take with you when you go for a skate?
Bare minimum is a helmet!
33 – Daniel.Hawes asks: What’s the most interesting thing regarding string theory you have recently learnt about string theory?
I don’t know what it is but it sounds interesting!
17- Do you prefer skating without socks or without underwear?
It’s been a great pleasure chatting to you tonight, wish you all the best in your pursuit of fun. Look forward to sharing some new Airflow products on our site.
Thanks for contacting me and yes, it was fun! Please visit my website http://www.mrtn.ch to find out more about me. And check out http://www.airflow-skateboards.com to see all our boards and much more.
Any thank yous?
My parents for buying that skateboard in the 80’s and letting me do what I wanted!
Mr. Magun for his amazing trucks and driving me to the top of the most amazing hills in Europe!
Chris Hart for the support and trust.
And thank you to those who buy our boards!