Hello Matt! Where are you from?
Hey Gbemi! From Plymouth, UK, and still there now.
Same as the Distance Nerd?
Haha yup, though I’ve been called one of them in the past too!
Is it something in the Plymouth water that turns you that way?
You talk about it like it’s a disease! Must be something like that, though in the past I just figured I did it because I enjoy hiking for a long way, and I love skating, why not join the two together?
When did you start skating?
I started when I was 2 years old, pushing round the shop on my knee on an old ozbozz board (I think it was called that), bumping into everyones ankles! Unfortunately the pressure of starting primary school meant I couldn’t dedicate that much time to it, and I started up again when I was about 15.
How did you cope for 13 years with no board under you?
Looking back, I have no idea.
Why did it take you so long to complete primary school?
Haha! Gotta make sure you understand everything fully before you move on, ya know! (not really, I finished at the normal time!)
When did you get into longboarding?
I think I was 16, the older brother of a friend of mine bought one off eBay. We took it in turns going round the corner at the bottom of the road for about 6 months before I realised I should get my own.
Was it hard getting a longboard in the UK back then?
Harder than it was now, but it wasn’t a big issue. I started with a Lush Mako, and we had a skate shop that stocked them locally – you couldn’t have found anything from Landyachtz or Rayne in a shop.
Does this shop still run?
Nope, it shut down not long after I bought my longboard, but the guy who ran it set up a new one a few years later which is doing well! He still stocks Lush – as well as a bunch of boards from America and Canada.
What is the local scene like?
Booming! There’s new kids every week with longboards appearing round town, and some of them are actually getting quite good too. Keeps me on my toes!
Are there any crews in Plymouth?
If there is, I must be pretty uncool because I don’t know about them. There is a club within the university and anyone can go and skate with them, its a good meeting point for skaters in the city.
Do you skate with them?
Yep! If they’re having a session I go along, and I’ll invite a bunch of them if I’m going out to skate wherever. Its pretty nice actually living in the city, I can send out a text or a Facebook thingy, and get a bunch of people out to skate at short notice. Great for inbetween lectures.
What sort of skating do you do?
The type with a board and some wheels! There are so many different categories I’m not even sure what half of them are. I suppose I do ride “longboards”. I ride them fast, slow, uphill, downhill (preferably), forwards, sideways, anything you want. At the moment riding a Hackbrett Anarchy. I’m not really held back by riding a board I’ve “set up” specifically for any particular type of skating. I can ollie round town, wiggle through the shoppers, I even do some wrongboarding sometimes and grind benches and ledges, just because I can. Then the same setup can go superfast (as fast as its possible to go round here anyway), and is great for sliding. I like to think I can skate everything. But I still can’t kickflip!
What is wrongboarding?
I think generally it means “street” skating on a longboard. I think one of the cool skate websites did a little article on why its lame (why early-grab a 3 set when kids are ollying 10 sets, etc) but its good fun, so why not?
Street skaters always seem to have a bone to pick with those of the longer variety. What’s their beef?
Not sure really. For every one thats been sour I’ve met two that are stoked so it seems like the times are changing. I try and keep out of the skateboard vs longboard debate. I ride longer boards because I find it more fun, maybe all the street skaters are mad because they aren’t having as much fun? I don’t know. If they’re happy I’ll leave em to it.
Not many people in the UK ride Hackbracketts. Why do you?
Hackbracketts, haha. Hackbrett! It isn’t really that known in the UK, and Christine Maier posted on the Lush longboards forum that they were looking for a team for 2010 and I applied. I wasn’t really sure what to expect when they wrote back and asked me to go and skate in Freiburg with them, but it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life, yet alone just in skate stuff. They’re such a good bunch of people, even if I wasn’t lucky enough to be sponsored by them I’d go over and stay with them and skate. Oh, and did I mention that their boards are seriously good?! Hack puts a lot of thought into the new shapes/tweaking old ones, always listening to the team riders who are testing them and using his own experience too. I know people think “oh he’s sponsored by them, of course he’ll say the boards are good” but honestly, I can hardly imagine riding anything else!
You’ve been to Freiburg, you must have skated with mad Felix?
Felix is rad. I mean they all are, but yeah. When I first met him he was just thinking of moving to Freiburg and we got on great. Now he’s been there for a few years and his level of skating has just gone through the roof, no way can I catch him anymore!
What did your CV say when you sent to Hack in 2010?
Hahaha, oh god, I have no idea! Its funny, at the time I thought I was a bit of a badass and a good skater. Looking back I was the polar opposite – my skatings improved but I now realise that I have so much yet to learn. I think I basically wrote to them and told them how much I enjoyed skating, rather than how “good” I was. I’m gonna ask them next time I’m over there why they picked me actually.
What had you done in 2010 to make you feel badass?
I had been skating for two, two and a half years maybe. Not long really! I’d gone to Goodwood for the roller marathon for my first taste of “distance skating” and somehow ended up winning it and breaking the world record, so my ego was probably at its biggest for a few months after that haha.
What is good wood?
Ah, Goodwood. Its a marathon round the motor circuit, just over 26 miles and its pretty flat. I’d never even skated 26 miles before but it sounded fun so I went up with Laura Hatwell and raced. Its a cool event, with 600+ people on the track (mostly roller bladers but more longboarders turn up every year) it can get pretty hectic at the start line! The speed skaters really go, too. I think they can keep up about 23-24mph on the flat, you don’t want to get in their way!
You must have secretly trained really hard to break the WORLD RECORD!
Haha, training. Nah, I’d been hiking a lot over the winter on Dartmoor so my legs were strong and I’d been skating downhill/round town every day for months. I guess I was just in the right place at the right time of my life to do it – if you want to beat the record now you’d have to really put some hours in.
What was your 2010 time?
1:49 I think. The previous record was 2:01 set by Nat Halliday 2 years previously. There can be a vicious headwind at Goodwood so the year before nobody could beat it. Oh wait, its 2012. Must have been 2009 I got 1:49, in 2010 I got 1:43 after pushing all summer, can’t play the “no training” card for that one!
Wow. Mad man. When did you first get into distance skating?
Bath to Bristol 2009 was the first time I’d ever skated more than a few miles, it was a month or so before my first Goodwood. An angry woman in a BMW ran over my foot in the car park before we started too!
What’s your role in the Layback team?
I’m just a little old team rider, I ride their boards and try and get their name out there as much as I can in the UK, and send in videos when I make them and any decent photos I can find. I often wish I could do more for them to pay back what they’ve given me, and hopefully I’ll get the chance next year working for Hack.
You speak like they have given you more than a board to ride.
They gave me some Crail trucks and Hawgs wheels too but really the material things I’ve been given are just a tiny part of being in team Layback. It’s more about getting out there to events and meeting people, having fun. Thats a big part of Hacks philosophy – smile like a champ – and it’s pretty infectious!
What will you be doing for Hack next year?
I’m moving to Freiburg in a few months to work for him for a year. It’ll count as my work placement for Uni before I got back for my final year. The job description says I’ll be learning about all areas of the business and specializing in accounting, marketing and international sales, which is what I study at Uni so it’s perfect.
Aren’t you a lucky boy! Will you be living with Felix while you’re over there?
I am! I’m a bit scared that loads of bad stuff is going to happen to even out my incredible luck! I don’t think I’ll be living with Felix, they are looking for a room for me at the moment. It could end up being with someone on the team but it’s likely I’ll be with some Germans that I don’t know. I hope they’re friendly.
Do you know enough German to order beer?
Yeah, that was one of the first things I learnt! Along with how to insult someones grandmother. Useful stuff! Not so sure on how to go about finding accomodation… ah well.
There’s always bushes… Or you could try that longboard couch surfing group.
True! Though I’ve had a few friends say I’m free to crash at theirs until I find a permanent place so I figure I’ll be OK.
Aside from Goodwood what other distance things have you done?
Uh, I did Bath to Bristol again the next year, a marathon called “Plymouth to Polperro” which was brutal – a local skate shop (a different one from earlier) organised it and 40 people turned up to skate the most demanding 26 miles the UK could provide. Open roads, crashes, broken bones, huuuge rough hills… it was incredible! Anyway that gave my friend Lee Renshaw the idea of skating the length of the UK as a last adventure before we (me, Lee and Charlie Mason) went our separate ways after school. We skated 1000 miles in 21 days (19 days of skating) and beat the record for that, though that may not last long because I think some others are going to try it this summer or the next. I was lucky enough to get flown to Florida to race in the first Adrenalina skateboard marathon where I didn’t really perform and came in 7th place, but I am still stoked on the whole experience – especially meeting Paul and Aaron of Longtreks fame, and some legends like James Peters and Jack Smith. Hmm I think thats about it for distance stuff. Not writing it off for the future though, I might plan something else.
How was Adrenalina different to the UK races?
It was hot in Florida!! They also put up an incredible amount of prize money – $10,000 for first place in the mens – so there was a bit of pressure, especially for me as the guy sponsored by Adrenalina themselves. There were helicopters buzzing overhead, interviews with local TV and newspapers, a shop with its own flow rider inside… it was a huge event!
Wait what? 4 zeros after the 1. That’s your monthly booze allowance sorted!
You underestimate me as a student! Haha. 7th didn’t get anything – though there were prizes for each age category and I won my respective one and came away with a sector9 complete and a bag of goodies. I was kind of gutted that I didn’t do better at the time, but really, I won before the race even started. I got a free week in the USA to do what I love to do.
How did you get sponsored by Adrenalina?
Well Adrenalina wanted their race to be the biggest and best race ever in distance skating (which it was). And they figured they had to have the worlds best marathon skaters there to compete, so I had an email through from them after they found my name as the current world record holder. I told them I couldn’t afford to get to Florida and the next day they had a video competition – explain why you should come to Adrenalina, and we’ll pay for the person we think deserves it most. I made a video and they chose it! After my 7th place finish in Miami they said they couldn’t pay for me to go to New York for the next race, but if I won in NYC they’d pay for the rest of the tour – I couldn’t afford to get to New York.
Bummer. How was your 7 day holiday?
Incredible. That may have even been one of the reasons I didn’t do so well in the race – my mind was in total holiday mode, hanging out with Aaron and Paul, filming goofy stuff, going out for meals every night and playing on the flowrider. You need to get your mind ready for a race like that, if you’re not prepared for the pain then you won’t push through it.
You skated 1000 miles. For fun?
Hell yes! Well no, not entirely. We did it for charity – the Gogo Trust. Charlie had a close friend who moved to South Africa to work with them so we raised money for her to build a new nursery for kids whose parents died of AIDS. With such a small charity it was cool to see how the money we raised really benefited them. It was fun. Not fun like ripping down a hill, but fun in that we achieved a great thing for a great cause. All that blah blah blah stuff!
How much did you raise?
We raised just over £4000 in the end, we were aiming for £5000 but I’m not upset that we didn’t make it – it was an ambitious target!
Have you done any other charity events?
B2B and P2P (never realised that!) were both for charity…Goodwood is actually for charity too! Though with that I generally just paid my entry fee which goes to Children in need, rather than spent time raising cash for them – my grandparents can only donate so much to my skating-for-charity fund. I also did Skaiti – Skate for Haiti – organised by Jo Coles. She managed to get us onto the Top Gear track for 24 hours to see how far we could skate whilst raising money for Shelterbox. It was awesome!
Will you be at Goodwood this year?
Nope! Gutted. I know it’s not the same as before but to be honest, skating the distance and not having to race it sounds quite pleasant! It’s always a good time to catch up with the Euro guys too – Chris Vallender and Alex Bangnoi (no idea how thats spelt) especially. Those guys are cool, they put a lot of effort into that side of things and show their face at all the major distance events, not to mention – they are hard at my tail when I race them!
What is it about UK people and distance skating?
Dunno! Maybe its because we are somewhat lacking huge hills and mountain passes. In Canada and Switzerland and Scandinvia downhill is big, and hardly anyone skates distance, but in Holland there are loads of people that skate distance but not downhill. The UK isn’t as flat as Holland but as a happy medium we get people who like all types of skating.
Have you skated much around the rest of Europe?
A bit yeah! I’ve been to a couple of freerides and have skated a lot around Freiburg and the Blackforest. Last summer I skated in the Swiss alps for a week too but was on my own so couldn’t hit the bigger roads. Even the small roads and farm tracks are rad though, I spent more time sliding in that week than I do in a month in the UK!
Aside from distance, have you competed in any other disciplines?
Distance weirdly is what I seem to have done best in, though I’d say I skate way more downhill. I’ve done a couple of downhill races, Eastbourne in 2009, various outlaws in Devon, Ride the dragon last year in Wales (I thought it only got that wet in the sea!) and a couple of Hog hill races. They’re fun, stress free! I always get beaten by the Fourie brothers…I’m getting closer everytime though!
I heard everyone beats you, especially the Banditos
Haha, probably true. Racing is fun but its a different kind of thrill to the skating that you grow to love as you progress. I’d prefer to get a bunch of good friends together and skate fast for a weekend without the extra pressure of a start line than to travel to a race – they’re expensive too.
So what are the chances of seeing you on the Eurotour?
Well as I’m based in Europe during the summer it should be higher than normal! I haven’t signed up for anything yet though, not even any freerides. Gonna work it all out with the guys at Layback, they work hard and I don’t wanna turn up then leave them to run the shop whilst I go to all the races!
When are you leaving our sunny shores?
End of June. Pretty excited, nervous, terrified…it’ll be alright… right?
You must come to Critical Mass in London before you escape.
I’m game! Gonna go around and visit all my friends that are spread throughout the country before I leave so this would be a good thing to add. Plans forming…dangerous!
Obviously in fancy dress. (not necessarily a dress)
But I can if I want, right?
How was your weekend?
Pretty rad actually! Went to a pretty sweet party Saturday night…my great aunts 80th at the local bowling alley! Then drove out into the land of rain and sheep that some call Wales for a skate with the Lush/Bristol crew + Bruno. Sessioned some fun corners all morning then got our gimp suits on (well some of us did, Mr Vanstone doesn’t seem to mind 50mph in a t shirt!) and went fast. Not as fast as we hoped, there was a pretty huge headwind, but still. I’ve never skated a hill like that even though I’ve been faster…it was like skating a vertical wall of concrete down into a forest… Oh man. Been replaying it in my head all day!
Are you on the lush team?
Nope, team Layback through and through! Though I do have a set of Cult wheels. John and Bruno are sponsored by Arbor and they came along. Its not really about who gives who a board, we just skate together and it works well.
Why don’t we see more media from sessions in sheep country?
We were wondering this ourselves when we were out there. There must be so many hills that haven’t been found or skated yet, and even though there are people going out there there isn’t that much footage. Mind you, I wouldn’t blame them for keeping that to themselves – it’d be a huge shame if some people turned up and didn’t spot or clean up after themselves or whatever and got the spots blown. There is the South Wales downhill blog, a nice place to catch up on what they’ve found recently!
Do you have a blog yourself?
Nah, bit much effort for me. I follow Don&Giovanni religiously though!
Do you have any advice for any people who are thinking of pushing absurd distances for fun/charity this summer?
Take extra griptape, you’ll melt it. And rubber to resole your shoes, you’ll kill it. We lost a few wheels too so a few spares of them wouldn’t go amiss. Oh and pivot cups, they start disintegrating after about 800 miles, take spares…Plan it like crazy. There’s a lot to say but I’m by no means the best person to ask!
Now of course one may have believe you if they hadn’t just read about you breaking the marathon record in 2010 and skated 1,000 miles for a laugh. Be generous with your advice Lord Elver.
Hahaha! Ok, a few more things. Mind you, the best way to learn most of it is to get out there and push somewhere. Pick your charity carefully – people will ask what its for every day so you need to be able to answer them. Know who you’re skating with – I couldn’t imagine doing the trip I did with anyone other than Charlie and Lee, though by the end you’ll know each other very well anyway! Planning the route was, for us, the difference between us making it and failing – we had every single mile of every day mapped out. In some countries that may not be so important but in England you don’t need to be skating the main roads, and the lanes are a maze of hedges and farm houses that swallow you up! Above all, enjoy yourself when you skate. As soon as you have to “train” it becomes a chore (for me, anyway), and whats the point if it’s gonna make you miserable? Enjoy the scenery, meet the crazy locals…and…have an Orangatang sticker on you somewhere. We got a massive donation from a vet on his lunch break because he saw it and thought we were raising money for monkeys! We did explain the situation but he donated anyway, and even sent his elderly mother along to donate too!
Aside from your move to Freiburg, what does the future hold for you?
If I knew that then I wouldn’t be stressing about these exams! I guess with a finance degree and being able to speak another language I’m keeping my options open – working for a skate company and skating a bunch would be cool. I’m not particularly fussed about winning races but it is more fun to skate the more you progress so I don’t want that to slow down. I suppose I should concentrate on now and actually finish my degree before I make too many plans haha.
What sort of work would you do for a skate company?
Good question! Something business related would make sense but I’d probably do anything I was offered haha. The finance/business stuff is not really where my heart is, but I can’t make a living off of purely skating so it seems an okay thing to do. Might help some people out someday with it, that’d be good.
Choose 3 numbers between 1-25
5, 10, 15
5 – Who is the best skater you’ve met ?
Thats tough! Patrick Switzer is pretty good. Hack and Pete Connolly are also up there.
10 – Snack – before during or after ?
Before if you’re hungry. Don’t do it during if you’re on the ball though, eating might change your balance!
15 – What colour is your helmet?
White…won it in a raffle at a tennis tournament and never looked back!
It has been awesome speaking to you Bilbo Baggins. See you soon! (preferably not in a dress)
Cheers Gbemi! I’ll wear a long one. See you soon!
Thanks to you for this interview, and to Hack, Kuebi, Flix, Tom and everyone else in Germany. I apologise in advance for whatever happens when I’m over there! Also, Rich Auden and Adam Hill are cool, I owe them a beer (or five) for all the driving and spotting and photos this weekend. Now go and skate!
You heard the man. GO!