President of rOllspOrt Hamburg e.V., Thomas Giang tells us about longboarding in his city, European adventures, the importance of a good breakfast and injury cartography.
Hello Thomas, how are you?
Hey Gbemi, I am fine. Just finished breakfast.
What’s the ultimate Giang breakfast?
I had bacon and eggs, some cheese, bread and a pitcher of coffee. That’s what my fridge offered me. Breakfast is important.
Who has breakfast at 2pm?
I had a lot of time waiting for you to show up for the interview, that’s why I could do an “extended breakfast” or rather, brunch.
Great breakfast make great men!
That’s why I eat a lot. I could still grow.
There’s always hope. If you have 1 wish granted, what would it be?
I guess, I am supposed to say “world peace” now.
Or world bacon. How’s your week going?
Pretty good, coming down from the exertions of organizing the Hamburg Longboard Open, the first Dancing contest in Hamburg, and doing the aftermath. Paying bills and stuff like that.
Paperwork is just a thing that has to be done. There is no fun in that.
What was your involvement with the competition?
As the president of the local longboard club, rOllspOrt Hamburg e.V., I teamed up with Simon Arsenidis from the AWHOU-Team to do the organization. We have been planning on hosting a dancing contest in Hamburg for so long and now we finally made it. We definitely grew some grey hairs in the process, but we are very proud of the outcome.
The Obama of Hamburg!
Yes, we can, Digger.
What is rOllspOrt?
The rOllspOrt Hamburg e.V. is Hamburg’s longboard club. It was founded back in 2009 and evolved to the biggest longboarding club in Germany as far as I know. We are known for organizing events like boardercrosses, Slalom competitions or huge Greenskates. Now we can add dancing contests to our list of accomplishments. When we are not hosting events, we try everything to support the local skaters by doing workshops, lending equipment like GoPros or trying to get a dry spot to skate during wintertime.
Are you a Hamburger?
I was born in Hamburg, but I am originally from China. I guess that makes me a Cheeseburger.
Haha this is one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard in an interview. You sound like an Orangatanger.
Why did you establish the association?
I did not establish the association. I started longboarding in 2009 and the club was already there. In 2011 the club was on the verge of breaking down, so I decided to run for president and eventually was elected. In the subsequent year I got my hands full dragging the club out of bankruptcy and catching up on neglected paperwork. In 2012, everything was fine again and we organized our first event with the second boardercross after 2010. As I started longboarding I was welcomed so sincerely and I felt really at home with my fellow skaters, thus I really wanted to give something back to the community.
When was it founded?
The club formerly was a vert skating only club and was founded in 2006. In 2009 it got re-branded and renamed to what it is today.
2011 feels like a peak for skating in many cities, was it different there?
Every year since I started skating I stand in front of the local longboardshop (Mantis Longboardshop) with the owner and we say to each other “this year longboarding has come to it’s peak”, but the following year there are even more longboarders on the streets. I just had this conversation a few days ago again and I really don’t know if this year really is longboarding’s peak. We’ll see what happens next year. Anyhow I feel that 2011 was the year when longboarding became popular. Before we were just a small group of people and everyone knew each other, after 2011 there were new people coming to our skate sessions constantly.
What did you promise to bring to the association?
Beers and chicks? I did not promise much as far as I can remember. I just said that I would be capable of doing the job. Back then it was more about getting the club out of the shit and keeping it alive.
Are German skate associations just like the French?
I think we are still far away from being at the same level with the French guys. In France, there are several umbrella associations, which run the business for the country and several clubs, organizations and crews under it. The network in France is far more sophisticated.
What would you like to see in the German’s future?
I think the German scene is on a good path. The last two years a lot of freerides and races emerged. Somehow it was different this year and we only had few races and other events. I reckon most organizers had to re-organize themselves or tripped over Germany’s bureaucracy. Or maybe the euphoria of hosting events vanished to the insight that hosting events actually is a whole lot of work. However: If so, at least now they know and I am confident we will see more events in 2016 again.
You guys have the DLL, is that different?
Originally the DLL was supposed to be implemented as the Downhill league of the DLBV (Deutscher Longboard Verband), that aimed to unite all clubs under one association. Unfortunately the plans of the DLBV haven’t turned out as they planned (yet), that’s why there is only the DDL left, which is more or less a private organization led by Eimer.
What would the DLBV have achieved?
One goal of the DLBV was to have a container with timing systems, big bags, radios and everything else you would need if you wanted to organize a race or freeride. Clubs were supposed to call up the DLBV and rent the container for their events. That sounded really appealing to me.
How does the economy impact skating?
From what I see, skate shops in Germany are flourishing regardless of the economy’s development. From my point of view it’s rather the other way around: Skating has an impact on economy. We’ll see how long this is going to last.
How did you get into skateboarding?
I rode a skateboard and stunt inline skates as I was a kid, until I had a massive bail at a skate park as I was 12. Knocked me straight out and sent me to hospital. After that I couldn’t get back on the skateboard any longer, because I started shaking every time I tried.
A few years ago, I happened to run across a guy on a weirdly long skateboard. I was instantly hooked on that form of transportation. Back home I went on YouTube, stumbled upon Kyle Chin’s “Let Go”, watched it about ten thousand times and knew I had to get one of those longboards. That’s how my longboarding “career” began.
“It turns out that I don’t really need leathers to have fun, my GoPro videos were pretty lame and riding with a car behind me at speeds exceeding 50km/h scares the shit out of me.”
What impact has media had on the skater you are?
Media, especially YouTube, originally persuaded me to start skating to begin with! As I watched “Let Go” I was like: “This is easy, I can do that”. Some days later I bought a crappy pintail of the internet and tried to do the same slides Kyle did in Tuna Canyon. I don’t think I have to tell you that I failed miserably. As longboard racing became more and more professional, my friends and I used to watch race videos for countless nights together. At some time it came to my mind “I need leathers” or “Let’s go somewhere in the mountains and bomb hills with a follow car behind us” or “I need a GoPro to capture my wickedly dangerous downhill adventures in raw runs”. It turned out that I don’t really need leathers to have fun, my GoPro-Videos were pretty lame and riding with a car behind me at speeds exceeding 50km/h just scares the shit out of me.
You cannot deny the influence of the media on anyone of us, especially on groms. That’s why I am somewhat ambivalent regarding the development of the downhill videos in the recent past. I guess it’s just a matter of time until some young guy crashes at 100 km/h into a guard post, wearing a half-shell helmet and a T-Shirt while doing a stand-up slide, making all his buddies crash around him, just to be run over by the follow car. Just because they saw videos on YouTube.
Did Kyle being Chinese have anything to do with your 10,000 views?
I have never really thought about that. He just seemed like a nice guy (as all Chinese are), I liked the laid back atmosphere and the music. It seemed like every move he made was completely effortless. Not like he was bombing one of Cali’s most notorious hills.
How did you get over the psychological barrier?
From my point of view, longboarding feels different to riding a skateboard. The long wheelbase and the soft wheels provided a safer feeling as I started. That’s why there was hardly any psychological barrier as I started to ride the longboard. I still have issues riding skateboards though, I don’t feel comfortable on a skate deck anymore. From time to time I go skate on a mini-ramp or in a skate-park and most of the time I feel petrified.
“…longboarding feels different to riding a skateboard. That’s why there was hardly any psychological barrier as I started to ride the longboard. I still have issues riding skateboards, I don’t feel comfortable on a skate deck anymore.”
Where did your ‘’career’’ begin?
There used to be a skateshop called “Subvert” in Hamburg’s Schanzenviertel. Back then that was the place to meet other longboarders. From there we would cruise the city, riding our ditch, our so-called-downhill spots (Venus mountain, yeah!) or chill at the Rollschuhbahn, which is huge flat area just for skaters, perfect for dancing and learning tricks.
Who were you skating with?
As long as I can remember there was the “Beastyboard”. Several years ago the Beastyboard was a bulletin board, where you could ask questions about your setup (“Yo, what Kryptos do I put on my floating axle-Randals?”) and where people would arrange longboard meetings. Furthermore there was and there still is the so-called “Stammtisch” every Wednesday. When doing the “Stammtisch” we gather at the local longboardshop to ride the city. My first time riding with other longboarders was at the “Stammtisch”. That’s where I met all the “old guys” like Gordon Timpen, Alexander Willhöft, Marcus Burzinski, Arne Reinisch, Timo Bittner and so many others, who soon have become very close friends of mine.
How did meeting the longboarders change your experience?
The first weeks I skated on my own to get used to my board. Meeting the other longboarders brought the experience to a whole different level. I was stunned that I was welcomed that warmly and that we were so many people from completely different backgrounds all united by the passion for longboarding. It might be the most diverse but still closely linked community I have ever met so far. And it is still like that if you go to longboard events: There is love and stoke everywhere and everyone is welcome no matter what he does apart from skating. This didn’t only change my skating experience, but it more than that changed my life too in some way. After all the club is a big part of my life.
Would your life be different without longboarding?
Definitely. I cannot tell you where I would be without longboarding as I wouldn’t have met all the wonderful people in my life now. I wouldn’t change anything. I definitely wouldn’t be the president of Hamburg’s longboard club and I would have missed out on the stoke we can bring to other longboarders just because we go the extra mile to give something to the community.
When did you first go fast?
Due to the fact that Hamburg is as flat as a pancake, we are always looking for hills in the area. The first time I actually went fast longer than 500m was in Houyet, Belgium in 2011. That was funny. Most of the riders wore home-made slidegloves and neon-coloured leathers they bought off eBay, which mostly didn’t fit very well (mine were aubergine-coloured, neon-yellow and black). Footbraking was still a thing at that time, so most of us did a footbrake before every corner. Gosh, I sound old.
“I have my body cartographed with countless scars and abrasions, my arms look like I have tried to fist a rubbish chute.”
Were there any hard lessons?
Life is a lesson and you never cease to learn. Everytime I get asked if I had any tattoos or any other kind of body modification, I tell them that life tattoos me: I have my body cartographed with countless scars and abrasions, my arms look like I have tried to fist a rubbish chute and the nurses in my local emergency room know me by sight. I seem to prefer to learn the hard way. Still, I cannot wait to get on a hill. This year I haven’t been riding very much, but I hope I can change that next season.
Who’s your favourite nurse?
As I was in the ER about a year ago, I told the nurse I got hurt during a skate contest (it turned out that I broke my pinky finger). She asked if I at least won the contest. I declined, she laughed at me and told me she has always been into skaters, but they should at least win the contest. I liked that boldness and we ended up drinking beer while waiting for the X-Ray machine to be free. I think the nurses in the E.R. mostly like me, because I never complain and I crack jokes about the angle my limbs stand off my body and most of the time I don’t bother to get an ambulance and get there myself.
Favourite ‘’tattoos’’ so far?
In the cartography of my scars, I especially like India on my right shank and Madagascar on my right forearm. Madagascar is accompanied by quite a lot of islands and sandbanks, which are not there in reality though. Gotta have a word with the mapmaker.
“In the cartography of my scars, I especially like India on my right shank and Madagascar on my right forearm.”
What are the origins of these 2 exotic land masses?
India was the result of being in a tuck train for about 15km. The guy behind me pushed me as I was trying to find a more comfortable tuck, I started to wobble and ended up falling on the road in a position that somehow resembled yoga style sitting. Oh, that fits.
I am not sure where Madagascar came from. There are in fact several Madagascars. If I would have to guess, I would say that Madagascar in particular came from getting stuck with the slide puck in a pot hole while cornering hands down. Or from trying to get extra low during a limbo slide contest.
What did you get up to after that first Stammtisch?
I think I forgot to say that a “Stammtisch” lasts pretty long. At my first Stammtisch we went skating in a ditch. At least the others were, I was too scared to ride down the concrete walls. After that we skated to the Flora Bowl, which is a skate bowl behind the famous Rote Flora-building in the Schanzenviertel. We stayed there, watching other people skate, drinking beers and having a good time until none of us got a train home. As I was on the night bus home I knew I’d be coming back.
What are you in love with?
There are a lot of things I am fond of. Freshly ground coffee is definitely among the Top 5. And being in the open countryside. And having highspeed internet. Preferably having highspeed internet whilst being in natural surroundings, sipping on a big mug of steaming hot coffee.
Oh, I prefer tracks which are not too technical. I like to get fast, stay in tuck in a pack of of friends and rail the corners looking for the perfect line. I loved skating in Col de la Croix St.Robert for example (big shoutout to the guys from Auver’ride, you rock!) or Iberg.
Fast, but not too fast. Technical enough to get my blood pressure up, but not that technical that my blood is all over the place, when I eat shit. Besides, I am still working on my heelside technique, somehow it’s still crap.
Thus, skate-wise, I would want a medium-fast track about 70-80 km/h with lots of sweepers, banked corners and mostly toeside hairpins on perfectly smooth concrete. Where is that track? Send me a PM on Facebook!
Most often there is nature and good coffee during skate events. Sometimes even good internet. So, yeah, I love skating.
“ I prefer tracks which are not too technical. Technical enough to get my blood pressure up, but not that my blood is all over the place, when I eat shit.”
What have been your favourite years of skating?
These are my favourite years of skating. Maybe not this year, but the past five years have been awesome. I’ve made so many new acquaintances and found a bunch of new friends with whom I have travelled throughout Europe looking for steep slopes and smooth pavement.
How extensively have you travelled Europe?
I have travelled Europe quite a lot, not only because downhill skaters are used to travelling a lot, but because I have been a jazz pianist on tour in the past. Being a jazz pianist was somehow even similar to skating downhill: You come to a foreign place, somewhat broke and you immediately find something to talk about, because music is just as much a universal language as skating is. In the end it all ends up with you and the locals hanging around in a bar getting wasted.
You should hook up with Adam Crigler when he comes to Europe.
That sounds like a plan. I plead in favour of jam sessions at Freerides!
What’s the best event on the continent?
Every event has it’s special vibe. Picking one would do any other event injustice. After all the organizers always do their best to offer the best skating experience.
Do you miss anything when you’re on the road for weeks unending?
That’s easy. I miss my daughter.
What setup are you rocking right now?
I have been having a favourite setup for years: A Pogo Roadkill with Skoa Vapors and some Rad Wheels. German engineering at its finest by Reinhold Uhrner and the guys from Pogo.
Have you had a fun 2015?
2015 has been somewhat troublesome. There has been a lot of restructuring in my life, but I make the best of it and I see light at the end of the tunnel. Obama would say “Change we can believe in”. Apart from that, there have been several fun occasions this year.
I just came back from hiking through Slovenia some weeks ago for instance. That was a really great experience. Unfortunately I didn’t get close to Osilnica, where the KNK Freeride took place at the same time.
How would you rather this year had gone?
I don’t think in categories like that. I’d rather be happy about where I am now and where I go from here than grieve over what could have been different. Life is a lesson, I’ll just take what I learned from the past to make it better in the future.
What do you do when you’re not skating?
When I am not skating I sit at my desk doing the paperwork for the club: Organizing new events, writing concepts and filing motions for the local authorities. German bureaucracy can be nerve-racking at times. At the moment, I submit applications so we can go skating with refugee kids. Even if you just want to help people in need have a good time you have to got through all that ordeal. Apart from that, I work in an editorial office, which publishes several magazines in the IT sector, dealing with communities, social media and data privacy. Basically I am on the internet all day.
In my free time I try to see my daughter as often as possible. She is almost five now and the apple of my eye. She got her first skateboard a few weeks ago, an old-school Z-Flex-Cruiser, which we will redesign before long. We were thinking about painting it pink and putting stickers of unicorns and princesses on it. I can literally hear those skateboard collectors and fanboys crying in despair as they read it, haha.
What’s the future of longboarding on our continent?
I think longboarding as a sport will get more and more professional in the years to come. On the other hand, the share of people, who just occasionally ride their longboard without calling themselves longboarders will increase as there are more and more non-skate-shops selling boards. It will be interesting to witness if this will manifest the elitism among those longboarders, who consider themselves as the core scene. It will be even more interesting how the self-conception of longboarding is going to evolve. As events get bigger, most organizers will get into the predicament of labelling their event as a “sports event” in order to get (more) support by local authorities, non-skate sponsors and the media. To reconcile “sports” and “scene” amidst a heterogenous mass of people, whose hobby is on the verge of being mainstream, without losing the original family spirit will be the upcoming task, which will decide on the future.
“It will be… interesting how the self-conception of longboarding is going to evolve… To reconcile “sports” and “scene” amidst a heterogeneous mass of people, whose hobby is on the verge of being mainstream, without losing the original family spirit will be the upcoming task, which will decide on the future.”
For the future, I truly wish for more and more motivated people, who organize events. Nothing could be better to unite casual and ambitious longboarders than participating in events like the Greenskate, dancing contests or easy freerides. Even if you are a beginner and spend your day waving flags in a corner as a course marshall, you are still a part of the bigger picture. Eventually it’s all about being together having fun.
Who should we interview next?
I would suggest Xavier Ethuin, the head behind the Belgian Blütcher Longboard Club. I admire his seemingly infinite efforts to organize freerides and races and his passion about it. I have seen him totally stoked because everything went well, downhearted because Houyet once again turned out to be “mouillé” or furious while running after a cyclist, who decided to circumvent the barriers to ride on the race track. He is a real inspiration and a great guy. Apart from that I can share his pain of having rain at almost every event he organizes…
Pick 3 numbers between 1-30.
I’ll take the 7, 13 and 23. I have a thing for prime numbers.
Honour to the end!
7 – What is your favourite meal?
Roasted pork knuckle, fried potatoes and sauerkraut. German style.
13 – Do you have a pet ?
If my girlfriend’s pets count, I have two hamsters and five rats living with me. Quite a small animal zoo.
T.G! It’s been really fun talking to you. Stay rad, Mr President. Maybe catch you at ISPO/KnK next year?
Thank you for having me, Gbemi! I’ll definitely be at the ISPO next year. If I have the time to work on my heelside technique I might consider going to KnK too.
Any last words?
Thank you to all of the people, who make the rOllspOrt Hamburg e.V. what it is by spending their time and effort. Thanks to our friends from the fellow Brettsport Hannover, the guys from Auver’Ride, the Mantis Longboardshop for always supporting me and the club, my girlfriend for being patient with me, when I get stressed out in the preliminary stages of an event, and all my friends, who I have met through longboarding.