By dmitrizzleHeader image credit: dmitrizzle
I met Matthew during my third year at the University of Toronto. Skateboarding has been my passion since I was 17. In retrospect, I never had the talent to become a pro or even sponsored. But the drive was tremendous. Even now I have found memories of grinding ledges, ollying gaps and manual pads. Day in and day out. Every time I got home after a session I had to dip my entire face and hands in the cold bucket to make the burn go away. The sport felt addictive enough to burst every capillary in my body and squeeze every drop of sweat until the trick is nailed or my ankle, my wrist and/or my shoulder is twisted (again).
Every amazing skate video that we see has a thick layer of pain tucked underneath each frame. Every pro, no matter how great he or she is had fallen hard many times. So much that they often learn to get up faster and keep going despite the injury and the aches. On one hand it feels like a guilty pleasure watching them. For many it's the way of life that could be threatened at any point. If a pro becomes incapacitated the career is over. On the other hand, completing complicated tricks feels like flying. The adrenaline and feelings of self-worth shoot through the sky as the time slows down in mid-air. It's incredible.
I think it was 2008 or 2009, just after I finally released my big animated film feature that I saw him ripping it up at the campus. Our college had no skaters. At least, nobody was any good or even tried to be. At that point, I wasn't skating much anymore, but I was very much into filming. So, naturally, the first thought that popped into my head was that it would be cool to do a collab with this guy. So I said "hi".
As the years went by we ended up shooting a few films together and the guy brought the joy back into skateboarding for me. It was slightly aggressive skating with someone who's that much better. But he was never a dick about it. To him, skateboarding was pure joy. I can still remember him say "it doesn't matter if you can do this or no man, as long as you have fun".
This interview with Matthew is here in part to showcase his joyous, real, friendly personality and in part to promote his new film Ibuprofin Milkshake. The name of this movie is of course derived from the medication that he had to take to complete it after a severe injury.
Hey Matthew! How are you doing man? Where you at?
Sup D, I'm in Victoria BC, I came here in hopes or sorting out my injured hip, for which I believe I am in the final stretch. It's been a while buddy!
It sure was! Well since you are here to talk about skateboarding let's get to it. How long have you been doing it; what got you into it?
Since age 11. Which, apparently, equates to 14 years. We didn't do those neighbourhood curbs any favours. A few residents were particularly unaccommodating though I suspect it was less about us than they let on. For a long time, my weekends were spent with the Goodwood crew talking smack and learning heelflips!
As a local Trini skater, is it any different in Canada then back home?
It's all skateboarding, in the end, feet on your board, gnarled up ole shoes, last leg laces. Trinidad feels more relaxed, as a country it has such a strong sense of identity. The kicks. Beastly cold stags, a trunk of coconuts, the fresh breeze, a dip in the sea, reggae on the way home. I do wish that transport on the island was a little more efficient. It is at least, consistent (ly bad).
Do you have any experience skating anywhere else besides Trinidad, Barbados and Canada? If so, how are those places special?
Yea dude, spent a some time in Blue Ridge Georgia last year, skated sun-kissed redwoods, breathed the crispest autumn. Got some beautiful film I'd like to showcase someday. Then continued to a skatepark in Atlanta for three days, those locals procured a vibe and a half. Skateboarding was an expression, an emission of welcoming energy. Still trying to obtain some footage from those sessions!
Matt, you've been around the block. Now you are dealing with an injury that affected your skate and personal life. But whatever the obstacle you incur, you are still skating.
Yeah, bombing hills and crashing into bus stops. All glass, the look of pure shock on the people inside as the panes rattle, vibrating into their bones... Hilarious!
[Jokes aside], it was mental management via skateboarding. I felt the physical aspect a little out of my control. I would show up to physiotherapy with a new dent, a scabby cut, a bruise on the elbow - I never regressed in my performance at physio, as such I couldn't see it as a bad thing. After a while though I just plateaued, stronger, fitter and more stretchy than before, but the pain was still present, and I hadn't regained full hip flexion.
We've done some projects in the past, but Ibuprofin Milkshake seems to be an entirely new animal. It builds on your experience as a skater who just wouldn't quit. Could you talk a little bit about it, your motivations, accomplishments and the challenges?
Had to keep the swelling down... I found that out of mind became out of existence, if only for a moment, it became permanent. I've learned that life comes with buckshot, and we all have welts. We must adapt, overcome and perceive positivity. Besides the obvious ones, one of the most interesting challenges was the filming. It was the first time we had to brainstorm and try out different filmer paths alongside the skateboarding. Our debates on the best path got pretty heated. The filming became an endeavour in itself.
Looks like this lifestyle is extremely personal for you. You seem to enjoy it no matter what. I still remember you advising me to just have fun while skating and to stop stressing over execution. What about that tension skaters experience between being able to perform ever-evolving tricks and just enjoying their day kicking and pushing?
Yea, I came across a quote on a wooden park banister in a forest the other day which I'd like to apply here, "Comparison is the thief of knowledge and joy". Have fun. If that means going for those switch flip back tails, hell yea. If that means boning out fat ollies off that ledge, hell yea.
Competition has its time and place, but comparison, does not.
That's profound. I'd still like to ask you though how you deal with the frustration as a skater when you just can't nail that trick?
It's part of life. I try to figure out what the misses are telling me, what's missing or too heavily present in the equation. I usually narrow down 2 or 3 technical movements I need to make or prevent, meditate on them, and try again. Sometimes repeating them to myself, kind of like a phone number you are trying to remember but can't write down.
Skateboarding is aesthetic. In many ways I see it as art. Some tricks can be complex, but they don't seem to fly as well as the ones that look and feel great. Do you ever find it important to look a little better while performing and planning the line for camera than simply nailing the trick?
The idea of the camera is held across several generations. There are now vast differences in its perception, as availability (and quality) has literally gone from one spectrum to the next. I can still remember plucking up the guts to ask dad if we could borrow his camera (I had already bought the mini DV tapes) to film a "proper video". Then I couldn't figure out how to get the footage off the tape onto the computer. The role of the camera is now subject to the holder. I prefer to save filming for specific occasions with specific goals. That way you can rely on solid principles when deciding whether to keep or re-plan/re-film a trick.
Skateboarding is as much underground as it is pop culture. Police, security guards, property owners - they don't like you (unless it's CBC). Have you got any stories to tell about your experiences with "non-well-wishers"?
Well, this wasn't with authority, but it's hilarious and a favourite of mine. I was skating with Patrick and Darcy at Toronto's Harbourfront, which is a concrete boardwalk by the lake. This dude was chilling on the sand nearby with his dog, just sort of sitting down under an umbrella. This ratty lil chihuahua erupts with high pitched squawks, the kind that make you judge chihuahua ya kno'? The dude just kind of stares wordlessly, mouth open, numb, completely detached... You know, no eye contact or expression or anything, mouth open a bit, just hanging there. Me and Pat are filming and this dude out of nowhere gets into Pat's face, like two inches away, "My f'kin dog is getting annoyed by your f'king skateboard, get the f'k out of here, get the f'k out of here!" - He just kept repeating himself, no expression, completely blank faced. He could have at least asked nicely.
Street skating is definitely not as hassle-free as vert. Do you still prefer it? I remember you referring to it as "more legit".
Haha oh man that's pretty brutal! Honestly, it's all skateboarding and its all-l good man! So much street has transitional aspects, and so much vert has flat aspects. Some of the best sessions I've ever had were backyard mini pipe jams with the boys. Both can mess you up and both can give you great joy!
Finally, what would you recommend to someone who wants to start? What gear should one get, what should an aspiring skater prepare for?
You are younger than you'll ever be so start now. I believe you can develop more efficiently by working on moving with and getting comfortable on your board, essentially making it stick to your feet wherever they go. Let the skateboard become your feet. Build or acquire an obstacle you can ollie onto, roll on, and ollie off of. You can also practice manuals, flip ons and offs, stalls, and all while moving. A sense of balance is one of the most useful things you can possess. Get on it.
This article is an edited version of what was originally posted on September 24, 2014.