Phil Zwijsen Armageddon Interview

Bram De Cleen sits down with Phil Zwijsen to talk about his "Time Chase" part, Street League, staying fit and quitting smoking. From Kingpin Issue 122.

Did you see that Tom Knox part from “The Eleventh Hour”, Phil?
Yes I did. So good. He just keeps going, all of the spots as well. That whole line and then a switch flip nose wheelie. Did you see Nyjah Huston’s part?

I’m watching it right now.  I think it’s really good. But I don’t know. It makes me think of Street League somehow…
I think it’s great man. It might not be my favourite part of all time but I thought it was really sick to watch.

It is really good. He might just be the best rail skater ever.
Nah, no. You can’t say that.

Who is then?
I don’t know. When Leo Romero’s last part came out that was crazy as well. You can’t say who’s the best. They’re just different. Leo Romero does all this gap to-stuff. Hey but let’s do this interview. I don’t have three hours. I’m going out for dinner soon.

Besides Phil talking on the phone about yesterday’s evening and making plans for today’s, this is more or less how our Skype conversation started. It doesn’t sound like much, but it tells us a couple of things about Phil. About how he sees skateboarding, first and foremost.  He respects all of it. And he’s got an eye for detail. He has usually seen every little clip you have, too, not just the big productions and underground beauties. If he doesn’t like it for one reason, he probably likes it for another. Show him a butt-ugly clip of a young kid skating to shitty music in a plastic skatepark and he will point out the one trick that stands out, or looks cool, or was a good idea, or at the very least shows that the guy is trying and doing his best. That’s what Phil respects most, I think: effort. Trying. It’s one of the things that sets him apart as well. He’s always giving it a try.

The other thing you can catch a glimpse of is his restlessness. A constant need for productivity. He was down to do this interview with me, but the second he noticed we were wasting time he cut me off. No time to waste, other things to do, as well.  You can’t tell from the transcript, but he was stretching at the same time, too.

Ph. Trichet

Phil, you’re a very active person. How old are you now?
Twenty-seven.

I don’t get how you can keep up with yourself. How long have you been living from skateboarding, now? How long since you quit your regular job? Hmm, not sure. It’s been about four years I think.

It hasn’t been longer than that?
I don’t think so, no. When we left for Barcelona together it was 2008, and I had just quit my job at that time.

Almost five years then.  Have you noticed any changes so far? Do you feel different?
Not really, what do you mean?

Do you feel more experienced? Tired? Has the novelty of the whole thing worn off?
Not really. It was different when I still had a job, though. When you don’t have a lot of time to skate you really go for it when you’re finally on your board. But now I don’t have a job so I can do a lot of different things, and that’s stimulating as well. Especially the last two years I’ve felt really motivated. I spend a lot of time taking care of my body, that’s number one, so I take it from there.

What exactly do you do to stay in shape?
Stretching everyday, I try to eat healthy. I go swimming quite often. Cycling. I do exercises. I go surfing, too. I go to the physiotherapist.

How many times do you see him on average?
At least twice a month. A lot more when I’m injured, but at least every two weeks when everything is normal. It’s become a routine almost. I just go there, check up. He helps me with a lot of exercises as well.

All of these things sound a lot like things an athlete does. Is skateboarding a sport to you? Are you an athlete?
I think skateboarding is not a sport but there are a lot of things it has in common with sports. If you’re at a spot with a short run-up, and you have to get from 0 to 100 percent speed on your own power, things like that. That’s why we’re always so sore, we’re not used to that type of thing.

It is a very physical activity.
Sometimes it takes hours to do something, that takes stamina. Sometimes you need to be very fast and explosive. A lot of times you need to run to get speed, and running is considered a sport. This doesn’t make skateboarding a sport, but you do need your body for it.  That’s just how it is.

You recently quit smoking, again. Is that something you did with skateboarding in mind?
I just want to be healthier in general, not only for skateboarding. But being in good condition of course helps my skating.

I know you truly loved your cigarettes. How is the not-smoking going?
I still miss it a lot, I think about it everyday. But it’s getting better, already. Everyday I think of it a bit less than the day before. It’s been over three months now. I still feel the urge sometimes, but it goes away faster.

You quit when your Muckefuck wheel came out, right?  Did you choose the graphic (a cigarette tied in a knot) to force yourself to quit?
That was the idea. I’m not saying I’ll never smoke again, but yes, I’m trying. It’s just like saying you’re going to quit on New Year’s Eve, or your birthday. Just a little something to set your mind to.

Ph. Trichet

You’re usually on some kind of project. Not smoking, learning how to play the harmonica, always something. Even when you’re at home chilling I feel like you’re consciously building up new power. Have you ever experienced idle time?
Not often. I always try to get the feeling that I’m doing something. I don’t have to get up in the morning, for example, but it makes me feel kind of bad when I don’t. Having some type of routine makes me feel good, I kind of miss that from back when I had a normal job. I feel like I need it more and more as I grow older, actually. When I wake up at eight, do a bunch of stuff and then go skating I feel really good.

It’s true that you’re calmer when there’s a lot of stuff going on, and more stressed out when nothing is really happening. When you’re not on an organised tour you start planning a trip of your own.
Yeah, I do sometimes. The possibilities are there, you know. There are travel budgets, places to go, things to do. Sometimes it’s a bit much, just because of this. I could spend more time at home if I wouldn’t do all these extra trips, and sometimes I wish I did, but now is the time to do them. This won’t last forever.

You’re constantly chasing time it seems. Even while skating you’re always learning, or practicing. I love going skating with you because it pulls me out of auto-pilot mode, but sometimes it’s too much and it makes me hate skating. Is that something you do to yourself as well Hmm. Maybe sometimes, I’ve never thought of that. To me it feels like I’m always doing the same stuff. But a lot of times I’m trying to learn something. Everything you do on vert is something new, for example. I always want to do something new, but it’s not like it was before anymore. Learning five new tricks in a day is definitely not happening anymore.These days it usually ends up in doing frontside grinds. The start of the day is always very ambitious, later in the day I usually just skate to skate, just to have the feeling.

It works the other way around for me, I think. I need that feeling to get motivated to try new stuff. Then again, I’m usually sore and worn out by that time. You must be doing something right. Right now you’re in Barcelona. You’re there to get some last footage for your Carhartt video part?
Yes.

When is that coming out?
It’s coming out next January or February.

Was that video part your own idea?
Yes. I talked about it with Bertrand (Trichet) from Carhartt and we decided to go for it. I always wanted to do something with Paul Labadie, and I really like his filming so we just went for it. We wanted to make it a little bit different, though, so we got Vincent Guillermin, a French artist who’s a friend of Paul’s involved as well. I met him on an Antiz tour and liked the stuff he does. Later on between Paul, Bertrand and I we decided to have him add some of his work to the final edit. I’m looking forward to seeing this interview too, he’s doing the illustrations for it.

Are you happy with what you have filmed for the clip already?
Yeah, I’m pretty happy with my footage. I’m filming for a couple of different projects at the same time, so there is some stuff I really would’ve liked to have in there that’s going to other clips, but overall I’m satisfied with what I’ve got. It would be sick to just compile all of the best stuff in one part, but yeah.

The self-criticism already started, and the thing hasn’t even come out yet. I’m sure that when it does you will also have other things you dislike, or would’ve wanted to be different. What do you think those things will be?
Maybe I wanted some more things to be filmed at home, in Belgium, but that’s hard when you’re always on tour. We got some stuff in Antwerp, though, and I’m happy with what we’ve got. Also, some things take ages to do, and then when you finally land them they weren’t all that hard to do, but they weren’t easy either. One of the lines we filmed, Paul and I went to the spot four different times, and I tried for two hours every time, and then when you watch it it doesn’t even look that hard. Sometimes you just can’t see things on footage. The first time we went there was when we found the spot and got kicked out, the second time it just didn’t work out, the third time was something else. You know what I mean? When you watch the footage from someone else’s perspective it isn’t that special. But off course Paul and I want it in there because we spent so much time on it.

How long have you been working on this part ? I think we started filming for it about two years ago. In the meantime I did some other stuff too, the Element video came out, I had my foot operated, tours, contests…

Contests. You used to be quite the bounty hunter. I feel like you’re skating a bit  less of them than before, am I right?
Maybe so, I’m always on tour. I never really thought about that. The one I always really want to go to is Vans Downtown Showdown.

Why is that?
It’s just a really fun contest. I like the format. You have an hour to skate something that hasn’t been skated before, and usually the obstacles are kind of special, it’s refreshing. You have to adapt and find stuff to do, people can’t really train for it.

That’s a good thing to talk about with you, actually, contest formats. You’re quite the veteran in that field. How do you feel about contests? Is there anything that should change?
A contest is a contest, it’s pretty simple. There’s not much you can change about it.

So you’re okay with the one minute run-system?
It depends, a minute is fine. A minute and a half if the course is a bit bigger. I prefer runs over jam sessions. They can be good too, though. Downtown Showdown is basically a big jam session. But for me it’s easier to do a hard trick that I’m not sure I’m going to land in a run. The pressure builds up and then you just go for it. I don’t really get that in a regular jam session.

A lot of times you place really well in contests. Do you have any tips for aspiring contest skaters?
My strategy is always to do tricks that I can actually land. A lot of times I see people trying things in their run that they maybe landed once or twice before. The chance you’re going to do that in your run is pretty small. I usually start or end with something a little bit special, something that might not work everytime. Also, I try to skate the whole course, not just one part of it. Honestly, ollies, five-o grinds, smith grinds, a bit of flying here and there and a blunt to fakie.

What do you think of Street League?
I always watch it.

I have to admit that sometimes I watch it too, but it breaks my heart every single time.
It’s just cool to watch. How good was it to see Bastien Salabanzi again? Who doesn’t want to see that? Personally I think they shouldn’t always end in the big section. It would be cool to see the finals on a flat ledge, for example, or on something else. They have cool spots in there sometimes, up and down rails, things you don’t usually see often. That would bring out good, creative skateboarding.

Yes, but then they wouldn’t have the big show-off in the end, it wouldn’t be a skate gladiator show. That’s more what I was talking about.
I understand you. Most of the people are there to watch a show, something spectacular. I think that’s why a lot of contests have skateboarding and BMX at the same time. People just want to see somebody flying in the air. The biggest part of skateboarding isn’t that spectacular. The thing is that the people who will get into skating through Street League will eventually see other parts of it as well, video parts, or pros who will never enter a contest in their entire life.

I don’t know how I would act if there was 100k on the line, and much less what I would do if I won them, but I think they’re making us all look like fools. I’m ashamed to watch it when there’s another person in the room.
I don’t even think it’s about money for those guys. All of them have a lot of money already.

I think that the way it displays skateboarding will attract a different kind of person to it. I’m not sure what that will mean for the future of skateboarding.
I’ve never really thought about that. But I’m positive that if a kid gets into skateboarding through Street League and ends up going to the skatepark he will still realise that skateboarding isn’t what it looks like on TV and isn’t only about competition. The X-games have been running for a long time already plus Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater as well. And skateboarding is still doing fine.

Ph. Irvine

The essence of skateboarding will persevere?
It will always come back to its origin. People that do it for the wrong reasons won’t stick to it.

What about the Olympics?
That’s another story. I’m not sure what would happen if it gets there.

If they offered you a job as Belgian Olympic skate team coach, would you take it?
I think I wouldn’t do it. Skateboarding can’t be coached. A team manager can help you out, share experience, but really coaching is different.

What is your plan when skating is finished for you, money wise?
I’m not sure yet, I think about that a lot. I try to save up as much as I can, but that’s not always easy. I’m probably just going to get a job at some point. I have no idea what that job would be. Before that I would like to be a team manager for some time, though. I think I would be good at that; I know how everything works and I would really try to help people out.

That’s something I wanted to talk about as well. Helping people out.  In my eyes you always do a lot of stuff for other people. Filming, editing little clips, getting people new sponsors, getting them on trips. That is not something a lot of people do, why do you do it?
I don’t know. That’s the way it happened for me, too. Davy (Van Laere) and Julian Dykmans did so much for me before I got hooked up properly. A lot of people helped me out. I want to share everything with a lot of people, sometimes I feel like they deserve it just as much, or even more than I do so I want to try to get them where I am as well.  Like Jarne, or Nassim, I really like that they got where they were supposed to be. Also, now I get to go on tour with them as well and that’s great. That’s what I always wanted to do, you know – skate and travel with friends.

Phil would like to thank his family and all the people that have helped him out over the years.

Phil is sponsored by: Ashes griptape, Carhartt WIP, Element, Vans, Lockwood Skateshop, Muckefuck wheels, Dakine and Monster energy drink.