From his debut in Love Child and throughout the World Industries years; to going three rounds with Rodney Mullen and his continually mind boggling output today, Daewon Song is a bastion of progression. Here, he walks us through his life on video, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible on a skateboard.
Words and interview by Jacob Sawyer. Above: Daewon flexing in Thank You’s extra-shmedium range.
Daewon Song is a true original and his unique technical talent has given way to a career spanning three decades. While others have enjoyed that kind of longevity, it’s hard to think of anyone else who has remained so relevant and inspiring to new skateboarders as well as the generation who keenly watched his career unfold. His hunger to skate remains a motivating force and that passion is palpable, finding joy in the simplicity of skateboarding even if it’s just getting out to the local skatepark with old friends. His career is an inspiration on all levels, a reminder that progression is always possible and that creativity and divergent thinking can enable that development.
Daewon was 14 when he got his first board, a Walmart-style complete that his mother bought him. This contradicted his strict upbringing and he couldn’t believe she was letting it happen. When it was stolen two weeks later on a knee-boarding expedition to the donut shop he knew that was it for his parents’ contributions to skateboarding. Neighbourhood scouring for parts began and eventually he received a hand-me-down pink G&S Billy Ruff. Chipped with no tail but of immense value to Daewon.
He’s talked candidly about his tumultuous upbringing in the past and problems at home eventually would lead to his mum disappearing for five years whilst his dad worked all day. It was this period where, without gatekeepers, he started to meet other like minds and his exponential progression began. Influences crept in and launch ramps entered the picture, eventually he ended up being given one of his own. This was where he would initially harness his skill and aggression.
“I could grab my board, and I was comfortable but to ollie, without using my hands was something which threw me off a little bit. It was a backward kind of progression,” says Daewon of this early period where, hilariously, he could 360 judo out a launch ramp before he could pop an ollie. He gravitated towards Butch Sterbins and other second generation Z-Boys. Their “gangster” image and low-budget ads made an impact on him. When a shop sponsor later entered the picture, he would be making money any way he could and using his 30% rider discount to buy Z-Board blanks.
Fate would lead to Daewon meeting Rodney Mullen skating at 135th Street school in his hometown, Gardena and weeks later the Z-Boards would be replaced by boxes from World Industries. The Daewon journey really begins from that chance meeting with Rodney, a friend whose story would become intertwined with his own. Filming for Love Child would commence shortly afterwards and his efforts would earn him last part, the part which catapulted him into our consciousness. This is where our interview begins, where a life crafting some of the most memorable video parts of all time and redefining what’s possible on a skateboard lies in wait.
“I’ve been skating, I’ve just been keeping it low key. I don’t really care about being all up there, being in magazines. That stuff doesn’t really do anything for me. Money-wise it does, but for me it doesn’t do much.” Daewon Song and his opening portrait from his interview in Brother Brother #12, 1996. photo: Rick Kosick
From two years or three years of skating to the tricks you’re doing in Love Child is a crazy trajectory, progression-wise. Was it overwhelming, quickly going from there to the start of your days at World Industries?
It was but it was such a simple time in skateboarding that I didn’t really have an understanding of it. Meeting Rodney Mullen, I was pretty hyped. I’d seen videos and watched his transition from freestyler to a street skater go down in Rubbish Heap. Meeting him at 135th was wild and I was blown away he wanted to send me boards. My buddies and I were all pretty pumped on that. I was going to a lot of little, budget skate parks which had opened up in L.A. and one of my other buddies got picked up too.
I was stoked but he kind of disappeared off the face of the earth. He didn’t really hang out with us any more and that bummed me out. I was thinking, “Is that what happens? You get to a point and your sponsors force you to do stuff with them and not skate with other guys?” I was resolved to never do that. When Rodney hit me with the news he’d send me boards, I didn’t think of myself as sponsored just. I was getting sent stuff.
I had to go through a trial period and meet some of the other guys on the team. That was intimidating. When I got on it wasn’t even World Industries yet, it was ‘SMA World Industries’. There was a Jesse Martinez division, a Jef Hartsel division, a Steve Rocco division and Rodney was transitioning into the Rocco division too, kind of. It was crazy. I think two weeks later Shilo [Greathouse] hit me up, I knew him from contests already, and he told me he’d gotten on World too. He got a ride to my house and I remember we skated the corner yellow kerb on Rosecrans & Crenshaw together.
We were both on the same team but didn’t really know if we were “on” the team. We ended up getting in there as kids and watching parts of Jeremy Klein to see [the standard of] what we had to become. When you’re a kid, you’re so thirsty so progression happens fast and you don’t even realise it.
I think there were a lot of haters on World who didn’t like the way I skated so it took a bit of warming up for the older guys to actually like me. I liked technical stuff but I had a mixture with the Z-Boys influence. I’d take tricks like a kickflip backside 5-0 on a bench but slash it out, grab my nose and tail smack it. I was confused. They’d tell me to just do the kickflip 5-0 but I’d say I liked the little layback out. The response would be, “Yeah, not with the company you’re going to be involved with. And you might have to lose the Z-rollers.”
I think the noise those trucks made is something which stuck in my mind. The way I have my trucks now, the rattle takes me back to my childhood and gives me some kind of comfort.
A rare 23 seconds of Socrates Leal in front of the camera courtesy of our pal Chops at The Chrome Ball Incident
“Soc came down, we both launched and ended up hitting it off.”
At this point you’re already good friends with Socrates Leal?
Oh yeah, I was friends with Soc even before I was sponsored. He went to this school called Leuzinger which was a real shitty school because skateboarding had kind of died out. I think I was the only skateboarder at my school and Soc was one of a few at his. He started a crew called the 360 Club and kids around the neighbourhood kept telling me I needed to meet their friend Soc and that we should have a launch ramp battle because he had a reputation for being the best launch ramp dude in Lawndale. I’m not much of a competition guy but we agreed to meet at this church off of Crenshaw and 147th by my house. Soc came down, we both launched and ended up hitting it off.
He got so much air. It wasn’t like he was doing a hundred tricks but the few things he was doing, I was impressed by. We ended up hanging out after that and he was super into filming. One of those guys where you meet them and they love skateboarding but you could tell when he turned on his little camera that he was in another world and just wanted to video anything.
Later down the line, he was older than me and ended up having a car. We started going to spots we had seen in videos. Kenter, out in Beverly Hills, where Eric Dressen used to smash down those hills and hit all of those banks. That changed the game for a few of us. I owe a lot to Soc for being there and being the guy willing to film me.
Do you remember what you were doing on those first filming missions?
Soc and I would film anything. We’d go out to this metal ledge in the South Bay behind a building and the mission was to film from there and all the way back to his house. He’d film me crossing the street, I’d smash a kerb and he’d shout “Keep going!” We’d get back to his house and watch it in his garage. I don’t even know what we were doing or trying to look for, we just liked how it looked. We were developing this mindset of what skateboarding should be for us, going down the street and skating anything spontaneously. What a great time that was.
We’d kick it with a lot of guys from this area called Lennox. Kind of a rough neighbourhood too and we’d all connect because another guy there, Jim had a car too. We’d meet up, this big crew of us. If I could go back to any time it would be those days. Waiting at home with my board, all kind of anxious, just waiting for the honk out front and getting in that car. Getting to a spot with no expectations, just knowing that Soc’s going to film us – maybe tweak some Japans off a bump, and take my 75 cents to Taco Bell for a bean burrito and have that friend time. I swear to god those moments were the best moments of my life in skateboarding. The time you had with your friends and the experience we got from the unknown. What are we going to skate? Are campus police going to kick us out? It was super exciting.
Daewon Song, mid-line bigspin flip to kick off his Love Child part, 1992
“Love Child was very simple. A kickflip here, hardflip there, maybe a little inward heel.”
Soc has talked about filming you for Love Child and watching your progression occurring first hand. How much do you feel your progress was linked to having the camera around?
Progress is so linked to a camera. Nowadays, we all joke around, like, “Film this on your phone!” It’s such a casual tool now. We call it the “bail gun”. Can’t land it? Blame it on the bail gun. I use that excuse way too much. When people pull out their phone, it’s not like you’re really going to go for it. It’s for the moment and there’s no long term plan of where this thing is going to go but it’s cool to try a little. It’s not a waste of time. But when I was filming with Soc and he pulled out that camera, it was different.
We skated together before sponsorship so when Rodney asked me if I knew anyone who could film, I told him about Soc. Then Soc ended up filming with Rodney a lot as well. I was kind of jealous that Rodney swooped up the guy who used to film me all the time but it is what it is because Rodney brought me in and I owed him. We were told to just gather footage but when Soc pulled out the camera it motivated you. I felt like I had to get something good. I can do a Japan but it’s got to be a kickflip into Japan or something big. The camera was the tool that lit the fire and Socrates was as well. He’d be motivating, he’d study what you were doing. Soc was a good skateboarder himself so I trusted his advice too. Sometimes you get offended when someone tells you that what you’re is doing wrong. You think, “You do it then” but some of those pointers from Soc ended up working out. You have to keep your ego at home with these things.
I’ve started to film a lot more with Colin Kennedy to finish this adidas project I’m working on. I don’t always know what to film, what realm to go into and what type of skating I want to represent for this part. It’s going to be fun but I need to build my confidence. It’s there but sometimes it’s for different things. I have my strengths with things I love to go and do.
I’ll say it now, right now my strong point is honestly going to a skate park where it’s smooth as hell, everything’s perfect, I can cruise around, crank some ollies, grind some pool coping and do some flip tricks. That’s what feels good right now but that’s not what I’m looking for with this part. It needs to be out in the streets and I’ll deal with whatever’s there. Skateboarding, and how I grew up skateboarding, is where I need to get back to. My roots. It’s exciting and I hope I can get that same feeling I used to with filming for other parts.
Inward heelfip – New World Order, ’93
Going back to those roots, between Love Child and New World Order you’ve mentioned filming a whole other part with Soc and being unable to use any of it because it was already dated?
That was right at a point where combos were in. Everyone was doing noseslide-to-crooks, crooks-to-noseslide, 5-0-to-switch crooks. It was a huge time in skateboarding where it was transitioning.
Love Child was very simple. A kickflip here, a hardflip there, maybe a little inward heel. After that, New Deal came out and people were getting tech. We decided we had to step it up so Soc and I filmed a lot. All of the 5-0 combos, lines with a switch tailslide to crooks and pop out, all of these kerb tricks – as time went by those tricks started to die out and there was a return to normal, clean skating again.
We didn’t know what to do with all of this footage so we sat on it. We couldn’t use any of it. I was told I couldn’t have a crooked grind to switch 5-0, and come out forwards, in my part because it’s played out. Skateboarding back then, people were blacklisted for doing something generic, what a crazy time.
No smith grinds.
Yeah, no smith grinds, no feeble grinds on ledges. Oh my god, even I was that dude. I remember [Mike] Carroll doing them and he made them look great. If Carroll is doing them is it going to become a cool trick now? I could never do a good feeble back then anyway so I was kind of excited it wasn’t the trick to do because I sucked at them.
Was there an element of closure to capturing all that stuff and moving on?
There was, it was spontaneous. When we went filming, we knew what we could do, but we’d just skate. Then Soc would say he was getting the camera out. There were tricks like 50-50, to lipslide, back to 50-50, to lip slide, to 5-0 and shove out. You’d show somebody that in the editing bay and they’re like, “Whoah! Don’t use that.”
“That’s seven tricks in one. Are you sure?”
Looking back, it might have been smart for them to pull all of that footage.
Frontside half cab flip in, frontside 180 out amongst a Santa Monica manual spree – New World Order, 1993
From the same time period, I love the story of you and Jeron Wilson trying to do the most NBD’s in one night.
Oh my god, at the Santa Monica manuals. We were counting anything. Jeron would do a switch pop shove to fakie manny so I would do a fakie pop shove to fakie manny and Jeron would be like, “That doesn’t count…”
Everything counts. There was a bunch of us there that night, Shamil [Randle] was there. He won’t get offended but Jeron was like a little brat back then. He was a lot younger and he was so damn good, so gifted, we were jealous of him. For me and him to battle it out, I was pumped. I don’t even know who won that night. We were all just kids and we’re out filmed at 11 at night filming. Car lights on a manny pad or using whatever street light was there at the time. I miss that, everything is so planned these days.
Get the kids sorted, make sure everyone is fed. Are the camera batteries charged? Where are we meeting at? I hope we don’t get kicked out! It is what it is, you have to make plans, we’re adults now. I still appreciate it and value the time. I try to get up early and skate from 8:30am ‘till maybe 1pm then spend the rest of the day with my daughters. I’m trying not to mess up like with the time I didn’t spend with my son. It’s important.
With my 19 year old boy, he doesn’t really say it but I can feel that he wished I had spent more time with him when he was younger. There was one period of time where I spent three days with him out of three years. It’s terrible and I hate that. I’ll remember it for the rest of my life. What a shit bag. I became my dad and it was just work, work, work. It was just skateboarding but it’s crazy how motivated I felt at that time.
This is from 2003 to 2006 while filming for Round 3, Skate More and Cheese and Crackers. There was also an FKD video where I have a horrible part and the Get Familiar part I filmed with Chris Hall as well. Five projects in three years, I was consumed by it.
Backside noseblunt from Daewon’s Thrasher Magazine interview, 1998. ph: Michael Burnett
Below: grinding in and out of a less conventional blunt from his S.O.T.Y. interview – Thrasher, April 2007
“I’m not some bitter guy who thinks skateboarding was “better” back then, I just grew up in that era so what I experienced myself was a beautiful time. Every generation that comes in is better and better. I really appreciate seeing progression.”
That’s a mammoth schedule for anyone. It was noticed though.
Yeah, people ask if you were rewarded but how do you answer? What was the reward? In 2004 I won TransWorld’s ‘Best Street Skater’, in 2005 I got TWS ‘Video Part of the Year’ for Skate More and then I don’t know how it happened but in 2006 I got Thrasher’s ‘Skater Of The Year’.
I thought that was a fluke. I remember Jake [Phelps] calling me. This story is funny because I was on the toilet and I still answered it. I should have waited, huh? Given him a call back? But I didn’t know who it was.
“Daewon! It’s Jake, man. You’re our Skater Of The Year.”
It caught me off guard because there were way more people who should have got it.
“What, you want me to give it to Ryan Sheckler?”
I said no but that’s not the reason I took it though. He said, “Daewon, stop worrying about what you did this year. You’ve been around for a fuckin’ long time. I’m just stoked that you’re still out there, getting it and that gets me pumped. It’s not just what you’re doing now, it’s what you’ve been doing.”
Thanks, Jake, that got me pretty hyped. He told me, “Don’t do any more fucking rocket airs” and that’s how the conversation ended. Then I shot a one-handed rocket air to fakie for one of the DVS ‘Skater Of The Year’ ads that was in the same mag. I don’t even know what that’s called but I think he was pissed [laughs].
I wonder why he hated rocket airs so bad? Maybe he thought [Christian] Hosoi is the only one who should do them which is true. that shit looks great. Anyone else, including me, shouldn’t do them. Hosoi was one of my heroes growing up though, so why not? Those magazines, those photos back then – Hosoi and those guys went through a wild time, I wish I could get in their brain and see how they feel, they should feel like GOATs.
We’ve got our wild dudes out here today too though, who are unbelievable like Mark Suciu and Jamie Foy. Foy kind of came out of nowhere, I feel like skateboarding gave him this confidence to just do him and keep doing it. I don’t know what possessed him but he can just sit on these rails and do whatever he wants. I love it, this breed of skateboarding, with the likes of Ishod [Wair] and guys who can just do anything. It’s in a beautiful place right now. I’m not some bitter guy who thinks skateboarding was “better” back then, I just grew up in that era so what I experienced myself was a beautiful time. Every generation that comes in is better and better. I really appreciate seeing progression.
It’s gotten so far. Trick-wise there’s not much left to invent but you can take it far and beyond where you never thought you’d see that trick at that scale.
Chair assisted frontside air to tailbash, sowing the seeds of Cheese & Crackers as early as 1996, ph: Kosick
“I pretty much snuck a mini-ramp into my backyard. I remember my dad coming back one day and saying, “What the fuck is this?”
Where and when does learning to skate a mini-ramp come in?
I learned how to skate a mini-ramp because my neighbour across the street told me his friend in Palos Verdes was giving one away. He said it was pretty good and showed me a photo. You have to be careful with those photos because you could get a lemon, a car that doesn’t run. It looked insane, like a ten foot high by twelve foot wide vert ramp, painted camouflage. We went out there and it was six feet, with a foot and a half of vert. It looked like it was made out of furniture wood, like it would fall apart when you jump on it. I skated it there and it sounded hollow but we ended up taking it.
Mum wasn’t at home and dad never even looks out back because he’s too busy. I pretty much snuck a mini-ramp into my backyard. I remember my dad coming back one day and saying, “What the fuck is this?” in Korean then going back in and getting sauced up.
We ended up putting this ramp together, a foot of vert with super steep transitions, and we ended up re-plying it. I put an extension on it too, a piece of ply-wood with 2×4’s hammered on so it was super flimsy. Seriously, that’s how I ended up learning how to skate mini-ramp. I just embraced it and loved it. Transition is still a place for me to go where I feel super comfortable and feel at home. There’s a sense of freedom and weightlessness. I fall better on a mini ramp. When I fall fakie, if I’m heading towards my back I’m always comfortable and calm. It’s falling forward that I don’t like – a back noseblunt then falling forward from a hang up is what will get me.
Was the World mini underused or just under-filmed?
It was definitely underused, nobody really liked skating it. I loved it, I was one of the only ones who would really skate it all the time. I grew up skating mini and I think a lot of the other guys didn’t. Or they didn’t want to because they were too “core” – strictly nollie hardflip 5-0’s. I was like, “I’m going to try with you but I’m gonna get me a couple of airs on this thing too.”
I used to like doing noseslide to fakies. I was pretty inspired by these mini ramp guys too back in the days. In contest formats, there was always a lot of transition as well. You kind of needed to be able to skate transition back in 1989 and ’90. You had to have a transition background to place in a contest. I never did well in those anyway. I don’t know what I’m talking about because it didn’t pay off for me.
A New World Order mini-ramp excerpt.
In your documentary, Steve Rocco said he was watching you skate the mini and felt like you were holding back how good you were. Do you think that’s true?
I was never holding back, I love that comment though. I recorded that and I play it on my phone every morning to get pumped [laughs]. Just joking. Coming from Rocco, I think he was trying to give me extra credit for that documentary. I appreciated him saying that.
Back then, I was very intimidated skating in front of people and I still am. When I’m at the skatepark and no-one is saying anything to me, I’m having the time of my life and I feel like there’s no expectation. As soon as someone recognises me and asks for a picture or a signature, I’m super honoured – especially when younger kids still acknowledge me, but as soon as that happens this cloud of intimidation comes over because there’s an expectation. I catch myself just skating, doing the things I know I can do, but feel the same sense of intimidation I did when I was a kid.
I always said that I wish there was a demo set up in an arena with a two way mirror surrounding it, like an interrogation room at a police station. They turn on the lights at the end and surprise – all these people are watching you. That would make me comfortable but when I know people are watching, I get jello legs. Sometimes I can barely kickflip and end up sitting down. Once I do that, start thinking about it, I get in this corner and I can’t get back up.
Were you feeling like that at the World park too?
As time went by, I got more comfortable. My whole thing now is if I turn up at a park and don’t know anybody, that’s when I’m intimidated. But as soon as I go around and meet everyone, hang out, we talk and when I see them the next morning, we’re friends. We feed off each other and try things we all suck at. I have to get to know new people. As soon as that happens, I’m comfortable, we motivate each other and become a family. We can compare how nasty our nollie flips are and go from there.
Kickflip – New World Order
If you hadn’t injured your ankle between New World Order and 20 Shot Sequence, do you think there may have been a Jeremy Wray-esque era of Daewon?
[Laughs] you know what? No. I did like jumping off stuff and there was a point where I had started to. I remember trying to ollie that triple set off Imperio that Jeremy Wray ollied.
You kickflipped that double set.
I also tried to frontside flip it and smacked my face. Soc knew I liked to jump big gaps but with that ankle injury I got more timid and pursued the more technical route. Lower impact stuff. That’s the direction my skateboarding took. Thinking about it now, I’m happier that’s the way I went because it’s given me longevity and allowed me to keep pushing in the way I like to. Although, at the skatepark when there’s a small double set, I’ll catch myself jumping down it.
What are you doing, old man? You forgot your cane.
I’m going to try and push myself for this adidas video. There are a lot of things I haven’t put out there, tricks I like to do – maybe it’s that I don’t like how I do them. It’s hard to explain. I’ve always ended up picking different types of skating and focusing on them whether it’s a Skate More part or a mini-ramp thing or a full manny part. I don’t know what I’m going to do with this next one. I need to do some things which will re-motivate myself.
“I didn’t have to be so technical with it. Like cutting down a sentence, [Colin] wanted to take my skating and simplify it.”
You talked about having to tame your skating with those Z-Boy impulses in the early days and later on, with Skate More, Colin Kennedy was also trying to get you to simplify what you wanted to do. You’re working with him again on this upcoming video. Is it hard working with someone else’s vision of what you can do or is it liberating?
It was very liberating. With Skate More and how Colin Kennedy looked at things, it didn’t have to be flip-in and flip-out and I didn’t have to be so technical with it. Like cutting down a sentence, he wanted to take my skating and simplify it. A 360 flip to nosewheelie could be just that, it didn’t need a nollie 360 flip out.
You could challenge the trick with the spot so there’s an ollie up before the 360 flip nosewheelie so it is actually kind of hard. He’d ask me if I felt satisfied once I’d done the trick and I’d be thinking to myself, “Not really.” I was so embarrassed and scared to go to the premiere. Colin knows I didn’t want to go on the premiere tour but sometimes you have to listen to other artists. They want to present a different vision of you and I always thank him for saying, “Let’s do it this way.”
People were into it, people for who my skating maybe wasn’t their favourite, too technical or whatever. Paul Shier came up to me in Barcelona and said, “Mate, I liked that part” and I was like, “Hell yeah!” Because Shier was more about spots, finding crazy steep things and aesthetics. I was a guy looking for tricks, I don’t give a shit about aesthetics
“Who cares? This manny pad needs a little flip-in, flip-out.”
I love that video part. Do you remember that after the London premiere everyone picked you up and had you on their shoulders, chanting “Love Child!”
Yes! What a crazy time, that was fun. London premieres are a tough crowd but if you get in good with them, what beautiful people. People still DM me photos from London where I’m hammered. I’m like a Gallagher, it looks like someone has run their hands through my hair and pressed it up and poured beer all over my shirt.
Daewon Song World Industries ‘Lowriders’ pro model penned by Mark McKee, 1994. The Honda Civic above Daewon’s name was his own car at the time. Photo and original artwork courtesy of Bobshirt
You’ve talked quite openly about stepping away from skating for a while when you got your first girlfriend, working on cars and getting involved in another world outside of skating, this coincides with Rodney working hard for Second Hand Smoke. Were you a confidant on that process?
No. When Rodney was filming that, the guy who was fully behind him was Mike Ternasky. Mike was in Rodney’s head all the time. I’d talk to Rodney here and there but not much because he was focused. During the time I was gone, Rodney and I didn’t talk much. I think he was concerned, like, “What’s Daewon doing?”
It’s funny what finding something else does when it catches your interest like dropping cars, racing and girls. Those things can get into your mind and take away all of your motivation, they’ll put a blanket right over it and you’ll forget it even existed. For two years, I just kind of disappeared. On hiatus.
For someone so prolific with crafting parts, did you feel that left any void?
Yeah, I filmed for 20 Shot and had nothing. For lots of people it was a shock the first time I didn’t have a part. It was just a time in my life. I’d heard it happen to skateboarders with girls and stuff but always thought it wouldn’t be me because I loved skateboarding so much. It did happen, I just didn’t think it was happening. I thought I was still skating here and there, with no real projects on, but during that period there was a huge transition in the industry. I wasn’t keeping in touch with anybody. Then there was the rise of the riders taking off.
The Girl exodus.
Exactly. No-one hit me up at that time because I was invisible. Also, I wasn’t really the guy kicking it with everybody anyway, I never was. I had a small crew like Daniel [Castillo] and Shiloh [Greathouse] but I wasn’t closely hanging out with the other riders.
When that happened, I don’t think there was any idea to hit me up. I heard that Rodney spoke to Shiloh about the possibility of having to let me go. I think they were prepping to boot me because I wasn’t doing anything. Shiloh stuck up for me though. He was all, “Are you kidding me, Rodney?” Then that whole thing happened and I’m sure they thought, “We might have to hang on to this guy, this racer or whoever he is these days…”
I remember Rodney giving me the call, he was upset when he was telling me the news about everyone leaving. That was my wake up call, hearing the guy who went out on a limb for me. Nobody believed or had faith in me but Rodney stood up for this kid who didn’t know if he was a freestyler or a slasher wall-rider. I had never heard him sound how he did, he’d always been positive and solid but he was uncertain about what was going to happen. He talks about it in the documentary but I told him, “It’s just me and you.”
I remember him being so pumped on that but it was a wake up call for me to get my ass up and out from the shit I was in. What was I doing? How fast was my car anyway? Not that fast. All that work, two years and the car is still shit, low 14’s on the quarter mile. I remember racing in an automatic, what a waste. My second car was a stick though and I was out there, tripping in third. Then I got back out there.
Front blunt at a well-frequented Trilogy ledge spot. ph: Kosick
Trilogy was your comeback part but you were dissatisfied with it?
My “comeback part”, oh god… Fakie flip to 5-0 on a little kerb a hell of a “comeback part”. I was mostly bummed on the song they gave me. That was pulled under my leg instead of A Tribe Called Quest song I wanted. Everybody in the company felt like they knew better when it came to that stuff.
What was the level of it being a comeback though? Were the tricks all still there or was skating a ledge scary?
It was all about getting back my boardfeel, it wasn’t right there any more. It’s funny, coming back my pop wasn’t there. I couldn’t fakie flip into 5-0 on a normal ledge anymore so to get my legs back, I was doing them on a baby ledge. Tiny. Embarassing. As time went by I started getting my legs back. Trilogy came and went and then Rodney vs Daewon Round One and Round Two came out.
Back to progressing again.
Yeah, and I was happy I was able to. Going from Trilogy, where I’m fakie flip 5-0ing a little kerb and by Round Two I’m doing one on one of those tables. Looking back, it’s still progressing. It’s never too late to progress and never too late to come back when you think that’s it.
Fakie flip 5-0, kerb-height but also the hard way in and you can’t fault that form – Trilogy, ’96
From that point onwards, each part of yours is full of progression in different forms.
I was trying to figure out different ways to skate. Even nowadays, I still dream about tricks and sometimes people trip I’m still thinking about them – certain tricks that I do want to do but some things feel unreachable.
All of the switch crooked, flip out stuff too. There was an era, about 2012, where I was super into that. Just sitting on a ledge, chalking up my foot while I’m grinding a very waxed edge and getting ready for that flick out. Then I got out of that, I was just over pressing my back truck and waiting for the flick. I get into these things, it’s terrible on my part though because my interest wanes.
I skated a ledge the other day and did a switch crook and went to do the flip out but my foot was just kicking air. Where’d the flick go? Where’s the press I used to do that felt so easy? It’s just me losing interest. It’s there but I’ve just got to ask myself if I really want to do it again. You lose a trick if your mind’s not there for it. Your footing doesn’t work because you don’t care. At that point, I’d rather do a stalefish out of a bowl and smack the tail real fast to see how loud I can make it. I’ve got to get my shit together, there’s nowhere on the streets to do that unless I stalefish a ten-stair and smack the last step. That would be a change.
There’s a narrow manny pad into a bank that you skate in Round One. You do some combos with a couple of switch heels in and a couple with fakie tres in or out. I always thought that looked like the most amazing spot.
Enrique [Lorenzo] is in the background, clapping when I do the fakie tre into fakie manny. That used to be the Super K-Mart Manny. It was off the 110 Freeway and Torrance Boulevard. It’s still there, the ground is harsh. They ended up taking that bank and compressing it.
Now, when you see people skate there, they ollie up the bank and do slide tricks on it. You can still go into that bank but it’s way steeper. When people ask if that’s how it was when I skated it, I’m like, “Yup, it was just like this and this is what I did,” [laughs]. You can see the old line where the bank extended to.
The switch heel to fakie manny, fakie tre out that I did into this bank – nowadays, hell no! You’d end up missing the whole bank because it’s so steep. But yeah that place was one of my favourite places to skate, that was a fun time for me.
Opening spread from Daewon’s TransWorld interview, November 1997. 360 flip shot by Chris Ortiz as seen in Rodney vs Daewon: Round One. scan: Chrome Ball
Talking of your personal progression when it comes to the ‘Versus’ series, it’s amazing that you fuelled Rodney’s progression too. Especially Rodney from Round One to Round Two, it’s like a new lease of life.
I appreciate you saying I could get him to progress but I think watching him made an impact on my progression. You’ve got someone who went from being a freestyler to a full-blown street skater.
Front pop shove into nosegrind and nollie flipping out, on tables, going down stairs – I remember thinking, “Damn!” I remember trying switch front pop shove to fakie 5-0, flip out, like, “I’ve got to get this guy.” It’s funny, we weren’t supposed to be doing that but honestly he was in take out mode.
When Rodney Vs Daewon first came about as an idea it was meant to be lighthearted. We’re the best of friends and he’s like a brother to me. Then I saw his footage and saw he was trying to murder me so I knew I had to step it up too.
That construct put you both in the zone.
It really did, it’s crazy when you have a friend to feed off and you can both work on a project together like that. It works when people go at things in pairs. I’d see Jamie Foy and Zion Wright skate together a lot and you can see that those two push the hell out of each other. You need that.
Nowadays, I tend to skate with a lot of friends I grew up with and I watch them progressing still. I’m talking friends with five kids and three jobs. Once they have an open window to skate, I’m watching them progress. They get nothing out of skateboarding, they’re not making any money out of it but they progress. Talk about motivation and inspiration.
These guys who do it for the pure joy, they get it. Skateboarding gives that to them. It’s what a lot of people say they look for but I think a lot of people have lost that value of what pure happiness it can give you. Not the clout, not the Instagram building, not to move merchandise. I’m talking the smiles and thirsting for it. My friend John, we call him DJ Runaway and I’ve known him my whole life, he’s filmed many a project with me but when he goes and skates he skates like it’s the last day he’ll ever do it. Trying to front feeble these kinker rails, I’m like, “Jesus Christ, who are you today?” Then he just leaves and goes off to his life.
You’ve got to get it when you can. It’s not always easy to organise anyone else though. For many us who are older, I think you’ve been a real catalyst with championing progression which has opened up a whole new era of skateboarding. Pushing yourself, it’s something we perhaps wouldn’t think about in that way, back then, but now need to do so to keep motivated.
Exactly, it’s our release. It’s a heavy sponge. We’ve had our whole life and now, with all the responsibilities we have as fathers and in general, skateboarding is that release. You soak it all up and then go and wring it all out by skateboarding. You come back home, you feel good and you’re ready to get back to your family.
When time is limited, you really make those minutes count and you’re more likely to try something you’ve never done because when else will you get to do it? You have a week between going skating to think about how you’re going to spend that hour.
Exactly. Yesterday it rained so bad. I get up early, and my girl takes a while to get ready, so if we are going out at 1pm then that’s my window. I just go skate and, like you say, try and squeeze in as much as I can. Friends who say they’re going to link up there for 11:30, I’m like, “Jesus where have they been? I’ve been there since half eight.” That’s my window.
But when you get that chance to skate with your boys who you don’t see a lot, it’s the best. On Mondays a lot of my buddies are off. We all meet up and it’s old school, Daniel Castillo, Luis Cruz – it’s like an old movie where everyone travels from far and beyond with ships and taxis. I value those days, getting the old gang back together, getting a drink afterwards and talking shit.
Your friends, people you grew up with, we all got to experience the prime days, the new days, and new responsibilities and we can talk about all of it. Time flies. It’s been a long journey. I’ve valued every part of it, every decade of being a pro. I’m on three decades of being professional, thirty years now.
You’ve had many different evolutions throughout that period too.
Yeah. I’m going to say this though: I’m long overdue for a video part, don’t you agree? I need it for myself too. I want a video part where there’s a song to it I actually want. It could be a big disappointment but I’m going to try my hardest. Maybe I’ll see you at another premiere. Hopefully, we’ll have a beer.
Deca Warehouse hopping from Daewon’s TransWorld ‘Check Out’ interview, 2001. Frontside tailslide and taking the blindside fakie flip to 5-0 a cut above its kerb-height Trilogy incarnation. ph: Seu Trinh
You put out a part in TransWorld’s i.e. , then Deca’s Sneak Preview and Second To None  where – on top of a heavy part – you explore what’s possible to create in the World Warehouse. Two parts, basically. Which was the most fun to film for?
Sneak Preview was a great time for me. Filming for Second To None, I’d sleep in the business area under a desk for so long under Soc’s editing bay, it was pretty fun. With i.e., that was a super random one. I was always intimidated to go filming with someone else I wasn’t too comfortable with or didn’t know already. But said “Let’s do it” for that one and some of my part was filmed by Greg Hunt.
Second To None was a super fun video. We had free rein of the back of that warehouse. I loved getting to create our own roof gaps. Making roof gaps and rails go over the roof gap and everyone being there, it was like our own giant clubhouse. Ronnie Creager and other people would come by on certain nights and film there. For the Deca video only, we decided to film and make it all in there. This was right after Sneak Preview which had a lot more random spots in it, skating in parking lots and stuff, but this was all going to happen in the warehouse.
In Sneak Preview, you fakie tre flip a roof gap which is so gnarly.
Back then I didn’t think about it so I didn’t care about going over a roof gap, fakie, but now as a dad I’m wondering about health insurance and the support beams under the roof. Sweeping for rocks, can we get some blowers up here?
What was the sketchiest thing to try?
Anything fakie over the roof gap, so the fakie bigspin heelflip and fakie tre were pretty scary. Any bench stuff going across wasn’t too sketchy because you have a bridge there to put your foot down.
What about the crooked grind up in Round Three?
Oh man, the diesel truck place was probably the sketchiest. That crooked bonk, we were allowed to use those trucks for one day so I had to get as much done as I could. Towards the end of the night, after I did the tre flip lipslide, they asked if I wanted to do one more thing. I suggested the crooked thing and I set it up. By now, there was so much moisture all over the place and it started getting wet up there. When I was pushing towards it, I would run and then start slipping and that scared me. I was using shirts to wipe stuff up, it wasn’t completely soaked but still sketchy. After I got that, I was like, “Never again.” Not when it’s slippy like that but once I was done I was pretty pumped.
That was a strange video part. I ended up filming maybe fifty tricks at the same manny pad. You just don’t do that any more, aesthetically. I liked the manny pad and wanted to do as much as I could. Now people travel thousands of miles away to do the same thing they’ve done around here. Same trick, different place and it’s allowed. It’s the smartest idea. You can’t go to the same spot and do a worse trick. It’s weird, this world.
Daewon Song – Round 3 (Almost Skateboards, 2004)
You had a lot of industry learning curves going on concurrently. Starting Deca, that disbanding, then launching Artafact before starting Almost. Even when things didn’t work out, you kept pushing. Did having the responsibility of a company ever take the fun out of skating or could you separate them?
What’s crazy is with the responsibility back then there was always someone to help. The responsibility wasn’t as heavy as it sounded. Deca was meant to be my project, it ended up being pretty hard because the riders expected to tell me what they wanted or hit me up for a raise. My friends would be coming at me and I couldn’t do it anymore. I started to question the riders too, my friends. I hated that feeling and that part of the responsibility.
Did you see the Louie Barletta interview where he mentions Marc Johnson being sick of seeing a dollar sign above his friends’ heads?
Exactly. I felt a bit of that coming on too and it was destroying friendships, putting pressure on me, and affecting my mental wellbeing. We stopped Deca after three years which was a bit upsetting. Especially for guys like JB Gillet and Marcus McBride, so many good skateboarders. Through that, we started Artafact – just me, Chris Haslam and Cooper Wilt.
I was inspired by brands pushing simple things. I liked what Habitat were doing and I thought we could do something with subtler graphics. Also, focus on the team and a small team for that. That only lasted three or four months. Then Rodney announced he wasn’t going to be on enjoi any more. Rodney skating for Artafact made no sense but working together did so we canned that and did Almost instead. Rodney brought in Sheckler and Greg Lutzka, I had Cooper [Wilt] and Haslam. That’s how the brand started: six of us and we immediately started filming for Round Three.
“I was progressing at something I thought I had no room to progress in anymore.”
Looking back on Cheese & Crackers, do you think the time spent heavily focused on one type of skating got you to the point you were at for In Transition, for instance, with each video part a building block to the next?
It is. I always loved skating mini-ramps and transition but I never really pushed myself because you kind of… Do it. With Cheese & Crackers we were trying to build something for a mini-ramp video. We had to step it up. That made me think of what was possible and I was having to do tricks I had never done. Blunt to pivot, 360 flips – an evolution from a blunt-tre-flip which I could already do, stuff like that.
Bringing in bars and all of these different things meant I was evolving. I was progressing at something I thought I had no room to progress in anymore. The video pushed me and Chris to get better at transition skateboarding and creating something which wasn’t there. We were having so much fun making stupid things. For me, it was a matter of adapting and learning different flicks. For instance, flipping out a crooked or pivot, coming from street skating it’s a different style and weight distribution which can sometimes mess you up.
Transition changes your skating. When I do it too much, I’ve gotten so used to riding up to the coping at that point, and floating weightless ollies, that fully thrusting your body up to something like a tall ledge feels strange again. It was the same when I’d come back from snowboarding and my mind would go blank when I tried to jump up a kerb. These confusions happen to me a lot when I mix too many things up.
In Transition, I was skating Channel Street for half a year or more at that point. I was super stoked on being there and hanging out with a lot of the local guys. When that contest came about, I was skating there all the time so it made sense to do the whole part there. I thought Ronnie Sandoval would pick it and he is extra-local but he picked Potrero further up north.
Again, I was faced with how to get creative at Channel Street. There are so many nooks and crannies you can use. I even used a flatbar there, I know that goes against the rules. In San Francisco back in the day, they would call someone lame who shows up at the spot a “T-Dog”, sometimes guys who didn’t even deserve it, but that’s what I felt like.
It was what it was. They knew who I was though and if anyone was going to put a flat bar on the transition, it’s Daewon. They were probably surprised I didn’t bring a couch and an office chair too. No-one was hating though, we were all friends. The contest was to get whatever you could done and I was desperate to see what I could do which would stand out.
Daewon Song – frontside ollie, ‘Skate And Create’, 2008. ph: Mike O’Meally
Have you preferred this last ten years of clocking and presenting footage to the ten years prior?
The last ten years have been a lot less pressure for me with what I’ve been putting out. It also feels like peers who have grown up watching me, and love what I used to do, aren’t satisfied. I don’t have a notepad cooking up my next post. It’s making things happen and filming a silly thing for myself and some of the people out there, not so serious.
There was a period where I felt like I should film stuff for my Instagram just to let people know I’m still skating as much as I am. Often, my friends will offer to film me doing something but I don’t want to because I’m skating with them. Usually right at the end, before I have to take off is when I’ll try and get something. There was a time when I was posting weekly and now sometimes months pass by. I want to get better at that though sometimes I’m tired of filming the same shit.
People are probably thinking, “This guy is on two wheels again? He can stretch his wheel sponsors packages out because he only uses two of them at a time.”
I stopped worrying about the amount of content I produce for my Instagram but I do enjoy it.
Did having that platform change skating for you?
I do feel that it helped me get back in front of peoples’ eyes. People were telling me it’s a good outlet for connecting with people around the world. People would hit me up saying they have my old Deca board. I remember talking to someone from Australia and being so grateful for the support. I got such a positive feeling from it, I could reach back and thank anyone who has ever supported me.
I enjoyed using it more and more then when videos were enabled it changed for me. I had been so serious my whole life. Switch heel this, nollie heel this, “keep it real” – but I’m not that person. We were kids, we’re adults now but we can still have fun. I started doing stupid things like picking up the office chair. Who doesn’t do that when they see one? You see an old couch or mattress, we all ollie on to that thing and bounce off it. Some people are afraid to showcase that because they feel like a joke. I told myself to get over that shit.
“This is me enjoying my life. I’ve been skateboarding a long-ass time. I’ve been pro for thirty years so let me have some fun”
Daewon flawlessly doing as Daewon does these days, courtesy of the artist.
No-one else is taking their wheel off and putting it back on.
Sometimes I think about that stuff and cringe. Am I that dude now, a circus act? But who gives a shit? I’ve been in the industry for so long. I’ve been keeping things as “real” as I could to avoid the hate that went on for twenty years of my career.
“Don’t touch that. Don’t put that out there. You’ll be judged. You’ll be blacklisted”.
Then social media comes about and I can be stupid and not care what people think. There’s a kid who likes my skating but I can entertain his mum who knows nothing about it, she’s laughing at me and likes the stupid stuff I do. That’s always positive. I was never trying to build this influencer role where I need to make funny content.
It gave you another outlet though.
For sure. With videos and magazines dwindling I was invisible to a lot of people. Instagram put me back out there, especially with the younger kids who wouldn’t know who I was. My stuff was too old for them to remember or watch. It re-sparked something for me with skateboarding where kids now follow me and I’m a “new” skateboarder for them. Then they’ll do some research and have an idea of your history. It set a path for them to learn about who you are and were. I was having fun on Instagram, it was an outlet that didn’t have to be serious. Bounce off this, hippy jump a tyre, mix something new with something old and add some entertainment.
It all feels totally organic. When there wasn’t a video to film for, you’d film a part or create the concept it could live within. As I mentioned earlier, you’ve always been finding a way to get things out there and out of your head.
There’s a point where you ask, “Is this guy a circus act now or is he Daewon? Where did Daewon go?”
I’m still here. This is me enjoying my life. I’ve been skateboarding a long-ass time. I’ve been pro for thirty years so let me have some fun. People want to judge everyone. You could have the best video part out there but there’s always one guy who will critique the style, music or the tricks. Everybody has an opinion but, honestly, what matters the most is the person who produced and made that video. Are they happy? Something motivated them to make it and if they’re satisfied we can’t take that away from them.
As time passes, I’m looking for different ways to enjoy myself and entertain my kids. You have to keep that motivation alive. When time passes and you’ve been doing the same thing in skateboarding, it’s easy for motivation to slip and be caught in a rut. It always comes back though. The second I roll and see my friends and do something I haven’t, there it is. That’s what I want.
Rodney Mullen and Daewon Song courtesy of Chrome Ball. Below: gearing up for Round 3
I interviewed Rodney quite a while ago and he talked about relating self-worth to getting footage, at times. How that chase could be a trap where striving to film could rip apart your enjoyment of skating. He said the antidote is just loving the act of skating itself.
Exactly. People kill themselves for video parts. For some, it’s overwhelming too. Look at the stuff people are doing now – they’re risking their life which is pretty wild. At the same time, for what? It’s for them, that’s who they are and that’s how they skate. You can’t judge them.
People can judge me for dangerous things I did but that was the time and that’s how I was living. It was a feeling I liked. I didn’t have responsibility like I do now. At the same time, the responsibilities I have motivate me. Responsibilities aren’t a burden, my kids are fuelling the fire even more for me to get out there. I do think twice if there’s something I could get really hurt doing. These guys, now, have no fear and with their motivation, at the prime and peak of their life, you just let them be. I’m sure in your life there things where you’re like, “Holy shit, I’m not going to do that again” but having that experience under under your belt is nice.
The pressure, I saw Rodney losing it at some point and so did I when you’re trying something for three or four days and don’t know if it’s going to work. I used to suck at switch 360 flips. In 2003, I’d land maybe one in every forty tries. I really worked on them when we were filming Round 3 so I could have an ender with one. That’s when I filmed the switch tre, fakie manny, fakie tre out flip. We just went to a standard height manny pad. My buddy John tried to film me and for three days and I thought it wasn’t going to work. I did one with a fakie flip out that we gave to something else. I kept going back and then one day I said it was the last day I was going to try it. He wanted to film it long-lens and roll with me. I always get frustrated when people are going to film, rolling, and I think I’m going to take forever. I didn’t want him to die from rolling back and forth for hours but he said he liked the way it looks. That day, I got it pretty fast, maybe ten or fifteen tries. We were so pumped. Him deciding to film it like that, maybe it applied a little more pressure in my mind to just get it done. I remember watching it to check if I tapped because I’ve had some things that tapped before.
I’ve definitely gone home thinking I’ve done something and further inspection proves otherwise. Not long ago, but before the world was turned upside down, you left Dwindle after 29 years to start Thank You with Torey Pudwill. How is it having a company to contemplate and build again?
That company has been pretty damn fun, frustrating at points, but honestly the person I have to give the most credit is Torey. When it comes to the workload for the brand, he’s the person 99% of the time. On top of him going out there to film a whole part right now he’s just there, grafting. At one point in the beginning, he was doing all the boards himself, heat transferring them and everything. Jim Gray let us use his heat transfer machine and it’s been pretty wild building that relationship too.
The experience has been rewarding. Doing a board brand is hard. Torey and I have a name in skateboarding that people know. Not everyone but it wasn’t as hard to get the brand out there because of that. We had the board shortage going on for while too, there are all these problems you run into you don’t expect. You’re getting on a boat and sailing out there to see how long you can keep it floating. That’s what you can hope for, especially in this day and age when there are so many board brands out there.
Leaving somewhere I’d been for 29 years was huge. I was born from that place but needed to separate myself from that brand. There was no bad feeling. They did a great job, supported me and I love everyone there. I just wanted to step out and see what I could do on my own. Torey and I had talked about it a year or so before. I’ve known him since he was a little kid. He was so motivated and talking about leaving Plan B. We kept checking in with each other and decided to do it.
It’s coming up to three years. I feel we’re blessed with that and it’s thanks to all the in-house guys like Torey’s brother, Jesse. Mike Mo and his brother [Vince Capaldi] let us use their facility for Glassy so we distribute through them. It’s cool they’re willing to let us use that space and that’s just love. You need friends in order to survive and we’re lucky to have that help. We keep growing, we’re trying to spread a positive message too but it’s hard to maintain, to support skating, when there’s only so much we can do at this point.
I see Thank You boards at the skatepark, kids with them, people DM me to say they bought my board, it makes me feel good. You can’t please everybody with a board brand and we’re not the company all the “cool kids” gravitate towards. We have fans who support us and they skate and do their thing. The people who don’t like it ride something else. Torey and I have been in this thing for so long and now we’re having fun with it. Any way we can give back within that, we’re going to try and spread the positivity. It’s been a fun adventure. Torey just got back from Barcelona on a filming mission, he’s working hard on a Thank You part for Thrasher. I have an adidas part to put together which should be out early next year. Back on the streets, I need to be filming.
Any last words?
I want to thank you and Slam City for hitting me up. Interviews are hard for me to do, and I don’t like to do too many of them, but for certain people it’s different. I respect what you guys have done and you have always supported. Everyone is out there, doing what they love and trying to get through.
As far as last words from me, just stay motivated. Whatever that takes, go and do it. Having been in this thing for thirty years, I’ve learned to just enjoy it. Enjoying the time I have with my friends, my family and enjoying moments like this being able to reminisce about the times I loved the most. I’m so happy that I did those things because I can talk to somebody about it, and still do those same things today with my friends, and make new memories.
Get out there, enjoy your family and everything you’ve got. Stop worrying about the things you want and enjoy the things that we have. That’s what I’m doing right now, enjoying what I do have. Apart from a video part that’s not ready [laughs].
Daewon Song, 2008. ph: O’Meally
Thanks to all the photographers alongside Chrome Ball and Science Vs Life for the scan assists.
Previously by Jacob Sawyer: Benjamin Deberdt: London / Paris / New York, LIGHTBOX: Karl Watson by Mike Blabac, Catch Up with Pontus Alv, Ode To Victoria Benches with Dan Magee, Nick Jensen and Toby Shuall.