Isolation Station: Sam Sitayeb

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Enjoy this Isolation Station interview with Sam Sitayeb…

Isolation Station: Sam Sitayeb for Slam Ciy Skates

We have had a good response from the first two Isolation Station instalments and hopefully they have aimed you in some directions you may not have taken otherwise. We also hope they have helped while away some of the hours you may have found yourself with more of. We intend to keep them coming. Our latest entertainment benefactor is Sam Sitayeb who has gifted us some amazing choices and the reason for them.

You may know Sam as the only other team Thames team rider alongside Blondey McCoy. He is one of the most interesting skateboarders out there on the streets of London. As soon as I heard Sam was keen to one of these things I remembered bumping into him one sunny Covent Garden morning. He recommended Atlantis of the Sands by Ranulph Fiennes, a book he was off to read in the park. With that in mind I already knew he was going to have some interesting selections up his sleeve and I was eager to find out what they were.
Words and questions by Jacob Sawyer.

Isolation Station: Sam Sitayeb. Transworld Skatboarding-Chomp On This

What made you pick out Chomp On This?

I’ll be honest, I don’t have crazy skate knowledge, I don’t even watch a huge amount of skating. Unfortunately I can’t really pretend and give you a lowkey underground scene video from Detroit or Philly which would make me look like a better skater or I’ve got any skate knowledge. This one might be an obvious pick for some people but I suspect many people haven’t seen it or seen the whole video at least.

I picked it because for me it encompasses everything I really I love about skating. There’s a lot of stupid shit in the video, serious tricks, the music is not to be taken too seriously. There’s a lot of messing around and the line up is ridiculous isn’t it?

Yeah for sure, it’s a real leveller.

Definitely, the era when that video was filmed, it came out in 2002 was shortly before I first discovered skateboarding or skateboarding videos at least. I had a bit of a weird one with skating, for years or probably until something like Mile End was built I had absolutely no knowledge of London skateboarding. I think I thought the skating world only existed in America. I knew none of the London skateboarders so in my head Koston was my favourite skater and I probably found Chomp On This by googling Koston’s name because the only other video I used to watch was Yeah Right which was the first video I ever watched in my life.

So Yeah Right is one of your favourites?

Yeah to do this day it’s one of my favourites, the one I’ve watched the most. Chomp On This is a side road from Yeah Right which many people haven’t really gone down right?

For sure, it’s a necessary watch. For some people it will also be an introduction to the filmers and photographers on the other side of the lens.

Definitely that was another thing I wanted to mention. Seeing the filmers and photographers skate is one of the best things. I still get really stoked on that. Will Miles posted a clip recently of a kickflip back nosegrind which was so sick, Austin Bristow (personal favourite skateboarder/person) posted a story of a Varial heel, I get stoked when I see filmers skate. People think all they do is film.

Jake Harris is ridiculously good and I get stoked on that, Dan Kreitem, of course. So in that video seeing Ty Evans do tricks and Atiba have literally almost a full part it’s pretty mental. It’s nice to see, by them having parts it gives that video a whole other element a serious video doesn’t have even though in some ways it is a serious video – the type of tricks filmed for example.

Koston goofing around but absolutely killing it…

Absolutely. You can, for example, tell that Atiba and his brother put in a lot of effort to film solid tricks for it. But the line up as well, you’ve got that part from Henry Sanchez and Marcus McBride skating to Welcome To the Jungle by Guns N’ Roses. You just don’t expect those two to skate to that song. Their part is only like a minute and a half or two minutes long and it’s one of the best parts for me that I’ve ever seen. It’s one of the rare few parts I go back to and watch sometimes.


Their part is only like a minute and a half or two minutes long and it’s one of the best parts for me that I’ve ever seen. It’s one of the rare few parts I go back to and watch sometimes


Yeah it’s really sick. Marcus McBride switch tre flips the pad at Pier 7.

Yeah that’s the ender. One more to mention is Brandon Biebel, I love Biebel. Every other Biebel part is really serious because that’s what we want of course but also seeing this non serious part where he skates to Ja Rule is so sick! Starting out riding on Jet Ski’s and messing around. It really shows you what you imagined the skate dream would have been like back then Seeing Atiba and his brother walking around Tokyo. Like whoah! skateboarding has taken them to Japan. I think there’s no better time for people to sit down and watch this one.

Isolation Station: Sam Sitayeb. The Dawn Wall
Tell us about The Dawn Wall, what is this documentary about?

It’s a documentary about climbing the El Capitan face in Yosemite National park. That’s not something new, a lot of people have done that but the two climbers in this documentary attempt to climb its steepest, flattest wall. Some bits of the wall are almost completely flat. From the beginning everyone tells them it is impossible and that nobody has done it for reason. For me it’s significant because from the get go they are facing a challenge which hasn’t been done before, considered impossible by most.

What I think is important is learning to take things away from a lot of things in life, a book, a documentary or even a story someone tells you. If you can take away things from a documentary like The Dawn Wall it can help you realign all of your expectations of what is physically and mentally possible for yourself. It’s really easy to develop mindsets that are bad but you don’t notice.


If you can take away things from a documentary like The Dawn Wall it can help you realign all of your expectations of what is physically and mentally possible for yourself


So it’s about a guy called Tommy Caldwell with many record-breaking ascents under his belt and this is one of the most significant…

Definitely, climbing El Capitan normally takes a really good climber a few hours but this took them over two weeks to do it this way. While they were doing it they had to set up a ledge hanging off the side of El Capitan to camp on. They went out every night, no-one climbs El Capitan at night. It’s hard to explain how significant it is but it really is a huge achievement.

I read that he accidentally cut off his own finger and had to learn to climb without it?

Yeah that’s correct, it was his index finger, arguably the most important finger for climbing because you have to pinch on bits that are really flat, it’s your grip – and often your lifeline. As soon as he had that accident the first thing doctors said was that he wouldn’t be able to climb any more, full stop. He was completely devastated. I’m glad you brought that up.

I didn’t pick this documentary because I’m really into rock climbing, I’m not, I’d be interested to try it one day and experience how difficult it is, but that’s about it. I picked it because of the whole story and how they set their expectations so high and kept a really solid mindset and worked incredibly hard to overcome problems at times in ways you wouldn’t really expect.

So you picked it because it’s inspirational…

It’s definitely inspirational, like I said there are certainly things to take away from it. Through life you yourself can unintentionally set the bar quite low, I know I do. If you want to do something it’s easy to mentally set yourself up to fail and think you can’t do it. We are very lucky to have an insight on this mental aspect because you see it in action a lot in skateboarding.

Failing constantly to eventually achieve.

Precisely. You fail over and over again until you find something that works except that when you fail in skateboarding it’s not like other types of failure. With rock climbing for example the type of failures they had, they would fail a particular technical bit and you’re ripping your fingers open or falling off the side of a cliff. Even though you have a harness on, there are still serious risks of injury.

It’s different but you can see the same obsession you see in skateboarding with things like this. Skateboarding is a powerful tool if you think about it through the psychological side and consider the mental processes. It can definitely teach you cognitive things that you can’t get from many other activities. When you can’t do a trick it’s because you think you can’t do it, it’s as simple as that.

I was going to mention that he was taken hostage by rebels in Kyrgyzstan but I guess it’s not relevant to the documentary…

It’s a pretty good bit though [laughs]. Yeah he was in Kyrgyzstan and they set up base to climb this mountain, one they were practising on for the summer season approaching. You can’t climb El Capitan in the winter. They bumped into a group of rebel militants. Stuff like that has happened before but they don’t usually interfere with people who are foreigners there to do something like climbing. But this time it was pretty different, it was a dangerous situation where they were taken hostage. They had no idea how long it would last or what was happening at all.

It got to a point where they were all climbing up the mountain and they were left with one militant with an AK-47 or something so it was a pretty perilous situation. They saw the way he was walking over rocks was not the same as them, he was struggling. So they decided if they were to get a chance to escape it would be then. One of them manned it and pushed him – literally off a cliff.

I read it was the guy the documentary is about Tommy Caldwell who did it.

It was. I’m glad you reminded me about this because I had forgotten. But you know what, even though he was thrown off the cliff that militant survived which is crazy. It taught him a good lesson though, I’m sure.

This is all 2 years before Chomp On this came out.

Is it actually? [laughs] So at the same time they were probably skating the courthouse in L.A.

Isolation Station: Sam Sitayeb. Losing my Virginity by Richard Branson
So tell us about this book, it’s Branson’s autobiography? It tells his whole story?

Yeah it’s his autobiography. It’s a bit weird because now it looks like there’s an unintentional theme forming here. I’m not trying to pick crazy motivational material it’s just what I happen to always watch and read. So for anyone who doesn’t know who Richard Branson is, he is of course the person who started and founded Virgin.

Again this is a book about overcoming issues and solving problems in an unconventional way. You can learn a lot of things from it, it reminds you how you can have a lot of skill but a slightly wrong or negative mindset and it can render you almost useless. Even though that sounds harsh I really believe in that. Does that make sense?

Yeah negative self talk becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy…

Absolutely. Another lesson the book teaches you is how important it is to fail. Obviously it’s about Richard Branson and if you know about him then you’re aware he is a hugely successful billionaire and you may create an image of how he is based on that. You may expect it to be an “I started a business empire and became rich and famous” Phillip Green sort of story but it is actually the opposite. What strikes you when reading it isn’t the size of Virgin or the net worth of the company but Branson’s personality which you really get to see in this book. His small beginnings and how, even though he slowly became a financial giant he wasn’t out to trample other people or other businesses.

His beginnings were passion projects right? Like the magazine or the record label. Things he was ultimately interested in.

Yeah exactly, that’s why I brought up Phillip Green who is a high street retail tycoon I’m sure a lot of people know about but he was the opposite. He was really out there to strangle everyone and make the most money and he did just that. I don’t respect that very much. This book is not what you would expect, you go into the unusual life experiences Branson has had. Like attempting to be the first to circumnavigate the globe in a hot air balloon. I think he crashed it in the desert in Algeria. That’s not what you expect to read in the autobiography of business giant. Experiences where he has come close to freezing, drowning, falling to his death, it got in depth.

Even though the book is based around him creating Virgin and raising it up it also sheds light on his personal life. You find out he loves to take risks and solve problems. One of my least favourite words today is ‘entrepreneur’. I absolutely hate the word and I wish there was a different one I could use but he is a fine – and true – example of that word. There’s a situation where he set up a business meeting and he had nowhere to hold it, no offices or space at all. He gave the other person or business the number of a phone box and took the call there, handled it and he was done.

He says throughout the book that the words he lives by were “Screw it, let’s do it”. That comes across well, he really does not care and for me that’s something to admire. Books like these, if you read in between the lines and put yourself in their shoes you start to understand many important situations are in reality extremely uncomfortable. It shows you the importance of a solid mindset.

Someone told me the advice of a buddhist monk before doing something they were nervous about, a big presentation. It was about how to think about it and not to focus on “this will all be over and then I will be calm” but to find the calm in the centre of the thing you have decided will be uncomfortable. Changing your destination.

I haven’t heard that, but it’s obviously true. When you’re trying a skate trick, if you’re scared and solely focus on getting out or escaping from the trick that’s when you don’t succeed. Arguably, it’s a lot more dangerous too. It’s when you become comfortable with being in a trick that you are going to succeed. I don’t want to use the word philosophical but skateboarding can be something along those lines, if you look within.


Often, when you work on a project for a year or more you get to a point where you hit a wall and it feels like it’s completely impossible to go forward. Like writer’s block. Books and documentaries like these, again, if you read between the lines and get to the core of it, are all about getting past that block. They teach you a skill set that is useful for exactly that


With the documentary and book I chose, I quite often watch and read things similar to them to try and keep my mindset in line and constantly be aware of where it currently is. Because when it slips you’re immediately not as powerful as you can be and that’s in several ways. That’s not with just skateboarding, but also many things in life, whether that’s considering a business idea and figuring out if it is viable or breaking down in the middle of nowhere without a working phone. Often, when you work on a project for a year or more you get to a point where you hit a wall and it feels like it’s completely impossible to go forward. Like writer’s block. Books and documentaries like these, again, if you read between the lines and get to the core of it, are all about getting past that block. They teach you a skill set that is useful for exactly that.
So instead of an album we got a concert. Tell us about the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. What led you to this?

I’ve actually been following them for quite a long time and they are a very unique group. I can’t think of another group that’s even similar. They are made up of 8-10 middle aged/old English men and women who have played together for more than 30 years. They all play ukuleles obviously, different types of course. The quality of their music and performances is far higher than what you would imagine if someone said the phrase ‘Ukulele Orchestra’ to you. When you watch them play and see how connected with each other they are you realise they are doing something really complicated. They are incredibly talented.

What’s particularly powerful about them is the amount of laughter they have with each other while even playing on stage during serious concerts. It’s never scripted, they are there messing around and it looks like they have no concerns about anything. There are videos of performance where one player will make eye contact with another across the stage and they will literally both burst out laughing while playing a complex piece of music to a crowd watching them. It gives you that sense of comfort that they’re there to have fun and doing it the their way.

In very prestigious environments.

Yes, at times the BBC Proms and the Sydney Opera House, it doesn’t get more prestigious than that. I have got respect for people who find a way of making a living any other way than what is considered normal in today’s society. Playing a small piece of wood with strings for a living is almost as unusual as people making a living by playing on a plank of wood with wheels, it’s definitely something to admire.


Playing a small piece of wood with strings for a living is almost as unusual as people making a living by playing on a plank of wood with wheels, it’s definitely something to admire


From Kraftwerk to Robert Johnson, Eurythmics to the Sex Pistols. It’s a very eclectic setlist…

Yes and Ennio Morricone!

That was my favourite part. When The Good The Bad and The Ugly started I was sold

Yea I’m not sure if you noticed but the bassist who plays the ukulele bass which I didn’t know existed, his other speciality is whistling. He can whistle in an unbelievable way. I think there’s actually a video they have got that’s called “Whistling Bach”. You think they are going to play a classical piece of music on ukuleles but if you watch he whistles this entire classical piece for probably two minutes with precision. It’s such an unusual skill, pretty crazy.

Their sound really lends itself to that Ennio Morricone stuff.

It does, it is perfect, specifically for the Westerns. I suspect I found the Ukelele Orchestra through a search for an Ennio Morricone song. He’s in my top five favourite composers.

It looks like a good night out have you ever seen them?

I haven’t, I would love to see them. I’m sure everyone has a list of things they want to do after the lockdown but I would happily buy a ticket and go and see them, they’re amazing.

Do you have a ukelele?

I have got one. That sounds like I’m a ukelele player but I actually have a collection of about ten instruments and the ukulele is one of them. It’s not my favourite.

Thank you for sharing those choices with us. How has the isolation been treating you? Are you finding more time to work on cars?

It sounds like you’re shaping that question to make me answer directing me in a sensible route (laughs). This is a very significant situation – the first time in history a pandemic is affecting the whole of mankind at once. But no matter how big the situation you shouldn’t put yourself into a hole and should remain positive. I think often negative things can be and should be taken as a blessing. It’s a perfect time to think about things.

That often means putting Instagram away and giving yourself time and space to think about what is important, where you want to be, whether you’re willing to put in the work. That’s exactly what I’ve been doing. Really trying, for the first time in a long time not to distract myself with things like watching shows and taking time to cycle with no headphones in and actually think about things.

I’ve been spending a lot of time working on my car. It’s a classic so it really needed a lot of time to dismantle almost the entire engine and go through it. I found a rats nest in the engine which is probably from the days when the car was in California. I’ve got a dirtbike and I’ve been going out riding a lot. I’ve also continued to work. The lockdown, maybe excluding the first few days, hasn’t really dampened my spirits. I’ve just accepted it for what it is and moved forward with it. It just depends on how you decide take it.


Thanks to Sam for sharing these recommendations with us. If you enjoyed reading this and haven’t already checked out our previous Isolation Station posts then read what Dom Henry and Rory Milanes picked out for you.