INTERVIEW WITH PHIL ZWIJSEN
"Waterproof" - 2016
All photos: DVL (Dave Van Laere)
WORDS: Stu Gomez
Water has never been a friend to skateboarders. It’s more of an inconvenient truth. The element gives us all manner of unpleasantness: soggy shoes and unpredictably slick wheels; rusted metal bearings and trucks stripped of lubricant; decks become weakened and warped. Add rain and we see our boards reduced to mush—we turn into Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West at the slightest hint of rain.
But while the rest of us say, "Rain, rain, go away," Phil Zwijsen embraces the impending gloom. He sticks his hand out the window, palm up, hoping for the telltale sprinkle of a precipitous day. When most skateboarders are typically hydrofatalists (“If it’s gonna rain it’s gonna rain. There’s no use fighting it”) or aquaoptimists (“This too shall dry”), Zwijsen’s attitude is closer to that of a sopping wet pluviophile—he loves the rain—actively seeking out the scattered showers and hoping that it will come down like cats and dogs.
Zwijsen's new part by Sam Bailey and filmers Yves Marchon and Guillaume Perimony, "Waterproof," features one-hundred percent wet skateboarding. For the project, Zwijsen and his crew needed to take the modus operandi of a traditional filming mission and turn it on its head. Instead of searching out quote-unquote “good” weather, they became storm chasers. In addition, they avoided many of the established high-water marks of skate spots in favor of enhanced slideability. That means that quick-drying materials, like the almighty marble, are out, but natural wood is in. They went so far as to build an extra-long wooden platform in Switzerland in the wee hours one morning. (A DIY build so that you can skate in the rain more? That's probably a first.) “A lot of the spots are not even skate spots,” Zwijsen said. “Just wood and things that slide.”
There was a definite learning curve for Zwijsen. He makes it look unbelievably graceful, working with the rain instead of fighting it. Even the slippery slams are incredibly entertaining. But skating in the rain did not come naturally for him at first. After all of the crazy rain trips, essentially using his board as a water dowser, rain skating has become almost second nature to him.
Though the concept behind "Waterproof" has its own defined set of rules, and its own unique weather-related pressures, Zwijsen still only focuses on the most important element: fun. “I just wanted to show some fun… you can’t be too serious, you know?” It’s all about the motion of the ocean.
Absorb the following interview with Phil Zwijsen, then check out his "Waterproof." There won't be a dry wheel in the house.
Tell me about this “Waterproof” project.
I started thinking about the project after Make It Count in Norway [in 2013]. I filmed some sliding stuff in the rain for the “Hydroplane” video on The Berrics. And then I was like, “Fuck, I should really do a street part.” We kind of started with skating only in the rain. I was like, “Fuck, it’s been done already.” I tried to just do only powerslides. That’s when it started and then the first trip was really good and we showed it to Element and they were really stoked. They were like, “Fuck yeah! Do the whole part. Whatever you need.” They were really supportive the whole way. Then we started going on trips. Whenever I had some spare time from other trips I would just go on a “rain trip”: always the filmer, the photographer, and me.
But [filming a part in the rain] was really difficult, because not everything slides. Like, marble doesn’t really slide that good in the rain. It’s really weird! Wood, plastic, iron, and really rough stuff slides really good. With marble, you slip out but you don’t really slide. We had a lot of marble stuff we thought was going to work really well but we went there and it didn’t really work.
I like the choice you made of sliding as opposed to doing traditional tricks in the rain.
I really like the sliding thing! I think you can go really far with it—a lot of combinations.
It seems like you’re working with the rain, you’re not fighting against it.
That was the thing. I thought we should use the rain. Anybody can skate in the rain, but I think to do the project we did it’s more difficult because you really have to find the spot and you’re using the rain to go, you know? It’s fun to do!
Is skating in the rain something that you’ve always just been really familiar with? Or was “Hydroplane” your first real exploration of it?
Yeah, “Hydroplane” was kind of the first thing, and then after we started doing the trips I was just like, “Whoa! What the fuck am I doing? This is insane!” Like, the first day I went on the trip to Switzerland to film for the project it was insane: I was soaking wet after one minute. I was like, “Fuck, how am I going to do this?” But then during that whole trip it wasn’t really raining that bad. It kinda worked out—we had a lot of footage. I thought that we should really do more, just try to do as much as possible. And then it became this crazy thing, like we did eight or nine trips for it.
Did you end up traveling around looking for rain?
Yeah, it was really weird. I always look for good weather and now it’s like I kind of learned, like, “this many millimeters is gonna be a lot of rain,” you know? If it says it’s gonna rain it could be a few drops, but that’s not enough. You need, like, “this many millimeters,” so I got really into checking the cloud radar and stuff which is really good. It kinda worked out. All the trips have had a lot of rain!
How much time in total do you think you’ve spent filming for this rain video?
I would say over three weeks, going everyday. We did separate trips, like I went to Paris for two days. The filmer came to my place in Belgium for two days so we would always get two days. I think three weeks is kinda the amount of time we put in it.
Davy, the photographer, he had so many good ideas and I’m like, “Fuck, let’s do that!” It means a lot to Davy because he went on every trip. Even if he wasn’t shooting photos he was helping, because he really wants to make it look good.
What is the hardest part about filming in the rain? The crazy slides and stuff don’t really seem to be hard for you. Was the weather the biggest factor?
I think it’s more the spots. For example: Bilbao. We were like, “Okay, these spots are probably gonna slide.” We went there and it’s raining, and it’s not gonna rain all day, so you have two hours of time and you need to do it and the spot is not really good so you’re like, “Fuck.” It’s not really about the weather anymore; it doesn’t really work. We’re like, “The rain is gonna go! Just drive around the city and find some wood thing!” We didn’t even look for a spot, just things that slide! A lot of the spots [we filmed at] are not really skate spots, just wood and things that slide. I don’t know. It’s really different, but it’s fun to do!
What was the process for deciding which tricks to do? When I was watching you in person at The Berrics it seemed like you just knew naturally which way to go.
Yeah, it’s weird because when I started the project we went to this ledge and I did an ollie up to powerslide to [another] powerslide to pop out. And that was really weird because at the start of filming that was a hard trick for my part and then I got way better at it, you know?
So, then a year later, we went back to the same spot but it was completely skate stopped and I was like, “Fuck! Now I know I can do it way better than before!” It was our first mission, but now maybe I could have flipped out of it; I got better at doing it. You get used to sliding and how it’s gonna feel. That’s why today I got everything pretty quickly at The Berrics because I was doing it last week, just doing it all week. It’s crazy how you can get better at powerslides!
So, when it’s dry do you feel like you kind of understand powersliding better?
No. When it’s dry, not really. [both laugh] When it’s wet it’s a different thing!
The ground here at The Berrics is already really slippery, too…
Super slippery! It just works. You don’t have to put that much push into it.
Are you ever concerned that adding the element of water will make things much more dangerous in a way?
Not really. On all the trips, I took a lot of slams but never any really gnarly ones. Just because I knew how it was gonna feel.
It’s actually really entertaining watching you slam.
Yeah, but now my wrists and shoulders are really bad!
Aside from the spots not sliding, what were some other issues that you’ve run into filming “Waterproof”?
It’s just a lot of work in general. Like, every spot we went to I was so burnt out. I just wanted to chill for a few days. We also went for three or four days because it rained for those three days. It was just a struggle with the rain to hold the rain while it’s there. The last two trips, we built a rain machine with a generator and a pump that sucked the water from the river to make some stuff wet. That was a lot of work.
And we had a hose hooked up to just spray everything wet and shit. Seriously, the last mission it was just not going to rain but I was like, “Let’s just use the rain machine and do funny shit.” We went to Rotterdam and built this long wooden thing. It seriously took two hours. We stayed until 6:00 in the morning. We tried so long to make it with good wood so that it looked nice.
But we only did that for two spots. All the rest was real rain. We didn’t really want to cheat that much. But it was the end, so we were like, “Fuck it. Let’s try something.” That was really fun, actually. Even when the cops came, they were like, “What the fuck are you guys doing?” We had a massive generator and a pump. “We’re skating.” But they were really nice. They let us skate, actually.
Tell me about that photo where the guy is in your face, taking a picture.
Oh, that guy. He was not really happy. We were skating in Switzerland and it was all crazy new buildings, like really nice. They had the best manual pads: they’re wooden and the lines are perfect. I got front blunt [powerslides], but not touching, So we’re skating and everybody is tripping out, like, “You’re damaging the wood!” And it was perfect. We were getting really good shit, almost getting lines. And then a few people came [up to us] and we explained that it’s just rubber and it’s not really going to damage anything.
They were not really feeling it. And then this guy came and he was freaking out. The police came and said, “You can’t really do that.” Blah, blah, blah. Nothing really crazy happened. The guy was angry, but in the end we showed them that we’re not doing anything wrong, just trying to do something other than just “normal” skating. A lot of people liked it.
I really thought, “I’m gonna do this project—it’s rain, nobody’s gonna be outside. Nobody’s gonna complain.” But a lot of people actually complained a lot. Like, “You’re damaging it!” Yeah, I’m damaging myself, but not your fucking bench!
Do you use your regular setup or do you use different wheels?
Same setup, just really hard wheels. I tried to change to see what was better, but in the end just my normal setup was good, I think. And the board was never really dead. It was just a bit soggy. But I always used a new board so the water couldn’t really go in; no chips. And my trucks were really loose.
Are you worried about being known as the “Water Guy” at all?
Not really. I did [traditional] parts before—maybe not everybody in America has seen them. I just wanted to show some more fun, not just the crazy “hammer” parts—not that I’m a hammer kind of skater. We tried to skate really good as well but it’s more about fun. You can’t be too serious, you know?
I hope they don’t call me the “Water Guy,” but fuck it! I’m happy I did it. It’s been harder to do this than filming a real video part, just because it’s so much stress. Like, “Run! It’s drying. Go!”
Yeah, this part actually has some rules.
You know how when you’re trying a trick and it starts to rain? You’re like, “I need to do the trick now!” It’s the same, but it’s drying. It’s fucking crazy. It’s like the other way around! I hope people appreciate it. If not, I hope they have a good laugh, maybe.