casper brooker

Isle x SkatePal:
Nick Jensen Interview

To conclude last year's collaboration with Isle Skateboards, we caught up with Nick Jensen to talk about painting, skating and his work as Isle's Creative Director. Interview by Theo Krish.

Nick and Jacob Harris in Palestine. Photo: Sam Ashley

Nick and Jacob Harris in Palestine. Photo: Sam Ashley

How did the Isle Palestine trip come about in the first place? Was it easy to persuade you to go?

Thats a good point actually. Chris (Jones) was always saying on the Isle WhatsApp group 'let’s go to Palestine!' I kept ignoring it because it was exciting but I’m a bit of a pussy when it comes to travelling. I get really anxious and I felt like it was going to be really intense and stressful leading up to it. Then I realised stop being a fucking pussy it's going to be amazing!

And was it less stressful than you imagined?

Absolutely! It was one of the most fun trips I’ve ever been on, it wasn’t at all stressful for me, just really thoroughly enjoyable. In my head Palestine was a twelve hour flight away but then I realised it was an Easy Jet flight four hours away. It’s just because so much crazy shit has gone on there that you compartmentalise it and put it in this place in your mind where you think that it's miles away because somewhere so close can’t have that much trauma.

Isle were the first official team to tour the country. So that trip and the way Jake’s portrayed it is the way that other professional skaters...

...will receive the first ever skateboarding on that landscape.

Exactly. People who have never heard of Palestine before are going to discover it through Pieces of Palestine.

Yeah and it looks thoroughly different. It’s got a touch of the Mediterranean, it’s got the Middle Eastern quality, it looks like a bewildering, magical place and I don’t know many other places that look like that in footage.

Nosegrind revert on the Palestinian version of St Paul's chalky walls, Nablus. Photo: Sam Ashley.

Nosegrind revert on the Palestinian version of St Paul's chalky walls, Nablus. Photo: Sam Ashley.

Do you think the way Jake's put the video together is going to alienate some people? 

In a way I think Pieces of Palestine challenges the idea of what a skate video actually is. It's really different - it sits in a space halfway between journalism and a skate video. It doesn't lead up to a heroic moment with a 'well done they saved Palestine' or an amazing tre flip down twenty stairs. It's just an intimate portrait of some lads going around Palestine. It's not that straight forward, you don’t go from A to B and get to understand the role of the piece.

I think it's going to cause people confusion on both sides; the skate side and the non-skate side because they won’t necessarily understand what the value of the piece is or what it's designed to achieve. I think that's the whole point of Jake's film, but it will definitely cause a lot of confusion I think.

Since working with Jake on Vase have you left him to do his own thing?

It hasn’t been my place to step in. When we do Isle projects like Transworld (Cinematographer Project) we kind of conceptualise and brainstorm together, but with the Atlantic Drift series it's been one of those things where it’s not an Isle production. So he’s kind of delivering his own vision. 

With Pieces of Palestine, although it was made with Isle, I think we had this understanding that it wasn't a branded piece. So it was more just Jake feeling confident in his style and pushing it in a new direction as a filmmaker in his own right, working alongside but not with Isle. He’s getting stronger in his own vision so he feels more confident in his decision making right now.

Visiting the Samaritan village, Nablus. Photo: Sam Ashley

Visiting the Samaritan village, Nablus. Photo: Sam Ashley

Tell us about the history of Isle...

Let me work this out... Isle is about four years old. It started when Paul Shier came up to me, we were skating in Kings Cross and Blueprint was kind of going under due to the recession and loads of things like that. It was getting managed by someone else in the States and it just wasn't working out. Paul quietly said to me ‘would you be interested in starting up a company with me and doing the design work?’ I was obviously excited and said yeah!

Then Sylvain (Tognelli) and I went to LA on a Lakai trip and we’d always stay at Paul's house. Me, Paul and Sylvain sat down and properly discussed it because at that point it was still a bit of a hypothetical option. We worked out a mass quit from Blueprint and orchestrated it that way so everyone could quit at once, so everyone was in the loop. People didn’t know that Isle was going to start but that's a different story. Everyone on the team was over it and it was a known factor that people were going to jump ship. The way it was being run wasn’t the Blueprint it used to be.

But in essence Isle started out of the love of skateboarding, wanting to do something that was different to what was already out there. We felt that we already had that option, trying to show skating in a different way and the design of skateboards in a different way. We had a really strong crew and vibe and it was born out of that connection.

Other than you three had you already chosen the rest of the Isle team before leaving Blueprint?

No, after we quit Blueprint we kind of worked out the team, it happened quite organically and quite slowly even though some people don’t think it did. 

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Were you involved in any of the art work in Blueprint before this happened?

No.

So the aesthetic of Isle has no crossover?

Only in that I skated for Blueprint and (Dan) Magee who was the mastermind behind the graphics and all the editing, he was the kind of director and creative for Blueprint and I had a strong connection with him. We used to skate together all the time. So there was definitely a crossover in terms of understanding the value in Britishness. There is a crossover in some ways but for me with Isle it was a case of 'right ok Nick time to do a set of designs'.

I come from a painting background, I generally make oil paintings on canvas. So when it came to doing the designs, I wasn’t very sure on how to use Photoshop. So I just decided to make objects in the same way I make paintings, things that physically exist on the wall and photograph them and use that photograph to turn it into a screen-printed graphic. The first series we did felt really scary to me because I didn’t know if it was good or not. But it got really well received.

Which was the first series?

The studio series, with frames and one had a palm tree with sand on. 

And that was the first time you'd ever designed a board?

Yeah.

Had you ever thought about designing boards for Blueprint?

Not really, I’d never engaged with it. I was into painting and I'd never really thought that painting would physically translate onto a board.

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Do you feel differently about that now?

Well I don’t feel that differently about it now, because I still don’t put my paintings on the boards (Editor's note: since this interview was recorded Nick used one of his paintings for Casper Brooker's pro board). 

There have been times where people have said 'oh put that on a board it looks really cool', but I don’t see a link at this stage. For me it was for more just about really engaging with what it means to make a skateboard and I’d never had to think about it in that intense way. I mean it took me a while, about two months, to figure out how to do that for the first Isle series.

So you basically hadn’t considered designing boards full stop…

No, because it takes quite a lot mental energy to consider a concept for a board and I’d never even fantasised or imagined that. It wasn’t in my mind. Until someone said you should do it, it forced me to fully engage with it and think 'ok these are the parameters I have to deal with, these are the problems I need to solve'.

And did Shier fully back your ideas from the beginning?

Yeah he was very trusting, he had no idea what to expect really. We had a chat about it. It was still really very sketchy, it was very like 'what the fuck, what are we going to do for our first series?'. We didn’t really do that much of a brand exercise at the start like ‘this is what we are going to be or this is what it represents’. We tried, but we're skaters, we're not that professional, we don’t know how to work like that. If we did work like that then maybe it would feel more wooden and constructed.

Did the reception of the first series help you to have confidence in your work?

Yeah it spurred me on and actually I’ve just realised that a major point is that I used to run a gallery in my flat and show contemporary art. So I knew what it was like to show work on white walls and organise the work of different artists. I have a massive interest in that world so I think that crossed over into the way I treat the boards, almost like the white wall in my gallery.

That make sense as to why there is a lot of white in Isle’s imagery.

Yeah. That white is supposed to be like a gallery wall. 

Tranquilize, 190 x 140 cm

Tranquilize, 190 x 140 cm

Where does your inspiration come from for art and skating? Is there an overlap between the two?

Yeah definitely. When you see a skater interacting with a space in a way that feels original, that's exciting and it's the same with art really. You see a painting and it has a certain energy to it that you maybe haven’t experienced before. It's a really innate feeling that's difficult to articulate, it's just a drive that makes you think 'I want to be involved in that'.

That's something I get from Isle videos and British skating in general, things feel achievable and that inspires you to go out and skate...

Yeah I think there is definitely that. With Vase I think it came down to the way we made the installations for the video. We were quite happy to reveal the scrappy nature in which they were designed. So you might see the masking tape holding up an object or you might see a finger holding it. It wasn’t about being super slick and professional. It's about the process of an idea just as much as the idea itself. 

For example in art, Picasso doesn't just make a masterpiece. If you go to an exhibition you see all these amazing etchings where he goes through a thousand options before he gets to where he wants to be. There's a lot of working it out and that's what skating is, you don’t just wake up one day and smith grind a twenty stair hand rail. 

Something that really shows this creativity I think is Mike Arnold’s Lloyds part; you can take one area and use your brain and skill and really do some inventive stuff. It doesn’t mean you have to do something super impressive like flying down loads of stairs. You can use the space and do something simple. I think there's a materiality to Isle, bringing things back to basics, nothing is too slick.

Nick & Jake pulling strings behind the scenes in  Vase.

Nick & Jake pulling strings behind the scenes in Vase.

How do you see the work you do for Isle vs your solo work? 

It's just different, tapping into different a world. In skateboarding I’m thinking much more about graphic design. When I’m making a painting I’m not thinking about design at all. So my mindset is in a different space. It's not that one is better than the other, it's just a different mind space, a different channel of thinking. The people I’m inspired by are slightly outside of those graphic-y things or they work well because I love the way they look on canvas which you don't get on a wooden screen-printed board. They're a different medium so I don't try and pretend that they're not.

I guess with skateboards you always have a constant - the shape stays the same whereas a painting can be any shape...

Exactly. You can’t crop a painting to be really narrow and weird unless it's been designed in that way. Also there is the reproducibility of skateboards to consider, you need to make six in every series and quite a lot of them are different designs.

With paintings I don’t think of them like a product. It's a bit more like poetry, you think of ideas and you get it out there and it has a moment in time. It's not reproducible. With boards you're working towards a market of people and what they like. You have to think slightly differently, like is this is going to really ‘pop’ off the board.

In the art world, Ad Reinhardt (abstract painter) could make an all black painting as a declaration of the end of painting, this final black space. The idea is beautifully poetic but that's not going to work on a skateboard. It'd just be black and people aren't interested in that sort of revolutionary concept he was dealing with in the 1960s, people would say 'fuck off'! I want to look at a picture that's going to function on a skateboard that's going to make me want to ride it.

You're thinking about the end user whereas in painting it's more about yourself.

Yes absolutely. Like your theory on your existence. It's a bit more existential, a bit more personal.

Curiosities shelves in Nick's studio.

Curiosities shelves in Nick's studio.

You mentioned before that the Curiosities series was the best selling Isle series? 

Yeah I think they were the best selling because they do a few things really successfully. They allow you to represent different characteristics of the skaters, they play on different shapes, shadows, colours and tones. They're really enjoyable on the eye and as a series they look great together. They interconnect like a jigsaw puzzle.

Yeah they bring a very touchable 3D element. If there's any deck you're going to put on your wall it's one that looks like it was already there.

Yeah. Like Trompe-l'œil, it's an illusion of space.

How'd you come up with that? 

Chris Aylen, Shier and I were thinking about those cabinets of curiosities and we were looking at these old dusty ones in museums. I thought we should do that but in more of a gallery vibe, keeping with the white aesthetic and we made it to scale. We made the shelves. So if you look at the shelves in my studio at the moment they're the same height and width as a skateboard. There's something nice about that relationship between one-to-one ratios. It keeps it real and not about being too illusionistic and show-off-y.

Do you usually design those on your own?

With that series Chris Aylen was very involved with me. We’d spend quite long periods of time at my studio arranging objects on the shelves for that series. As it's gone on our roles have slightly shifted and I'm doing a bit more graphic work. 

How did the Isle x SkatePal Curiosities board differ, did you approach it in the same way?

With this one there was more of a dialogue. Normally it's me and Chris thinking about a skater. With this one it was about speaking directly with you, someone who goes to Palestine all the time and has a working relationship with those memories and ideas, combined with my own experience of what makes a board look cool in terms of colour.

How do you think the board stands up against the others?

Yeah I think it looks like it's just part of series. It doesn't have any thing overtly different in any way. It hasn't got a political agency with it. It's just about objects that remind us of either a person or a place. It serves the same function.

That fits nicely with Pieces of Palestine. What you see on the board is what we brought back from that trip...

Yeah memories as well like, the the Taybeh beer. I have really fond memories of talking with Ala (Hilo) and learning so much about Palestine over a beer in Singer Cafe (Bethlehem). 

Ok moving on. What are the difficulties of being a board company in 2018?

The main difficulty is that the market is over saturated. There are so many companies now that it’s quite hard to compete. It's harder to stand out because everyone can kind of move around a bit and that's acceptable, whereas before it was like companies stuck with one style.

But that's a challenge I enjoy because it means it's a bit more engaging and pressurising to think ‘alright how are we actually going to do something different’. That can be achieved through the skaters, through video editing, it can be through any way in which you represent yourself. 

At the moment you balance your work between running Isle, skating and painting - would you eventually like to be doing Isle full time?

Well I do love doing Isle because it's a bit like letting off steam in a way, but I guess I wouldn't want to do it full time. I wouldn’t want it to overtake painting and skating and become a pure job because it’s just not who I am. I like the fact that it's a bit like a mini family - we enjoy feeding off each others ideas and that way it grows naturally and stays quite organic. It’s exciting and feels flexible in that way. It feels like we can do anything we want. 

And you don’t have the pressure of having to fulfil shareholders wishes or this sort of thing?

Yeah exactly, I think that just wouldn’t feel real anymore.

So on the flip side, would you ever want to do painting full time?

Yeah I would actually. I would like to do painting full time.

Searching for my Shadow, 170 x 130 cm

Searching for my Shadow, 170 x 130 cm

Is that something you’d like to do when you are 'done' being a pro skater?

Well I mean it's just not my choice, because it depends on how successful you are. If I was represented by a really big gallery and people really wanted to buy my work and I could make a living out of it I’d love to, but I can’t choose that. At the moment I don’t make enough of a living out of it to support myself.

What's next for Isle?

What I like about it is that it’s not that planned. It’s up to the team and how we all decide what our next trip is or what our next project is. For me it's about things like the guest series, growing relationships with interesting artists and asking them to design a board.

I think it's really interesting to take people who aren’t necessarily inside the world of skateboarding and get them to think about how their work could fit in that format. It's less insular. Being less tribal about it and getting more people involved helps to break down those barriers down, which for me is quite exciting.

Last Question. How has becoming a father impacted your art and skating?

(Laughs). Well I think it's too early to say ‘cause he’s only a few months old. Not as much as I thought to be honest - it’s been a joy and I’ve still managed to do everything else so I recommend it.

What about the next one?

I think one is enough for now!

Thanks Nick!

Keep up to date with Nick's painting and skating:

nickjensen.co.uk

instagram.com/nick__jensen

 

Isle x SkatePal:
Jacob Harris Interview

A while ago, we sat down for a pizza and pint with Jacob Harris to chat about his Pieces of Palestine edit, Atlantic Drift and his ongoing work with Isle Skateboards. Interview by Chris Jones and Theo Krish.

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T: Let’s start at the beginning - what got you into filming skateboarding?

I don’t know, I think I just wanted to copy skate videos that already existed, but I would alway envision more skits and stuff and I was always excited about that. The first skate video that I ever made was when I was 12 and it was all like kung fu fights and I was editing little lightening bolts coming from everyones faces and stuff.

TK: What were you influenced by at the time? In my head I’m thinking videos like Mouse or Goldfish.

At the time I hadn’t seen anything like that. It was just influenced by shit films, just wanting to create narratives with your friends.

TK: Who was in that first video?

Josh Cox was in that video but no one else that anyone would know the name of.

TK: What about these days, where does your current inspiration come from?

It's kind of hard to say because sometimes when you put sound, music and footage together you just know that it works and that it's probably referencing something you’ve picked up from somewhere else, but you couldn’t necessarily say what that is.

TK: Would you say the stuff you’ve done since Vase has been more 'you being you' rather than you doing things for Isle?

Yeah totally. Not having to worry about selling boards or keeping within the consistency of an image means that you basically have complete freedom and I try to take advantage of that. But Pieces of Palestine is still meant to be in line with Isle output.

CJ: So whilst it fitted in with the aesthetic of Isle, did Pieces of Palestine feel more like an independent project, like the Atlantic Drift series?

I wouldn’t say that I borrowed from Atlantic Drift at all apart from using a lot of 16mm but that's kind of my set up normally now anyway. It was skewed slightly anyway because it’s a video that's in collaboration with you guys (SkatePal), so it had to be useful in different ways compared to a normal Isle edit. I would say that there are more audiences to address.

CJ: What was your process for fitting it in with SkatePal?

I wanted to give slightly more of a voice to the people of Palestine. I didn’t want to give too much of a voice to anyone in particular because I didn’t want to create too much of a narrative, but I just wanted to show the place. Obviously we are making something non-political, so the tack I took was to show a little bit of the place and the easiest way to do that is to have somebody from there talk about it.

Palestine is a place where it’s much more about the people that are living there than rather than the space itself. It's a place that doesn't exist in the global imagination of skateboarding that much. So it’s about showing that skating does exist there, just in a different way to what we're used to.

TK: I find it interesting that you say it doesn’t have any link to the Atlantic Drift because for me the aesthetic sits perfectly in-between Vase, Atlantic Drift and the Nicaragua edit.

It’s definitely going to be similar in a lot of ways because anyone who creates things has their language. I don’t think that I’m a craftsman in that I can choose to work in a lot of different ways, it’s more like I have a territory that I patrol. For me they are all very separate but I can see that to someone whose not inside my brain they’re definitely similar, but that's just because they come from me. 

CJ: One thing that I’ve always liked about your edits and maybe this is me reading too much into it, but there's perhaps intentional hidden references or messages in your videos. Were there any hidden messages in POP?

I totally get what you’re saying and I agree. I think that ‘messages’ is the wrong word because when you make something you can try and explain it using other examples or a similar feeling or idea. I figured out that I try and make things feel a lot like a memory and feel like you’re watching something that has happened before or maybe happened to you. So I try to create these kinds of archetypal images but that's perhaps over analysis, it’s probably a bit more instinctive than that.

I know Palestine is a very complex place and region politically and socially and I didn’t want to try and put my own narrative over the place. I was only there for 10 days and I knew that any attempt to do that would be offensive and would probably fall short of the complexities of the place, so instead I just tried to let the place speak for itself.

CJ: Did you have any idea what things you wanted to try and focus on before you went to Palestine?

I watched some other videos and looked at photos of Palestine but I didn’t really know what I wanted to represent beforehand. I’m always interested in places that are less visited and where global capitalism has crept in in strange ways and I enjoy looking out of for that.

CJ: That cultural cross over is something that's interesting in the very nature of skateboarding existing in somewhere like Palestine.

Yeah it’s something that's a bit surreal at times. It's really fun doing what we're doing but at times it's easy to take skateboarding too seriously and for some guy in the street it may seem absurd - and it is absurd! You obviously question 'what are we doing here?'.

Throughout the edit I would continually ask myself ‘what is the purpose of this film?’ And I guess it was to encourage people to visit Palestine.

TK: Do you feel happy with the outcome of the film, do you think it does that?

I don’t know because I don’t really think one of my skills is to make a place look attractive. That’s not what I naturally lean towards when I look at things, but I hope so! It’s a beautiful place so it kind of speaks for itself.

Jake takes a break from filming to 180 switch nosegrind at Asira Al-Shamaliya skatepark.

Jake takes a break from filming to 180 switch nosegrind at Asira Al-Shamaliya skatepark.

TK: We chatted the other day about how you don’t read the YouTube comments about Atlantic Drift and stuff, but how do you think people will respond to this edit and do you care?

I did imagine an audience quite a few times whilst I was editing but I don't know. It’s way less skating and it’s a bit more indulgent in a lot of ways but I hope that it’s enjoyable to watch.

CJ: How did the edit change over the period of time you were making it?

To start with I didn’t try to structure it. One night I just went through the footage whilst listening to a Roy Orbison song and thought that it was sick. Whenever I get 16mm back I usually watch it whilst listening to Roy Orbison just because it goes really well. I didn’t edit it for a long time because I was busy and we were waiting for an opportunity to bring it out, and then when I came back to it I found it really difficult to structure.

I didn’t really know how to structure it because I was editing it almost a year later and I couldn’t really remember what had really happened, so I thought it would be good to structure it around people's memories of the trip. So that was a turning point really, I got everyone in and asked them questions about what they remembered and I was like, 'okay this now makes it easier for me to understand the edit'. Even if it still doesn’t make that much sense it makes a hell of a lot more sense than it did before!

Filming session at Qadura park, Ramallah. 

Filming session at Qadura park, Ramallah. 

TK: Your recent films delve more into sound, which is still quite unusual within the format of a skate video. Is that a direction you're looking to keep exploring?

For me it comes from shooting film and most of the time when you shoot film you don’t record sound simultaneously. So that’s where it came from. Basically when you first try and do that you do it badly and that sounds really interesting and amazing because when things don’t quite match up it creates this interesting effect. And that interests me as I’m always trying to explore ways in which that can work and that's fun.

TK: Is there anyone else who influences you in that respect?

I don’t think so. I know Pontus (Alv) has done stuff with sound before but I don’t think it came from there. I think he was one of the only people doing it really, he didn’t take it too far but I remember really liking what he did. 

TK: Yeah I remember watching Strongest of the Strange and it felt very different to everything else at the time (2005).

Yeah I loved that video.

TK: It created another world that you don’t usually get from a skate video and I’m personally really interested in seeing how people take this direction.

I would hope that if there’s ever a time where you could do something different it would be now. Like obviously we are over saturated with content that's all quite similar, but I feel like people should really enjoy someone taking things to another dimension.

I mean 50% of video is sound really when it comes down to it and if somebody is trying to engage you in a way that is relatively unexplored I feel like there should be a lot of mileage in that. A skateboard video is about bringing people into this sort of world and if a part of that world is lacking then it's going to be less powerful.

TK: Did you feel more pressure with Pieces of Palestine as a result of the popularity of Atlantic Drift? 

I made a decision to do what I want to do as it seems to work better that way and I don’t really feel the pressure. I feel that if I like something then I’m happy and there will always be people who are like ‘what the fuck are these jelly fish?’ And then there are always going to people that are into it. But if everyone started slating it then I’d probably hide in my shell.

I’d be lying if I said that when I made Atlantic Drift I didn’t imagine an audience because there are still certain things that are kind of my duty to do, which is make a video that's as entertaining and dynamic as possible so that people who spend time skating in front of my camera get the shine they deserve. If I went on a complete flight of fancy then people would probably switch off and wouldn’t see people like Casper (Brooker) and Tom (Knox) skating. So I have to keep within certain boundaries and sometimes I work on edits and I’m like 'this is too much' so I have to reign it in.

Getting gnarly with Chris Jones in Asira Al-Shamaliya.

Getting gnarly with Chris Jones in Asira Al-Shamaliya.

TK: Do you think Palestine fits the aesthetic of the Isle guys skating?

I would say yes because no one was forcing themselves to skate things outside of their element. There were plenty of spots we didn’t skate and the ones we did skate reflect the things the guys usually skate.

CJ: How was your experience with 16mm film going through Ben Gurion Airport?

I mean usually airports are fine with it. They’ll put it through the scanner and fob it all or whatever they do but in this case they were like 'no we're going to open your camera up to see what's inside'. And I still had half a roll of film inside, and I was like ‘please could you not expose it because it’ll destroy the film’ and they said ‘you can either finish the film or its going to be destroyed’ so I said ‘great what can I film?’ and they were like ‘this rainbow wall over here’.

So I pointed my camera and filmed about a £100 worth of rainbow wall and I was like ‘is there anything else I can film’? And surprisingly they let me film the air field which I actually used at the end of the New York Atlantic Drift episode. The security woman next to me thought it was very funny and said ‘is that what you use to film instead of your iPhone?’ I was so fuming at the time so I didn’t really respond (laughter).

CJ: Haha. Is there any connection between the Isle x SkatePal board and Pieces of Palestine?

I had nothing to with the board so not intentionally, but I’m sure Nick (Jensen) took a similar approach in making the board. The film is called ‘Pieces of Palestine’ because I didn’t want to cast my narrative over the place and I couldn’t make an edit make that much sense if I did. I’m sure the same applies to Nick in that he wouldn’t want to try and represent a place in just one or two images, it’s better to take archetypal objects and just have them be there. 

TK: OK last question - what keeps you filming?

I don’t know, I would like to say that it's to push my friends but I'm not sure. I guess I get some sort of  validation and gratification from it. It’s fun! I’m lucky to be able to make things how I want to. But if I really wanted to make my own things then it probably wouldn’t be skateboarding (laughter). But within a certain framework I’m very lucky and I still love skateboarding.

Thanks Jake!

Isle x SkatePal Launch

In September 2016, Isle Skateboards became the first ever professional skate team to tour the West Bank.

We had a great time showing the guys around and are to proud to collaborate with them on a limited edition Isle x SkatePal 'Curiosities' deck, available in all good skateshops now!

Head over to Free Skate Mag to read an interview with the team about their experience, and check out the film about their trip Pieces of Palestine by Jacob Harris below.

Casper Brooker, Impossible, Bethlehem. Photo: Sam Ashley.

Casper Brooker, Impossible, Bethlehem. Photo: Sam Ashley.

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Interview:
Abdullah Milhem &
Majd Ramadan

We caught up with Abdullah Milhem and Majd Ramadan, two of the best skaters in Palestine - to ask them about how they got into skateboarding and the impact it has had on their lives.

Abdullah. Photo: Sam Ashley

Abdullah. Photo: Sam Ashley

Ok let's start from the beginning - how did you start skating? What was your first skateboard?

Abdullah: I started skating three years ago, I found a fake skateboard in a second-hand shop in Qalqilya, then I joined a local crew called the X-games team, which were a group of rappers, beatboxers, graffiti artists, free-runners and skateboarders. In 2013 an organisation called Tashkeel donated money for us to build the mini-ramp in Qalqilya. Kenny Reed came to help with the building and he gave me my first real board: a Real deck, Thunder trucks and Spitfire wheels. That year I also met Charlie when he came to visit our ramp in Qalqilya, just when he was starting SkatePal. He was really nice and told me about his projects.

Majd: The first time I saw someone skating in real life I think was in 2012. It was Charlie with his team skating at the plaza (in Ramallah). I was walking by, saw them skating and stopped for a bit to watch them. Charlie was doing a fakie 360 flip or something, but at the time I didn't know what the trick was - I just thought 'wow!'. So I talked to him and now we're friends. My first skateboard was from a toy shop in Ramallah, which now I know was a rubbish board, but at that time it was the best skateboard I could get!

Majd takes the unconventional route at the Plaza, Ramallah. Photo: Emil Agerskov

Majd takes the unconventional route at the Plaza, Ramallah. Photo: Emil Agerskov

You're both from different towns (Qalqilya & Ramallah), what's the difference between skating in these towns? What do your parents think?

Abdullah: I live in Qalqilya, which is one of the most conservative cities in the West Bank. People here (until recently) did not accept anything new, including skate boarding. They used to kick us out of every spot - they hated our guts just for being different. But as years went by they got used to us. Ramallah, however, is considered to be more liberal because of the interaction with the outside world, unlike Qalqilya which is completely surrounded by a wall. So skateboarding in Ramallah grew much faster because people were more welcoming to the sport. My family didn’t like it at first but they got used to it eventually.

Majd: Some people like it but most people think that it's just a toy for the kids. My family don't really like it, they always tell me I should grow up and stuff like that. 

Abdullah - Frontside 180 at the SkateQilya mini ramp, Qalqilya. Photo: Emil Agerskov

Abdullah - Frontside 180 at the SkateQilya mini ramp, Qalqilya. Photo: Emil Agerskov

How did you guys meet each other? Do you think you would have met each other if you didn't skateboard?

Majd: The first time I met Abdullah it was at the SOS skatepark in Bethlehem with SkatePal volunteer Maen Hammad. I don’t think that we would know each other if we weren’t skating! 

Abdullah: I don’t think I would've met Majd if one of us didn’t skate. After meeting at SOS, we had a session in the plaza in Ramallah. Majd had only just started skating by then, but I enjoyed watching him landing new tricks. He is always excited to skate, even though his father doesn’t like it. He is one hell of a skater and I'm glad that I’ve met him!

What impact has skateboarding had on your life?

Abdullah: Skateboarding changed my life. It gave me that sense of freedom that I was dying to have, it changed the way I saw my surroundings: everything turned into a playground. Even the wall around the city is just a sick spot for wall rides! SkatePal also made a huge change as they managed to create a skate scene that we were desperate for. They united all the skaters in Palestine, gave them boards and built skateparks, spreading the freedom and joy of skateboarding.

Majd: To be honest, I wouldn't be skating without SkatePal, especially Charlie and Theo. We don’t have a skate shop here, so my shop is SkatePal haha! They always get me a board when mine breaks, so without them I wouldn't be able to skate! 

What impact do you think Asira skatepark has had on the skate-scene in Palestine? 

Abdullah: It had a huge impact. It created a chance for kids to have a place where they can have fun. It gave them something to do instead of wasting their time just hanging around in the streets doing nothing.

Majd: Yeah I agree. People in Asira love skateboarding so much now! 

Abdullah, you recently helped out teaching with the SkateQilya summer camp with Kenny Reed - how was that? 

Abdullah: It was an amazing experience, seeing Kenny back in Palestine shredding and teaching kids with him was really fun. We had 23 boys and girls skating at the camp every day, which was great. I used to be the only skater in the city, but now thanks to SkateQilya there are a lot of kids skating. It was like a dream come true as I saw girls starting to skate through the streets of a conservative city. We're hoping to create a better future for the kids who are trapped inside the walls of the Israeli occupation.

Photo: Emil Agerskov

Photo: Emil Agerskov

How has SkatePal evolved since you got involved?

Abdullah: It has been an amazing experience working with SkatePal. I've met so many people from around the world who came to teach kids here. It's been great introducing them to our culture, and telling them stories about the people of this country. I’ve made a lot of great friends, and I was able to see how skateboarding brings people together and brings joy to oppressed people.

You both came skating with the Isle team when they were in Palestine. What was it like skating with them? Would you like to see more pro teams visiting the West Bank?

Abdullah: It was mind blowing! I couldn’t believe it at first - watching them land one banger after the other. It was good for the skate scene because people were able to see that skating is not just a game but rather a way of life, something that adults do as well as kids. We hope to see more pro teams in the West Bank, because it would inspire and motivate us Palestinian skaters, knowing that we are not alone. Also when pro teams come it brings more attention to the skate scene in Palestine and the Palestinian issue in general.

Majd: It was awesome to have a pro team like the Isle crew in Palestine. It meant a lot to me, but to be honest I didn’t skate much during the sessions, I just sat down and watched them do crazy stuff that I’ve never seen before except in videos haha! I would like to see more teams like that in Palestine for sure!

Chiling with the Isle team in Ramallah. 

Chiling with the Isle team in Ramallah. 

Majd & Chris Jones

Majd & Chris Jones

Why do you think skateboarding is important for boys and girls in the West Bank?

Abdullah: It is important because it’s self-liberating and is a peaceful way of resistance. It sends a message to the world that no matter what happens, we will live our lives like normal people. We are human beings who deserve to live.

Majd: I think the most important thing is the feeling of freedom. Even if I was feeling sad, I just pick up my board and go skating and have fun. I don't know what else to say!

What are your hopes for the future of skateboarding in Palestine? 

Abdullah: I hope to see more people skating, more skate parks and maybe a skate shop. It might be hard but hard isn’t impossible.

Majd: I hope that skateboarding get much bigger and better in the future here in Palestine! 

What are you doing now / planning next? 

Abdullah: Next year I'm hoping to study Film in the US. I dream of travelling the world, sharing the stories of Palestine through film.

Majd: Right now I’m studying in Birzeit university.

What trick are you learning right now? 

Abdullah: Lazer flips and they are a pain in the ass!

Majd: I'm working on inward heel flips and nollie bigspins.

Almost done, how would you describe Charlie?

Abdullah: A great friend who dedicated himself to spreading the freedom of skateboarding.

Majd: I will describe Charlie later hahah. I love him.

Anything else you'd like to say?

Majd: I would say thanks for everyone that makes this happen. So much love from Palestine! 

A few quick ones with @majdramadan3 at the Plaza #ramallah #skatepal

A post shared by SkatePal (@skate_pal) on

It counts! More stunts from @majdramadan3 at the Plaza #ramallah #skatepal

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Thanks guys! 

Keep up to date with Abdullah and Majd on instagram:

www.instagram.com/majdramadan3

www.instagram.com/a_milhem40

Isle Skateboards visit Palestine

This month we welcomed the Isle Skateboards team to Palestine for a week long tour of the sites, sounds and skate-spots of the West Bank! 

The guys skated with the kids at our skatepark in Asira Al-Shamaliya, as well as visiting spots in Ramallah, Nablus and Bethlehem. Special thanks to Chris Jones for making the trip happen (and congratulations on turning pro!). 

Check out some behind-the-scenes pictures from the trip, and look out for an article and video about their experience dropping in Free Skate Mag soon!