I have known Val' since the (back then) 16 years old had managed to get my landline number, and had cold called me to announce he was going to be in paris the next day, to shoot a photo… Having no idea who the kid from north of France might be, or if he even could ride a skateboard (one couldn't find the entire career of any prefab skatepark killer online back then), I had still agreed to meet him, one out of sheer curiosity, and two just because he had the balls to ring me like that…
Years have passed, and this young man had long ago proved his skills on a board, and it was time to catch up. "En Transit" was a good way to do so, but sitting for coffee in the paris he finally is going to call home, after years of back and forth trips, was another good one.
LIVE Skateboard Media: Where are you from and how did you first take up skating?
Valentin Bauer: I'm from a small village a few minutes away from Lille, France.
As a small town skater, I logically started out on the parking lot in front of the local church, but then - maybe a year and a half later - the notorious Lille skate plaza was built (alongside a huge indoor complex right next to it), so I started going there instead - I wasn't stuck on my little parking lot for too long!
I started going there an awful lot, actually; I was the typical skatepark kid for a while, and that's where and how I met all the Lille locals who were involved in cool stuff already: Tavu, Alex Van Hoecke, or Sam Lenzeele who was super good already back then. Although, to me, as a little kid, they were just "those guys I randomly run into at the skatepark all the time"!
Then I started riding for a small skateshop based just next to the park, and then again later moved onto skating for the main skateshop in Lille, Zeropolis.
LIVE Skateboard Media: Can you tell us about your progressive introduction to parisian skateboarding? You used to come from Lille by train on your own, is that right?
VB: I was fourteen - maybe fifteen - when I started regularly showing up and crashing at Vincent (Touzery), Roman (Gonzalez) or Kevin (Rodrigues)'s places in Paris. That was around the time when I started hitting you up to go shoot, basically.
I can't really remember how it all came together, to be honest - I think the first Paris skater I ever really got in touch with was Vincent, after I met him in Lille, he had come to skate the Lille stop of the Teenage Tour so he must have been twelve or something. Then we stayed in touch through Myspace, we were using that platform a lot at the time, so he could come back to Lille and stay at my place, occasionally.
On my side, I was starting to shoot photos with Périg (Morisse) at the time, some of them actually made it into SuGaR but hey, that must have been later seeing as the photo we shot was the first skate photo of me to ever get published.
Around that time, something in my head had just clicked : some powerful urge to travel, go to different cities to visit and skate. So of course I really got into shooting photos and filming, for I thought the resulting product might turn into some kind of ticket to those new places, eventually... I used to have this thing when you're a little kid and obsess over getting coverage, for getting photos published in magazines sounds like such a crazy big deal, the idea was impressive to me at the time, I wanted to get a taste of it, although of course it had to do with personal motivation first and foremost.
I really just wanted to get out there and my logic that in order to do that, I had to get as many photos and clips as possible in order to get some free product and the occasional train tickets to who knows where. That idea stuck with me quite early on, which in the grand scheme of things can be both a good and bad thing, for it can be bad for a kid to start obsessing over stuff like that. But as for me, I don't regret having been that kid for that's exactly what got me where I am right now, and it drove me with some extra energy in addition to the one of just skating for the sake of it.
LIVE Skateboard Media: How would you usually make it to Paris at the time?
VB: Well Paris is merely a one-hour train ride away from Lille, so I started coming down there to visit when I was fourteen, maybe fifteen, as I was saying... I would come on my own because nobody else in Lille had the motivation to tag along - maybe I did come with my younger brother (who used to skate) once or twice, but mostly I'd go alone and then catch up with people here.
I was really trying to get as many photos as possible with everyone so of course I would harass the photographers here, like I did with you to go shoot that one photo once but many others will also tell you the same thing: Tura, Seb Charlot, Jean Feil... Well, I did manage to get a lot of stuff done, and we got plenty of photos so I guess I wasn't that much of a drag to most people! But I really was this overly excited kid, maybe even more ruthless than I am now too, I was completely oblivious to what people might think and how they might feel, not once did I even consider that I may be a pain in the neck trying to get all those calls in!
I was so focused on producing, producing... But to me nothing felt forced. I have good memories aplenty from that time, but were I to witness myself now doing the things I was doing back then, I'd probably laugh at that young version of myself. Maybe I'd try and drop some advice along the lines of, "don't send so many sponsor-me e-mails to companies"! No matter how strong your motivation is to get out there, do not force things, really...
Some people later got to tell me how weird some of those messages came across back in the day; for instance, Julien Bachelier (who was working for Adidas in France at the time) told me years later that it was way too much, although he could already sense my drive and determination at the time and thus, knew something was bound to happen with me later down the line. It was just too early, I wasn't ready, I guess, but that's some little kid stuff, then you live and learn...
LIVE Skateboard Media: So now you're moving down here, right?
VB: I mean, Paris has been blowing up over the past few years skateboarding-wise, with everybody being focused on République. But now, as far as I'm concerned, it is a personal thing that drives me to make such a move, skateboarding only being an indirect motivation in that I have been doing nothing but skating for two years now, right, and for a while I was really attached to my comfort zone (and larger apartment) in Lille, I especially liked getting to come back and get some rest in a more peaceful city in between trips to destinations such as Tokyo, coming back to my roots, and friends who don't skate. Lille is really nice in those regards, it's on a fairly human scale, the rent is a lot cheaper too, there are things going on aplenty, the youth is killing it in terms of activity.
But the last few times I did come back from a trip and ended up there, I found myself running in circles; I'd hit home, chill for a couple of days, then the urge of wanting to skate would come back, except nothing around me was going on in those regards. The scene is less active there than in Paris, and I need the energy; ever since I quit my job to focus on skating, I've been starting to feel depressed as soon as upon going for more than a few days without it, and although I do have other interests and many friends I've never run into anything that made me happier than skateboarding, it's the most stimulating thing to me so that's why I need to be in Paris.
I'm leaving my apartment in Lille as we speak, and not even getting one in Paris for now - I'm just leaving my clothes and some minor bullshit at my girlfriend's (who already has her apartment in Paris) and that's it. Those past three months, I was paying the full rent for my place in Lille although I was really staying there a couple of days a month, so now I'm over it and of course, my girl having a place here already is more than convenient.
Here in Paris, I mostly skate with the Öctagon guys: Joseph (Biais), Rémy (Taveira), Edouard (Depaz), Max Verret too who's been on quite some trips with us before and also lives here. Plus there always are visitors here so that makes for some extra energy, when you skate with people who are visiting whilst on a trip you usually end up in locations you wouldn't have gone to by yourself, which allows for some daily variety! Every once in a while, I go and film with Guillaume Périmony or Romain Batard, there are plenty of filmers here, so it's hard to get bored - there's always stuff going on.
LIVE Skateboard Media: May you give us a recap of your work with Öctagon in a nutshell?
VB: Öctagon as a project is three years old now. When we got around to starting filming for the first full-length video, I was already onto that along with Joseph, Edouard, Bram de Cleen, then we started working on the concept of it with Joaquim Bayle as well as Nicolas Decatoire who now is our art director - originally, he's a friend of ours from Lille, who doesn't skate but was super down to develop some kind of imagery surrounding the video, which we ended up really liking to the point where we started considering turning the thing into a full-on company.
Clément Vanpeperstraete (who now manages the thing) was super into working in skateboarding and helped us turn Öctagon into an official brand, then once we were on tracks we instantly got this deal with Carhartt - that really helped up organize all the video premieres and get maximum exposure as soon as the very beginning.
The basic idea was to make it a hardware company, and then some clothes on the side so that the project wouldn't conflict with everybody's clothing sponsors. Then even after the Carhartt thing, we kept investing our respective energies into the project, Rémy came in, then Yeelen Moens and then Phil Zwijsen...
As for me, I really put a lot of myself into Öctagon as soon as its very start, I really wanted the imagery of it all to stand out - for those of you who might not be familiar with said imagery, let's say it's some kind of mix between The Matrix and Brave New World, with skateboarding thrown in. In our story, the Öctagon is supposed to be some kind of totalitary and omniscient system the characters are trying to get away from; I've been working on the idea a lot, I don't know if you remember the first Öctagon article which made it into SuGaR but it really aimed at establishing those fantasy settings already. We knew the visual aspect of our brand was strong in the first place, but we also wanted to explain beyond that and give extra matter to people so that they could really get further into our realms.
So I've been helping Clément with that, as well as with some PR type of duties and I've really been projecting myself into the project a lot. Plus it's easier to do something of the sort with a small brand like ours, it's not like your relationship with, say, a shoe sponsor who has had a strong image for forty years already and then picks you up when all the imagery is set in stone.
Officially I don't work for the brand, I just skate for it, but yeah, I help out a lot.
LIVE Skateboard Media: So you're into writing?
VB: I've always been into that yes, I first started out with tour articles (I think the first one was a trip to Alicante we were on) because most of the time writing the text for the article was supposed to be the photographer's duty but more often than not they really didn't want to have to do it, so I'd just suggest to them that I would like to do the job myself. I had noticed it before that every once in a while, one of the skaters on the trip would write the text rather than the photographer or some other person and figured I'd give the storytelling a shot.
Then the magazines were getting some good feedback for those articles and it motivated me to start playing along even more. It's something cool to do, and then you get paid too so what's not to like?
LIVE Skateboard Media: How about reading, are you into that?
VB: Honestly I really don't read at all besides most skate mags just so I get to catch glimpses of what's going on and stay up to date. Every once in a while, you run into some interesting writing styles... I think in my life I've read ten, maybe fifteen books I really, really got into, but besides those there are plenty I just had to quit after barely a few pages because I really couldn't feel it.
I like to entertain myself - I like watching movies, for instance, because I get a lot more entertainment from the movie format rather than reading books. Every once in a while I'll read an article on Vice for instance, but it's mostly interviews rather than deep stuff.
LIVE Skateboard Media: What's up with Paccbet, your board sponsor, based in Russia?
VB: I met Tolia (Titaev) a while back after we had started following each other back and worth over Instagram - the classic story. Eventually we ran into each other at the Bright tradeshow, maybe one year after the first Öctagon full-length came out. He came up to me and told me he thought it was cool what we were doing, so we stayed in touch, I was regularly checking in on what he was doing too, and I knew he worked with Gosha Rubchinskiy whose work I had been following for a while as well because I liked the exotic soviet style.
Then Joseph (now in charge of the marketing duties over at Carhartt) started wanting to do things with Tolia, and got in touch with him about Carhartt; I had been skating for Pass-Port at the time but the french distribution had just fallen through and it had become a lot harder for them to send me boards, so I really was off and over skating for a board company for the time being until an actual opportunity would materialize, not talking distro-related partnerships. Joseph tried to hook me up with Tolia, saying I should give his project Paccbet a chance because it fitted my image, on the spot I really didn't think much about the idea but then it grew on me and I realized he had been right from the start.
So I got in touch with Tolia, he came to Paris last summer, we hung out, skated, then we all went to Berlin with Joseph and did even more of just that. We have an organic connexion going, we both like each other's projects respectively, we sensibly have the same age, tastes and interests. Then the opportunity to go to Russia came up when we were in Berlin and I was like "yes, this is it, now is the time"!
See, I had been attracted to Russia for a while already but never had a good excuse to actually go, so that was perfect - especially knowing that they'll be hosting the World Cup championships of soccer there next year, which will most likely blow the place up, plus it was summer still, so I booked my tickets right away and went to Moscow for two weeks, that was back in August.
We stayed with Joseph in a hotel for the first five days, then for the last ten days I stayed at Tolia's grandmother's place - she really couldn't speak any English or French, yet tried really hard to go out of her way to communicate with me to make sure I was comfortable as a guest, plus I was with Gosha and Tolia the whole time who very well may be the top two guys to be around with on a Moscow trip to really make the most out of your stay, so no complaints there.
Things are pretty crazy in Moscow, although I was expecting more of a cultural shock, but then again I stayed in just that one city the whole time which really feels like a big, rich European city all things considered, just on an even larger scale (even larger than Berlin which is pretty big to begin with) and with a density in population comparable to something you would experience in Asia - people just about everywhere.
Plus with the World Cup approaching, everything is getting repaved, not one inch of pavement is slipping through the cracks (but the historic landmarks, obviously) so there are virgin spots aplenty, just popping up. The place is packed with people with sweet projects and interesting initiatives, similar to Berlin when it blew up seven or eight years ago - I'd recommend a visit for sure!