"Saint Denis", as seen by Phil Evans and Samu Karvonen!


 You may already be familiar with Phil Evans' name due to the well-earned notoriety of his past films such as "Format Perspective" or "Coping Mechanism", experiments such as "Paper Cut London" or maybe even the elusive "Scrum Tilly Lush", a full-length skate video filmed all over Europe on nothing but Super 8 film. This Spring, the Irish filmmaker strikes again with "SAINT DENIS", a documentary about not-less-Irish skateboarder Denis Lynn (yes, Conhuir's brother!), for Carhartt Work In Progress. Premieres of the film are going down worldwide as we speak and, with the Paris one just around the corner (scheduled for March 28th, see Facebook event here), we thought now would be a great time to catch up with Phil, but also with the Finnish Samu Karvonen who's also prominently featured in the film, sharing great insight and stories about his Carhartt WIP teammate. Now, without any further delay...
LIVE Skateboard Media: Modern society likes to differentiate between the ‘sane' and the ‘insane' in a very Manichaean fashion like it’s just some binary diagnosis, as opposed to a more complex, three-dimensional spectrum of complications within people. A simplification that most likely is a side effect of capitalism, according to which you’re either valid enough to fit in the mold of working and consuming and keeping the almighty gears running, or you aren’t due to being chemically imbalanced in some way and then you’re disqualified. From that basic idea consisting in focusing on numeric values over more personal considerations ("Profit Over People", as coined by Noam Chomsky), seem to stem many popular preconceived notions about people with struggling to function amid, and abide the laws of, a community, on the sole basis of their lower potential for productivity. What is your stance on the subject? Do you think people should watch where they draw certain lines?
Samu Karvonen: As what comes for drawing those lines, making assumptions, lacking of compassion and understanding, I think most humans are stuck in middle ages, or somehow regressed back to those times.
I mean, there still are wars raging around the world, and people are still killing each other over believing in something else than the majority, if even really believing anything.

Samu Karvonen, backside nosebluntslide. Ph.: Phil Evans 
We tend to doom the difference around us, and we are very much against, and afraid of, change. Our minds like to label and store our memories so like a computer, yours will compare your current experience with a similar one you’ve experienced before - a process resulting in giving you a specific task, ie. whether to kick, speak, smile or eat. So, say, if your mom has always taught you milk was good for you, then for the most part you will never question it but instead, would rather fight for it as the truth, than admit your mom might have been wrong.
Talking being ’sane’ or ’insane’; the ’insane’ label gets a pretty bad rap, to the point where we're almost discouraged to even just look at what somebody is doing as soon as we're told that person is a bit "different", at the expense of reality.

"For sure he is self-destructive, but a lot of good skaters have this tendency"

The more I’ve traveled and experienced, the more I’ve learned to be curious, monitor my own mind, feelings and thoughts a bit better to understand how we are raised to act in this society, and to break those habits. I’ve learned to question my own beliefs and my own thoughts. We are all different in so many ways, so who am I to say who is ’insane’, and who draws the line? We are all free to have our opinions, but it’s good to question them every now and then, if only to ponder how much of your opinion is really yours in the first place. We've always got to read the whole book, not just the title if we want to our opinions to be as valid as it gets.

Denis Lynn. Ph.: Samu Karvonen.
So in this case, I might have thought Denis is a bit ’insane’ when I first met him, but I’m now confident, with my own opinion, that he actually is a full on nutcase [laughs]. But that’s just my opinion as I think of him as a friend of mine. 
Phil Evans: Are you suggesting that Denis is mental? I'd disagree - I think he's quite sane and has a lot more social intelligence and adaptive skills than most people, but I suppose in the context of social conformity he could be considered to be different, but that's because most people would not push their luck as much as Denis does.
He's not afraid to take risks; most of the time he gets away with it, but in situations where there's an authority figure involved it doesn't always work out.
For sure he is self-destructive, but a lot of good skaters have this tendency - I don't think he has a chemical imbalance or anything of this nature, he's just someone who feeds off the thrill of pushing the limits whenever he can.

Denis Lynn. Ph.: Samu Karvonen
LSM: Historically an essentially alternative activity, skateboarding has always naturally attracted misfits who by definition couldn’t recognize themselves in more traditional enterprises. Now while this is a fairly frequently covered statement, something that doesn’t get brought up nearly as often is how skateboarding, doubling up as an industry strong of its independent roots, has (or used to have?) the power to legitimize the social status of certain individuals who may never have been publicly displayed under such bright light, hadn’t they ever run into, then pursued, the practice that is eventually rewarding them with the credibility of a functional living. While some segments of SAINT DENIS cover this, would you like to expand on the idea? 
Samu: Well skateboarding is definitely a ”hobby” or even an Olympic sport these days, and for someone to be ”great” at it doesn’t require good skills in normal school subjects or even much social skills. All you need is the passion for doing it no matter what.

"I think scooter kids are the real punks these days when skaters are all mainstream pussies"

Out of all traditional single sports, it’s one of the most easily accessible, and the freedom of it is the key that draws people from all corners to it. It provides people with a simple way of feeling part of something, and you don’t even have to be good at it to get in contact with other people.
Although, in reality it’s not always as joyful and sunny as we market it to be; to be honest, skateboarding and the industry around it is really strict on its unwritten rules of what's cool and what’s not. And it’s actually funny to see how skaters now spit on scooter kids who are basically exactly like skaters were back in the days - outcasts who found their friends and joy in a wheeled object to a point where the rest of society doesn’t really understand. I think scooter kids are the real punks these days when skaters are all mainstream pussies.
Phil: We see a lot of characters elevated to "legend" status in skating, when really it can be quite a sad situation where the person's drug habits are used to market them as being somehow edgy. 

I think the difference with Denis is that he doesn't care about being perceived as cool or not in the skate industry, he's really marching to the beat of his own drum. He just wants to travel and skate right now, but he understands getting coverage is part of that deal.

"If you take away the skating from some pros, there's not a whole lot there"

However, with such a big personality, he is constantly going to be noticed for the funny and crazy stuff he does, which is understandable. If everyone around him is mellow and he is the one being colourful, loud or hammered, then that will stand out and that's when people's phones come out and capture this banter - but there's a whole other side to Denis, and that's what I wanted to show in this project.

If you strip away the skating, you still have a very interesting guy who can adapt to whatever it is he wants to do; whereas if you take away the skating from some pros, there's not a whole lot there and they end up having to re-build their lives when their skate skills fade.

Denis Lynn, lipslide. Ph.:
Samu Karvonen
LSM: What would you say makes Denis different from certain other troubled individuals who are popularly regarded, and presented as « the greats »? His talent on a skateboard being the common denominator, what is it that seems to persist in setting him apart? The financial relevance of his geographical upbringing, with Ireland not being as much of a lucratively effervescent hotbed as, say, California, maybe?
Samu: As far not just Denis, but also many others in a similar position to his, are concerned, I’d say it’s the combination of interesting personality and good luck.
It’s never been only the best or most technically talented skater who gets the spot light. It’s the uniqueness and eventually the marketability of the person in what they do on and off the board. Denis has enough passion, drive and talent on his board, in addition to a personality that is worth documenting.
Then, the rest is good luck. The right person sees your footage, or that one session in that one park goes down, or you happen to have a beer with the right person, and something clicks and makes the wheels of capitalism spin in your favor. Denis has managed to play a straight flush from the maybe-not-so-favorable hand he was dealt.
And as far as being from Ireland, I’d say as for a place to try to launch a career from or even grow up in it might suck big time, but then, in the industry, being an Irish ripper can be that one thing that makes you more interesting for the potential investor than the American fellow next to you.
Now at this point, I have to admit I haven’t seen the documentary myself yet, so some facts about his past and life in Ireland in general might not have been fully exposed to me yet.
LSM: Denis’ struggles reminded me of some others’ in some ways: David Martelleur’s as recounted in Philippe Petit’s « Danger Dave », Paul Alexander from the UK as well as many, many other skateboarders we actually meet every day that no documentary will ever be made about. LIVE has interviewed Michael Burnett of Thrasher before, and after we asked him about what he thought brought the world’s best pro skaters together, this was part of his answer: « You know, a lot of them are crazy. You have to realize that a lot of these people are working against something else. It's like, every time you find an amazing skater, you're also finding a lot of fucking crazy people - in a good way though, but it works like this when you are a kid. A lot of kids that have problems, they are able to channel their emotions and their energy into something that is fun, and brings them joy and satisfaction and, mostly, just occupies them ». Would you say many of the people very actively pursuing skateboarding (as a career or as a hobby) are actually trying to figure themselves out in some aspects, subconsciously? With the activity becoming increasingly mainstream (with the growing involvement of corporations, its inclusion to the Olympics…) and its public image gradually shifting towards the model of a more traditional sport, do you think its proneness to stand as some type of social shelter is eventually bound to decline?
Phil: I think that side will always remain, but skating has gotten so big now and is being homogenised for the mass market that inevitably it is splitting into two groups (although that's an over simplification).
I suppose it depends on the context in which skating is introduced to someone. If it's something you are pushed into by your parents in a place where skating is viewed more like a sport, then you're going to be more like an "athlete", I guess - but if you discover skating in a place where it's not accepted, then you must take a risk of being considered a bit socially different and, in this context, it's always going to attach weirdos, and I hope this never goes away!
Samu: We’re all figuring ourselves out for the most part of our life, and skating, as one type of meditation, is a good way to run away or silence our ever-buzzing minds, whether we realize it or not.
Anyone with a buddy with a camera and an eye for filming just might end up starring in a similar film. Again - good luck, or faith, whichever one you believe in, comes into play. 
I haven’t seen the "Danger Dave" documentary and I've got the ”Zombie” movie about Tim Zom on queue to watch as well, but what I would assume those subjects have in common is that they are all - consciously or subconsciously - fighting their past demons in an effort to progress on a road to a better - or at least, different - life. It wouldn’t make much of a documentary to follow someone who has everything on lock and no problems at all, although I don’t think a person with no problems exists.
Skateboarding becoming more mainstream will definitely change the game, but as I was saying, we are all raised to think the golden times were "back in the days" and the next "new" will never be as good. Well, we can’t really go back or forward in time (yet), so the only thing we actually have is now; but many of us tend to forget that, and then decide to continue to live in the misery of thinking their best days are either behind, or yet to come…
Anyway, I think it’s safe to say that most of the corporate interest in skateboarding will naturally try and match the bigger audiences, which in turn will most certainly make the public image of modern skaters more PC. But where Ying is, Yang is, too - which in this case will consist in the ”core” skaters who can’t relate to the mainstream, who will keep skating weird, dangerous or just different in some way.
And both approaches will make for circles of freedom, and provide a shelter for those looking for one. Or so I hope, and I will do my part to promote the ”skateboarding is for all” line of thinking.

"Anyway, you decide what skating is for you [...] whatever the kid next to you thinks is cool or not, forget it"

Recently, with a few friends of mine, we were foreseeing the idea of future skate mags with headlines such as ”street is dead”, just like vert ”died” back in the 90’s; who says that can’t happen to street skating in the future? Now that does sound almost impossible, but, in a way, it's already happening that the mainstream is only pushing the skaters towards the skateparks; city skating gets banned more and, at the same time, the kids are now growing up on Instagram, filming and seeing their friends nowhere but in skateparks. So it’s possible that street skating might become so marginal, shining any light onto it will stop being sustainable for the media - cornering it even more. Then only the ”true” core skaters will continue filming and skating in dirty alleyways, only to become even stranger outcasts…
Anyway, you decide what skating is for you. Not the Olympics, nor your grandparents. So whatever the kid next to you thinks is cool or not, forget it. That’s what the freedom in skating is, and should always be.
LSM: Finally - the common keyword federating all longtime skateboarders together appearing to be their ‘drive’, would you extend that model to really whoever devotes most of their lifetime to a certain activity or craft, be them sportsmen or artists? How 'sane' is such a choice, and do you think it's even a choice to begin with?
Samu: I see the same ”drive” in many things - music, arts, other sports as well.
If you break it in parts, it may not be as magical as you think, but more just a bunch of psychological factors that makes us stick with one thing so long.
Is it a choice, then? Well, hopefully picking up a board for the first time is one - of freedom - for everyone. But, from then on, do you decide whether or not you'll stick with the activity for the rest of your life?
Just talking figures, how many people have ”skated once” but never got properly sucked into it? Probably a million more than how many have decided to give it a second try.
I think you do not choose to skate for your whole life, but you do make the decision to go skate every time; get back up after every slam and try again, and again. And if you grew up with skateboarding, and based your whole life, friends and social circles around it, then you probably still hit the slappies every now and then with your homies and follow Thrasher on Instagram, because it’s so deeply rooted in you after all those years.

"I think what can create 'longtime skaters' is when they discover skating, and what it means to them"

And you kept on doing it because it’s fun, challenging, good exercise, most of your buddies do it too, you can do it basically whenever and whereever you choose to; you can never reach the end of it, and there is no one to tell you what you should do next. Basically just like playing a saxophone, except skating looked cooler when you were a kid.
Phil: Skating is different in that you have to learn to deal with people who don't want you to skate on a daily basis, with street skating at least, so you are forced to adapt some other skills to deal with this, and it also makes you question authority a lot more.
Apart from that I don't think it's any different, you see drive in any other sport, artform, business, or anywhere, really.
I think what can create "longtime skaters" is when they discover skating, and what it means to them. So, if you discover skating in your formative years and it continues to function as an identity for you - a source of fun, achievement, a way to make new friends and discover the world - then you'll continue to do it for a long time. 


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