Keeping Up With Daewon Song

Words by Anthony Pappalardo

When World Industries released their second full-length video in 1992, it immediately ushered in a new chapter for the brand.

Comprised of mostly up-and-coming riders, Love Child featured a quirky soundtrack and some of the most technical skateboarding put to tape, anchored by the video’s last part featuring a largely unknown skater named Daewon Song. What made Daewon’s footage pop was his speed and precision, as well as the ability to script lines of the most advanced tricks out.

After an impressive string of video parts, Daewon found himself barely skating by 1996. “I was invisible,” he told me. “I got caught up with racing cars and doing stupid stuff—dropping people’s cars for them. How crazy? I stopped skating.” He quickly rebounded with footage in Trilogy and later the Rodney Vs. Daewon video series, where he and Rodney Mullen traded hi-tech trick jabs that ranged from the impossible to the unthinkable.

By the time the 2000s hit, skateboarding had embraced tricks that were once seen as illegal and Daewon had almost reimagined himself as a high-tech ATV, as well as a dude who could film a part on a fucking tree stump. The unimaginable and absurd scored him a coveted Thrasher “SOTY” in 2006 and, with the dawn of Instagram, he’s steadily been documenting his own mix of avant-garde skating on his channel, with a refreshing hint of humor and fun.

Coming off the release of his signature colorway adi-ease shoe with adidas Skateboarding, I caught up with Daewon to talk about his personal evolution, skating’s off limits past, and what keeps him motivated and innovative.

You’ve mentioned the Z-Boys team as an early influence, what drew you to them?

It all depends on where you grew up. For me, I grew up in Gardena and my cross streets were Crenshaw and Rosencrans—some extremely popular cross streets that are known for “as soon as you get out of your house somebody shoots you.” It’s not as bad as it seems, but everybody was gang banging.

Then I saw these guys in Carson—the second generation of Z-Boys. I liked the aggression they had. I just felt like since they grew up in Carson, which was pretty neighboring to Gardena, they’re like me. They had to go through the same things I did—trying to fight the fact that people were telling them not to skateboard. Automatically I was just attracted to that. And they all rode those trucks (Z-Rollers)—the noise they make, it’s crazy what captures you as a kid.

World Industries was completely different than Z. Did you ever feel pressure to change your skating to fit?

I remember filming a whole part from 1990 to mid ’91. Before Love Child came out they were like, “We can’t use any of that footage.” I even thought to myself, “Yeah those combo tricks are done.” We missed the window of those tricks being relevant because we waited a year and a half. I remember being crushed. Things changed and I had to tone tricks down—do it with a little more speed and just keep it relaxed. Just do a 360 flip nose slide. Forget the crooked, you don’t need it.

It’s crazy how quickly the ‘flip and pray’ tricks went away.

I remember a point where we were in a room watching somebody’s video part, I’m not going to say the name but a big name in the industry. It was filled with late flips. This was back in like ’94 or ’95 and we were like, “He’s still doing late flips? Oh my god!” It was weird that we were judging. A lot of kids out there don’t know how much craziness was going on back then. Triple late flips. You had Damon Byrd doing a triple straight pressure flip off of a loading dock.

Mike York recently mentioned how any offboard or lip slide was cut in the mid-late ‘90s.

Exactly! Even now there are guys that don’t even count lipslides as tricks. It’s almost like putting your board in a position where it’s sleeping, no matter what it’s going to stay up there. You really don’t need any actual weight distribution as long as you’re just standing on your board. Honestly, it’s not like that. There’s still a level of skill that’s involved with that.

I remember how uncool feeble grinds were. It was just like, “Yikes, he just did a feeble grind on the ledge—that is disgusting!” Then, all it takes is Mike Carroll doing one down Hubba (Hideout) to change that. OK, the feeble just got cool. He just made wrong right.

Pros used to have really short careers. What changed?

I don’t know, I can’t really pinpoint it exactly. I turned pro when I was 16 and I was thinking “Whoa, I don’t know what I’m going to be doing when I’m 20 because that’s game over.”I would hear a pro is 25 and thought, “That dude’s 25! And he still skates?” I was thinking at 25 I was going to be some sort of architect. I pictured myself in like a workman’s helmet doing some hard construction or fisherman on some big vessel.

I think what changed is that skateboarding through time, there was more and more to learn. Certain eras of skateboarding changed, so every year you thought, “Wow. Everything under my belt isn’t even relevant anymore.’’ That’s what kept me motivated. I just wanted to keep learning and didn’t want to ever fall behind.

Is there anything that’s more difficult for you now?

I used to always skate picnic tables like they were little ledges. Picnic tables, just get out of my way table, you’re so little. Now I go, “Damn this table! I don’t know whether to skate it because Jesus it got higher! I should have just brought a lunch down, just hung out here on the table.” In a sense you’ve got to force yourself and say, “I’ve still got this.”

That and jumping off stuff. There was a point in my career before my first video part where I used to love skating double sets. A board had smacked my face and did a lot of damage, and I broke my foot back in 1990 and I never got it fixed right. I never went to the doctor after I broke it, just used crutches and I let it heal by itself. On the side of my leg there’s a bone where you can feel a slight fracture, like kind of hanging out. It scares me when I jump off stuff that’s too big—I’m so afraid it’s going to break.

That’s the actual definition of a lucky break in a sense.

Yeah, I chose a different direction—the more technical type of skating where it’s not going to be as hard on my body. I think it helped me to maintain and go where I am with skateboarding.

How do you handle the sponsorship side of things?

Putting your name on something means you have to back it 100%. There’s a lot of guys out there that endorse products and don’t even ride them. That gets under my skin. I don’t want to endorse a product if I’m not going to ride it. All these things… it’s like a dream come true—to be able to personalize a shoe that I always skate in, that I love. That’s why I chose that shoe to do a colorway on the Adi-ease. They added the little touches to it. They put my name on the tongue and then they added the colors that represent me. There’s a little story that I wrote on there about the ocean, being lost in it and how crazy our lives can be. You can drown in it.

Skateboarding is the red part of my heart and what skateboarding did for me. It saved me from this world we live in. I got caught up with poison in my life and growing up in an unstable family, in an area where being involved in gangs is a route I could’ve gone. Skateboarding saved me because I loved it. Those two colors for me it’s like that on top of where my roots were and where I was born in Seoul, Korea, which was crazy. I was born there, went to Hawaii for a little while and then I came straight to Gardena when I was three. I had not been back to Korea until I got on adidas and they flew me there for the Away Days premiere. When I landed, knowing that my parents were born not too far from that area, it’s just wild.

So what do you have coming up that people can look forward to?

I’m working on a video part. All just straight up street. I haven’t had a full video part in a while. I’m super motivated just to go out there and just film a part. I want to fill this part with everything that’s gone on in my life and skate career. I want to fill it up and over every era of my skate career.

Awesome, I’m looking forward to it.

That and a quadruple hard flip. I’m playing, or maybe not, maybe I’m not playing. You’ll have to see.

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