Skateboarding is currently struggling through an odd relationship with the mainstream. Becoming an Olympic sport has generally garnered criticism, and VOGUE throwing a 'skateboarding week' earlier this year – featuring the articles 'How the Thrasher Tee Became Every Cool Model's Off-Duty Staple' and 'Blake Lively, Kate Middleton, and More Celebrities With Boards' – left pretty much every skater that read it dumbfounded. The fashion-meets-skateboarding crossover has never been stronger. It's a godsend for rich teenagers looking for a new form of rebellion they can scare their parents with but, for the skate rats that have been quietly building this sub-culture, it must get depressing.
That's why it's good that skateboarders like Wes Kramer still exist.
Kramer is everything a skateboarder should be: he smokes too much weed, he doesn't follow fashion, he looks like a normal guy and, most importantly, he fucking shreds. He's also one of the most humble, personable pro skateboarders I've come across, and speaks like the friendly stoner you meet under the half-pipe at your local park. You'd never know that in 2014 he was crowed Skateboarder of the Year.
I caught up with him on the street outside the Parlour skate shop in East London, where we sat on the curb and shared a beer.
VICE Sports: So how did it feel to win Skateboarder of the Year?
Wes Kremer: Oh man, honestly, I did not expect it. It felt like something out of a movie, you know, like getting your name called, going on stage, getting the trophy. And then my friend was like, "Hey, come on, your parents are upstairs", and I had no idea. DC had flown them from San Diego to San Francisco for the party and totally surprised me, and I was blown away – like literally fighting off tears. I wasn't expecting anything that night. Before it happened I was just standing in the parking lot with my friends smoking joints and setting off fireworks.
And I guess the previous SOTY winners were big influences on you?
Yeah, 100%, pretty much all the dudes that have won in the past are some of my favourite skaters. Not to mention all of the dudes that haven't won it.
Did your life completely change afterwards?
More or less, yeah. I got a lot more attention and I guess life in other areas changed. A lot of cool people were saying congratulations to me, which felt good. It's nice to have people congratulating me instead of telling me to fuck off. I'm more than blessed with it.
Going back to way before SOTY, how did you first get into skateboarding?
I first stood on a skateboard through my neighbours, because they had this old variflex fishtail board that just said 'RAD' on it. Then, in the summer of '96, my mum asked if I wanted to try a skate camp, and I was like, 'Yeah for sure!' because both of my parents surfed and my dad used to skate back in the day. The first day I got to the camp I saw some kids skating a mini-ramp and I thought I'd give it a go, then boom, dropped in and instantly knocked myself out. Then I decided I'd stick to the banked ramps, and it took me a while to go back to transition.
So when did you finally get around to dropping in?
Well it wasn't at that camp! Nah, one of my other inspirations is my best friend Marius Syvanen, who I grew up skating with. First day of first grade I was sitting next to him in class, and we talked about going to the skate park together, and from then on it was me and him just pushing each other. We progressed at the same rate.
And you're still friends now?
100%, when we're both home in San Diego we skate all the time, every day. He's a gee.
Aside from Marius, who were your favourite skateboarders when you were growing up?
Mainly the ones that I'd see at the skate park. Because I'd see these pros coming to the parks, and when I was a kid I just thought that being pro meant that you're really good at skateboarding. I had no idea about the industry or anything. To be honest, even though I skate street, I mainly looked up to vert skaters: Tony Hawk, Danny Way, Colin Mckay, even Tas Pappas. Though with Tas you more look out for him than look up to him. He'd just be yelling at kids and being a total savage. He's a legend though.
I'm guessing your biggest achievement is winning SOTY – what else are you proud of?
I'm just so stoked to be able to travel the world at a pretty rapid pace. Like, in the past four or five years, I've been gone like half of every year. I love it, dude. It takes a certain toll on your body, but it's worth it. I love travelling so I'm going to keep riding it.
What's your favourite place you've been?
I love Europe man; one of favourite cities is Copenhagen. Outside of the weather, it's probably the best city out there. Copenhagen, Spain, and I've been having a blast out here in the UK. Also China has a tonne of spots – it's surprisingly easy to skate there, too.
Life sounds pretty great. Have there been many low points?
I've been plagued by bad wrists, and I've definitely got a load of injuries that I should have taken care of a while ago. I've got a partial tear in my meniscus in my knee, and I rolled my ankle a year ago and it's never been the same. Probably should have had that one checked out. There are a lot of skaters that are super on top of it, but I'm more of a bum in that aspect. As long as I can stand on my skateboard and move to a certain ability, I'm good to go.
What was it like when you turned pro? Was it mad to see your name on stuff?
For sure, man, it was insane. I still don't really accept it. Even if I see it, I don't even register it as me, it's just like another pair of shoes. I've been fortunate enough for DC to make some pro clothes for me, so I have shoes, shirts and trousers, and seeing my name on those is weird man. I still don't even ride my own boards; it feels like I'm being a dick. I ride for a local board company in San Diego and I just ask for old boards that aren't selling well.
You must be one of the few Skateboarders Of The Year that does that!
Yeah man, I love it.
Did you always want to be a pro skater?
Dude, I had no idea what it meant to be a pro skater. When I was a kid growing up I thought pro was just a term for someone that was good – I had no idea about the industry behind it. I guess when I was growing up I just wanted to be a skater. I just wanted to skate, and to fit in with that group of people, because they're the coolest to me. When I went to the skate park that was like a second home.
Personally, I found it to be a big part of growing up. When I was in my teens and I used to go skating, you really looked up to people of any age just because they were good and they had a cool mentality. I feel like I learnt a lot about people during that time.
Hell yeah, definitely man. With skateboarding there's no kind of age limit, because everyone skates together. For the most part, if you skate, and I skate, then we're cool, you're my homie. It's like if you're around a bunch of people that you don't know and you bump into a skater and it's like, "Oh you're a skater? Finally!"
Have you found yourself getting recognised more now you're pro?
For sure, dude. Kids are always coming up to me and they're like, "You hype me up to skate!" and I'm like, "Fuck yeah!" If I'm hyping up kids to keep skating, perfect. That's all I want to do.
You mentioned how much you travelled earlier. Do you have a particularly mad stories from the road?
Oh man, the first one that comes to mind is a long one, but it's good. My friend Joseph Scott and I were catching a flight from Porto to Bordeaux, and we were in a group of like 12 people on a big DC trip. We had to stop in Rome on the way, but Joseph and I missed the flight because we decided to get beer and pizza. So it was like, "Shit, okay, looks like we're having an extra day in Rome." So we go to a hotel, drop our stuff off and then go into the city. We go to the ruins, the Coliseum, the monuments; we had a full tourist day in the middle of a skate trip, it was perfect.
So the evening comes and we're hanging out in a plaza and drinking some beer, and we missed our train so we decided to try to buy some weed before going home. This dude comes over and he says something in Italian and basically just wants a Rizla, so we're like, "Yeah! You got any weed?" And he's says yeah and we go around a corner, smoke some joints and talk some shit. Then this dude pulls out a bottle of wine from his backpack with no label, and it looks so suspect. He hands it to me and I'm like, "No, you first." He says he's not thirsty so I'm like, "Fuck it, he's been good to us so far." I take a sip – it tastes nothing like wine, it tastes like Kool-Aid or something. But I just think it's some kind of weird Italian wine. I hand it to Joseph and he takes a sip. Then this guy tells us we should go to this disco and we're cool with it. We start walking and end up in some random apartment complex, and it does not look like the right spot. So then, next thing you know, it's six in the morning. I wake up and I'm like "What the fuck, what happened?" and then I realise I have to make this flight which is in two hours time.
So you just completely blanked out?
Yeah! So I check my pockets, and there's no wallet and no camera, plus no skateboard and no Joseph!
So he spiked you and stole your stuff?
Hell yeah! But dude, at the time I had no idea, I just wanted to make this flight and thought I'd just blanked out after the club. So I have to sneak on the train because I have no money. I take the train to the airport and then find my way to the hotel. I get to the hotel expecting to see Joseph and he's not there. This is an hour before the flight takes off. 20 minutes later Joseph walks into the room and he's like "We got fucking drugged!" and I was like, "Ah that makes so much more sense." He got completely robbed too. So we missed the flight, and we had no money, but we managed to scrape together enough for the next flight.
That must have been fucking terrifying. You're lucky you didn't lose your kidneys or something.
Exactly! In those situations you've just got to be thankful that it's just material stuff gone. We were okay and that's all that matters. It was just so fucked up that people do that.
Well that's a great answer!
We can laugh about it now! At the time we were like, "Well that was a great little fucking day in Rome."
I've heard that you don't use social media, why is that?
It's just too much man; it's too much to worry about. I like being social in person. I had MySpace, and Facebook for a while, but it's just not for me. I'd rather just live in reality. It's so crazy how accepted social media is in skateboarding – you see these skateboarders doing crazy self-promotion, begging for people to buy their shit and give them likes. When I was growing up, if you did something like that you were a kook. It's the kind of thing a jock would do.
So you're never going to get it?
Nah man, even if my sponsors told me they would drop me if I didn't get it.
What would you do then?