Darius Trabalza interview

08.11.2023 Exclusive, Interviews

Interview: Kingsford
Portrait: Kembery

For anyone unfamiliar, tell us a little bit about your home town, Bromley.
It’s in the south-east, kind of next to Croydon and Lewisham. It has quite a good skate history. I always thought it was a little bit of a strange place, not that progressive, a bit old-fashioned… It’s 10 minutes on the train to London Bridge but it feels very different, especially after you’ve lived in London for a while. London is more multicultural.

How did you get into skating?
My best friend Nana (Mensah) skated for about a year before I did and I would hang out with him a lot. Then a boy from Australia called Lewis (Heptonstall) – who I actually live with now – moved to my class and me and Nana had to show him around. Obviously he skated – all Australians do as they grow up (laughs) – so we had a little trio. We would go out skating every day after school and I just really loved it.

Did you start skating before Bromley skatepark was built?
Yes, about six months before. We used to skate outside the police station at Bromley South.

You were lucky getting that park. I feel like it has aged really well considering it’s an older style of park.
Yeah. A lot of those older parks are like: bank, funbox, quarter pipe, all crammed together on rough ground, but the Bromley park is well spaced out and it’s changed a lot over the years. As soon as I got bored, they added something new.

Do you still enjoy it?
Yeah, it’s still one of my favourite places to skate.

Who are some skaters from Bromley people might have heard of?
Jacob Sawyer obviously, Slam (City Skates) legend, Jon Laidlow, Ben Dominguez… We had some olders that were connected to the scene that helped us to come up in the right way.

Ben played a big role in getting you noticed at a young age, right?
Yeah, we filmed a little (Slam City Skates) Rat Signal when I was 17.

What do you remember about those early filming missions?
I hadn’t been skating long – maybe two years – and I didn’t really know how to piece things together or where all the spots were. I remember being quite starstruck going out and seeing Smithy (Neil Smith), Lucien (Clarke), all that lot… I had seen them in videos and they were some of my favourite skaters. I’ve always been shy so it was a little overwhelming, but it was fun; it was a good experience.

Nollie heelflip, Paternò, Griffiths

What are some iconic Bromley spots people may have seen in videos or magazines?
The spots in Bromley are a bit beefy. If you get something, you’re always stoked. People don’t really skate the (tennis court) banks much any more, but there are two spots in playgrounds. There’s one right next to the skatepark – the big red rail that goes into the massive brick bank, the one Lucien kickflipped over – then there’s another small playground with a green flat bar down a drop, where Lucien did crook pop over.

I remember there was a period when Tom Knox and Jack O’Grady were down there filming quite a bit. I think that was back in 2019.
Yeah he (Tom) was showing me spots in Bromley, things I knew were there but didn’t see as spots. There’s a hubba he skated on one of the hills. I think he did a 50-50 going nearly all the way into the ground.

Jacob Sawyer told me to ask you about musical influences you got from Jon Laidlow.
Jon was kind of my introduction to ’90s hip-hop: Wu-Tang, Onyx, all the classics of that era. I’d go round to his (house) and he had a sick room with banging decks and a whole wall of records. He’s a sick DJ. He’d mix while I was just chilling there a bit baked out of my mind, like: “Holy shit.”

Like Mike Arnold, you were into parkour before you skated.
Yeah, I was a gymnast growing up. From about six to about 12 I would go to gymnastics every week, to a proper club, and I’d go to competitions. Parkour just came naturally from that. I would meet up with my mates who were also from there (Bromley) and it was just like you didn’t know what else to do but flip off stuff (laughs).

Do you think parkour helped your skating or influenced how you approach skating?
I guess it’s all about getting control over your body movements, you know, twisting each way, and there’s an element of faith when you do a backflip – you have to trust that you’re going to jump hard enough to get your head over. It’s like if you’re trying to ollie over a bump-to-bar you need be like: “I’m going to get over this.” You need that little bit of faith.

Backside tailslide, Catania, Griffiths

It felt like you were out of the limelight for a while between leaving Yardsale and joining Isle.
In what way do you mean limelight?

I guess we didn’t see much of you.
At that time I was just a little bit over skating even though I never quit. Everyone goes through that phase where they’re just a little less hyped on it. I kind of discovered going out and partying. I lost a good two years of what should have been a productive time doing that, but I think that was a pretty quick stint.

Definitely. Do you think you were over it because you got sponsored and started filming and shooting photos at quite a young age?
Yeah. When you’re filming and you’re really stressed out and having a bit of a horrible time, you have to know why you’re doing it. If you forget why you’re doing it, it becomes really hard to do those things that scare you and commit to things that are dangerous. You’re like: “Why am I doing this? This sucks. I’m just hurting myself. I feel crazy.” You try a trick for three hours, don’t land it, and you just feel like: “What am I doing with my life? I could be a normal person; normal people don’t do these things.”

But you were skating for fun during that time.
Yeah. I got into skating transition during that time. I was living in east London and skating Victoria Park (skatepark) a lot. Ben (Raemers) was also living that way, so we would meet up and Tom Tanner was skating a lot of transition at that time as well, Stanners (Nick Stansfield) was around… We would just go skating around there, Hackney Wick too. Obviously Ben was the best at transition. I’d see him do stuff and it was like experiencing skating for the first time all over again. It blew my mind watching someone do that in real life. It’s a different sport. It looks so fun, like: “Fuck, I have to learn how to do that.” I always say that if I could only do one trick for the rest of my life it would be front 5-0 grinds on quarter pipes. I just find that the most fun thing to do.

What inspired you to get back to filming and shooting photos again?
I guess I missed it a bit and skating more with my friends and feeling part of a small community brought me back into it. Now I know that skating doesn’t have to be… you don’t have to be besotted with skating at every moment and you don’t have to have the best skate every day.

Noseslide, Rosolini, Griffiths

How did you start riding for Isle and get involved with Atlantic Drift?
I was friends with all of them. I’d known Jake (Harris) and Tom (Knox) for a while, but I was not as close with them as I am now. With Isle, I think Nick (Jensen, co-owner) had expressed an interest at some point. I asked Casper (Brooker): “Do you reckon Nick would still have me on the team?” and they were down, so we got involved. But because we never really put out a video with them or anything, I didn’t really feel like I had properly connected with being part of that team. I was really stoked when they asked me to on the Drift trips. That felt like it could be something special and it has been.

Can you give us a little insight into how those trips work?
Jake always wants to go to interesting places, not necessarily the most obvious places. I guess there have been a lot of trips and there are only so many crazy places you can go to, but people have ideas or people see videos from different places. There are a lot of people now, so wherever we go has to have enough (spots) for like 13 guys to get a bunch of footage. The bar for destinations is pretty high at the moment. Right now everyone is feeling nice plaza vibes, at least at the beginning of the trip. Then maybe between the plazas you’ll see some different stuff or we’ll be in contact with some local guys who’ll be able to take us around to local spots in the area. Or someone might be like: “I’ve got energy, let’s go on a night mission and explore.”

How was the Bangkok trip in January?
It was really fun. It was a bit too hot. If you tried anything for more than 15 minutes it was like instant sunstroke. That really made you go for what you were trying because you just wanted to stop.

Do you feel any pressure skating with that crew, with the results ending up on such a big platform?
I guess I do at the start of a trip, but I’m starting to feel more settled now. I always try my best to film something on the first day when my legs feel fresh and I’m a bit weirdly jet lagged, so I can just turn my brain off and try something. Once I get that first thing, everything else comes more easily. People are having fun on those trips. I know some of the stuff is gnarly, but with half the stuff Max (Palmer) or Nik (Stain) does, they’re just exploring the spot and having fun. Then they’re like: “We should film that,” after they’ve done it. That’s really nice to see. It’s quite inspiring.

Whose skating has impressed you the most first-hand?
Watching Cyrus (Bennett) on this trip was pretty gnarly. Everything he tried was the hardest, scariest thing ever and he would go as fast as possible. It was really impressive to watch.

Kickflip backside lipslide, Elephant & Castle, Wojnowski

Do you have a board sponsor at the moment?
I don’t at the moment. I think I’m just going to put out a part, see if anyone has any interest and go from there really.

Are you making your living from skating at the moment?
Yes, just about. I’m getting by. I’m doing some other bits on the side, but yeah.

You’ve worked on and off as a model over the years. Are you still doing that?

Yes, I’m still doing that here and there to supplement my income. London is an expensive city to live in and I wouldn’t have survived without it.

How do you like that work?
I mean I’m not really a fan. For me it’s quite hollow work, but everyone has to do jobs they don’t like at some point. I’m grateful I’ve been able to have a side job that gives me time to skate. I’m really fortunate to have that, so I don’t want to speak too ill of it.

You’re in a relationship with someone who also makes a living as a professional skateboarder. Talk us through some of the positives associated with that mutual understanding of this aspect of your lives.
It definitely has its benefits. That person understands the situation you’re in completely. Say if you had a girlfriend who didn’t skate and you were supposed to be back to have dinner, but you’ve been trying a trick for two hours and you’re getting close, the deadline’s really soon and it’s going to rain for the rest of the week… they might understand to some extent, but Cata (Diaz) understands because she’s been in that position. You just feel understood. Also, I find it really interesting to talk about skating with her. She’s got a whole different perspective. She’s from South America, she lives in Barcelona. It’s interesting to see things from different perspectives in the skate scene because everyone thinks their scene knows exactly what’s up. She always has good things to say.

Do you skate together often?
Yes, she’s downstairs (at Southbank) waiting for me right now. We skate together all the time.

You’ve been visiting Barcelona quite a bit recently. How has that been?
Barcelona’s nice. It’s not my favourite place to be, but the weather’s better, the floor’s better, the food’s good, I’ve made some friends over there… Cata lives right by MACBA; I don’t mind skating there. It’s nice to have a place to stay so you can just pay for a flight and go over there. It would be different paying for an Airbnb for two weeks to go and skate MACBA…

Have you been filming or shooting photos over there?
No. I’m normally just in chill mode when I’m out there. I’ll go on some missions with other people or maybe Cata will want to try something, but I’m mostly skating MACBA or the other street plaza skatepark thing they have, Born Plaza, training up some ledge tricks.

Drop-in, City of London, Wojnowski

This one is from Jacob (Harris): how and why do you minutely plan and schedule your days?
I have an optimum schedule that I don’t strictly keep to. If I go to bed on time – which is an important factor – I try to wake up at 7am. I’ll study Spanish for about 45 minutes then I’ll study coding for about an hour – I’m trying to learn Python at the moment. Then I’ll go to the gym and go to the sauna, come home, make breakfast – a smoothie if I’m being good but realistically I make breakfast burritos almost every day, I can’t stop. Then I might do a little bit of physio at home, then go out skating. So that’s loosely what I do, but it’s in no way guaranteed. To answer why, if I can consistently make small bits of progress in different areas of my life, I can sit back and watch time do its thing, get to where I want to be and also not feel bad for doing nothing some days, because I know I’m moving forward generally.

Who are some of your favourite skaters to watch in London?
Lucien (Clarke) has always been one of my favourites. His This Time Tomorrow part was incredible. The flip back noseblunt at the end, how he just stamps it and rolls away… Casper is obviously one of my favourites, especially the last three years. He has become so focused and has really upped his game. He was already really good but now he’s seriously an incredible skater to watch. And he’s fucking pro for Baker! I can’t get over it. He was  such a Baker kid, so I know for him it’s literally his 14-year-old dream.

Who are some younger, up-and-coming skaters in London people should look out for?
Let me think. Is Twiggy (Cameron Gooden) still young? He’s on the come up. He’s been working hard the last couple of years, getting some good stuff. Nelly (Mayele) too, he’s stepped up in the last year or so and AJ (Atlantic Johnson) is learning a lot of stuff as well. All the Southbank lot, I’d say.

Tell us about your artwork.
So I paint with oil paints. What I paint changes over time, but I’m mostly interested in the contrast of light and dark. I feel like it’s very dramatic. My favourite painter is Caravaggio, who did chaotic scenes, brightly lit from one side, something crazy happening, then total darkness for half of the painting… just so dramatic and epic. That gets me hyped. I love to go to the National Gallery and check out all the Renaissance paintings. I really love that period of painting.

What do you do with your paintings?
Currently they’re in the corner of my room. I’m hoping to have an exhibition at some point, but that would require some organisation outside of my current skill set. I will have to consult some people I know to actualise that.

Would you like to make a living as an artist in the future?
Yes, that would be a really nice thing to do. I can paint until I’m 80 and longer. With skating it feels like after a certain age you have to up your effort in an exponential way to maintain yourself. People can do it. Look at (Andrew) Reynolds, he’s skating amazingly well, but I’m sure he’s eating really well, he’s not drinking, he’s taking ice baths, doing all the physio… Whereas with painting, you just get better the longer you do it. It’s also nice to have inside hobbies when you’re injured and stuff or when it’s cold or wet, so you don’t feel lost when you can’t skate.

Pop shove-it, Millbank, Wojnowski