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Portrait: Kembery
Interview: Kingsford

Who are your sponsors?
SB Skate Shop and Tranquil, which is a south-east (London) board company. They aim to support south-east creatives, photographers and musicians.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the States but my parents are actually Soviet – they’re Ukrainian and Kazakh. I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and then spent my teenage years in Moscow in Russia when my family moved back there.

What brought you to London?
I moved here for university in 2017.

You had a serious injury quite early on. Tell us about that.
Six months into skating I tore my ACL, MCL, both menisci and the PCL. I literally tore everything in my knee throwing myself down a six. I was not ready to do it. The doctors told me I’d never skate again. My whole family was always against me skating because they didn’t understand it so when that happened they were like: “I hope this has taught you a lesson and you’ll never do this stupid waste-of-time hobby again.” The second the doctor told me I couldn’t skate again, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I waited a year for my surgery. I kept trying to skate and basically relived my injury seven or eight times. I’d try and skate after doing enough physio to feel strong enough and my knee would just pop right out again. Then I finally got the surgery and it was nine and a half months of just intense physio. I really got to know my body and really focused on eating healthy and building up all the muscles. I was so motivated to skate again that I dedicated two years of my life to my knee.

Did the injury affect your confidence when you started skating again?
Definitely. I haven’t regular ollied down anything since. I’d rather kickflip or switch ollie or do literally anything else. Regular tricks in general freak me out a bit because my bad knee is in front. That’s why I do so many things switch or nollie.

Are you still studying?
I’ve actually got one or two more essays to write but I’m pretty much done studying.

What are you studying?
Literature and film.

Backside flip, Liverpool Street, Kingsford

How has that been?
It’s all right. I used to love reading so much as a kid – books were always something I was super   passionate about – but when it became standardised with a university I kind of lost a lot of love for reading. Some classes were super interesting. I really enjoyed a lot of the theory ones about societal politics, like Marx and Foucault and the study of different ways in which power is abused, analysing society and sociology and shit… I also enjoyed classes that studied authors I enjoy like Sylvia Plath, (Fyodor) Dostoevsky, Zadie Smith and George Orwell. Some of the classes were really interesting but I had zero interest in the other half of it. The overall uni experience was very much up and down.

You’re also teaching skating. Tell us about that.
I actually started teaching the kids I nannied during the first years of uni. Then when the pandemic started I started working for School of Skate, which is run by someone called Stuart Hopper. His school is super sick so I just work for him. I teach girls group lessons every weekend at Charlton Park.

Do you enjoy it?
Yes it’s so much fun. It’s just so great seeing the kids learn things and having a group of little girls learning from each other. They really bounce off each other.

Do you have any insight into why so many women and girls have taken up skateboarding during the pandemic? Do your students tell you why they started?
It’s a mix of things. For some of them it’s the classic: “My brothers used to skate so I decided to skate,” and then some of them did just see girls skating and decided to skate. They mention Helena (Long), Savannah (Stacey Keenan). They’ve told me that I motivate them. I’ve had parents coming up to me being like: “My kid’s in love with your skating, please teach her how to skate. She follows you on Instagram, you’re her inspiration.”

How have you coped with the pandemic?
I got cleared to skate at the end of February (2020) after two years of a really rough time. Honestly the two years before the lockdown felt more isolated and more like lockdown for me. I couldn’t kickflip at the start of the pandemic. I couldn’t do shit. I honestly just skated through the entirety of lockdown. I was so stoked to skate I didn’t care about anything else.

Kickflip fakie, Barbican, Leung

Who are your favourite skaters to watch in London?
I think Slim is one of my favourite London skaters. I’ve never seen anyone skate the way he does. Dougie (George) is another. He does the most insane manual tricks and he literally floats when he skates – he’s some kind of wizard.I also really love watching Tommy Couzens skate. I find him mesmerising, just watching him skate around. I really like watching Savannah skate. I just think that her style is so hard and consistent.

Who do you skate with regularly?
So my main crew is Merryn (Garner) and Yolanda (Imoke). Merryn actually was one of the first people I met when I started skating. She genuinely is one of the sickest skaters I know and also a really beautiful person. She was there for me after my surgery and stuff. Yolanda takes a lot of inspiration from Japanese skating. She experiments a lot with cool no comply tricks. I also skate with my photographer homie Charlie Foulkes and Amy Ram when she’s not off doing dope shit like building skateparks in Nepal or teaching in Costa Rica.

What are your favourite London spots?
I tend to hyper-focus on one spot so I get exhausted with it. So last summer I was in Deppy (Folkestone Gardens) every day. I live close to Canada Water and Queens Road, so I’d say those two are my favourites because I skate them the most. I first started skating at Canada Water, so I have a personal connection with the spot and that’s why I’m working so hard on fixing it. 

Tell is about that. Is skating banned there now?
It’s not banned, they’ve just made it very hard to skate because obviously they’ve skate stopped things, they stole our ledge, they keep removing the obstacles, they built a bunch of annoying shit. Skateboard GB reached out to us recently. They were in touch with British Land, who are putting these massive planters up at Canada Water and want to let the skaters choose where they go. So we decided why not try to get something out of it? Me, Bedir (Bekar), who’s an architect and Adam (Aulaqi) have met with them and the terms that we’re proposing are that not only do they un-skate stop the ledges, but they let us build skateable sculptures with these planters. They seem pretty on board with it.

Switch wallie, London Wall, Leung

Tell us about your brand Slacker.
So I’ve been called a slacker my whole life because I always prioritise creative things over my official responsibilities but I was kind of like: “Actually I’m not slacking. I do so much.” I realised that a lot of people who are creative, who do a lot of work that isn’t seen as productive based on society’s standards are made to feel like they’re slacking when they’re not being productive. Slacker is a space. I want the name to signify a space where that is welcome and that is seen as being productive because I genuinely believe that creatives work a lot harder than a lot of people who are working in the high-rise buildings.

It started fairly recently when my knee was broken. I started hosting events where my musician homies would perform, people like Lava La Rue, Bone Slim, Nine 8 Collective, Bebeluna, Skinnyville and other amazing artists. They would perform at my events and as Slacker, I’d make sustainable merch with unique designs for each artist. I’d use the walls of the space as an exhibition for all of my other creative friends’ work. Anyone I knew was welcome to sell their clothes, be a photographer, hang up their work, perform their poetry, their art, their music. Initially it was meant to be this creative boosting event platform, but obviously through the pandemic I couldn’t host any events any more and I got super immersed in the skate scene. So it became less about events and more skate-related, more making T-shirts with my friends and selling them. I don’t really know what I’m doing and it changes every few months. I’d say I’m more of an organising force for the creative people around me rather than anything else.

What are your plans for the rest of the year?
I want to go camping, I want to enjoy the sun and visit a lot more nature in the UK. Me and Merryn and Yolanda have plans to go camping in Scotland for my birthday next month.