Vernon legend, Zen takes us through his years of skating around the world. We talk about the importance of safety in this downhill game, becoming a skate healer and Komodo Lions. EnjoyHey Zen, how are you?
Good good, just enjoying the weekend.
Got any big plans?
For the weekend? Hanging out with the GF and maybe some skating.
Where are you from?
I’m from Vernon, BC, Canada.
Does she skate?
Not a lot. Just teaching her the basics to get around.
What was it like growing up in Vernon?
It was amazing! The amount of sports you can get into over there was great. There’s a ski mountain 20 min away from where I lived and tons of hills to skate in the summer. Plus there are 3 giant lakes and a few skateparks to go hit.
What was your favourite one growing up?
I loved them all!
How did you get into skating?
I first started park in elementary school with a bunch of friends. It kept us busy so thats why I think we did it. Longboarding though happened much later when I was in high school. I saw my first race in Vernon where Mischo Erban had the Vernon DH. It was amazing and I knew I had to do it!
Are you and Mischo the first Vernon longboarders?
Mischo was the first, then two friends (Max Erwin, Lyle Hopkins) and I started after and he showed us the basics and then how to race.
Do Max and Lyle still skate?
Max did for a while but he then got into rock climbing and moved to Squamish. Lyle still skates but doesn’t longboard since he is a musician and is doing his Masters down in Portland, Oregon. Stoked for him!
How did seeing that first race impact you?
It was amazing! I never saw someone go that fast on a skateboard before and it blew me away! I knew I had to at least try it since skating was so much fun anyways.
What did you get up to in the early days?
A lot of early mornings bombing Silver Star Mountain with Mischo, Lyle and Max. It’s one of our fastest hills in Vernon. We weren’t old enough to drive so my parents would drive us up and shuttle us till traffic got too busy.
Is there a community in Vernon?
Sure is. The community has grown so much over the years. The Vernon community is quite supportive of the events that we put on in the summer.
Aside from Vernon DH, what other events are there?
Mainly its just the Vernon DH for big events, but sometime there will be little slide jams where people from Kelowna and Kamloops show up just to go skate in a big group. There used to be a race in Kelowna which is close and Giants Head isn’t far either.
What’s your role in the community?
I’m not too sure. Mostly I help organize the Vernon DH with Mischo and also when I was living there I would show some of the younger guys how to tuck and drift in corners. I just see myself as one of the guys.
After you learnt the ropes, what adventures did you have?
So far longboarding has taken me to a lot of cool places. I’ve been all over the west coast in Canada, down to the states, and did the world tour out in Europe for the last two years where I visited Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Italy, France and Spain.
When did you first travel?
Pretty much right from the beginning. My first trip was the Maryhill Festival of Speed when it was run by Timeship Racing. Had to do the long drive down to Goldendale, Washington.
How important is competing to your skate diet?
Very important. When I was completing my degree I didn’t have that much time to practice, so when events happened and had practice days those were huge components in my success in skating. Though from all the practice before over the years you don’t really lose the experience in racing. Its like riding a bike, unless you don’t know how to ride a bike.
What’s your race strategy?
I like getting out in front right away and stay out in front. Sometimes on the shorter courses you can do that but on longer courses its almost impossible with all the drafting that can occur. I try to stay in shape at the gym to keep my push strong to increase my chances on getting out in front or having the strength and endurance to last the day in racing.
How was your first Maryhill?
Pretty intimidating. I didn’t know anybody at the event except for Mischo and my two friends that came, and I wasn’t that great at the time. Though the hill was so amazing. I never rode anything like it before. It definitely was one of the greatest experiences in skating for me.
Did you do anything special to get ready?
Mostly just skating a whole bunch. A lot of Silver Star runs to get the legs conditioned for the event. Also close pack runs to simulate racing.
Skate related degree?
Kinda. I just finished my Bachelors in Kinesiology majoring in Biomechanics. A lot of my education was in sport physiology and exercise with a concentration in physics. I used the training techniques and physiology to help with my skating, especially for racing.
You’re the John Barnet of BC?
Eventually I would like to think so. John Barnet is such an awesome guy and an even better skater! Skated a lot with him in Europe in my first tour. Probably will be doing a lot more with him since I’m moving to Toronto for Chiropractic College in the Dr. of Chiropractic program. We’ll be the docs that need to fix skaters like us haha.
What year was your first maryhill?
2005…maybe 2006. Can’t quite remember the date, but the skating was very memorable.
What other events did you do that season?
I think I did the Vernon DH and the Sullivan Challenge in Kimberley. Back then, there weren’t that many events to attend. Not like now where there are so many to choose from. Skaters these days are very lucky with all the chances of racing.
How does the choice impact the fun you have?
It really depends on the kind of skater. Like if you really like freeriding then Giants Head would be “THE” event to go to. They have so many features on the course like ramps, dirt berms and short cuts. Though if you’re just a speed freak, then Angies Curves or Peyragudes would be the ideal choice. I like all of it so its just a matter of where I can go to during that season. I would love to do more freeriding though since my main occupation has been racing.
What’s so special about Giants Head?
Giants Head is amazing. It’s a narrow path/road that leads up Giants Head Park with so many tight hairpins which is ideal for freeriding. Now with the event that’s held there they make wooden berms, ramps, and even short cuts for the race portion of the weekend. It’s a shame that the forest fires around the area lead to the cancellation of the event.
How sad are you about that?
It definitely sucks man. I wasn’t going to be able to attend the event since I’m moving but it really sucks for all the other skaters that were looking forward to this event. Forest fires aren’t anything to mess with.
What is your favourite kind of event?
I love grip and rip style courses, but I have been enjoying the technical courses a lot with fast drifting. My favourite so far is Peyragudes, the Britannia Classic, the Sullivan Challenge and of course the Vernon DH.
What have been your favourite years of skating?
The last two years have been amazing for my skating. I was lucky to be sent to the States and then Europe for the World Tour. I think I went to 12 events each season so the amount of skating was incredible. I also got to meet so many new people and friends over my travels with so many cultural experiences. Germany and the borders of Switzerland were probably the most fun since their roads are butter smooth and are as long as you can imagine. I think the longest run I did over there was 20-25 km of downhill. I could be exaggerating a bit because it was so sick!
Where did you skate in 2012?
The west coast in North America, France, Austria, Italy, Switzerland and in the Czech Republic. I did the tour with the Ronin team that year and was following the IGSA World Tour.
Do you have more fun on the courses or freeriding between races?
I really enjoy riding at event since the road is closed and also their are so many sweet people to skate with. Though I really enjoy freeriding different roads in between events. I would like to do more freeriding in the future for sure.
What results have you been most proud of?
1st at the Paskapoo DH in Calgary, AB 2009
1st, 2nd and 3rd at the Sullivan Challenge
2nd Kozakov 2012
2nd at the Vernon DH 2012
2nd at Danger Bay 9, 2010
3rd Vernon DH 2010
3rd Jakes Rash 2012
How did skating in all those places change you as a person?
Skating in all these places made me more of an open minded person to other cultures and also taught me where to take risks and also when to chill either in racing or in life.
What did it take to get out there?
Mostly hard work and really awesome sponsors! Couldn’t have done it without Landyachtz and Predator helmets support!
When did you first get sponsored?
I first got sponsored by a small skate shop called Dunas in Vernon when I was 15 for both snowboarding and longboarding. I got flow from Lanyachtz when I was 18 and was picked up fully by Landyachtz and Abec 11 when I was 19.
How important is sponsorship?
Sponsorship is huge unless you do have the funds to support your skating. With the help of sponsors you can completely dial your setup and also have the grip with new wheels at race events. They also can help you get to places where you wouldn’t think of being able to get to.
Did getting on Landy change anything about life?
Getting on with Landyachz was huge for me. They were able to support me at events and provide me with the gear that I needed. Also joining the team is like being part of another family. Everyone looks out for one another and makes sure no one gets left behind. Unfortunately I am not on with Abec 11 anymore. I was picked up shortly by Hawgs Wheels and thoroughly enjoyed the new line up of wheels that they offered that season such as the Biggie Hawgs and the KMFSU’s.
What’s your role in the family?
My role in the family would probably be like a skate dad. Well that’s what Charlie Darragh said to me on one of the last trips we did. Haha!
What gear are you having fun on right now?
Right now I’m really enjoying the Prophecy and the Canyon Arrow from Landyachtz. The new Hollow Tech is an amazing feature that Jody Wilcock has created which makes the boards lighter and stiffer than conventional maple. The Boss Hawgs are so sick for freeriding and the Biggie Hawgs are grippy as hell for racing. I’m also really enjoying the Rogue Trucks with the tall bushings from Venom and the insert in the hangar. It gives it a real smooth and stable ride. For freeriding I use the Predator FR7 but for racing I use the Predator DH6 in my colour scheme in red and matte black. I use Zealous Bearings since they last forever and take quite a beating.
You have a pro model helmet?
Yes. Predator helmets released a DH6 Zen Shikaze pro model in my matte black and red colour scheme. It’s been awesome working with Predator Helmets and I am so thankful for the opportunities they have given me.
What does one have to do to get your name on a skate product?
For me it was just hard work and being consistent in my riding and always trying to progress. Also asking the company that you’re riding for helps a lot too haha. Predator Helmets has been an amazing company to work with and I am very fortunate that they gave me the chance to have a signature pro model in the DH6 lineup.
How do Hawgs work for the kind of skating you enjoy?
The Biggie Hawgs work perfectly for my racing. They’re so grippy but they let go into a perfect drift in the technical fast courses. The Boss Hawgs are so smooth for freeriding and create and effortless feel for sliding. Hawgs is always updating and researching new urethanes for their wheels and also making sure that everyone has something to ride from street skating to fast bombing.
What’s a rogue truck?
Rogue Trucks is the new company that Zak Maytum designed and released earlier this year. They utilized the tall 3/4″ bushings and a bushing insert in the hanger. They are some of the best and least complicated trucks that I have ever ridden.
Surely complication = better engineering?
The more complicated the trucks, the more issues can occur due to more moving parts. Such as spherical bearings, support pins or even support arms. The less complications also means less difficulty in setting your trucks up the way you want them to feel. Though most think with more complication there is better engineering, but that doesn’t mean that there is better function in my opinion. It does mean that the price will be higher with greater design and more cuts made to the trucks.
Do you still have a shop sponsor?
At the moment I do not have a shop sponsor anymore. They were a small shop in my hometown and they helped me out a lot when I was younger. The shop unfortunately closed down due to increased competition from bigger businesses in the area.
How does having a helmet sponsor help?
Having a helmet sponsor like Predator Helmets has helped me so much since I have started working with them. It’s nice to not worry about protective gear and also having some of the most protective helmets out there on the market.
“If the helmet doesn’t seem like its going to protect your head then don’t wear it, even if it is the best looking helmet.”
In this day with so many helmet options, what advice do you have for younger members who choose form over function?
I definitely go for function more so than just the look of the helmet. If the helmet doesn’t seem like its going to protect your head then don’t wear it, even if it is the best looking helmet. Having your head in one piece is definitely better than looking good then wrecking yourself.
How did you hook up with predator?
It all started at the Maryhill Festival of Speed in 2011 when David Price approached me during the event. He noticed my riding at the event and also my standings at other events. We talked about sponsorship and decided I would try the helmets out to see what they were like. I instantly felt safer in the new helmet compared to the last one and my mind was made up from there. I have really enjoyed working with Predator Helmets for the last few years and they have helped so much in my skating and my travels.
Why didn’t you do the big tour this year?
This year I didn’t do the big tour due to my busy schedule with work and also moving to Toronto for Chiropractic College. Last year I hit all the IDF World Cup events that I could but the season before was more successful.
Are you having a fun year?
It’s been a pretty fun year so far! Did a lot of racing in the beginning of the season and just finished another event out in Kimberley, BC called the Sullivan Challenge. It’s one of the longest running races which has been going for the last 13 years run by Jody Wilcock. Every year is fun for skating to me. I just need to get out to do it.
Have you ever skated in your ancestral home?
Unfortunately I have not. I really want to when I go out there but I want to snowboard out there as well and hit the legendary powder places in Japan.
What do you do when you’re not skating?
Mostly just hanging out with friends and going to the gym a lot. Really got into fitness during my Kinesiology degree and it helps with conditioning over the winter for skating.
Pick 3 numbers between 1-20.
3, 11, 19
3 – what crime are you most likely to go to prison for?
For me personally? Probably partying too hard, or using people as weights haha.
11 – Justen Ortiz: if you could combine 2 animals to create the most deadly animal on earth, what would those two animals be?
I had this one for an old profile on Landyachtz. I’m going to change my answer though and go with a Mountain Lion and a Komodo Dragon. No idea what it would look like but I would expect it to be pretty stealthy and viscous! Boom! Most dangerous animal on the planet!
Zen bro. Thank you so much for your time, it’s been great hearing your story. All the best with your studies and future adventures.
The pleasure was all mine!
Any last words?
To all the skaters out there I say, always have fun skating, do what you love, and be safe out there on the hills! I’d like to give a shout out to Mischo Erban, Max Erwin, and Lyle Hopkins for getting me into this wonderful sport and also to my parents for supporting me throughout my skating journey!
I’d like to thank my sponsors that make it possible for me to skate and race every season: Predator Helmets, Landyachtz Skateboards, Rogue Trucks, Hawgs Wheels, Venom Bushing and Zealous Bearings.
See ya guys on the hills!