Kingpin Magazine

The Daniel Lebrón Interview

From Kingpin Issue 120.

… Let’s just say Dani was a bit anticipatory in his acts. When he was little, he crossed a dangerous road every day to go to school when his mother told him to ‘go’ from the window. His father taught him to drive when he couldn’t even reach the pedals. He became the nightmare of his teachers; he was first kid to start smoking but also the first to quit. He was always the youngest of his crew. 
Discovering a skateboard made him leave his home early and be one the first skaters in the nineties to emigrate to L.A. Without quite knowing why, he was just attracted by the magnetism of a place you just had to go. It wasn’t easy, but Dani is a people person, add it to his talent on a board, and you know how he found his way there. 
But sometimes being far from home makes you value things you have forgotten, like the sound of flamenco he used to listen in his childhood. Somehow, in L.A., a guitar found its way into his hands and he hasn’t let it go since. 
Back in Spain he became a local of Barcelona, where he has spent most of his time as a skateboarder. Here he does what he’s best at, enjoying little things in life, like food, friends, music and skateboarding.
 Enrique Mayor.

Hey Dani. Last time I saw you was in Madrid like six months ago. I think it was a Nike trip. Seems like you’ve been pretty busy with Nike lately…
Yep, these last two years I’ve been working on this video Project, travelling a lot, China, US, Madrid, Alicante…

Talking about Alicante, when I first met you nobody called you Dani, everyone called you “Alicantón”.
Yeah, it was a nickname I got when I first got to Madrid, because I always landed the tricks too noisy. They were city guys and I was just a country boy. My way of talking and skating was quite ‘hick’ compared to theirs. It was just for laughs, so I was never bothered because I’m the first one giving nicknames too and laughing about people.

I assume you grew up and started skating in Alicante…
Yes, I was there until I turned 19. I started skating like many other people in Spain, in the 88-89 boom where skaters popped up like mushrooms. I remember just in my neighbourhood we were like 50 skaters, and sometimes in the centre we gathered like 500 skaters. It soon went down though.

That’s the Thrashin’ era, many people started skating because of that movie…
Yeah, I remember seeing the poster in a video rental place. I didn’t really understood what was going on, it seemed to me they were playing hockey or something. You see, I was just ten years old. Then my friend Antonio bought a Variflex skateboard, the slim ones that are so trendy now… and we took turns on it. Then I got my own plastic one for 1000 pesetas (six euros), and then I had to wait till my birthday to get a “Choke” for 5000 pesetas (30 euros). Those lasted longer, but the bearings were shit. You also had to screw out the plastic protection on the tail to be able to do ollies. Then I learned flips after a week or so.

So you had other skaters to teach you how to do ollies and flips?
Actually not, my friends and I were the first ones to start skating in Alicante, but we got the ollie quite fast, and then the flip. I remember we did them very weird, landing in the middle of the board and half-body varial – very strange. Then in the city you had people that skated better, full on BBC gear (Bad Boy Club), Gullwings, Airwalk shoes, all that… My parents didn’t have the money to buy all that; it was really expensive and inaccessible. So I stopped my studies when I was 13 and started to work to be able to buy skateboard gear. I always had to buy everything on my own.

What jobs did you do?
First I helped my parents in their textile business at home, it was quite clandestine, and then I left to work a lot of different jobs: painting doorknobs, moving cranes, working in fields, polishing floors, I don’t know, very hard jobs to do so young where the pay is really bad. But at least I was able to buy shoes, boards, and all my stuff. But I had a problem; I was so tired I couldn’t really skate, just one day a week!

That’s when you decided to go to Madrid?
Yep, after four years like that I decided I had to leave, because I couldn’t skate; I couldn’t do anything.

That’s when you met Jesús and Alfonso (Fernández)?
Yeah, that’s where we started our inseparable adventure until now. I just was skating at Macba with him this afternoon.

Talking about old times, Erik Peterssen wants to ask you this: 

“Is skateboarding the same now as it was 15 years ago? Was it better now or then?”
Hmmm… I think I liked skateboarding more 15 years ago because I had less and things were more valuable to me. You had the dream of trying to get something. Fifteen years ago I was 22 – how am I not going to tell you it was better? I was in US and I was about to turn pro… you know?

At 22 I knew that “American dream” was going to become true. That is to say becoming pro and all that. Of course, how am I not going to prefer that time over nowadays? It’s impossible. The happiness I felt was unique. Seeing people like Rick Howard coming to you and speaking to you and respecting you, and telling you skated great… You can’t compare those moments to others, you know? In any case, that doesn’t mean I’m not having fun. It’s just that I used to have more fun before… I was younger too. You know, when you are 20 you have fun sitting on a curb (laughs). It’s all about discovering and learning, right?

You think that’s something unique but, can you feel the same when doing other things than skating?
Well, I had that with guitar. When I started playing I was feeling the same as when I was learning to skate, the first tricks, the first years, you know? But now I’ve been playing guitar for 13 years, and it’s like skateboarding, you have your good and bad days.

Jesús (Fernández) wants to ask you something: 

“How can you learn tricks as if you were 15, and at the same time get a professional career as flamenco guitarist? It’s two big responsibilities.”
I guess feeling like it (laughs)! I think when you like something enough to leave other things aside and invest time into that thing, then you just do it. I liked guitar so much that I couldn’t… I got more and more into it, and before I realized I got into the Conservatoire, met my teacher there who has been like a father to me. I’ve had stages where skateboarding has gone in the background and guitar in the foreground and vice versa. It’s hard to balance both; to do one thing properly you need to give up many things. I remember when I was studying I stood in my room playing while my friends were partying in the dining room. Orlando (Acosta) and Jesús (Fernández) knocked on the door and said: “Come out already, Paco!” They called me Paco because of Paco de Lucía, “stop punishing yourself; get out!” I was so into it I couldn’t do anything else. And that’s good, sometimes you learn something new with the guitar in the morning and you go skate happier.

And vice versa?
Yeah, if you learn a new trick – although I don’t learn new tricks that often at this stage of the game – then you go play the guitar happier.

So, for you, skateboarding and playing guitar complement each other?
It does. It’s like I have several fights in my head with the skateboard and guitar. When I ‘finish’ one thing the other is alone in my head so I can focus on that better; I’m more mellow. I think that’s what Jesús is talking about. Doing a video part and learning new tricks, it’s all in your head; you spend the whole time thinking about it, right? Maybe you are not skating, but your head is still thinking about it. I know Jesus; I know he does think in tricks all day too. That’s what he means, two things flying around in your head is weird, once you finish one you have more time for the other. You have more freedom.

Skateboarding is in the foreground now?
Yes. Since I got on Nike, more or less. Before that I didn’t have stable sponsors, that’s why I didn’t give a shit. I skated a lot every day, but I had no pressure to do anything – so I just skated every day because that’s what I liked to do and I was glad not having to worry about anything, just skate. But then I started with Nike and had more responsibilities so guitar went into the background again.

Let’s go back to the time you met Jesús and Alfonso (Fernández) in Madrid. How did the idea about going to the US come out? It wasn’t that easy then…
Yeah, it wasn’t easy. It was Alfon who brought up the idea, so he started to save money for that. I wasn’t working so I had no money.  But casually by that time I won a contest and the prize was a trip to US for this Vans Warped Tour thing… So it all clicked together and I met Alfon there. We stayed there for three months and came back. After a while we decided to go back again, this time with Jesús.

There are quite a lot stories from those trips. Is it true you guys bought cheap hamburgers and saved them the whole week?
No, no, no… (laughs) you know sometimes people exaggerate a bit. What we did was to find the burger place, with offers like 30 cents a burger, and went there. What we actually did is to go to this gas station with a lot of cheap shitty things for a dollar, so we ate breakfast, dinner everything there…

In a gas station?
Yeah (laughs). Nasty… but you know, being 21 years old you don’t know what you are supposed to do…

How about the story of the illegal Mexicans?
Yeah, we lived in a place full of Mexicans and we got along really well with them all. We ate like them, lived liked them… They are very festive, just like the people from Andalucía in Spain, where they make a celebration out of nowhere. Mexicans are like that, but even more you know? Then all the families got together any random Sunday, or for a catholic Communion celebration, and they liked us a lot too. They were the Mexicans that arrived illegally back in the day. They told us stories about coming with the coyotes, through the fields. Since we were immigrants too and didn’t have papers or money, they tried to help us in everything they could; they even gave us money sometimes.

And what about when you came back to Spain, you were denied to get back to US?
Actually not. The problem was my visa was expired. I was living in Barcelona, and the only thing I had to do was to go to Madrid and get a new visa. But I didn’t feel like going, I didn’t want to go back to US either so I never did it. Then when I got into Nike I got one, no problem.

Was that move from the US back to Spain bad for your skateboarding?
Of course it was. There were many things in the horizon, like getting on Girl /Chocolate with Jesús. Jesús went back to US for a while, but he finally went back to Madrid and I went to Barcelona. We both lost contact with our sponsors there and eventually everything faded out. Jesús started working and didn’t skate much. I lost all my sponsors too. Maybe if I had kept going to the US they’d put me on the team, but that was not the case. It was a big problem for me, I didn’t know if I should stay there and live an American life or go back to my country.

Did the cultural part have anything to do with your decision?
Sure. It’s two very different countries. I don’t really like life in L.A.; I prefer life in Barcelona much more.

And now as a professional skateboarder established in Barcelona, do you do most of the stuff there or do you have to travel a lot?
No, I have to travel. Doing everything in the city doesn’t work. For example, this video part for Nike, I had to travel a lot.

Tell us a bit about the project…
It’s an idea we thought of with Nike, to do a solo video part. It’s just me in the video. They told me to choose where to go and they would arrange everything. That’s where it all started. The first trip was to China, then the US, here in the Peninsula…

Do you think those “haters” who argue you don’t skate and stuff will be able to chill a bit more when they see your interview and your video?
Let’s see… everyone can do whatever he or she wants. I’m not here to tell anyone how they have to do things. But it’s clear I’m not going to sit in front of a computer and start to criticize people from the clips I watch. No one can judge anyone based on what the Internet shows of him. What if that person skates 10 hours a day but he doesn’t like to film?

That is true…
And why are we here for, to skate or to film? That is the question. I am here to skate. If other people are more into filming, well good for them. I’ve never filmed much professionally; I’ve always done whatever I felt like doing in that moment. That doesn’t mean I didn’t skate, or that all you see is all I do.

And how about your latest part, are you happy with what you have?
Actually I am. The video parts I’ve done in my life weren’t really planned out, you know? I didn’t put much effort into them. I’ve always done whatever worked in that moment; my video parts are nothing outstanding. This is by far the most organised one, I’ve thought about the tricks I wanted to do, and for once in my life I’ve taken it a little more serious. I think people will see that.

Perfect Dani, I can’t wait to see it. Just a couple more questions from Jesús (Fernández) and Enrique (Mayor). 
Jesús: Dani, how many more years do we have left skating?

(Laughs) First time Jesús asked me that we were like 24… he told me “Dani, we have to make most of these two or three years we are left skating”. And I told him “but Jesús, you are crazy man, we still have many years ahead!” Poor Jesús, he always had that feeling, that we got three years left… and I think that’s why he always had those crazy and strong video parts, because he always thought it was the last one. I tell him every day, “Jesús, I think this has no end.” When we were 30, I already thought we got three or four more years maximum, and now I’m 37 and I just feel good, I don’t know… I though I’d be retired by now, but now I’m getting more and more sponsors, my career is doing better every day. I just turned pro for Boulevard, with Danny Montoya, Rob Gonzales, Rodrigo Petersen…

That sounds really good Dani. Is your model out yet?

They are waiting for the video and the interview to come out; they’ll bring it out all at the same time.

Great. Thanks Dani. We’ll end this interview with a question of Enrique (Mayor): “You don’t drink much, but when you do I know you are gourmet and you like the beer ‘well-dropped’.  Tell us about what’s a well-dropped beer and your trick to make it foam.

(Laughs) That’s from my time in Madrid, where it’s cultural they served perfect glass beers using both positions of the dispenser. Then the foam gets thicker and it doesn’t look like detergent, all the gas stays underneath as if it was a juice, you know? Almost like a shake. So Jesús and I started joking about it, and we started calling them ‘well-dropped’. Then we started even asking for it to the waiters if they didn’t do it properly “hey man, serve it properly!” and they looked at us tripping out like “what’s up with you guys? How do you understand it so good??” (laughs). That’s a trick only the people who work in bars know. You know, people think that if they serve the beer with foam you drink less beer, and that’s why they serve it bad in so many places, because people don’t want foam. But they don’t know foam can be drunk, is not like the detergent one. But it has to be “well-dropped”, of course.

Any thanks?

I’d like to thank my girlfriend Eva for all her support and understanding, you are the best, I love you! To my family for understanding me since I was little and I wanted to leave home, all their support and suffering for me, my Fernández brothers for the road we chose in life, Sarmiento, Juli, Erik, Rober, Musta, Cln crew, my friends from Alicante for having so much patience and everyone I’m forgetting.

Dani skates for Nike SB, Boulevard, Independent trucks, Bliss wheels, Bones Bearings and Diamond Supply Co.