An interview with Sylvain Tognelli about leaving Lakai

Backside lipslide. Photo by Sam Ashley.

Can you give us a brief recap of your history with Lakai? How did you get on? When did you start going on trips?

I got on 11 years ago through my shop sponsor WallStreet in Lyon. I remember Benny (Wall Street’s Benoit Gonsolin) asking me what shoe brand I was into and I guess he must have talked to the guys at Lapa (Lakai’s distributor in France). Unless they talked to him? I don’t know exactly how it went but I started receiving packages at the skateshop a few months after the Kingston’s came out, it might still be my favourite Lakai shoe ever. They asked me for a few clips as well and the stuff I sent was terrible! It was filmed in 2004 but it looks like it was 1997… Being from the countryside I guess I was a bit out of touch… It didn’t take me long to find out that shuv-it tailgrabs weren’t acceptable in Lyon (didn’t prevent me from thinking about them though).  In fact I still think about them all the time, fuck!

When I got on Blueprint in 2005 I got on the French team, then on a more European program when I moved to Berlin, as Mathieu Tourneur moved from Lapa (FR) to Revival distribution (UK) and was taking care of European marketing. There wasn’t ever an official European team post-Fully Flared though. There were good and bad sides to not being part of a defined structure. It allowed me to get budget from different sources but I can’t say I felt like I was part of a real “team”.

What are the main perks of skating for a skater owned and operated brand like Lakai?

It’s probably the most expected answer but skating with bosses like Rick Howard and Mike Carroll on tours.
The fact that there was no real hierarchy was also a plus as it gives you a chance to get to meet everyone and talk with them. There is a lot of passion for skateboarding. Things aren’t perfectly planned, you get paid late etc… It’s skateboarding!

Fondest memory of the 11 years spent with them?
This Nordical Tour was epic. Nothing in my head but skating and having a good time. Everybody was having fun, Raven and Vincent’s first time in Europe if I remember well. All the tours actually…

How do you feel about the involvement of their new investors (Altamont)? Do you think it will affect the way those guys will run the brand?

It’s hard to tell. I don’t know much about it. I’d guess that when you’ve been a group of close people working together for a long time any involvement from the outside is a stressful time. One thing I always admired about Lakai is that they run their company like skaters. They’d rather go for it and slam than sit or settle for an easier trick.

The best example of this being Fully Flared. The amount of energy, money and time spent on this project just can’t be matched in sales. It’s not viable economically and could have killed the company, but it happened and had a huge impact on skateboarding. By taking the standards of modern skateboarding and skate video production to a whole new level it did something huge and to some extent, a lot of popular brands and tricks today come from a reaction to the skating presented in Fully Flared. They built themselves against it. Just like how an artistic movement is often a reaction to the artistic movement that preceded it. I don’t think people realise this enough. As independent as you think your views are, there are references and history that led you to think the way you do.

The fact that brands can take risks and loose money on projects is primordial in my opinion. Skateboarding is about trying, a lot.

I have a feeling that lately there has been a change though. It’s been harder for skater owned companies recently and they’ve had a tendency to take safer decisions. Strangely the bigger companies are now more or less the only ones left are to be able to invest budget into a project at a short term loss. This risky behavior barely exists in the corporate world but is very profitable culturally. It’s a tough situation, but it’s not impossible to be heard, and it’s important for skaters who are in a position to make a change and to believe in where they come from.

Did anything in particular trigger your decision to move on?

I’ve been through some heavy personal stuff recently and I needed to properly think about my future. This made me rethink a lot of things I took for granted and reconsider other options. To be honest I didn’t really have anything to complain about during my 11 years of riding for the brand. Lakai treated me well and it’s thanks to them that I am where I am now.

What are your plans for the future? Anything lined up?

The Isle video, I need a lot more stuff. I don’t live in London so it’s not that easy for me to get stuff with Jake (Harris). We are going on a little filming mission to Paris in April inchallah. We have a couple of projects going on at Carhartt WIP as well. Some really complicated concepts I came up with and I don’t even understand anymore. Also the book about our trip to Mongolia is coming out this summer. We are thinking about making more beanies, ahah.

Anyone you’d like to thank?

I took the time to thank them personally already… Thank you for reading if you made it this far.



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