ONE Staff / October 24th, 2011 / Blade Life
BLADE LIFE: An Interview with Kevin Yee

Kevin, you’re supposed to be some kind of genius or something. Why are you fucking around with toys on your feet?

Actually, my blading is fueled by the fact that I am a thinking man. There is definitely a sort of logical-aesthetic method to my madness. I enjoy the process of finding spots and thinking about what I want to do with those spots just as much as actually lacing tricks. I am really into the aesthetics of the spot. Something as simple as finding a mural that moves me or a lovely shade of green, for instance, will motivate me to find a way to skate whatever is there. My theory is that anything and everything can be skated in a rad way. Something like the idea that there is a bit of God in every one of us if you are willing to look closely. This aspect of skating that demands you to look intelligently and patiently at your environment to unlock its skateability is pure fun for me. Skate San Francisco for long enough and you will find yourself with a PhD in mentally challenging spots. As I am sifting through the urban landscape for trick possibilities I always keep in mind the old standby principles of danger, difficulty, speed, technique and flow. It’s hard to go wrong with a dangerous, difficult, fast, flowing trick that has sound technique! So I may have a trick that I like in theory but just doesn’t stand up to these principles — which, in most cases, means it just needs work or perhaps a slightly different spot. Granted, I don’t hold these principles to be absolute. In some cases pushing skating forward has to do with ignoring some of these rules. In my “VG23” era of skating I was definitely shitting all over these rules — especially technique! I think that the skating I am doing now is far superior to my earlier work but I couldn’t have gotten to where I am now without that self-indulgence. Another important aspect of my blade calculus is assessing where the movements I am considering fit into blade history. It’s ridiculous to claim to be the first in the world to do something but I constantly look for newish tricks and rare combinations of movement. I don’t do this to be different from other skaters; I do this because it’s what excites me. And I’ll be damned if I am going to risk it for something that has already been documented countless times. This is what separates a relevant skater from an irrelevant skater — knowing what has been done and what hasn’t been done (as much) and understanding the value of the latter. But since there are both quantitative and qualitative aspects that comprise a trick, developing this understanding takes a long, long time and is constantly evolving. Another aspect of skating that I give its due respect is the fun factor. “Fun” doesn’t only have to refer to something chill and session-like. For example, I have a hell of a lot of fun getting in to and out of incredibly awkward tricks. But I find that when I am screaming like a little baby about how I can’t land a trick something has gone wrong! My ego has gotten overly involved and it’s icing my access to the pulling dimension. I remember a month ago or so I had an entire weekend of trying tricks forever and not landing shit. I went back to work that week feeling pretty divorced from skating. What’s the best cure for that? Stop taking myself so seriously, put the camera down, and just skate for fun. Skating for fun is indeed part of the blade calculus. If you try to only exist within clips you will suffocate.


Now that we have that to contemplate, tell everyone what you do for a career.

I do data entry and accounting for an engineering firm in San Francisco. I believe, however, that my skating has reached a point of skill and maturity such that I should be riding professionally for a boot company. If that is not already apparent then it will be in the coming year.

What about your other extracurricular activities, besides jumping around on aforementioned toys? Like, don’t you make a video or a website or something?

Yes, I help run SHOCK and we have been working on a blade video for the past three years that comes out this Christmas. I also continue to be involved with whatever Sean Sea is working on. I work on every aspect of the video production, start to finish.


You’re from MN but lived in SD and now are a staple of the SF blade scene. Why all the migration, what has it taught you, and would you do any of it differently if you could do it over again?

I was following my passion for rollerblading and the love of my crew, SNF, when I moved to San Diego after high school. After a few years all of my crew had left San Diego and I found myself living with frat boys near San Diego State. Weird, right? At the same time I was living with the frat boys I was taking my first philosophy class and my teacher was telling me that I was brilliant and should transfer to UC Berkeley for philosophy. I never thought that I was particularly intelligent but I went with my professor’s advice and read as much as I could about the history of philosophy, mythology, religion, neuroscience, and anything I could get my hands on. Before I knew it I was closing the coffee shops and libraries around my house, while all the time frantically scribbling down self-reflections and insights into my journals. Philosophy was also giving me a topic to open up conversations with people who didn’t skate, which was thrilling for me after obsessing about skating for so long. So I got into Berkeley and killed it, but by the time I graduated I had fallen back in love with rollerblading. This time around though, I had the idea that I wanted to push my skating way further than I ever had before. Pat Lennen told me there was an opening in his house in the Mission district of SF. I had the Buddhist idea in my mind that before you can even begin the eight fold path to enlightenment you have to surround yourself with people who also are on that path. I had heard Pat was a good skater (Editor’s Note: Yes. And, also, duh.) so I figured this is where I needed to be in order to pursue my goal of progressing my skating to super sick levels, hopefully figuring myself out as an artist in the process. Pat is also an interesting and hilarious guy! Moving to the Mission is probably what has made me into an SF staple — and I’m proud of that! Speaking of the tendency to migrate, I am happy to have found a home, finally, in San Francisco. All this moving around has shaped me into who I am as a skater and a person. When I was given the honor of skating in Billy’s NYC Invite this year I centered myself with the thoughts about my life journey and what I have been through — it helped a lot. About regrets, I see in each circumstance of my life a glimmer of fate and necessity, so I wouldn’t change much. My only real regrets are losing touch with friends along the way and not taking better care of my back when it first started hurting in 2003.


I just mentioned the MN thing, and so I’ll ask this: how big of an impact has Chris Farmer had on your skating, and what you want to do with blading?

I met Chris at a local skatepark called 4-Down when I was 14 or 15. He was so sick already! And nobody knew who he was. After 4-Down closed Chris and I, along with our buds Cantry and Greg, became a little crew. I have a distinct memory from that era of watching Chris effortlessly play around with switch true topacids down a rail behind a grocery store near his house as I stood in line, shivering in my plastic boots over a mere soul grind. I remember thinking to myself, “If Chris can do that then I have to at least soul the rail!” So Chris definitely motivated me to get better at street skating — I started out a total park rat. Before too long Chris and I joined up with Kai and Anders Carlson-Wee, Nic and Bill Brenden, Zach Flugum, Blake O’Brien, and Matt Jorgensen, and that was our crew (SNF, check us out in Battle my Crew!). We were all artistic teenagers with a passion for rollerblading. Being part of SNF pushed me to skate even harder! Nowadays I am continually amazed by Chris’ unceasing dedication to doing the most fucked up tricks on blades. That said, I don’t think Chris has made a notable impact on what I currently want to do with blading. When I think of the people who have had this kind of impact I immediately think of Pat, Sean and Tommy Boy. These are close friends who have invested a lot of time and energy into helping me form a style of skating that is authentically mine.


What was San Diego like back when you lived here? I remember you used to come around the DB offices with Zeb and even John Haynes once, I think. But I’d only been in town for a while and you were soon leaving…

It has been almost ten years ago now since I graduated from high school and moved to SD! I moved to San Diego with my friends from Minnesota and pretty much stuck with them. We were aware of all the other groups of bladers but people didn’t seem to mix that much back then. I was content to live out my own California dream in a bubble. I would find myself over at the DB offices, or the 4×4 house, or a video premiere from time to time, but I would just keep to myself due to a combination of shyness, no thought of coming up, and being weirded out by the whole industry vibe. I have a distinct memory of nervously asking Shima if he wanted to skate a bank to fence spot with me, but he declined, ha ha. The one group of skaters that we did get to know was Santee. The Santee guys are a fascinating bunch of assholes with a whole lot of heart. I still make sure to see Nick, Damien, Lyle, Robbie and Jimmy whenever I go back to SD.

What’s important to you?

My mental and physical health is my biggest priority. I’m not worth much to myself or my friends if I’m not in reasonably solid mental and physical shape. I have found that my mind — just like my body — falls apart if I don’t put work into it. To give you some context, I have consciously cycled through depression since college, and unconsciously since middle school. At the beginning of this yet another cycle of depression set in. I was having a hard time being interested in anything at all and was really lost in negative thoughts about myself. To make matters worse, I still wasn’t recovered from an ankle surgery and so I didn’t have skating to escape into. I got extremely frustrated with this pattern of depression and decided that I wanted to be happy for real. Sounds weird to say that “I wanted to be happy” but there was a time when I understood depression as a channel for self-knowledge and inspiration — you’ve all heard the tale of the tormented genius? With the help of a close friend, my girlfriend, and a few incredible books (The Mindful Way through depression by Mark Williams, Glad No Matter what by Sark, and Intimacy and Solitude by Stephanie Dowrick) I have really been able to attain a reasonably secure sense of self. I still fall apart from time to time but nowadays I hang on for the ride rather than falling into an abyss. For most of my life, blading has been an escape from this unhappy place. Nowadays it is a source of joy as playfully deep as childhood itself. While recovering from ankle surgery I would often think about whether or not I wanted to continue taking big risks on my blades. However, with this new sense of joy in my skating I am ripping harder than ever and feeling far safer doing so… An absolute escape leaves one blind for the most crucial moments of the fall.


What’s important to you in blading?

I am out there to constantly progress my blading and document that progression in an expressive and inspiring way. At the end of every video project that I work on a new one begins to enter my mind and the candle is relit. I am an extremely passionate blading artist and I strive to be true to that calling as long as I remain inspired. Sometimes I get worried about my future, my final security, crippling my body, whether I will ever get paid to do this, the life I may be sacrificing to continue on down this road… But then I put the skates on and those worries just melt away as I feel that other dimension joy granted only to those doing what they were put on this earth to do. Westside!

In the history of blading, what’s the best thing that ever happened?

For me, the Mindgame videos, particularly “Brain Fear Gone” and “Words” were the best thing that has ever happened in blading.

Tell me what you think about blading’s history. Who are your favorite historical blade figures?

Growing up I was a Julio fanatic! Being Asian, inclined towards wallrides, kung fu, fishbrains, sweatys and top souls made him the perfect role model. I have definitely found my own skating now but I still look up to Julio as an inspiration to keep skating hard as I get older. Lately I have been looking back on Nick Riggle, Andy Kruse and Erik Burke for inspiration. Each of these figures has a very original style but what I find similar about these guys is that each of them was exceptional at the art of rollerblading (as opposed to just plain tricks). I think with these guys it was more than just being able to turn on a dime… they were really breathing their spirit into the pavement. It should come as no surprise that among these skaters’ contributions to blading we find toe rolls, bowl carving and narrow rolls.

Since you choose to take time and energy to put together a media thing I guess like me you once had a serious interaction or “media moment” with videos and magazines and stuff. Is that the case? What were the videos/mags that spoke the most directly to you?

I already mentioned the Mindgame videos but to emphasize, I actually watched “BFG” everyday for an entire year — no exaggeration! Do kids still do that these days with all the online stuff going up every day? I can totally see the benefits of the online age but I am glad I grew up watching only the best on VHS. The VGs were a big deal for me as well. For so long they really set the bar for the progression of rollerblading and watching that bar go higher and higher was super exciting. My most recent “media moment” was a personal one with “RIP SF.” After two years of working hard on the video with Sean he sent me a private link to the section that starts about ten minutes into the video. It’s the part where I am writing “I WILL NEVER STOP MURDERING THE STREETS” on the chalkboard with a voiceover and also where I am skating the legendary china ledges in SF. While watching it I started to cry. I rarely cry but the combination of what I went through to make that video happen and how beautiful it had come together just melted me. They were tears of joy and relief.

When you wake up in the morning, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

I am soooooo tired. I’ll just snooze a little longer… beep beep beep… beep beep beep… oh shit, I gotta get up for work! And I’m hungry! Damn it, I should have gotten up earlier and made eggs and stretched! I gotta do it tomorrow!

Last thing you do before the end of the day?

Listen to my favorite new sleepy time music band. Lately it is King Creosote & Jon Hopkins new album, Diamond Mine.


Anything to add or people you want to shout out?

I would like to thank my friends and family for being there when I have needed them most. Shout out to my girlfriend for being a badass. A big western side to the Shock Posse (Tomás, Voss, Danno, Bistro, Baller, Jimbo) for staying fakie in the face of big-time industry standard power-turners. Shout out to SNF! Big thanks to Patrick Lennen and Sean Sea for taking the time out of their lives to bring me up in the ways of SF blading, and also for helping me find confidence in my blading. Thanks to my engineering firm for keeping a dude who pretty much just knows about blading and philosophy employed and insured. My eternal gratitude to anyone who has sat patiently behind the camera for me to land a trick. Shout out to my sponsors Xsjado and Inri for recognizing a player and Geoff Acers at GC for hooking up frames. Thanks to anyone who has let me know that what I am doing on blades inspires them. To the 25+ crowd, keep ripping; I’m with ya brothers! Finally, thanks to ONE for this opportunity and Matt Rice for taking the photos.

All right, thanks for sharing with us, Kevin. Keep up your hard work and dedication.

Photos by Matt Rice.

P’s and Q’s by Just Blade.

Discussion / BLADE LIFE: An Interview with Kevin Yee

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  • Beastmaster - October 25th, 2011

    Best interview I have read in a long time. Kevin’s skating and philosophy on such is definitely on point. Every one of his pictures made me stare at them and blade them in my head because of the unique spots which is what I look for as a scroll through Internet sites, ONE and be-mags. I loved it. Great job.

  • Andrew Smolak - October 25th, 2011

    Finally something of good taste.

  • DK - October 25th, 2011

    Great read and nice pics, thanks! Is it possible to get the first photo also in bigger format? It’s the best one, but can’t click it…would be great!

  • TOMASTHEGOVERNOR - October 25th, 2011

    That was great. Good job ONE! Keep it up!

  • sk8rboy - October 25th, 2011

    this sucks

  • r0llersk8r69 - October 25th, 2011

    art is faggy dumbass rip it up blading not singing and acting

  • franco - October 25th, 2011

    Well done. Keep up the good work one.

  • TheHairyMexiCAN - October 26th, 2011

    yee yeE yEE YEE YEE YEE YEE!!

  • andrew droid hall - October 26th, 2011

    hell yes! great interview and amazing photos as well. Always enjoy kevin’s skating.Keep up the good work and cant wait to see the SHOCK video.

  • David Walsh - October 27th, 2011

    That was so inspirational so many things that i think a lot of skaters always think about but never talk about openly, thank you thank you so much, also the line at the end was incredible, i already was because we have a great scene proud to be a minnesota skater but now im even more proud after reading this!

  • billy brenden - October 29th, 2011

    Nicely done Kevin and thanks for the shout out. Kevin’s grown more than most could know. The first thing he said to me was “you look exactly like Nic….only fatter.” Of course he was right, just short on tact. Glad you’re still rolling.

  • Rolling Love - October 24th, 2012

    WILD CARD YEE YEE YEE!!!!! A god damn jet pack powered praying mantis! So sick. Also, Kevin has the best socks in the world, I really appreciate his sock style, it’s like the beauty of a nice scarf or tie, but kick ass socks, love you man!

  • Matt - November 12th, 2013

    There is a lot of wisdom in this interview. A must read.

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