parklife - harleum - 2008 (all photos su young choi)
Su Young Choi is one of the unsung super heroes of Australian Skateboarding. Aside from injecting the local scene with several seminal videos, he has gone on to travel the world filming some of the planets best skaters, many of whom are his countrymen. This lil' interview covers his birth in Korea, his relocation to Sydney, his current Hollywood situation and all the travels and adventures that have happened between. Choi has been kind enough to share some of his photos with us. So here we have it: you may have seen the videos, clips and DVD's but here is the photographic and interview debut of Su Young Choi: certified legend. - mc
MC: Boring but essential question: where were you born and where did grow up?
SYC: I was born in Incheon, South Korea. It's one hour west of Seoul. If you fly into Seoul you actually fly into Incheon. It's a port city, which is becoming a really big city now. I was in Incheon for seven years. From my vague memory it snowed every winter and had warm, sweaty summers. We lived modestly in an apartment. Both my mum and dad are chefs so we always had amazing food to eat. I grew up with three older brothers so I always had people to look up to and look after me. They were pretty harsh back then but I wouldn't have wanted it any other way. It made me thick-skinned in a good way. School was harsh there they still had the cane if you disobeyed the teacher. Life in Korea is pretty full on compared to Australia: a lot more people and smaller spaces. Bit more of a rat race. Everyone tries to run their own business. We had a street vending business that my mum ran. She makes the most incredible food. I miss it everyday.
We moved to Australia in ‘89 when I was seven years old right after the Seoul Olympics (which my dad worked at). I remember coming out of Sydney airport in January and being blown by the heat wave air that hit us when we exited the sliding doors. We moved into Hornsby: a suburb on the upper north shore of Sydney. My folks have lived there ever since. They have been back to Korea to visit but said they could never live there again. They love fishing and all my brothers have kids so they could never leave the extended family. My family and friends are the most important thing to me. Without them I wouldn't be here today and I have infinite amounts of respect for everyone and love everyone dearly.
hiroyuki matsuo crooked grind - newtown
Now, what is it you think that make skateboard footage so fascinating. Obviously we are both deeply involved but even people who are removed from it are transfixed when they see some good footage. What I am trying to say is why is it you think that skateboarding look so good?
Skateboarding footage or skateboarding in general is so fascinating to me cause it’s amazing to see a human being manipulate a piece of wood in the the way skaters do. Much like football (soccer) they can make the ball curve around walls of people and make it into a net. It's mind-boggling when you try it yourself. My favourite trick to film and watch is the ollie. It never gets old. It can be on transition, street, vert, whatever. It's fascinating to see humans fly in the air with a skateboard underneath them and be able to fly down twenty stairs, over ten foot gaps, over fences, onto stairs...
How did you get into filming?
When I was sixteen and had being skating for a couple of years I realised I wasn't going to be a professional skater (like every kid dreams of when they watch videos all day long). I was lucky to grow up in a family were everyone worked. From the age of fourteen I worked all sorts of jobs since to pay for any skate product. I bought my first video camera when I was sixteen after no one filmed between our friends. It took me eight weeks of lay by payments to get my first Sony Video-8 camera. I still have it and it still works. I have all my original tapes as well! I essentially started filming cause none of my friends did: someone had to film all the shredding that was going down. I thought how cool it would be when we all got older to be able to look back in time and see ourselves having a ball. Basically, we had lots of photos around home from my parent's childhood and I always loved that you could capture a moment in time and forever look at it.
My first video production was a video I made with Jaime Fazackerley named 'Killself' which was made in 2003/4. I still regard it my favourite video that I've worked on from start to finish. I don't think I could ever replicate the purity of the video whilst working with a company. We made it exactly the way we wanted to. We had fun the whole time. We rolled deep with ten to fifteen people on every session. We all went out together. Being the older one out of that bunch I saw these guys who were all turning eighteen run amok in the city all day and night. The stories from that time are timeless. Everyone was just having fun and that’s all we wanted to do was: have a laugh, skate and have fun. I'll never forget this time in my life and I really have Sparkes to thank as he introduced me to everyone. I actually sold him his first skateboard and we used to play basketball at the same place. He's one of a kind and it's been amazing to see him blossom into the man that he is now.
What was your last production in Oz?
Last production in Oz was Volcom's ‘Lets Live’ and 09 video factory's ‘skylarking’. I helped Dan Kircher as much as I could when I had free time to film with my friends as he was in NZ and everyone was in Sydney. I'm honoured to have worked with some of my best friends on videos since I started skating. It's one of the best things as you have a DVD or video of that period of your life that you can look back on forever.
I feel really lucky to have worked on ’Lets Live’ and it's essentially the video that gave me a career. I think back to that time and I had no idea what the hell I was doing. I remember going skating with Dustin the first few times and he was happy with the stuff I filmed and before I knew it I somehow became the filmer for the video. Middsy had actually gone on the first trip to NY with them and he killed it. All the clips from NY are amazing. I don't know how I lucked out. I rate Middsy as Australia's best videographer of all time along with Christian West. His consistently filmed some of the best skateboarding for over ten years and had his hand in every major production that’s ever come out of Australia. I was so stoked for him to receive a part in the new TWS video ‘Cinematographer Project’. It shows how much his peers respect him and his work. I look up to him a lot and always amazed with his work and his humble personality.
lewis marnell down under, prahran
So what was your first international video mission?
My first international skate mission was to Japan & Thailand filming for 'Lets Live'. We went to Okinawa in Japan. Nick Dompierre, Brandon Westgate, Caswell Berry, Chima Ferguson and Jake Duncombe were on the trip. We racked up so much footage on this trip I couldn't believe it. Every spot everyone pretty much got a trick. We didn't get kicked out once and had the best time. Shooting fire works, swimming in the ocean, drinking, screaming out the window to the red light district below.Thailand was the first trip after Shane had passed. It was the whole Australian team on that trip. It was the first time he wasn't on a trip and it felt really strange. Everyone had his spirit in their hearts and it showed in the skating. It's still hard to believe his not here. I feel like he’s just on another tour someplace else. He was truly one of a kind and I'm honoured to have met such a pure soul who really enjoyed every moment they lived.
Where are you located now?
I'm currently located in West Hollywood, California. I have a room in Dustin and Chima's house. It's awesome staying with Aussies in the US. I don't feel so home sick and we have a lot of friends within a one-mile radius. O'Meally's lives really close, Bartie and Pease are down in SD and the Chami's are in SF.
chima gets inspected by the mappy the wrist doctor, hollywood
What does your work role consist of there?
I essentially work for myself and have a contract with Volcom USA. They hire me to do everything that involves videos for the skate department. From directing, filming, editing I have a part in every part of the process. From online videos, commercials, DVDs to TV shows. I've being freelancing for them for close to seven years now and I feel blessed to work for them. They've given me the opportunity to live a life I could of only dreamed of. My bosses are Remy and Steve Stratton. They have lived and breathed skateboarding forever and are amazing people as well. I could never repay them for the faith and support they have given me throughout the years. I get to skate with the most amazing skateboarders and friends in the world. To film with Chima and Azar who I have filmed since I started filming is truly amazing. There's nothing better than getting a trick with one of your best friends. Everyday I get to go skate is an amazing day. Volcom has such a diverse team with so many different personalities and styles that there are no limitations. We mash street guys with the tranny guys and everyone just has fun. All the guys on the team are awesome a lot of fun to skate and film with.
shane azar, costa mesa
You just came down to Oz with Grant, Raven, Chima and Provost. It must have blown your brain to smithereens. Do other skaters look slow and un-gnarly now that you have filmed with these madmen?
Australia is still my home mate, so I was at home when they came to Australia. Well... I arrived from holidays on the same day they did and went straight onto that eleven-day trip. The trip definitely blew my mind. I knew when it was for the Thrasher SOTY issue that it was gonna be a fun one. Also the crew was amazing. Grant, Raven, Collin and Chima are four of the best guys to have on any trip. They all get along really well and have similar lifestyles so it was non-stop 24/7 fun. I haven't had a more productive yet relaxed and fun trip like that in along time. By the time I was editing it we had twenty mins of raw footage to use, which was cut down to ten. Some of those singles are actually four-six trick lines that would of made the video a little too boring. I'm really lucky to work with Volcom. The team embraces skateboarding as a whole. We have every kind of skater you can image and aren't limited by a certain, look, feel or anything. Skateboarding has no boundaries so it's good to have every kind of skater at your disposal when you’re going to spot.
Do you walk when you are in LA? Or if you have a whip what kind of whip are you running?
Yes, I walk and I ride a road bike when I'm staying close to where I'm living. I also drive A LOT like really LOTS if we’re going skating. I drive a soccer-mum van that stinks, is dented all over the place but runs like a dream. Perfect skate van. Traffic is crazy here and the road rage is nek level. It's one of a kind city that has the bare essentials in public transport so everyone’s forced to drive themselves everywhere.
neck and dustin, hollywood
Did you find the transition hard from miniDV to HD? When did you make the change over?
It wasn't too hard but I’m still figuring it out now and endlessly learning. The process of the transition has its advantages and disadvantages. No more tapes or glitches, which is great. But the VX1 has the best look for skateboarding. The fisheye and sound on that camera is amazing. It's being a staple of skateboard videos for almost twenty years now.
I love all formats to be honest for their differences. You can do a lot with HD and I don't feel I'm even close to using it to it's full potential yet. The first time I used one was in 2009 on a Quiksilver trip. They needed it in HD and sent a camera with them for me to film. We didn't have a fisheye so I filmed everything long lens and with a tripod. Just tried to learn as I went along.
Have you been to Seoul recently?
Yeah I was there last year in Sept for a Volcom tour we did in Japan and Korea. I stayed and extra week to visit my brother Dom and his wife ‘n’ daughter. Was awesome to see them. Skating in Korea is slowly getting bigger and bigger and the spots are endless. If anyone wants to go a good friend Baek who runs Stunt B Skateboards knows a lot of spots and is hilarious to hang out with so hit me up if you wanna check it out.
whilst in his home country choi shot this smoking pearler of caswell berry
Many people who read this will wonder how you managed to blaze such a sweet trail thru life. Any words of advice to budding creative’s out there?
Sweet trail with a lot of blood, sweat and some tears would be a more accurate description. My words of advise would be is to love what you do and go after it. Just like your teachers told you at school: you can do anything in life that you want if you put your mind to it. Well I never thought that was true until your one day living it. I was lucky to have amazing family and friends who taught me how to respect people, look after one another, be grateful for what you have and to do the best you can at whatever you choose to do. I think that’s the basis to a somewhat successful life. I've also had help from close friends that have opened doors and helped pave my career. Thankyou... everyone.
classic tourist shot: smith, choi, mapstone and ferguson, arizona