It is hard to talk to a person of Israeli descent and not get political. The whole area seems to be dipped in a heavily marinated political sauce. But what if we told you we did not manage to stay away from politics but it just isn’t the type of politics you were expecting? Shahaf talks about sustainability, design, police, and his dealings with the Tel Aviv city council. So press play and read up! It is one of our most interesting articles to date!
Interview by Roland Hoogwater.
Filming by Shahaf Cohen.
Edit by Dan Deutsch.
Photos by Maoz Trudler & Eden Gil.
Hey Shahaf how are you, what are things like over there?
Basically, we have a pretty strict lockdown but nobody is really adhering to it. People use cheat-codes like: “I am heading to my mother’s house to bring her food, she is in quarantine. ” Everyone is leading their lives without the nightlife etc.
How is the nightlife in Isreal (Tel Aviv)?
From what I understand the nightlife in Tel Aviv is good, it is wild and massive but I am not into the nightlife (laughs).
Me neither that is why I asked (laughs). So does the lockdown allow skating?
Yeah, we have been going out on Saturday skating but during the week it has been a bit less. Most of us have settled into a pretty grown-up life. I myself study Industrial Design but the rest of them all work in the high-tech industry.
That is why Saturday is the day to skate. It is similar to our Sunday.
Yes, and our week starts on Sunday! If you go outside of the city on Saturday things get really strict. You might not even be able to get a drink. In some smaller cities, you can skate but you can only buy something once you are out of the city at the nearest gas station.
That can be tricky because I heard it gets quite hot in Isreal (laughs).
(laughs) You have to be prepared. I like the quiet of a Saturday, but it goes both ways. People can be way less accepting of you skating because of it.
Tel Aviv is one of the more liberal places in Isreal and most people are fine with skating. They might even want their kids to start skating but some other places are less open-minded and it can get heated.
How long have you been skating for, and how has the view on skating changed since then?
It has definitely changed. I started 12-13 years ago. I like going to our main spot, it has 40-year-olds, mixed with 12-year-old boys and girls all skating together. It is great meeting them, speaking to them, relating your experiences to your own. It is really fun, it is like watching a TV show.
The main spot is great for that, it also teaches you that people are mostly very similar.
It is a social structure, where you get to be around good people and learn about life. People can be part of a group here.
We have been working with the city of Tel Aviv to get this spot declared into an official skate spot. But the council has been really honest. I have been meeting with them a lot and they tell me: “Ok, so what are your goals?” And we told them that we want recognition for the plaza to be an official skate plaza. And they just straight up said: “You don’t want that, it would mean for people to have insurance, we would need security guards, and we have to take responsibility for all that is happening there. It won’t make your life easier. We know you have been skating there for 25-years. We don’t kick you out right? So that is already a form of recognition. If you are interested in installing marble ledges and renewing the plaza we can talk about that without getting involved officially.”
That is amazing, they are kind of giving you the cheat code to get what you want without the hassle.
Exactly! One of the people on the council has 2 kids that skate there as well and now with the corona crisis, he realized how big of a deal it is to his kids they go there every day. That really opened things up.
So his kids are real skaters, not like some kids with the outfits but the ones that have been bitten by the skate-bug.
Yeah, you have to skate to be recognized by other skaters. You don’t have to be good but you have to try. And that is what is important in our video as well. One of the members of our crew is 33 and to be honest he is not a good skater. But he is a cool guy, a great friend and, a smart dude. He is really into it and he tries hard, so when he lands tricks the crew really explodes with hype! He pushes himself and pushes us along with him.
I found out that making a video, creating deadlines and, putting stuff out can really push people to go further and progress to new heights.
True, in one way a skate video is a diary but in another way, it pushes people because they want to show the best version of themselves. In a way, skateboarding is so addictive because you set miniature goals or even big goals for yourself and, every session you are working on those goals. Not so much consciously but every trick you make is like a mini goal. So in some way, you having the camera is important to everyone in the crew.
True, and you know what is funny, the cameras belong to the same guy. We have to HVX’s and he bought both of them for me to use. I feel that is quite special, I am not sure it is common for people to buy cameras for others to use.
I don’t think it is common at all. Maybe it is also because of the location that you are living in. Things like HVX’s are more scarce so people are more likely to share.
There is no easy access to those types of things in Israel. He found a really solid deal. 2 cameras for 500€ another skater sold them to us, he used them for movies and tv recordings.
So tell me a bit about the video.
The whole crew started around two years ago. Two of the guys came back to Tel Aviv, one from Barca and one from Thailand. And we all were good friends but separated. The guy from Barca started an online skate shop, a way for the skaters in Israel to get all the cool brands like FA or 917, etc. So he wanted to have a skate team as well. So we all got together for that. But he figured out after a while that the business wasn’t going to be as profitable as he needed it to be even if he would go all in. So, he stopped doing it and we remained as a crew skating together. Isreal has many other good crews but we see skating differently. The other crews have crazy good skaters but we want to show our way. Our viewpoint is a bit artistic. We wanted to make that the focus by using weird music amongst other things.
Other crews are quite serious about getting some gnarly tricks and their missions are like missions. With lookouts and sometimes conflicts with security guards all to get the tricks. And we appreciate that too, but I can’t see myself doing it (laughs).
So the cameraman is at the core of the crew, we are group animals us skaters and the filmer is the glue. Do you think the way you skate also reflects in the spots you skate?
The surroundings, yeah, they matter. Two weeks ago a friend asked to go to this urban plaza in the north of Tel-Aviv. It is a pretty upscale neighborhood, you definitely need some money to live there. I was against it, I used arguments like: “The surroundings don’t look that great” but my actual thoughts were: “We are going to get kicked out and waste our Saturday.” So in that sense, it does matter to us. Because the people there will be stuck up and the vibe of skating there will also reflect in the video and we don’t want that. So instead, we went to this spot in the middle of nowhere and we skated the whole day. But, I have to admit recently we have tried to get out of the box a bit.
Last week we went to this spot and a woman got really aggressive with me and I just yelled: “SHUT UP! We are not going to talk to you, if you want us to leave just go ahead and call the police.” To be honest, it felt good to release that energy for once. Especially now because it feels like the government is controlling your life and cops are constantly holding the line, you tend to see weird things and you think to yourself: “What the hell is going on with the world.” I think, in a way, now as a person it can be good to confront the cops or authority in general so you won’t get scared into submission because of the virus.
That is an interesting point, I hadn’t thought about it like that. I can imagine the police in Isreal can be scary.
Most of them are pretty cool, as long as you are reasonable and you both talk to each other like people. In the beginning, there were fights because people didn’t want to wear masks and police had to step in. You have to also realize were they are coming from, you can’t win them all. Sometimes your best possible outcome is simply getting a fine, paying it and move on with your life.
Do your studies as an Industrial Designer affect your work behind the lens?
I think it is the other way around. My skating has directed me to this bachelor degree. I do have my doubts about my studies, I picked it because it had the word design in it and because I come from music, fashion and skating. I chose it to still feel like a skater and a creator. I didn’t want to lose that feeling. Another factor was that it is the middle way between high tech and creating. So it has a high earning potential with this creative edge.
Now that I study Industrial Design I feel weird because I am working on objects like chairs and I keep thinking does the world need another chair? Does anyone need another table? Do we need to cut down trees for this? It is a conflicting feeling.
That is a tough question, seeing that as skaters we also skate wood. And use epoxy glues that aren’t environmentally friendly. I feel this conflicting feeling as well, where I am critical of certain production lines but I also don’t want to face that skating is part of it.
I never really considered that, but it feels different because we are not creating new skateboards like I am designing a chair. It is the same board, but yeah, it is made out of trees of course. You can’t be a saint in this world. We do need to minimize but we do need outlets. The difference between a lamp is that the board satisfies me as a finished object but this lamp I am designing is like reinventing the wheel and you don’t know if that is truly necesary.
I am aware of brands like Real using recycled wood to make boards with their renewal series. I actually used to skate a lot of those. Options that do less damage do exist.
I agree there is this scientist Neri Oxman in this show about designers on Netflix. In each episode, they show a designer from a different line of production. The car industry for instance. She was featured in episode 2.
Anyway, she is married to Bill Ackman a Wallstreet hedgefund manager and together they are investing and researching renewable materials and new ways to construct.
Their focus is on studying the ways animals build their structures and see how we can use those in our daily life. She also made large structures out of worms in combination with other renewable materials.
So, stuff like that gives me hope that my studies can lead me to work on those kinds of things. The renewal part of it I hope will interests me, because you can’t always choose what you like. But you need to try things.
A couple of years ago I saw a Documentary about Thomas Rau an architect that worked on this thesis that we need to make buildings like we make a circus tent. Instead of building up and destroying, we need to build up and deconstruct so we can re-use the materials to build elsewhere. He also proposed that companies lease us our items. So when you need a refrigerator instead of buying one with a built-in lifespan you lease one which gives the company a steady stream of income and an incentive to stretch the lifespan of the product creating a smaller amount of waste. This has nothing to do with your video though (laughs).
(laughs) But it is interesting because a big part of people’s identity is about owning things and the status that gives them. It is true though, the world is changing again. The way we are doing it now is not sustainable.
It does have something to do with the video actually, because when we get together topics like these are all we talk about. Our chat groups have political discussions in it so this is not far from the mark.
This talk is also about the people that made the video, and the video itself is a product that lives online and takes up space there.
If you see it like that, the project does relate closely to my studies and by making this video we learned a lot! This one is all about the HVX, we got to zoom a lot and where excited about it. But looking back on it, that way of filming is not wrong, it provides a lot of details you can see the logos of certain pants. But when we looked back at some of the footage the zooming is so close that we loose the full view of the spot and the real meaning of the trick. And that is such a shame, you see 20 good tricks by well dressed skaters and you just wish the screen would expand to show you more. It can be heartbreaking and we learned from it for the next project.
People are overdoing it, a video is like a scrapbook full of memories and just because that one angle worked with telling a certain story doesn’t mean that it works for all the stories you want to tell.
Yes, you need to look back and think about the video as a whole, not only about that one trick. So we fucked up a bit here and there but we learned a lot and I am looking forward to our next videos. Because those things make you grow. Making a video is emotional, because when you watch it you know all the back stories and the jokes of that day. This is our third video, and each time we unlocked something new. Last video we had a DSLR, now he have the HVX’s. And each time something changes, the whole story changed and we had a premiere for this one, a real ceremony. Everyone dressed up nice, we got pizza and watched the video together and it was just super nice.
Ceremonies have their importance!
They do, and we are starting to realize this more and more, so watch out for what is coming next!
We will! Thank you for this interview Shahaf!
Thank you, it felt more like a talk actually.