We have always shared the city with everyone
It’s a drafty morning in the HafenCity district. The sun is shining. But a gusty wind is dispersing the warm rays of the sun in all directions. We’re waiting for Richie Löffler, the multiple German Skateboarding Champion and owner of the Mantis Lifestyle Store.
Richie is special in our eyes, as he’s somehow so different from most other people. At 44, his skateboarding comes so naturally to him, as if nothing could be easier than flying through life on this board on wheels. The way he thinks and acts seems to be freed from many of the social constraints that often stop us in our tracks.
On our film shoot with Richie, we joined him in some of the places in Hamburg that are important to him. And, of course, we got the chance to talk to him for a while.
hvv switch: How did you first get into skateboarding?
Richie: I saw “Huey, Dewey and Louie” on a skateboard in a Donald Duck comic book and thought to myself, I want some of that. It really looked like fun. I asked my mum if I could have one, and she bought one for me. A little plastic board. I was eight years old. I was so happy. It was a great feeling. To begin with, I just rolled around. I didn’t know anything about skating. I wasn’t aware of any other skaters and had no idea there was some kind of culture surrounding it. For two years I was just on my own with my board, before I even set eyes on another skater. I was the only one at my school too.
hvv switch: When did you decide you wanted to start skateboarding professionally?
Richie: I never thought I’d end up doing it professionally at some point. That was never the important thing for me. It’s a passion. I didn’t want to enter into some category or other, as is often the case with athletes. I regard it as an art form, as street art, and less as a kind of sport. Which, of course, isn’t to say that others shouldn’t regard it as a sport. It is physically very challenging. But to me, it’s more of an art than a sport.
hvv switch: Sooner or later you started competing. So things then presumably got more serious?
Richie: Sure. Just because something’s a passion, doesn’t mean it can't be serious. Some people are just more ambitious than others. Whenever I entered a competition I was always in it to win it, but that wasn’t what it was all about and I didn’t train specifically to compete. I just wanted to ride well and put on a good show. Skateboarding is now even an Olympic sport. That's absolutely ok, but I personally find it very difficult to judge, as it’s just so individual.
hvv switch: You were the German Champion on multiple occasions, and the 2009 Skater of the Year. What, for you, was your greatest achievement?
Richie: I came fourth at the World Championships in the USA, just missing out on bronze. That was probably my greatest success in terms of competing.
To me, freedom is the most important thing. Freedom for me is as far removed as possible from expected ways of behaving, constraints and prescribed labels. It’s about doing my own thing. When you’re skateboarding you just jump on your board and the street is yours in that moment. You do what you want.
hvv switch: How much training is involved? Tennis and soccer pros, for instance, train every day.
Richie: I don’t see it as a sport and don’t regard it as training. To me, it’s practicing an art form. Of course, there are certain tricks and physical sequences that can and need to be practiced. But this essentially sport-based skateboarding with training times and meal plans has emerged in recent years. Skaters suddenly had managers and training times to stick to. I never had that. It’s up to everyone to decide for themselves. If someone sees it as a sport and wants to make a career out of it, that’s fine by me.
Then big brands like Nike or Red Bull get involved with a lot of money, which is okay too because they offer great opportunities to lots of people. I don’t begrudge people that. It’s just not my way of doing things. I was always on my board though. Every day. I never stopped. The only thing I used to think about was my board. School, straight home, backpack thrown in the corner, and then straight on the board until I had no energy left. Then I’d go home in the evening and find an excuse for not doing my homework. It makes me happy to think back to those days.
hvv switch: At what point did your hobby become your job and when did you set up the TRAP Skateboard Team?
Richie: It was never a conscious decision to start a skateboard label. That was another thing that came about organically. I realised that I have a talent for selling. And a strong desire to create. I was on the Vans team, which paid for me to fly to competitions all over the world. Brooklyn Board in New York (an American skateboard brand) wanted to kit me out with professional boards. But unfortunately they went bankrupt. So I founded my own brand and my own team. One of the first people on the team was Jürgen Horwarth, who’s now the coach for the German Olympic team.
hvv switch: How did your family and friends react?
Richie: My mother always said, do what makes you happy. That was nice as it meant I never had any pressure from my parents to meet any expectations. And I had started receiving sponsorship at 13. So they didn’t have to pay for my equipment or travel either.
hvv switch: You sometimes do some very daring stunts. Have you had any setbacks or injuries?
Richie: I’ve had everything from fractures and concussions, to bruising and bloody wounds. But all that has never stopped me. When I was younger the first question I always had was: When will I be able to get back on my board? I broke my wrist when I was 13. The doctor threw my board in the bin and told me that I wouldn’t be needing it again. I was so angry that I took it straight out again and skated off straight out of the hospital with my arm in plaster. That’s passion for you.
There’s always a fear in the back of your mind though. Evel Knievel (the American motorcycle stuntman) said: “When you’re in a profession like mine, you need to have a very positive outlook on life and death.” Not every skater has that much Evel Knievel in them, but everyone has a little bit. But I’ve never been in a situation where I thought I’d stop skateboarding altogether. Not to date.
hvv switch: Do you do any other sports besides skateboarding?
Richie: I still do martial arts. Tan Tien Chi Wan. That’s a mix between Kung Fu and Thai Chi. It’s more about the inner self rather than the combat sport. Far Eastern philosophy is important to me. The essence of life is to be alive. Right now! And that is SEN, in the end. That’s also where the skateboarding side comes in. If you're not really present with yourself, you’ll end up flying on your face and it will hurt. Skateboarding is a very direct, very physical way of learning about SEN. You can also achieve it through meditation, but for me the physical approach has been the easier way to go about it. In the end it’s about how you define meditation. Skateboarding is also a form of meditation. You skateboard from your belly, and your head gets in the way really. If you think too much, you’re going to land on your face.
hvv switch: In the 90s, Hamburg was the main attraction on Germany’s skateboarding scene. What’s it like these days?
Richie: There’s still a very active skateboarding scene. Street boarders, halfpipe skaters and older folks like me who are still on their board a lot. The scene is really nice, very harmonious.
hvv switch: How do people on the street react to you skaters?
Richie: There have always been people who felt harassed. By the noise or because they thought we’d be causing damage grinding on benches. But I think of it as bringing these things to life; we’re actually making use of the architecture. We’re not just walking past, looking at it, then disappearing into the office for ten hours at a time. We’re making use of the marble, the benches and the stones and practicing our art on them.
Nowadays though, there are more and more people who see this, accept it and find it interesting that something’s happening in public spaces. It wasn’t like that in the past, we were put in the same category as punks. There was a really negative attitude towards us: loud, annoying, irritating, weird clothes. Don’t you have school or work to go to? Why don’t you do something sensible with your life instead? Why are you having fun when we’re not?
It’s the root of much aggression when people’s concept of security seems in jeopardy. And we’re an expression of that. It’s ok to have fun in life. It’s not all just about boundaries you have to keep within. We remind some people that at some point in their lives they gave up the child in them and started playing it safe. They’ve given up everything they love and everything they dreamt about. You see a group of skaters who look like they’re not up to anything very useful, and who aren’t busy worrying about their pension or gravestone. They’re actually living in the moment and having fun right now. And that creates envy and resentment.
Skaters are still just like kids! We don’t grow up in the classic sense. We take on responsibilities and we make good parents. But all those of us who remain skaters haven’t given up doing fun things and good deeds that involve friendship, solidarity and freedom.
hvv switch: You also do youth work with young people. Why is this important to you?
Richie: More than anything, I’m trying to pass on the foundation for physical exercise and the connection with the board. The fact that there’s communication through the body with the board, that it’s one single unit, from a thinking and feeling point of view.
hvv switch: You wanted to build a skate park with art sculptures on the roof of the S-Bahn station Landungsbrücken, or on the area of land above the station?
Richie: I’ve always built things out of wood or concrete, and helped out with friends who do it for a living. I find it really interesting designing spaces that can be used by skaters and other people alike. Creating a strong sense of harmony in that space.
The skate plateau above the Landungsbrücken station was one such project that I founded a club for at the time. Unfortunately, despite detailed planning and advanced discussions with all parties involved, it all came to an abrupt halt. But perhaps something will still come of it some day. Right now though, we’re planning a space for skaters at Berliner Tor.
hvv switch: Do you have any favourite places in Hamburg?
Richie: I have two dogs and like walking with them at the Alster, through Planten un Blomen, in Jenisch Park and along the Elbe. Places where there’s plenty of nature. As a neighbourhood I like the Neustadt, the old houses and the historic Hamburg flair. When it comes to skateboarding, I’d say the Pipes Quarter in Wilhelmsburg where there are natural pipes. I’ve been skating there since I was 11 or 12. It’s not a skate park. It’s not specially designed, it just came about from sculptures. But it’s ideal for skating and really organic. Other than that, I like to skate Street Bowles and Banks.
hvv switch: What’s the idea behind the campaign “Save Wilhelmsburg Banks”?
Richie: Planning was in place to redevelop the whole area, redesign the school and tear down the banks. We protested against it. One thing we did was set up an Instagram account. I did a lot of events there. Fortunately, they’ll be remaining for the time being and staying open to everyone.
hvv switch: How do you usually get around in Hamburg?
Richie: I’m almost always on my board. Even when I’m out with my dogs. They see me as a pack leader and actually follow my movements very closely without getting in my way.
Don't give up your dreams for what seems like security. We’ve only got this one life here on earth. It sounds corny, but I’m living my dream.
hvv switch: What do you hope for the future?
Richie: First and foremost, I really hope that each of us continues to learn for ourselves and that this realisation that we’re not here on this planet alone becomes more prevalent in each of us. Even when it comes to our day-to-day decisions. In terms of mobility, I’d love a car-free city centre. Where it’s easy to get up to lots of things by board, bike, or on foot. I hope, personally, that I’ll still be riding around on my board when I’m 70 or 80.