paris-skateboarding-02
Highsnobiety / Richard Hart at Push Periodical

The 4ème édition of Not In Paris is finally here. With over 20 brand collaborations and exclusive content, it's our biggest one yet. Explore the series here.

For most tourists, gazing up at Paris’ iconic Haussman architecture is a romantic, if not religious, experience. But skateboarding is all about looking down, around, behind, and in between tourist traps for the unseen and undervalued. Along with notable plazas such as Le Dome, La Defense, and Trocadero Gardens, Paris offers a huge swathe of unique spots for skaters, such as L'embacle Fountain, a photogenic, enticing, and challenging sculpture that begs for a creative approach. From visual art to culinary heritage, it’s a city defined by culture and designed to be navigated on foot, and with easy access by rail to other satellite cities, Paris has become one of Europe’s most important cultural drivers for skateboarding.

Prior to the advent and popularity of street skating, the concept of a “skate city” was almost nil. Most urban enclaves lacked empty pools or wooden ramps popular in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Barcelona, and London weren’t cities you moved to pursue skateboarding, they were places you either came from or visited en route to a session outside the city limits.

Although it’s seen as one of the most influential cities in skateboarding in 2022, Paris was rarely seen through such a lens. But as skateboarding’s global reach grew in the ‘90s through 411 Video Magazine — who many refer to as “skateboarding’s internet before the internet” – previously untapped cities around the world started to get their shine.

So how does a city like Paris go from overlooked to essential?

The shift from vertical skating to street skating is a huge factor, along with the industry becoming less reliant on magazines located in California dictating the culture and social media democratizing the entire landscape, but the change still starts in The Golden State.

Despite its dodgy brick ground agape with cracks, San Francisco’s Justin Herman Plaza aka Embarcadero became the gold standard of plaza skating in the early ’90s. Rife with burgeoning talent, Embarcadero’s emergence as the epicenter of street skating made it a destination and proving ground. While any city plaza could become a scene’s central artery, becoming a true “skate city” is a confluence of location, terrain, community, culture, and even legality. Sure, the movie adage “If you build it they will come” is mostly true, but a perfect park in a corn field doesn’t necessarily foster a scene.

Instead of looking for backyard ramps in the burbs, the focus in the ‘90s was on cities for both their terrain, culture, and edge. Having no shortage of any of those, Paris started garnering attention through footage of people skating Le Dome, La Fontaine des Innocents, and, later, the Bercy Big Five. And like many East Coast cities, Paris has the advantage of being adjacent to other desirable skate cities. Along with an impressive list of spots and crews — most notably the Blobys, who have been inactive as a unit since 2019 —there’s no bigger co-sign than Supreme, who opened a storefront on 20 Rue Barbette in 2016.

As a longtime resident, artist, and business owner, Magenta Skateboards co-founder Soy Panday’s not only steeped in the city but is a witness to its evolution and rise to skate royalty. Formed in 2010 by Panday along with Jean and Vivien Feil, Magenta’s not only brought more attention to Paris and Europe but also the thriving scenes throughout Asia. With its expressive graphics and emotive video projects, Magenta’s company is steeped in the feeling of skateboarding more than tricks or trends. Along with their visual aesthetic, their depictions of Pan-European skateboarding capture something free, loose, and spontaneous that feels uniquely Parisian compared to Southern Californian tropes many equate with skateboarding.

We spoke to Panday about the City of Light's transition into a skating paradise:

You said in an interview that "Paris has your heart.” Why is that?

Paris is very small, so any part of the city is within easy reach, yet it's vibrant, and there is always something happening somewhere. It's beautiful, there's nice architecture to look at, a ton of skate spots, some of the smoothest sidewalks ever, and the French police are a lot nicer than in most places I've visited. People are always visiting, so you constantly get to meet new people. Though, likely, it has my heart because I've been living here a while and my best friends are here.

When I think of the greatest cities for skating, they're a combination of energy and the ability to move around. Magenta’s"Just Cruise" edit really captured that on video. Can you give me your perspective on what makes Paris such a great city for not only skating but the energy and culture side that's as important as what happens on a board?

First of all, Paris is very densely populated. The density of the population is about three times higher than New York or New Delhi. Dense cities always feel like taking a dip in a pot of boiling water, you know what I mean? It's energetic, to say the least. Paris is a fashion capital, it has a history of being home to very famous artists and world-renowned museums. It's highly cinematographic and has been a noticeable feature of many movies.

You look up pretty much any building front and it's adorned with sculptures from past centuries. Culture is omnipresent here.

What makes Paris footage look so unique?

Paris doesn't have skyscrapers – the skyline here is fairly low, so there is a lot of light coming in. And all the walls and buildings are whitish, which also reflects the light a lot. I guess these are two reasons already. The density of population is another one; most likely if you're filming in the city there will be pedestrians and cars on the footage, which in my opinion always makes the footage more interesting.

Another important factor is proximity as much as the city itself. For example, NYC is great because you can not only take transportation to all the corners of it, but you have railways and buses to bring you Upstate, to New Jersey, Philly, DC, etc. quickly when you want to explore. Can you talk about why Paris' location is so good?

Well, not only does Paris have a really nice and efficient metro system to travel within the city, it's also very central to go anywhere in Europe. Within a few hours by train, you can be in the UK, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Italy, or Spain.

What are the best and worst spots, past or present, in Paris?

The Saint-Père spot looked incredible before they put bars around the many ledges. The spot is still used, but it used to be so much better. Unfortunately, I arrived too late.

Do you have a favorite clip of yours or someone else's when you think about quintessential Paris? For a lot of Americans, it was seeing the Blind team skating near the Eiffel Tower in Video Days (1991).

Well, to be honest, the line across the Trocadero in front of the Eiffel Tower in my Static 3 part is about as Paris as you can get. [laughs] Also, it opened two spots that, to the best of my knowledge, had never been skated before.

We talked years ago in NYC about how skateboarders see a city differently than, say, a tourist or a civilian. Can you speak on that?

For sure. There is a lot of stuff we pay attention to that doesn't make any sense to civilians. Smooth ground is one of them. The comfort level of the ride that takes you from point A to point B is going to affect your perception of any city. In a city like SF, the hills could be a certain annoyance, yet it's a paradise for certain skaters. As a civilian also, your chances of having to interact with the police are fairly low; as a skater, it's a little higher. With this chance occurrence, you also get to see another aspect of the country, like, how do the police interact with people in such and such country? As a skater you travel to random places, to a city then within a city. Places you would have never gone to if you were a civilian, because there is literally nothing to see or do there, but a spot that appeared for a couple of seconds in a skate video. Skaters – myself included – have hopped on planes to go skate a curb in Astor Place.

If we think about the Euro scene that 411Video Magazine was documenting in the '90s to now, so much has changed. Obviously social media transformed everything in our world, but what do you think the biggest breakthroughs were for brands such as Magenta that have them resonating worldwide?

I think it's only the normal course of action whenever something expands to achieve worldwide circulation, local brands are likely to pop up left and right in the footsteps of the expansion. Currently, the industry focus is geographically located along the path of the first wave of expansion of skateboarding, namely Western Europe (England, Sweden, France in particular, and in this particular order) in one direction, and Japan in the other direction. As to why Magenta ended up resonating worldwide, that's a good question. My bet is luck. Or perhaps other people are also nostalgic for what the mid-’90s felt like, as seen from Europe.

As an artist, can you talk a bit about the creative culture of Paris and how it ties into your process?

It's hard to say how much of a direct impact it has on what I do, I don't necessarily see it. But pretty much everyone around me is involved in something creative/artistic, whether it's painting, taking photos, making movies, writing scripts, or playing in a band...still, I honestly don't know if it ties in any way into my creative process. It's in fact not very clear what my process is (laughs).

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