A couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of sitting down with Korean longboard dancing legend DoYoung Gwon to talk about his travels, his life before longboarding and of course skating. DoYoung is an open-minded, funny, inspiring and curious human being who definitely needs to be met by as many people as possible as he will enrich every life he encounters by simply being himself – a true life lover. At least in my humble opinion. We had a couple of good laughs in one moment and talked seriously in the next. And even though I have talked to him for a good while I still feel like I want to know more and spend even more time with him – both on and off the board. So without much more blabla-yadayada I’m sharing our little conversation with all of you, hoping to bring you a little bit closer to a person we can learn a lot from when it comes to humility and creativity. Cheers, DoYoung. See you soon, brother.
– Jeff Ellis (June 2016)
DoYoung! How are you doing?
I am super happy right now!
Tell us something about you! Who are you? How old are you?
Ich bin DoYoung! I live in South Korea and come June I will be 29 years old. But in Korea I am actually 30 years old.
In Korea your age is 30? How does that work?
The counting system in Korea is different. In western culture the first year doesn’t count as 1 until you have lived for a full year. For Koreans, the day they are born their age is already 1.
Alright then, interesting. Let’s get straight to it; How did you start skating? What’s your story?
For me it all started about 4 years ago. I like to think my life is a little bit different from other people’s lives. Back then I was having a stressful time. I dropped out of university because I couldn’t pass an exam. I had a difficult time with the English language, which I needed for the course I was doing. I can speak it now but at the time it was killing me (laughs). Going to university is a very important thing in Korea. Everyone does it. So I was kind of weird already for not going anymore. But I decided I don’t want to follow others. I just want to live my life and be a happy human being. That’s it. But to be a happy human being I have to learn something. I thought, how can I learn something if I didn’t enter university? So I chose reading books because they can give me education. This is how I gave myself my own curriculum. For my 20s I made it a goal to read 2000 books and so I did!
You… what….you read 2000 books?
I had time because I didn’t go to university! The time other people spend in uni, I would spend reading. I felt reading is really good for me in order to become a happy human being. Look, my dream is to become a happy human being and I want others to be happy human beings as well. If I can use my abilities to make other people happy, that is just really awesome, I thought. And that is the way I try to live now. Books help me do that. I run book clubs in Korea now. The other thing I did was learning English because I felt like that was my weakness. There are so many things I want to do with my life and I don’t want the lack of speaking English stand in the way of achieving those things. That would just make me really sad. Because English is being spoken everywhere.
So basically you spend the first half of your 20s just reading and studying English?
Yes. And it was really good. But sometimes it would make me feel stressed out as well. I hate both reading books and English but in my opinion this is what I needed to do (laughs).
Wait a minute. So you spent years doing things you really didn’t like?
Yes, because I thought these things will help me in the future. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in the future but I was certain that I would need these things. They could be my ability, I thought. It’s the way I chose and it was tough. But after a while I had to ask myself again whether this is what I want, whether this is what I need in order to become that happy human being. And I realised there was a lack of… fun (laughs). That’s what I missed.
You mean like moving, being creative?
That’s right. In my childhood I really liked to go outside and play.
What were your favourite things to do when you were a kid?
Just being outside. Running, playing some soccer, seeing nature, climbing a mountain. But for this kind of stuff I didn’t have time later on because I was busy reading and studying. So I wondered how could I bring fun back into my life. Tennis? Golf? Boxing? What could be fun? At that time I saw a friend’s profile picture, which had a skateboard in it. And I just thought it might be fun. So I researched skateboards on Google and I found three different communities. One was for skateboarding, one was for just cruising and one was longboarding. And I tried all of them, because I didn’t know what I would like. With skateboards it was too hard to change direction. I had to learn how to tic-tac. The cruiserboards were just really small and I didn’t feel comfortable. And lastly, I tried longboards, which was just really fun. The first time I stood on it, I was able to carve and turn. The board was long and I felt comfortable.
Do you remember the first board you put your feet on?
Dervish Sama. But I couldn’t remember the name of the board and I accidentally ordered myself a Tan Tien. I realised that when I opened the box. But I rode it for a month anyway only to realise that it wasn’t as fun so I sold it and got myself a Dervish Sama, which I would ride for half a year. After that I switched to Bastl Boards.
Well, you skate really, really special. You go fast, you move fast. But how did you get from setting foot on a Dervish Sama to being the extraordinary dancer you are now?
In the beginning, I was really bad….
We were ALL really bad….
For sure (laughs), but the people who started with me progressed much faster than I did. But I changed my mind quickly. I thought, from now on I don’t compare myself to others anymore. So for the first couple of months I would just cruise. And I had a lot of fun doing it. I enjoyed going fast, feeling the wind and just carve. I did try sliding, pumping and some tricks but I failed at all of them (laughs). And then I would finally see a person dance on his board.
Who was that?
A guy called Meti. He didn’t teach me anything but he was teaching some girl and I just observed them. And so I learned about the basics. And since I like going fast, I immediately tried to translate what I had seen to the way I like to ride. I mean, doing it slow is also cool but I prefer it fast. After a couple of months I managed to do all these basic steps at the speed I wanted to go. And people immediately noticed the speed and were like ‘woah he is really good’ and I was just like ‘whaaat I’m just doing basics’. I thought the people with the tricks were really good. They were way better than me.
Do you have a favourite step?
Actually, in the beginning I really liked Peter Pans. So I would do them all the time and when I got bored I would do them in different variations. After that I liked Cross Steps. So I would do them all the time and in different variations. I just thought, how can I make this step more fun? If people ask me how to get better at dancing, I always ask them about their favourite step. If they said, for example, 180 step I would teach them how to do it in different ways, so they would improve faster.
So what you are basically saying is that every step is your favourite step?
Exactly. It’s the progress.
When did you decide to go from a medium length board like the Sama to a really long board like the Bastl Boards Walzer?
I saw a lot of people with a lot of different boards. When I saw a Bhangra, I thought there would be more room for my steps. So I was starting to search for a longer board. At the time, Steve J & Yoni P had the Styleboardshop and they exclusively sold Longboard Larry and Bastl Boards. (Looks down at his Bastl Boards shirt) And there I saw the funny Bastl Boards logo. I really like it. Below it said ‘Go Shred! It’s all about the big smile!’ and this was exactly what I was always thinking. For me it’s always about the big smile and that’s why I bought the board. I never tested it.
And you still ride it, right?
Yupp, from then on until now I was always riding Bastl Boards.
And Bastl Boards became your sponsor, right? Do you have any other sponsors?
Blacktop Trucks, Manaliso Clothing and Typica Eyewear who are supporting the trip I am doing right now.
What’s the skate scene in Korea like? Are there a lot of people skating?
Yes, there are a lot of people skating in Korea now. But they were mostly doing tricks. And I wanted them to dance, so two years ago I created a Facebook group called ‘Longboard Dancing Lab’ where I could post small clips that would help people learn how to dance. Because of that, people got into dancing. But recently, people are slowly getting back to trying tricks.
How do you feel about that? Do you think they should just go buy a skateboard already?
To me it actually doesn’t matter. What matters is that they really enjoy it. It doesn’t matter if it’s tricks, dancing or sliding. If they enjoy it, that’s nice.
You’re awesome, man! HIGH FIVE!
How do the Koreans react to longboarding when they see it in the streets?
They generally don’t care. At first, they were quite curious because a skateboard should be small but that’s just for a second and then it’s back to normal.
About your travels: Where has your longboard taken you already?
I have been to China, the Netherlands, France, Germany and Spain so far.
How do you do it? Are you a rich person?
No (laughs). If you want to rent an apartment or a house in Korea, you have to put down a deposit for a full year. When I am travelling for such a long time I don’t need a flat, so that is the money I am using. That, and a bit of money I had saved. The thing is, I always thought: before I turn 30, I will have travelled the world. I wanted a year just for myself. I mean, I could also just stay home in Korea and not get to know the world. Not get to know how people live in other countries. I might find some other way to be happy. But this is the way I chose. My own way. And this is really important. If you think a certain way, you also have to do it, otherwise you are just imagining it.
What’s the coolest thing about travelling?
Well, I can be a tourist. And I feel very lucky and appreciative about that. Everywhere I go I can meet the people and this is amazing to me. Everything is different but everything is good. Everywhere I go I can get inspired. It doesn’t really matter how famous a city is, what’s important is who is living in these cities.
What did you learn about people outside of Korea?
Culture is always different. Everywhere. I like some and I don’t like some. When I went to China for instance I really liked the people, but there is also a sort of tradition I really didn’t like. They told me, if you meet somebody for the first time you have to drink with them. So I met like 30 people in a bar. When one of them would introduce themselves to me, I had to drink. So at the end of it, everybody had a drink and I had 30. (laughs)
How’d you get home that night?
Somehow, when I woke up, I was in a flat. (laughs)
Oh dear… what other plans do you have for 2016?
I will continue my travels through Europe and then go to South America. And when I come back to Korea in November, I am going to write a book. A kind of travel book. What I learned, what I saw, what I felt and experienced. And then I want to publish it.
Wow. So you read so many books and then you finally get to write one yourself. Full circle. I definitely want to read it when you’re done.
I am definitely going to try. Most importantly though, I am going to try and be that happy human being I talked about. I want to share that. If I can be a happy person I can inspire other people to choose happiness as well. What can be better.
That is a great way to think. You’re doing it right. Do you have something like a motto you go by?
It’s all about the big smile.
Is there anything you really want to achieve before your life is over?
I don’t think I need to achieve something. I just want to fulfil my life. It all depends on the situation at a certain time of my life. I need people to know that I did everything to be happy. That’s the most important thing to me.
Enough! We’re in too deep. We talked about skating and travelling. It’s been very personal, too. But I have some fun and lightweight questions left for you. How ‘bout that? Seeing that you are in Germany right now, what do you like best about us sausage-folk?
Tempelhof! (bursts out laughing)
THAT IS THE ONE THING YOU LOVE ABOUT GERMANY?
I can honestly say the people. Germany is like my second home. My sponsor Bastl Boards is from Leipzig and when I went there they made it feel like home.
Yeah, Bastl is like a big, hairy papa. He’s awesome.
Yes, and I also met you and all the AWHOU! guys and all the other friends like the Long Louie Crew and the Cologne people. They all make it feel like home.
Would you consider moving here?
Actually, a secret plan of mine for this travel is finding out where I could live here. (laughs) It could be. I don’t have to leave Korea forever, right?
Alright, alright, decision time. Korea or Germany?
For now, Korea!
If you had to choose, would you rather spend one day walking around completely naked, or a whole week without pants? RANDOM QUESTION ALERT!
Oh my god…. Naked for one day, I guess.
What’s your favourite animal?
PUPPIES! (gets the biggest puppy eyes himself)
Pasta or Rice?
What music do you listen to when you skate?
If you could choose one superpower, what would it be?
I would want to be able to teleport! Like, today I texted with Jongbin Jo and I sent him a picture of him I found at an AWHOU! flat, I really missed him and then I could just go. Or take him with me.
Share an embarrassing story with me!
I don’t really have an embarrassing story right now except for the 30 drinks in China, but I have a sad story. When I was in Eindhoven and I got into the finals but Jongbin didn’t, that was a really strong feeling of sadness for me.
Oh, why is that?
I just think Jongbin is the best. Of course, everyone has a different style but Jongbin is really special to me and I really want to see him on the podium.
I am sure he will be one day!
I know, one day. But it was really tough. I just felt like it made no sense in that moment.
Was he sad about it, too?
He said, he was okay. But for me, it would have been a happier experience if he had gotten into the finals instead of me.
We can’t let this interview end on a sad note like that. Do you know a joke?
No, not really.
Okay, I have one. How many Germans does it take to change a light bulb?
1 – because we are efficient and humourless.
(doesn’t get it)
If you had to describe yourself with only 3 words, how would you do it?
ALWAYS DO YOUNG! Do everything like you are young.
Is there anything that people need to know about you?
I don’t think people need to know me.
I think they do. You are an incredible human being. You are honest, open and extraordinary. It made me happy talking to you, being able to ask all of these questions and it made me happy listening to your answers. I feel like I learned a lot from you. Thank you so much, man!
Thank you. Maybe there is one thing I want people to know: I WANT TO MEET YOU!
I feel like people should meet you! SEE YOU LATER BRO!
BYE BYE CIAO TSCHÜSS!