As Daewon goes deeper into the new phase of his career as an Instagram skate wizard, it’s easy to think that he’s always been all doughnuts, viral clips, and PMA (Positive Mental Attitude, brah). But Daewon’s past is a little darker than you might have thought. Yes, he’s always had a sweet tooth, but did you know that his super strict mom almost disciplined him out of skating entirely as a kid? Or that he used to hang with gangbangers?
We’d picked up bits and pieces of these anecdotes as skate industry gossip, but we’d never heard the full story of Daewon’s early years. So we called him up and bugged him to tell us everything. Here’s the Daewon interview you weren’t expecting.
You grew up with an insanely strict mother, right?
My mom was full blown “old school.” She and my dad immigrated from Seoul and once they got here they just worked their asses off and tried to get things sorted out.
Growing up I couldn’t even go out and play when I’d hear my friends playing outside. I just wanted to run around and climb trees and she was like, “Nope. You want to run around and play? Let’s go take a test.” I had to take a test and if I didn’t get at least a 98% or an A, I wasn’t going out. And let me tell you, I failed a few of those and I wouldn’t make it outside that day.
If I messed something up it was completely normal for her to beat me with a rose bush. Like I said, she’s old school, so this was completely normal where she came from. Getting in a fight at school wasn’t even a big deal because of what my mom did to me. I went to this elementary school and fought every single person in my grade except for this one kid named Kent. Eventually they got divorced and she left the house, and for most kids they would be upset, but for me I was like, “Oh shit, this could work in my benefit!” I love my mom, but when she left, I thought that since my dad was always at work I was going to have the chance to go outside and get a little Vitamin D without taking an exam.
“It was completely normal for her to beat me with a rose bush”
Do you think you would have been able to become a skater if your parents never broke up?
If my mom was still there, I’d be fucking playing piano or teaching some kids how to play piano. I would’ve been some mediocre artist or architect trying to design houses or some shit. If my parents stayed together I would never be skating now. There’s no way.
They really tried to push the art on me. Asian parents with the piano, I don’t know what that is. I don’t know if some guy went to Korea and did some piano exhibition that really fucking astonished the Korean community [laughs], but fuck, they love the piano. They just wanted me to get good at that, but I stopped because I told my mom that the piano teacher was going to break my fingers.
What stereotypical Asian things are you good at? Math? Street Fighter? Yoyo’ing?
[Laughs] Ugh, I wish, it just did not work out. There was a ping pong table at a Trade Show a few years ago and everybody was like, “You’re not good at it?” I was like Jesus Christ, no I’m not. I should be! It’s in there somewhere, we all have those hidden talents but I can’t get a hold of that one. [laughs]
Do you get bummed on Asian jokes?
Nah. A stereotype is a stereotype, and sometimes we have to accept the fact that like, me being Asian, and someone being like, “Oh horrible driver.” That’s pretty fucked up and it’s a stereotype but honestly, every time I almost get into an accident on the road I look and go, “Please don’t be Asian,” and they’re fucking Asian! [laughs]
We have to realize that a lot of older people migrate from Korea, China, and all of these places and they come here and don’t give a shit about how they drive and they pin it on us who grew up here and we’re stuck with it. On top of that we adapt and we start thinking “Fuck, if they think we’re bad drivers we might as well not give a fuck either. It’s already clipped on to me, why should I drive good today?” It’s funny.
I don’t want Asian people to think that I’m not backing them either. I do not back people being stereotypical to be racist. There’s the joking ones with your friends and then there’s the people outside of that that want to be a little more aggressive and talk shit. I’m not down for that.
Do you hold a grudge against your mom for what you went through?
Like I said, I appreciate what my mom did for me, but I don’t hope that on anyone [laughs]. I do hope parents toughen their kids up a little bit. You kind of need some growing up to deal with the world. Once all these kids are out of high school they have to move on and be on their own, and it’s a different world.
I’m not telling anyone how to live, I just want everyone to be able to be successful and move forward. I think for myself, what helped me was my mom being such an insane woman. She was like the dude from Full Metal Jacket. Actually, I’d rather have that dude [laughs].
What did your parents think of skating?
Skateboarding to my parents was completely irrelevant. It was the same thing as being in a gang or being a criminal in their minds. I was just out there doing my thing skating. So once my mom left I was able to get out skating more but on top of that I was hanging out with the wrong people and getting jumped into gangs. I was like a skateboarder trying to be a gang banger.
“I was like a skateboarder trying to be a gang banger.”
You were dating a Blood for a while, right?
Yeah, she was from Long Beach. Prior to [us dating] she was a little ex-gangster. If you ever met her in person she came off like a gangster girl, which was cool. We both had a Civic Sedan, too. Back then I had a, “Is this meant to be?” moment, but I guess the Civic was just a trendy car then [laughs].
Did she hang with a lot of gang members?
Yeah, she hung out with gang members but she got out of that. Then she started hanging out with a few locals around Long Beach and they just started some car clubs and doing more of that. It was more about everybody showing off their cars. I don’t think anyone ever drove lower than she did, like when you put your driver seat down, she was literally like laying down and driving. I remember putting mine down lower because I was intimidated by her. Slowly mine moved back until the point where if I looked forward I was looking at the fucking ceiling of my car.
That’s also when I quit skateboarding. Like 1996-ish. Instead of skating I was making money off of lowering people’s cars and taking apart their whole axle and in some points just putting back their old springs, just so I could do some work and charge them a little extra money. It was a hustle, but I had to get by.
Did you ever carry a gun?
No, I was never at the point of carrying a gun around. There was a point where I had The Club [anti-theft device] in my car to lock my steering wheel. I remember having that thing and thinking that was enough if something went down. That thing was a legitimate weapon.
Did you ever steal?
I collected Garbage Pail Kids as a kid, I was super into those. I stole my money from my dad’s wallet here and there, because my parents didn’t give me any money. I would be like 40 miles away skating and have a life long journey home. I couldn’t just skate home to grab a snack, so I would slide a little $5 here and there. Once in awhile they would give me a buck and I would live off like Taco Bell and get like a bean burrito when they were 50 cents.
I got into collecting Garbage Pail Kids and I had every single box series. I remember hearing that the new box series was coming out on a Saturday, and I never took this much money from my dad, but I slid out a $50. That was risky. $50 is heavy and I remember I took it and went right to 7-Eleven and I bought that box and I was eating the gum and then my mom showed up. At the 7-Eleven.
I remember looking at her and I just knew… Oh shit. She took me straight home, went out back and got that rose bush, didn’t take none of those prickles off and she just started slashing me up. I had so much blood all over me and I remember my dad coming home that night and he was putting vaseline on my back and on my legs, just saying, “Why would you do this, what are these things?” and I was like, “Garbage Pail Kids!” These stupid playing cards, they weren’t even playing cards.
Do you still collect them?
Now I actually don’t collect anything, like I don’t even have any of my old boards. I don’t have a single on of my boards except the one I’m going to ride today. It’s weird. It’s stupid actually in order for me to look at my boards I have to google it and be like there it is! I can have a photo of it [laugh].
Throughout your career you’ve probably had a bunch of opportunities to take checks from big outside companies. Have you turned a lot of stuff down?
Certain opportunities I did have but nothing I was really interested in. There was a time where that energy drink stuff kind of came into effect and I was going to maybe hop in, but then I thought, I’m not trying to water myself down, because I feel like I already have. For myself and my self worth, I would rather not do it. I like focusing on everything that has to do with my skateboard, like wheels, bearings, griptape, and the board. I like the clothing and skate shoes, too, so I focus on the necessities of what I need to actually go out and skateboard.
But who knows, I could sit here and say I would never do that, but I might find a brand of bagels and I might think, “Fuck, these bagels are delicious. I might have to do something for a crate.” I did skate for Boost Mobile a while ago. Free phone service? I was like, “Hell yes!”
“30% of the people I grew up with got caught up in some shit.
I’m just happy I went a different route.”
Do you keep in touch with people from your street days?
I tried to track down my old friend Ben I saw not too long ago. He was one of my best friends and would stay over at my house all the time. I see him now and I don’t know what he got involved with. He went his separate way, and he messed up. He lives on the streets right now and it just bums me out. You can only do so much for someone like that.
I used to give him money here and there, but then he started coming to the skatepark and he was riding his bike and trying to do jumps. You’re looking at a friend you grew up with on drugs, and he only remembers a few things about you. He told you his mom was just killed by her boyfriend and then the boyfriend killed himself, then the brother shot himself in the face and killed himself… 30% of the people I grew up with got caught up in some shit. Some of them passed away, some are just not right in the head, and I see them on the street and it’s crazy. I’m just happy I went a different route.
Is there anything positive that you took away from that lifestyle?
I think a lot of people seek out gang life to be involved with something, and once you’re in, you’re part of this great big family. The only reason I got into a gang was because I wanted to beat the shit out of this kid named Ryan. But later down the line I just realized that it wasn’t for me and I had to get out of it.
Skating became like a gang because it’s a group of all these people that have the same passion as you. Every gang has a different agenda, but who you rep and who you are is like a family. There’s that feeling of wanting to be a part of something that everybody appreciates and respects and has each other’s back for. In the early days of skating, it was like a gang but a little more positive.
Are you glad you got out when you did?
26 years later as a professional skateboarder I’m super thankful for skateboarding and that I got out of all that stuff. Now I’m in this community, a giant worldwide family. I could talk to you in skate terms and people on the outside won’t know what we’re saying. We have our own code. I still feel like I’m part of something. Skateboarding looks out for me.