You might think of Leo Valls as a skater who does too many powerslides and one-footed spinny things, but to the skaters of Bordeaux, he’s a notable local figure who has done a lot to make the city a true skate destination. For some time now, Leo has been working with the local government officials in Bordeaux to rid the city of their harsh policies towards skating, and he’s actually helped make a lot of change happen.
Not long ago, street skating was totally illegal in Bordeaux. Today, thanks to the work of Leo and others, the city has reversed the stance and built new spots and remodeled older ones for skaters to hang at. One of those older spots is Terrasse Koenig — a traditional Western-European-looking plaza that is the ideal playground for a skater like Leo.
As somewhat of a victory lap, Leo filmed his whole Bordeaux Exposure 3 part at the plaza, which we are happy to share with you today. We hit Leo with a few questions about dealing with the French government and filming this part to give us all some context behind the clips.
Q+A with Leo Valls
What does it mean to the Bordeaux skate community to have a spot like Terrasse Koenig?
Terrasse Koenig is where skating was born in Bordeaux in the ’70s, so it’s very symbolic. The city skate-stopped the plaza in the ’90s by putting strips in the ground. So when they found the budget and gave us the ok to make it skateable again, it really felt like things were moving forward.
What we did was pretty basic. We repaved the ground and made the ledges grindable again, but all of it in collaboration with the city services. Once the project was done, OG skaters who started skating there 40 years ago came back to skate there with the new generations. People skate there every day now.
Can you give a brief history of the struggle with street skating in Bordeaux?
There has always been quite a big skate community in Bordeaux. There are a lot of marble plazas and smooth narrow streets. With this type of setup, some residents were heavily complaining about street skateboarding, especially because of the noise. The city had no better idea than to prohibit skateboarding on most of the main spots and ticketing us. “You have a skatepark, you can’t skate the streets” type of mentality. It lasted for pretty much a decade. All we were doing was running when the city cops would show up, being sneaky, skating at night time.
I was lucky to move to California, and then to Japan for skateboarding for a few years. When I came back home, the situation was absolute shit. I remember coming back to the city hall plaza and seeing two teenagers get chased by city cops and almost get run over by a tram. It was horrible.
How did you get connected to local politicians?
One day a local news station called me asking for an interview. I took advantage of it and talked shit about the city policy towards skateboarding live on TV. That had a snowball effect. More newspapers started questioning the city policy towards skaters and we eventually got contacted by the mayor and his team to find solutions.
It took a few months but once we got in touch with the council, we set up a crew of local skaters and started arm wrestling with the mayor and his crew. At the same time, the architecture center here in Bordeaux invited us to set up a public exhibition about the local skate culture. We did, and during a public talk in front of journalists, skaters, and residents, I debated with the mayor.
“I talked shit about the city policy towards skateboarding live on TV”
What were you saying to him?
We explained how street skateboarding is positive for the city development, for the youth, that it creates social cohesion and all of that, and that it will happen no matter what. Then, they asked me and my friend Arnaud Dedieu to work on a master plan for the development of street skating in Bordeaux. From there, it really switched!
On a few plazas that were fully forbidden for many years, and where cohabitation with residents was too difficult, we proposed timeframes where skateboarding could be allowed, kinda like what they did in Montreal at Peace Park for example. In all honesty, it’s true that skateboarding all day/all night in front of a hotel or a retirement home can become a nuisance, so it was important to share these spaces and not just take them over. For some other spots, we proposed some remodeling — de-knobbing skate spots or making these places more appealing to skateboarding.
Do you ever get bummed that there are too many people skating at Koenig now?
[Laughs] Yes, actually the spot has gotten quite popular after the remodeling, and sometimes it gets too crowded to skate! We just go skate somewhere else if that’s the case since the area has many other spots. But yeah, it can get overwhelming, and what’s crazy is that this place went from a dead zone to a lot going on. I always see people chilling, dancing, or even parkour there now. Skateboarding definitely brings life to places.
How is dealing with a politician different from dealing with a skateboarder?
So different! My dad is a psycho-sociologist and he taught me that adapting your language to your listener while staying authentic to yourself is important. I think it’s a fun game to try to see the different points of view, the different prisms on different topics.
Politicians usually have a plan and want to be liked by the public, so if you study what they want, what they need, you can actually become a resource for them, and they become a lever of action for what you want to accomplish. What you want to create is a win-win situation.
Is it true that you’re related to the ex-prime minister of France?
Not at all, total hoax! [Laughs] I do have a funny story about that though. A few years back when skating was forbidden in Bordeaux, I got asked for my ID by some douchebag municipal cop — the kind that has fake muscle arms and tribal tattoos! He was about to write me a ticket for skateboarding, but then he got confused when he saw my name and wondered if I was related to the Prime Minister. I played it off and scared him. He just let me go without the ticket. What an ass he was.
If you were a politician, what would be your campaign slogan?
“Liberty, fraternity, skatability”!
The title Bordeaux Exposure paired with black and white footage seems like an obvious homage to Eastern Exposure. What is it about those videos that inspired you?
I absolutely love ’90s east coast videos, especially Eastern Exposure 3. They’re just so urban, raw, and honest. They talk about the relationship between skateboarding and the city.
Julien is a full-time chemist, who manages a lab full of almost 80 people or so. He just loves skateboarding and he films his friends in his free time and makes videos. He films anyone and everyone here and it doesn’t matter if you’re known in skating or not. He proposed to me to film a full part for his third Bordeaux Exposure opus, and since I like my parts to be themed, it made sense to film something entirely at Koenig.
“I think themed parts are more memorable than just a random mix of footage”
You said you like the idea of themed parts, what is about them that you like? What are your favorite themed parts?
Yeah, I just like when skateboarding is not just about tricks but tells a story. So I like each of my video parts to at least have a specific vibe. Focusing on the woops in SF or on the old castle-like architecture in Bordeaux, for example. I think themed parts are more memorable than just a random mix of footage.
I really like Soy [Panday]’s part that he filmed with Josh Stewart for Static 3. Where he does lines all around the world over the song Mad World by Tears for Fears.
[Takahiro] Morita, of course, has some really sick themed parts, especially his Strush part that talks about nuclear disasters in Japan.
How quickly do you flat spot your wheels from powersliding?
Ho man, it’s so annoying, it’s like pretty much every day! Just kidding, I never really flat spot my wheels, or maybe I don’t even have the time to feel it since powersliding over a flat-spotted wheel is the way to un-flat spot it!
“I believe too many skaters are trying to follow what’s politically correct or accepted by the industry”
Do you have anything to say to the haters that say you do them too often?
[Laughs] To me there is no such thing as too many powerslides! I personally love them and love the feeling of doing them. You can go fast and powerslide pretty much anywhere, street surfing style. I’ve been obsessed these past few years with learning powerslide to ledge trick combos. But that’s just me, and most importantly I believe that skateboarding is about finding who you are, which means doing what feels right to you and developing your own honest way of moving, doing tricks, seeing spots.
I believe too many skaters are trying to follow what’s politically correct or accepted by the industry, which keeps them away from getting off the beaten track and developing their real identity. What I’ve always found cool about skateboarding are people who are not afraid of being their true selves and exploring that path.