Every semi-realized skate team has a pro from Europe or Japan nowadays, and as a global sport, or hobby (I’m not sure what the consensus is anymore), it feels beautifully interconnected. This wasn’t always the case, and looking back there was a time when non-American pros functioned as video game characters on side missions who would be dropped into the US scene and then disappear.
WKND, feeling this interconnectedness, began expanding their team abroad a few years ago with the addition of Karsten Kleppen, and while it could be anything from his style to his cute little dolphin tattoo, they clearly fell in love, which in turn has led to a mighty, blonde, and Scandinavian European bunch on the team.
This is where our eyes were opened to Sarah Meurle, and while she’s been skateboarding since the early 2000s, her Rumblepack part and subsequent pro board for WKND catapulted her onto the radar of a much larger crowd. (Listen, I’ll be honest, I clicked on that video, like a lot of you guys, for Tom K, and no knock to him, but I kept returning for Sarah’s part.)
Wondering how I hadn’t heard of Sarah before WKND, I did some research and found out about her long history with Nike, her contributions to CPH Open, her passion for photography, and much more. Eager to test my ability to deal with New York to Sweden time differences I gave her a call, and bugged her about all things Euro.
You were in the first-ever graduating class of Malmö’s Bryggeriets Gymnasium skate school. Shit, how do you say that name?
[Pronounces it right] Yeah, it means brewery because it’s built in an old brewery.
How did that first year at the school go?
The school definitely had some downsides in the first year, but the skate class was super well-developed from the beginning. It’s still the same guy who does it, John [Dahlquist]. He already had the concept in his mind and he is very imaginative and creative. He took normal Swedish courses and made them skate-oriented. For example, he took CAD, where you draw architecture, and turned it into a class about designing skate ramps.
Do skateboarders make good photo subjects?
Sometimes. In a way, because I’m a skater, I’m blind to it. I think we are interesting and we are doing a weird thing. But skateboarding doesn’t really make any sense to an outsider. We’re out in the streets getting dirty and putting ourselves in weird situations.
Have you learned any life lessons through shooting photos?
A long time ago in New York, I was in a vintage clothing store, and the woman who owned the store looked really cool. I asked her if I could take her portrait and she said “Being photographed takes a piece of your soul, every time.” and I guess that stuck with me. In a way she was right, because taking a portrait is a vulnerable thing and if you’re not doing it in the right way you could exploit someone.
I’ve heard Sweden has some crazy laws. Are there any I wouldn’t know about?
Sweden has this law called Allemansrätten, or “the everyman’s right,” and by law, you’re allowed to camp anywhere for one night. You can pretty much camp on someone’s lawn if you want to. There’s also the Jante “Law” which is a way of being humble, and it says that you shouldn’t be braggy. It’s kind of the opposite of being American [laughs]. It’s not a law or anything, but we will say somebody can be Jante. You’re not supposed to say you’re the best.
So you’re not allowed to celebrate getting a clip in Sweden?
[laughs] Yeah, yeah. I celebrate a little bit, but I try and be aware of it and keep myself from being Jante.
When you come to the US is everyone Jante?
Pretty much the opposite from Jante! But it’s a good thing. In Sweden, people keep to themselves a little more. For example, if you’re in a US supermarket, everyone says “Hey, how’s it going, how’s your day going?” and are in general quite outspoken. I find that refreshing with America but sometimes it still surprises me.
“You’re not supposed to say you’re the best.”
Are there any other differences between the USA and Sweden?
If you’re hot in LA and can skateboard you can make money. You have this ability to exploit skateboarding in a way that would never happen here. You would not find a skater at the park here in Sweden with all brand new off-white.
Have you been to an Erewhon, that expensive LA grocery store?
I haven’t gone, but even just getting coffee around LA is expensive. I spend so much money on coffee every day. I have this little camping espresso machine that I’ve been bringing around. I do like two or three coffees a day. On WKND trips there’s a lot of coffee. You gotta choose your addictions I guess.
Over the course of your career have you turned down something that felt like selling out?
When I was 17 I was being filmed for this Swedish TV show and they were following me and some other boys while we were going to the European Championships. It was bothering me a lot, having them follow me around, and it felt like they weren’t showing us authentically. They would ask us to say things and do things over again. After like a month of that I told them I didn’t want to be a part of it.
How did WKND come into the picture?
I spent a year and a half not skating for anyone. It was kind of nice to just be a kid again and go to the skate shop to try out different boards and shapes. I was trying out a WKND board and I liked the shape. I think the first one I skated I took off the graphic, and then the second one was a Tom K board. Trevor [Thompson] was following me on Instagram and he saw it in a clip. He was like “Oh, wow! You’re skating WKND boards. We can send you some.” It came naturally and evolved after that. It’s been two years now.
Have you picked up any slang or ways of living from the “Jit” team?
Yeah, I’ve learned a lot of slang [laughs]. There are too many for my brain to handle. Nikolai [Piombo] is always saying “It’s a bop,” which is really funny. He always uses this expression, XP, because he’s a gamer. Even if you don’t get a trick, you tried it one hundred times, so it’s XP. It’s a good way to look at the struggle of skateboarding.
Riley [Pavey] plays trap music all day and there’s a couple of us who keep asking him to play something chill. He eventually started calling me Grandma, so I started asking for the grandma music.
“Even if you don’t get a trick, you tried it one hundred times, so it’s XP. It’s a good way to look at the struggle of skateboarding.”
Have you gotten a contact high from Tanner [Burzinski] and Nikolai yet?
Probably! It’s impressive what some people can do on a skateboard after smoking.
How was it being a part of one of Grant’s skits?
It was insane actually. I saw the “Jit” one and knew he had really stepped it up. We had professionals working with us. He hired someone to do my makeup, which was actually the same artist who did Riley’s face in Jit. He hired a guy who does special effects and usually works in Hollywood but since this writer’s strike, he’s more available. Grant’s been able to get help from people who really know what they are doing.
How long did the face makeup take for the Rumblepack video?
It was pretty quick, like maybe half an hour. The other stuff, like the actual electrical box, took a couple of days to prepare for and to film. They were actually pouring ice cream on me as we were filming to make me look more melted. There was like a base layer of other stuff but they were adding icecream on top. It was hectic. I remember I had to go to McDonald’s to buy more milkshakes and ice cream and I was trying to get something to match my skin tone. I was asking them to mix chocolate and vanilla to get the right shade and they were looking at me like “Wait, you want to mix it?” It was a great experience. Everyone else in the skits was really fun to watch too.
Do you think you have a future in acting?
I didn’t have to do much acting, which is good, because I’m a rookie. I learned that it’s a lot about moving your face and eyes, like your facial expressions. That’s a big part of acting. [laughs] I’m down to be in another WKND skit but I don’t know if I’m gonna go Hollywood. Maybe I should take an improv class. I don’t know.
Have you taught any of the WKND riders any Swedish?
Last time they were over here they stayed at my house and I was teaching them about Priest cheese. We eat cheese differently here. You cut a cake piece of cheese out of a wheel, and you cut the cheese with a special cheese cutter. It kind of looks like a vegetable peeler, so you peel a piece of cheese off for yourself. I give everyone who stays at my house a piece of Priest cheese. Now it’s a tradition with the WKND crew. Everyone loves it.
Do you feel like your skating has been more creative since joining the WKND team?
Yeah, I think it allows that side of me to come out. With WKND you’re allowed to take time to really try something and come back for it. I think sometimes when you’re on a trip you do your go-to tricks to just get something but I feel like filming this part I was able to come back to spots and try different things.
The spots are a big difference too. The way WKND skates spots is crazy. There’s a whole setup of finding something, building something, and fixing the spot. You can spend a whole day fixing something to skate it the next day.
“If you have a team you should be a team, globally. Everyone together holding hands.”
What’s your opinion on brands having a “Euro team” and being separate?
I think it’s a shame to divide anything really. Same with gender. Everything should be a mix. I get it if you have a huge company and you have to separate. If you have a team you should be a team, globally. Everyone together holding hands [laughs].
Now that you’re an “American professional” was there ever a point in your career where you felt like being a Euro pro was different than being an American pro?
I was actually just talking about that a couple of days after I turned pro. Someone asked me how it feels to be an American pro and I was like “Yeah, I’m doing this thing as an American pro,” or “First time eating as an American pro. First time having a coffee as an American pro.” It felt a little different.
This time it was really properly done and I like that I came out with a part that I really worked hard on. I felt acknowledged. The first pro board I got was for this Swedish brand called Bellows. I got that straight after high school, maybe when I was 19, but it wasn’t the same thing. It’s good to have to work for it. Also, in a way, America really didn’t know me that well before all this.
How does it feel to turn pro at your age? Do you wish it happened sooner?
I feel like you just got to embrace it when it happens. That’s what I’m trying to do. It would have been sick if it happened earlier because I have been skating for a long time, but also in a way, it has allowed me to do other things outside of skating. I probably wouldn’t have gone to art school if I was skating full-time earlier. It showed me a world outside of skating. It also gave me other ways to express myself, like with photography.
It’s better late than never with what’s happening now in the industry. When I turned 25 I was about to start working on a bachelor’s degree in Gothenburg and I was kind of like, I’ll skate, but I’ll put more time into photography. That was the same time Nike started wanting to build women’s skateboarding. They asked me to be on the team. That was eight years ago now.
When did you first notice people were coming to Sweden to skate?
People started to know Malmo and Sweden because of Polar and Pontus Alv. Maybe it was timing, but Pontus made a lot happen by having a name already and by being creative and hardworking. He had something different that no one else had. I’ve seen it from the start and I think it’s really great and inspiring. I also want to give credit to the skate high school because of all the good kids that move here for it. And CPH Open, obviously.
Have you taken part in any skateboarding trends that you regret?
I definitely looked pretty funny at times, but nothing major. I was pretty into hip-hop when I was 15. I had a lot of New Era hats, and I don’t think that was a good look, but I skated for this board company that made them and I fully rocked their gear. I think my funniest style was when I was 16 or 17. I used to rock these pants. We call them pirate shorts in Sweden. They are cut below the knee. I had some cargo ones and some jeans ones. That with the New Era cap was my most outrageous fit.
Around 18 I got some sort of a feeling about what I wanted to wear, and I think maybe now I’ve been switching it up a little. It’s always fun to keep exploring. I feel like I’m always having a crisis about what hat or beanie I’m wearing and how my hair is. I never know what to do with it.
Are there any rivalries between Norway, Sweden, and Denmark skaters?
We had this Scandinavian championship like ten years ago, where it was like Sweden vs. Denmark vs. Norway. It was all friendly though. In general, between the countries, there are some assumptions.
Basically, Swedes think that Norwegians are spoiled brats because they have the oil and they benefit from it. Danish are, in general, a bit more conservative. They think that Swedes are these leftist weaklings. The Danes are pretty outright. They say what they think. Norwegians, I’m not sure. I think they like us, but they aren’t interested.
In Sweden there’s this clip phenomenon of land trick, jump in water. Have you had a celebratory dive moment yet?
No, I want to actually. I have a spot for it in Malmo. Maybe that’s my next move before it gets too cold [laughs].
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