It’s sometimes easy to forget Axel Cruysberghs hails from a small town in Belgium.
At only 23 years of age, he’s already made the move to sunny California, stacked a bunch of footage for various video projects and, having recently achieved pro status on Toy Machine, arguably conquered the American dream of professional skateboarder already.
Despite his rapid ascent to such dizzy heights – where self-esteem can reach heady if not dangerous levels – Axel is the personification of having his ‘feet on the ground’. His success is a reflection of innate talent and the hard work he puts in, with no hint of ego in sight.
We sat down with the softly spoken kid from Poperinge and his girlfriend Lizzie to discuss his roots, Ed Templeton and living in America in the era marked by Trump…
Wasted Talent: What was growing up in Belgium like?
Axel Cruysberghs: Growing up in Belgium was pretty mellow. I lived in a super-small town called Poperinge. So all I would do was go to school, and do all kinds of stuff in the street. There were barely any cars passing by and we could hang out there, play soccer, ride our bikes. That’s when I picked up skating. We started skating the street, and then you just had to cross a road and you were at the skate park. So that’s all I would do at the time. If I wasn’t at home or at school, I was at the skate park. It was a tiny outdoor shitty skate park: basically plastic ramps on concrete. Now it’s a new park, but I grew up skating the shitty park. At first we had these wooden ramps that had metal plates at the bottom so it was a struggle to just get on the ramp. If you were too heavy, or too much on the nose you would get stuck. Then we had the plastic ramps. And that was a big upgrade for us! We would skate it all day. Then I started going to Ramp Affairs in Wevelgem. It was 40 kms from my house so my parents used to drop me off at 10 in the morning and pick me back up at 8 pm when the park closed, and I would have been skating all day.
Whereabouts do you live now?
I live in Long Beach now.
I guess living in Long Beach is very different compared to living in Belgium. How do you like the American culture?
It’s very different but I like it. I like being there. Maybe it’s because I live around LA and people are pretty open there. Before I used to fly there for 3 months, come back for a week, then go back… I did that for two years. Now since I actually live there, it feels like home. It feels more normal. When I was going there for only 3 months I would eat only fucked-up food. I felt like I was on a holiday! But you can’t do this for 2 years. Now since I live there, I figured that there’s actually good food, really good food. I actually miss it when I’m away. There’s so many good options, but I never discovered them, because I felt like I was on a holiday.
Can you tell us a little bit about Ed (Tempelton)?
Ed is sweet. He’s always been nice to me. First time I met him, it was in Antwerp for one of his art shows. I had one of his flyers and I wanted to get it signed – I still have it at home – and I remember that I asked someone to get it signed for me because I was too shy. I said “Could you get it signed, but I’ll go with you”. The first thing I knew is that I’m in front of him, and he calls me out by saying to the person who got it signed for me: “What name should I put on it? Your name? Or yours AXEL?” And I was like “What?! He said my name?! What the fuck?” That was years before getting on Toy Machine.
How did you end up getting on Toy Machine?
I remember I was in Panama. I woke up, got breakfast, checked my phone and I saw this email from Toy Machine. It was Mike Sinclair asking if I wanted to ride for Toy Machine. Of course I said I was down. Then I was on flow for a year. Then I got AM and it kept going from there.
How’s turning pro like?
I’m happy about it. I mean it’s the first thing you dream about when you pick up a skateboard. Like “Damn. Imagine one day I can become a pro skater”. For me it’s a big thing.
Can you talk to us about the day you turned pro?
That was a crazy day. Lizzie (my girlfriend) and I were hanging out at our house in Long Beach. I swear it’s so weird! You think you would see it coming, but I didn’t see it coming. So we were swimming in the pool. It was almost noon, and Lizzie asked if I wanted to get an acai bowl, which I was down for. So we get in the car, and I started following her instructions to go to this “very good spot” that she knew, but it turned out to be in Huntington Beach, which was past LA, where I needed to go in the afternoon. I was really confused at that point, it was stressing me out, but whatever, we were gonna get this acai bowl. We get to Huntington, and it’s a beautiful day. There are so many people on the road and parking is a nightmare. We finally find a parking spot a mile away from the pier, and I’m just following her to get that acai bowl. When we get near the beach, she asks me if I want to have a walk on the pier… And at this point I’m like ‘Yeah why not?’ I was a little salty to be honest.
Lizzie: Yeah, he was always asking me about time, and there were so many people around. Plus, Huntington is not the best crowd at all. We usually don’t go there.
Axel: Anyway, we’re on the pier and there’s these life-guard towers. And the lifeguards go: “No amateurs on the pier – that means YOU, AXEL”.
And I was like to Lizzie, “Are these guys calling me out right now?” And she was like “Look over there”, and I saw all the pro signs, and everybody running toward me and stuff. It’s weird because I really did not see it coming. I always thought that if it ever happened, I would feel it, but it really punched me in the face.
After all I was really apologetic about being salty at first. It’s funny because we arrived 1h late that day, and the day Lizzie turned pro, we arrived 1h late too, and I know how stressful it is to organize it. I remember, she was taking her time making a sandwich at home, and I was stressing out… which is hard to hide!
What did your parents think about you turning pro?
They were super stoked. I think they did not sleep all night. They were up looking at the photos on Instagram … I guess that’s what parents do – haha!
Did they support you when you picked up skateboarding?
Oh yeah, they were really supporting. They used to drive me around to all the skate parks, waited for me all day at contests… The only reason why I’m here now is thanks to them. They were always there for me, which was amazing.
Do you think turning pro when you’re from Europe is different?
It definitely is in my opinion. If you’re from Europe, here’s how it goes: first you have to get out of your own country, then you have to prove yourself on the European level, and then, if you’re really good and have some luck, you can do some stuff in the States. And even at that point, you have to be accepted there, which is not easy. If you’re from the States, you do it once. And if you’re from Europe, you have to prove yourself three times over to even have a chance to get somewhere… But somehow it worked out. I don’t know… I had some moments of doubt, but I just kept skating and thought “I’m here, so I might as well go 100% for it”. Originally I was studying office stuff, like finance, accountancy and other similar things. I did not go really far though. I graduated, but did not go any further. At that point, I decided to give skateboarding a chance. It was hard at the beginning.
My grand-parents were like: “Nope! You should work!”
My parents were like: “You can try… but maybe you should work!”
I was making enough money to live by myself, but they were worried and did not know how long it would last. My grand-parents were kind of bummed that I just skated in the beginning. They thought I was just hanging out, and that you couldn’t just earn money skateboarding. It took a while for them to realize you can, but I think they understand right now… and I think that turning pro helped. At least I think… I’m not even sure… haha.
“If you’re from Europe, you have to prove yourself three times over to even have a chance to get somewhere.”
Were you in the States when Trump won?
No I was at home. Actually I remember because it took ages to get my visa because of the elections. The process was supposed to last 2 weeks, but it turned out to take 3 months. Anyway, I couldn’t believe it. At first I thought that there was no way he could win. But the closer we got to the date, the more I realized that it could unfortunately happen.
You have been going to the States for a long time. Have you seen any difference since Trump was elected?
Not really. I mean, wait… actually I’ve been on this trip to North Carolina. I’ve been there a couple of times before and never got in trouble… this time, we kept bumping into very aggressive old white people. We were skating a spot, and this old guy comes up with a gun. And we were like “What are you doing with a gun right now?”
And he was like “Huh, you know, in these neighbourhoods, you have to carry a gun”
And we were like: “No you don’t! If something happens, you just need to talk to the person and figure stuff out. It’s actually bringing the gun for no reason that can make things go wrong” – it’s a sad indication of politics in the US right now.