A Conversation with Will Smith

Last week all the snowboarders who foolishly live in London were invited to House of Vans for a triple movie bonanza. On show was the very excellent Vans First Layer Russia, quickly followed by the unique and inspiring 'Goodbye Horses', directed by Niels Shack, and to cap it all off in style, the first-ever screening of Method Movie 2. The crowd was hyped and the night got loose.

In between the madness, we ushered a somewhat fresh-faced Will Smith into the green room for the following interview, which you can peruse at your leisure. If talking about sketchy filming missions in the heart of Russia and Siberia sounds good, flex those eyelids, because there's plenty here to keep you engaged. We also spoke about Will's ever-improving talents with the pens, paper, brushes, paints and canvasses he carries with him. The dude has a unique eye and an intriguing style, so much so that the one and only Matt Georges asked Will to collaborate on a few pages of the First Layer Russia printed material. Having spent most of a hungover Friday (following the Method Movie 2 after party) pawing over this fine selection of printed pages, we can confirm that print lives and feels better than ever, especially when its covered in crazy characters from the mind of an artist like Will. 

A true Yorkshire gent with some great stories to tell, we have no doubt that this winter will be a good one for Will, especially if he sticks to what he wants to do and rides his snowboard for more than 10 seconds at a time.

Words: William Sleigh. Photos: Matt Georges


© Matt Georges. Ollie Up Bs Wallride in Siberia.


How was filming for First Layer Russia?

Well, I was lucky enough to go on two trips this year like everybody else did just one trip. So obviously some went to Moscow and then some people went to Novosibirsk which is in Siberia. And I did both of those. So we went to Moscow in January and that was fucking cold. I think it was minus 25 the day we hit the War Memorial spot. And everything seems to be a pretty high bust-factor in Russia which is surprising. Because I imagined Russia you would go where you want. Do whatever you want and nobody's going to be arsed. 

I mean I've been to Murmansk before in Russia which is in the Arctic Circle. I think because they're so far away from everything, they don't really get to see anybody that isn't Russian. So when we were there people were just kind of a bit more excited to see just foreign people in their country because they never experienced it before. And then you start snowboarding on their house! You know what I mean? But every spot in Russia seems to be in a complex. You know like in England how on a council estate you have a big block of flats and then everything surrounds that. A lot of Russia seems to be set out like that. Everywhere you are, you've got hundreds of windows above you, potential to kick you out or ring the police or something. 


© Matt Georges. Hundreds of potential spot busters. 


How does the architecture out there compare to London or Yorkshire? 

I really didn't know what to expect when I went to Moscow, it's just so big. We have Victorian houses in England with the big windows and the high ceilings. Just imagine two floors of that is like one floor. So the buildings are bigger but you don't have more floors. Yeah, everything's pretty grand and massive. 

Can you tell me about the craziest spot you hit for First Layer Russia? 

Yeah, that was the day at the War Memorial. We got busted from there pretty quick. I only had a few tries but that was the only fresh snow we got and it was just like power everywhere. We went there and everyone just kind of had a bit of a shred and just had a little fun time and then we got kicked down. Standard procedure, just move on to the next thing. That was one of my favourite spots that I found. Yeah. 

Visually it looks great. 

And I've been looking for something like that for a while. Where you have to go up something and then ride a little bit and then drop down. So I don't know. I try to look for spots where I get to ride my board a little bit more than the 10 seconds of in-run and that's it. 

Obviously, you grew up riding dry slope and indoors which, generally, consists of short, quick laps on just a few features, is that what drew you to film in the streets?

Yeah, it's pretty similar to the dry slope. I rode the dry slope in Halifax for about three years, five days a week, hitting the same jump and the same gas pipe every single day. So I guess the repetitiveness is kind of the same. I guess that's what draws me to the filming as well. You do what you want to do. You choose the spot, you choose a trick. You don't tell the filmer but you work with the filmer and the photographer to both come up with something that you're happy with. The end product, if you get it how you want to land your trick is your shot and how you visualized it. And I think that's the best thing about street snowboarding. 

That's a good point. You could take three snowboarders to one spot, all from the same crew and they will all come up with a way to hit it differently. 

Yeah completely. Pretty much every single shot in that video there's at least two spots in one place. One person in the team is looking at something and then somebody else is looking the complete other direction or something. 


© Matt Georges. Back 1 Switch 5050 through the triple down.


Was there one spot that you really had to battle with to get your trick? 

Yeah. The back one onto the triple down. I wanted to do that. I wanted to film one of those for about three years. And like I saw that rail and it was pretty mellow so it was really good for that trick but it was on the first day. Well, my first day of the trip. So, I said I really like this rail, I want to do this, but I want to come back later because I was exhausted from all the travel. Every time I've flown to Russia its taken like 20 hours to get there and stuff with transfers and then you've got the time difference. That was definitely a battle. That took a good five, six hours to get that how I wanted. Yeah, I did it a few times. Sparrow did a few of those back lips too. Sparrow had like five or six back lips through it as well. We got to the end quite a lot, just not how we wanted. 

Do you get like that quite often when you're filming in the street? Where do you draw the line between getting a trick and being happy with it and trying until you get it absolutely perfect? 

By no means am I old but I've been filming video parts now since I was 18 and I'm 23. So, I've learned from my experiences. I've always said no to things and not done it if I'm not feeling it. I've got more judgment of when I need to stop because you can be trying a trick for five, six hours straight. You can't stop after trying something for five or six hours and just walk away, you know? Sometimes it does take you even to land it or you get written off and then that's the end of the day or else you can't really stop. I'm pretty bad at not stopping but. 


© Matt Georges.


Once you get it in your head you want to get the trick, it's not gonna end. 

And there's so much around the trick as well it's not just doing the trick. You might have spent five days looking and going back to the spot and got kicked out every day, and then on that one day, you have half an hour to land your trick. There are so many things that you don't see in the video that adds to it. 

But it's like you were saying by the bar, all the work of two trips coming down to a ten-minute edit. It must feel quite weird. 

That's it. I learnt how to do a little bit of animation this summer and I feel like it's almost a similar process. You put in hours and hours of work and then you press play once you've rendered your file and then you watch it and you're like 'Is that it?' Not disappointed but you just put in so much effort. 

It's all part of the process. 

Yeah. And it's really nice to build up as well. 

That leads quite nicely into the other thing I wanted to talk to you about, your artwork. You did a collab with Matt Georges for the printed matter of the First Layer Russia project which is really cool. So, to start from the beginning, how did you get into drawing and illustrating? 

I wouldn't call myself an illustrator. I'd just like to say that. I wouldn't call myself an illustrator because I just like to paint and draw and I don't really have a particular style. For example, most artists have a style that they paint in whereas I paint in my living room on my sofa. And it's whatever I feel like painting that day, you know what I mean? So everything is completely different. My Mum always drew, my Grandma also painted, so I've just been surrounded by it. I did GCSE art but I hated it. I guess I just don't like being told what to do. I like it when I decide what I'm doing with it. 

© Matt Georges. Feeling the Russian heat on every corner.


Is there one medium that you prefer? 

I've kind of experimented with everything and I've been painting a lot with acrylics recently. I used to really like watercolour paint because it's not much effort and the paint does a lot of the work for you and makes it look cool without trying too hard. I really like the process of building up stuff with acrylics and layering. I hurt myself skateboarding about six weeks ago. I rolled my ankle so I couldn't walk for two weeks. I just sat on my sofa and blasted out about 50 canvases in six weeks, just painting every day. 

Do you know Niels and Tom? I guess they're pretty big on the acrylics too. 

Tom actually... do you remember the Grindhouse episodes that we use to do? Not the first movie Scare Money, the second movie, Mind Games, I drew the cover for that. And then Tom computerised it and did all the colouring because I had no idea back then how to do it. I don't take it seriously. I just really enjoyed doing it. 

It's definitely important to redirect your energy when you're injured. 

Yeah. Even when you're snowboarding as well. I think if you just snowboard, you can tell because you just get stuck in it. And then if you do other things it inspires you maybe to look at snowboarding in a different way as well. Not art, not photography, just everything. I don't know. It sounds so cliche, and I hate it, it's bull shit, but learning to skate more and skating a lot more has helped. I'm not doing skate spots here. I don't want to rip off skateboarding. But I think you can take influences from it and portray it in snowboarding because it is totally different. But you can take bits of different things and add it all into snowboarding, I think it's really good. 


© Matt Georges. Just a big fat ol' wallie in Moscow.


Watching the film 'Goodbye Horses' there are a few heavily skate influenced tricks, like that front foot no comply.

Right, exactly, yeah. I filmed a wallie as well. A real wallie from flat with no takeoff and just a vertical wall. And I ollied up a stair set as well. It's something new for me. Yeah yeah. It's more interesting for me, I've filmed as many tricks as I can on a handrail now, I don't really want to do any more spins onto a down rail. 

So we mentioned the little collab work with Matt Georges and the First Layer Russia book and newspaper. How did that come about, did he approach you? 

Yeah. I can't thank Matt enough for it because I've always wanted to print my work or do something with it. For Matt to give me the opportunity was amazing. He gave me full freedom and never said  I had to do it a certain way. He just sent me like a couple of things that he had an idea of and then just said do it however you want and left me to do it. In Moscow, I'd done a few paintings and I think that might have sparked the idea a little bit.  Matt is a fucking awesome photographer as well. He shovels fucking hard too. That man can chop some ice. That's for sure. 


© William Sleigh. One proud artist with a selection of his pages in House of Vans London.


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