Photos by Seu Trinh
You’re standing atop an 18-wheeler, skateboard in hand. Staring down the length of the trailer, 15 feet above ground, you throw your board onto the deck and jump on.
After a few pushes for momentum, you’ll have to kick the tail of your board with split-second precision to give you enough lift to clear the gap between your 18-wheeler…and the one parked a dozen feet away. Add a trick rail a few feet above the deck, and you have a recipe for certain catastrophe.
Daewon Song finds stimulation in these situations. Technical street skating is his work and his life. These impossible tricks and jumps are exactly the sort of situations he has created for himself, on a daily basis, for years. “I just love finding new, untouched spots, or obscure obstacles that weren’t meant to be skated….I just go for it, as long as it’s not something I know might not be possible.”
“Daewon has physical gifts that are unparalleled,” says Rodney Mullen. “He has a supernatural quickness and an ability to re-orient or catch his balance that is beyond anyone I’ve ever seen.
The 31-year-old is currently sponsored by a number of different brands, as well as being a partner in boarding brands Almost and Matix. At the ripe old age of 31, the drive to come up with bigger, better, and more innovative stunts is going strong.
From Love Child to his 20-plus list of the famous Rodney vs. Daewon series with skate legend Rodney Mullen, the man is no stranger to amazing video parts, capping it off by winning this year’s Transworld Skateboarding Video Part of the Year. His most recent video, a mini-ramp-only work with legend Chris Haslam called Cheese and Crackers, features a mind-blowing series of stunts on an ever-growing pile of abandoned warehouse parts.
“Daewon has physical gifts that are unparalleled,” says Rodney Mullen. “He has a supernatural quickness and an ability to re-orient or catch his balance that is beyond anyone I’ve ever seen. At a physical level, that has something to do with both his native balance as well as how insanely fast he ‘processes’ things; it’s a layer built on reflex, though much more complex.”
Daewon’s family arrived in Gardena, California, from Seoul, by way of Hawai’i. It was in Gardena that his mom bought him “a generic skateboard from, like, a swap meet-type place,” and soon his interest in skating “grew more and more quickly...just so much freedom.” His persistence and natural talent immediately caught the eye of sponsors, and by the time he was 16, Daewon was skating pro. Nothing if not loyal, Daewon skated professionally for World Industries for the next nine years.
The next stop in his career was DECA skateboards, backed by Dwindle Distribution. The group “consisted of eight riders, four of them being close friends.” But when the company hadn’t gained momentum in its third year, Daewon did the toughest thing he’d ever had to do as a skater: not a stunt, but a shutdown. “Canning the whole thing, leaving eight skaters unemployed, that was hard,” he says. Out of the ashes rose Almost skateboards, a partnership between Daewon, Chris Haslam, Cooper Wilt, and Rodney Mullen, one of Daewon’s closest friends.
“Rodney brought me into this world of skateboarding, so I owe a lot to him,” Daewon says. Not to mention Rodney helped Daewon escape another aspect of street life: gangs. “Where I grew up and went to school was a well-populated gang area. To fit in I went so far as to get jumped in a gang. They became family. For some people they’re the only family they got.” Only after being “busted for breaking into the school and bashing in TV’s and using fire extinguishers to slip and slide down the hallways,” and watching his struggling family pay the resulting fine, did Daewon switch his energy to skating. Not much later, Rodney spied him skating on the street, gave him some boards, and a long-time skating partnership began.
Although he says his parents initially hoped he’d become an architect, Daewon says they were always supportive of his career. “[When my Mom] passed away...it caught me off guard. She would always worry about me and my future, so if she’s watching, I want to make her proud.”
His worst injury “was pretty pathetic,” he says. He and a group of friends were skating a mini-launch ramp, when Daewon decided to try to do “the biggest judo ever.” Unfortunately, the ramp was simply too little for the biggest judo ever, and Daewon wound up taking a major roll. “I tried to get my foot back on [the board], rolled, and broke it. To this day it’s healed wrong.” Instead of seeing a doctor, he simply used crutches for three months. “You can actually feel the break on the side of my foot,” he says.
“He definitely doesn’t assimilate pain the same way we do,” says Rodney. “When he was a kid, I remember one of his patented remedies for tweaked ankles was to take a razor, then slice the skin in fine rows—not all the way through; he’d stop just before it bled. Then he’d rub Ben-Gay in there, or Tiger Balm or whatever he’d find...gnarly.”
Daewon Song seems to be living a blessed life. He does exactly what he loves best for a living.
Does a man who can slice his own ankle up with a razor feel the pressure? Does he ever get nervous sweats from the people who expect him to roll up to a spot and just start killing it? “Of course, everyone expects so much from certain people,” he says. “You could be the best in the world and still mess up going up a curb, or just have the worst day ever, and immediately you’re judged.” But he’s learned to swing with the flow. “This is something you get used to through time, and then it’s no big deal.”
His secret? “A little practice never hurts.” He skates every day for at least eight hours, and isn’t shy about sharing his love for the sport. “I’ve just tried a lot of different things, from skating really technical to skating all ramps and transitions to skating both together. Skateboarding just gives you the freedom to be who you want to be, no questions asked.”
In fact, Daewon Song seems to be living a blessed life. He does exactly what he loves best for a living. Soaring through the air, his stunts inspire even the chokiest kid to try hitting a rock and flying forward onto a smooth clean expanse of pavement. His creative impulses have free rein through his videos and the designs he creates for the skateboard industry. And his business partners are some of his closest friends, like Mullen and Haslam, people he admires not just for being amazing skaters but because “they’re just genuinely nice guys.”
“No matter how talented or disciplined you are,” says Mullen, “you can’t sustain the overall toll it takes on you to achieve what he has without that love for skating in your heart, and Daewon has that in spades.”