Sem Rubio

June 2021

There is more to Sem Rubio than his book with the legendary Mark ‘Gonz’ Gonzales.

Sem Rubio - Street Photography, Portraits, Skateboarding
Silas Baxter-Neil - Wallride Kickflip - Moscow

You started skating in 1988. What triggered your desire to give it a try?
First it was ‘Back To The Future’ that made me want to grab a skateboard. I used to do downhills and jump around landing on my board. Then a couple of friends from my neighbourhood started skating too and we found the movie ‘Thrashin’, where they were doing ollies. We though they glued the shoes to the boards, we didn’t really know how they did it. Until we learned ollies and started finding a skate mag here and there, and finally some video tapes. 

Who was your first pro rider that you looked up to at that time?
Natas! The first real skate videotape we got to watch was ‘Streets Of Fire’ and Natas Kaupas blowed my mind. But there so many that influenced my skating during the years. For example, Matt Hensley who I had the pleasure to meet in LA. Funny because at some point EVERYONE was trying to look and skate like Hensley. Super influential skateboarder that in my opinion has not had the historic attention he deserves. And Mark Gonzales obviously. This came out pretty late though, because we got our hands on Video Days years later it came out. Again, it was really hard to get any skateboarding thing where in the 80s/90s where I lived. 

Later on I liked a lot Jeremy Wray, Kris Markovich and Jamie Thomas. These guys took skateboarding out of that shitty ‘Pressure Flip’ stage that almost kills skateboarding. I was lucky to meet the latter and skate with him for a while in the late 90’s.

I came across your Youtube skate clip called ‘instantes’. Man you had some tricks up on your sleeves like this backside tailside down a handrail. Were you happy how far you progressed as a skateboarder?
I am. For sure I dreamed about being pro as a kid like everyone, but I had so much respect for skateboarding and for what being a pro meant that when a brand asked me to make me professional… I said no. I didn’t think I deserved it.

“Super influential skateboarder that in my opinion has not had the historic attention he deserves”

Sem Rubio - Street Photography, Portraits, Skateboarding
Raul Navarro - Flip - Barcelona

Hang on. You turned down an offer to become a pro? 
Yes, I did. It was a small European brand. I rejected because I though it wasn’t honest. At that time, pro models from small local brands were popping out everywhere from people who (in my opinion) didn’t deserve to be pro, as in my “pro standards”. So, I decided it was more important to stay true to my idea of what a pro was, than having a souvenir I knew I would end up hating. Skateboarding is for yourself anyways, so who cares.

You started shooting skateshots in 2000. Only 2 years later you turned this hobby into your profession. You must be a quick learner. What was the turning point to do it? 
I do learn fast specially if the subject means something to me, and photography did. Injuries made the whole process faster too. In a way I felt I had wasted a lot of good years to have finished a career at something. I loved skateboarding but it was not going to bring food to my table. I quit architecture studies years back just to be able to skate, and I kind of regretted it. So, I just dived into photography.

“For sure I dreamed about being pro as a kid like everyone, but I had so much respect for skateboarding and for what being a pro meant that when a brand asked me to make me ”

Sem Rubio - Street Photography, Portraits, Skateboarding
Madars Apse - Switch Flip - Canary Islands

In an interview with you said that “I just shoot  things that make me feel good or find interesting”. There is never a  conflict with this philosophy when you are commissioned by big  corporate brands such as Adidas, Vans and Carhartt? I am sure there  were times where their brief did make you feel good (apart from getting paid) or you found interesting. 
Yes, that’s a really good point. Let me clarify: in that interview I meant when I shoot stuff for myself or when I do projects by myself like Mark Gonzales book. But I’m a professional and will give my 100% on any project. 

I do shoot stuff for myself all the time, even while doing other jobs. I did this with Mark Gonzales book and for smaller projects too. Skate trips have a lot of down time where you basically do nothing and it’s a great chance to walk around and shoot. I also will just go out late at night and early in the morning to shoot other stuff. Some other times I would just stay a few extra days by myself. I don’t know, it makes me feel I didn’t just waste my time.

It sounds like a fairy tale story that this boy from a Spanish tourist place teams up with Mark Gonzales to work on. Did or does it still feel surreal?
Yeah, it’s nice. I mean, I’m just no one from the middle of nowhere… But I’ve been shooting with Mark since 2010 so it just clicked together. 

I don’t know, I’ve tried to just focus on delivering the best photography I possibly can since I started shooting, have fun with it and stay true to my passion. The rest just came by itself. 

With this I mean I never went the cock-sucking route, trying really hard on getting connected with the people I could get a bite from. I am also not the hypocrite type that works so well to reach the high spheres of the industry. I just can’t pretend to like you if I think you are an idiot. 

So I’ve got where I got purely from my photography. Not because of my social skills. I’m really proud of that. I’m also proud certain people always can’t stand it. 

Sem Rubio - Street Photography, Portraits, Skateboarding
Gonz - New York

“The project came in a time where I had very big disappointments from some people who I thought got my back and turned out they were ready to stab me in the back”

My first thought was how come Mark picks this guy from Costa Brava?! Surely he knows other professional skate photographers closer to home. However when I did some more research I learned that you initiated this idea. This goes to show that you need to take initiative rather than waiting for people knocking on your door. What are the other reasons you think Gonz wanted to work with you? 
I think it’s because the whole thing came out spontaneously and that’s how he rolls. I hope he also likes my photos a little bit too… 

The project came in a time where I had very big disappointments from some people who I thought got my back and turned out they were ready to stab me in the back. I decided to leave all that bullshit behind me and focus onto something I really felt passionate about, with the people I really wanted to work.

Sem Rubio - Street Photography, Portraits, Skateboarding
Jake Donnelly - Switch Heelflip - New York

Can you elaborate on the biggest challenge that you experienced?
I won’t get into details because I am a gentleman and the book is something I want to remember in a positive vibe. The people who actively and passively tried to put obstacles in this project (they know who they are) don’t mean a thing in my life. The important thing is Mark, Tia and me made it. I only have words to thank the people who genuinely helped and collaborated (they know who they are too).

Skateboarding seems to be no different to other industries with people playing ugly games and back stabbing? What happened the past 30 years or do you think it was always that way? 
There is a lot of healthy and positive people in Skateboarding industry. People who is really trying their best to do things right.

But when the cake is big enough, you’ll have to deal with toxic jerks. People who are there just to be friends of the VIP brand or name and climb the power/influence ladder. The bigger the cake, the more you’ll find lurking around. That’s just the nature of it.

Sem Rubio - Street Photography, Portraits, Skateboarding
Nestor Judkins - BS Tailslide - New York

In you said that ‘I enjoy skateboarding very differently than 20 years ago’. Can you elaborate in what way?
Yeah, back then I couldn’t even imagine Skateboarding without progression. But now I am happy just by cruising or doing powerslides or a couple ollies. I am happy with my skateboarding de-progression, ha!

I appreciate not taking skateboarding too seriously. Life got simpler and better. Which at the same time is the opposite of what’s coming with the Olympics.

What is the proudest moment within your skateboarding dimension?
Mark Gonzales book. I created it out of nothing and made it work out of stubbornness. Thanks to Mark Gonzales, Tia Romano Gonzales and a few other good people, it worked.

The book also comes in a time where I don’t think I will be shooting skateboarding anymore, at least not extensively. If that’s the case it’s not a bad way to say ‘Adiós’.

Sem Rubio - Street Photography, Portraits, Skateboarding
Gonz - Los Angeles