Interview with Malo Dognin from Trà Đá skatemag
Photos by Malo Dognin
‘It is basically the city that wants to be like New York with huge
skyscrapers and fancy life but very controlled with less freedom
and self expression.’
Before we talk about Vietnam and its skate community, we need to understand who you are. From what I know is that you are French and moved to Vietnam 5 years ago. Why did you move?
My name is Malo and I always wanted to live abroad, discover different culture. I had the chance to travel a lot, to study in Prague for one year and live in Barcelona for a month, it was great but it didn’t feel like visiting another planet. I always felt that Asia was the most different culture. Luckily, the company where I was doing my final internship for my master degree in France had a subsidiary in Vietnam, and they hire me after the internship.
How easy was it for you to be accepted into the local skate community? We skaters pride ourselves as being people without borders, so I am curious to understand your experience.
That’s definitely true for everywhere in the world, you just go somewhere with your board, find a spot and instantly connect with the locals, same there. The only difficulty was the language barrier, especially in Ha Noi. kids start to speak English, but some does not so sometimes it was hard to have a conversation.
Who is the most talented skateboarder in Vietnam at the moment?
Ahah that depends what kind of skateboarding you like, Street league style or creative Skateboarding is really new there, the oldest generation skating is only around 30 years old. So to mention few names, Bao Nguyen and Linh Do are the oldest dudes skating I guess. The new generation is learning very fast Cong Le, Anh Tran, … And many many others. Even if it’s pretty new, there are many girls skating, that’s very inspiring in a country (like almost everywhere in the world) where girls are just supposed to be good housekeeper and good mum, An Mui, Linh Ca, Danh Trương…
Do you know of any Vietnamese skateboarders making a name for themselves outside Vietnam?
Skateboarding is still so new here, some are known in the country around such as Thailand or China because of their traveling or Asian contest like the South East Asian Games but no one is known worldwide. The few I can think of are the ones that have Vietnamese origin but are born abroad like Don Nguyen, Jon Nguyen or Denny Pham.
“That says a lot about western mentality and our ego. We basically use this country as our manufacturer because it’s cheap but we don’t distribute there because we consider there is no market and so there is no tour or demo organized by western brand. So basically, it is very hard for Vietnamese skaters to buy a product made in their own country.”
Are there any skateshops or do you have to import stuff yourself?
Yes there are few in Hanoi, probably one in Da Nang and two in Saigon (sorry if I forgot some). It’s very few compared to the size of the country. A big problem is that there is no distribution in Vietnam. So even if most of the skateshoes are made in Vietnam, locals skateshops have to import it from America or directly from the factory but it is not official. That says a lot about western mentality and our ego. We basically use this country as our manufacturer because it’s cheap but we don’t distribute there because we consider there is no market and so there is no tour or demo organised by western brand. So basically, it is very hard for Vietnamese skaters to buy a product made in their own country.
This is where humanity goes completely wrong again. On that note, how much does complete deck costs from the local skate shop?
So for the brands that we all know it is pretty much the same price than Europe which is crazy expensive for them. A board would cost around $85$. There are some Chinese set up that are definitely way cheaper but the quality seems pretty terrible overall.
Are there any local/national brands within the skate industry?
There are a lot actually, since Vietnam is basically one of the main manufacturer in the world, it is very easy to make clothes and import boards from China. So basically, many skateboarders are making their own brands which is pretty cool. They don’t make much money for most of them but it helps them to be more creative. There are Bélier, La Vague…in Ha Noi and Have fun with homies, Oldies… in Saigon. Rienevan is also a very interesting one based in Da Nang since they are making skateshoes.
‘So basically, many skateboarders are making their own brands
which is pretty cool. They don’t make much money for most of
them but it helps them to be more creative.’
Where is the biggest skate community in Vietnam?
I would say Saigon have the biggest skate community as it is the biggest city but it barely has any spots. All the good plaza are watched by security and it is an instant bust, so skating there is a real hustle unfortunately. It is basically the city that wants to be like New York with huge skyscrapers and fancy life but very controlled with less freedom and self expression.
On the opposite, Ha Noi in the north has probably less skateboarders but amazing spots that come from their communist culture. Lenin square or Ly Thai To Plaza are amazing with marble stairs, ledges, manual pad and of course huge statue of Lenin or Ly Thay To… If you go there at the end of afternoon when it’s less hot, the spots are so crowded. Old ladies are preparing cold drinks, while kids are driving small electric car, couples are dancing salsa, younger people hip-hop, some play football and badminton. Skating in this chaos is pretty magical, the energy of those moments is amazing.
What are the most popular skatespots in Saigon?
You have Vincom commercial center, Independent Palace in District 1 and Crescent Mall in District 5.
Are there any official skateparks in Saigon or across Vietnam?
In the whole Vietnam, you have almost nothing. There is just one tiny bowl in a bar in District 2 and a place for rollerblading that is opened for skateboarding twice a week where we put few modules.
How are the funded? Does the government provide any support?
No man, government is mostly a bunch of corrupted people. Vietnam is being more and more developed regarding living standard and that’s all the government cares about. The country has been ravaged by colonialism and wars for decades. It was not very longtime ago, so it is very normal to care about people living standard but self expression, culture and creativity has been damaged too. Those are also vitals for human being, but no one cares.
What are some of the local customs a foreign skater needs to be aware of before potentially grinding down an old Buddha statue?
Well there’s a major issue due to the fact that Asians in general tends to worship western white people. So don’t act like a prick just because no one calls you out. Just be a modest decent human being and everything will be fine. And of course don’t skate there temples and pagodas, it’s disrespectful.
When you first started moved to Vietnam 5 years ago, how much has the skate community changed?
Everything evolves so fast here, each years the skate community just get bigger and bigger.
What are some of the challenges skateboarding in Vietnam faces today?
Well, skateboarding in Vietnam right now is pretty much a copy of what happens in America or Europe. Ideally in the future, the locals will create their own identity inspiring by their history, their culture in order to develop their own industry, distribution, skateparks. Evisen and the kate industry in Japan is a pretty good example to follow.
Last question. If you could interview a person, who would it be and why?
That would be Nguyễn Sinh Cung better known as Ho Chi Minh to know what he would think of actual Vietnam and what he imagined for his country after he declared the independence.