Only a handful of people have successfully made a name for themselves in Hong Kong Skateboarding. More so, only a few of them have successfully turned their passion for skating into a proper career. We recently had the privilege of talking with Piet - where he talks us through growing up in Oz, the struggles of migrating to a new city, being a misfit and how a near death experience jump started it all.
Our next feature needs no introduction - read on through to our conversation with Piet Guilfoyle.
"Whatever it is, keep it alive. It’s not always going to be easy, these struggles are what define us."
Video by Ollie Rodgers at Likew1se
Gahyao: Let’s take it from the top man, introduce yourself - where you’re from and what you do.
Piet: So, obviously my name is Piet. I was born in the UK but didn’t really live there for very long. I moved to New Zealand shortly after 6 months, we resided in Auckland til I was about 6 years old. Back then I was primarily living with my grandma, my mother had me when she was quite young and wasn’t fully set up to take care of a child, she lived in Sydney and got on with her career in marketing.
During those 6 years I would visit Australia a lot and she would also visit New Zealand. These trips would happen more and more - and at some point she and her (now) husband were feeling more settled, and I guess felt more comfortable and confident about having me around, so I moved to Sydney when I was 7 years old.
My dad’s job brought us out to Hong Kong in 2005, I was about 16 then.
Photo by Tommy Zhao
G: That’s a while back! We’re talking about 15 years? What was the move like?
P: When people ask me how long I’ve been here, I lose track. Something like 12.. 13.. 14 years soon.
It was definitely awkward. When I first got here I spent some time in limbo because of how the school year is scheduled, I had a few months to kill before school started.. I finished my last 2 years of high school, and that was it - I didn’t go to university and went straight into doing whatever I wanted to do.
G: So what was work like after? Did you end up skating full-time?
P: I started working at 8Five2 pretty soon after graduating. I would be one of those kids that would lurk at the shop that you couldn’t get rid of. I basically gave myself a sales assistant job!
Haha I was always there, I knew everything about the products, I was willing to help.. I wanted to be surrounded by skateboarding ALL THE TIME. When I wasn’t skating, I wanted to be talking about skating or watching skate videos. I became obsessed with it and just wanted to work at a skate shop.
Photo by Acosta
G: Ya, I guess back in those days we didn’t have much access to youtube or social media, so you really had to get out there and live & breathe the lifestyle - that’s how you met people, how you found out about new video parts..
P: Youtube was there for sure, but it wasn’t like it is today. There’s a full length or a video out every single day, there’s so much content coming out. I remember we were still playing dvds at the shop. But social media hadn’t really kicked off yet.
Photo by Dani Bautista
G: What was your first encounter with Skateboarding? Oz obviously has a big surf culture, so it would only be natural to take to skating?
P: There’s actually an interesting story behind it.. My actual first memory was when I was around 5 living in New Zealand. I had a dream that I was snowboarding on sand dunes, I still remember the feeling of excitement that it brought. I don’t know why I had that dream, but I told my parents about it and on my next trip back to see them, they got me a gameboy and a skateboard.
That’s where it kind of all started.
I skated a lot around my house, just tick-tacking around and riding down hills. Obviously learning tricks at that age is quite difficult and I didn’t have anyone to skate with.. I don’t think I skated that much back then, it was just another toy. But at the age of 5, I was able to ride a skateboard.
You know New Zealand is quite isolated, I lived in a small suburb and my grandma would take me to the park where I’d learn to drop in and do really basic stuff. A few times I would eat shit and start crying and run to grans car and just sit out in the parking lot..
When I moved to Australia, it opened up what was available to me. There were more skate parks, more people that skated. I still didn’t really fall in love with skating, it was just a tool I’d use to get around for mobility or transport.
Photo by Owen Yu
G: At what point did you start taking it seriously and started to progress? You’ve obviously been doing this a while and it shows in the way you skate.
P: There’s two real turning points with skating. I was bouncing around between bodyboarding and surfing, I played soccer a lot, riding bikes and rollerblades.. Basically doing everything.
I had a near death experience when I was bodyboarding, I got into a situation way beyond my level of experience.. Well, maybe not beyond my experience, but I went into panic mode and didn’t know what to do. I don’t remember what exactly happened, I just remember drowning and made it back to shore.. It’s so weird, I don’t really remember it, it’s almost like that memory was made up - like it didn’t happen because it’s so fragmented.. I was underwater, and could see the sunlight shining through the top - I felt a sense of calm take over but quickly realized I needed to come up for air!
That experience really sucked, it didn’t really inspire a lot of confidence in the water and so internally, I said fuck this and thought I couldn't drown at the skate park, so I then decided to skate more.
Video by Victoria HK
I lived with the best surroundings you could possibly have, my school bus would drop me off right outside the beach, I’d walk down the beach to my house - if the surf was good I’d go surf, if it was shit I’d go to the skate park. It was kind of like that for 2 to 3 years.
I was really getting into skating right before I moved to Hong Kong. But like I said, I was in limbo, because I knew I’d had to join a completely new system and I would’ve had to restart the year. And so, I wasn’t really taking school seriously, I just wanted to have fun and spend time with my friends before I moved. I got taken out of school for 3 months, which felt like an endless summer.
The idea was that I’d help my mum with the move, but the dates kept getting pushed back.. It really turned into a 3-4 month holiday. I would spend the mornings helping pack and hang out with my mum, then I’d go to the skate park and skate for the afternoon.
The 2nd turning point was when I was getting into school in HK. Making friends isn't easy when you’re 15 and you’re the new kid. All these kids have been going to school together almost their entire lives. It was really hard for me to find a group that I fit into. It was very different.
There was one person that I was friends with in my year, I met him one of the first days that I skated in Hong Kong. I asked him what school he went to and he said West Island and I thought to myself ‘ok - I’m going to go to West Island School!’
Photo by Liang Xiao
G: What parks were open back in those days?
P: Mei Foo, Morrison and Chai Wan.. We’d go to Mei Foo all the time, it was sick. It was pretty much the main park for everyone. Friday and Saturday nights would just be a party, the whole Hong Kong skate community would be there. We’d have these epic sessions and continue the party at the 711 before the last train. Drink beers, talk shit, cause a ruckus - you know, being kids.
But yeah, the 2nd point in my progression was in high school. I didn’t have a lot of friends, I didn’t want to subscribe to that institution so much. I found that I made so many friends at Mei Foo and Morrison Hill who didn’t go to my school, and those were the people that I wanted to hangout with.
So I started chilling with them more and skated a lot, and I remember tricks started becoming easier. I had a lot of fun with it, that was my release, that’s what I wanted to do.
Photo by Tobin Yelland
G: It must have been tough coming to a new city at that age, you’re adjusting to so many things at one time.. Was it hard for you?
P: I wasn’t exactly the best student, I wasn’t causing trouble but I was really trying to just lay low.. Maybe I was a little antisocial? That was one thing that really attracted me to skateboarding - it wasn’t a mainstream thing.
Before I left Australia I was really getting into alternative music, we had a really strong punk and hardcore scene. The fashion that came along with it, what skateboarding looked like (at that time it was a bunch of dudes jumping down big stairs and big rails, Baker 2 & 3 were the bible), tight jeans, rock and roll, partying — that was just so cool to me. All that might be associated with antisocial behavior, but at least I could relate to it 100% you know?
It was good to have a crew that understood each other, skateboarding was just a little part of it.
Photo by Wang Chen Wei
G: Was it through the people you knew that got you riding for Vans? Walk us through how you landed that.
P: I started working at 8Five2 after High School, my friend Dani was working there first. I thought it was so cool that he was working at a skate shop.. He couldn’t get rid of me, eventually Brian started noticing me around the shop and I ended up working there for 2 years. I don't know what I did in particular, but one day, he hit me up and asked me if I wanted to ride for the shop.
I started getting boards and got hooked up with his brand Know1edge (man, that company was so ahead of its time). You know, being around Brian taught me a lot about running a business, being respectful - he was definitely someone that I looked up to. He was doing all the things that I wanted to do as an adult.
About 2-3 years into it, Vans was starting their skate team here, I just happened to be at the right place and the right time you know? There was a bowl contest at Tung Chung skate park, the prize was a trip to Woodward and skate with the China riders in Beijing. I got to know the people there and we connected.
So I ride for Vans 2011/2012, I started going on tours, doing tons of cool stuff, just being a skater. They started paying me a small salary to be an ambassador for the brand. I was still working part-time at the store, doing a bunch of freelance jobs in Film and Photography, I was teaching English too. Just hustling.
Photo by Owen Yu
G: Is being sponsored all that it’s cracked up to be?
P: I can say yes and no.. It was an opportunity to skate not necessarily make a living, they send you to all these different countries in Asia, film different parts, which is exactly what I wanted to do at that time. It was good.
It’s all a blur, those 6 years we just skated a lot. Til about 4 years ago, I needed a little bit more stimulus in my life, getting to skate everyday was dope… But I wanted something that challenged me outside of skateboarding. I was getting worried about what the future held, I needed to do more for myself. I had a lot of free time, and approached Vans with this situation - asked them if there was anything I could do for them, I was down to do whatever. They ended up putting me in charge of managing the relationship between them and 8five2 at the indoor park.
I started getting more and more responsibilities, being brought into the office more and doing team management stuff. The people running things were marketing executives (who were doing a great job) but needed someone on ground with skate experience.
About 6 months ago I applied for a position as Brand Manager for Action Sports, and I got it.
Photo by Tommy Zhao
G: Why do you think skate brands or the skate community haven't broken through mainstream / international success like you would see out in the US or UK or Europe?
P: Skating is still in its infancy here, now in the last couple years we’ve really started to see the talent that’s out here. There’s a number of reasons, the platforms for the skaters to succeed haven’t been there - there weren’t any sponsors or large businesses like Vans & New Balance to support. Filmers & Videographers weren’t readily available to capture every single moment of the career..
That’s what changed, now we’re starting to see all these really good skaters coming out of Asia and starting to make a bit of an imprint on skateboarding. We still got a long way to go though. I guess the challenge for brands is to get these super talented people global visibility.
Photo by Owen Yu
G: Any advice for kids who want to start a career in skating?
P: Tip # 1 - Personality (having a good one) takes you a long way. Having the ability to communicate and just being a good dude - someone that people wanna hang out with - being nice gets you very far. You can be the best skater in the world but be a dick and you will not succeed - 100% truth. As much as skating is not a team sport, it does require you to work with other people.
Another thing is shutting up and getting out there, let your skating do the talking. You better be able to back it up. Document everything you’re doing, it’s like I mentioned about people outside not knowing how good you are or what makes you special - document everything in and out of skating.
Photo by Owen Yu
G: What does Ga Yau mean to you?
P: Oh man, Ga Yau means to keep the fire burning even through the tough times. Whatever it is, keep it alive. It’s not always going to be easy, these struggles are what define us.
When you’re facing tough times it can seem like there is no end in sight but once you get through it and you reflect on what’s happened - you’ll fully appreciate what you’ve gone through, how it’s changed you and where you are today. It’s always good to keep a positive mindset (which is easier said than done) and although we each have different experiences and beliefs, we are all fighting our own personal battles - to become better people - and on that level we all have something in common, take comfort in knowing that we are all in this together.