Skating Copenhagen with Bianca Chandon’s Alex Olson

The Pro-Skater-Turned-Designer on Meditation and Making Friends

  • Interview: Zoma Crum-Tesfa
  • Photography: Lukas Gansterer

After reaching legend status in videos like Supreme’s “Cherry,” Alex Olson’s work has taken him into the center of another conversation. With skate culture making its way deeper and deeper into the fashion spotlight, he and his two brands, Bianca Chandon and Call Me 917, have made him a highly visible model of the self-taught skater-turned-entrepreneur. Olson asserts that he himself has no style and hates buying clothes, acknowledging fashion’s interest in skating as a fixation on one of the world’s last subcultures— one that seems to only get stronger with the rise of social networking. Things are changing fast, but in the meantime, he’s skating the Copenhagen Open, trying to keep things chill.

Olson spoke with Zoma Crum-Tesfa about his meditation practice, choosing a skate team, and the first time Jason Dill bought him a plane ticket to New York.

Zoma Crum-Tesfa

Alex Olson

What does a typical day for you look like?

I do three different forms of meditation in the morning. I do a mindful meditation, guided. Headspace is an app for that. It’s a 15-minute meditation where you sit there, visualize your body being hit with sunlight, and then try to relax and feel that emotion. There’s a meditation called HRV—heart rate variance—and that’s all about syncing your mind with your heart rate and controlling your heart rate with your breathing. I do that for ten minutes with a heart rate monitor—and if you get bad thoughts, your heart goes down. It’s really interesting and it feels really good. The third one I do is Wim Hof. He was a Dutch man called “The Iceman” who basically explored all different forms of yoga and cultivated his own version. It’s like HRV, but using the cold and natural elements. He can sit in glacial water for an hour, and swim in glacial water and have no problem. Scientists would tell you you’d die of hypothermia, but his focus is so strong because he’s been doing it for 30 years. The whole process takes about an hour—Wim Hof is the longest.

“It was an experiment that was just meant to be fun and not serious. And then it got serious.”

How long have you been meditating?

About a year.

You must be pretty busy working on your company. How did all that start?

I started it because I quit a skateboard company that I rode for. And then I was like, “Oh, I need a skateboard sponsor.” In order to be sponsored by another company—like Nike—you need to have a board sponsor. That’s kind of like your base. It’s like if you’re a big artist, you need to have a big gallery. Your board sponsor is like your gallerist, so to speak. But at the same time, I wanted it to be different. I didn’t want it to be a skateboard company, because there’s only one audience. It was an experiment that was just meant to be fun and not serious. And then it got serious.

It seems effortless from far away. You already had a kind of iconic style.

I don’t think I have a style. I don’t even buy my clothes. I did at one point, but it takes so much work to go out and be like, “I want to look like this.” There’s so many clothes in the world that you don’t need new clothes.

But you’re also making new clothes. So how do you reconcile that?

I’m aware of that. I wish I could make old clothes. I read the Patagonia book, and I was like, “I really need to change.” It says that if you want to be conscious and 100% sustainable, you should buy used clothes, not new clothes. It’s a great book. I recommend it to anyone that’s going to start a business.

Do you sponsor kids now? Is there someone you want to give a shout-out to?

Max Palmer, who skates for 917. He’s really quiet, but he made this show, and I didn’t get to see it because I was out of town. I think a lot of people were very impressed, and it was very unexpected because it was all sculpture.

When you look at people to sponsor, what are you usually looking for?

When I first started 917, it was the kids that were hanging out at the skate park that weren’t necessarily good. There was a time in skateboarding when everything was so polished, so sponsoring kids who weren’t of the caliber that you had to be was more interesting. But they’re all definitely good now. I just wanted to put kids on that were all friends with each other. That vibe would have been more realistic than putting on a bunch of people that didn’t like each other or were more competitive. I just wanted to put a group of friends on and see what happened.

“There was a time in skateboarding when everything was so polished, so sponsoring kids who weren’t of the caliber that you had to be was more interesting.”

And you think that things are less polished in skating now?

I think so. It’s also a lot more common to start your own brand.

Is it interesting for you to watch skating become the center of a new fashion culture?

Well, I think it’s just of the times right now. Skating is one of the few things that is still a culture. Music is not really a culture anymore. We can all subscribe to something and have a library of music. Then with photography, we’re all photographers now—we all have cameras on our phones. So, that’s also been homogenized to the point where it falls to the wayside a bit. But with skating, you have something that can’t just be wrapped up into a paragraph. It has this misfit youth thing to it that people often romanticize. There’s a mystique about it that people want. But that’s also me stroking my own ego.

It seems like skating requires a kind of shared belief.

A lot of skaters now—the group of friends I have in New York that are younger than me—they all met through YouTube. It’s so interesting and cool. They just messaged each other because of the videos they posted. And then they became friends, because they would fly out and stay at each other’s houses.

I love the ingenuity of a young one!

Now, anywhere in the world, skaters kind of take each other under their wings. I wouldn’t say that for myself. I was definitely more like: “Fuck that, you can’t stay with me, I don’t know you!”

But you were also a skate ingénue yourself.

Definitely not.

But you were making skate trips from Los Angeles to New York when you were 18.

I remember talking to Jason Dill—and he was a big pro skater—and being like, “Hey, I would love to come to New York.” I just sent him a message on a whim on Facebook or Myspace. He bought me a ticket, I flew there, and he introduced me to a big handful of people who were all in the scene at that moment—this was in 2005. I think that’s when a lot of stuff got started. Dan Colen and all those people were having their breakout moment. I guess a lot of the energy was in that clique of people.

What do you think it was about your skating that earned you a plane ticket?

I don’t know. The really good quality about Jason is that he’s very very generous, and would take care of people in that way. I think he likes new people. That’s a trait a lot of people have.

  • Interview: Zoma Crum-Tesfa
  • Photography: Lukas Gansterer