Both Sides Now: Matt Berger Interview

Written by Niall Neeson

Being a professional skateboarder is a highly-coveted status to attain, and there are many thousands of very talented people knocking on that door every day. Matt Berger has straddled every aspect of what it means to be a professional skateboarder and done so, as in his skating, with a mix of both grace and authority. Within his pro career he has seen skateboarding change in many different ways and in this ever-evolving landscape his insights are valuable- plus, he is having the time of his life. Sitting in 19th in the OWSR for Men's Street, he is part of a Canadian crew taking on the contest powerhouse nations at their own game.

So: without bigging him up any further, let’s just say we are very pleased indeed to have the opportunity to share some of his sage, worldly, thought-provoking perspective on our shared love called skateboarding.

Meet the mighty Matt Berger.

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Ph: Jeff Landi

Hi, Matt- can you talk to us a bit about your life in skateboarding to date?

I grew up in a small city called Kamloops, in British Columbia, Canada. I've lived and breathed skateboarding since the year 2000- and grew up with a dream of traveling the world through skateboarding and becoming a professional. I've been incredibly blessed.

The biggest mistake in being a professional skateboarder is to not pause to take it in at the time, because life begins to move fast just at that point- what do you think about that idea?

I believe it comes down to the skater's mentality. There have been moments where I've been so militant with ‘What's next?’ that I didn't take in the depth of certain moments in my career, but I've certainly enjoyed the ride. The only constant in our industry is skateboarding; everything else surrounding it is forever changing and evolving. Enjoy the journey, as they say.

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Kickflip back tail Ph: Anthony Acosta

How has your experience of the Road To Paris been, as compared to Tokyo?

The path to Tokyo was uncharted territory for all of us; it was Covid times, and the world was just beginning to reopen. Now, with Paris, we get a chance to experience what the real Olympics will be like with fans in the crowd and actual energy at the event. We all were introduced to what ‘Olympic Skateboarding’ looked like in Tokyo, but never got the true experience. I will say: it is wild to see how much it has all evolved in such a short period of time. I'd say the only difference is, I love skateboarding more than I ever have in my life, right now. Any skater who understands that deep obsession to skate can relate to it- and it's a spot I hope all skaters find and stay in.

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Ph: Kenji Haruta

It seems to me like Canada and Australia have shown a little bit of their skateboarding depth just at the right time on the World Skateboarding Tour. Everybody knows the Americans, Japanese, Brazilians will show up, but Canada and Australia have been quietly working away and have made their mark just when it matters…

We all grew up in Canada with limited resources to skate. Most of us could only skate six-to-seven months of the year, depending on the seasons. That's always led me to believe it's created a stronger drive to go out and skate with Canadians. At the end of the day when it comes to these contests, I'm more concerned with going out and stepping on my board on my own terms. There is a level of having to play the game in a contest; but, at the end of the day, If I step on my board and skate for the right reasons and push myself, where I end up is fine by me. With skateboarding going to the Olympics and the creation of ‘National Teams’- end of the day, skateboarding is still a battle against oneself and your capabilities.

Have you ever just totally missed the lock on those Nollie Front Blunts? Seems like a ‘wake up screaming’ kind of slam…

Yeah, that trick has a fine line. Get too comfortable with it and you could get smoked.

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Nollie frontside bluntslide. Ph: Anthony Acosta

Having been around skateboarding enough to recognise phases and tides in the industry: what would you say the current sponsorship opportunities are, compared to when you were starting out?

The industry has changed so much since I've been a part of it, but at the end of the day, I believe the model of building a career is the same. Video parts are the cornerstone of every skateboarder's career and always will be. Similar to how an artist paints for many months or years and releases a gallery show that positively impacts the community. Contests are also an important part of that equation, as well- but you're only ever as good as your previous place in a contest. On the contest side of things, it's been beneficial for certain contest skateboarders. The different companies getting involved to support are bringing opportunities we've never seen before and have opened a whole new category for sponsorship that didn't exist before in the industry. The only downside is the majority of these types of deals are short-term, one-off deals of sponsorship to be a part of that hopeful journey to the podium. That rarely brings any long-term support to the skaters or industry. Considering how underpaid most skaters are, I'm always stoked to hear any skater getting a deal no matter the length. Hopefully, as things evolve in skateboarding, the companies that have short-term visions within the industry see the value in building a program for the long term for their companies, and the skaters they support.

On the street side, the deals are for a select few street skaters who earn it and play the game well. The beauty is, these brands are a part of the industry for the long-term and have given sustainable careers for the skaters they support and contribute to the community, skate shops and skate scenes. The bottom line is, all sorts of paths and opportunities that didn't exist ten years ago are here- I'm stoked to see it all unfold.

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Nollie heelflip back lip. Ph: Kenji Haruta

Does skateboarding need big cyclical events to re-spark interest in the wider public these days? In previous eras, video games did that job, but today there is so much competition for young people’s attentions…

I believe skateboarding was in a healthy place before the Olympics and will continue to do so with skateboarding in the Olympics. Skateboarding never needed a ‘re-spark’ to push for a wider public audience, it was doing just fine before and will continue to do so. Skateboarding has been built by those who've lived and breathed skateboarding no matter the trend or public interest, and will continue to do so.

Where do you feel most at home?

I've always felt I've had two homes. One in Canada, and one in the US. I love going back to my roots where I grew up in Canada. The people and nature have always felt like home. On the other hand, I skateboard for a living and live in my second home in California. I also love the great friends I have and the weather letting us skate all year round. 

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Signing the Olympic wall at the IOC headquarters in Lausanne. Ph: Jake Darwen

Can you talk a bit about how the importance of magazines in shaping careers has changed in your time as a pro?

The creation of social media has unfortunately impacted the editorial side of things, but it still carries a heavy importance and always will. I grew up reading every skate mag I could get my hands on- and still do, to this day. 

It's the lifeblood of our community and will continue to be. Physically holding a magazine- and having the many eras of skateboarding documented in a mag- I hope never disappears. 

Board sponsors used to be the kind of legitimacy hub, off which spun everything else in terms of sponsorship, coverage and so on. Now that idea seems to have all-but collapsed. What gives?

It definitely hasn't collapsed. It still carries a standard of legitimacy and always will. I believe with so many new brands existing, some may not carry the same weight as others- which has maybe blurred the ‘legitimacy’ you're speaking of. Optically, the skateboarding industry may look massive via Instagram likes and YouTube views, but the industry is still small and there is only so much market cap to work with. At the same time, there are a ton of incredible skateboarders around the world who could be good enough to ride for a brand. At the same time again, though, as we all know within the industry, just being good at skateboarding doesn't necessarily equate to you getting a pro-board. Where are the video parts? Where's the editorial? Do you fit with everyone on the brand?

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Answers on a postcard Ph: Mark Dillon

Can you tell us about some of the places skateboarding has taken you?

Since I was a kid my dream was to travel the world with skateboarding. It's been a wild ride around the world. I've been to all over Europe, too many times to count, the Middle East, and Africa all thanks to skateboarding. One of my most memorable trips was a skate trip to the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. We helped build a concrete mini ramp for a local village and their local water wells on a skate trip/ charity trip. I've always cherished that one the most, thanks to all of the lessons and welcoming culture they brought. Shout out to Izzy and the Megabi Skate crew!

The activity of skating is its own reward and everything else that surrounds it is just a game. Is that the secret to staying in love with it?

Find the clarity of why you step on your board and do what you do, and no matter the scenario or environment it can be fun- no matter what.

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Ph: Kenji Haruta

What’s coming down the road for Matt Berger in the rest of this year and into next?

After this Olympic run is wrapped up, I'm looking forward to locking back into the streets and finishing my next video part. I've been sitting on a few minutes of footage and hyped to get back get into the wild and wrap it up. Contest wise, as long as I still enjoy it and have the opportunity to skate, I'll be there.

Last words? 

Thank you, skateboarding.