Yaje Popson is a pro skater for Alien Workshop who shoots photography and creates and collects art. He’s got a unique loose style on a skateboard and his tricks are super tech but he takes a fluid, flowing approach to doing them. No matter the move that he makes on his board in his parts there always seems to be an intricate and creative twist to all of his skate clips.
If Yaje is not leaning all the way back on his Switch Back Smiths, he’s whipping around super quick Backside 360 Ollies on rough ground or launching Backside Bonelesses down handrails.
His skating has consistently evolved with each dope video part he’s released and his tricks and lines are always constantly energetic, spontaneous and creative. Like the abstract pieces of art that he makes, you always see a new angle on every rewatch of a Yaje part. If it’s not how tough the trick is, you will look again to realise how difficult the spot he just handled is to skate.
He’s got an urge to do things in his own style or that have never been done.
Similarly, in conversation he’s a humorous open-minded spirit who takes a liberal mindset to the world, his own skating and his photography and thoughts on artwork.
In this way he allows new ideas and inspirations to guide his approach, he doesn’t let himself get hung up on traditions or rules and he’s always trying to push forward on and off his board.
After getting in touch with him just to talk about his skating but discovering he shoots photo and makes and collects art, we got into a longer conversation and it turned out we had a lot in common. So we had to find out more about his pro career, tricks and clips, his creative projects and find out what he’s been up to over Lockdown.
We discovered all of that and more and by the end of our chat, Yaje was down to join The No Comply Network.
Find out everything we talked about in Yaje’s interview to hear how he first got a board, growing up in New York, how he originally got sponsored, his photography, the cameras he’s found a passion for, skating Tompkins, filming for his Transworld – Riddles in Mathematics section, stacking clips with Chris Thiessen, collecting art, making his part for The DANY video with Emilio Culan, Genesis Evans and Shawn Powers, why his part is soundtracked by Ross from Friends, skating for Alien Workshop, Alien trips to Mexico with Joey Guevara, visiting Aztec Temples, shredding the Pyramid Ledges in NY, SW Back Smiths, his favourite thing about Chewy Cannon’s skating, the key to SW FS Heels, Backside 360’s, Brazil, his pro board collab with London music label Hyberdub and Burial and his favourite skaters, styles, spots, videos, art, music and photos of all-time.
Read the Yaje Popson interview below to find it all out for yourself and more.
I first saw skateboarding when I was in the back of a cab at 5 years near old near Punjabi on Houston Street. I was standing up looking out the sun whilst roof surfing and that was the day I realised, that this, is what I want to do.
Skateboarding felt like the closest thing you to freedom.
I was also a little ninja as a child jumping from here to there so I think it was meant to be.
In that Tompkins short film Alien made about you, you can see that you collect African sculptures and tribal masks, what do you look for in a new piece for the wall?
That is my mom’s collection, we have lived in that apartment for my whole life, making the best of it. Our family treasure is in art.
What inspires you both to collect sculptures and statues?
The art of appreciation.
What’s it been like in New York over Lockdown?
Probably not as bad as the rest of the world because we were in the first world, but with the whole city temporarily abandoned it was a magical moment for street skateboarding, I wish I took more advantage in filming, but I also understood the hysteria, no one wanted to film.
Where have you been skating most recently?
My hometown city in Brazil – Belo Horizonte. It has many spots and the vibe of a crusty Barcelona.
How did your Transworld Riddle in Mathematics section come together?
After coming back from a hiatus in Brazil for healing, Chris Thiessen had picked up on my come back, at the same time that he was simultaneously selecting a squad for the new Transworld video and he fed my flame. I think this was back in 2015.
Favourite trick in your Riddles in Mathematics part?
The bump to Nosegrind pop out I did in Barcelona was one of the swiftest in and out missions I have ever experienced, couldn’t believe when we had clocked it in, such a good feeling.
I had tried it a day before and got tired out, so we went back the next day or so, and we could see how they were pressure washing the entire park with some sort of waxy liquid causing the whole place to be slippery.
Literally they were spraying the next ledge over from it but instead of getting discouraged we made due with ten minutes tops.
I grinded it once, five oh’d it and I think I landed the first committed. I figured out the physics or something the pop out happened so easy.
Interesting how we can try so hard sometimes but this extra effort comes with a heaviness and is often not what is required to roll away, it lined up perfectly in that moment and minutes later the whole spot was wet.
Your SW Ollie the bump to bar to SW Wallride in that part is sick. How long did it take and what was it like to roll away?
Cheers, that was an honour to battle, at first I didn’t know if I was capable of doing it. I had played with it a day before to see if it was possible but didn’t feel fully committed.
Came back to it with fresh legs and I just had to build the confidence to scratch out of it. Sometimes all it takes is to mentally break the barrier but what it takes to get there, is where the work is.
What’s your favourite shoe to skate in at the moment?
I’m in quite a minimalist moment in my life with this abundance of information and stimulus constantly coming at us.
I just like to clear my head and wear Vans, as a classic in skateboarding, they have the best board feel and flick.
How did you end up skating to Ross from Friends ‘Talk to Me and You’ll Understand’ track in The DANY Video?
With the 1980’s comeback that happened in the mid 2000-teens, even skaters started listening to House and Techno,
What was the best part of filming that DANY section?
The best part of filming for The DANY video was cruising Soho, New York on late nights during summer 2016 with the whole crew catching clips with Emilio, Jason Byoun, Shawn Powers, Adam Zhu and Genesis Evans.
Everyone would take turns thinking of ideas they already had or stumbling upon spots and stacking clips. It was a free for all and what dreams are made of, will remember those nights for the rest of my life.
In that part, you do one of our favourite SW BS Smiths on that curve ledge. How long did it take and what was it like to land it?
There are certain tricks I specifically chose and persisted on, and that was one of them. It’s not uncommon for me to go back three or four times to log and land a trick. I was bent on that one and knew eventually it would align.
I had been doing that trick for a while and wanted to perform it on something worthwhile. It felt good to rollaway but it feels funny when you glorify something so much and realise what it takes to rollaway, is actually to not aggrandise it.
We are so much more capable than we give ourselves credit, we create our own limitations.
What inspired your SW Flip Backlip to 50-50 down the mini Hubba at Colombus?
In an attempt at making a living at what I love to do I always find myself learning and pushing new tricks, having that drive is a blessing and a curse ain’t it? Because you’re never really satisfied.
The grind down was a happy accident, definitely tried a cleaner one with four wheels into the bank and had it, but missed the window. I was gonna go back but it ended up being useable.
Did you film that at Columbus and the front nose pop over ledge that same day?
To quote Niels Bennett, one day we were talking and he said “I will notice someone’s filler over their ender any day” . It is a lifestyle, a language, this is the way we communicate with our environment and push the culture.
That trick was a treat, for the love of that move and the spot, no one had popped over the ledge much yet at the time except for maybe Leo Gutman.
I still remember when the blocks were unskateable and had wood all over them, so it was fun. In one clip I had yellow pants and the other had orange pants haha so different days.
What’s your favourite trick in that part and why?
The back 180 grind to forward on the Washington Square monument was a favorite.
It was real spinal and required a lot of focus because I was hauling ass and wanted to make it look proper.
I definitely got a chick’s number that day, best summer of 2016 nearing the end of filming, good memories.
Who has your favourite part in the DANY video and why?
Jason Byoun had my favorite part in The DANY video because he is such a pure skate rat and knows it too haha which kind of spoils but really doesn’t give a shit about being sponsored and in this is a strength. Jason is untouchable.
You had a TWS cover Pole Jam 50-50ing the Columbus rail and a recent Solo Mag Cover BS Boneless to Backside Grind down it. How did the BS Boneless grind go down?
The drive I had, after going pro and skateboarding was not reciprocating like I thought it would and so of course I wanted to up my ante and at least offer something new to the culture, if I wasn’t going to make a living from it.
In my mind that was the sickest next step to come. I’ve always been a fan of Backside No Complys but I don’t have the balls to do it into a rail without grabbing my board so fuck it backside boneless, there is nothing cooler looking than a Judo Grab, and onto a rail even more badass.
I’m not very good at Frontside. I like to grab left but it feels very grounding to put your foot down and grab your board.
What’s your favourite thing about Chewy Cannon’s skating?
Chewy Cannon is such a firecracker on a skateboard, fucking love how he hops around from one trick to another with little to no delay, that popcorn energy is very relatable. In Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art/dance, which I did before skateboarding, everyone gets a nickname, mine was pipoquinha, little popcorn. Haha.
I’m sure Chewy was also a ball of energy as a kid. ADHD makes for good shredding.
You went to Mexico City with Joey Guevera for Alien’s Visitors video. What was your favourite spot there?
The best trip for me was when the Alien gang came to New York and I was able to hone in on ideas I already had.
I’ve never worked that well on trips, for me skateboarding is a lifestyle. Why should I rush to the approach, learning or landing, it takes me a minute to adjust to my environment, so it’s always nice to brainstorm a city first.
Find the right spot and a worthy trick, you can get fucked up doing stupid shit and most of the time that’s how you get hurt, so I like to make it count.
But that’s a whole separate appreciation compared to the Olympic side of things.
Very peaceful, hard to not think of the harmony and archetypal symbolism we once had with the earth.
How’d that SW FS Heel over the big road gap go down?
I had never thrown one over a flat gap I just adapted, some tricks naturally float.
Backside Flips for example tend to cover more distance and height even than a regular Kickflip.
What’s the key to doing great SW FS Heels properly?
You’ve got stylish Back 360s. Who has your favourite?
My good friend and inspired artist Caleb Weiss made me want to learn BS 360 Ollies as a kid cus he already had em, he was a mini ramp champ.
Charles Lamb is also a back three fanatic and we always geek over that trick, I think we learned it together.
Keith Denley was the first homie that I seen tossing em down sets. Incredible at the time.
Your Flushing Meadows tricks were tech and steez, back lip Nosegrind and SW BS Lip to tail. How long did they take, who filmed them and what was the hardest part of getting those?
My special meter was full for the first one, feeling myself after a lil microdose.
Waylen Bone and I both couldn’t believe I rolled away, spur of the moment.
The Switch back lip to back tail had been in the back of my mind for a long time but never came around to it until the Alien guys came to New York and I took the opportunity to crack the whip on thyself and learn that trick right then and there.
How long did it take you to SW BS Smith Pyramid ledges?
I’ve ran that trick for a while now which is why I just threw it on Instagram. I like to feel progression in whatever I do, I’m not gonna just play something out just because I know I can do it, what satisfaction is there in that? Until my last days I hope to be learning new tricks.
That was pre-game, i wanted to Frontside 180 out of it but the marble is kind of grippy for Smiths, so maybe do it on another spot.
What trick have you done in New York you are most stoked on?
The gnarliest trick I’ve ever tried is Frontside Bluntslide down the LES hubba. The one that I Switch Crooked at the end of DANY.
I stuck that over thirty times and could not completely roll away. Robbed!
Maybe I wanted it too bad and wasn’t able to let go and act accordingly, but I’m only talking about it because I’m in Brazil wishing it away, that one will haunt me.
You’ve filmed a lot with Chris Thiessen, what’s your favourite thing about filming with Chris?
Chris is so accommodating and wise he embodies a lot of good qualities, virtues actually. I think he’s a good influence and I wanted to continue working with him. We had a good dynamic so we kept filming not only for one Thrasher video but two, which has still yet to drop.
Your good mates with Brian Delatorre. Favourite trick by Dela?
The Zoo York Vicious Cycle video was peak childhood for me. I get nostalgic just thinking about it, such good times they must have had. To be able to grow and up and skate with these cats is a dream come true.
I believe I would have been on that wave regardless if I grew up in New York or not. Love you R.B. Umali
What do you love about manuals and what’s your favourite?
Manuals are all control. I’m already pushing thirty, so I would like to be able to walk when I’m old and still rip.
I want to hone in on more of my core focus and different aspects of skateboarding.
Balance is applicable to all things in life, and rails are much less impact than stairs haha.
Why did you work with British Dub label Hyperdub and Burial to make a collaborative board with Alien?
I was connecting dots of inspiration in my life, and thinking of what I could offer to the new Alien Workshop.
Nowadays other things inspire me to skate, not just watching skate videos, music being one of them. For me skateboarding and music are so intertwined, skate soundtracks changed my life so i just wanted to give back to that legacy.
Burial and skateboarding mean a lot of the same things for me, his music embodies that Gotham city, metropolitan vibe. What it really feels like to live and dwell in inner cities and endure tough dark winters, and since all we do is skate cities.
So I thought it would be fitting.I felt inspired with this collaboration so also decided to do a video part skating to his music. It wasn’t my favourite Burial track that we used due to rights butI think it works as a whole.
Thanks to Kris and Marcus at Hyperdub but I think it works as a whole.
What’s your favourite Burial track?
‘NYC Come Down to Us’ but his new stuff working with Thom Yorke from Radiohead is wow
Have you ever been to the UK and if so where did you go?
For this project I felt like I had to go London where Burial is from if I was going to skate to his music, to do it justice.
Almost like a method actor I went in the dead of winter and stacked clips to capture the vibe.
What music are you listening to over Lockdown?
Trap and Classical
You shoot photography, how did you get into that?
Skateboarding is so extreme that I feel like photography balances my brain and helps me appreciate more subtle things in life, seeing art everywhere that I go rather than just skate spots.
Are you working on a new Alien project at the moment?
The Burial board was supposed to drop with a video part but due to the pandemic everything got postponed.
It’s been pretty finished since March 2020. I was supposed to visit the UK one more time to finish filming, but even that got cancelled because of COVID.
Look forward to it. Working on any other new projects?
Skateboarders are artists and our video parts are our canvas.
I’ve had about fifteen of them by now and in order to stay inspired we do something difference each time, it is an era in my life and I hope people keep an open mind with this one because for the first time in my life I let my life experience do the crafting.
A bit cut short, but a one-shot kill.
Thanks to Chris Thiessen, Thrasher and all my sponsors for helping me with this project.
What’s your favourite photo you’ve personally shot and why?
All of the photos I post are my favourite ones, otherwise I wouldn’t post them.
I like how Alien is a more underground thing now and kinda been brought it back to its roots huh but still has eyes because everyone is traumatised about what happened. It’s a completely new face of Alien, a clean slate.
Who is your favourite skate photographer?
Mac Shafer is a G. He is new on the scene but feels like he has already been around for ages, an old soul maybe.