Kilian Martin on 'Searching Sirocco,' the Year's Most Epic Skateboarding Film

From the streets of Brooklyn to the salt flats of Utah, the freestyle star goes for broke – beautifully – in his latest project

Kilian Martin in action. Credit: Eric Hendrikx

Nearly two years after the release of their stunning India Within, skateboarder Kilian Martin and director Brett Novak have (somehow) succeeded in raising the stakes with their eighth film – Searching Sirocco.

Traversing evocative landscapes and perilous terrains that preach both magnificence and menace, Martin once again proves himself a devout artist sans any shortage of fresh ideas. Whether his destinations are urban or primitive, obstacle-filled or flat landed, his skillset and vision seem limitless. Martin keeps a bedside journal to jot down new tricks he envisions as he drifts to sleep each night – innovations he later brings to life in his short films; works that leave myself and the rest of the bewildered viewing community marveling over same rhetorical question – "How in the fuck does he fucking do that?"

The Spanish-born SoCal transplant realized his dreams after Bones Brigade founder Stacy Peralta took notice of his first skate film, Kilian Martin: Freestyle Skateboarding. In short time, Martin had his work visa lined up and his bags packed for the West Coast. Since then, his films have been watched by tens of millions on YouTube and his journey has continued to take him around the globe, having filmed with his partner Novak in North and South America, Europe and Asia.

Ironically, Martin's success lies on the outskirts of mainstream skateboarding. Simply put, you won't be seeing him competing in Street League Skateboarding or the Tampa Pro anytime soon. Martin is a wolf without a pack, driven by his insatiable thirst for new frontier. His innovative and graceful interpretations of the art of skateboarding have paved the way for a potential lengthy career outside of the inner circle of the sport. "This is my personal journey, my expansion of an art I have come to love," he says. "I'm not interested in doing what everybody else is doing. I'm not trying to change skateboarding. I'm trying to grow my own version of the art."

In Searching Sirocco, Martin is presented with a dilemma, finding himself confined, waist deep in snow; possibly a metaphor for creative block. While contemplating his way out of this predicament, he is suddenly transported to a desert, free to navigate on his skateboard across a rocky, picturesque topography. But he doesn't just skate through the desert. Martin emblematically paints over the landscape canvases in perfect strokes, guiding his board as a brush. Each geological hindrance he confronts literally becomes an exercise of facility, and an opportunity to illustrate something noteworthy and beautiful. From mountain caves to the streets of Brooklyn, across the Bonneville Salt Flats and through the sun-baked expanses of Moab, Martin finds himself continually teleported, and, without respite, delivers a seamless blend of acrobatic poise, symbiotic movement and raw talent.

The film's finale finds Martin back in the snowy mountains where he began, now freed from the restraint of the arcane drift. And as Martin whimsically wanders into the frigid unknown, I find myself reflecting on the notion that the journey is indeed the destination.  

How did you and Brett Novak begin your filming relationship?
In the beginning, I was just doing my own videos. They weren't getting a lot of attention because I'm not a filmmaker and I was just doing a lot of random things. I had seen some of Brett's videos online and I loved what he was doing. I knew we could make a great pair. His style of filming and editing seemed like a perfect match for my style of skating. A lot of my tricks really need to be slowed down in high definition to understand and appreciate what I'm doing. In 2009, I met Brett at a skate contest in California. We hit it off right away and decided to start filming together. We shot our first film here in the states. For our third film, A Skate Regeneration, Brett came to Spain. Since then we've been working together on films and have released them on our YouTube channel

What does Searching Sirocco mean to you?
When I was a small boy, my family took a vacation to the Canary Islands. That's where I felt my first real Sirocco, a very strong and hot wind that sweeps across the land. It causes a complete change to your mind and body. Whatever you are doing in that moment, wherever you are, all your senses are brought to a new and intense awakening. My skateboarding is my experience, and my expression. But the film is intended to serve as an awakening of sorts, to inspire the viewers.

You've traveled to distant lands, famous for their cultural dynamics and scenic landscapes, to create your skateboarding films. How did you choose the locations for this film?
The opening and closing scenes were filmed in Big Bear, California. We were worried that we wouldn't find any snow because of the ongoing drought. But once we got there, we were able to track down the perfect location to shoot our scenes.

Then we flew to New York and filmed in the streets of Brooklyn. We had some scary moments there, like when we were surrounded by a group of guys who tried to steal Brett's camera. He brought his Sony FS700 with him and these guys kept asking to see the camera. Then a couple guys who had been watching us from a bench came over. I had a backpack and two skateboards. They sort of distracted me and stole one of my boards. Luckily the police arrived in time, and the situation didn't end up worse. I was really sad to lose my board, but relieved that they didn't get the camera and that no one was hurt.

Next, we flew to Salt Lake City, Utah. We rented a car and visited the Bonneville Salt Flats. Our rental agreement stated that we were not permitted to go to the salt flats, but we went anyway. It was so extremely dusty there. My scenes were almost impossible to film. I could only skate for about two minutes before the grip tape was saturated with dust and became too slippery to stay on my board. To fix this, I had to constantly use water to wash the board clean, which is typically the last thing you want to do to your board. And the ground was incredibly bright there. When I was doing the ho-ho plant in the film, where I do a handstand with the board up on my feet, I was completely blind and had to do everything by feel.

For the abandoned greenhouse scenes, we flew to Santa Barbara and visited a property called "The Orchid," owned by Mike Taylor. Mike owns Skate One, and his property is not far from Powell Peralta's factory. His place is beautiful and offered an amazing contrast from the other landscapes we selected for the film.

Did I recognize Moab, Utah, as well?
Oh yes, we drove all day from the salt flats to Moab and then hiked several miles with all of our gear to get to the cave scene in the film. We stayed in Moab for three days. Since we didn't have a four-wheel-drive vehicle to get around, we had to find all of those places by foot. The rocks in Moab are so smooth and curved that it felt and looked a lot like a skate park, except there are all these dangerous cracks where you land.

It seems that Patrick Watson's soundtrack is nearly as important as the scenery in the film. Can you tell me why you chose to work with him?
I really wanted to use one of Patrick's songs for our film. We actually had to wait a few months from when we finished filming until the music was ready. The first song we chose was already taken by the show The Walking Dead. But when we tried "Good Morning Mr. Wolf," we really loved how it fit in with the scenes.

Patrick is my favorite musician and also a friend. When I took my then fiancée, Marina, to a restaurant in Thousand Oaks to propose to her, the waiter brought a laptop to our table and Patrick performed the song "Sit Down Beside Me" for us via Skype. When he finished the song, I brought out the ring and asked Marina to marry me.

For someone like me who still trips down the stairs in my house, all of these tricks seem like they are nearly impossible. What were the toughest for you to land?
In New York, I did a wheelie to manual to cross foot down some ledges that took me about five hours to get. It took so long that even Brett was ready to give up. After hours of trying it I was completely exhausted, soaking with sweat and my foot was bleeding. I always give myself three last tries on a trick before we move on and save it for another time. If I get close, I start the three tries over again. I ran through this mental cycle about five times and then I landed the trick perfectly, with a nice roll away. I ran off from this screaming and crying, both from the excitement and the pain.

There's another scene where I did an ollie finger flip 180 off of a structure in Manhattan. I really wanted to show a large gap down something like a staircase or a drop-off, but every time I skated up to the edge, I would kick out my board and jump down the gap. I told Brett I had a really strange feeling about this spot. He said, "Yeah, it's called fear." I stuck the trick a few times and after about 20 or 30 more tries I landed it.

You're telling me that the handstand tricks weren't the hardest?
[laughs] I grew up in Barcelona doing gymnastics. Handstands have been part of my style of skateboarding my whole life. I'm not saying they were easy, but I have been doing them for so long, it almost feels like the same control as when I'm on my feet.