It’s only fitting that Yaje Popson is the latest addition to the newly abducted Alien Workshop team. While the brand has gone through some major changes over the past few years, so has Yaje. He split from the reemerging New York skate scene just as it was taking hold again and dipped back to his homeland of Brazil while walking away from skateboarding for a spiritual awakening. Five years later now a stronger more confident person and skater, he’s on course for a proper comeback on a team that’s in the same boat…or should I say spaceship.-Jaime Owens
Photos by Malfa-Kowalski
How you been? Remember that time you almost killed Sheckler when you ran into him at the San Clemente skatepark?
Haha, oh yeah. That was crazy. We ran into each other after I did a backside noseblunt slide there. But yeah, I’m good. I’m out in LA for the winter but I was skating a lot in New York.
How old are you now and where are you from originally?
I’m 24. I was born in Brazil but I moved to the States when I was about three or four. So, I’m mostly a New Yorker but I still got Portuguese somewhere in my brain. When I was living down there again recently, it was good to relearn my native language.
So, let’s get into that story of you going back to Brazil because I met you back in 2010-ish when you were on Chocolate flow and then all of a sudden you disappeared.
Yeah, I was totally pursuing skating around that time but I had some severe knee pains since I was about 13 years old and they kept getting worse. Then in the winter of 2011, the pain became so unbearable that I went back to Brazil where my mom was because she has a couple of properties I could live on. But she wanted me to try and see a doctor there because she trusts the doctors down there more. We’re naturalists so she didn’t want to deal with Western doctors anyway. My worst fear at the time was having to get knee surgery, so I said, “Fuck that,” and I went into self-healing; physically and emotionally. I was looking into a lot of things that I was escaping from through skateboarding. I was living in such a small bubble of skateboarding, I think that life needed to crack me open and show me more to it.
“I NEEDED TO MATURE TO DESERVE WHAT WAS COMING IN SKATING, MAYBE.”
That’s a heavy journey for a young dude.
It was the best thing to ever happen to me. For a while though, I had the idea that I was going to live there and cultivate what we had as far as our land that my mom owned. I kind of thought it would be healthier for me to maybe move on from skating and look into other things even though that was one of the hardest thoughts for me at the time. So, I was escaping so many things including my knee pains. It was something I never looked at and it made me question my entire life because I was so involved with skating. I had all of my eggs in one basket and then over night it changed and I couldn’t skate anymore. Everything hit me. That included following through with skating as a career and thinking if that was the best thing for me. And I saw how life was putting me in another environment for me to learn. So I tried to move on from it for a while; I picked up guitar, I picked up painting, I even got into permaculture which is the science of sustainability and living off the land through planting your own food. I picked up all of these things to help maintain my loss, my broken heart from quitting skateboarding. I even got heavily into meditation and yoga. And I can’t forget the countless psychedelics I took.
Were you doing all of this with your mom? Is she your spiritual guide?
Well, my mom is quite an inner beauty consultant but no one can heal you but you. Long story short, I was born into a religion, Santo Daime. It’s an Amazonian religion that combines the Christian religion along with other regional shamanism amongst other things, and they like to use the ayahuasca beverage which is a sacred beverage from the amazon that I’m actually named after. Yaje is the original name of ayahuasca. That’s the psychedelics I was talking about. It was just another thing I needed to return to my roots and was one of the best things I’ve ever done. It definitely helped me face all the difficult things I was facing at the time. Felt like I was finally home.
Did your knee heal up during this time?
Yeah, that was part of the spiritual healing. The physical pain is only a physical manifestation of what’s happening inside you.
Whoa, you’re getting deep, son.
I don’t think it was just a mechanical issue. So, the “medicine” helped me see outside of my little bubble of skateboarding and heal those parts of me that needed fixing. Meanwhile, finding enthusiasm outside of skating with other hobbies. Like, I used to be depressed on rainy days because I couldn’t skate, now I love rainy days. I needed to mature to deserve what was coming in skating, maybe.
Did you spend the whole three years or so down there healing? When did you decide to come back to the states?
Yeah, that took about two and a half years and it wasn’t easy giving up skating. Once a skater, always a skater. It kind of shows you your values. But I came back. It was also good for me to experience my first girlfriend, who came to visit me in Brazil and eventually we came back to New York together and I got back into skating. I realized quickly that I needed physical strength for skating so I got into hot yoga. It provided the environment for me to stretch and strengthen without pain. After months of doing that, I realized I could have a session without pain. It’s not 100%, but it’s still getting better and feels good.
So, no operations at all?
Not at all, just higher awareness. I think a lot of my knee pain came from being a kid and not taking care of my body. Now, it’s important for me to warm up my body and have a healthy diet. Skaters usually eat like shit, so I tried to clean up my diet and went vegetarian. I usually cook for myself everyday as well.
When you came back, were you accepted right back into the NYC skate scene?
Yeah, I kept in touch with my homies while I was gone, so it was all good. I got lonely down in Brazil living by myself. It was good to come back and see everyone but I realized I felt liberated in the sense of “I love you but I don’t need you,” kind of vibe.
“MY WORST FEAR AT THE TIME WAS HAVING TO GET KNEE SURGERY, SO I SAID, “FUCK THAT,” AND I WENT INTO SELF-HEALING; PHYSICALLY AND EMOTIONALLY.”
You then came out to LA soon after your return and filmed your whole Sk8Rats part out here that came out this year, right?
Yeah, so I was back skating for a bit and broke my ankle at Chelsea park in New York. Just a couple of months back in. Something simple got me. Then I came out to California fresh off a broken ankle and filmed that part. They say it was filmed in three weeks but let’s be honest it was more like three months. That was the most fun video part I’ve ever filmed. I didn’t care or have pressure on myself.
Yeah, it was a rad part. You even pulled out a varial flip which can be a very controversial trick these days.
[Laughs] I know, right. It came back. Thank God, we get bored with all the rules of skateboarding so you eventually have to liberate.
Are you running no-complys at all? They’re still so hot.
I mean, I was born doing no-complys. [laughs]
Were you paying attention to skateboarding while you were in Brazil?
I was probably watching more skate videos than ever down there since I wasn’t skating. Just missing it so much. Keeping up with everything I could. You can’t keep the skate rat down.
What about those orange parachute pants from the Sk8Rats part? They still in rotation?
Those are my painting pants and I just love color especially orange, so it’s a must. I feel like I was finding myself in Brazil, so I’m no longer scared to wear anything. Now, I like to have fun with my outfits. The more colorful the better.
Breakdown how you finally ended up on the new Alien Workshop after previous runs on Habitat and Chocolate flow.
Before I left to Brazil, I had been talking to Brennan about getting on Habitat after Chocolate flow fell through. That was something I wished I’d followed through with. Then when I got back I guess I missed the boat. Alien just had started back recently and I was already skating with Joey Guevara and the Alien guys. They’re great to skate with so it just feels natural. Hopefully, we have a chance to make Alien cool again.
You were in the intro to the Alien video Bunker Down but not part of the team then. What took so long?
I did have to prove to myself and build my reputation again and that takes time. I’m happy I have the opportunity to do that now, even here with this interview. Thank you so much.
You’re welcome. Are you working a part right now? Intro part?
Yeah, we’re working on a Welcome to Alien part and then I’ve been working with Chris Mulhern down in Philly on some stuff too.
Will you feel weird if you run into a former Alien rider?
[Laughs] Yeah, I haven’t thought about it. I don’t know. That’s a good question.
What are your thoughts on Alien 2.0?
It’s hard for people to accept things until they manifest. They’ll get used to it eventually. It’s not the same, hopefully we can do it some justice. And the new generation of kids won’t remember the old Alien, so fuck it.
What are you working on further into this year?
This year I want to film as much as possible and really follow through with skating. What I’ve worked for my whole life, basically. Life is work. We continue to work on ourselves. I’ve come full circle and like I said it was the best thing to ever happen to me. That’s another reason why I’m stoked on Alien because we’re both trying to make a comeback.