No stranger to the pages of TWS, Lee Yankou needs no introduction. His high-power skateboarding along with insights into his Canadian upbringing and beyond have been sprinkled in all throughout the last few volumes of the mag. After a year of the busiest travel schedule of his life, we tracked down our most distant outlier in the great city of Toronto, where he has returned to add the finishing touches to his part in the 26th TransWorld video Outliers. With his part containing the greatest range of cities and countries in the video, the conversation is based around just that. Here is Lee on his year of exploring the globe and working on Outliers.—Luke Callahan
How long were you living in San Francisco before you made your way down to Long Beach to start filming for Outliers?
Before I had my work visa, I was just spending as much time as I legally could in SF. In total, off and on, it was five or six years, with breaks going to Canada. I actually lived down in LA for about a year, on and off, before I went up to SF. But this most recent stay in LA was a lot more productive.
What made it more productive?
I think I was just around a lot more motivated individuals. And that includes, most crucially, the filmers. My previous experience down in LA, I feel like there was a lack of filmers, which is completely inaccurate. But weekend after weekend we'd get stuck, posse'd super deep at a random school. When you have that many people, you don't leave; you're content to hang out in the schoolyard all day.
The seven-hour recess.
[Laughs] Those don't always make for the most productive skate days.
What's news on the board sponsor front?
My longtime board sponsor, Think Skateboards, just went out of business. It was a fucking pleasure to be a part of that brand. It has a long history. Over 20 years old. I'm honored to have been a part of all that. The list of people who've ridden for it… I'm just psyched to be another person who was riding those boards.
“I didn't see any used-panty vending machines there… Mildly disappointed about that.”
You skate a lot of different cities in this part. Has this year included the most traveling you've ever done?
Yeah. The first time we were filming for this video was with Osiris when we went to Portugal and Czech Republic. I have clips in the video from both of those places. That was my first experience in Europe. I sound like a complete fucking idiot saying this, but it really opened up my eyes because every other time I've saved up money to travel, it would be to California. Once I went to Europe it was like "Holy shit! Why have I not been out here?" I was only going to California and then I was out to Europe and was like "Fuck, I should just move out here!"
Tell me about the Atlanta trip. Had you been before?
No. I was pretty juiced to go there. I had two things on my to-do list when we went there: go to a super-ghetto strip club and to get chicken and waffles. We were so busy skating when we were there that I didn't get to go to the strip club. I did get the chicken and waffles thankfully.
What were some of the cultural differences you've noticed between ATL and LA?
My one memory from it was that it seemed like there were a lot of rich white people by the churches. That's all I remember, rich white folk and churches… And my feeling mildly out of place when we pulled up in to a grocery store to go eat, with just a whole bunch of dirty skaters.
You've got some clips from Japan in this part. Also your first time there too, correct?
Yeah. I actually rolled my ankle three weeks before the trip. I think I literally cried. I was so bummed I had an opportunity to go to Japan and wasn't going to be able to go. I rolled my ankle with Chris [Thiessen] filming for the video. I couldn't walk. Three days later I still couldn't put any weight on it. Super depressed. Luckily my parents were like, "All right, why don't you go see this guy, Doctor Dave [Sales]." [Doctor Dave is a renowned action sports physiotherapist]. They wanted to help me out and pay for my physiotherapy. Paying X amount for the physiotherapy compared to a trip to Japan… it was a hell of a worthwhile payoff, and I have really cool parents. After my first trip to Doctor Dave's, I could walk, it was game on. I'm eating super healthy, taking whatever vitamins Doctor Dave said. The first time I skated was the Real Toughness Tokyo G-Shock contest in Japan, and I couldn't believe how good my ankle felt. I thought it would be worthwhile trip to go if I got one photo for the article, after the contest I could skate every day. Major shout out to Doctor Dave—without him I wouldn't have been able to go to Japan.
“That's all I remember, rich white folk and churches.”
What's Doctor Dave doing in there? Are there a lot of lasers involved? Does he have gadgets?
He has a plethora of gadgets. He has this one, it's like a shockwave, it's like a vibrating plate. I think that was the one that really did the most. His whole thing is that he is used to dealing with extreme athletes, people who push their body on a regular basis, his whole thing is aggressive rehab. He would be like, "All right, tried to keep the pain under a seven." And he has cute chicks that work there. That always makes it easier to push yourself. You don't want to look like a baby in front of 'em. Also, walking in there, there are so many pros, you get starstruck. I was like, "Oh shit, there's AVE…" He [Doctor Dave] has more boards on his wall than a skate shop does.
You get to Japan, you're able to skate—what were some of the biggest cultural differences you noticed over there?
People get really mad at you or physically angry at you [for skating], but they're not going to do anything about it. They might yell at you once and then that's it. Marius [Syvanen] was trying a trick and literally got 10 more tries after the cop had told us to stop. People are so nice there and so trusting. People are passing out on the train with their phones on their lap. They have super nice bikes around that weren't even chained up. It was a really trusting culture. What was funny was that during rush hour they have female-only cars on the train. That was because maybe some businessmen are a little drunk, or whatever, the trains are so packed that the female-only car prevents some inappropriate groping [laughs].
So you can trust everyone with your phone and your bike but not when it comes to pinching your ass?
[Laughs] Exactly. I didn't see any used-panty vending machines, which I was told I would see. Mildly disappointed about that [laughs].
Probably in a different district.
I think it was Shinjuku? The main party area. No, Shibuya. Shibuya! There were funny signs for rub-and-tugs. Just like a muscular arm, super bright pink, with a hot chick painted next to it.
They wanted to advertise the particular caliber of grip available. What's up with the architecture and sculptures over there? Is everyone on that Gou Miyagi level?
All those Gou Miyagi spots are all filmed at night because it's such a busy place that you can't skate there during the day. We were more on a regular schedule of going to sleep at appropriate times. We didn't get to skate that much super-urban architecture. We were skating with Buci and Yuto. They were more conventional skaters than urban skaters like Gou Miyagi. I didn't spend enough time there to really suss that out.
“After my first trip to Doctor Dave’s, I could walk. It was game on.”
Let's hear some Spain highlights.
One of the highlights was definitely skating with Tom Penny. That was amazing. Watching him do a frontside flip, a switch fronstside flip in person, some of the stuff he was filming for the video… I'm blessed to have witnessed Tom Penny do this in person. The first day we were skating with him, he'd filmed a sick line with Chris and then we go on the train, and what song is the random street vendor playing on the train? His mini-ramp song from Sorry ['02], "La Vie En Rose" by Edith Piaf. I was getting chills down my spine.
You hit a number of different cities for this part and are finalizing it in Toronto. How has it been returning to Canada to wrap up this project?
I've been psyched. I have a homie Tom [Morrison] who's filming out here and is nailing it. I really like San Francisco and all of these places, but in my opinion, and this is coming with a butt-load of bias, Toronto summer pretty much can't be beat. Maybe it means a little more because in Toronto it's shitty out for half the year, so when it's nice out it brings tons of life in to the city. Lots of crazies, lots of pretty girls in short shorts, you know?
Have you been hitting the classic hometown spots?
It's funny, I'm trying to go back to places that I've been to previously in Toronto and have tried a trick and haven't gotten it. Pretty much what I'm trying to do in this video is to say "fuck you" to all of those spots that have robbed me multiple times.
After growing up skating snow-weathered concrete in your youth, did you find any of these spots in Japan or Barcelona too perfect or too smooth? Do you ever opt for the crustier stuff?
I think… uhh… I don't know, man. I don't want to start talking about the way I skate. You sound like a pretentious artist when you start talking about the way you skate. I don't know, I'm not as good as some of these other people are, so I'll try to skate something in a way someone else might not think of. I don't know.
“I don't want to start talking about the way I skate. You sound like a pretentious artist when you start talking about the way you skate.”
Do you think your off-the-wall approach can be slightly credited to your hockey background, playing the puck off the boards?
[Laughs] Maybe. I've never thought of it like that.
You don't want to talk about your skating, I can respect that. How about phones? You've had four different numbers in the past year. Why do you go through so many different phones?
[Laughs] Yeah… I've definitely done that. Dude, different reasons. The first time, it was when me and my girlfriend broke up; we were on a family plan together—that's a new number right there. And I don't need to be on a fancy plan, I go for the cheapest plan—that phone breaks, I go for the next cheapest plan. I'm not about trying to pay 100 dollars for a bundle. I've been known to go months at a time without a phone. That is one of the most freeing things you can do. You're in touch with the people you want to be in touch with. Sorry if I'm not in touch with you [laughs].
Outliers will be available on October 16th.