2014 was the biggest year for Matt Berger yet. He went from being a Canadian flowman to breaking into Street League and getting a proper spot on Flip and etnies. His trajectory is continuing in a positive arc in 2015 as he's about to drop a solo video part, get a pro board on Flip, and enter the Street League season once again. At just 21 years young, here's Matt Berger's story thus far.--Blair Alley
Portrait / BARTON
What part of Canada are you from?
I'm from British Columbia a small town called Kamloops.
Where did you start skating?
I grew up in Kamloops, and I got my first board when I was about five. I skated in Kamloops until I was 18 and then moved to Vancouver. I lived in Vancouver for about a year and then I lived in my suitcase for a year and a half.
Did you live in any skate houses in Vancouver?
I had homies that I grew up skating with that just moved to Vancouver and worked regular jobs, and I lived with them and skated with them when I could. It was a cool dynamic.
What was the first skate video that you saw, and who were your first favorite pros?
In all honesty, it changes. The biggest influences were probably the dudes I grew up skating with like Stacey Gabriel and Derek Swain, just kind of hometown heroes.
Did they ever come up or get sponsored or anything?
Yeah, they actually ride for different brands for distributors out in Canada, and they're just a staple of Canadian ripping.
So how realistic was it for you to make it in America or California as not necessarily a pro, but to make a living off of skateboarding? Did you know people who had done it, or did you kind of think it was not possible?
I mean, dude, it was so gnarly. It seems like it all just happened overnight. Canadians that I have always looked up to were [Ryan] Decenzo and Wade Desarmo, so those were kind of the dudes that as a Canadian skater we would just kind of see them as the symbol of success and something we would look up to.
On the topic of happening really fast, you getting into Street League and being one of the top three selected at that Pro Open, that day kicked everything in, because you were on Flip, but you weren't in the Flip 3 video, then you were on Canadian flow for etnies or whatever, then as soon as you're in Street League and you made it to the New Jersey stop, the Elite Eight, it's like all these brands were suddenly like, "Fuck, we gotta put this dude on the proper team." Is that what happened?
Yeah, it was kind of like a little push. I had just been skating and doing my thing and hoping for the best, and then getting into Street League was kind of the key you could say for pushing me to be able to ride for the brands that I am today.
So were you not in Flip 3 because you were saving footage for this part, or were you busy with Street League?
Those dudes were just ripping and had been working on Flip 3 for a while with Arto [Saari] and that was just what was happening.
What's up with this video part that's coming out with this interview? How long have you been working on it?
I've been filming for it for about two and a half years. I've been collecting footage just out doing my thing.
Where do you sit with the other sponsors? Are you fully on etnies now and Matix?
Yeah, I'm actually working on an intro part for etnies right now. It's been rad--I've been going out with those guys and filming and shooting.
So was 2014 kind of like your year going flow straight into being am and now going pro?
I don't even know how to answer that one, man. It's a mixture of being on Canadian distributors and also being an am for Flip, so it's really just after the Street League thing that happened. I guess it pushed things into place for me. I'm definitely really thankful for that.
Are you going to skate Street League this year?
Yeah, I'll be skating it in 2015.
"They get a lot of girls bringing in painted portraits of them for them to sign."
Do you like it? I mean, do you like the format? Is it your type of contest?
Yeah definitely, man. You know there're a lot of people in the stadium watching, so it can get a little nerve-racking for sure, but the whole format is pretty relaxing to be honest. I mean, everyone gets to try their trick, and it's not like a crazy jam session for 10 minutes where we're all trying to get as many tricks in as possible. We get to catch our breath and relax and do our thing.
I think the first time I heard your name was the Maloof Washington D.C. am contest. Did you win that one?
Oh, right. No, I think I got second that year.
That was the first time I heard your name 'cause you did a front blunt bigspin flip out down the rail during the contest. Am I right?
Yeah, that was a while ago.
Did you think Paul Hart was Canadian the first time you met him?
[Laughs] No, 'cause I had known about his footage and where he was from. I knew he was from Florida, but he definitely gets some flack.
That's the strangest case of mistaken identity. I don't even know how it started, but it totally makes sense.
He's going to hate me for this, but I definitely give him the honorary Canadian award [laughs].
Did you? What are some traits that he has that remind you of Canadians?
I don't know, man. He's just a really nice down-to-earth dude.
We got a lot of sequences of you for your interview. I guess you were hard to get stills of. Why is that?
I don't know, man. It's just the way I skate I guess. Photographers just don't like the tricks I do for stills [laughs]. Nah, just kidding, but I don't, man. It's always been like that since day one to be honest. It's never been the easiest thing to get still photos, but it is what it is, take it or leave it.
I want to get a good tour story out of you. Is Curren Caples the babe magnet across the country? Because I've seen him at the Huntington Beach contests and he's definitely the biggest draw for the ladies. Is it like that everywhere you go?
It's pretty funny, on our Euro tour the ladies were definitely feeling Caples and [Ben] Nordberg.
How's Nordberg in LA? Do you spend time with him up there? I heard he's 'bout that nightclub life.
[Laughs] Is he about that life?
He's always at the most poppin' parties with the most well-known party promoters.
[Laughs] Yeah, he's about that posh life. Nordberg does his thing up in Hollywood, and I don't know, it seems like he's doing good for himself these days.
Do him or Curren have any crazy female fan stories, like chicks breaking into the hotel room or stalking them in the lobby or following the tour van?
So far it's been pretty tame between those two on trips. They get a lot of girls bringing in painted portraits of them for them to sign.
Wow, is that the new thing the groupies do is paint a picture of a dude and bring it to them?!
[Laughs] Yeah, I honestly could not even count how many Nordberg and Curren got on that Euro tour. It was pretty fucking funny.
"Yeah, honestly it's never been done, and I don't think it ever will be done, and I have no f**king plans to try."
Were they having a little competition of who could get more fan art on the road?
[Laughs] Come on now, no.
Are they still on Tinder?
[Laughs] Nah, as far I know they don't mess with Tinder. They're probably too famous to even bother with it, they're over it.
Do you get to skate with Geoff Rowley much?
I mean, I've been on a couple of trips with him and it's been rad, man. We don't get to go out as often as I would like to because he's been wrapped up with the Vans video, but it's really cool when we do get to go out and skate. He brings a real cool vibe.
Was he a big part of getting you on Flip?
Yeah, man. It actually happened that weekend in Washington D.C. at the Maloof Money Cup. I was just out there skating and ended up meeting him in the shuttle bus from the skatepark on the way back to the hotel. I think we just talked for the weekend, and I had plans that winter to move out to LA for a couple months to skate. So I just asked him, "Hey, we don't know anyone out in California, like, can we get your number? We would love to come and skate with you." We exchanged numbers, and he ended up calling me two or three weeks later and offered me a spot on the team. I've been there since. Geoff's the man.
Were your parents supportive of your skating from the beginning, and what do they think about it now?
My parents are so cool. I mean, it didn't matter what I was into, they were supportive of it, and that's how they've been since day one. I did all sorts of school sports, obviously got over that, and as soon as I picked up a skateboard they knew this is what I was obsessed with and they've been supporting me since day one with it. I'm real lucky.
Is there going to be a full-length Flip video anytime soon?
I mean, I've tried to push the topic, but a lot of dudes are wrapped up in different videos. If it does happen, it's not anytime soon.
I got to tell you when you wear the all black at Street League you're really hard to photograph because they always have those big black curtain backgrounds. Why did you go with the all-black kit for all of last year at Street League?
I don't know, man. I just find things I like and stick to it. It's definitely been pretty funny on trips, I've been pulled aside a couple times.
I didn't know you ran the all black when you street skate too. I'd be like, "Dude, go put on a colored shirt, man."
[Laughs] Yeah, I don't know, it's just one of those things, like if I find what I'm into, I run that. I've been stuck on the all-black tip for a while, and photographers are definitely not a fan of me [laughs]. I've been on a couple trips where the TM or photographer has pulled me to the side before, and they're like, "Can you please put on a white tee for this trick?"
Is it an homage to Heath Kirchart in any way?
I'm sure there is some Heath in there for sure, but I'm not trying to play it like that.
What's up with the Monster girls at Street League? I've always noticed you’re pretty buddy-buddy with them over there making conversations.
[Laughs] No, I don't know, dude. I met them and we kick it every Street League and chat with them, whatever, hangout.
Do they have rules that you can't hang out with them outside of Street League? You can't be in the same hotel or anything like that?
If there are, I haven't heard about these rules yet [laughs].
In the NFL the football players can't hook up with the cheerleaders, but Street League is fair game, huh?
I'm just saying no one is going to get kicked out of Street League for dating one, that's all I'm asking.
Yeah, honestly it's never been done, and I don't think it ever will be done, and I have no fucking plans to try [laughs].
"Let's just say Havasu during spring break is not the best place to take a filming trip to."
Do you have a timeline of when you're going pro, or is that the plan with this interview and video part, or have you talked about it with the Flip dudes?
As far as I know they're trying to release a part and maybe even a board in mid-March. [Ed note: Matt’s part will be dropping tomorrow!] I'm stoked, it's a trip honestly, the past year of my life--I went from skating and doing my thing to all of a sudden being on all these trips and meeting all these new cool people. I mean, I'm out here right now with a bunch of dudes in Ethiopia. We just helped build a concrete mini ramp for kids out here in this small village, and then unfortunately I can't go today 'cause I'm sick, but everyone else is going out and fixing fresh water wells for villages around here, so I mean, it really sounds cliché to say, but fuck, man, I'm definitely very thankful.
When did you get the news about getting a pro board?
I think it was around midsummer of last year they mentioned it, and they just asked me what I thought about it. So much has happened, but I'm not going to be like, "Yeah, absolutely I deserve a pro board." I want to get a pro board when I deserve it. So it was definitely a crazy conversation to have, man. Life is a trip.
Is Tony Hawk out there with you guys in Ethiopia?
Yeah, Tony is out here. It's Nyjah [Huston], Derrick Wilson, Jaws, and Tony Hawk. They just asked me to come along on the trip as a guest, so Tony and I are just the guest dudes helping out. We're doing work for this organization that Nyjah and his mom run called Let It Flow. It's rad, man, and I've been wanting to do something like this for the past couple years. Some friends growing up came out here and did a lot of work, like fresh-water wells and building schools when I was in high school. So it's always been in the back of my mind, and as soon as I got offered the opportunity, it was just kind of a no-brainer.
What comes to mind when you hear Duncombe, Denver, and 15 years old?
Oh god, clueless mistakes and thanks for the learning experience [laughs].
When you go on a skate trip with a bunch of dudes, there's a van dynamic, and when you're 15 years old growing up skating the local skate park and you've never been on a road trip, then you're thrown in a van with a bunch of dudes you look up to and being that young, people are going to get frustrated [laughs].
Did he torture you?
No, not at all. I was just 15 years old being a little annoying shit in the van.
Would they talk a bunch of shit about you?
Yeah, for sure [laughs]. I mean, if I was in their position and I was on a trip like that, you know someone like [Jake] Duncombe, who's been doing trips for years, and then to have this clueless fucking idiot on a trip, that's the last thing you want to deal with.
What company was this?
It was a Bones trip.
How old are you now?
Got any sweet Havasu stories?
[Laughs] Oh shit, man. Let's just say Havasu during spring break is not the best place to take a filming trip to. We might end up at spots and staying to party and stuff like that. That's more of an interview for Jared, or ask Marty Murawski about it.
"The TM or photographer has pulled me to the side before, and they're like, 'Can you please put on a white tee for this trick?'"
Well, if some stuff has to stay in Havasu, then it has to stay in Havasu. Are you guys going to show up in any Girls Gone Wild videos?
Oh, that would be pretty legendary. Unfortunately nothing along those lines, we just had one heavy night. We were actually out filming, and we went to this rail at the edge of this resort, and I think Cody Lockwood was trying to skate the rail. We lit it up and then next thing we know these frat bros just came out like, "You guys skate? Sick! You need to party with us!" And handed everyone so much alcohol, and we were like, "Aw fuck." This frat had two girls for each dude [laughs]. It was a fucking hectic night especially for Jared and Marty.
Why did you focus three of Nyjah's boards?
[Laughs] All right, so we had been working on this video for his park opening and basically it was a five-minute section we had to film. Jared and I live in Oside [Oceanside, California], and we had to plan to come up to San Clemente to skate his park. We were driving up, and I was just planning to go and hang with him and watch him film 'cause I was sore from filming. We were stuck in traffic for like three hours, and Nyjah just claimed that he was sick after about two and a half hours of sitting in this traffic, so we ended up just going to the park anyways. He was there, but he drove down and left the door unlocked and didn't hang around to say what up, but I think the funniest thing about it was that he was motor biking all day and just didn't want to say, "Nah, I don't feel like it today," so I was a little frustrated at the time, and I ended up breaking a few of his boards. But it's all good, we squashed it [laughs].
Did he have like three full completes and you stomped them all?
Yeah, he had these three complete setups that were just sitting there, and we were living in the moment, and yeah, he was not psyched. He sent me some pretty awesome text messages, but we squashed it.
Why did you and Sascha Daley stop following each other on Instagram?
Well, Sascha is just Sascha, there's not much to it [laughs]. You know he has his things and treats them very well, and sometimes he comes home and he thought some people went through his stuff and thought it might have been me when it wasn't, so we had a little episode. It's funny that you brought that up; Sascha and I just recently squashed that, too. We're following each other again [laughs].
Was that the biggest part of the beef? No fistfights, just stop following each other on Instagram?
I mean, he kind of pissed me off and I gave him the unfollow, and he wasn't psyched and gave me the block. It's funny, though, 'cause I wasn't even mad, just like fucking around and obviously he unblocked me and we squashed that shit. It wasn't even a big deal. It was more of just a funny scenario at the time.
[Laughs] In all honesty, when you're in the van for two weeks with a whole bunch of dudes skating every day, how are dudes in the van not going to be on that shit? But sponsorships, I don't know what that would involve [laughs].
Who's your all-time favorite Flip rider?
Probably Arto. I've been a big fan of his skateboarding and continuously watching his old parts over the years.
All-time best Canadian skateboarder?
I'm going to have to say Wade D, hands down. Ever since I was a little kid Wade has been the coolest dude to me. He's cool to everyone, man.
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