Lem Villemin Interview

In some ways, I don't envy Lem Villemin. Considering that a good deal of dudes on flow for Chocolate skateboards have either circled the runway for an indeterminable amount of time or appeared as the newest am on another company after years of waiting for Chocolate to put them on, the chance to make it to the pot of gold and become a new am on the company, gives it a whole new sense of prestige (and difficulty). For those of us who are fans of the brand, we appreciate Chocolate's ability to find someone who fits, because that person clicks with the crew as well as skates (no flash-in-the-pans with them). But, if there's anyone who can do it, it's someone like Lem, who lived in a rural town in Thailand, full of rice patties and a meager 500 people until he was 7, only to completely flip the script to cold, busy, bustling and urban Stuttgart, Germany—learning new languages along the way. Fitting in appears to be something he does well, even if it might seem hard at first. And, well, when you see his part in Adidas' "Diagonal" up above, it's clear his skill speaks for itself. But, really, what do I know? Learn more below.

Could you tell me a little bit about your upbringing? Where were you born?
Um, I was born in Bangkok and I lived in Thailand for seven years. Then, I moved to Germany, when I was 7. Since then, I've been living in Germany.

So, your parents lived in Bangkok, too, and then took you to Germany?
No, um, my parents were already in Germany. I was living with my grandparents at the time, while they set themselves up there. Then, my grandparents both passed away, so I moved out to Germany. [aside] Yo, I'm on the phone!

You guys having a party over there?
No, I'm just staying at Benny's [Fairfax] house and Danny Brady's staying over here, so there are about four people—it's just kind of loud. Anyway, I ended up moving to a small town really close to Stuttgart, with my parents. It was 30 minutes away. I never really moved to Stuttgart with my parents. I moved there when I moved out of my house at 16.

So, when you first moved to Germany, you were only 7. So you probably didn't know any German, huh?
No, I didn't know German at all. I went to this language school and I learned German for two hours a day for six months. Then, I went to a real school.

That must have been kind of hard.
It was kind of hard, but it was kind of exciting. Just my first winter in Germany was crazy—the first time I had ever seen snow. I really liked it to be honest.

Coming from Bangkok, that must have been a complete shock. I mean, it's either hot or rainy there, right?
Yeah...actually, I forgot to explain that. I wasn't raised in Bangkok. I was born there, but then we moved to this little village with rice farms. There were like 500 people living in that village and I went to a...I don't know how to say it. A school I would stay at for the whole week.

Like a boarding school?

What were some of your early memories of Germany?
Like I said, I was just psyched. I mean, coming from that little village, there was just more going on. It was a crazy place, with way more people. It was really fun.

Well, you probably wouldn't have picked up a skateboard in that little rural town in Thailand.
Oh no, especially going to boarding school. I remember, I had to go to sleep so early. I was going to school all day. I only had two hours a day to myself. There were always teachers around.

When you got to Germany, you were only in German classes for six months before going to regular school?
Yeah, I learned there and then just in class.

And you learned English in school, too?
Yeah, all the schools in Germany teach English, too. So, you learn it from an early age. When my whole skateboarding deal started, I was traveling around a lot and it helped me learn English. I watched movies with subtitles and listened to English music. I wanted to learn. I've always been the kind of guy that's wanted to learn languages.

It seems like a lot of people I've met traveling in Europe have learned English from rap music.
Yeah, that's actually true. It's a good way to learn.

I don't know if it's true or not, but my friend used to tell me he met his friend's French father and the father had learned English from rap. He was like 40 and he'd be dropping F-bombs asking for the salad.
[Laughs] Sometimes I like to go on trips and just train my ear for it. I try to think in English. But, it messes me up when I go back home. My German's real bad for the next week, when I get back home.

Dennis Busenitz speaks German, though.
Yeah, fluent German—probably better than me.

That always made me wonder. Does his personality change when he speaks in one language or the other?
You know what? Not his personality. I mean, for someone who doesn't know him in German, he might seem kind of serious in English.

Like, kind of matter-of-fact?
Yeah. But, I notice in English when he says certain words, he says them differently. I mean, he speaks English perfectly, but it sounds a little different. But, he lived in Kansas, too, so he kind of has his own accent—it's like a mix.

So, do you usually stay out in Stuttgart for the winter, or do you go to Barcelona or France?
I usually stay in Stuttgart. I like to be home, even in the winters. Barcelona's only about an hour and a half away by plane. It's cold, but not that cold. I try to come to the states. I still skate in the winter in Germany. We have our own indoor park there. There are rad spots there and new s**t. We just got a new street plaza.

Stuttgart's known for producing Porsches. Are there a lot around on the streets?
Yeah, you see a lot of them. You see Porsche, Mercedes-Benz...Maybachs. It's a really rich city. On the mountains, it almost looks like the Hollywood Hills, with nice houses on the edge and everything. It's really nice there.

So, do you like coming out to the States?
I try to come out. I've been out here to LA before. I got hurt last time. I get a little homesick, but I like it. If I go on a trip for a month I'm fine, but if I'm out for longer, I kind of miss home. The traffic and getting kicked out sucks, 'cause I can basically just put down my board and roll anywhere in Stuttgart or take the train.

Are there cities you've been to in the US that you do like?
You know? This time, I love LA. It's so different. I just got used to it. Staying with Benny, it's so fun. It's like I've got an older brother...like I got a family out here. Plus, it never rains out here. There are so many spots. So, this time is much better.

Are there two things off the top of you head that are really different about German and US culture?
Well, I would say that Germans are a lot more serious. People here are more easy-going. If you walk in the street in Germany, no one would ask you, "Hey, what's up. How you doing?" If you walk into a shop, even, the owner might not say hi. But, over here, everyone says, "What's up."

Seems like Germans obey the rules more.
Yeah, they like rules.

When I was there, even if there's a "Do Not Cross" sign and no car is anywhere in sight, they still just sit there on the corner.
I don't know if I've noticed that. Maybe it's because I live there and I'm used to it.

You must miss some certain things back in Germany, though.
Yeah, my girlfriend. I miss German food.

You've lived there for a while, but did you instantly like German food when you got there from Thailand?
My mom would make a lot of Thai food. But she made a lot of German food, too. So it was always a mix. My dad's French, so my mom would do French food, too.

Whoa. That's a crazy mix, man. You speak French, too?
Nah, I kind of learned it in school, but never kept it. My parents didn't speak it in the house. Mostly, I just spoke English outside the house, 'cause of skateboarding. It's kind of everywhere. But, I still feel weird speaking English to Dennis. I always speak to Dennis in German, even if everyone around us speaks English. It just feels weird speaking to him in anything other than German. Like, my brain doesn't let me.

Speaking of Dennis, he had one of the most legendary games of S.K.A.T.E. against Cole in the BATB2. Did you help him practice?
Nah, but man I was nervous watching them play. I gave him all these ideas of tricks to do the night before. Games with Dennis go on forever, though.

You just had the last part in Adidas' "Diagonal." What's next?
I don't know. I would love to film a few tricks for the next Chocolate video.

When do you plan to come back?
I go back home for Christmas and then I want to come back. I rolled my ankle bad this time. Last time, I broke my arm. That sucked. But, I can still roll. My ankle feels better.

Well, hope you come back. But, for now, how would you say later to your homies in Germany?
I say, "Ciao."

Really, like in Italy?
Yeah, I'd just say, "Ciao, mon."