Leo Oppenheim is rollerblading’s version of Mr Motivator. He may not rock spandex, or be of Jamaican descent, but his boundless enthusiasm and relentless endeavors to promote his blading in the UK is worthy of recognition.
“I am proud to say that I have known Leo now for many years, as a friend and as a colleague, and to this day I can say that I have never met anybody like him in my life. His positivity and enthusiasm for life in general is infectious, and his passion for skating and helping others is immeasurable. Leo always has time for people and this selflessness and passion for helping others has made him a real role model to young people, and a credit to the skating industry. He is also the busiest person I know – with around nine jobs on the go – and the many different sports he plays. I honestly don’t know how he does it.
I was honoured when I was given the task of writing this intro because nobody deserves this interview more than Leo. He is absolutely killing it on his skates at the moment and just watching him skate gets me super juiced! Leo is an absolute pleasure to be around and I’m sure everybody who knows him would say the same. We certainly need more Leo’s in the world; it would be a much brighter place, that’s for sure.”
- Jenna Downing
Wheel Scene: How old are you and how long have you been skating?
Leo Oppenheim: I am definitely an old boy as far as skating is concerned. I have been on it for 17 years and I am nearly 30!
What was it that attracted you to rollerblading?
I used to spend my summers in Wales at this little caravan park, and a few of the kids there got some and started shredding. I got some for my 13th birthday – Bobbins Osbozz with luminous green wheels – I was hooked straight from that! Skating keeps me hooked for lots of different reasons. I teach tons of people every weekend, so seeing them going from fearing it to loving it always helps me stay motivated. The old man in my head likes to tell me I’m not cut out for this anymore, which gives me more reason to push myself harder!
How would you describe yourself as a skater?
As a result of becoming a skating instructor, I have found that I really enjoy all the other disciplines of skating, too. Slalom and freeskating are so much fun! And, in my opinion, they can really help develop your skills as an aggressive skater. I would say versatile is the best way to describe my skating. I’m always keen to try anything.
Did you find any resistance to the other disciplines of skating you started to take up from aggressive skaters?
Initially, as a result of being an aggressive skater, I thought the other disciplines were nothing special. I remember going to do my ICP instructing course, thinking it was all going to be so easy. It was a massive eye opener, that’s for sure! I find that skaters from other disciplines are pretty open to aggressive skating but maybe a little intimidated sometimes. It’s a sad thing that it’s not reciprocated, really. So many aggressive skaters aren’t consistent with their basic skating, you know?
What else do you do with your spare time?
I play squash five-to-seven times a week and play second division matches with a team. I’m big into slacklining and balance boarding, and I am in the gym pretty much every day, trying to stay in the best shape possible. I do yoga four times a week as well, and I have six jobs. In all fairness though, they are a bit too fun to be called work.
Do you think being involved with so many other and radically different activities helps your skating?
So much so. Slacklining and indo are really fantastic for skating. Slacklining is especially interesting as it almost mimics the balance required when grinding. Not only that but both disciplines teach you focus while being calm, which is an essential tool in skating.
What exactly are you qualified in and how does this translate into earning a living?
I’m a qualified personal trainer, youth fitness instructor, combat coach, level two in both BRSF and ICP for skating, qualified skateboarding instructor and I have just become a qualified Indo board instructor. The skating and skateboarding instructing are the ones that earn me a good living at the moment as a result of my skate company Flowskate. I also run a roller disco company, which keeps me very busy at the weekend. This is soon to be rebranded and extended though, as I am looking to start a new style of company working around alternative fitness methods for health gains.
What was the first qualification you gained as a trainer?
It’s funny, actually, the first thing I did was obtain my skating qualification. It just so happened that all the other qualifications stemmed from there. I started working for my local council and they really wanted to get me involved in all the other teaching projects they were doing. I had it in my head that I wanted to be a skating instructor and earn a living from it. My family and friends told me that I was being foolish, and I’m glad they did because there is no bigger motivation than wanting to prove people wrong.
Do you have any advice for others wanting to make a living from skating?
You should always try and turn what you love into an occupation if you can. Time is more important than money after all and, if you love what you do, you never feel like you’re working!
You mentioned Flowskate, your skate instruction company. What is the history behind the business and where do you see it going?
Flowskate is six years old now. I began just doing private lessons, but soon started to work in schools and local communities, arranging skate park openings and teaching sessions. It began as a weekend job but has become more of a week-long thing. In the last six years, I have been lucky enough to head up teaching projects all over the country. Skate Blackpool was the biggest one of these where, with Jenna Downing and Marawa, we taught around 800 people to skate in a week!
Are there any projects that you are really proud of?
I have been teaching a young lad called Jamie to skate for the past five years who suffers from Asperger syndrome and ADHD. The kid is my protégé and he is progressing like crazy. I really love watching him progress, knowing that I have had a hand in that. He is a killer!
Tell us a little about Reverb. What is it and what’s your involvement?
I met them at Skate Blackpool. They a really good sound system company, normally found partaking in huge festivals. They really liked what we were doing and have been on board with many projects since. They are a really enthusiastic group of people and it’s so great that they are interested in rolling. Reverb has already done so much. They were the main sponsor for Laced last year and they funded the Reverb Girls Tour, which is organised by Ladyrollers.
Who supports you in all your ventures?
My sponsors are Seba, Monkey Nutrition, Indo Board and That Rolling Brand. Seba have been awesome.
Tell us more about your relationship with Seba.
As a result of me doing lots of disciplines in skating and teaching, they help me with equipment and travel to some competitions in Europe. They are a really supportive company to the skating industry as a whole and are going to be so big in the aggressive scene in the future. My role with Seba UK at the moment is preparing for the aggressive skate to drop and working with the distributor to make sure that, when it does, everything is in place and ready.
You recently released an edit that caused a bit of a hate storm on the internet. What did you make of it all and why do you think we are so quick to fire down another blader?
The edit did end up being a bit of a shambles, really. I think the videographer really wanted it to be different and unique. As a result, it ended up coming across pretty cheesy. I was really happy with some of the content of the edit though, so it was pretty surprising for me hearing some of the personal attacks. I am really happy it happened the way it did, because it really fired me up for Laced and I was truly happy with the way I skated there. I have been skating the FR-A setup for nearly a year now and it’s been really interesting seeing people’s opinions. I have really been enjoying the extra power and speed I have gained from the setup. Obviously there are limitations but I have enjoyed being able to do tricks on them that people don’t think is possible. Our sport is pretty negative in general, and this is reflected on websites and in skate parks throughout the UK. Admittedly, it hurt me initially but I think it’s always good to have to deal with negativity.
What do you think aggressive skating needs to better its current state as both a sport and an industry?
The problem with aggressive skating is not the pool of talent, far from it. As a result of skating being out of the X Games, the progress has mostly been missed by the masses. In order for the sport to grow, a number of things could really do with happening. Firstly, aggressive skaters in general are so closed to other disciplines. From my experiences of doing lots of instructing in London, I found that the majority of skaters involved in other disciplines are intimidated and put off by aggressive skaters as it seems that all of them have had at least one negative experience where they have been made to feel inferior. This for me is hilarious, counter-productive and foolish. The industry and the sport are so keen to grow and become successful, and yet they are so keen to distance themselves from the roots of our sport and disengage people who could potentially become involved.
The other thing the industry needs to do is organise itself as a unit. When it comes to promoting the sport, be it with competitions or tours. There should be a bigger effort made to bring in sponsors outside of skating and mainstream coverage. All the companies should put more effort into getting there pro riders to do workshops and demos throughout different countries, and really get involved with the youth of the sport and the other disciplines. I think Loco Skates and people like Jenna Downing are really on board with this mentality and it translates in their success.
Words and photos: Sam Cooper
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