Interview: Naomi Grigg (London, UK)
By Close Yr E's, December 2008
Sadly enough, she retired from the competitions at the end of the 2008 Season, having reached place #4 at the WSSA World Ranking (December 2008). Yet she is still present in lots of Events but as a Battle judge, or as a MC.
Naomi is also demanded all over the world to do freestyle and slalom shows as well as freestyle workshops...
Last but not least, she has a keen interest in everything, a Jack of all trades: freeskating, free jump and high jump, speedskating, dance... and she's doing all that right! – and I'm only talking about skating here.
As long as you look determined and self-assured, whatever you do looks cool! That's the thing, and it works! Naomi, she's the kind of girl who can last 3 min doing Crazy with real class... so now imagine when she complicates her combos how super-class it is =) Photo Credit: Ben Roberts, 2008 Photo Credit: Ben Roberts, 2008
Name: Naomi Grigg
Birth date: 21/12/78
A personal definition? What is your vision of Freestyle?
Freestyle is the beautification of skating... That's what I always say when teaching, and it's a perfect description of what freestyle is in my own heart.
If talking to a total non-skater I often say that freestyle is like flatland BMX but with skates, or like freestyle skateboarding, Rodney Mullen style, but in skates... or else I just end up saying 'its kind of like doing crazy stuff with your feet on wheels'. I don't usually mention the cones, except for 'we compete using cones, for accuracy'. For me, slalom just makes freestyle more fun & interesting.
The Beginnings: How long have you been practising skating? freestyle slalom skating?
I've been skating for 15 years now, but started on ice. I played around on ice for about 2 years before getting inline skates, but it was freestyle right from the beginning of my ice skating – never any figure skating. I've actually only been doing slalom since 2003, so that's almost 6 years now.
How were you introduced to freestyle? What first attracted you ?
The moment I saw someone look beautiful, instead of like an icehockey player, when switching from forwards to backwards, with big wide seamless, impossible looking movements of the feet. I was mesmerised. With practice I'd feel like I was floating, for those moments, nothing else in the world mattered, none of the usual teenager issues. I was pretty angry and frustrated at that age, and so the more power I could put into a move, and still stay upright, and still keep it smooth, the more pleasure I'd get from it, and it kind of remained in my style. The 'Italian' and 'pendulum' are probably two of the moves that I love the most in that way. I can scream all the way through, putting everything I've got into them, and feel great afterwards. If a little exhausted nowadays!
The only technical interest I've ever had in skating, has been the technicality of making a move happen smoothly etc. When I first saw the grapevine (a non-slalom move), I was full of mystification that something like that was possible, and the scientist in me wanted to understand how it was able to happen, and then I was able to gradually teach myself during the quieter rink sessions.
The Progression: Influences: Did you train alone, with other people? What was the role of the media in your training?
My first 6-8 years were almost totally alone. After a while on ice, I met a friend, and we would sometimes skate together in the school holidays, but other than that, and particularly on inline skates, I'd be on my own. On ice, there were other people, but I didn't really speak to anyone. Learning moves though, was always via watching other people and copying.
When I switched to inline skates, there were no new moves for about 4 or 5 years. Just playing with what I had. Eventually I came to London, and learned from a couple of fantastic freestyle skaters and later tried out slalom, which I basically learned from Sebastien's trick videos. Except the 'X' which Chloe showed me when she visited London one time :). Since then its been a mixture of hooking up with skaters, and seeing moves I love in competition videos. In videos, its not so much the moves that I see and copy, but if I find myself going 'whooooow... what just happened there!', then I like to find out what caused that moment of surrealism.
mment ça pouvait se produire , et à partir de là je me suis peu à peu auto-coachée pendant les sessions les plus calmes à la patinoire.
Steps of progress: What are the key-moments in your evolution?
1994: First freestyle
2003: First slalom, First competition, won that competition, resulting in Salomon sponsorship.
2004: Started teaching slalom outside of the UK
2006: Salomon sponsorship was going nowhere, so joined Rollerblade who were keen to promote freestyle skating in the USA, with the launch of the Twister over there.
2006: Made a video to show my boyfriend me skating in Singapore, like a postcard, but the Singapore skaters loved it and wanted it online. Suddenly, its been viewed all over the world! So I made a new one, 'LondonStyle'.
2007: Made the switch to Seba skates when it became clear that developing freestyle skating was seriously and permanently on their agenda.
Competition: Any titles close to your heart?
No titles nowadays, we're unisex in the UK, so I'm not even champion anymore, I'm currently 3rd behind JB Milleret (we count him as UK nowadays) and Jon Bell. Days of being UK champion are safely tucked away in the memory bank.
As for freestyle-slalom skating, you compete in both individual and battle. Two different formats. Pros and cons?
Right now, I love them both. When battle first came along, I saw the fun of it, the unplanned freestyle of it, and the lack of formality, and thought it was the best thing ever. I've always been someone to prefer improvisation during competitions, and always hated being told to use all different cone spacings, as if they were different subjects at school. I also loved that it was judges opinion that ranked you, instead of rules from a piece of paper, rules cannot define good freestyle slalom, and the perception of good freestyle slalom is constantly changing since it's a new 'sport', The best people to decide who is best are those who know what they're looking at, and have their finger on the pulse of what freestyle slalomers are aspiring towards.
However, recently I've fallen in love for the first time with the classic style of competition, and making a combo. I love that you can make a bit of a presentation of what your slalom is about, without having to care what the others are doing. I love that you can't do well in a WSSA classic style competition unless you show beauty in your freestyle, instead of just endless difficulty. I love the idea of choreographing a little routine.
I think we need both styles of competition, the improvised technical challenge and the prepared artistic expression.
Sessions: You are a freestyler, with or without cones... two different approaches. What do you get out of each one?
Freestyle without cones can get a little boring sometimes. It never used to, until I discovered slalom. With slalom there are endless tricks and challenges because of those damned cones that are in the way... and so you can occupy yourself forever, and also there are so many other skaters that speak the same language, there's only one really good group of off-cones freestylers that are still going nowadays, and they're all the way over in NYC.
What I love about freestyling without cones though is the total lack of any restrictions, or care needed. You can forget about the floor, close your eyes, and just go for it, making huge sweeping expressive movements with your feet, caring little for direction or control. Its good to go a little mad sometimes, and you're judging your skating on the things like beauty & smoothness etc rather than whether or not you knocked over a cone, so it actually makes your freestyle more technically correct.
What about your slalom sessions today?
I don't really practice much at all anymore. Travelling around doesn't offer me the opportunities or motivation to do so. I know how to train properly, I just don't do it anymore.
I absolutely must have my ipod on when I practice, and usually I like to run through some new moves that I've picked up, and generally have a bit of a random play.
I often think it would be nice to practice properly again, but I need to cut back on my travel first. If I was to take up training again, I'd have a list of things I want to improve, I'd go through technical moves for about 30 minutes, then work on 3 or 4 new style moves, and then spend some time putting all the new stuff into combos.
What aspects/parts of your skating do you want to improve?
I'd like my skating to become cleaner, faster, more powerful, and have a stronger relationship to the music. I like it if someone can tell the beat that I'm skating to, even though they can't hear my headphones.
I'd like to improve my posture, and my arms need to become more relaxed during technical moves. Due to neck problems, I can't really practice heel wheeling moves anymore, but I do actually quite enjoy some toe moves ! I only really want to do technical moves if I can do them confidently, and have the same feeling of carefreeness and expression that I do with the rest of my slalom. Thats quite a tall order, and I'd need to really take some serious practice to make that happen, but it would be great.
Freestyle Coaching: You are giving lessons, organising workshops and slalom camps all around the world. Some question about how it all happened or something?
The reason I initially became an instructor was so that I could help my friends to do what I could do, and as I got more into it, and the moves became more challenging, I became more and more fascinated with how to communicate a movement to another person. It's about so much more than what to do with the feet. It's about how to make that happen with ease, and with beauty, power, fluidity, smoothness, and above all... dignity!
In summer of 2004, after a year of almost obsessive research on poor guinea pigs, I held my first ever freestyle workshop, in London's Hyde Park. It received great reviews on our skate forum Serpentine Road, and soon I was asked to do workshops in Europe and then further-a-field. Nowadays, on a typical tour, more established locations will do well, & so can support visits to new slalom communities, which keeps the slalom ball rolling across the world.
Some Question about the future?
I can look back at workshops as far & wide as Singapore, Thailand & Australia, but now I'm looking for a new challenge. A 9am-1pm weekend with a skater every so often is no longer enough for me. I want to make more significant and permanent changes to peoples slalom, over the years, the standard of my 'students' has rocketed, and now I'll find myself coaching people who are technically more advanced than I am. Maybe to help them achieve more energy in their slalom, know what to do with their arms, create a more floaty appearance, all those kinds of things. I no longer like to just continually throw new moves at people.
So, I'm now starting to run Monday-Friday, full time slalom 'retreats', where there is ample time to hammer in new moves, but also re-train the body to move in a new way when slaloming. So far I've just run the initial pilot in London, and I loved every minute of it, particularly now having the time to include video feedback as part of it. In 2009 they'll hit Miami, Boston, and maybe an encore in London...
It's all part of a cunning ploy to get other people to do the travelling instead of me... ;)
Besides... Other passions?
I'm a devil with the devil stick! I challenge anyone to a jigsaw race! And my pyrography with a magnifying glass has won craft competitions! My recent hobby was learning Korean, but now I think I'm in-between hobbies... I tend to be extremely obsessive with them. There's so many skills that I'd love to learn when I've stopped living out of a suitcase.
On the flip side, I failed grade 1 piano twice (yes, apparently it's possible), and can't swim properly.
More to say?
If you're bored of all the usual trick videos, and want to see some video clips of some slightly weirder tricks, check out my trick menu, particularly in the 'other tricks' section, it has some random style moves you might like!
If you want to speak to other freestyle skaters about all aspects of freestyle, in my opinion the best internet forum around at the moment is www.freestyleskaters.org. It's the USA freestyle forum, but it's used by skaters all over the world.
Thanks to Cheri for befriending the other lonely skater girl and teaching her the barrel-roll. And to Richard for fancying Cheri so much that he showed us the grapevine. Photo Credit: Ben Roberts, 2008 Photo Credit: Ben Roberts, 2008
Video LondonStyle (2006)
Video Naomi in San Francisco (2007)
Video PSWC 08
Video Shanghai Slalom Open 07
Video World Leisure Games (ChunCheon, KOR) '08
Forum roller in London
USA Freestyle forum
Interview on Rollersouk.com (Fr)
Interview on Londonskaters.com
Interview on Skateline.com
Photos: all rights reserved