Exclusive Interview W/ PIERRE-LUC GAGNON

Words by Brian Terhorst  |  Photography by Daniel Mathieu

AGE: 31
GIRLFRIEND: Denise Russo
HOMETOWN: Montreal, Canada
CURRENT CRIB: Carlsbad, California
CURRENT RIDE: Mercedes Benz cls 550
PETS: Two French Bulldogs (freakin’ awesome!)
SPONSORS: Monster Energy Drink, Darkstar Skateboards, Osiris Footwear, Electric Visual, Capix Helmets, Diamond Supply, Grizzly Grip Tape, RDS Apparel, Gold Wheels, Thunder Trucks

PLG has been riding a skateboard since he was 8 years old. During the cold winters in Canada his dad was there for him, driving him back & forth to the indoor skate parks and keeping him stocked up with the gear & equipment necessary to excel in his chosen sport. Now, over a decade after turning professional he can boast Gold Medals from The X Games, wins on the Dew Tour the Gravity Games and The Maloof Money Cup. He is at the pinnacle of vert skateboarding, but takes nothing for granted.

Always looking to stay at the top of his sport he has begun a tough regiment at The Arena MMA Gym with strength and conditioning coach, Rob Garcia. Rob G. is one of the top strength and conditioning experts in the industry. He was Kelly Slater’s conditioning coach, and he worked with the 1996 U.S. Olympic Boxing Team. He has worked with Oscar de la Hoya, BJ Penn, Diego Sanchez, Sonny Garcia and a select handful of action sports athletes. Cross training with Rob G. is another way these athletes stay in top shape within their demanding sports.

In a sport where the threat of traumatic injury is a constant, Pierre is well aware of the danger. He has experienced some major injuries over the years, and understands that there is a shelf life for most skateboard champions. He understands that what he has accomplished, very few (if any) in the world could do. But, by no means has he let his success go to his head. He’s an extremely centered kid. (I call him a kid only because he is younger than myself and still rides a skateboard) But seriously, he’s a man on a mission and has a clear view of the path before him. We arranged to hang out with Pierre for a few days to get a good idea about where he’s coming from. I’m glad we did.

RIS: How did you get started in vert?
PLG: My dad was always really supportive, especially when I was young. My dad told me as long as I stay in school and do what I have to do (school-wise) He would support my skating. He knew that’s what I wanted to do…skate every day. So it was his way to keep me in school and keep me motivated. He was like, “If you’re sucking’ at school, you know you’re not gonna get that new board. I’ll take everything away from you…you’ll be on your own.” When you’re a little kid…like twelve years old. How do you get a board? It’s not like you have a day job or anything. In Canada five or six months out of the year you can’t skate outside, so you kinda rely on your parents to run you to the indoor skate park. That’s where I got good. I was there everyday after school from 4 to 9.

RIS: When did you first turn pro?
In 1996 the Vans Warped Tour had this contest series. At each stop of the tour they held a little vert contest where the winner would get a trip to California for the finals. I ended up getting second place. Man… I really wanted that trip to California. So, me and my dad drove down to New York the next day, and I won the stop in New York City. I ended up getting a trip out to Hollywood for the finals at Universal Studio. It was pretty cool ‘cause there was the Vans triple Pro contest and right before that was the Am contest, I wound up winning the Am contest, by winning that I got a sponsorship with Vans Shoes. That really allowed me to travel.  …I think it was early ‘97 when they turned me Pro. My first Pro contest was the Tampa Pro. I think I made the top 10. Ended up going to Europe that summer…pretty much placing in the top 10, top 12, consistently all year. At the end of the year they ended up renewing my deal & that’s how everything got started. To this day I love traveling the world and skating for a living. It’s amazing

RIS: So let’s talk about how you wound up in SD
Fast forward to 2000…I got second place in the X Games in August & was like “What am I doing in Montreal still?” There was a great skate scene but as far as being a vert skater… it was really hard. There was me & Max Dufour & that was pretty much it. Max was focused on the business end of things, so I was skating by myself a lot…getting kinda bummed out. So, yeah…let’s move out to California. Came out here & moved in with Matias Ringstrom …now I’ve been here for 11 years.

RIS: What do you like best about San Diego
Just the fact that I’m living in the center of the vert scene. Bucky’s got a bowl in his backyard. Tony Hawk has a private ramp. We’ve got a private ramp with Monster Energy Drink & DC Shoes. All my friends that I skate with all live around here. It’s a perfect location & you can’t beat the weather

RIS: Is there any one title or championships that rises above the rest?
It’s hard to choose one over the other. I’m proud of different wins for different reasons. X Games is usually a little more pressure than any other events. It’s so big. The crowd at Staple Center and now Nokia Theatre. There’s such a big build up at X Games. If you do good at X Games you’re like set for the year. Live on ESPN…It’s a big deal. But then….Maloof Money Cup. It’s over a whole weekend – two days. You skate Mini Mega Ramp & then Vert. Each day is for half your score. There’s $75,000 on the line for first place. That’s another intense challenge… in a different way. Then there’s Dew Tour. You have to be consistent through out the year. Three or four stops in a row to win the overall. So, Then you have to have more of a strategy, versus just, like going for it. Sometimes you play it safe & settle for second or third instead of going for the winning run right off the bat.

In 2001 I was really happy with my skating & I felt like I had a good shot at winning X games but I broke my wrist like a week before. I remember flying to Philly & telling myself my wrist wasn’t broken, just sprained. The night before the event I finally went to the doctor in Philly to get an X-ray. My wrist was so bad I couldn’t even hold a fork. They were like “Are you crazy? Your wrist is dislocated & broken in two places. You need surgery immediately!” Then they were like… “I can do surgery for you tonight here in Philly for twelve thousand dollars.” I said “Forget about it.” & took a bus overnight to Canada. In Canada, you know, I had free health care. So I got surgery the next morning… three pins put in my wrist. I ended up watching the X Games on TV. That was the year Bob Burnquist won doing that Blunt Kickflip Out in the contest. So it’s actually probably a good thing.. (he laughs) …because he probably would have beat me.”

But then the following year, I was pretty pissed off about missing the previous year. So I was really fired up & tried to win that contest. I ended up nailing everything & won the contest. I went & partied all night. Next morning, I was like super hung over from celebrating the win. I still had Best Trick. So I showed up to the ramp. I was in pretty bad shape but I wound up pulling it off & won the Best Tick too. That was probably like the best week ever. I won the Vert contest for the first time and backed it up with the Best Trick. That was my first two Golds in the X Games.

RIS: Let’s hear some more accomplishments…
After that a couple second places….got hurt again… three silvers in 2004. 2005 came back with another win. 2006 I broke my kneecap in three pieces. So I was out for a little while. Then the Dew Tour came around. The first couple of years me & Bucky (Lasick) were really battling for the title. I remember the first year I was like four points away from the win & he barely beat me. I ended up winning it a few years later…I think in 2008. Then Shaun (White) took it one year. Then I won the last two years

Since 2005 it’s pretty much been Bucky Lasik, Shaun White and myself. I think we’ve pretty much won all the vert contests. When it comes to Mega Ramp obviously Bob Burnquist owns it. With Mini Mega, I mean between Bob & myself, we’ve had a pretty good battle on that thing. I really love Mini Mega ramp cause it’s close enough to vert. It’s not so big, you know? If you skate vert a lot you feel good on Mini Mega right away. You get the same set up. You don’t need that crazy oversized board like you do on the regular Mega ramp. It’s probably one of my favorite things to skate right now.

RIS: So how is the dynamic between you guys anyway?
We’re all friends. Sometimes we’ll say stuff in front of the media to create some kind of rivalry & keep it entertaining for the crowd and stuff. But we all travel together, we’re all friends. Behind the scenes we all skate together all year round. We all get along… it’s just…. we’re also all trying to win. Obviously on the ramp during the contest we’re gonna be competitive, but it’s a friendly competition.

RIS: Ok, Let’s talk about the way sport is changing and the money that goes with it.
It’s awesome for us because we get to make a good living from skating. But it’s not like basketball money…we’re making a descent living, but it’s nothing outrageous. You gotta realize, by the time you’re 40, your skateboard career is pretty much done. There’s only a few people, like Steve Caballero that still make a living out of skating after that age. You definitely have to be really smart with your money & plan for the future


RIS: What’s it like working with one of the best conditioning coaches in the world, Rob Garcia?
It’s so cool. I got to meet Rob this year. He’s been helping me plan my conditioning & balancing that with the skating. He makes sure that I’m not overdoing it & I’m not too tired to go skate right after training. I can learn a lot from him. You know he was training Oscar De La Hoya for eight years? I have a lot of respect for what he’s done.
We get along really well. There’s more than just training, there’s a friendship between us. We really get along.

RIS: How much thought is spent on your diet?
Growing up I used to have a lot of allergies. I changed my diet around 2005 and it’s fixed a lot of them. I don’t really eat wheat or gluten or that kind of stuff. I don’t get those (allergies) anymore, that’s really helped me. Now working with Rob he tries to give me tips to make my diet even better. Especially being on the road. It’s not easy to eat well. The last Dew Tour he came out with me to Vegas. He went to the market & was making my food in the room. It was pretty cool to have him there. It was like I had my own personal chef (laughing) So that was pretty dope.

RIS: How does this conditioning play into your success?
I can really feel the difference in the late heats of contests like the Dew Tour. The last couple of years the format of vert has changed. Usually you take four runs and then you move into the Superfinals where it’s the top five where you take four more runs. So it’s like eight runs pretty much back to back and that gets pretty tiring. Especially Maloof Money Cup where you skate Mini Mega ramp all day then vert right after. By the end of the day you get pretty burned out. For me boxing and doing all that stuff on the side is a lot harder (physically) than skating. If I’m in good shape doing that, then it makes skating pretty easy. When it’s the end of the day and I’m taking my last run, I’m not really tired.
It’s great to be able to focus on skating and not focus on being tired. Boxing helps my reflexes & core strength throwing all the punches. I can relate. If I’m gonna do like a 540 on a skateboard or throw a left hook…it’s pretty much the same motion. You need that core strength to start your spin. I dunno….I feel like I’ve been skating the best that I’ve ever been skating this past year, and I’ve also been boxing… so…It’s definitely not hurting my skating.

RIS: Do you have any advice for the next generation of vert riders?
Basically, you gotta find your passion and then stick with it. It’s really hard to be good at something if you don’t love what you’re doing. That’s what I’ve been living by pretty much my whole life. You have to love it to get better. So, find what you love and stick with it (and never stop). I feel that’s the key to success. Being passionate about what you’re doing and having a great time doing it.

RIS: What organizations are you active with or part of?
We did a few demos for the Tony Hawk Foundation. We just did a demo in Vegas. They’ve opened up a ton of skateparks for kids. I’m always down to support Tony’s foundation. It was a great turnout in Vegas, it was a really cool event. And obviously, Grind For Life. The foundation against cancer with Mike Rogers. They provide financial assistance to cancer patients and their families when traveling long distances to doctors and hospitals. And then there’s The Clash at Clairemont in March – I’m always part of that every year.

RIS: What’s next for PLG
It’s kinda the off season. Recently I’ve been filming a lot & shooting photos. We just dropped that video part with Monster Energy Drink. I’m working on an Osiris Shoes video part and a Darkstar Video part. Just getting ready for this years’ contests. Asian X Games end of April kicks off the season. I can’t wait to ride the Mini Mega Ramp that’s getting built at Blackbox in the parking lot. They put that in a container & ship it over to Asia. It takes like a month. So Yeah….learning how to box, skateboarding everyday….just doin’ what I’m doin’ (laugh)

RIS: How can people follow you online?
If you want to follow me, then follow me on twitter, instagram or facebook – @plgsk8.

I want to thank all my sponsors and thanks to you guys too, for doing this feature on me. And Robbie Garcia…for showing me how to box.

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