CLS Interview: Mick Yuen

Introduction by Sid Tapia. Interview by Yeoh and Facebook fans. Mick Yuen . . . Out of the whole CLS crew and Oz at the time, it was undeniable that Mick was ahead of us all when it came down to being stylishly tech!

Now when I say stylishly tech, I mean his eminent technical ability coupled with his appealing physical aesthetics. Mick held and displayed these ever so naturally. I personally found it to be untouchable and invitingly intimidating.

Here's one of many a rad story about Mick. This ones about his approach to learning nose manuals. In the early days of our friendship I found his approach to skateboarding unlike anybody else's I had ever come across. We met for a roll one day and his board had three sets of trucks on it. Yep, the third was placed on the nose end of his board so that when he leant forward for a nose manual he would have the third set of trucks and wheels giving him a whole lot more stability which would mean he could basically stay in a manny position as long as he desired.

Now some may think this is strange, but if you know Mick, you would know that this now Doctor in Mechanical Engineering, also known to many as 'the manny king' was simply figuring and executing ways to do what others had never done and in-turn becoming great at the craft he so loves. The principle within such an approach as this is known to be the mark of a leader, for he is willing to step out of the norm regardless of the trends and opinions of others because he believes that his own unique actions will help achieve the desired result.

Now in saying all this I'm brought back to my initial opening sentence, which because of Mick's gift, carries so much weight... 'Out of the whole CLS crew and Oz at the time, it was undeniable that Mick was ahead of us all when it came down to being stylishly tech!'

Hey Mick, for any skaters who don’t know you, tell us how you got into skating and how you ended up meeting all the other CLS guys? Is it true you were a freestyle skateboarder when you started?

I started in 1986, heaps of kids in my neighbourhood had skateboards so I naturally wanted one too. Sid lived in the suburb next to mine and he was that talented, slightly older guy that all the kids wanted to skate and hang out with. We used to skate at Kempt Field bowl in Hurstville and that's where we first met Steve. He would come up from Engadine on Friday nights to session with us at Westfield's car park and I would go down to hang with Steve on the weekends. This is just before we started hitting up the city every weekend around 1991-1992. I recall Steve being the guy that seemed to have it all sorted out, he had a shop sponsor, he introduced me to Mike O'Meally who in turn introduced us to Davo and Phil. O'Meally was starting to get a lot of photos published and it worked really well with the 5 of us starting to come up and trying to get coverage.

Who told you about the freestyle stuff? Was it Dean or Sid? Did they also mention that I used to push mongo? Bastards. I was never really a full-on freestyle guy but I could certainly throw down some moves just to entertain the boys.

Do you think its cool to force an impressionable teen to eat ciggies for money? (Anthony Whittingham via Facebook)

Absolutely! To be fair, it was only 1 ciggie and that "impressionable" teen was passing around the hat claiming that he'd done it before and that it was no big deal. Well worth the 2 bucks I threw in to see his face turn green and watch him puke.

One of your first photos in a magazine was a flip down like 7 stairs or something. Is that right? Was there ever a time when you skated gaps or were you always more about flat ground and manuals?

It was actually a switch backside 180 ollie down seven stairs in a Slam magazine. The photo was printed so small that you could barely see it but I was still super psyched. I never really got into the gaps, I tried at first but I was so uncomfortable with it that I gave up on it pretty early. I've pretty much been obsessed with manuals since the beginning. EMB, the World Park, Pier 7 and all those amazing skateboarders who skated there like Henry, Gino, Guy and Daewon have been a huge influence on my skating.

How the hell do you ride your trucks so loose? (Joey Lyons via Facebook)

It's my secret weapon. Loose trucks means you can sketch out and land a bit crooked but still roll away looking ok. You also get to not only use the nose and tail but you get left, middle and right nose and tail to pop off. Let's you build up a bit of pressure so you can pop your tricks way higher. Just a theory but it definitely worked for me.

Before CLS you rode for Kewday for a long time. Tell us about how that came about. Didn’t you get sponsored by Mike McGill doing manuals in a car park, or something?

Yeah that all went down in a carpark in Engadine where Steve and I used to session all the time. Jamie Bartie had brought out Mike McGill and Jeff Toland to promote Chapter 7. I was just skating in the background and McGill rolls straight up to me with a camera and asks if I want to film a line! I did a double 180 kickflip varial, frontside pressure flip, manual and then a backside 360 ollie on flat. I never saw the footage but after that day Jamie started to flow me product.

Best trick you saw go down between 1990-2000 in the Sydney CBD (Michael Tay via Facebook)

That one’s gotta go to Davo and Mark Harris who set-up a hoax Willy Santos and Josh Casper demo at the Pit. They made fake flyers and were handing them out at SDS for about a week. The Pit was packed the afternoon of the demo with tonnes of disappointed kids. We were pissing our pants. A close second is the time Davo came back from the States and asked who was ripping. Mark Harris and I told him that Raj from General Pants had gotten seriously good. Davo fully believed us until Raj came down to the Pit after work and started rolling. Davo was so pissed off but Mark and I were giggling like a bunch of school girls.

You were involved in some interesting skate tours with Kewday back in the day? You skated with Lennie Kirk a few times right? Any crazy stories about that guy? Who else did you skate for over the years?

Yeah, Jamie put together some really good tours over the years and it gave me a great opportunity to see a lot of Australia and to meet a bunch of cool Australian skaters as well as quite a few US pros. Yeah, Lennie Kirk was out here with Josh Kalis. Nothing too crazy happened from memory; we hung out a lot and skated the city. He was a few months into his religious stuff but he was super mellow. I remember he made Jamie drive us all over the city so that he could locate a very specific type of bible that he wanted to buy for me!

I skated for Kewday from 1992 to 1998. We did CLS Skateboards in 1999 and after that I finished up riding for Boom for a few years. I skated for eS shoes the whole time. I also rode for Elwood clothing for a bit but as soon as Davo and Steve had started Illume I knew I couldn’t refuse an offer to ride for them.

How many Boom boards do you have stacked in your room? (Cody Riley via Facebook)

Right now I've got one each of my pro models including 1 Boom board and 1 CLS team board but back in the day the I had hoarded up to around 25 or so new decks.

Steve mentioned in his interview that you would remember how the name CLS got started. Was it Sid who came up with the name? What's your memory of how it came about?

CLS was actually an abbreviation for CLASS. I remember walking out the front of Davo and Nathan Ho’s place in Annandale one morning and seeing Sid and Phil talking about coming up with a name for our crew. We were into Polo, Nautical and Timberland and heavily influenced by World, Blind, 101, Girl, Chocolate, Greg, Ben and Ryan so I said something like "It's gotta be classy" and Sid instantly suggested CLASS. I thought it was a bit much but Sid liked the idea. His interpretation was of a school class room and that it was all about learning, innovation and progression which reflected our skateboarding.

What’s the wildest night you've ever had after one whole glass of scotch? (Ben Harriss via Facebook)

I can't remember anything specific but I certainly had some wild times with the CLS crew, Time crew and Melbourne crew.

I heard you did a PHD while you were still skating pretty consistently. Was that difficult to manage? Did your approach to skating help with academics at all?

Yeah, I completed a mechanical engineering PhD at the University of Sydney studying car seat design and whiplash disorder. It really wasn’t that difficult to manage. I was so psyched on skateboarding that I would just make sure that I had my work done during the week and then I would skate all weekend. If anything, the PhD prolonged my uni lifestyle and gave me the freedom to skate on the weekends and go on trips during the holidays. I remember Dom Kekich commenting on how I was tech at my studies and tech on a skateboard. I suppose there is some truth to it but I haven’t really thought too much about it.

The 2000 Sydney Olympics seem to have a big influence on the city. Did they affect skateboarding at all? Was it different before 2000?

I don’t know if it was specifically because of the 2000 Olympics, but it seems that pre-2000 there were loads of spots in the city and loads of skaters around all the time. We had the Pit, Prudential, Marble Blocks, NewOld. We spent so much time there that it felt like home and the crew felt like family. As the spots started to disappear so did many of the skaters but that could also be attributed to just the older guys losing interest. I’m definitely fond of the 90’s era, the skateboarders that I met and seeing tricks being invented, trends coming and going. I miss it so much.

What are you up to these days? I also hear you do a lot of rock climbing now. Are you still skating at all? 

I’m working as a Design Manager for an orthopaedics company in Sydney. We design and manufacture hip and knee replacement implants and surgical instrumentation. Climbing is kinda like my new skateboarding. I train indoors during the week and go outdoors on the weekend. I’ve been into it for about 8 years and done a bunch of rope climbing but the last 5 or so years I’ve been focused on bouldering, which is climbing with no ropes. It’s usually really technical and often done on steep overhanging walls and horizontal caves. I met my girlfriend Michi through climbing and I have great group of friends that I climb with and hang out with all the time.

I still skate from time to time maybe every other month. I love heading into the city and meeting up with Sid, Phil, Steve, Dean, Tim, Conal, Hamish, Simon, Al, Danny and all the Pit crew and NewOld crew. Ben Hariss was up recently and it was great to catch up and see him still killing it.

Last words?

I just want to say thanks to Chris and Steve for organising this CLS-Amnesia collaboration and to all the positive response we’ve had so far. It has triggered a lot of fond memories and I’m looking forward to a CLS reunion some time soon where we battle it out in one final game of S-K-A-T-E, winner takes all!

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