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CLOSE UP INTERVIEW

Close Up Fingerboards needs no introduction. The french brand was the first to offer a complet set of miniature skaterboard in a shop, and at an affordable price. Since 2007, it has been one of the few that counts in the industry and that has made the fingerboard evolve over time. It has always been present in the ups and downs.


On a mondial scale, only a few manufacturers can claim to have been making a living from fingerboards for so long. And in France, he is simply the only one.


Damien Bernadet is a self-taught and visionary businessman, a true pioneer who followed in the footsteps, at the time still fresh, of Lance Mountain. That was more than 25 years ago. Exclusive interview with one of the godfathers of the small skateboard @closeup_bebar !



Fingerboardz : Hi Damien ! It's great to do this ITW. There is no better opportunity to talk about the history of fingerboarding than with you ! I think we can say that Close-Up was the culmination of your long activism, which has its roots in the origins of the discipline. The first video we know of you is Fingerskate Embryo, for people who don't know your background can you remind us when it was made ?


Damien BERNADET : So, Fingerskate Embryo! I retitled it like this, it's our little video from 1996, edited with footage from 95/96, because it's the embryo. We're really into the early days of fingerboarding. We did this with my buddy Tony (Pauthex) from Dijon, who has been my skateboarding buddy for over 30 years now.


Fingerskate Embryo - 1996


FBZ : But wait, we're both about the same age and in 1995, for the younger ones, Tech Deck didn't exist yet ! Where did you get those fingerboards we see in Embryo? Are they homemade ?

D.B : Yeah well, we took off all the skateboard key chains we could find, and started to deform the board. We raised the nose and tail when it was plastic. And shaping our boards when we had wood. So that's how we started shaping our own boards. For the trucks we had PVC cubes that we drilled to put a cotton rod axle in.


FBZ : Seriously ? Cotton swabs ?

D.B : Yeah, Tony and I had developed a technique from Dijon. We made wheels out of PVC tube that we had cut, so we got wheels with a hole. We put them on our cotton stem axle, and you can see that by burning the ends it expanded the plastic and blocked the wheels. So yeah, we're talking about mid-90s craftsmanship. (NOTE: These boards can be seen in Fingerskate Embryo) So, we were here, until we got to the electrician's domino trucks ! This is an old skater from Auxerre, Guillaume, who showed me the trick.


There are several sizes of dominoes and we found the perfect thing for our boards... These are the boards we used in the 411VM Fingers of Fury video

FBZ : So we are in the middle of the 90's, with Tony you release this first video and at the time you already think of a brand of Fingerboard ! It was called F.S.B, right ?

D.B : Yeah with this video we wanted to build a brand, but the problem is that we were too young, too childish. Too inexperienced, no digital, no internet (laughs). It was hard time ! Just imagine ! To think worldwide when you are in 1995 (laughs), it is complicated.


441VM Fingers of Fury - 1999



FBZ : After this first video, something totally improbable is going to happen, we have to talk about it ! In 1998/99 you're finally going to trip worldwide by doing two fingerboard parts in two absolutely cult video-skatemags : 411VM and Magic by Powell Peralta ! What's the story behind all this ?

D.B : I knew the guys from Tricks Skatemag well, and they sent me to a trade show in Los Angeles, where there are all the stars and the skate industry. And there I find myself like : "Hi Rodney Mullen", "Hi Pierre-André", "Hi George Powell" ! Totally, directly ! There was also Steve Caballero. I swear, I find myself like that at a table "Hi guys". And I came there, with one of my fingerboards, and I come to speak to them "Look there is something to do, we must talk about it, look what we do with our fingers !"


Here is the guy from Dijon, in front of George Powell in 98. And the guys at that time gave me a micro parts in the Magic Powell Peralta video n°XVI. So I got two parts from the Americans, and it stayed there, it established the thing.


POWELL PERALTA MAGIC XVI - 1998



FBZ : Let's take a leap forward in time. 2007 is the beginning of the marketing of Close Up fingerboards. How is it going ? What has been your journey in the meantime ?

D.B : I worked in a great skateshop (Pacific Wear) and the boss, Marc Beranger, had trained me well. It allowed me to test the customers. I soon met a guy who was creating a snowboard brand. And he put me in charge of sales. I canvassed in the regions where snowboards could be sold in France. And then what did I do ? I already had my idea, I had already gone to China, I came back with my price and mold study, I had everything. So I went to all the skateshops and asked them to sign a commitment. I told them "If tomorrow I bring you this, you buy it at this price and you sell it at this price ?".


When I returned from this tour I went to the bank, there I made a loan and my parents lent me a little too. I went to find two partners : 52.24.24, I kept 52%. A year later we bought the shares of the third partner, and eight years ago there was a big downturn and I bought everything back.


I'll admit in 2013 when business was not easy, I almost gave up, I was giving up... But in July/August I had shop orders that were falling, falling ! So I couldn't stop, you know. I was thinking about a reconversion, in another field. But faced with the demand, I don't know anyone in France who would have stopped doing that. I was ahead of the product, its accessible price, the cost, the brand, I couldn't stop. And here we go again ! This is what happened. There were 2/3 waves (of interest for Fb), but you have to manage the lows, which can be a bit longer.


Today I am happy that the troughs are less long than before. That it is really democratized. We'll see the impact of skateboarding at the Olympic Games, we'll see, but it can help fingerboarding.


“Today I am happy that the troughs are less long than before. That it is really democratized. We'll see the impact of skateboarding at the Olympic Games, we'll see, but it can help fingerboarding.”

FBZ : We haven't even talked about your very first trip to China! In 2000, to do business there, you have to go in person. It's not the same as placing an order on Aliexpress. How did it go ?

D.B : Let me summarize : my father had a friend of a friend, of a friend, who made electric bikes. I go to see the guy, I show him my prototypes. He says to me "Ok, I have a contact on the spot, you go there but you don't talk business. You just go and see on a technical level...". That's when I go to China in June 2005, I'm 28 years old, you see, and there I meet the guy, it's crazy, but he's an ambassador of Rael (laughs). I say to myself "Wow, what are we going to do ?" (laughs) A Frenchman, a little bit weird in the style, but established for 20 years on the spot. A raelian with the cross and with an old look of singer of the 80s. Crazy stuff (laughs).


Anyway I arrive in the sand, north of China by a bus at the edge of town, with my skateboard, my backpack and some Fb prototypes in it, to meet the guy. So I do the thing, I go to the factory with the raelian, he introduces me right away to his Chinese father-in-law. And then I was reassured: he is not a Raelian (laughs), he is a normal Chinese man. The guy is working on other things in his factory, and I say to myself, "It's all right, it's serious! I'm in the right place, the guys are working". So we went for it.


But during this 15 days, first of all, I see Danny Way jumping the Chinese Wall ! And secondly I find a micro-skateshop, you were wondering how the guy did it, it's crazy at the time the north of China looks more like Mongolia. And then the guy says to me "Awesome man ! You must be the second foreigner to pass by here after Rodney Mullen a month ago" (laughs). You got it, I say to myself "Damn, I'm on the right track here, in this city I'm going to do some stuff !" (laughs). Because you see the guy is not only a freestyle legend, he is the boss of Globe ! He's also a businessman. And it actually killed me, so I said to myself "This is the right city, let's go there !


FBZ : Before you got to this point and started, did you take the temperature ? By the mid 2000's the Tech Deck hype was over !

D.B : Yeah for example in 2004 I go in the car with a friend from Tricks Skatemag. He takes his camera and I tell him "Let's go to Lustenau in Austria, there is a finger contest". And before I set up Close Up, before I go to China for the first time, I want to check that there is a phenomenon that will be European, and worldwide. So I'm going to see what's going on over there, you remember, it was called Fingaspeak at the time. It was Emil who organized the small contest, and there was Martin Ehrenberger (NOTE: the boss of Blackriver) who was there with a small team. Elias Assmuth was there too (laughs)... But you should have seen the garage in the little town in Austria in 2004... !


And then I arrive with my friend, and they announce me on the mic as the legend of 411VM Fingers of Fury ! (laughs) It was huge, this little contest in a town deep in Austria organized by Emil ! This guy managed to send flyers to Paris, I don't know how.


It boosted me, but it also boosted Martin for Blackriver, to see that the Fingers Of Fury champion is coming here. We're here, we know there's something going on. The 30/40 kids who were there that day, well they were the same kids all over the world ! We know that it's good, they were going to be there. And this village was the perfect example. It was perfect to prove to us that : It's good ! Let's go !


Close Up on Gulli (french TV) with Damien Bernadet - 2021


FBZ : The rare times we hear about Fingerboard in the French media, it's naturally you who does it. We saw you for example with Antoine De Caunes, in Trax Magazine, and several times on Gulli. Do you think the mainstream is ready for fingerboarding ?

D.B : Don't worry, the general public will be interested : "Ah but are we doing ollie-flips with our fingers ?". That's what I tell the mainstream now : it's a discipline ! Fingerboarding is like the piano of board culture. It's important that they see it that way, because if they just do a poor ollie or start teasing switch-trees, it doesn't matter : they know that there is a discipline that is there for generations.


Close Up with Antoine De Caunes on Canal+ - 2018


FBZ : Earlier we were talking about being worldwide, for Close Up it's a reality now ! You are distributed everywhere, right ?

D.B : Yeah in Portugal Yellowood distributes me, Radical in Australia, in the United States it's Mike Schneider who distributes me since 2008. When he buys it, it's by 300 (copies).


For the anecdote : in 2007 I receive containers of 20 000 fingerboards in the zips, the GEN1 that you know. It was the first complete miniature skateboard kit in the world. And now Mike, he's 15 years old and he sends me $3000 on Paypal (laughs) saying "Wow this is killer, I'll take this !". At the time he was tinkering, selling grip and stuff like that. In Japan there's a guy too, it's Sunabe Skateshop, I don't know what they do with my fingerskates, but they order them in boxes of 500.


“That's what I tell the mainstream now: it's a discipline ! Fingerboarding is like the piano of board culture.”

FBZ : In Japan ? Is it Hooded Skateshop ?

D.B : No, no. Hooded is another guy, very nice, a family man who opened a skateshop. He is the Japanese Asi Berlin shop ! He tells me that other brands are being created in Japan right now, and that the phenomenon is growing there. We made a collab by the way, very nice. And in Japan when they saw my collab with Heroin skateboard it was echoed, as in the Heroin team there is Gou Miyagi.


FBZ : You were talking about a growing phenomenon, you who have experienced all the waves of interest in the discipline, what do you think about the mondial interest for the fingerboard right now ?

D.B : I would say that it is the beginning of the democratization of the phenomenon. We are in the decade, as for skateboarding at one time, compared to fingerboarding, which settles in its history. And the fact that the discipline is becoming more and more tech, like skateboarding. We know that it lasts, but it took a few waves of fashion to get more and more people on board with each wave.


The time that the skill, that the most skilful emerge in fact. Maybe by doing some mainstream, for example on Gulli, we show people who don't skateboard that fingerskate exists. And you know what they tell me in skateshops ? "We sold complete skateboards to people who started by assembling your fingerboards".


FBZ : Besides, you did a lot of collabs with skateboard brands, didn't you ?

D.B : So the first big collabs are Hantiz and 5Boro. But for the anecdote, Tech Deck who was already in deal with 5Boro, kindly told Steve (Rodriguez) to stop with us. There wasn't any conflict, but there it is. Unfortunately, at the time I didn't have the money to pay a lot of royalties and to try to keep the brand. But there were others.


Then there was Heroin, I even did Bacon Skateboards, another collab in Japan, Trap Skateboards... I've done a lot, we've done over 100 official graphics, brands, artists.



FBZ : What's next for Close Up ?

D.B : I'm working on 2/3 things to consolidate Close-Up, I've got my ideas and I've even got a product there that I should release I'll tell you that. When it comes out I'll be good. It's a bit complicated, the molding. But here it goes : to be continued ! We're going to be innovative, and stay in the game.


It's taking a while, in fact I'm taking so much time to consolidate Close Up in shops, and even in museums (NOTE: collabs to come). There will also be some evolutions, it's been delayed with my surgery (ligaments) and the virus. There are some great times ahead.


FBZ : Before I finish this ITW, I really want to thank you for everything. First of all for your work, what you have created and contributed in more than 25 years of activism. And also for the support and trust you have shown me since the beginning of my project. It's an honor ! The last word is for you, if you have any bigup or other to pass, don't hesitate !

D.B : Big Up to you Ronan for this chronology of the Fingerboard History ! Thanks to all the "Skateboardistique" culture which motivated me since 1990, Tricks Skatemag, Sugar Skatemag, 411 Video Mag, G. Powell, Prog.33 Traxs, Canal+, Gulli, Shifty and all the skateshops partners since 2006 !


And THE Family ;)


Tribute to Jim Morrison for the 40th anniversary of his death - 2011

Turntable skatepark - 2007


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