We spoke with former world champion skater Tas Pappas, who came to Sheffield Doc/Fest to present Eddie Martin’s film All This Mayhem, which chronicles the rise and tragic fall of Tas and his brother Ben. All This Mayhem is currently on limited cinema release.
The first thing we want to know is, have you got back in touch with your kids?
Is there any progress?
No, she’s [his ex-wife] just cut me completely.
When was the last time you saw them?
Seven years ago. Painful, very painful.
Since you started, how do you think the cultural importance of skateboarding has changed?
Well, when I grew up you got bashed for being a skater, and now there’re skateboard toys at McDonald’s. It’s a lot safer to be a skateboarder these days!
In terms of your background, you describe yourself as a ‘bogan’ [Australian slang term vaguely comparable to ‘chav’ in the UK]. Do you think that these sports are often an escape for people from such backgrounds?
It’s an escape for anyone. Even rich kids, you know, can escape from their rich problems.
Eddie Martin (Director): Definitely. We were all outcasts as kids, we weren’t the kids who wanted to play football or whatever. And a lot of us did come from broken homes, didn’t we? Don’t know why…
Obviously you talk in the film about the drinking and the drugs and everything. Physically, today, how are you? Are you suffering at all?
My metal rod in the leg causes pain in my hip. The main thing is that I suffer from mental illness, borderline personality disorder. The meds didn’t work before, but I prayed and God’s been good to me and they’re working. Low dose of Seroquel and Lexapro. It’s gotten me to a point where I can back down if I’m starting to flip out, and not fly off the handle and screw everything up.
In the film, one person says ‘skateboarding’s fucking fucked nowadays’. How do you feel about that statement?
I know exactly what he meant. It means it’s gone too corporate. Skateboard competitions…you’d win an Am series and then you’d make it to the Pro series and you’d have a points system, right? That was when I was there. Then ESPN came in and just started making it invite, no points system, and now there’s no more earning your way through, it’s just whether or not you’re on the good side of people at ESPN and Tony Hawk whether you get the mass world media, to get a full career out of it.
Do you agree with this idea that skaters like Tony Hawk and his team ‘selling out’ has ruined the perception of skateboarding?
Look, at the end of the day they’re amazing skateboarders. All his mates, Boom Boom and all that, they’re amazing skateboarders, but we had it set up at one point to where we were going to have a union and we were going to boycott on the day and we would have had it in our court. It would have been a points system and would have been set up like pro football, the way you get paid as proper pro athletes, but it just so weirdly happened that all the friends of Tony went scab on the day and ESPN told the rest of us ‘you won’t get your thousand bucks for turning up if you don’t get into line, we’ll just fly in some shitkickers’. That put our union to rest and ever since then it’s been like whoever’s friends with Tony is the one who’s going to blow up in X Games and I just think that’s wrong, that’s not fair.
Do you think there is a kind of snobbery against skateboarders, against skateboarding?
Oh, of course there is, but just like any progressive, modern sport, people don’t really understand it until they see it. Skateboarding to me is the best sport in the world.
At the end of the film we see you doing the pay-by-the-day competitions, to keep supporting your family. Are you still doing that?
Well, right now I work on high rise buildings, abseiling, cleaning windows, then I skate on the weekend. I just got the 900 on Anzac day, so I was pretty happy with that.
The whole reason I did the doco…that skateboarding period was just one period that I got dirty on. It jaded me and Ben just how political and unfair it became. One thing led to another, drugs kicked in, and now I’m just using this as a platform to reach out to youth who are going down the wrong path, and for my kids in America to see this and find me one day.
Basically the doco’s a life story, just set in skateboarding. All that skateboarding past, you asked about it, I’m just telling you what happened, it’s not what it’s about. It’s basically a story of life. If you turn to God and do the right thing, you know…He helped me, man.
How hard was it for you going back through this again?
Obviously when you talk about what happened to Ben…
It kills me, man.
In terms of the filming, did it take a long time to discuss it, to talk through it?
Oh yeah, yeah. Me and Eddie…he knew he had to build the trust, and he did. I had a lot of moments where it was really hard. When I first got out of jail I wasn’t on meds yet so I was in full snap mode, because of my mental illness, so I was pretty hard to deal with. But he fully understood, because he’s dug up the story and he’s worked out that a lot of the way we were painted just wasn’t fair. He’s done a really good job of finding out the truth.
Is there a point when you have to stop skating? Where you have to give up? I’ve just watched you skating there [at Sheffield’s House skate park] and you’re still going and don’t look ready to give it up, but is there a point when you think you’ll have to?
The point is when you can’t afford knee surgeries or can’t afford hip replacements.
So you said you’ve got a metal rod in the hip…
Metal rod in the right femur, broke my back twice, ligaments are torn in both knees, bone on bone in my left knee. As soon as it gets too painful to move that’s, I suppose, when I can’t smash myself. Abseiling off buildings in good because you’re sitting in a seat, you’re hanging, so I rest my knees all day. Then I can skate at night.
Talking to you now it seems like you’ve recovered well from what happened to you. What are you going to tell your children about your past?
I’ll be dead set honest with them. I was a nightmare, I was hard to live with. I understand why your mum left me, I just don’t agree with cutting me off completely. I’ve paid the ultimate price for being a drugged-out psycho, you know. I lost my family. I had underlying issues why I was that way, but I didn’t know it yet. I didn’t know I needed help. Colleen knows that, but her mum basically said ‘you have to cut him completely or you can’t live with me’…and I understand it, because once they found out what happened with Ben and Lynette, they must have been thinking that’s what I was going to do, or something. I understand it, but it’s still too hard to cop. I haven’t seen my babies in seven years, man. It’s bloody painful, I’d wish it on no-one.
In the film we see you going back to Prahran, the skate park where it all started. Do you still do this?
Yeah, I skate Prahran all the time! It’s crazy.
How do the other skaters there regard you?
Oh, I’m mates with them all. It’s all good. Small scene. All the guys I work with on the buildings are all street skaters, they skate Lincoln Square.
As we’re in Sheffield, your thoughts on the House skate park?
I like it, it’s fun! It’s cool. I’m a vert skater, and there’s a lot of coping and stuff, my kind of street.
I’ve never been able to get over the fear standing on the lip of a ramp, I’m too much of a pussy…what does it feel like doing a 900?
Ah man, it just felt…honestly the one I just made felt like a backside grab 540. But I just spun extra hard, just whipped it in last minute. I was just tripping, man. I was thankful, thank you Jesus. Blessing after blessing, thank you Lord.