Q. & A.: Vadim Shtreker on Skateboarding and his Accident
Intro by Winston
Interview by Manny Lemire
I think I bumped into Vadim around 2016. I went over to my buddy Max’s house and Vadim was chilling there. He didn’t talk to me much then, but we still ended up skating People’s Square [in Shanghai] until 2 or 3 in the morning. I think that was one of the first street sessions I had with him. We didn’t say anything to each other that night, and I didn’t think we’d cross paths again. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that we reconnected. One of the homies brought him to the session. Later, we were chilling at the crib, and we ended up blazing and having a long conversation about life. Vadim is a chiller for sure. After that from 2018-2019 I think we skated together regularly every week. The best thing about Vadim is he’ll skate any spot you bring him to – from rooftops to manny pads to just dickin’ around on a curb. It’s always a blast having him on the sessions. He’s funny as hell to drink with too. Shanghai misses you bro!
Hey Vadim. How are you doing?
I’m sitting on the stairs outside of my place. Just chilling outside. Now it’s 4pm in Thailand. Now the sun isn’t so hot, so the conditions outside are perfect.
Do you think your health condition is ok to talk for about an hour?
Let’s do it. When it will be finished, it will be finished. I can talk about my health – about my body. But I can’t talk about my brain because I have huge brain damage. From inside, I can’t understand when I’m tired. When my brain is tired, then I will become aggressive. Like when you can’t understand information. That’s the point when the brain gets tired. But we’ll see. It’s already been 1 month since the crash.
Well, if at any point you want to stop, let me know.
Ok. I am free in Thailand. I want to talk about the motor crash. I have a lot of time that I spend by myself. Of course, I have friends here, but now I can’t skate or play music, so I have a lot of free time.
Should we start by talking about the accident, or should we start talking about your childhood, how you started skating, and how you came to China?
It’s up to you.
Let’s go back. We’ll eventually get to the accident. You grew up in Russia. Where in Russia did you grow up?
I was born in Volzhskiy. It’s in the south of Russia. It’s a small town with about 300,000 people. But it was a cool childhood. It’s not a huge city like Shanghai. It’s a small town. I spent my childhood in schools – music schools, sports sections. I had 8 classes.
I got into skateboarding through friends. I loved it, and I still love it after 18 years. I started skateboarding in Volzhskiy – my hometown. But one year later, my parents changed their lives. They sold their apartments and cars, and they moved to St. Petersburg. So, I spent my childhood in Volsk and St. Petersburg – the most beautiful city in the world. I have a lot of travel experiences, and I’ve seen a lot of cool cities. St. Petersburg is the most beautiful city in the world, but the weather is fucked up. The weather isn’t the best for skaters, not so comfortable. But there are a lot of cool things there. The skate community there is awesome.
So, St. Petersburg was my second home. Then I started to travel. The first country I visited was Egypt. Then I traveled around Europe. Then I went to Asia. The first time I came to China was 2015. I came to Shanghai because of my ex-girlfriend. She got a modeling contract in Shanghai, so I decided to go with her to spend the winter there. At this time, Russian skaters knew that Shanghai was a beautiful place for skateboarding – like mecca, like Barcelona. So, there were a lot of skaters there. So, I came to Shanghai, and I loved it. Shanghai is fucking awesome.
Shanghai was the first city I visited in China. But I also went to other cities – Beijing, Guangzhou – and other smaller cities. I spent more than 3 years of my life in China. I still miss it.
In 2019, Shanghai was my place. I had jobs. I was organizing parties with my friends for other people. It was cool. But in 2019, an accident happened. We organized a party, I got drunk, and I lost my passport. That was the reason why I went back to Russia. Then I got a new passport and a new Chinese visa, but then Covid started. My flight was cancelled in February of 2020.
Why did you have to leave China after you lost your passport? I also once lost my passport in Guangzhou. But there was a consulate in Guangzhou, so I went there, and they gave me a temporary passport. Was your situation different?
It was the same, but it was 2 weeks before my visa was going to expire. So, I needed to do a visa run. I had already bought a flight to Thailand. I planned to spend 1 month in Thailand, and then go back to China. So, the day after I lost my passport, I went to the police station and the immigration office. And they gave me a paper that was like a copy of my ID card. But that document only allowed me to leave China, not come back. And then at the Russian consulate, they gave me a paper that I could use to buy a ticket, but it also only worked to leave, not come back.
Then I spent 3 years in Russia with parents and friends. And then in February of this year, the war started. To live in the country at that time, in February, it was hard time. I was in a state of panic and shock. But then summertime started. And I was skating and filming with friends. (We are going to release a video in 2 weeks. We have about 15 minutes of cool footage.) You know how summertime is. I forgot about all the shit. I was in skate mode. It was cool.
But then in autumn, in September, they [the Russian government] announced mobilization. They needed new warriors. They tried to find 300,000 new soldiers. I’m 30 years old, so clearly it was a risk to stay in the country because they can close the borders. So, I made a fast run from Russia to Kazakhstan. I spent 2 months in Kazakhstan in Almaty. It was awesome. Wallride Skateshop is there. Almaty is like the San Francisco of Kazakhstan. It’s a super awesome place for skateboarding. (Wallride Skateshop just dropped a video on Thrasher.)
After Kazakhstan, it was my plan to spend the winter in Thailand. I already had 9 months of experience living in Thailand. Now I’m based in Ko Samui island. Last time I was here was 4 years ago. And now it was such a great feeling to be here again. I had been recommended Ko Samui as a place to come visit and chill. So, when I came here, I asked the island – my brother, my friend – to help me find myself, help me find the answers. I wanted this feeling of the soul singing. I wanted to find this feeling. And, in the same day, in the evening, this motor crash happened.
I don’t know how it works, but it’s a little bit weird. To find myself, I need to lose myself. Now I’m lost. I can’t skateboard. I can’t play music. Music is my second love. Because I have some problems with my brain – concussions of the 3rd degree, brain edema. I can’t remember 4 days. I can’t remember the moment of the motor crash. I still can’t remember. My skull was broken in several places. And, in the 2nd week after the crash, a doctor found a 0.2cm tumor in my brain. Surgery was risky, but now it’s gone. One of the broken bones in my skull cut nerves that are responsible for hearing, balance, and for face muscles. I can’t hear on one side. My ear is fucked up. And I can’t move half my face. And my balance is off. Now I’m sitting on the stairs, and I feel pretty comfortable. I can control my body and I feel stable. But if I walk, then I will feel a bit dizzy – like I’m drunk. Shit happens.
You hear about these things that happen where something happens and somebody’s life changes. And this sounds like a situation like that. Like your life changed in a moment.
So fast – in a moment. There was 1 minute where I had no pulse – I was dead. The doctor did something, and it helped, and I had life again.
20 days after the crash, I had the idea that I died. Then I was repaired. So, it’s my second life. My first life was finished because of stupid shit. I was a bit drunk, and I was on the bike and bad shit happened. But I’m alive now. And the other girls on the bike [the other people in the crash] are also live. So, I have a second chance to live and see the world and live in the moment. It was the biggest change of my life.
What is your day-to-day life like now?
Now I rent an apartment. I spent 7 days in the hospital. The last few days there, the doctors did nothing. And my hospital bill was 1,500USD. It was about 200USD per day just to stay at the hospital. I asked the doctors if I could stay at home. And if I needed help, then I can come to the hospital. They said ok.
My day-by-day activities change. Some days I need to do law-related things – visit the police, the immigration office, or the fathers of the girls [who were in the crash]. Now it’s the New Year holiday, so I have more free time. Recently, I’ve been chilling. I’ll wake up, drink medicine, eat chicken pad thai. Then, I’ll spend time on the beach. I can’t swim in the sea because of the salt and my eye. So, I just chill on the sand and try to create new music, but I can only listen in one ear – in mono mode, no more stereo for me. I’m trying to do what I love. Today, I woke up, checked my health, drank some medicine, had breakfast, spent a few hours on the beach, and created a few new melodies. I have my synthesizer. Now I’m having a conversation with you.
It’s fine. I’m already in a better condition than I was a few weeks ago. I can walk. I can eat. I can drive a bike. For me, when I’m seated, I feel more stable, so driving a bike is easier than walking. But I’m not a risky guy anymore. Now, when I’m doing something, at any moment, it’s so special. And any moment where fear enters my mind, I totally close this door. I don’t to take risks now. I want to have a fast recovery.
I have a huge problem with the medial bills. I need to pay my medical bills and the bills of the girls. Because, based on the video and witnesses, the police say the crash was my fault. I still can’t remember it. But they have video and witnesses, and they say it was my fault. They still don’t know if the bike was broken. Maybe something happened to the bike. But the policemen are trying to find out. But, at this moment, it’s my fault. And, if we go according to the law, then I will go to prison. Because in Thailand, they have this law – Article 300 of the criminal code. And based on this law, anybody who commits a negligent act can go to jail. Since I was drunk, and this action caused a huge body slam, I committed negligence, so they have all opportunities to put me in jail for a minimum of 3 years. It’s fucked up. I’m in connection with the fathers of the girls – there were 2 girls on the bikes.
I have a lot of shame. I don’t know how it happened. I’ve driven bikes for more than 10 years in different conditions and in different parts of the world. I’m professional, like a real athlete. I have reactions. How did it happen that I did nothing on the video? We still don’t understand.
I watched the video, and it looks like it happened so quickly that there’s nothing you could have done. It looks like there was an intersection, and a collision happened between you and another person. It’s not clear [in the video] who was responsible for that though.
It looks like me.
I can’t really tell to be honest because there’s no traffic light. It looks like 2 small streets. It looks like an intersection where you would stop and look left and right before going through but maybe not. And it looks like it was late at night. So, I think that kind of accident probably happens all the time.
I’ve already seen a lot of crashes here over the past couple of months. Shit happens. But I already decided it’s my fault, so I need to fix what I broke. I will help the families. That’s my plan. I’ve already found half of the money to pay half of the bills. I need to find more. I have 2 weeks because after 2 weeks my visa will expire. Now my passport is with the police. When my visa expires, they [the police] will try hard to push this incident through the law. I need to do something in 2 weeks.
But I’m in a good mood. I have a second chance to live and I’m still alive and I’ll do all my best. When I fix these problems with the girls, with the fathers of the girls, with the policemen, when I pay all the bills, then I’ll get my passport back. Then I’ll get the opportunity to pay my [medical] bills because I need to have a healthy recovery. I need to find a good psychologist. And I need to do physiotherapy. It doesn’t cost so much here. I think I’ll find the money. But the doctor’s told me I’ll never skate again.
That’s crazy. There are many stories of doctors telling people that, and then people proving the doctors wrong, like John Cardiel.
The body can do wonders when recovering. Now I’ve spent more than 1 month in conversation with different doctors and clinics. I know what is broken. I know how it works – the recovery process, what will happen. It’s all in our mind. I know about that. But in the real world, these kinds of happy [miracle recovery] stories rarely happen. Doctors already know how the body works. They told me it’s better to be ready for what could happen.
In the past, before the crash, my body suffered tons of injuries. I know my body can recover. One year ago, I broke my neck.
How’d you do that?
It happened last winter. It was on a backside krooked grind on a box. The flat was slippery. It was a classic mistake on the ledge. I fell. My head was on the box and my body was on the ground. I broke my neck. It was 4 months of recovery. But it was ok. I was ready to skate at the end of spring. I got some of the best tricks of my life this year. I got a cover of a magazine. I got the best kickflip of my life.
When I was in Shanghai, there was a spot near Zhongshan Park. It was an open rooftop spot. It was a perfect spot for a kickflip. I was ready to try it. It was super dangerous. There wasn’t enough space not to land otherwise you’d fall. I was ready to try it, but my friends told me they didn’t want to film it. But I was in the moment. I like to listen to my friends though. So, I didn’t try it. But, this summer, I found a spot in Moscow that was crazier than the spot in Shanghai. After 3 years of having this idea of doing a flatground kickflip on the edge [of a big drop], I did a crazy one.
Now I think I’ll take a rest from skateboarding. My board is here, but I have some fear. I can stand on the board but just on the flat. I’m still dizzy when I stand on 2 legs. If I sit on it, then that’s perfect. But if I stand on my legs, then I’ll be shaking. So, I’m not risking it. I’m in recovery. It will take between 5 months to 2 years to recover. The doctor’s told me that there’s a good chance that my face will move again. But I’ve lost my hearing. Maybe it will get a little better, but it will never be the same.
But it’s not bad news for me. I can live without hearing. It’s ok. I’m still alive. I will try to skate again. I have my birthday in January, and I’ll try to do a kickflip then. After 18 years of skateboarding, I’m going back to the beginning – on the flat.
Just wanting it is a big step. The body and the mind are capable of so much more than doctors and others tell us. I’m sure you’ll get back on the skateboard and be doing kickflips. I look forward to seeing that. Right now, the situation you’re in is that you need to come up with quite a bit of money to pay the medical bills of the girls. How much do you need to come up with? Is there any way you could not be held responsible for paying those bills? Like if you went to court, and tried to fight your case there, they’d still hold you responsible and ask that you pay those bills?
I already got advice from lawyers in Russia who’ve got experience with cases like mine. They told me to do whatever the father asks me to do. And if I do it, then he’ll sign a white paper, which says he doesn’t have problems with me and that we don’t want to do it by the law. So, no problem. I just have to pay the medical bills for the daughters. In total, the price is 800,000THB. I have all the bills. I’ve checked them in the hospital. They’re real. I’ve already found half of the money. I’ve already found around 12,000USD. Some of it I had, some of it I borrowed. Some friends from Thailand and Russia have helped. My parents have helped. Other people from my family and friends from Europe and the USA have helped. Now I feel so much help and love from my friends. I never knew that so many people loved me. It’s helped a lot. I still don’t have the total amount yet. But my friends have given me this feeling that all will be ok.
After my recovery, I will go back to China. The doctors told me I can fly 6 months after the crash. So, I need to stay 3 more months here because I need to some tests every month in the hospital, and I’ve already found some good doctors here. So, I will spend a few more months here. And when I can fly, I will go back to Shanghai for sure. I will work hard. I want to pay the price of this second chance.
I think a lot of people in Shanghai would be willing to send you money because you made a big impact on Shanghai skateboarding. The photos and clips you got out here were unique. I think people want to support that.
I hope. Anything helps. I have a lot of friends in Shanghai. I have a WeChat account and a bank account [in China], but because I haven’t been in China for a long time, my telephone number isn’t working anymore, so I can’t transfer a lot of money though WeChat. I can’t transfer more than 500RMB at one time. So, my friend is collecting money through WeChat.
What would be the best way for people to donate? Would it be to send your friend the money?
Yes, he’ll collect all the money. In a few days, I’ll get a bank account in Thailand. Then, I’ll start to collect money from China, Russia, Europe, and the USA into my bank account in Thailand. Then, I’ll do a transfer from my bank account to the account of the daughters’ accounts.
Right now, the story is out there, but it’s limited to group chats and word-of-mouth.
This situation – a motor crash – has happened to others, like Ali Boulala and Shane Cross. I’ve already decided that I will never drink [alcohol] again because alcohol stopped my reaction. I can’t skate anymore because of my body. Alcohol is not a friend of ours. Be careful.
I want to ask you about the blunt finger flip you did in Shanghai. What’s the story behind that trick? Was that a spot that somebody found and then sent you a picture of? How was it skating that spot?
I got a shooting job with my friend Pasha and one day we did a fitting – where you try clothes. We went to a building to meet with our agent and do the fitting, and after the fitting we decided to check the rooftop of the building. We checked, and from there, we saw this spot on another building that was close. So we went to that building and we found the spot. I had my board, and I did a blunt fakie. It was super fun, just a real skateboarding moment, like we found a spot, let’s skate it.
After I came home that day, I was thinking that blunt fakie was a cool trick, and I wanted to get a photo of that trick. So, for the first time in my life, I asked some professional skaters to help me. I asked Johnnie Tang to help me. I sent him the video. I texted him the story as to how we found the spot. I asked him to help me. I said ‘Bro, you know all photographers in China. I want to get a photo of this. I’ll do it again for sure.’ And, surprisingly, he answered, ‘Bro? Photo? WTF? We will do a project on this with video and photos.’ He connected me with Fly Skateshop, SkateHere, Wang Chenwei, and Yahui Li. Fly Skateshop gave me a few boards for the project. It was a ‘Try It’ project for Fly and SkateHere.
We spent 2 days on this project. The first day we went, I got a blunt fakie, and I thought that maybe I could do a blunt fingerflip. So we spent about an hour on the roof trying it, but I was not close to landing it. And I broke my truck on the curve. And the second time was after a few weeks. I got it then – the blunt fingerflip. It was a cool feeling. It was unexpected. When you try something more than 100 times, you get stuck. The feeling is that you can’t land it, you just can’t. You’re thinking ‘Ok, one more try, one more try.’ But it doesn’t work. It was like this. I was tired after so many tries. But it just worked. It was unexpected. It was a great feeling. I’ll never forget it because that trick was so risky.
I have a lot of experience with tricks like that. I had this idea that only after you destroy the fear of dying can you really start living life. So, I used that idea to do these skate tricks. I trusted my body.
But now I can’t say that because my body is really fucked up. But in the past, I believed my body. My body knows what to do. If something goes wrong, then my body is not so stupid to meet with death. It will do something to save me.
On the rooftops, yeah it has worked well for me. This year, I got a few rooftop tricks. In the future, I probably won’t do risky tricks like that anymore. I just want to skate. Anything will do. If I skate on flat, then I’ll be happy with that. But we’ll see. Maybe if I have a good recovery, then I’ll get tricks that are crazier than what I’ve done before.
I think you’ve motivated people to look at their surrounding environment in a different way. After seeing your photos and videos, it makes you think that there’s a lot more that could be skated that’s not at ground level but is on roofs or above the ground.
My idea with skating rooftops is to share the feeling with others. After so many years, I understand I should inspire other people to skate because skating can help us live. You know this feeling when you see the stairs, and you know that could do something. The feeling that this is a spot, and I can do something on it. Skateboarding is about freedom. If you see the spot, and you feel like you can get a trick on it, then you can do it everywhere. It doesn’t matter if it’s a rooftop or anything else. If you see the spot, then get it.
Thanks so much for getting on the phone with me.
Thanks so much for your time and your idea.
Sounds like you’re in a good place to be resting and recovering. Sounds like a better place than Shanghai. I don’t know if a big city is the best place to be recovering in. Sounds like the place you’re in is not so crazy and hectic.
A lot of my friends and family told me to go back to Russia. But I don’t want to look back. I want to look forward. I’m on my way here. I think if I stay on this way, if I go to the end, I’ll find some treasure.
Most people in that situation would probably be trying to go back to their home countries. But it’s strong of you to be looking forward.
I hope all will be ok, and I will come to China, and we’ll skate together at Binjiang or somewhere else. I miss skating in Shanghai so much. Shanghai is my favorite place in the world for skating. The spots are sick, and there are so many new spots. New day, new spot. It’s a beautiful place for skateboarding.
View Vadim’s recent full video part here!
On January 14th, Vadim had raised 60% of the money he needed for medical bills, but he still needed 50,000RMB. If you would like to donate money to him for his medical bills, you can transfer money to him via WeChat (green) or Alipay (blue) (see QR codes below).