Rob Kellett interview: Theme parks, The Great Wall and wanton destruction in China

Rob Kellett has to be one of the busiest guys in Australian rollerblading right now. The talented Brisbane local just returned from an epic trip to China, where he spent three months rolling, chilling, partying and filming with the Velvet Couch Clothing team. While he was there, he not only had the time of his life, but also witnessed the destruction in Tianjin first hand while the rest of the world watched on the news. Rollerblading.com.au caught up with the Remz and VC rider as he was putting the finishing touches on his new edit to find out more about his crazy adventure.

Hey man… How’s it going? 

Yo man, It’s going great thanks!

What are you up to?

Right now, I’m just busy editing away for my new section (see below for the end result). I’m looking forward to sharing it with everyone. It’s been a while since I’ve put out any content, so I’m a little nervous about it, too.

I’m sure it’ll be fine … epic even! How does it feel to be back in Brisbane after what looked like a seriously epic trip to China?

It feels great to be back home, man. I mean, it’s a bummer knowing that the China adventure is all over, but it was the best three months I could have hoped for. So many good memories and crazy times! It is a good feeling to be back home with the family and all the homies, though.

Was that your fist time over there?

It was my second time in China. I was lucky enough to go over in 2014 to do blading shows at a theme park called Happy Valley, but this time around I was just on a self funded holiday visiting Paulie Haack and Oliver Czaja who were over there doing the shows this year. It was good to see all my old foreign friends, and not having any pressure to be anywhere at any certain time.

China looks like a crazy place… for a lot of reasons. Do you get a bit of culture shock when you first get there?

China is by far the wildest and most over-the-top place I’e ever visited. It definitely was a big shock the first year round, but after being there for 5 months last year, I knew exactly what I was in for this time around. It’s definitely more of a shock coming back home to reality, that’s for sure.

I feel ya. Tell me a bit about the trip… when did you get there, and what was first on the agenda?

I arrived in Beijing on the 2rd of July with Ashleigh (Paulie’s Girlfriend) and first on the agenda was to get straight outta Beijing. So after 12 hours of flying and a 4 hour stop over in Hong Kong, we jumped straight onto a speed train at 300km/h to the nearby City of Tianjin, which is where Paulie and Ollie were living. Ash and I had told the guys that we were coming on the 6th, so we kept everything on the DL and surprised them in their dorm rooms on the 2nd. I had also told my Ukrainian friends who were still working there from last year that I was coming on the 6th, so I got to surprise them too. Good times!

It must be so much fun doing the trip with so many of the homies. How long did you stay in Tianjin?

Most definitely! I was there for a total of 89 days. It would have been nice to stay for another month longer, but I was only able to get a 90 day visa. I came home with $36 in my account, so it was probably a blessing in disguise to be honest (laughs).

Did you travel around much, or stayed around the area?

We travelled back and forth between Tianjin and Beijing. The first month more than the last two. Gerard Ahrens, Jamie Sims and Mitch Macrae came to visit in the first month so we spent a lot of time going back and forth between the the cities.

You were there during all the craziness of the explosions, weren’t you? Tell us a bit about that … obviously the whole world was watching, but you were on the ground.

Thing certainly did heat up, that’s for sure! I mean, the night it happened, we were actually in Beijing and woke up to a bunch of crazy videos and messages on our phones which had been shared through WeChat (Chinese equivalent of Facebook messenger)… And we were pretty worried! After making sure our friends there were still in Tianjin were all alright, we went to a local Seven-Eleven Store and bought some piece-of-shit masks that did absolutely nothing but made us feel a little safer; and decided to head back into Tianjin.

So the series of explosions actually happened in the city of Tanggu, which is the portside city in Tianjin. Basically, if you look at a map, you’ve got Tanggu on the coast, Tianjin city West and Happy Valley (our home) between the two. We were about 28km west of Tanggu… anyway, we got off the speed train in Tianjin city and walked outside in our masks, expecting everyone to do the same. Much to our surprise (and concern) we were literally the only people wearing them! The air was as clear as it normally is in China … and everyone was just going about their business as if nothing had happened.

The days passed, and the more we looked at World news, Australian news, and what ever else we could find, the bundle of mixed messages was just getting bigger and more confusing. Paulie and Ollie were flipping out a little at first, especially once we heard there was Cyanide in the air… But to be honest, I was hearing all this blur of information “they’re saying this” and “the Australian news is saying this” yada-yada, and I was literally sitting in my room, looking out the window and thinking about how I’ve never seen such blue skies and crisp clean air in all the time I’ve spent in China. It was pretty stupid that the bosses at Happy Valley were making Ollie and Paulie do shows the day after the explosion, even when there had been no knowledge of what was in the air.

After about 4 days of non-stop explosion/deadly-gasses-in-the-air talk, I was well over hearing about it… Whatever was in the air, harmful or not, was definitely already in our systems; not to mention the fact that almost everyone in China smokes, and there is high levels of led found in the air anyway. I’m sure there’s a lot more the public doesn’t know about too. I wasn’t ready to jump on a plane home and end my holiday just based off some he said she said bull, when, if it was as bad as all these people were making it out to be, it would have already been too late anyway. As it turns out everything was fine, and there were no mass evacuations or anything like that. Our lives in China continued as normal and we were able to get a move on. It’s still really sad to hear about all the Families and People harmed by the blast. From what I heard, they are still (and will be for a long time) trying to get the blast zone under control. It was definitely not something I would want to be close too again, that’s for sure.

Woah… that’s so hectic. We were definitely hearing a lot of different stuff over here, but hearing your story makes it all the more real. I guess it shows the stoic the Chinese people are, to be able to go back to work the day after like nothing happened… if it happened in Australia the whole place would stop for weeks!

Word! China is pretty brutal like that … everyone is just fighting their own struggles.

We’ve been through the crazy … what about the good? What do you reckon was the highlight of the trip?

Oh man, the whole trip was one big blur of great times. Each month was different to the next. The first month, I got to see all my old friends, my American buddy AJ Stine came and stayed with me, Gerard, Jamie and Mitch were there and it was non stop craziness. The second month was a little more relaxed … everyone who was visiting had left, and my body needed a little break, so I took it easy for a week or two before getting back to filming and blading more again. It also gave me time to spend with my lovely lady.

The last month was super fun … the season changed, and the weather cooled down. We started getting up and out in the streets every morning before the guys had their shows. We found we would run out of light too quickly if we left it until after. So basically, I had this rad daily routine of: wake up, coffee, blading and filming street business, back to my room, have breakfast with my girl, hang with her and watch her shows (She works at Happy Valley as a dancer), watch the guys blading show, head home and get some tasty Chinese food at our favourite restaurant, watch back clips from the morning’s session and label them (you gotta stay on top of it!), then relax, sleep and do it all over again the next day. The last month was definitely the most productive.

I’d say the stand out highlight from the trip would be making it to the Great Wall with the homies. I’ve got this one spot which I found last year … this little lounge-chair shaped rock that just sits on the waters edge of this amazing lake among the mountains that the Great Wall goes through … it’s kinda unreal. Last year I just sat there for like an hour and just took in all the epicness that was happening … blading, China, the Great Wall, the lake … everything. It’s like that single moment when you just have maximum appreciation for where you are in life, everything that’s happened and the endless possibilities that lay ahead. So I was pretty stoked to make it back there this year and relive that same overwhelming vibe again.

You never used to see China in blading videos, but it seems the last few years there has been quite a few of the blading community over there (and there is even paid work!). What’s the scene like in China?

Yeah China is a little strange like that. There is such a strong blading scene over there and so many people blading in each city, but because Facebook and most western websites are blocked I think it’s hard for a lot of content to get out from China. You’ve got a few famous people like Franky Zhang, who was riding for Razors, now rides for Seba. It’s definitely a thriving scene.

There is definitely money to be made from blading in China, especially if you’re a foreigner! Chinese people love seeing a foreigner, regardless of what you’re doing, and they will pay money to see it (laughs). Not only that, but there is a lot of random blading competitions with big sponsorships and big prize money regularly. Just a few days ago, Ollie went to a comp at a park half way between Tianjin and Beijing and ended up getting 1st Place and 3000 Yuan in his pocket. Boom!

Haha wow… maybe it’s time to move. But seriously, when you started rollerblading did you ever envision it would take you this far?

China is good for sure, but it’s good when you know it’s just for a short period of time. Living there for good would literally drive anyone insane. Sometimes it gets a little bit too much. I started out rollerblading with my best mate James in the drive way of our houses … and I guess it just grew from there. I could only ever have dreamed of rollerblading taking me the places it has and becoming such a big part of my life, when I was just starting out.

I’m super thankful for where it has taken me and for all the amazing friendships that rollerblading has sparked. Almost all of my best friends are bladers and if it not for rollerblading I may never have met them. It hasn’t always been an easy road, definitely a painful one at certain times along the way, both physically and mentally, but it’s certainly been amazing so far … and it’s only the beginning.

You’re hooked up by Remz Australia right… how did that relationship start?

Well, I’ve been blading Remz almost the entire time I’ve been skating. My first pair of blades were some TRS Access, followed by some Remz 0701’s and it’s been Remz ever since. Some people would say it’s better to try a bunch of different skates and see what works best, but I’ve always felt like remz have been, and always will be, the best skate for me … sure I’ve tried on other skates in stores and borrowed my mates blades to try out at a skatepark at the end of a session or something, but I’ve never put on another skate that has been as comfy and perfect as a Remz skate is for my feet. Not only that, but I strongly believe if you blade a particular skate for long enough, you grow with it … you learn exactly how that skate works, how it slides, how it flexes, how it will react to certain things. This takes time, but it’s definitely worth it in the end.

So to get back to the question (sorry about the sidetrack there), I have been blading Remz for almost 8 years now. I was always rocking them at the Aussie Titles and everything like that and then just before I was about to drop my first profile in 2013 I hit up Jenny (Logue) at Bayside Blades, just asking if it was alright for me to put a Remz logo at the end of the edit and she pretty much asked me then and there if I would like to be on the team. Of course my answer was a yes. It’s definitely my dream come true to be on the team. In my opinion Remz are the most unique blades on the market and they always keep it OG. For all the haters, just remember, most blades now come with some form of a v-cut (Remz did it first), some blades now come with a strap instead of a buckle (Remz did it first), skates with a skin are now starting to get rid of the un-needed plastic over the top of the foot (Remz did it first)… and they were all things that you probably bitched about before your favorite pair of USD Carbons came out with a v-cut cuff and some velcro straps (laughs).

What about your other sponsor, Velvet Couch Clothing?

Coming from Brisbane, Velvet Couch has always been a massive part of the scene here. When I was younger, I didn’t really get out of my home town much, but I knew all about VC from Skatebiz, Darxyde Divisions (Aussie Blading DVD) and skate meets. In more recent years I started making it out to street sessions, competing in the right2roll street comps and hanging out with Gerard and the rest of the VC Crew. Gerard is without a doubt the raddest dude I’ve ever met through blading. He always brings so much energy to a session and always gets me juiced up to lace something. He does so much for the rollerblading scene in Australia and it’s something I’m always super appreciative of. Just before China came around last year and I was over at G’s place, he hit me up about joining the team and repping VC while over in China and bam, just like that, I was now apart of the crew I looked up to when I was a little grom … it’s funny how things happen. Now a year and a bit has passed and G-rad, the VC team and I have shared some crazy, awesome times. So much exciting VC stuff happened: jeans, hats, fresh tees and there is still so much new dope stuff in the works … so be on the lookout for that, too.

What about The Firm? It’s quite a mysterious little collective that I see you’re involved with… fill us in.

Well, basically The Firm is a blading media collective that spans across Australia, the UK and China. My homies Jake Bennett and Matt Brogan started it a few years ago now and asked me to be a part of it when I was in Europe at the start of the year. At the moment, we’ve got our facebook page and vimeo account and we just put up our blading media through those platforms. However, we’ve got some really big plans for the future. A website, some limited edition runs of clothing, a lot more videos and blading media… basically a lot of dope stuff. I won’t shed too much light on it, or give too much away right now, but The Firm is coming in hot, real soon.

Rob Kellett
Sounds exciting… don’t forget to keep us posted in how it’s going. What about for the rest of the year and onto 2016? Any other plans or projects we should know about?

I’ve got a lot planned for the next few months actually. I’m still taking it easy after so many little injuries from my time in China, destroyed elbows, ruined wrists and worst of all a lingering heel bruise (which put me out for a lot of my time in China). I’m doing my best to mend them as quick as possible. I’ve also got this profile to put out, which I’m really excited about. On top of that, I’ve been working on another 30 minute travel edit with footage from last year, which I was hoping to have out about 5 months ago, but life has just been so busy. The video will be featuring almost everyone I’ve bladed with in the last 2 years… spent a lot of time behind the lens, so I’m super excited to release that one as soon as possible. Me and Oliver Czaja are working on a profile for him. The world ain’t ready for his killer skills.

Then I’ve got lot to do for The Firm as well as some designs for some new VC stuff and I’ve also got a bunch of ideas/plans for more videos. Hopefully another couple of street profiles, a park edit and a little secret something if all goes according to plan. I also really want to get a profile of my homie James McErlain done, because he shreds. On top of all of this, my girl is looking to come and visit this Christmas which would be amazing. We’re having a little bit of hassle with the visa at the moment, but we are doing our best to get it sorted.

Can we expect to see you at the Australian Rolling Open in Canberra this year?

I will definitely be coming to the ARO this year. Getting juiced to see all the Aussie Blading family in one place again.

Awesome. I think that should do us just nicely man, thanks so much for the chat… it’s been epic. Glad to see you’re so busy and loving life at the same time. Is there anything else you’d like to say, or peeps you’d like to thank, before we go?

I definitely want to give a big thanks to my family for always supporting my love for blading and travelling. I couldn’t have done it without you guys. Also a massive shout out to all the homies I blade with. Y’all know who you are, thanks for all the good times, and all the juice and motivation. A massive shout out to Jenny and Remz Australia for supporting me and always keeping the best skates on my feet. Gerard and Velvet Couch Clothing for all the support, all the good times, and all the motivation … we got this! Also a massive shout out to rollerblading.com.au for giving me the opportunity to do this interview, and always posting rad Australian blading media. Stay Rolling!

Right on brother, we’re always happy to support. It’s been a pleasure.

Interview by Jesse Kuch. For more of Rob Kellett’s videos, check vimeo.com/robkellett

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