A little background information here, but like many before me, I met Valeriya Gogunskaya at her longboard camp in Portugal in June of 2019.
Val and her camp came into my life at a very strange phase I was going through, but her, and the things her camp gave me at that time were truly life changing for me.
That is something I am always going to be grateful for.
Since then, she’s become a good friend of mine, and it was an absolute pleasure to speak with her about her life experiences. If you EVER have to chance to attend her camp or any of the events or lessons she plans around Europe, I recommend it with all my heart. You won’t regret it!
And now on to the interview, full disclaimer: The written version of the interview is transcribed in a way to give it a more natural flow for reading. If you want the the full, un-cut version of our chat, feel free to listen to the full audio of the interview at the bottom of this article.
And now, a series of questions for the one and only Valeriya Gogunskaya
So Val, for the people who don’t know just yet, who are you exactly?
VG: (She laughs a bit and says jokingly) I think some people only discover the answer to this question when they reach the end of their lives! Why are you asking me this question so early?
But in seriousness, I am the founder of the first longboard dancing and freestyle community in Portugal, it’s called Longboarding Days and Nights.
And during this time with my boyfriend, the Johny, we started to organize camps and give lessons. So I guess you could say I am a bit of a longboard dancing evangelist.
My goal is to popularize longboard dancing and make it accessible and known to all people of all ages.
Tell us more about the backstory about why you started this entire concept?”
VG: The entire story actually goes back to Finland, where I started skating there around late 2015 or early 2016. I started dating Johny, and we decided to move to Portugal together.
At this time in Finland, I couldn’t find any other skaters, just downhill riders.
(I notice I am wearing my HELdance Crew Shirt during the interview and I start showing it to her, at this point, she gives a small shout out to the crew in Finland who is making awesome things happen with the sport there)
So when I moved to Portugal, I thought –“Ok great, I’m moving somewhere that is warm and sunny most of the year, and somewhere where skating can really flourish, I’ll definitely be able to find a community in Lisbon.” – and I was really excited about this, because like you know, being a solo skater is no fun.
Surprisingly, there really wasn’t a community at all in Portugal. Perhaps a handful of other people that you could count on one hand that did longboard dancing or freestyle, but nothing really too active.
So I just kept annoying Johny with all my complaints about how great it would be to have a community here, and how great it would be to have people to learn from and to grow together with. So Johny said, ”If the community doesn’t exist, why don’t you create your own?”
And I thought…me? I can’t do much, I can only really do one Peter Pan…
But then I realized this was still something I could teach people that have never tried any form of skating.
If the community doesn’t exist, why don’t you create your own?The Johny
Then a filmmaker friend of Johny, Daniel, helped me make a video of my modest Peter Pans and other skills at the time, and they suggested I send it out to people to see if they would be interested in supporting my idea of the camp, and growing the community in Portugal.
I still remember the morning I got a message from Bastl, saying they would be happy to sponsor me and they sent me five complete boards.
What was it really like in the beginning though, getting the camp off the ground in the early phases?
VG: I think Longboarding Days and Nights had two stages, stage one was where we just worked as a community, we got connected with a local association called Sea Land in Santa Cruz that helped us organize our first event, which was kind of like a Dock Session.
It was June 2017 when we organized this event in Santa Cruz and we had like 30 or 40 people there, so it the first event was a big success.
Stage two is when I was working in a surf camp and the other asked me if I wanted to give longboard lessons and and I was like – ”Me? Giving longboard lessons? I can teach a front and backwards Peter Pan and that’s about it – but I went for it and it worked! And that’s how we started giving lessons on a smaller scale.
At this time, I was in a transition period of trying to find a job and just getting settled in in Portugal after leaving my life in Finland. We were quite tight on money, so we couldn’t get to other cities to meet more longboarders that we could learn from. We really wanted to, but at this stage, it just wasn’t possible.
But then we thought, if we can’t go anywhere, maybe we can bring someone to Portugal?
So we first invited Axel to come be an invited international rider at one of our events, and later we decided to host a longboard camp. So we reached out to Kate and Timur and asked what they thought about coming over to teach at a camp, and they said yes!
So in April of 2018 we hosted our first longboard camp. I wouldn’t say it was hard. It was just so exciting, you don’t noticed how complex it really was, the whole thing just kept building up naturally and gradually. There were no pressure or goals, so the project just kinda had its own flow and grew at its own pace.
Do you ever think about what you would be doing, if you had never started the camp?
VG: Honestly when I think about it, I get really scared. Before this whole thing started, I was pretty lost in life. I literally had no idea what I wanted to do, I just knew I had things I loved and things I was passionate about, and I wanted to somehow incorporate these things into my life more often.
For example, I love working in the service industry and interacting with people. Like, working in a cafe is something I really enjoy, I just have the right type of personality for that.
I love people, I love being active, I love traveling, and I love international environments. But when you sit back and think about what kind of job you could actually do with all of these passions, it’s hard to come up with something.
But somehow, all of these things just came together with the camp.
So when I sit back and think, what would I have done without this camp, my answer to that is, I really don’t know.
Seriously, this camp for me has been a gift from the universe. The stars all aligned properly, and it is just magical that it happened. Somehow I don’t feel like I chose this path, it just all kind of happened in the right way, and all the pieces fell into the right places.
Here I make a totally expected and corny IT CHOSE YOU comment. Why I don’t have a career in comedy…
VG: The funny part about all of this, is that before I met Johny, I was going to actually move to Abu Dhabi and work in a hotel to save up some money for maybe 2 or 3 years.
I wanted to just save up money, go travel, and go find myself ya know?
But then I met Johny, and it was like kind of this situation of should I follow the path I had planned in the Emirates, or should I go to Portugal? I really didn’t know what I wanted to do, because I was attracted to the big city bling of the Abu Dhabi (maybe it is the Russian in me), and plus I really didn’t see myself in Santa Cruz.
So maybe we could say that this camp was a reward for me following my heart.Valeriya Gogunskaya
But in the end, my feelings for Johny were more important to me, and I decided to go to Portugal. So maybe we could say that this camp was a reward for me following my heart.
So to answer the question, I really have no idea what I would be doing with life right now without this camp.
What is your number TWO memory from all of the camps so far? I say number two because I know your number one memory is the freestyle rap from Elliott and I (Yes you had to be there haha, we did amazing rapping).
VG: I don’t have a particular favorite memory, but I have one type of special moment that every camp has. You know we have this kind of structured, boot camp style setup or routine at the camps. But somewhere closer to the end, when everyone is starting to get the hang of skating, or people are learning new moves, we have this free skate session where you can really see some special moments unfold.
Here everyone just puts on some music, and no one is really talking, they’re just skating and enjoying themselves before the sunset. It’s this kind of moment where there is no more structure, and a new community, or family even, forms within the camp participants.
Everyone is enjoying their own flow, and everyone cheers when someone lands something for the first time. So it’s like this moment of unity and, to me, that is essence of longboarding. It’s just such a simple joy, and every camp has this type of moment and it’s really amazing for me.
Sometimes when this is happening, I just go sit in the corner and watch this, and that’s when I get goosebumps. For me, that’s when it becomes real again. And every time when I experience this moment, that’s when I think, “Wow, this is really happening.”
It’s just such a simple joy, and every camp has this type of moment and it’s really amazing for me.Valeriya Gogunskaya
VG: I don’t know if you remember, but we had this moment where myself, Franzi, Robin, and you, we were alone on the football court skating freely – just exchanging steps. We also actually had time to just sit together and talk, these stolen and unplanned moments are also really precious for me.
Here Val asks me what was my second favorite moment in the camp was, and obviously it was when Cande saw me finally land a shuvit haha.
So tell me this, the camp has turned you into somewhat of a celebrity within the longboard dancing scene, how is that for you actually?
VG: WEIRD! I mean it’s kind of unexpected and it’s still surprising for me. I enjoy being a part of the longboard movement, and I like having the ability to say I influenced someone’s life in some small way.
For example, I know one couple that has been together for three years and they met at an event that I organized, and another couple I know met at a longboard camp. Or new friendships form, just like you, Franzi, and Robin.
It’s kind of like arranging marriages haha. I guess you could say I arrange longboard compatible friendships and relationships!
So for everyone out there just starting with longboard dancing, if you were to give them one solid piece of advice for every time they stepped on their board, what would that be?
VG: Get a helmet! And elbow pads work miracles too! Another thing, always have fun of course, but most importantly, keep the idea of time perspective in mind.
I see this a lot in camp or at events, you show someone a new thing and they immediately think it is too difficult. Or they try it once and give up because it is too hard.
We need to hold ourselves accountable for how much time we dedicate to something before we can demand results.
It helps to stay cool and not become embarrassed when something doesn’t work. If you try a new step two times and and can’t do it, don’t beat yourself up about that.
Just remind yourself, “Ok, I only tried it twice. It is ok to have have it yet.”This mindset helps me immensely, because it keeps me grounded, and helps me realize that you can take the time YOU need to learn new things.
Here she compliments my dedication to giving myself time to learning new things on my board, as I tell her I have been working on the cross foot shuvit for over 5 months…Ughhhhh…I hate and love this trick so much.
VG: I also heard another cool perspective in a recent live interview on Instagram with Brandon and Axel, and Brandon had this idea to keep in mind, basically always ask yourself – ”Why do you want to learn this trick?”
Is it because you want to have something to fancy to show off? Or is it because the step is beautiful and it is rewarding to perform for yourself? What is the whybehind your own motivation to learn something new?
I feel this a lot myself, and sometimes I have pressure to learn more freestyle because I am a sponsored rider. Sometimes I feel I should learn more tricks and that I should work harder.
But then I realize that I don’t enjoy freestyle that much. But there’s this pressure here for me to learn it, because pros do that, so I should do that more too ya know?
But that doesn’t make me as happy as dance moves do, so maybe I shouldn’t put that pressure on myself because it’s also ok to just keep on dancing and feeling that flow. That is me, and that’s what makes me happy.
We go on a tangent here talking about flow and freestyle and experiences, and she mentions how she enjoyed my Faceless Video, she even called it beautiful and touching. Hearing that from her is one of the biggest compliments I could ever receive.
OK, last question, what is your favorite food?
VG: I am a big fan of dessert, and I am a big fan of Asian Food. I love all the spicy stuff!
Reading not really your thing? Here’s the full audio of the interview
Wrapping it up
It’s always fun learning about people, especially when they share a common passion with you. I hope everyone reading this had a good time with it, and can take something away from it to bring into their lives, and into their lines on the longboard.
Val, as always, a big heartfelt thanks going out to you! Keeping doing what you do, because you do it better than anyone! <3