Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Kilian Martin: The art of skateboarding

By Matthew Knight, CNN
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Freestyle street skating
Freestyle street skating
Freestyle street skating
Freestyle street skating
Freestyle street skating
Freestyle street skating
Freestyle street skating
Freestyle street skating
Freestyle street skating
Freestyle street skating
Freestyle street skating
Freestyle street skating
Freestyle street skating
Freestyle street skating
Freestyle street skating
  • Kilian Martin's atmospheric videos are a massive internet hit
  • Spanish skater's elegant "dance" moves likened to pop star Michael Jackson
  • Martin was a junior gymnast but got hooked on skating at age of 16
  • The 27-year-old is noted for his development of tricks including the "daffy"

CNN's Human to Hero series celebrates inspiration and achievement in sport. Click here for videos and features

(CNN) -- The comparison would probably irk Michael Jackson purists, but it's easy to see why some of Kilian Martin's fans liken his fancy footwork to the late "King of Pop."

The Spanish skateboarder's stylish 360-degree toe spins, seen through the artful lens of filmmaker and friend Brett Novak, have a mesmerizing quality -- much like the rest of his repertoire.

Martin's artistic flourishes may not be as grandiose as some you'll witness in a skate park; you won't find the 27-year-old chasing air in halfpipes, for example. His tricks are more delicate, his approach more artistic.

"To me skateboarding is an art form," Martin tells CNN's Human to Hero series.

"I'm able to put my thoughts into it, picture stuff and then draw it ... using the world as my canvas and the skateboard as a brush."

Those canvases, as millions have witnessed on YouTube, range from abandoned train station ticket halls and derelict water parks to art galleries and deserted cityscapes in the U.S., Asia and Europe -- the place where Martin's skateboarding odyssey started.

Born and raised in Madrid, skating didn't figure much in his early childhood. Like most kids he played soccer but also competed as a gymnast and enjoyed surfing on family vacations in the Canary Islands.

The athleticism learned at the gym has clearly informed his skating style, but it was a love of the waves that ultimately influenced his future.

"When I was in Madrid I couldn't surf, so I thought that skateboarding could help my surfing," he explains.

"That's basically why I started skating. Then I got hooked ... and I stopped going to gymnastics when I was 16 years old. I love skateboarding because of the creative side of it. There's so much variety, so much you can do."

Streets ahead

Martin has made his name in a branch of skating called street freestyle made famous by U.S. pro legend Rodney Mullen.

Often referred to as the godfather of the genre, Mullen invented numerous moves in the 1980s which are now commonplace today, including the flatground ollie and a host of flip tricks.

"Freestyle skateboarding is pretty much how skateboarding started," says Martin.

"In freestyle skating there aren't really any rules and you can skate however you want. What I do is mix that freestyle skating with the streets (doing) spins, handstands and rail tricks on obstacles."

Initially, he plied his trade as a competition skater but after winning the 2010 World Cup freestyle in Paderborn, Germany he switched to making films.

What is sky-running?
Kelly Slater on the ultimate wave

None are particularly long -- most last around five minutes -- but all are jam-packed with tricks that Martin makes look easy. But the reality is often rather different.

"Sometimes I'll be trying tricks hundreds of times and I'll be completely exhausted and not really wanting to do it anymore but I push myself," he reveals.

There is also the task of knitting separate tricks together into a flowing sequence -- which is not easy in freestyle, a discipline sometimes derided for being a jerky, stop-start affair.

"Sometimes I'll have my eyes closed and picture myself (doing a trick). As I am filming it my mind and (visualizing) how it looks, I start to think of tricks I've done before and how I can keep the flow and how I can make a variation," Martin explains.

Evolving tricks is just as important as creating new ones, he says, pointing to his embellishment of the "daffy" -- an old and relatively simple maneuver where a skater straddles two boards, riding one behind the other.

"I've been able through the years to take that trick from flat ground to obstacles and come up with some ideas (integrating) the ollie, heelflip and going backwards. It's something that I'm proud of," he says.

Magnum Opus

Martin's talent has led to some unique opportunities, like skating to George Bizet's "Carmen," in a commercial for a brand of whisky.

Japan's record-breaking swimmer

He teamed up with a choreographer Miguel Elias for the two-day shoot at the Avenida Theater in Buenos Aires, Argentina at the end of last year.

"When I was skating Elias was giving me ideas. It was something very new to me. I listen when people give me suggestions for new tricks but a lot of the time it doesn't make sense because they're not skaters," Martin says.

"But a lot of what he was saying was making sense ... he came up for an idea for a wall trick. I was like 'wow,' this guy has so much style. Afterwards, I had a whole new respect for him."

More recently, Martin has hooked up with his buddy Novak again to shoot the next installment of his freestyle adventures. Life could not be better for the Spaniard, who is now based in California -- the cradle of the sport.

Larisa Iordache: Gymnastics without fear

"What really makes me happy is making skate videos," he says.

"My goal is to develop my skating, basically take it to another level. It's not really about changing skateboarding, but changing my own skateboarding.

"It's something that I want to do for the rest of my life, as long as I have legs ... well even if I don't, 'cause I'll do a handstand!"

Read more: The 'Frog King' who spawned a golden legacy

Read more: The rise of the 'new Nadia Comaneci'

Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:40 AM EST, Wed December 31, 2014
The martial art of Wushu combines speed, grace and skill and Vietnamese Duong Thuy Vi is one of the world's best.
updated 8:11 AM EST, Wed December 31, 2014
Duong Thuy Vi is a rising star in Wushu -- a martial art that requires grace, strength and incredible flexibility.
updated 5:09 AM EST, Wed December 31, 2014
Seema Tomar has stared down the barrel of poverty and prejudice to become one of the world's leading trap shooters.
updated 9:45 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Hurtling down a mountain side at 50 mph on a bike isn't everyone's cup of tea. But for Rachel Atherton it's a zen-like experience.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
In the twinkle of an eye, Israel Folau has accomplished what most athletes would be happy to achieve in an entire career in not one, but three sports.
updated 10:14 AM EST, Fri December 5, 2014
Helgi Sveinsson was a promising handball player until bone cancer forced his left leg to be removed. Undaunted, he picked up a javelin.
updated 2:35 PM EST, Wed November 26, 2014
Nguyen Van Chieu has fostered the growth of the Vietnamese marital art since the 1960s, helping the sport go from strength to strength.
updated 1:09 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Carissa Moore is a double world champion and she's still only 22 years old. Her exploits on the ocean are making waves both in and outside surfing.
updated 1:32 PM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
Playing pro ping pong is a bit like running the 100m while playing chess, says Ai Fukuhara.
updated 11:58 AM EST, Wed November 5, 2014
Guor Mading Maker's story makes most sporting tales of triumph over adversity look like a walk in the park.
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
The comparison might irk Michael Jackson purists, but it's easy to see why Kilian Martin's fans liken his fancy footwork to the late "King of Pop."
updated 9:41 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Olympic hero Kosuke Kitajima is hoping to inspire a new generation of Japanese swimming stars ahead of his home 2020 Toyko Games.
updated 5:35 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Much may have changed in post-Communist Romania, but its production line of gymnasts continues to generate champions.
updated 10:53 AM EDT, Wed October 8, 2014
Taking time out to eat a homemade chocolate cake is hardly the conventional way to win a mountain race, but don't tell Emelie Forsberg.
updated 3:59 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
He grew up in a surfing party town on the U.S. "space coast" and has conquered waves in the world's most exotic locales.
updated 8:41 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Christian Taylor knows all about putting his best foot forward -- but the Olympic triple-jump champion has had to rewire his muscle memory.
updated 9:42 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
It's a surfer's paradise -- but Diah Rahayu is out on her own when it comes to professional women's wave-riding in her native Bali.