Phil Wizard dances before receiving his medal at the Pan Am Games

The Road to Impossible: Phil Wizard on breaking’s breakthrough and the journey to Paris 2024

How did Philip Kim, a 26-year-old from Vancouver, become B-Boy Phil Wizard, the first ever Pan Am Games champion in men’s breaking?

First things first, to set the record straight on the name “Phil Wizard.” It comes from the first crew that Kim began breaking with, the “Wizards Crew.” When he started out, Kim was known as “Phil from the Wizards Crew,” which eventually was shortened to “Phil Wizard,” which stuck.

Before he was Phil Wizard though, Kim was just a kid who happened to see a crew of breakers busking in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery.

“It was my first time seeing it in person and it just blew me away,” says Kim. “They were spinning on their heads, they were sitting on their hands, they were flipping. It was mind-blowing as a kid.”

Little did young Philip know that his journey would go from the steps of the art gallery as a spectator to the steps of the podium as a competitor at the Breaking World Championships, the Pan Am Games, and potentially those at the Olympic Games as breaking is set to make its debut as an Olympic sport at Paris 2024.

A lot has happened between these life events, but Kim’s love of breaking has remained a constant.

Philip Kim spins on the ground as he competes at the Santiago 2023 Pan Am Games
Photo by Candace Ward/COC

WATCH: 24 Questions with Phil Wizard

The early years

“I think the thing that initially drew me as a participant was the challenge. I wasn’t necessarily ever talented at picking things up fast. It took me a long time to learn things. But I feel I’ve got a bit of an obsessive personality where I go all in and that was breaking for me,” Kim says.

He was known as the school B-Boy throughout high school, a hit at talent shows and school performances.

“I feel like I was a bit of a show-off,” Kim says with a chuckle. “Any time I had the opportunity to, I would dance.”

Luckily for Kim, his parents were supportive of his passion throughout his early years, even though the crews he danced with often met for practices late at night, making him an even more sleep-deprived than the usual teenager.

Kim admits that sometimes he was thinking about breaking even when he was supposed to be focused on, say, math or English class.

“There were times in high school when I would have an idea and I would ask the teacher to go to the bathroom, and then go out in the hallway to test the move I’d had an idea about,” he says. “I was just really obsessed with it.”

Philip Kim aka Phil Wizard dances at the Santiago 2023 Pan Am Games
Photo by Leah Hennel/COC

READ: Phil Wizard on breaking as an art, culture, and sport

Despite his obsession, Kim never really saw breaking as a viable career path. After high school, he took a gap year, staying with family in Korea and checking out the breaking scene there. The talent he witnessed made Kim even more convinced that he didn’t have much of a shot at a career, especially since the Hollywood route didn’t appeal to him–he preferred the competitive breaking scene.

So Kim acquiesced to his parents’ desire and enrolled in university. He calls the one semester he attended “the most miserable period” of his life, as he struggled to figure out what he wanted to do with his future.

While at school he heard of an event that was serving as a qualifier for the Red Bull BC One World Finals, one of the biggest breaking events in the world. Kim told himself that he would give himself one last chance. He’d pay to fly himself to Los Angeles and if he won, it was his sign to go all in on breaking. If he lost, it was time to buckle down on school.

When he arrived at the competition, he was told that American citizenship was a requirement to compete. Kim convinced an organizer he had met through a previous event to let him compete.

“I think she was like, ‘okay, he’s just a kid, we’ll let him enter.’ I don’t think anyone expected me to win,” Kim says. “I ended up beating some well-known people and that was my kind of initial introduction to the international community. After that, I started getting invited all over the world.”

So, he told his parents that he would be dropping out of school to give this breaking thing a real shot.

Phil Wizard dressed all in black performs a breaking move close to the floor
Photo by Leah Hennel/COC

World, meet Phil Wizard

In 2019, Kim became the first Canadian to win the Undisputed World Series. In 2021 he took home silver at the WDSF World Championships, followed by a gold at the event in 2022 and another silver in 2023. This past year also included a trip to the top step of the podium at the WDSF Pan American Championships, and of special importance, the first ever Pan Am Games title.

It was a busy season of competition, culminating in that all-important Olympic qualification at Santiago 2023. Kim was technically qualified for the Olympic Games once he was through to the final, but he wanted to finish with a bang.

The multi-sport Games environment was a new experience for Kim–and for all the breaking athletes. For Kim, having the Team Canada support crew, which he wouldn’t normally have at competitions, saved his neck…literally. After a tweak during practice left him with a seized neck and unable to turn his head, Team Canada physiotherapists were vital to his ability to see the competition through.

With the injury blip adding some uncertainty into the mix, Kim’s primary emotion when emerging victorious from that final battle was relief–he’d done it. To add onto the emotional rollercoaster, to recognize the historic nature of Kim’s achievement and to celebrate his story as an athlete, Team Canada officials selected the breaker as a flag bearer for the Pan Am Games Closing Ceremony.

“I had a lot of emotions! At the time I ended up crying when they told me,” Kim says. “I’m a very self-critical person and I had dealt with a lot of imposter syndrome and self-doubt growing up. I’ve always been proud to be Canadian, but at that moment, it felt like Canada was proud of me. I had never felt that feeling before.”

Philip Kim gazes upward after receiving his gold medal at the Santiago 2023 Pan Am Games
Photo by Candice Ward/COC

It’s important to keep in mind that for sports that are newer additions to the Olympics, there’s a cohort of athletes who haven’t grown up with the dream of representing their country in that way…because it wasn’t a thing. For Kim, the Pan Am Games were an experience of moving beyond solely representing himself, his family, or his crew, to representing his country.

“There’s an opportunity for kids now to see breaking on TV and through the Olympic platform see representation at the highest level. I think it’s a wonderful thing.”

As a new sport on the Pan Am Games and Olympic programmes, Kim’s fellow Team Canada athletes had lots of questions about breaking. Kim found himself not only fielding those questions, but actually teaching his fellow athletes some moves and staging a mini dance battle in the Pan Am village. Kim didn’t want to name names out of respect for the athletes’ primary sport, but apparently there is some dancing depth within Team Canada, should it need to be called upon.

If the enthusiasm of Team Canada athletes and fans thus far is any indication, the future of breaking in Canada, led by Kim’s own star power, looks very bright.

Kim and several other athletes are part of Team Toyota – a roster of Canadians athletes on the road to the Olympic and Paralympic Games Paris 2024. These athletes share Toyota’s belief in the power of human movement to help overcome barriers and are sharing their stories to help inspire a future generation of Olympians, Paralympians and Canadians.