Dave Mull Interview
So you’re from Vermont which is best known for leaf peeping? What’s that all about?
Leaf people? Oh, leaf peeping. Well, you know I was raised in the so-called best town for leaf peeping: Manchester, Vermont. And maybe I’m not correct about this, because I just call it “watching the foliage,” which is basically just enjoying the natural splendor of color changes in the Maple and Oak trees: orange, red, and yellow.
50-50 with a chance of a whole lotta pain Photo: Michon
I also read that Vermont has more gravel roads than any other state. Do they even have concrete in the town you grew up?
The only good surfaces are in front of boutique shops or jewelry stores. But aside from that it’s mostly asphalt that gets chunky and crusty after a few winters.
Okay, that might help explain why skaters in Vermont are so crazy. I mean, you got rail freaks like Chris Colbourn and Jordan Maxham. And you’re riding roofs like banks, so these obstacles might be safer to skate than the crusty flatground.
It’s either that or those spots feel more familiar and more safe to a guy like me. But at the same time, when you get a perfectly smooth run-up out in California to a rail you can appreciate how fun that is and get more technical with your tricks. As kids, we would just use our asphalt driveway to practice, which was already gnarly, and then we would just transfer that to what we took to be normal spots, which, by California standards, are, like you said, crazy.
Redefining the skate house with a 360 flip to roof drop at the Worble abode Photo: Zorah Olivia
That helps explain why Vermont kids go so hard. You know, I study this stuff and, well, after following you over all these years, by my calculations you have the risk assessment ability of approximately a 12 year old.
Ha! Oh, man.
I mean, do you just fail to see the risk involved in kickflipping off the peak of a roof? Are you addicted to adrenaline or do you have some kind of risk vs. stoke calculation or is this all done totally spontaneously?
That’s a fun question. I’d say that a lot of it comes from my 12-year-old self who sees something and just wants to have fun with it. Just like you want to climb a tree or go into the woods, when I see a spot I think about exploring it: all the angles of approach and how to make the most of that spot. Then you start to do some risk assessment: is this do-able or is this just dumb? Roofs are actually some of the best surfaces: they absorb falls better and still support wheels and they are course enough to not slip out—they have very consistent risk and allow for tight calibrations between the surface, your board and body. Roofs are almost more safe than roads.
Right. So in my area of study we call that “self-efficacy,” the idea that you think you can avoid serious injury even in otherwise very risky behavior. But look, you are, like, on the Hall of Meat honor roll so it does seem like self-efficacy can explain your behavior. You know you can get destroyed.
It’s funny how you can come away from a gnarly injury or bail and then still feel confident. I don’t know why? Maybe it is that you can see the little flaw that caused your injury and you know to avoid that the next time. Other than that, it’s just about protecting yourself from fear more so than protecting yourself from the unknown risks and the inevitable.
A Green Mountain boy spoiled with a perfect California hubba Photo: Zorah Olivia
I know you skate with your family a lot and usually that’s a context that supports safer behavior because, after all, they are with you for life. You try to keep each other safe. Were there any spots you wanted to hit that they nixed?
I think only extended family, like my friend who is in medical school, Nate Benner, who says, “You probably shouldn’t do that.” He would even joke about blocking a spot by parking the van in front of it to keep me safe.
You have that one crazy tail drop boardslide down a huge ledge with a 30 foot fall on one side and in the video there’s this guy standing there against the wall with a bunch of flowers. Is that family?
That’s Alex Farrara, another of our extended family whose been through it all with us. He’s always out there, usually keeping me from riding into the road. He throws himself in between and stops me from hitting oncoming traffic. I might mess myself up on the pavement or rail or whatever, but the extraneous stuff like cars or people is always getting taken care of by the homies, so there’s a lot of love and trust, but also motivation.
Steve: “Hey, guys, maybe we should start a board brand” Photo: Zorah Olivia
By motivation do you mean that there is some kind of sibling rivalry that pushes you to hit these insane spots?
Kinda. Both Steve and I would always skate growing up to catch the eye of our older brother, Chuck. So, whoever did the craziest thing or fell the hardest got his attention. And this kind of morphed into having crazy adventures together and now pushing each other in a more healthy way—or maybe unhealthy from some perspectives. But yeah, it’s like a classic older brother thing. I love when we are all trying spots that we are all afraid of.
Like that rail you and Steve both sack on in Toxic Planet? The one with Manramp?
It’s true. Ha!
“I got your back, bro!” Video: Tom Mull
You live in Los Angeles now. What was it like to drive cross country? I heard you had to perform some self-dentistry or something?
Yeah, a rotting tooth that chipped off and got progressively worse. By the time we got to Brooklyn, Nate Benner held my rotting tooth with a pair of Leatherman pliers and we yanked half of it out. We were kind of on a strict schedule to get to Los Angeles. I was pain free until we got there and then it hit again and was probably the most painful experience of my life.
I know that you engage in some leisure activities—bird watching for instance. Have you found ways to take that up a notch? Like, do you actually climb trees to see nests and stuff?
Totally! Last year I climbed up 40 feet to observe a Great Horned Owl nest. All the branches were super thin. Climbing it was like skating a sketchy rail. Lot’s of baby steps to get up there. But there was a little owl chick that I got a bird’s-eye view of.
Melon grab at a secret spot Dave stumbled across on a birding expedition Photo: Zorah Olivia
So are birds your spirit animal?
Well, I feel that coyotes are. But if you look around enough and see all the diversity, it’s like all the animals are my spirit animal. I find a kindred spirit with any animal struggling out in the wild.
I respect that. But, watching you skate it does seem that you have some desire to fly. Like if your arms were wings, you’d never leave the ground.
It would be incredible. I do like to be in the air.
Okay, back to skating. I’ve seen you crush rails with that Manramp thing. That looks insanely fun. What’s next? I mean, are we going to see Manroof?
Manramp is definitely evolving. He’s becoming more ramp than man—kind of like a Transformer.
Dave sharpens his senses Video: Housenga
I’ve seen your Toxic Planet part and there’s like a monkish spiritual guy from the mountains in the feature saying things. Are you guys religious or something? Like, is The Worble some kind of skate cult? Are you all, like, possessed?
That word possessed, I like it. I think there are a number of strange motivations, but they are not religious. Everything is about adventure and experiencing the world around us as wild and free, testing our physical capabilities and, really, overcoming fear with a kind of faith. So I guess it is spiritual. Skateboarding takes us to a rather humiliating level—we are always falling. Just like what the monk says, “We mistake our falling for flying and other times our flying for falling.” Sometimes falling is the best way to let go of a trick and just let it happen. And the pain of falling is really just a way of getting adrenaline that sharpens your senses and allows you to accomplish things otherwise impossible. You don’t want to think too hard. You just want that faith.
I think there is some kind of skate faith that keeps your crew or family together and pushes each in the crew to do what are otherwise irrational things. To be honest, that promotes a kind of possession-level insanity. I mean, if anyone wanted to get treatment for this they would need to go to some kind of priest or something, right?
I seem to be in luck then. The Worble has their own monk from the high places. I hope he does come back soon. Amen?
Dave’s impression of an American Goldfinch. Ollie through the window into the bank Photo: Zorah Olivia
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