Posted: November 1st, 2009 Bob Burnquist Interview "I’ll sleep when I’m dead. But right now I skate."
Interview by Jake Phelps | Photos by Michael Burnett
Why does everybody say that you use magnets? I love that, man. It’s called relative wind. Which means that even if there’s no wind outside, at whatever speed you’re flying though the air, there’s a relative wind pushing against you. Especially with the Mega. It seems impossible to ollie something that big, but the relative wind keeps the board pushed to your feet. That’s why I do switch backside ollies. If I did a switch frontside ollie, it wouldn’t work—the relative wind would blow the board away.
I noticed that’s your money gun. That’s my trick to get over the gap to be able to try something on the quarter. I know that if I do a switch backside ollie, I’ll get to the quarterpipe. I can try some other trick, but it’s a roll of the dice. The backside ollie’s just to get there and get scared. The first year I did X-Games, they had these little GPS devices attached to our boards so they could measure how high we went. And I remember seeing some blog where they showed a close up of the things attached to the board, like, “Look! He wears magnets!”
I’ve seen goons do the magnets. Yeah, I don’t do that. The velcro, the magnets—there was some guy who showed up at the Ultra skatepark back in the day with velcro. At first he didn’t tell anyone. He was doing Caballerials and we were like, “What? This guy’s gnarly!” And then at the end of the session he detached his board from his feet. You wanna have fun? OK, but you can’t do that in the real world. You’ll blow your career real quick. I would never do that to skateboarding, Jake. No magnets.
How does a skate rat like you come from the middle of nowhere in Brazil, and end up at the Staples Center? It’s been a wild, winding road, but I’ve been blessed. I’ve had a lot of good fortune, and I have great family and great people around me. When I go into the Staples Center and I see that ramp in that venue with that amount of people, it’s like “OK, this is a whole different reality.” I just go there and do my thing and stoke people out, and then come home and do it the way I want to. That’s the reason I built all this at my house, to be able to learn new tricks and be in my own little zone without all the people. It’s cool to be out there, but sometimes it’s kinda like a job and the pressure’s a little bit too much. But I’d rather do that than a 9-to-5, flipping burgers or whatever. I’d rather skate.
Switch back tail
Bob, you weren’t born for flipping burgers. We’re flippin’ boards, not flippin’ burgers.
You were a great vert skater even back in the ’90s, but vert contests now are different. You can’t just rip. It’s gotta be 540, 540, 540. Don’t you just wanna lay into a honkin’-ass Smith grind? That’s the thing when it comes to contests on the vert scene right now. There’s a rhythm to vert. If you want to be doing 540s and 720s in your run, you gotta be trying that every day and not touching anything else. And I never really skated that way. When I’m home I’m mostly filming and shooting photos, not trying to put runs together. And then when the contest comes around? “Oh wait—I gotta put a run together!” I’ve always done it in that looser way. It’s so competitive right now that if I really wanted to consistently win on vert, I’d need to consistently skate like I’m training to win. What I really enjoyed—I think it was last year when I won one of those Dew Tours the same month that I won the X-Games—was being able to still skate the Mega and then go out and win a contest on vert without a 720. But still, I look at that run and wonder how I could do that all the time and not be bored.
Who are the judges who count up the 540s? When we were kids and judging contests, we’d all know who fuckin’ won—it was the guy who was ripping. It’s so close and technical these days—every contest is so subjective. What are you gonna do? Mark down what kind of 540s we put down? Or how many you did, or the total number of degrees you spun in your whole run? I think it should be about overall design and tricks. Some lip tricks are even harder than 540s. I think that once the spinning and height came into play, everyone started going in that direction. It’s good to not stay so low, to bring the bionic—but it definitely takes a different approach. It’s straight training.
At one of the first Slam City contests, you had a line. You said, “If I do this line, I win.” You went out and did the line, and you did win. You stuck to that line and you won it. Well, you just kept hounding me about dropping into a 540. And I don’t think I’ve ever started a line like that. Once the 540 was out of the way, everything was alright.
That was Slam City Jam ’95, with the blindside kickflip indy to fakie. Kickflip indy to fakie and the switch roll-ins and all that. I didn’t even think I’d make it through the finals. If you look back at the history of vert, it’s still the same ramp. Obviously it was much smaller then, but it was still exciting. Vert’s exciting to me. I love going out there and learning new tricks, I love transferring everything I’ve learned to the Mega. Doing stuff on the Mega’s quarterpipe is a lot easier than doing the same thing on vert. It’s just that the consequences are on another level. When you land low, it’s a car accident. Every time you slam it takes you out a little longer. But when it actually comes to doing the tricks, I’d so much rather skate Mega, just because I’ve already learned to do all the airs, and the reward is so much greater.
What’s the highest air you’ve ever done on the quarterpipe? It was probably at one of those events, and it probably wasn’t an air, it was probably a 540. I’d rather do 540s than airs.
Look at Danny Way in China. He was trying to make that air and he was like 40-feet out. He was scared, saying, “I just wanna make the quarterpipe.” You wanna make it, but you don’t know if you should. He had a broken foot.
He’s Danny Way. Nobody’s going to tell him sit down. That’s what you gotta do. You tell him to sit down, he stands up. You tell him to go, he stops. Danny’s a whole other reality. I’ve taken a little from Danny’s page as far as the quarterpipe. When you’re jumping 70 feet and then you’re hitting the quarter going that fast, you don’t like it. It’s just a matter of getting through with it as quickly as possible. If I have to warm up to a 540 with a backside air, it’s just as scary, so if I’m gonna get up there, I’d rather be doing something. When you just do a straight backside air 25-feet-plus, you got so much time to wait and think and get scared. So I’d rather just get upside down and spin.
Did Jake make the 900? He hasn’t. We’ve all been tinkering with it. The thing with the quarter is, if you start spinning off wrong, you end up Like Danny with his shins hitting the coping.
That was brutal. So that’s scary. And then when you get out of control like Jake did, when he landed on the flatbottom… When you’ve got those things going through your mind, it’s hard for you to go for a 900 spin lofting at 20 feet. I was absolutely floored when I saw Jake try to put one down. He got full rotation, but the thing is, you’re falling from the sky. For you to commit to that kinda height and spin, but then you over-rotate, it’s over. If you do a slam on the Mega where you ride the tranny and then hit the flat, I mean, good night. When it’s all said and done, I’ve got this Flip video wrapped up, along with the pressure of coming up with stuff. I just love so much being able to go out to different parks now, and even hitting the streets with some of the guys. It’s tough to balance it all when you’ve got a family to feed and you have to maintain your body for all of these Mega events.
What’s your favorite Andy Roy story? Oh man, there’s plenty. That whole phase is a blur to me. So much went down—the crazy part is, when I first came out to San Francisco and started meeting all the guys, I remember thinking, “Wow, so this is skateboarding. This is the groove, this is the crew, this is it.” I remember it being so raw. We skated everywhere we went and there were all these characters. I mean, I grew up in Brazil. I speak English, but my culture was completely different. And to see an Andy Roy come out, obviously I had heard of him, but to get to interact with him… He’s the coolest guy, but then all of a sudden he just clicks and transforms into this still-cool but gnarly dude. And then he shaves his head and he’s got a spiderweb tat? This guy is for real, man. I just remember being on trips with him, and all of a sudden he’d start punching you—which meant that he loved you. “Alright, I guess I’ll punch you back.”
Do you have an energy drink sponsor? I have Sambazon, Acai power. That’s the jungle love, man.
What about the sunglasses? They’re all made from economically-correct plastic? Oakley sends the leftovers from doing all their glasses to Black and Decker. They’ve been recycling for awhile. I was like, “Let’s just do a piece where we grab all that and put it back together, making another glass.” All the packaging is recycled paper, soy ink and all that. I’ve always wanted to have signature glasses, but I wanted to wait and do it the right way.
Switch backside tailgrab
So Oakley and Hurley are the big cheddar checks? I’d imagine board sales aren’t that significant. The board you ride the Mega with has gotta be 35 inches long. Yeah. If you’re going to make what I ride, you’re probably not going to sell many of them. And even if I had high board sales, it still doesn’t compare. People wear clothes and buy shoes and wear glasses more than they skate.
Because they don’t have to jump the fuckin’ Mega, bro. They can live that fantasy by putting the costume on. You want to be there for all your sponsors, but I’ve always thought that your board sponsor is the company that keeps it together when it’s all dark. If all of this stuff wasn’t popular, the board companies would still be there, and a lot of the other companies wouldn’t. You can win all the medals and the X-Games, but if you don’t have a board sponsor…
Then who are you? See? There’s something to it.
Who makes the best skateparks? What’s still ingrained in my memory are places like Marseille, Shanghai, the Caymans…
And, number one, Red built what? Well, you know Burnside is right there. I went with Joey back in 1994. I remember doing an indy 540 over the spine. It took like 18 hours to get there from SF. We were on the Greyhound and I was like, “Where are we going? I thought you said it was just around the corner?” And then once I got there, I couldn’t believe the whole scene. You know what it is? When you want to skate and you want something done, you just go and do it. I felt like Burnside could have been built by Brazilians. That’s their mentality.
Alright Bob, it’s always a pleasure. Keep skating bro. Hell yeah Jake. You know what’s funny, as much pressure as there’s been to get the Flip video done, it’s almost like I’ll miss it, because I miss the pressure of having to put something together to stoke people out. But regardless, you’ve got to keep learning, keep filming, keep going. People always ask if I’m ever going to take a break and rest. It’s like, “Yeah. One day I’ll die.” I’ll sleep when I’m dead. But right now I skate.
In This Issue Classic power meets innovation on the March front as AVE goes over the back to switch 5-0 in NYC. There's 14 more pages of Van Engelen inside, so don't sweat it; Cyril Jackson talks about skating the streets (and sleeping in them), the Naawwsty Crew rolls deep from ATL to FL; Krooked krushes Korea; the Deathwish team spreads some love on the East Coast and Shane O'Neill has a killer ten-page feature. You heard what he did at Wallenberg, right? Add this one to your collection.