An Antihero and a Gentleman: The Chris Pfanner Interview by Julien Stranger

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Chris Pfanner has outlasted many of his contemporaries by taking the job of pro skating serious while simultaneously embracing the pure joys of his career. Even with new duties at Vans and two kids at home, he stays productive with his internationally-renowned pop. Read how he manages his time and the raucous Vans Euro team in this interview with fellow Antihero workhorse Julien Stranger—from our October ’20 mag.

Make sure you watch Pfanner's incredbile new footage in the 1-8's Quantinium

I wanted to ask you about your crew. How did all those Tom’s Tales dudes get on the Vans EU team? Where’d they all come from?
Well, about three years ago Vans offered me the opportunity to do a trip with the European skate team. There was already a base of guys and things just organically fell in place. I had the existing crew and over the years I got information like, Oh, we got more budget. We should add more people from different zones, you know. But I feel like everything kind of fell in place because wherever we went we always link up with the local Vans teams and the local crews and that’s how people started joining the team. So it’s all from our trips and all the local people we meet. It just seems to be the right fit and it works out. Because when you’re on the road it doesn’t make sense to hang out with people that have too much egos or personal needs or anything. But if the people actually pick each other, select each other and want to be at the same place at the same time for the same reason, it makes everything way easier. And of course we have one thing in common—skateboarding. But I think in the down time, which you have a lot on the road, people should be able to hang out with each other, share a beer and laugh. So that’s pretty much how everything came to together, honestly.

PFanner 50 50 DSC2399 DZ 2000PXFrontside 50-50 with the help of some experimental welding techniques, as seen in our October My War! spread

That’s how it should go, man—organically. I was thinking about how there’s a European aesthetic and a European style to skateboarding going on and it’s fuckin’ rad. I think a lot of the dudes on your team kind of represent that. It’s just something special and different going on out there.
Yeah, it’s really diverse in Europe. But I think it’s something that’s happening in skateboarding in general at the moment and I think that’s what the beauty is about it. It’s so loose at the moment. There are so many different nooks of skateboarding. There are people who want to shred curbs; there are people want to shred ledges—everything. It’s so interesting and it’s so within reach at the moment. I actually appreciate how people are about it. Back in the day it was like, Oh, this is the hip-hop gang; this is the punk gang; these are the transition dudes. But it’s like it’s mixing up so much and it’s making it even better because it’s allowing more room for creativity. Skateboarding is not just one thing, it’s everything. Feel free to do what you want to do and get people psyched on it—it’s like the energy you translate with it. Whatever you do, as long as you can have fun doing it and other people see that and get effected by it, I think that’s the best thing you can offer.

Vans EU has one hell of a crew. Go back and see how much damage a well-managed team can muster

Cropped Chris Pfanner Crooked Grind AdobeRGB 1559 DZCrooked grind on the chest-high rail off what seems to be a bump in name only

Yeah, it’s like the opposite of a jock mentality with whatever’s going on out there. There’s just a lot of originality. It’s fucking awesome.
I think the current situation with this virus also sparked something. Because skating is something you can do even during this lockdown period. I’ve been speaking to people from skateshops and they’re like, “Man, we’ve been selling too much gear.” I think the virus has something to do with it because people are now realizing like, Man, you can’t do anything else but if you have a skateboard and you have a driveway or an empty parking lot close to your house, you can spend hours and have so much fun with it. It’s taking a lot of people back to the basics again and it’s something that’s happening in skateboarding in general where it’s like—man, go out there, grab your board, meet a few people have fun with it and it’s awesome. That’s what it’s about.

Chris Pfanner Boardslide Up by Leo Preisinger DZBoardslide on that upward trajectory     Photo: Preisinger

Are you cool if we talk about you growing up in Nigeria? I’ve always been curious about it; I think it’s super interesting. You were born in Nigeria and you moved when you were how old?
I moved to Austria when I was ten.

 DSC5691 DZThis crust mound only has about a dozen impediments, but Chris clears 'em all    Photo: Basile

What was going on in Nigeria when you were really young?
My parents met down there. My dad went there for work and my mom left Ghana and ended up in Nigeria for work as well. That’s how they got together and they got me, my younger brother and my little sister and we lived there. My dad worked for a bunch of different companies. It was a really good life. We didn’t have a shortage of anything. But it was still a strange situation because the people saw my dad as the white man. They expected him to be wealthy and all that, you know? Nigeria is a poor country and unfortunately it’s corrupt due to what they had to go through in their history and all that. So when they see a white man they expect money, you know, so that led to the fact that we were victims of armed robberies at our house twice.

Chris Pfanner Bs Lipslide sRGB 1406 DVLOpting for length over height, Chris catches a backside lipslide

People would come with guns. We had night watchers and dogs and stuff like that. You know, a gated compound. They would come there because they were expecting like, Oh yeah, the white man lives here. He’s got a lot of money and stuff. Which wasn’t the case. The whole corruption, it puts people in this certain place and everyone’s just trying to survive out there. That’s what led to that. But at some point my dad felt like it was too dangerous to have us there. After two armed robberies and night watchers getting shot and our family getting held at gunpoint he was like, Alright, maybe it’s time to move to Austria. And I had to move there myself first because I was finished with primary school, so in order not to lose time in my education I had to go there first and I was there for about four years on my own before the rest of my family came. To be honest, I’m really grateful that that happened because I can still think of moments like laying in bed and being so scared because I’m hearing gunshots at night and not knowing what’s going on. As tough as it was to move to Austria without having my parents and my family there, one thing I can remember is just having that calmness of laying in bed and not being scared to fall asleep. Yeah, that’s something I grew up with and experienced and it was scary, honestly.

Chris Pfanner Fr 180 AdobeRGB 3959 DZBlasted frontside 180, classic Pfanner

I feel like as skaters there are certain really vivid moments that just kinda blow our minds or are just so special that we kinda get hooked. Do you have any early skate memories like that?
One of the first moments was at the boarding school where I was, we had some ramps set up that we would ride our bikes on. And these kids from the neighborhood would always show up, come there with their skateboards and we had this little beef. It was like, “You guys shouldn’t be skating the obstacles we built. Build your own stuff. It’s only for our bikes.” I remember we got into an argument and they were like, “Yeah, everyone can do what you’re doing with a bike. Try it on a skateboard.” Then, just to prove a point, I was like, “Alright, give me that skateboard. If you show up tomorrow, I’m gonna be able to ollie over those two boards you’ve been trying to ollie over for weeks.” So this kid left me the board and was like, “Yeah, I want to see that.” So to prove a point I got so focused on it and I forgot about everything that was around me and why I was even trying to do it. It wasn’t about proving those boys wrong anymore, I just got so hooked on it and I realized, Man, this is so much fun and I actually forget about everything that’s happening around me. For me, that was the one moment. And also the achievement, the success I had when the boy showed up the next day and I was like, “Yeah, I told you I’d make it,” and I could ollie over two boards. I was like, Man, this is actually so much fun I think I want a skateboard myself. That’s when everything turned around. Through getting that skateboard I started venturing out of the boarding school, went to the local skatepark, and being at the skateshop, that’s where I met my longtime friends, people that I’m still friends with today who still skate. Growing up in that environment in Austria at that time, there were not many colorful people or people of color in that region and it was always a little bit difficult to find people or to find where you actually belonged. I met this group of skateboarders and there was never one question about it, you know? I was like the outcast and they were the outcasts. Back then it wasn’t cool to be a skateboarder—no one wanted to hang out with you. They were like the people on the side and that’s how I felt, too. I got there and I was welcomed with open arms and I just felt at home instantly. For me, that was what made the deal, you know? We started traveling further and further from my little city out of Austria, to Germany, then further out to Europe. Next thing you know I get this opportunity and—yeah, man, I’ve seen the world just thanks to my skateboard. Those are the moments I look back on. Without that, man—fuck. I don’t know how my life would have turned out. ’Til this day everything I do is still because of my skateboard. Now I have a job as a team manager, but in the end I’m still doing what saved me in the beginning. I get to gather a lot of people together and I don’t even do anything. They all want to do it and we all gather together. Yeah, I call this my job and sometimes I actually feel guilty about it.

Chris Pfanner Half Cab sRGB 2213 DVLHigh-flyin' half-Cab between the bars

Well, I know you work hard and do a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff, but when you’re on the ground with your crew you make it look pretty easy. Here’s one I wanted to ask you—this is an easy one. Can you tell us a good Preston story?
I’ve got so many Preston stories. This is kind of a go-to because it’s so pure, honest and so fun. Okay, so you know, you’ve been drinking all night by the campfire and you’re just like, Man, I gotta lay down. So I lay down and P-Stone is still out there doing his stuff. I shut my eyes for like 30 minutes and then P-Stone’s at my tent and he’s like, “Shhh, Pfanner, wake up.” I was like, “Man, no, I can’t wake up right now. I just went to bed. I want to get some sleep.” He’s like, “No, no, no. You’re not gonna pull that one on me now. I’m telling you, just give me two minutes and I’m gonna give you two baby owls.” I mean, hey, if you hear that there’s no way you’re gonna stay in your tent. I’m just like, “Alright, Preston, I’m up. Let’s go. Show me the two baby owls.” And sometimes, you know, Preston will just yap and talk, but this time, man, he led me to something I’d never seen. It was actually two baby owls and he spent a minute watching them—how the parents of the owls dropped them in the rocks to disguise them so that they wouldn’t be found in the nest and everything. Man, just thinking of that makes me miss him so much. Fuck.

Chris Pfanner Fr Board sRGB 6539 BW DVLIt's not that measly incline that's getting him onto this front board

Seriously, man. The whole world could use P-Stone right now.
Yeah, dude. And I learned so much from him, too. That’s the thing about P-Stone—he always said it as it is. He was so straightforward and he was such a good dude. He remembered everybody he ever had interactions with.

He was such an incredibly loyal friend. What’s the most important thing in life to you right now?
My two little ones. It’s the most joyful and the most scariest thing for me in my life at the moment. I don’t know if you can understand that.

Pfanner and son DZ 2000PXRad dad alert!

Dude, I can feel it when you say it. It’s joyful and scary together, for sure. I hear you.
You know, it’s like they give me so much joy and it’s so beautiful to watch them grow but at the same time I’m scared, wondering if I’m living in the right direction and I’m providing them with what they need. That’s something that’s always on my mind. I can’t deny that. It’s the most important thing for me right now.

What’s the most important thing to you about skating?
First of all the freedom that you have doing it. I have never done anything else where I can say it has given me so much and made me feel so free. They always say freedom doesn’t come for free, but I don’t know, man. I feel the most free when I stand on my skateboard.

Straight up.
As cliché as it sounds.

SQUARE Chris Pfanner PopShuv Revert 8421 DVL Chris locked down this shove it revert for the lovers

I was just talking to some other older dude and he was like, “I’ve been skating two days a week and all my problems just went away.” And I’m like, “Dude, it’s just that easy. If you’re a skateboarder then do it, man.” It’s great to be set free like that.
Yeah, man. It’s like, I have issues and everybody has problems to deal with on a daily basis, but sometimes just even getting out of the house, like doing a run to the corner store. Just that run, hearing the sound of the wheels and everything, by the time you get to the corner store you’ve actually forgotten why you were going there and what you were thinking about when you left your house. Because you’re just in a whole different time and space. A lot of people see that I live a normal suburban life now and people ask me, “Are you gonna grow out of this? Why are you still doing this?” But I can’t explain it to them and I’ve given up trying to explain it. I’m like, Man, I don’t know. Just grab a skateboard. Try it out. Maybe you’ll figure it out. I’m just so grateful for it.

I feel really grateful for it, that I was fortunate enough to be a skateboarder, man. Well shit, Chris, I guess that’s kinda it.
It was so much fun doing this with you, Julien. You made it really easy for me.

Chris Pfanner Kickflip Into The Bank 1798 DVLYoung at heart but still handling business with the banks, Chris comes through with a lofty kickflip