Felipe Nunes Interview
When Felipe Nunes bails a trick he can run it out on his hands. Think about that for a second. The ol’ “you think you got it bad?” is a tired cliché, but one session with Felipe really puts things in perspective—about how hard some people have to work to do the things that so many of us take for granted and, even better, about just how amazing skateboarding is. Felipe lost his legs playing on a moving train with friends at six years old. A skateboard was his ticket out of a wheelchair and into a world of freedom and adventure. And now into the pages of Thrasher magazine. Obrigado, Felipe! Keep it rolling. —Michael Burnett
Let’s get some of the basics out of the way. How old are you, where are you from and what’s your family like?
I am 20 years old and live in Curitiba Paraná, Brazil with my brother and my mother. I like my city very much. A lot of great Brazilian skaters come from there like Yuri Facchini, Rodrigo Petersen and many more. There are many good spots too!
What is the question people ask you the most?
People always ask me about my accident and how I started skating.
Finger-tip power on a locked-and-loaded Smith. Felipe rocks the blocks Photo: Papke
I’ll bet. That’s exactly what we’re going to do, too. What do you remember about your recovery from the accident?
It was quick. I remember that when I had the accident it was a quick recovery because there were always people around me going to my house to see how I was doing or if I needed something, to see if I was fine. My parents and brothers helped the most. They were always by my side.
What are the details of your injuries? Do you have knees?
Not on both legs. One leg was lost from above the knee and the other is just below the knee.
What does it feel like to walk on your legs now?
For me it’s super normal. I got so used to it. I learned to live without them so I don’t even miss my legs.
Hyped by the homies, Felipe smashes his stair count record at UCI Photo: Rhino
What did it take to get back to where you were mobile again? Were you in a wheelchair at first? What were the biggest challenges to regaining your movement and independence?
I was six when it happened but the doctors said it was super fast. I didn’t really hesitate because I was so young. I used a wheelchair until about the age of 11. I was a kid who wanted to do everything. Regardless of not having two legs I wanted to do it all. I rode my bike, played soccer, pretty much everything out in front of my house. I was a normal kid. It didn’t even look like I was missing part of my legs. My parents were essential in my recovery because they never stopped me from doing anything. They were afraid of me getting hurt like any parents, but they never held me back. When I wanted to give up the wheelchair and ride the skateboard full time, they let me go.
Do you remember what it was like for people to suddenly start looking at you very differently? How did you deal with that?
People definitely looked at me differently, like they had pity for me or something. But when skateboarding came into my life they stopped seeing me as this poor guy with broken wings, but like anyone else. They see that everything is possible, you just need to put in work.
When did you get your first skateboard? What kind was it? Who gave it to you?
A friend had a son who rode a longboard he didn’t use anymore. I started using that instead of the wheelchair. It was very easy and practical.
How did your life change with that skateboard?
In the beginning it was just a way to go around. Then I started to participate in championships and winning. That’s where I saw that skateboarding could take me very far.
What were some of the first things you did once you could move around by yourself on the board?
I remember I just wanted to cruise around endlessly. I could go wherever I wanted!
Did you take your board to school? How did people react when they saw you suddenly around the neighborhood?
When I started skating to school in the beginning it was kind of bad because the students took my skateboard and the principal came and scolded me. But eventually everyone accepted and understood that it was my mode of locomotion. People around the neighborhood were totally used to seeing me already.
What have been some of your worst slams from skating?
The most serious injury I’ve had was when I was practicing for a championship contest in my city. I tried to backside grind on the big rail, slipped out and broke my femur! That was on Tuesday and the contest was on Sunday. They put pins in my leg and on Saturday I went back to the skatepark. I tried some tricks and saw that it wasn’t hurting so much and I said Fuck it! I’m gonna skate the contest! I took some medicine and went with pins in my leg. My mom got so mad at me. I skated normally and won first place! Whenever I look at that trophy I remember everything and I don’t regret it.
What were your first tricks?
My first maneuver was the backside 50-50 and the backside 5-0. But my first challenge was getting strong enough to do them. I didn’t have much strength in my arms. Shit was heavy!
Tornado torque on a 270 lip Sequence: Papke
How did you get involved with the skate scene?
It was totally normal for me, just like any other skater. I would go skate in other towns for contests, meet new people and things just happen. I started skating at 13 years old and at first it was hard for me because my family didn’t have the money to give to travel or do all the contests. Over time I was able to figure it out.
Had you heard of Og De Souza or any other skaters who did not use their legs? How did hearing or seeing about those dudes effect you?
Man, I had the great pleasure to meet the Og De Souza. I found him at a contest. He’s an insane guy, an amazing guy. Knowing about his life and his skate career, the railings he puts down—he was a great source of inspiration for me!
You have some big rails in this interview too. What’s the biggest rails you’ve ever done? Have you done any kinkers?
Thanks! In California I went down the biggest railing of my life, about 18 steps! At first I was very scared, but the homies were motivating me. Rhino, Gregson, Davison and everyone helped me to overcome the fear and I got it second try. I haven’t made any kinkers yet, but I’m down to do it.
Have you ever sacked a rail?
I’ve ate a lot shit at the rails. Fuck yo—my face, my ribs, my back, but never sacked. Thank God! My dick is safe so far.
What’s your technique for bailing a trick? Do you have to go 100 percent every try?
I always take a few slams. I try to get the trick first try as much as possible, go 100 percent on the attempts. Sometimes it works, sometimes it don’t.
Have you ever gotten arrested or a ticket for skating?
Do the cops ever freak out when they come to kick you out and they see you skating?
In California we were on a rail sesh and the cop came to kick us out. Just in time I landed the rail trick at his face! The cop was very surprised and started cheering! That was my first street sesh with the Birdhouse squad.
Neon nosegrind, WSVT Photo: Rhino
Do you ever focus your boards?
No, I try to save my boards as much as possible because I use them for everything, not just to do tricks.
You just got announced on Birdhouse. What does that mean to you?
For me it’s a dream come true, a huge achievement. When I was asked if I wanted to join the Birdhouse team I didn’t believe it. I like the team, I like the graphics, everything.
Who are your other sponsors?
I am currently with Birdhouse, Independent, Bones bearings, Mob grip and Bali Hai.
I know Tony Hawk has helped you out a lot. How does a kid in Brazil make friends with the Birdman?
Yes, Tony Hawk helped me and I am very grateful to him. He was essential! I befriended him through Instagram when he texted me asking if I wanted to be part of the Saturdays movie. For sure I accepted and was very happy. Since then our friendship has been growing. He helped me go to Tampa Am and to go to California for the first time. I have huge affection for him, not because he is Tony Hawk but because he is who he is—an amazing guy and a great friend.
Talk about trying the Tony Hawk loop.
Man, that was the best experience of my life! All the preparation, people trying to make it happen. I couldn’t do it last time because I couldn’t get enough speed with the board I had, but I’m still happy to try. Stay tuned, I’m going to have news about the loop. This time I’m very confident.
Was that the scariest thing you’ve ever tried?
Yeah. The loop, it’s creepy.
Are any tricks impossible for you?
The hardflip for sure is impossible
Laying back a head-high (for him) front blunt Photo: Papke
Do you have a direction that feels more comfortable to turn, like backside or frontside?
Yes, definitely. I may push straight but I skate obstacles goofy foot. Backside is easier but I prefer frontside.
If you could go to skate anywhere, where would you go and who is the crew?
I want to ride in Europe. It seems like a very good place. The crew would be the homies, a photographer and filmer—just good people with good vibes.
You went to San Francisco recently. How were the hills?
Amazing, for sure. One of the best places I’ve ever been. Bombing hills, that’s what’s up!
Are you competitive?
I wouldn’t say competitive but I’m very focused with goals.
What about demos? Do you like skating in front of people like that?
Demos are essential in my vision—inspiring people through skateboarding and promoting skate culture wherever we go. It gives you an opportunity to show the best part of skateboarding because you get to skate without pressure, just vibrate with the fans.
Is being a pro skater a goal for you or do you skate more just for fun?
I have many goals but one of them is to be a professional and travel around inspiring people with my skating.
What is the most annoying part of your daily life because of your height?
To be honest, it’s pretty chill. I’m used to it.
When bailing is not an option. Half Cab finger flip into Skip’s, glory bound! Photo: Papke
Describe the worst fight you’ve ever been in.
The worst fights are when I go with my skateboard to the mall or even the bus ride and the guy says I can’t take my skateboard with me, that I can hurt someone with it. I always stay there fighting until they give in. I explain that the skateboard is my legs and I can’t be without them.
Have you ever been depressed or angry because you’re different?
Never. Quite the opposite. I’m always happy. I take that saying with me: challenges are my motivation!
What gets you inspired outside of skating?
Friends and family, for sure.
What pisses you off the most?
It’s funny, but the rain. Rain pisses me off.
What do you think of Donald Trump?
Political leaders are a reflection of a portion of society. It’s the same in Brazil. We have politicians who are sensitive understanders who please a portion of the population, and other radicals who make the decisions in their own way. I believe that society needs things that we have like skateboarding—without prejudice, without barriers, just doing good and productive things and inspiring people. The world is in need of it. And I think that’s why skateboarding is in the Olympics—to show the world a little more spirit and respect between countries. In skateboarding you always see a competitor cheering his opponent. The world needs more love and understanding.
Who is the greatest Brazilian skater of all time?
There are many in my opinion, but Tiago, Carlos Ribeiro and Luan are some of the best.
Who is your pick for Skater of the Year 2019?
Nyjah. When you think of everything he has done and then he always surprises you with something very crazy. Each video part is better than the last.
Where would you like to see yourself in ten years?
In ten years I want to have achieved everything—go pro in skateboarding, go to all the places I dream about and meet people I only see on the Internet.
A train took his leg and now Felipe Nunes is getting his revenge---one giant handrail at a time. Never say die. Photo: Rhino
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