(The interview was done by Emerson E Brown)
The Boy from Brazil
Some people lead lives that can’t be real. You know the people I mean. You don’t want to think they were born like you or me. No, instead, they seem to walk right out of bad 80s movies. They come out of nowhere to win it all. They win the girl. They win the money. They win the adoration of everyone. They simply flash a winning smile to cue the cheesy synthesizer music and, even if you don’t want to, you cheer for them. On top of everything, they make it look really damn easy.
Bob Burnquist is one of these people. Since exploding onto the scene at the 1995 Slam City Jam in Vancouver, BC, as a relative unknown, he seems to do nothing but win.
While nursing some recent injuries, he finds the time to talk with Switch about the hard times before he entered the limelight, competitions, spirituality, videos, the business side of skateboarding and attempting to be the first person to loop a true full pipe.
THE ANTI-HERO TURNED HERO
EB: I was reading on your bio on your Web site, you comment that you said you felt like you were a lost soul at one time. So, I was wondering if you could elaborate on that, can you tell us like kind of when you had your epiphany — when you felt like you were going from anti-hero to hero?
BOB: Well, I think I remember the family wrote that, and the reason for that was the times of the drugs really. Because my family was well off, I went to a private school and, you know, to do that in Brazil wasn’t that easy. So it just kind of got to a point where I was a growing teen and started getting out of the house a lot, and just started kind of hanging out with older people, and kind of strayed away a little bit. And that’s when I was lost for a little bit. Skateboarding was kind of always there, so I had to make a choice – either skateboarding or the other road. It was kind of an easy choice to make actually.
EB: It looks like it turned out well, huh?
BOB: Yeah (laughing). It turned out really good and I’m glad I made that choice. It’s an easy choice because it’s obvious, but, at the same time, drugs are pretty hard to get out of if you don’t have a strong will. If you have something that you love you can go anywhere.
EB: So that brings up a point in my mind. Do you think even if you’re not a huge talent, like obviously you are, there are some positive aspects that skateboarding can have on an individual.
BOB: Oh most definitely. I think anything that you fall in love with and may have a passion for is a positive thing. I mean, as long as you love it hard enough only good can come out of it.
BOB ON skateboard VIDEOS
JR: What do you think is the greatest video part of all time in a skateboard video.
BOB: Oh wow, that’s a tough one. I think the ones that fall most into my memory are Danny Way’s video parts back in the day, like Danny Way and H-Street “Shackle Me Not” and “Hocus Pocus.” I mean Denny Way has just been amazing in delivering video parts.
EB: Regarding (the ESPN IMAX film) “Ultimate X,” did you perceive a difference between this production and other videos you’ve been a participant in?
BOB: Oh yes. All the videos in the skateboard industry, we’re, you know, skate companies or shoe companies, so they’re usually a little less of a production. Grab your digital cam and your buddy, and you go and you just try this trick, and you try it and try it until you make it. Then the next day, you just try to get as many tricks as you can. And those go a little more technical in that way. You try to be very technical and progress in that way in a video.
Nothing like “Ultimate X,” where it’s just a little bit more of a documentary. They have the bigger cameras — 60 millimeters, and the 65 millimeters — where you can’t be falling too much, because it’s expensive. You know, it rolls and rolls. So you want to get it done quick form. You don’t want to give them the really hard tricks, so you give them some basics that will look good for what they’re looking for. It’s different in that way, and it’s a little bit more of a pressure when a 35-millimeter or a 16-millimeter or a 60-millimeter is on because it is expensive. So we just kind of have that back in our mind.
But when it’s digital, we just film, film, film. It doesn’t really matter. We just think about the filmmer sitting there holding the camera for a long time.
So it’s different in that way. I enjoy both aspects of it, and there’s a lot of good can come out of these bigger video productions, these bigger movie productions that don’t necessarily focus on skateboarding only. They focus on all these different sports. Even if it’s just kind of scratching the surface, but it’s giving us an opportunity to show skateboarding.
EB: Kind of broadening the audience even more …
BOB: Most definitely.
NZ: What was it like seeing yourself on an IMAX screen?
BOB: That was definitely one of the rewards, you know, being able to watch skateboarding and my back yard on such a big screen. The ramp is so humongous and big, and on a big screen like that it’s just amazing to watch. It’s pretty neat, man. It’s neat to have the opportunity to be involved, and to be in a movie in an IMAX movie theater. Suddenly people watch it and get excited about what you’re doing and get interested in skateboarding. And therefore, maybe more skateboarders will start skateboarding. Yeah, I think it was a great experience.
BOB GETS INJURED TRYING TO LOOP A FULL-PIPE
JR: So what tricks are you working on these days?
BOB: Well these days, I’m just coming off a few injuries. Actually, about two months-and-a-half to three months ago, from hitting my knee so much, I kind of created this little cyst and this little cartilage build up and all that stuff. I had to go into surgery and they pulled that out. And then, a month later I skated and I tried to Loop Baldie, which is a full pipe. I tried to just do a loop in a real pipe, and it hasn’t been done before. It’s just kind of built – we usually build a loop and did it there. Now, we tried to do it (at Baldie), and I broke my right foot and sprained my left ankle trying it.
I’m out for the count for at least a month-and -a-half, and it might be another month before I get on my board. But until the – until I got hurt I was filming a video for The Firm, which is the board company that sponsors me (we knew that, Bob), which. And that’s and that’s how I got hurt. I was just skating and trying to do as many tricks as I can. And then that was that. So, I got the video part done, and I got hurt, and now I’m just recovering.
EB: So what do you with your recovery time then? You got a whole month-and-a-half.
BOB: Oh man, I got a lot to do. I just kind of spend some time in the office. You know, it’s the beginning of another year, so I try to kind of organize and close everything for 2002, and just be in contact with all the sponsors about the designs, the shoe or bags or clothing or ads. There’s so much we have to respond to. And all the photos that I had been taking before I got hurt. It gives me plenty of time. I could be out for another two, three months and still have material. So, when I am healthy I just try to shoot as many photos and film as much as I can. So in my injury time I just organize them and get stuff done. Working a lot on my Web site – bobburnquist.com. Just kind of keeping in contact.
BOB ON SPIRITUALITY
EB: You seem pretty intellectual and spiritual. Is that a big part of your life as well beyond skating? Or does it add to it? Do you have to take time out to do that type of stuff? Can you kind of give us an idea as to how you prioritize that kind of thing?
BOB: Well I live in that. I try to live in connection with, I guess, God or the divine. I just try to be in connection and just do the things. And any kind of thing that I do I just try to make sure that what I’m doing is something that my conscience can handle. I basically try to just have my conscience be my guide. I think that science and religion kind of should walk hand in hand. You know, because you’ve got to have reason and you’ve got to understand it. And if science can out prove something, then it’s really not unshakeable. That’s how I feel. I try to read a lot, and I’m into Christian Spiritism, which is very strong in Brazil, and there are just a couple of centers in the U.S. and usually they’re Brazilian. If you want to know more about that, you can just go to allan-kardec.org. That’s got pretty much the whole philosophy of the Spiritist Doctrine.
But I try to fit that in because it helps me out a lot. I try to make decisions based on my conscience. I feel good and I feel confident about skating. It just kind of helps me out in a lot of different ways with skating and outside of skating.
BOB’S THOUGHTS ON THE INDUSTRY
JR: If you had three wishes for ways you could change the skateboard industry, what might some of those wishes be?
BOB: You know, the skateboard industry is a big family. I mean we’re all skateboarders. Hopefully most of the industry skates. There’s a lot of new people and a lot of different companies. And for a little bit there, there was just too many board companies with too many names, and too many different graphics. You walk into a store and you’re confused. It’s like you don’t know Joe Schmoe from who some company is. That’s taken space out of more companies that, you know, that are legit — that have the boards, that are good, and need to be supported. And that was one of the problems for a little while.
Now, it seems to be the blanks. The blank boards are taking a big chunk of the industry. On one hand it’s good. It gives access. Like before I was pro, when I bought boards, boards were a little bit more expensive. And if there’s any option, blanks were cheaper because there’s no graphics. So, you just buy a blank. And that helped me out as a skateboarder.
But as an industry, I think that takes away from the pros. Just buying blanks, the pros won’t be able to — all of a sudden — do things like pay the rent. Obviously, there’s an elite group of people that still can because they have different kinds of sponsors. But the skateboard industry, a lot of the street skaters, and a lot of the pros, they don’t have these corporate deals, and they don’t necessarily go out in the mainstream so much. So, it hurts them. In Brazil, there are other problems with piracy. Just with anything that you do, vote with your dollars in mind. And, you know, whatever you feel like should be changing, If you don’t feel like blank boards are helping the industry, don’t buy any blank boards — even though it might hurt your pocket a little bit. Just like buying organic food, it’s a little bit more, but it’s definitely better for the environment. Just like buying recycled is competitive, maybe a little more, but it’s better for the environment. And so you just try not to weigh out everything in money, but in values that kind of are hidden in the back and you’ve got to think to see it.
BOB ON COMPETITION
NZ: Do you or can you have just as much fun skating a competition as at skating your back yard ramp with some friends?
BOB: Yes. Well, it’s definitely two different environments and atmospheres. But you can, have a lot of fun. It all depends on how you are, you know, and how competitive are you. You know, how much do you care? You know, how much do you want to win? You know, how much does it mean to you to beat someone — or beat someone that you really don’t want to lose to? You know, like all these things. It’s all psychological.
And then, definitely a session in your back yard is just going to be really neat, it’s going to be – maybe have four or five friends, and there’s going to be no pressure, you just really do anything that you want to do.
With us as pros, we don’t get to skate with each other as much. I get to skate with a couple of guys here and there, like Pierre comes by, and Bucky sometimes — but it’s not that much. And in a contest – at the practice session, the whole vert contingency is there. So, there’s this energy that really isn’t anywhere else in any other session because they’re all there, and they’re all skating, and they all want to put a line together. So, it’s kind of an intense session. And it’s kind of fun because of that.
My favorite sessions are the practice sessions before a contest. Like even the day before the actual contest, where people are a little loose, but they’re still kind of trying to figure out their skating. So, the energy’s just like really high. Those are really fun. That’s what makes it all worthwhile. And I’m usually not like dying to win. You know, just trying to put it together because ‘I’ve got to win, I’ve got to win.’ It’s more like I want to have a good time, and I want to, first of all, pass that I’m having a good time so people can realize that you can have a good time on a skateboard.
EB: That’s true, that skaters would rather get together and hang out and skate than compete. But in the “Ultimate X” video, that’s an amazing run you put together to go to first place. So without the element of competition, do you think that would just happen naturally? Or is it really like the comment in the video that, oh he’s probably just in his head in his back yard skating? Was that really what was going on in your head?
BOB: Well I had to go there. I had to go to my backyard to be able to do it. The way I was explaining it is that, you know, winning isn’t everything. The reason I think that I got that run done was because of Bucky. I mean it was like Bucky did it. I wasn’t like I’m going to beat Bucky, I’m just going to win, I don’t care. You know, it wasn’t like that. It was like wow, man, Bucky really stepped it up. I don’t know if I can even get more points than him. It’s just for the fun of it, you know. Can I do it? Like …
EB: Like friendly competition…
BOB: Yes. And in my head, I was like, well, I’ve done it before because I got a 99 in Vancouver. I was like, I’ve done it before, I shouldn’t worry about it. I was like, you know what I don’t care, I’m just going to drop in. And I knew that if I tried to really think hard on what I had to do in my run, I was probably going to fall. The moment that I almost did fall was because I had that trick in mind before I dropped in. I was like, OK I’m going to do this trick, and then I’m going to go here. I kind of had a line, and then OK here’s this trick, and I thought about it, and then I almost fell. Then everything else I was just like whatever came to mind — just like in a session I did. So when it was done and over and I got out of the ramp, I was like oh my God, I actually did it, you know, I actually did get it. I felt like it was a really good run and it could actually beat Bucky’s.
Everything went so fast and I wasn’t really there because there was so many people around me that had to wait. I had to wait like an extra 10, 15 minutes because Bucky had just gone. He had done that amazing run, and he had won the two years before, so they immediately were like, OK he won. So they were editing a piece of his win and his wife, and also they were making me wait get cold before I got dropped in because they were already assuming that Bucky was winning. That adds to the pressure.
So, all I did was just kind of look around. I knew how many people were watching and how many people were watching at home. I just kind of shut my eyes and I just kind put myself in the back yard and said, hey, I’m just going to cruise. I’m just going to skate.
EB: Just see what you could do, huh?
BOB: Yes. Bucky pushed me. There’s definitely competitiveness there. But I think it was more positive, and just to see if I can do it, and I did.
BOB’S ADVICE FOR BEGINNERS
JR: Do you have any tips for starting skaters?
BOB: Yes. Well, it can be very frightening right now to get interested in skateboarding, when you see the videos and you see, the video game and all the things that are being done. It’s another level that it’s almost unreachable. Like skaters that start right now can’t relate to the top guys, because it’s so beyond as far as level goes. One of the things to think about is not to think about that.
First of all, if you got a skateboard because you want to become a famous star on a skateboard, just put it away. Throw it away. Don’t even get on it.
But, if you got a skateboard because you like the expression, and the tricks, and how free you are because you’re on a skateboard, you can do whatever you want to do, you don’t have to listen to anyone, and you like the wind in your face, and you like just cruising down the street, then keep it going. That’s what skating is. First, you have to fall in love with your board, and then you build from there. You have fun with your friends, and you’re learning here and there. It’s the whole experience of learning and you’ve got to have fun while you’re on the way, and not only think that your rewards are going to come when you get there. It’s the same with skateboarding, You just have to have a good time, learn your tricks, and just have a good time with your friends. I guess that’s the best tip I can give for someone that’s starting.