INTERVIEW BY DAVE DUNCAN
INTRODUCTION BY DAVE DUNCAN
PHOTO BY BRIAN FICK
Skateboarding made Chris Senn. Growing up in Grass Valley, CA, he was literally born into it. Whether it’s vert, street, pools or concrete parks, Chris can take on anything. He’s always on fire. Chris has that punk attitude that came from the early ’80s in NorCal. Senn skates like an artist, with the terrain as his canvas. He does different lines that most people don’t even see. He has his own unique creative style. It’s really inspiring to watch a skater like Chris while he destroys everything in his path. He’s won numerous gold medals and contests by taking his skateboarding to a whole new level. He’s continually progressing, while staying true to his roots, all the way through. He loves traveling the world, and is always down to rage with the Dagger crew. Now, inspired by the island style of life, Chris enjoys chilling with his family in Hawaii, where he’s made his own little heaven on earth. Chris is ready for the future, ready to keep it rolling.
“IT’S NOT REALLY ABOUT THE PHOTOS, THE VIDEOS, THE CONTESTS, OR THE MONEY. IT’S ABOUT THE STRUGGLE TO GET TO ALL OF IT.”
We just skated Glendale. How was your session?
It was pretty fun. It’s pretty big. I haven’t skated a park like that in a while. I was kind of scared actually, but it was fun to get back in some over vert pockets. It’s probably the best park I’ve seen down here in SoCal in a long time.
You’ve been in San Francisco bombing some hills?
I was up in Grass Valley, hanging out with some friends up there.
Is that where you’re from?
Yeah. I was hanging out with Mike Minzer. I was working with Fuel TV on that “Firsthand” episode.
Yeah, the Chris Senn “Firsthand” spot. Nice.
Yeah. We were just making a mellow little show, trying to show all the old spots. Then I went to San Francisco and skated the backside nine and some old hills and just hung out. Then I came down here for the Element video premiere.
You live in Hawaii now, right?
Yeah. I live on the west coast of the Big Island in Kailua, Kona.
How long have you been living there?
I moved there in August 2004.
You been getting some surfing in over there?
Yeah, I surf pretty much every day now. There are five or six breaks right in town.
What’s up with your boat?
My dad has a sailboat that I helped him buy five years ago. Eventually, I’m going to start working on that boat. It’s got a catamaran, so I can take people out on snorkel trips, whale watching and stuff like that. It’s pretty cool.
If someone wants to go watch whales, how do they find you?
Go to www.kamanu.com. It’s called Kamanu Charters. Look it up. Hook it up. Check out the dolphins and the sharks.
What about this full moon we’re looking at? Do things get crazy during a full moon?
Yeah, sometimes. It’s kind of sketchy. It feels like something weird is going to happen. Waves get bigger. Girls get crazy. It’s easier to see at night.
I heard you designed one of the local parks in Grass Valley. What’s up with that?
We didn’t design it. As they were building it, they didn’t know how to make the transition right. They’d never done it before, so we showed them how to do it. We dug it out for them and shaped the dirt for them on their pre-existing plan. We gave them advice on how to do everything, like how to set the coping.
How did it turn out?
It came out pretty good. It’s not that big, but it’s fun. It’s a great place to go in the spring or the summer when it’s not too cold.
That’s outside Sacramento. Did you hit any spots in Sacramento when you were skating as a kid?
Yeah. That’s where we used to skate a lot. We’d drive there pretty much every day. We’d go at night and skate all the spots around downtown and the suburbs. There’s so much stuff up there. It’s funny because I see photos of all these people skating Sacto now. San Francisco and all of the other cities are blown out. I see all of these photos of guys skating Sacto and all these spots that we used to skate ten years ago. It’s pretty rad.
They’ve got a good skate scene going?
Yeah, it’s one of the best, I think. You’ve got Rick Windsor, Sam Cunningham and Cardiel. Tons of gnarly people came out of there.
What about Grass Valley?
I grew up with a lot of professional snowboarders there, like Chris Roach, Monty Roach and Tucker Fransen. There were a lot of cool people from the Tahoe/Truckee area.
They have a good park in Truckee now right?
It’s alright. It’s fun. When it was first built, it was pretty advanced for the time. Now there are other parks around there. Not a lot of people really skate it, but if you’re driving by, it’s definitely worth stopping.
What do you think about all these concrete parks coming up?
It’s super cool. I wish I had them when I was younger. It’s insane. It just keeps getting better and better. It’s cool to see the little kids go to the parks. Now, they have parks everywhere. It’s right there for them. When I was a kid, there was one in San Diego and I lived up in NorCal. I never came down to San Diego. We were only 11 years old, so our parents weren’t just going to drive us down there. We just had to build sketchy ramps and skate crap the whole time.
You skated pools too, right?
When I was 16 and I could drive, we started venturing out. We were finding a lot of pools. We’d go in the city and find full pipes. We went to the Glory Hole. After we met Randy Katen and Bryce Kanights, they gave us the tips. We got in with those guys and skated lots of pools everywhere.
What’s the story with Element?
I was stoked to get on Element. I was over Adrenalin. It just wasn’t working out. It was a lot of work. I didn’t want to do it and no one else did either. We kept it going for a while and then called it quits. Then Ryan Kingman from Element asked me to ride for Element. I was stoked. Ever since then, I’ve been traveling around a lot and filming.
Who else is on the team?
Tosh, Rupp, Mike V, Colt, Jeremy Wray, Nyjah, Bucky, BA, Lincoln, Bam and Vanessa Torres. There are a couple of AM kids. It’s cool. It’s a mellow team. Everyone’s easy to travel with. Everyone skates good in their own way.
The “Elementality Volume I” video was good.
Yeah, I liked it.
Who are your other sponsors?
Emerica, Oakley, Bones Wheels, Destructo, Speed Metal, Good Times Boardstore, Kamanu Charters and Daggers.
Daggers Hawaii division?
Yeah, the Aloha division.
What are your favorite places to skate in the world?
I used to like going to Europe and big cities like New York. Now I like places that are more tropical.
What about Marseille?
I like going places like that. Marseille or Brazil is great. Argentina is amazing. Jamaica was really cool. That was a cool experience. Asia is pretty interesting.
Where did you go in Asia?
I went to Japan and Malaysia. Both really cool places to go. Kind of hectic, though. I kind of stay away from cities now when I can. There’s too much stuff going on. I guess I’ve been in Hawaii too long.
That’s good, though. Tell us about when you started skating.
My first memory of skateboarding was, I had an uncle. His name was Ray. He was eight years older than me. My dad kind of raised him, so he lived with us. He was like my older brother. He was a punker, stoner guy. He listened to Kiss and stuff like that. I just thought he was God. He was hanging out with one of his bros and he brought me home a skateboard. It was an old Sims, one of the flat ones they made in ’78. I was thinking, “Sick. I’ve got a skateboard, just like my uncle.” I was thinking about building little ramps and kicking around and going up curbs. Then I remember I was sitting on Warner Avenue in Orange County. This was back when there was nothing out there but strawberry fields. We lived on this strawberry field. One day, we were just sitting there and these dudes pull up in a car. They got out, ran up to the lawn, grabbed my board and took off. I went to find my uncle to tell him that these guys had stolen my board. He said, “It’s okay. I stole it from them first.” So I didn’t have a skateboard again for a while. I finally got another skateboard when I was 11 years old. By then, I was living in the Bay Area. Right after that we moved to Grass Valley. Then my friend, this guy Greg that I grew up with, brought a video into our sixth-grade show-and-tell. The video was “Future Primitive.” It’s the one where Lance Mountain comes out off the roof and then jumps off.
Yeah, I’m in the pool section of that video.
Yeah, you and Eddie. Lance hops over the fence and you guys are there skating. That was the first time that I ever saw real skating. From that day on, we were skaters. It was like, “Dude, what do we have to do to get a board? Within two weeks, we all had setups. We knew where the ramps were and we were down with the skate shop owner. Within a month, we were critiquing other people’s style. We were hooked. That was it. It was over.
What year was that?
That was 1984. That was right when skateboarding got big again. That was when Tony Hawk was just starting, and Gelfand was still around. My first board was an Alan Gelfand board. That was right when everything was getting super cool.
Who were some of your favorite skaters?
We were into Steadham, Christian, Gonz, Blender, Tony Hawk, Natas, Lance, the whole Bones Brigade… those were our skate gods.
I was with you in Germany when you did that loop. How was that experience?
It was cool. I want to ride through it still. I’m pissed I haven’t ridden through one yet.
It was an egg-shaped loop, so you had to do a frontside air.
Yeah, I was super-stoked I did it. At first, I didn’t think I’d be able to do it. I thought I was going to hurt myself trying it. It was cool to get that feeling of not knowing if you’ll walk away from it, and then you do. You’re like, “Yeah!” I saw the video of it, and I know I can carve through it, so I want to do that. I have to go find a loop and do it. It has to be a frontside one, though. It was one of the best feelings that I’ve ever had on a skateboard.
One thing about you that I really like, is that you go fast and you’re spontaneous. You’ll skate anything, vert ramp, street course, mini ramp and pools. Chris Senn rules. What is your inspiration to be an all-terrain skater?
When I was a kid, I didn’t have a choice of what I skated. People didn’t skate handrails back then. Gonz was doing three stairs and Natas was doing four-stair handrails, and those guys were pros. No one was really doing handrails or ollieing more than five steps. There weren’t vert ramps and pools everywhere. We didn’t have all these parks to skate. We had to skate whatever we could find. If someone found a curb under a bridge, that’s what we skated that day if it was raining. If someone found a pool, that’s what we skated until we got kicked out. If someone built a vert ramp, we’d skate that until someone ruined it. It was a constant battle to skate stuff. Once in a while, we’d get to go to the city and skate or we’d skate the hills in our neighborhood. We skated a lot of hills when I was a kid. We lived in the forest with all these brand new paved hills everywhere. We learned how to skate really fast. We’d get mach speed. Everyone would get fucked up, daily. That’s what we did. That was just as significant as kickflipping a 20-stair. We’d just bomb hills and walk up and down all day. We’d see who could go from the highest point without sliding, just to see who could do it. Some of them were just too steep to ride. That helped teach me a lot about skateboarding.
You learned a lot from bombing hills?
Yeah, I learned about going fast. Skating hills is one of the best things you can do.
You learn to handle the speed.
It’s a totally different way of skating. People know how to do it, but that aspect is lost in the industry and the magazines. That aspect of skateboarding is just not marketable.
I think everyone loves to cruise hills. I used to ride my skateboard to school every day, up and down hills.
Go find some fresh asphalt or a parking garage. That’s always a good time.
What are your favorite spots to ride?
I like riding full pipes. Glory Hole is one of the funnest places that I’ve ever been. Marseille is fun. Bologna is sick, too. For street skating, my favorite places are San Francisco and Grass Valley. There’s a lot of stuff up there that people don’t even know about. You have to know your way around to find them.
Now you live in Hawaii with your family?
Tell us about your family.
Anakin is 11. He skates and surfs. He rides his bike. He does whatever. He’s a little haole boy. My other boy, Julian, is just starting to walk around. He’s two now. He’s learning how to swim and skate. He’s talking like there’s no tomorrow. He’s bouncing off the walls every day.
The next generation Senninators are out there.
Yeah, Julian is going to be nuts. He thinks he’s as big as Anakin. He thinks he can do everything that Anakin is doing.
He’s got that Brazilian blood in him.
He’s dangerous. I call him “mini danger”.
What else is going on in your world?
I’ve just been surfing a lot. I’ve been trying to learn how to surf. I’ve been really into that. I’ve been working on my house and hanging out with my family. I’m trying to spend time with Anakin. He’s getting older and he’s going to reach that point soon where he’s going to be more on his own with school and his friends. I’ve been hanging out with him a lot. I’ve been trying to teach him how to surf. I’ve been skating. I just built a ramp in my backyard. It’s a fun ramp. I’ve just been taking it easy, trying to enjoy life.
When did you turn pro?
I turned pro in 1991.
I remember seeing you at the Shut Up and Skate Contests in Texas.
Yeah, that was the first contest that I ever won. Sheffey got second. Everyone was pissed because they thought he should have gotten first. I was doing benihanas.
Had you entered a lot of amateur stuff before that?
No, not really. I skated one of those Powell contests in ’91. After that, Todd Hastings came up to me and asked me if I wanted to ride for Powell/Peralta. I was like, “What the fuck?” I’m from Grass Valley. I don’t know anyone in the industry. I don’t know anything. Of course, I said, “Fuck, yeah, dude.” He said, “Cool, I’ll send you some boards.” That was it. I skated the contest and got fifth. The next week, these boards showed up at my house. I called all my friends. I didn’t even open the package until all my friends got there. We were all like, “Whoa. Free stuff. No way! Check it out.” I gave everything away. Then Todd asked me to come down to Powell. Jeff Tollin came over and picked me up and we drove down there. After that, I was on the team. It was no joke. I had to do my first video part. I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know why they wanted to sponsor me. Then I went to some amateur contests and won a couple of those.
Who were you skating with in those contests?
I was skating against Koston, Cardiel, Josh Swindell and Matt Beach. Willy Santos was there.
That was a whole new crop of amateurs there.
Yeah, we were all in the same zone. Back then, you still had to qualify for contests to go pro. It wasn’t like it is now, where you just go pro. Back then, you had to advance in three amateur contests to get to the next one. All the ones that advanced to the final contest went pro. We were all stoked. It was pretty friendly. Then, later that year in ’91, there was the Back To The City contest. I entered that one. I remember Tony Hawk was there. All the pros were there. I was on Tony Hawk’s team. I was thinking, “What the fuck?” I had just gotten out of high school and, all of a sudden, I was on Tony Hawk’s team. I didn’t even know him. Then he said, “What’s up, Chris? Sweet stalefish.” I was tripping out. I couldn’t believe I was there. I couldn’t really concentrate. I dropped in for my first run and I was so nervous that I went to do a mute grab over the fun box and my board just flew out, like 20 feet. I was all pissed off. I think I got twelfth in that contest. But I was so stoked after that. After that, I figured out how to do it. It was cool, though.
It seems like you’ve had quite a successful contest career.
Yeah, it was the beginning of a 15-year summer vacation.
Are you enjoying the life of being a pro skateboarder?
It has its ups and downs. It just depends on how the chips fall. You can go on one trip where you leave for two weeks to the other side of the world with $200 in your pocket, a backpack and some boards. You might have the best time of your life. Then you might go to some exotic place with a bunch of money and everything is set and it turns out that it sucks. You never know. You just have to keep going. You make it work. That’s what it’s about. It’s not really about the photos, the videos, the contests or the money. It’s about the struggle and the journey to get to all of it. The tricks and glory is the icing on the cake.