Chris Russell

INTRODUCTION AND INTERVIEW BY STEVE OLSON
PHOTOS BY DAVE SWIFT

Get on it, and throttle it to the max.

Never let off, just seems to be the way.

One slam, two slams, that doesn’t count.

It’s about making it, and making it gnarly…

Nothing to lose, it’s all one big gain…

Through the triumph, victory, and the pain…

This is Chris Russell…

If you’ve seen him skate,

you know what I mean….

Chris Russell. Washington Street. Dave Swift Washington Street is gnarly, so Chris Russell mans up and chucks an eggplant across the channel because that’s what he does. Photo: Dave Swift

Where are you and how are you?

I’m doing good. I had a rough night last night in Diego.

Oh, it happens.

Yup. I’m trying to get some coffee right now and wake up.

So where did you come from Russell?

I come from Hermosa Beach, California.

When did you start skating?

I started skating when I was about seven or eight years old.

How did you get into skating?

Mostly from watching videos. We always had a skateboard at my house and then the real deciding point was when I went up North for a family road trip and I got to see some of the parks up north in Seattle and all that. It was super eye-opening and I’m like, “This is what I want to do.” My uncle took us to go skate and it just really blew my mind.

Where did you go skate the first time?

We skated the Arlington Park up in Washington. It was one of the very first spots that I remember just being in awe of and seeing what it was actually all about.

Growing up in Hermosa, did you surf?

I just started surfing the last two years, but I’m loving it. I didn’t really grow up surfing too much. I always kind of kept it on the land. I was an ocean kid though. We always went to the beach and that’s how my dad raised me. I was a pretty good swimmer, so I was comfortable in the water, but I just never really took a huge interest in surfing until the last few years.

So you get into skating and you get the buzz from a trip up north. Where did you start skating in your local scene?

I skated my little local park every day, even though it was a little piece of shit. It was still a spot for me to go and hit and then my dad saw how much of an interest I had in it, and he started driving me around and getting me where I needed to go. I started skating Vans a ton and I started skating the Santa Monica park. I was pretty much just skating pools and the flow section. I was hyped on the tranny mission, so I was super stoked as a little kid just being able to hit all the spots. My dad gave me mad support by driving me everywhere. It was both of my parents, actually, my mom and my dad.

So they’d drive you and you would go and skate?

Yeah. They would let me go and do whatever. My dad actually learned to skate with me, around the same time, but two years down the road he ended up breaking his arm too many times. That would put him out of work for a few months at a time and my mom was just over it. She was like, “Nope, you’ve got to work. You’ve got to put food on the table.” So he just ended up driving me around and that was it. No more skating for him.

Chris Russell. Boneless revert. Photo by Dave Swift Chris blasts a backyard boneless revert off some killer looking rock top coping in hollywood. Photo: Dave Swift

When did you realize that you were getting good on your skateboard?

I don’t really know when I started realizing that.  I was starting to get into my own right when I was around 12. That was really when I started putting together some shit that I was stoked on. I was watching Omar Hassan and all those dudes that I grew up watching, and kind of incorporating what I saw, and putting my own little twist on what I was stoked on. I think I started coming into my own pretty much around 12 and then it just kind of grew from there.

Why do you think you went to skating tranny?

You know what? I’ve never really gotten the same satisfaction from throwing my body down a huge set. I’d rather go fast and keep going fast for a long time. I like keeping it fast-paced and keeping it going. I’m super hyped on being able to skate pool coping. I loved all of that. Being able to do airs, and all of that, piqued my interest and I stuck with it.

When did you first do an air?

I started doing early grabs when I was nine or ten. Learning how to frontside ollie was probably one of the hardest things in skateboarding to learn how to do properly. It took me years to be able to get them and I still don’t have a perfect one. I started learning how to do frontside ollies when I was 11. I still can’t do them perfect, but I can do them a lot better than when I was 11.

Why do you think you go so fast?

Do I go fast? I don’t know. It seems like a lot of people go super fast. I don’t know if I go faster than anybody else, but I can say I hang up a lot more. [Laughs]

Yes! Your hang up is a trick now.

Yeah. I hang a lot of things. I got stoked on watching Kevin Kowalski. I grew up watching him skate in the Oregon contests. The Oregon Trifecta was one of the first real contests I did as a little kid and going up there really opened my eyes to some gnarly, heavy transition skating that was unfolding in front of me. The one homie that always caught my eye was Kevin because he would lay down disasters all the time and tons of variations. A lot of inspiration comes from that and a lot of other people.

When did you start going to the Oregon Trifecta?

It was probably the first time I met you. I was 12. I had long hair and I was just a chubby little fat kid all hyped to skate. I did those contests for two more years and they were super sick.

Did you have sponsors that were hustling you up there or what?

No. It was all my family. We did huge family trips up there and that was where it all stemmed from. When we did that family trip to Seattle, we kind of made that a tradition and did that for like five years. As I started getting older, my mom and sister wouldn’t go, so it would just be me and my dad. It was pretty much my whole family that got me up there. It was sick.

So you had mad support from your family, which is beautiful.

Yeah. It was the really best thing I could ask for. I wouldn’t be anywhere or anything without them.

That’s really nice. Did you like skating in contests or did you just like skating?

I just like skating. What I really liked about that contest though is that everybody went at once in a jam format. It was mayhem and craziness and I was all about that. I loved it. I was feeding off of it. It made me feel less nervous too, skating those kind of contests. I didn’t have to perform, so it was less pressure. It was more of a skate session rather than an actual contest. I dug it. I skated CASL contests too. I was psyched on getting in there and trying to put something together.

What about having someone say, “Okay, you’re good,” or “You’re not good,” like a judge?

When I was a little tyke, it bothered me when things didn’t work out, and then I was like, “You know what? It is what it is. It’s a contest. You take what you get.” Even now though, it still comes back. If you know you did good and you get gypped, you get pissed, but all in all you’re going to skate another day. It isn’t going to be the last contest.

Chris Russell. Ollie. Orcas Island. Photo Dave Swift Hauling ass, Chris covers some serious distance as he eyeballs the pool coping extension around his landing site on this ollie from the hip at orcas island. No fear. Photo: Dave Swift

So then you started surfing and you like surfing too?

Yeah. I’m super hyped on it.

Do you think it helps your skating?

I think it helps a lot. It helps with your flow. Keeping relaxed definitely helps and it’s a work-out if you’re out there for more than two hours paddling around. If the conditions are really big, it’s a work-out for sure. It’s good. It strengthens you up. It humbles you with the fact that you’re not in control of your environment and you’re just at bay in the ocean. It’s a different feeling. It’s sick. I think it definitely helps with skating a lot for sure.

Who do you skate with mostly?

There’s a lot of people I skate with. When I’m down South, I skate with Greyson, Shaun Ross and that whole crew. There are so many crews down here. It’s so sick. I skate with vert dudes sometimes, like Jake Brown, and my friend Allen, who skates vert ramps sometimes. I skate with the Creature crew. I skate with Darren every once in a while. I get something going at the Combi every once in a while too. I just bounce around and keep it fresh, you know?

How has the sponsor thing worked for you through your skateboarding? Who was your first sponsor?

My first sponsor was E.T. Surf. I love those dudes and they have taken care of me and my family for years. I will always love those guys for taking care of me so hard.

Excellent. So you had E.T., the Worm, Eddie and all of those cats. Who else came into your sponsorship deal? When did you start getting free gear?

E.T. made shop decks and I got them from there for a little bit and then there was this little skate team called Gridlock that I started riding for, which was the first actual skate team I was on where we all met up and congregated in one spot and skated hard. it was cool.

How old were you when that was going down?

It went from E.T., when I was 10, and then the Gridlock years were when I was 11 through 13. After that, I started getting Creature boards from Heavy Metal Chuck. He started dishing out those boards and I was super hyped. Creature was my favorite company. I loved those dudes. It was pretty much a dream come true and then he got fired and I was kind of left out in the middle with no real guidance. I went to the Combi one day riding a Black Label deck because I think they were kind of checking me out at the time. I saw Navs there and he was like, “What are you doing riding that thing?” I’m like, “I don’t know, man. Chuck is gone and all that.” He was like, “Here, I got you on boards.” He started giving me the hook up and from there on, it kind of evolved into me getting boards from Lee Charron at Creature.

Chris Russell. Frontside tailgrab nose grinder. photo by Dave Swift Ah yes, the ol’ brick paver coping gives up some clackity clack love for this frontside tailgrab nose grinder in Oceanside. Photo: Dave Swift

What about sneakers and all that?

I only rode Vans the entire time I was a kid. The one thing I’m picky about is shoes, so I bought Vans and didn’t wear anything else. It ended up working out the same way as my board situation. I started getting shoes from Vans and then the rep stopped working for them. All of a sudden, while we were in Australia, Raney Beres gave me a heads up that he was going to tell Vans that I needed shoes. He helped me get my foot in the door and I’ve been getting Vans shoes ever since.

So how do you approach skating?

Aggression. It’s like you’re going to battle. It has to do with what I skate too. I feel like it’s a little bit of a different mindset depending on where you’re skating. With the Combi, it’s full bore aggression and you have to put everything into it because it’s such a big thing. I approach a lot of things like that. I just put in my all and put it on the line. That’s how I like to do it. I just kind of scare myself and then realize that I’m still breathing, you know?

Yeah. Did you ever think that you would become a pro skateboarder?

It was always the one thing I wanted, but I didn’t think that it was actually ever going to happen? It’s insane. I still can’t believe that I’m paid to ride a skateboard. It’s just unbelievable to me. It’s a crazy thing and I owe everything to that wooden plank with some wheels on it. Blood, sweat and tears go into it. I can’t even explain how that all came about. I was so stoked.

Did you ever think when you were a little kid like, “I’m going to be traveling the world on four wheels?”

Hell no. Traveling up to Oregon was absolutely mind-boggling to me when I was a kid. I thought that was it. I didn’t think it was going to get anywhere close to where it is today. It’s all rad. I’m just along for the ride. I’m stoked!

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