INTERVIEW BY DAVE DUNCAN
INTRODUCTION BY DAVE DUNCAN
PHOTOS BY LUKE OGDEN AND MARC FALKENSTEIN
The first word I think of when I look at Nilton is ‘amazing.’ Nilton Neves is one of the original Brazilian skateboarding super stars. Growing up in the streets of Sao Paolo, he’s one of the first generation skaters to come from Brazil and make it on the contest circuit and achieve international recognition. There was Bob Burnquist, Lincoln Ueda, Carlos De Andrade, and then came Nilton. He was part of the Brazilian takeover, and now there are tons of Brazilian riders claiming top spots internationally in vert and street. Nilton has been really competitive on the tours and has gained big notoriety in the skateboard world. For a guy from Brazil to come to the States and get an American sponsorship, and be able to travel the world riding a skateboard is a huge accomplishment. Nilton has done it well, and he’s done it with style. He truly loves life and he seems to touch everyone he meets in a very special way. He has a tattoo that says ‘Skate eterno’, which means, ‘Skate forever’. They also have another saying in Brazil, ‘na veia’ which means it’s in your blood. It’s in your veins. These are classic Brazilian terms that describe Nilton. When Nilton won the Mystic Cup in Prague, for him to win a World Cup event was a big achievement, and the speech that he gave when he won was full of passion. He said, ‘It’s not about the money. It’s about the good times and friends and the good vibes of coming together for skateboarding.’ Nilton is truly in love with skateboarding and it shows. Nilton is an all terrain machine, and everyone loves to watch him skate. The thing I love most about him is his style, smooth tricks and buttery manuals, and he can rock tranny. He rocks it all. He’s got a very impressive bag of tricks, and he’s been skating forever. He has the crazy Brazilian style, with flowing style, on and off the board. Let’s have a talk with Nilton and see what he’s all about because he’s a very unique individual with a unique personality. Somehow skateboarding attracts unique individuals, like Nilton. Here we go. Nilton Neves.
“I BELIEVE IN THE PRINCIPLE THAT A SKATEBOARD IS JUST ONE BOARD, TWO TRUCKS AND FOUR WHEELS. YOU SHOULD RIDE EVERYTHING. SKATEBOARDING IS ONE AND IT SHOULD NOT BE DIVIDED.”
What’s going on in your world today?
We’re at Duncan’s house right now. I’m happy to be here.
[Laughs.] Didn’t you just move down here?
Yeah, I moved to Costa Mesa four weeks ago.
Welcome to southern California. I know you were in San Francisco. What were you doing up there?
After Brazil, San Francisco was a dream city, the perfect place to get used to the States. I was living there with my good friend, Joey Tershay. I love that Rasta.
We all love him. Yeah, Joey. So you’re down south now. Give us your stats. How old are you and how long you’ve been skating?
I’m 28. I’ve been skating for 22 years.
You started skateboarding when you were six?
What town did you grow up in?
I was born and raised in Sao Paolo, Brazil. It’s a big city, South Side, and Bairro Saude…
What was the first year you got out of Brazil?
Where did you go?
I went straight up to Europe. First Germany for a couple hours and after we drove 12 hours to north England, Northampton, to the Radlands Skatepark contest. Tom Penny was the man.
I remember when you and Biano showed up for the World Championships in Munster, Germany. 1995 was a good year for skateboarding.
People never knew about us before, and we all show up. It was intense because for us everything was super new. We could not even speak English but full of energy and super young and we drove hundreds of miles getting lost for a month, sleeping in the car, but always finding the place that we were looking for and a lot of new spots on the way. We went to a lot of different countries, changing money every second, sometimes three times a day. There were no credit cards. Everybody was 15 or 16 years old. It was crazy.
I remember Biano launching off that ramp so high and far to flat in one of those contests trying to make a name for himself, just like the great skaters from Brazil that came before you. I remember Lincoln was first, back in ’89, and next was Tarobinha who was the first street skater who came in around ’94. Those guys had amazing speed and style. I remember Burnquist showed up at Slam City Jam in 1995 and won the contest with amazing switch stance skateboarding, and once again with that crazy Brazilian style. Had you ever ridden many wood ramps in Brazil?
We didn’t have so much wood in Brazil. We had concrete all the time to ride. The local skatepark was there before I was even born. It was all rough and gnarly. It was all big trannys and lots of corners, fast, mellow, but always imperfect. My friends always complained, but I kept my mouth closed and just skated. I loved the really bad and rough spots. Having imperfect trannys wasn’t a problem. I always loved it.
What place is that, Sao Bernardo?
Sao Bernardo is a city beside Sao Paolo where there’s a skatepark since the 70s. That’s where I started skating tranny, pools, bowls and everything with a corner. The scene is super special. It’s a lot of older skaters and gangsters on the spot. You would need to know how to respect, and show respect to people and not just be a tricker.
What was it like riding the streets of Brazil? Did you ride a lot of streets or mostly parks?
I started skating in what is now the fourth largest city in the world. I always was a street rat. We used to live in Vila Brazilina (my neighbor in Saude, South Sao Paolo) and skate towards downtown, on the time was the most intense three hours of my life until we get to this sport called Praca Roosevelt. We used to street skate three hours cross town to a spot. I didn’t ride a park until my fourth year of skateboarding.
How old were you then?
I was nine or ten. I always had older friends looking out for me at the sessions. Since I was a kid, I knew how to watch out for cars when I skated street. In Brazil, the drivers do not care, for real.
I remember going to trade shows and realizing that Brazil had its own market. They were blatantly ripping off the hottest graphics at the time from companies like Santa Cruz and Powell.
Since the ’80s and even before that, people in Brazil have been in love skateboarding. The importation of American products was super expensive and people started to manufacture everything in Brazil. That was super nice for us kids, because that was a lot cheaper. We could skate non-stop. But we will always have those blood suckers trying to make money with skateboarding no matter what. A few of those types were copying graphics from American brands in the ’80s, because they had the money at the time. Skateboarding was growing and they want to make more money don’t matter what. They had no respect for skateboarding. We had the Brazilian Vision and Sims. The skaters in Brazil never liked that.
You finally got your own skateboard?
Yes, after two years of skating with my friends and borrowing their boards, I got my own board. It was one of those generic boards that you can buy at K-Mart or a place like that. My dad didn’t have the money for an expensive board. So I used that board until death. I broke both hangers and used the wheels until they got so small, almost the size of the bearings. I still have my first board until this day. It gives me so many good memories. Because of all that struggle, I skate the way I feel. It changed my life for real.
When did you get your first American board?
I rode my fist American board ten years after I’d been skating. The most fun thing was that I started to do slides down the hill and not feel guilty after I was riding for Satori for four years. Can you imagine how many years that I wished I could slide? But I couldn’t because it was so hard to get wheels in Brazil.
You valued your equipment.
Yeah, in Brazil it’s different. I always saw how my dad worked so hard to make money to keep us alive and I respect that so much. He never gave up.
I remember my first trip to Brazil back in ’85 when Tony Alva and I were the first pros to go there. In ’86 and ’87, Tony Hawk came, and then Reategui, Hosoi and Micke Alba. The whole scene in Brazil was just jumping off.
Duncan, people remember that time so clearly in their minds. We had mad respect for you guys. When you guys showed up, you skated so gnarly. You guys were crazy. I grew up listening to all those stories. Now I have a lot of memories of partying hard with you, Duncan and other friends in Brazil. When Hosoi came to Brazil in the ’80s, he blew people’s minds.
He came to skate your home park?
Hosoi got to the park and he was so happy. There’s this big snakerun, eight feet deep with sometimes four feet of vert and sometimes seven feet of vert. It’s 50 feet long. The trannys were all fucked. It was just gnarly. He left shoes, gear and everything behind and skated barefoot. We knew that he’d never been there before and he didn’t know the trannys were all different and super hard to skate. We couldn’t believe someone that had never skated there was able to ride it the way he did. Everybody in Brazil realized how much power he had. He was so excited about skating there and he just killed it.
He didn’t even put on his helmet or his gear. He was like, ‘I’ve got to skate now.’
Yeah, and we were all screaming. He was doing backside and frontside grinds bare-footed. He was so full of energy. Everyone was yelling. He has such natural style.
Classic Hosoi. At the time, we didn’t have anything like that here in America. Upland and Del Mar was all that was left. To find a place like that, it was concrete paradise.
Now you have the Dreamland and Grindline parks that are like that here. Thanks to those guys that make those sanctuaries where we can free ourselves in this life.
Did you ever get to skate with Hosoi?
Yes, and I skated with him last year and I would have never expected that. He knew my name and I don’t know if you can understand how happy that made me. It was like completing the cycle in my skateboarding life. I have big respect for those that contributed to the foundation of skateboarding. Hosoi had a big part of that.
When you first went to Europe in ’95, that was a big deal, right?
Yeah, it was, but we were still struggling. We didn’t have money or credit cards. I was only 16. Every contest was scary, because I had to pay for the hotels and car. I was selling boards to make next week’s money. I was living in a car. It was the worst experience, but now, looking back, the best times of my life.
What year was that Mystic Cup contest?
2002. That was a big thing for me. I’d been going to Prague since ’99. It was different. It was a pure skateboarding contest. Everyone was full of energy.
It’s not a mass media contest. It’s not like the Munster Cup with mass hysteria.
No, it’s not like that at all. It was truly amazing. You could feel it just by being there and going there. I love Prague. Sometimes I’m not able to really skate in contests but there everything was working perfectly. No stress. My ‘angels’ were happy. Since 2000, I qualified first for a couple of years. I don’t care about contests, but that one was a dream contest for me. After eating shit on the finals for many years, in 2002, I won the contest. It was amazing. There was just crazy energy going on.
How did you feel? You had a cool speech.
I just tried to tell everybody that life was short and skateboarding is such an amazing thing in our lives. We all found something to love and that keeps our souls, heart and mind happy and alive. It’s true. Believe me. It’s a blessed thing for me to have found skateboarding in this life. I will never forget that contest.
What about your friend Og De Souza?
Yeah. Og is the best skater ever. No one can touch him.
He had polio when he was a kid?
In Brazil, we have these waves of sickness. The government doesn’t give a fuck. I don’t know how he got polio, but he got it and he got over it. He won.
That year that you were in Prague that Bob won, and when Rodrigo TX won in ’99, we had Og on our shoulders. We were pouring beer on him.
That was our first trip there. That was Og’s first year.
I heard you carried him up three flights of stairs.
I never carry Og because he flies, but if I need to I’d carry Og all my life. It doesn’t matter. No one could understand how Og could be so gnarly to the world. Because that was our first trip together, it’s in my heart. It’s so gnarly to have have a fried that feels life. Og is one of those cats. He’s not down to be talking shit all day long. He cares about you with his heart because he knows that life is no joke. He treats me like his brother, his dad and his son. I just love Og so much. I was blessed to make a friend with someone like him.