INTERVIEW AND INTRODUCTION BY DAVE DUNCAN
PHOTOS BY DAN BOURQUI
The first time that I heard about Bob was when the Hellride crew got back from Australia. They told me stories of a Brazilian kid named Burnquist, doing switch frontside roll ins. They told me, “Keep an eye out for him. He’s on the rise.” I finally got a chance to meet Bob in Vancouver at the Slam City Jam, where he’d just won the first pro contest he’d ever entered in North America. He rose from the concrete jungle of the Brazilian underground and flew straight to the top in the world of professional skateboarding. Looking back at the history of how Bob grew up, there were lots of dirty streets and the daily struggles of third world living, but somehow he found what he needed in skateboarding. The equipment that he rode, back then, was horrible, but Bob persisted. Now, when he goes back to Brazil he needs a bodyguard, but he still goes up to the favela in Brazil, and hangs with the kids and gives them free gear and skate lessons. He has not lost touch with where he came from and he’s still on the rise. He just looped the metal pipe at his house and he’s still doing things that have never been done on a skateboard. Bob has put a lot of heart into skateboarding and you can still see, to this day, that all the fame has not overridden his true love for skateboarding. The guy loves to get on his board and he’ll have a good session on any type of terrain. When I met Bob, it was a time in skateboarding when there really wasn’t a whole lot of money and stature. It was all about good times and good friends, and that’s what Bob is all about. Each generation takes skateboarding further and Bob is a part of the new generation, taking it over the top. He’s really the leader of what I call the ‘Brazilian takeover’. In the ’90s, guys like Danny Way and Colin Mackay innovated flip tricks and street tech-type tricks and Bob came in with his switch stance style, mixed it together and created his own style. Now he owns his own home with his own private backyard skateboard world and Bob is living the American dream. One last thing that I have to say is, the trick that he did in 2000 in San Francisco for best trick at the X-Games was just as gnarly as Tony Hawk’s 900. It was a fakie ollie to fakie 5-0 kickflip out to fakie on the 3 foot high bar that nobody, to this day has done again and even he has one in a thousand chance to make. The fact that he made it at the right place at the right time blew my mind. Things like that put him up there with Tony Hawk and Danny Way – a king of skateboarding, for sure. He is a magic man and a magician on a skateboard. He has that something special and that’s what we love about Bob Burnquist.
“I’VE WON SOME, FELL OFF MY BOARD ON OTHERS, BUT I ALWAYS TRY TO PASS ON THAT SKATEBOARDING IS ABOUT FUN, SKATING TOGETHER AND BEING STOKED ON EVERYONE ELSE’S RUN. WE MAKE SKATEBOARDING WHAT IT IS.”
When did you start skateboarding?
I started skating when I was 10 and 1/2 years old.
How did you get your first skateboard?
I traded it in for a soccer ball. I let my friend borrow my soccer ball and he lost it. I went to his house and he had a fiberglass board laying around. It was already an antique but it looked like so much fun. I skated it inside my house and both my mom and I instantly fell in love with it.
What was the skate scene like in Brazil?
I was in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro mostly during my early skateboarding years. They’re both different scenes. Rio is more laid back surf/skate and Sao Paulo is more of the ‘skateboarding only’ mentality and where most of the skate industry is located. Sao Paulo is like the California of Brazil. It was super fun and I’m stoked that I had my roots set up in that way, because I have more respect for every aspect for skateboarding. I skated it all, mostly vert at first, then street, then cement parks, then I was forced into cement vert skating, then back to street. Nowadays, wherever I end up, I can have a good time.
What was it like to enter your first skateboarding contest?
It was a great experience. My sponsors, at the time, drove me out to Atibaia, SP, a couple of hours away from where I lived. It was a contest divided up by age. You had to skate the vert/mini-ramp/street area to get scored. You got scored on the overall deal and I ended up winning my division. I was so stoked. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t expect to win the first contest I entered. It was awesome. The wake-up call came later in another event. The whole ‘win your first contest’ thing set me up for a reality check. I did something bad so my Mom had grounded me and kept my skateboard away. I scrapped up some parts, set up a board, got a ride to the contest and entered. I have asthma and I couldn’t breathe that day and I couldn’t ride that stupid crazy set up I had going. I got last place. It destroyed me, I couldn’t even cry, because I had no breath. I had to go to the hospital, then home to Mom. She wasn’t all that happy, but she took me under her wing and made me feel better about the contest, and my asthma. Those are great memories.
What were the skateparks like in Brazil?
There were cement skateparks in Sao Caetano, Sao Bernardo, with vert ramps, bowls, snake runs, handrails, pyramids and vert walls. You could spend the day skating everything, one section at a time. We skated street on weekends. We’d go to downtown Sao Paulo, at the Anhagabau spot, also known as the EMB of Brazil.
What terrain do you like the best?
I love it all, but vert is just so much fun. Fly baby, fly.
Who made the most impact on you as a teenager as far as American skateboarders?
Danny Way and Colin Mckay.
When did you first win money at a contest?
The first time I made any money in a contest was in Brazil right when I turned pro. I won 800 cruzeiros which is equal to around ten U.S. dollars. I think I got seventh in the first contest I turned pro. I remember qualifying in first and thinking I was it! Then I flaked in the finals. I love the reality checks. They keep you in line.
I’m stoked to hang out with you, and skate at your place. It’s crazy here. How does it feel to have one of the best paradise skate havens on the planet? You’ve got your big ramp, your mini ramp, your loop, your fullpipe and your over-vert pipe right here in your backyard. Did you ever dream you would have this kind of set-up?
I have always dreamed about having a ramp in my backyard, but this is beyond anything I ever imagined. This is something that I’ve just been stoked on and working towards. It’s what I’ve wanted my whole life and I’ve been blessed enough to make it all happen through skateboarding. Because of skateboarding, now I live here in the U.S. and I have a house here and I have a family. When I was looking for the house, I was looking for a place where I could build something big. This was big enough to where I could just keep expanding. Once I saw the terrain and realized it used to be a corral, I started talking to different people about designing a ramp that would go with the terrain of the yard.
Who built them? Who skates it with you most of the time?
My backyard ramp is my dream. The guys over at Team Pain built it. Dave Ellis and Mike Cruise were in charge. It came out to be better than I ever dreamed it to be. Those guys are amazing at what they do. If you have an idea, they can build it. It’s about 120 feet wide (not counting the loop), it’s got 11-foot transitions with 2 feet of vert. It has a 7-foot roll-in. We got some fun street obstacles on the deck. It’s amazing. It’s my own dreamland in my backyard. People come out here and we’ve had some epic sessions. I skated with Tony one day, just him and I. It was awesome. First time we ever got to skate with no one around. That was cool.
Every skateboarder dreams of not having to go to the skatepark, follow the rules and pay to skate. Here you just have your own friends over. You have your own vibe. Congratulations.
Thank you. To me, especially in this day and age, there’s so much demand. When I go to skate parks, people know me and constantly ask me for stuff. It’s great to have the support, but it was getting to where I wasn’t enjoying skateboarding. Everything was just a job. I’d go to a contest and only skate when I showed up for practice. I’d skate the contest and then have to set up and go take photos and then go to the skatepark. It’s constant. I was really starting to lose track. I just want to skate. I always had this idea in my head of hearing birds chirping and at the same time being able to skate and just try tricks with nothing around. That’s what this place is like. I can come home and learn. I can do whatever I want. I can get out there and feel like “This is skateboarding”. It’s a great stress release. One of the reasons you skate is to forget about everything, so I go out there and have a good time and then I can handle everything else. I can go to the contests and come back to peace. It’s amazing and I’m so thankful. Jen has been instrumental in the whole thing. Her friend in Florida, with Team Pain, built some of the ramps and she had connections with the full pipe and everything. It’s just great being able to skate with the family, with the Brazilians. This is the Brazilian get-together here. There are times when there are 20 of us out there and it feels like I’m back in Brazil.
It’s the American dream. You went and got your slice. This is it. Speaking of Jen, I know you’ve been quoted as saying, “I think, in general, that girls are gnarlier than guys, especially Jen O’Brien. She has ruled it for a while. She has been grinding pools longer than you have.” What’s up with that? Why do you think girls rule?
I said that because of what I have seen Jen do. Even before I met her, I knew she was part of skateboarding history. When I was just living in Brazil dreaming of skateboarding in the U.S., she was already living it. She was living in Florida and traveling around, doing the bus tour. Finally, we got to meet. We got together and then Lotus came along. The reason I say that girls are gnarlier than guys, Jen in particular, is because she had Lotus in our room with midwives and no painkillers whatsoever. She didn’t want to corrupt Lotus with anything. I told her, “Whatever you want to do. I’m right here.” Being in the room and seeing what she was going through during the 20-hour labor was beyond what any guy would ever want to handle. On top of that, she skates. What’s even crazier is, after she had Lotus, she went out and won the World rankings for the girls. Her body went through all of these changes and she just put it all together and skated. She is a skateboarder.