In an increasingly Darwinian skateboarding environment, Chris Cole has distinguished himself as a force of nature. Indeed, it’s hard not to lapse into hagiography when listing his accomplishments. Whether it’s his Backside 360 kickflip down the legendary Carlsbad gap, or his trickery down the equally iconic Wallenberg stairs, this is a consummate professional who skates with mesmerizing authority and ease.
Not surprisingly, Cole’s efforts have captivated the skateboard industry. In 2009, Thrasher, the venerable San Francisco-based skateboarding journal, presented Cole with its “Skater of the Year” award for the second time, making him only the second skater in history to receive the accolade twice.
Yet despite fawning press and the litany of awards, this 28-year-old X-Games gold-medalist could hardly be a more polite or accessible interviewee. During our conversation Cole emerged as a thoughtful, engaged advocate for the sport of skateboarding—at once a star player and ardent fan.
Q: You grew up in Langhorne, Pennsylvania. Did your initial attraction to skateboarding have to do with weather? Did seeing pictures of people in California make you long for a sunnier climate?
Chris Cole: Not really. It was strictly just the act of skateboarding. You’d see photos of dudes on these really, really awesome backyard ramps. And you wished that you could go to California and skate these ramps with these dudes… um, but other than that… I never really had the California Dream.
Q: How and why did you begin skateboarding?
CC: I started when I was 8. It was the whole culture, everything about it, was what I loved, was what allured me. I skated alone for, I think, two years. All alone out in front of my house, not even around the block. It was fueled by my own love of everything that it encompassed.
I remember seeing Christian Hosoi on Nickelodeon Skate TV. It was the Savannah Slamma contest. He ran on top of a car and did an acid drop off of it and then did Bertlemanns on the ground. Then he did a super-high front side wall ride on this quarter pipe going up the wall, with his hand touching the top.
No one was coming close to that.
I’d also get magazines from my elementary school library, and every time I saw a picture of him I would get super-psyched.
It was his image and the way that he did things along with a cool name. It was just everything a kid could want for a favorite skater. Cool name. Cool graphics… Cool… you know… the way he does tricks.
Q: Did you imitate some of his high-80s fashions? The ripped t-shirts and fluorescent shorts?
CC: I wasn’t with it enough to try to emulate Christian’s clothing style. Can you imagine a scrawny eight-year-old showing up in some ripped t-shirt, with his sternum all exposed? Someone would be calling child protective services.
Q: Was skateboarding rare or frowned upon in your town?
CC: Yeah. As polite as I want to be… as much as I didn’t want people to think of me as doing bad junk… you do find that that’s part of the allure of it. You really like that it is something a bit gnarlier.
Now, people don’t really look at you like that too much. But it’s still kind of a gnarlier thing. Your average businessman can’t imagine jumping on a skateboard because it moves and it moves in a bunch of different directions. We take that for granted because we just know how it works.
You forget that it’s a pretty gnarly instrument.
Q: Now that you are a professional skateboarder, what’s been different then you imagined it would be?
CC: It’s very hard to still find that naïve excitement. I still find the skate-rat kid who skates for himself all day inside me. But, I wish I could still get that naïve everything-is-awesome-feeling as quickly as I used to.
It’s funny because when you’re a kid, and you’re that naïve, you’re looking through the photos in the magazine and every person in there is the coolest person. But when you end up being a professional you meet these people; you meet the people that were in the magazines, and knew the other dudes from the pictures you looked at. And you’ll be like, “Remember that photo?!” And they’ll be like, “That dude was WACK!” And you can’t even believe it because you would have had no idea.
Q: Are you going to skateboard today?
CC: No, I am actually flying to Abu Dhabi. I’ve been nominated as an action sports person for this award.