Bob Burnquist

 

In the world of professional skateboarding, Bob Burnquist belongs to a generation of dirtbag groundbreakers who came of age when the so-called sport wasn’t considered a sport at all.  Back then, roughly 20 years ago, skate pros didn’t have corporate bankrolling and mainstream ubiquity.  At best, they had modest travel budgets, slim royalties from pro-model board sales, and a contest strategy that, with any luck, got them a piece of the era’s lightweight prize purses. Burnquist — or simply Bob, as his friends and contest announcers call him — had all those things.  And much more.

Interview: Keith Hamm Photos: Jamie Mosberg

 

Born and raised in Brazil, with an American father and Brazilian mother, Bob started skating on secondhand equipment when he was 10, cutting his teeth and breaking his bones on rough and pitted concrete terrain.  He learned the hard way, and there was something in him that would make him get up and try again after taking the sort of slam that would force a lesser skater to call it quits and switch to soccer.  All along, Bob was nourished with home-cooked meals prepared from locally sourced food.  To this day, he credits that nutritional upbringing with providing him the high-octane fuel and invaluable healing power to sustain his progressive drive on a skateboard.  Those early meals also set the stage for his present-day advocacy: Aside from being one of the world’s craziest and most innovative skateboarders, Bob’s a big-time environmentalist and outspoken proponent of food literacy.

As skateboarding matured — and began to navigate a reluctant voyage into the mainstream — Bob not only bagged numerous X Games medals, he used his expanding public spotlight to educate anybody who’d listen about the basics of environmentalism, from recycling and composting to solar power and hybrid vehicles.  He also walked the walk, planting rows of organic produce on his 12-acre property in Vista, California, to supply a restaurant he owned in town. Today, Bob’s most conspicuous plot of advocacy is a quarter-acre organic garden with experimental varieties of peppers and tomatoes for one of his main sponsors, Chipotle Mexican Grill, a restaurant chain with a reputation for sourcing its menu items locally.  The Chipotle Research Garden, as it’s called, sits right next to Bob’s backyard MegaRamp, a monolithic structure — nearly identical to the X Games Big Air showpiece — that has helped him blow out the boundaries of what’s possible on a wooden plank with four wheels.

In the following Q&A, Prolific catches up with the 35-year-old regular-footer to talk about  skate progression, eureka moments, picking battles, and attempting to reconcile his heartfelt environmental ethic with his jet-setting lifestyle.

 

Why do you think you’ve evolved in skateboarding to this point?

Looking back, it was a day-by-day, session-by-session, phase-by-phase type of thing. Skateboarding is about how much you dedicate yourself and what your goals are.  You can always challenge yourself and try something different and fulfill yourself in different ways.  I’ve always been into all aspects of it. I just film and film and film and learn new tricks and try something I haven’t done.  It’s always been a constant push. I never really settled.  It’s not like I won my first contest and was like, “Okay, I made it,” and that’s it.  It’s really a taste of it that never gets old.  That’s what keeps me going to this day.

Has your activism ever compromised your skating or vice versa?

My activism is connected to my skateboarding. I skateboard. That’s what I do. And I try to combine my activism with whatever I’m doing with my skateboarding. Sometimes I wish I had more time to get out and get more people involved with the stuff that I believe in. But I think I do enough. I’m definitely not the  get-handcuffed, go-to-jail, stand-and-protest kind of guy. I respect so much people who put themselves out there in that way. But there’s a balance. There has to be. You have to pick your battles. I learned that one early on. And hopefully you pick the ones you have a good chance of winning instead of just sitting there treading water.

Was there a specific moment in your life that inspired you to become an activist?

You know, I think maybe it was the moment that I was born in Brazil.  I grew up around fresh food. I didn’t grow up in the culture of quick, convenient meals.  I grew up with home-cooked food.  That kind of set a certain standard for me. And when I first came out to the U.S. on skate trips, I fell right into a pattern of eating convenient, quick meals.  And in about a week my body would be feeling all kinds of wild, different things I hadn’t felt before.  I wasn’t eating right — I was going to all the fast food places — and it would take like a week or so for my body to adjust.

And I remember the shock the first time that I landed in the U.S. and saw all these houses made out of wood — because I grew up around brick and concrete — and my first thought was, “My god, this is where the lumber from the rainforest is going.” Granted, I now know that’s not completely true, and that the lumber from the Amazon is going other places, too, but just making that connection made me pay attention a little more.

And one time I was driving between San Francisco and Los Angeles and I stopped at a fast food place for a couple of cheese burgers and I was driving on Interstate 5 and I passed by that area where there are just cows for days, as far as you can see, and it stinks. It’s just a crazy sight. And I remember looking at those cows and thinking, “Oh, man, I have one of those in my stomach right now. And this is how they’re treated?” And after that I started reading more about it and all the crap they eat. And that was it. I stopped eating red meat and fast food. It was one those moments that triggered me to just pay more attention.

 

How does it make you feel when educated people who can afford to change their patterns of resource consumption chose not to pay attention and change their ways?

That just means I have to do more. I guess it’s a matter of maturity and where you are. Sure, it’s going to piss me off when I see somebody throw a cigarette on a beautiful beach. I’ll say something. That beach isn’t his; it’s ours. I’ll say something. I’ll make him feel bad for that second, and maybe next time he won’t do that. Stuff like that does piss me off. But as far as somebody driving a Hummer to the grocery store and back, that’s their choice. But for me, I’ll just try and line up my errands and do them all in one trip in a hybrid. And maybe it’ll offset that Hummer dude. As far as picking fights? It’s just a waste to put your energy into somebody that doesn’t care. Better to put it into just going ahead and doing it right.

How do you balance your environmental ethics with a career that requires a lot of petroleum-powered traveling?

I travel constantly. And not only that, I’m a pilot, I skydive, I fly helicopters. I’m constantly burning fuel. If anybody needs to be proactive about this stuff, it’s me. I don’t even know if it ever balances itself out so that I’m even close to as carbon-neutral as I would like to be. But by being as helpful as I can be, by helping as many people as I can do their part, then in a selfish way I’m neutralizing my own carbon footprint. I’m the first one to admit that I have a pretty wild lifestyle that’s hard to reconcile with what I believe. But I do the best I possibly can. And I know that if I did all the same things without thinking about my impact, my carbon footprint would be a lot bigger. And because I pay attention, I do offset some of the things I do.

 

How has your perception of what it means to be an environmentalist changed over the years?

For me it changed from discovery, to preaching, to the actually doing, to the straight-up living it, to the learning more and more. I’m still thinking, “Okay, little by little, battle by battle, we create a better situation.” I used to be more preachy, and now I’m just a lot more about doing it. That’s the main difference.

There’s a point when you’re at a younger age when you feel that you have to pass-on information as much as you can, especially after one of those eureka moments and you kind of want to preach in a sense. But then I learned quickly that it wasn’t so much about preaching about it, as it was about doing it. It’s like, “This is what I feel, this is what I think,” and I would just pass on my thoughts if somebody asked me to. I was not necessarily up in people’s business about it. Teaching by example is a lot stronger that preaching about something. I just wanted to be true to what I felt inside. Eventually it just evolved and I figured I could make a little bit of a difference.

Have you?

I know that I’ve made a difference. It took me so long of saying no to certain partnerships that eventually I got ones that really matter to me.  Like the Chiptole sponsorship, for example. I got that one because of the stance I had taken for many years, and the position I had on food issues, and owning a restaurant, and having an organic garden at home.

Let me put it this way: I was at one of the skate events, and I got a recipe from some kid. He just came up to me an gave me his grandma’s organic strawberry pie recipe. It was handwritten by his grandma. And he just wanted to come to the event and meet me and give me that recipe . . . because why? What other reason is there that I would get a recipe from a 13-year-old kid? I guess I made a difference to him. And all of a sudden, grandma’s cool.

See Bob pull the first fakie to fakie 900 on his backyard Mega Ramp and many other videos on his home page here.

 

 

 

 


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