In 2014, the skateboard industry got a hard kick in the nuts. Multiple brands died, distributions changed, and skaters took risks and matters into their own hands. But there was no bigger news then when Chris Cole announced he was leaving his longtime board sponsor, Zero back in July. As a shareholder and skater of the brand for over 13 years, it didn’t really even seem possible.
Since his departure he hasn’t announced any longterm plans to ride for any other board company – but with the “Chris Cole” brand having bigger reach than many skateboard companies put together, you have to wonder, is a board sponsor more of a liability than a benefit for him these days? We caught up with him and discussed his relationship with Jamie Thomas, board brands in 2014 and the future of his career.
You recently left Zero Skateboards after 13 years. You were also a business partner and shareholder in the company.
How did you leave and what happened to your shares?
I was a silent shareholder, so any of the shares that I had were contingent upon the actual sale of Zero. And that never happened and it’s not gonna happen. When I left Zero, Black Box also went over to Dwindle distribution and people thought that I got a big payout when I left, but that’s not true. There was absolutely no payoff and I’m not a shareholder any longer.
As far as breaking it off with Zero, it sucked man. I was with them, for over a decade and brands go through changes and so do people. Zero just changed from the brand I started skating for – and that doesn’t mean it was lame – it just wasn’t the same company I started with. I didn’t feel like it made any sense to stay there and just collect a check. It was an amicable split. Jamie Thomas [Zero’s founder] and I have been friends for so long – he was in my wedding, so a sponsorship wouldn’t change that. A friendship wouldn’t crumble because of that. He knew it was time.
You’ve become a spokesperson for skateboarding these days, doing a lot of interviews with mainstream media. Can you still curse on record? Can you say “fuck” in an interview?
[Laughs] I try to be a good influence, but I am going to be me – I am not a cookie cutter perfect individual, and it would be lame to pretend that I was. There are times where I will curse, that doesn’t make me a bad person. It also doesn’t mean that everybody should curse, like kids who look up to me shouldn’t mimic everything I do.
Do you have a PR person you work with? For interviews and stuff like that?
I do not. I used to, I had somebody for like a year.
With Monster as one of your sponsors, do you pick between a hat, a wristband or a shirt to wear all the time?
Yeah. Some companies don’t – they just say, this is what you’re wearing and that’s that. With Monster, the dudes are so cool, they get it. I already wore a wrist cuff all the time anyway, and if I put on a hat, it’s just not me. Yeah it’s less money to wear a wrist cuff as your logo placement, it’s less for sure, but it makes sense. That was the whole game, to be tasteful and that’s the reason the brand wants you in the first place. Because they respect you and what you’ve done. So then to brand you in a way that isn’t you, kind of defeats the purpose.
Do you think it’s necessary for a skateboarder with your presence & reach to have a board sponsor these days anymore?
It’s definitely a good question, I don’t think at this point it’s necessary to have a board sponsor, just based on the state of things and how it’s going with social media. It’s cool to have a good team and a brand that kids can take some ownership in. Wear the shirts and feel part of it. I support that.
But skate brands have been run the same for a very long time. At this point, your social media reach isn’t really a factor for a lot of skate brands. They don’t write that in your contract. But there are a couple of skaters who reach a ton of people, even more so than the brands they ride for. It’s not one of those things where you’re marching into the company and saying like, “I have this many followers, you owe me!” But it is something that kind of needs to be looked at, because you are out there and you are promoting your brand and the brand you’re riding for way more than somebody else that’s like, “ehhh I’m over social media.”
So what do you think a board brand brings to the table in 2014 for skaters as big as you?
Well, they front the cash to get your boards made, they have the artists and shipping in house, and they take that headache off your plate. Also, going on tour and doing demos, that’s a really high expense. They fly and drive people around and plan all that stuff… It’s stressful, it’s expensive and you ride for a brand you get to go on tour. More people are going to show up if there are more skaters obviously and you have a whole team. Not just the one man demo. [laughs]
Early in your career, what were you doing to get by? Were you working side jobs or living just off of skateboarding?
I was solely skateboarding. When I filmed my Wheels Of Fortune section for 411VM, I was 16 and so by the time I graduated school, I was already sponsored and going on tour. I actually stayed and graduated high school because I wanted to – I was already skipping tour to go to school. I felt like I had spent so many years in the school system, to not graduate and drop out in my last year, didn’t make any sense at all. It’s not like the diploma has done anything for me, but I spent all that time and I wanted to complete it.
Did people hate on your skating in Philly in the early days? Seems like you were doing more tech / “goofy” tricks when everyone was skating with simplicity and power.
You know, not too much. I think there’s always a little bit of shit talking here and there for every skater that comes up. In actuality it wasn’t bad at all. Even though I never skated just like those dudes, you can see those influences if you pay close attention. Matt Reason was my first favorite. Stevie [Williams], Ricky Oyola, Fred Gall – they were all at Love Park the first time I went. I sat there and talked to Matt Reason and he was cool to me. They had so much power. They had big boards, big wheels and pushed really hard… doing their tricks with a strong man style. I thought that was awesome. I didn’t ride the same type of board, I didn’t do the same type of tricks but they fired me up to skate.
I grew up mostly skating alone, so yeah, I wasn’t pushing around doing wallies and polejams all the time, I was trying to figure out my board and just having a great time doing that. Some people skate to land tricks, but I feel like the fun lies in trying them. If you can find the fun in each try, that’s when you are going to have a great time skateboarding.
In 2002 Dying To Live and In Bloom came along. Did this year change your life?
Yeah, a lot of stars just aligned for me at that time. I was on Circa footwear, and so was Mark Appleyard, Colt Cannon, Jamie Thomas, Chad Muska, all these rad dudes and I just so happened to be there when lightning struck. We did this incredible tour, the Videoradio tour, and they made an awesome video of it. It was this big moment, and I just so happened to be a part of it. And then I got offered a part in In Bloom, and I was like sure I’ll sign on and be a part of this video. And then the dudes that are in it are like Paul Rodriguez, Tony T and Trainwreck, and it was lightning in a bottle again. I think Dying To Live was the moment where people started to notice and care about what I was bringing to the table. That was my first really gnarly body of work.
When did the money start to catch up with your career?
It took a couple of years, for a while it was definitely core skate. Even years later when I was sponsored by Zero, Fallen, and winning a ton of contests I was still making a quarter of the amount of money then the guys I would be competing against. I just didn’t really know it. Not really looking around and seeing what the going rate was for somebody like me. I didn’t have any sort of management, it was just me, doing my own thing, and being on the east coast, my ear wasn’t to the street.
Yeah, I feel like people sometimes forget the years you put in, they just imagine you as a Street League guy now.
I think with the internet, people forget real quick. I mean there are people that changed skateboarding with parts that dropped only 5 years ago, but kids don’t even know. I mean Geoff Rowley, he was the dude who did the Staples Center hubba first. He did it before you even knew whether it would even grind. It’s shoulder high, it’s humongous, and he’s going, “yeah I’ll try and grind this,” and if it doesn’t work out, he’s dead. And yeah other people come after that and they do a better trick than a 50-50 but first in flight is away gnarlier. Kids now that just started skating, it’s just information information information, and we don’t have something like ESPN films, where they go back. In other sports everyone knows these clutch players like Babe Ruth. We don’t really do that in skateboarding, we don’t have that history lesson. There were a couple of things that tried, but they didn’t do it that well, that long and only could hit so many topics.
Before you got on Zero, apparently Jamie Thomas gave you a talk about what he expected from you along with tips on being a pro skater. What did he say?
We were at Tampa Am, he was just scouting talent for Zero flow dudes. He hit me up and invited me to hang out, and I was like, “oh my god, I’m hanging out with Jamie Thomas, that’s so cool!”
What it turned into though… he wanted to break down all the things that other skaters would think and do and explain the ways to get around people hating your guts. It was an hour and a half breakdown explaining how everything isn’t safe, everything you say is under a microscope.
If you say this one thing, other skaters who are good will interpret it in a different way, it was gnarly… like these skaters will find a reason to hate you. You have to get out there, skate good and shut your face. That was the gist of it, but it was an hour and a half breakdown of each individual case of me speaking and it being interpreted wrong. He would even ask me casually, “How was your day today?” I would start to answer and tell him how stoked I was, and he’d stop me and be like, “see!” and breakdown how what I was saying could be taken as, “I’m cocky and I think I’m the best,” and other skaters would hate me.
Would Jamie ever tell you what to wear? I heard he would photoshop bandanas and gear in Zero rider’s ads.
No, that never happened. It’s funny because my friends always joke about that too. About the rumors of him picking out my outfits and stuff, but it’s 100% not true at all.
So he was never like, “Hey, Cole, why not throw a spike belt in there?”
[Laughs] No, never.
What did you do after landing the iconic 360 flip down Wallenberg?
After landing it, I got in the back of a minivan and we went to Subway to get sandwiches and drinks. Which already was like, are you kidding me? I was so broke off – sweating, swollen arm, hip blown out, bleeding. And then we drove down to San Diego, where we were staying and editing the video, New Blood. It was the last weekend before the video premiere and we didn’t have much time to edit it still.
At the time I was dating my wife, Red, but we weren’t married yet, and I wasn’t making enough money to pay for her roundtrip ticket out to California for the premiere, especially that close to the screening date. Jamie Thomas was like, if you make it, I’ll fly Red out to the premiere. So I just stayed there until I made it.
Were there any other bribes from Jamie Thomas to land tricks?
Dude you know what, that was like the most solid one I think, but he was gnarly with the bets. One time we were at Carlsbad, and I was trying the 360 kickflip down the gap, he was like, “dude, if you make it today, I’ll give you $10,000.” I gave it everything but couldn’t stick it. Then my friend Ian who was filming, was like, “if you make it today, I’ll get a 6 figure sequence of it tattooed on my ribs.” It was the best but I just couldn’t make it that day. I ended up going back to the spot 12 different times to finally get the trick, each session would last over 2 hours.
After working with Jamie for over a decade, what do you take away most from him?
The cinematographer that he is, his videoparts and the way he edited – he could take a dude who is like “meh” at skating, relatively whatever… but he could film and edit his part and put it to an awesome song and visualize it, do it so that dude is just your new favorite skater. He’s hooked some dudes up in the past.
Another thing is his work ethic. His work ethic on tour was just ruthless. It was like that for years and years. He was almost like a dad to me and we’d go on tour together, I just grew up with it. We’d drive in the middle of the night, wake up, drive a little more, demo, street skate in between the demos and then do it all over again for weeks. It was heavy and most people would crack under it.. but I wouldn’t crack. I just learned that was how tour went.
So now when I go on tour, it’s mellow. They are like, “It’s kinda heavy.. there’s a demo like, every other day,” and I’m like, “every other day? Fuck, that’s fine!” In Jamie’s tour, there would be a demo every single day and you would do a US tour, around the entirety of the USA, hitting the major cities and do the whole thing in two weeks. You would start in Southern California, go up to Portland, all the way across the USA to the East Coast, down the East Coast, then back across the center of the midwest – a huge loop and be back in 2 weeks. You stay at like the cheapest place you can find that still has internet, you’d be at like the Best Western that hasn’t been remodeled yet.
So what’s with these boards you are releasing on October 30th? Are you starting your own skateboard brand?
This isn’t any brand, this is just me making boards. There’s no brand backing. I don’t know what I’m gonna do in the future. I’ve gone on without a board on the marketplace for quite some time, and anyone that likes to ride my board, I felt like, I should have something out there for them. Brand or no brand, I’m printing 666 boards, It’s just like a one-off. It’s all Bareback wood and distributed by Reign. I’m not rushing into anything with any brands, because there’s a lot that goes into it, and the next place I go, I want it to be my home.
What’s the date on the boards there for?
That’s the date I was off Zero. And that’s it. That’s all that means.
Do you think you’re going to look back in ten years and regret giving yourself the name “Cobra Cole”
Nah, I don’t think so, a lot of stuff you just go with.
At what point did you realize that you wanted to be an ambassador for skating for our generation?
When I started getting asked to talk about skateboarding in front of people, I found that my love for skateboarding wasn’t the same as everybody else’s. I have a skate rat mentality, much like the kids that are out there skating, and less like the older, more jaded people that get paid to do it. I love it so dearly, and I feel like the people that get paid to do it and represent it in the public eye, they should really love it too. You know? I also just wanna live a full life and it not to be all about just tricks at spots. It’s an easy answer. Who should represent this sport? Someone that dedicated their life to it and loves it.