The first time I talked to Bob over the phone I was butt-ass naked. I’d been trying to get a hold of him for a few weeks, and when he called me back I was stepping into the shower, trying not to sound like my twig and berries were hanging out.
The next time we talked and actually started the interview, I was fully clothed (and assume he was too). I knew as much about Bob as anybody else, which is to say not much. Sure, I knew about his mega ramp tricks, but I didn’t know how he actually puts those crazy stunts together (who pays for a 70ft tall roll-in?) or why he wants to keep taking wooden planks to more extreme levels. For a world famous skateboarder, he’s kind of mysterious.
I thought if I could see into some of the practical details of his life (what it’s like to smoke weed and skate vert, how he came up in Brazil, and whether he regrets his tramp stamp) I might understand how after a 30-year career, Bob continues to push himself and skateboarding as a whole, whether or not people agree with the directions he moves in. I may have uncovered a few secrets, but unfortunately none of them involve taking phone calls naked.
What’s the secret to Brazilian skaters having such high pop? Is it because Brazilians have bigger butts?
I don’t know, you gotta check Tiago [Lemos]’s butt and see if that’s the case. Maybe you can say that about Leticia [Bufoni], she has high pop, but I think it just happened to be that they’re Brazilians. I mean Stevie Williams, right? He had the Brazilian butt.
Yeah, Stevie Williams’ booty was popping out of his jeans.
Yeah, he had that style and then look at his pop. So it’s more of the butt than it is Brazilians. If you have a big butt then maybe you have a big pop. Maybe skateboarders should be doing butt lifts and Zumba dancing to get their pop going.
But don’t Brazilians have larger butts?
You can stereotype women that way and say that all the women in Rio are sensual, but you can find women like that everywhere in the world. I guess what you’re getting at are the Latin genes. Because when you go throughout Latin America you’ll see it’s not just Brazil.
São Paulo, where you grew up in Brazil, has a reputation as a dangerous city. Was it dangerous street skating there in the late ’80s/early ’90s?
You’re a skater, you’re part of the streets. A lot of time you mix in. I remember being young and going on the bus with a friend and these kids showed up without money. I offered to pay for them and they said no thanks. A few minutes later, one of those guys pulled out a 9 millimeter and another pulled out a big knife. One guy puts the gun to the driver’s head and the guy with the knife pulled everyone’s cell phones and wallets. But when he got to me he was like, “You’re cool.” He didn’t take anything from us. Now it’s at a point where people go to rob me and they’re like, “Hey, Bob! What’s up?” and then I’m good. That’s happened a couple of times.
What about the police in Brazil? I know some of them carry big rifles. Are they rough when it comes to dealing with skaters?
Not necessarily. If people are going to stop you from skating they’re probably security guards. When cops stop you they’re looking for drugs or guns. They’re just ready for heavier situations. Even though we say Brazil is a peaceful country and we’re not at war with anyone, it’s like civil war every day. People die like crazy. It’s just a normal activity, which is scary. There are places in Rio where if you make a right turn off the freeway and go 100 ft further down the road, you’re going to get shot. It’s like going into a militarized zone.
How was Brazil’s skate scene when you were coming up?
We didn’t really have the products or anything because of high import taxes from the United States, so we created our own industries. There was a lot of bootleg stuff. You would have Brazilian brands, but they weren’t in the videos we would watch. If you wanted a Plan B shirt you would get the logo and print it. At first it’s innocent, because you just want to wear that brand, then someone down the line takes that innocence away because they make it a product and it goes into the Brazilian market. People would make Brazilian Powell, Brazilian Bones, Brazilian Indys. But most of the guys who skated for them didn’t know what was going on. They would think it was an Independent shirt or Bones stuff, but it was Brazilian and it was fake. So when they skated international events, Brazilian skaters would get hated on because their shit was fake. We got a bad rap, but then the import taxes went down and Brazil got a little bit more globalized.
Nowadays, how famous are you within Brazil?
Well, when you’re on TV for that many years in a row, there’s not one place I go down there where I don’t get stopped. When they talk skateboarding, they say my name. Just like Tony [Hawk] here. In Brazil it’s like, “You skate? Right on, we know Bob.”
So like Tony Hawk, do you have school supplies with your face on them?
Yeah, I’ve had notebooks for the last ten years. That came with little pencil holders, backpacks, and toys. There are a lot of different products like that that you get to capitalize on. I try to keep some control so I don’t see my name on scooters all of a sudden just because someone locked in a deal.
Do you have Walmart equivalent Bob Burnquist brand skateboards in Brazil?
Not to that level of quality, they’re a higher quality, but I do have Bob Burnquist boards released through a company called MultiLaser. I’ve done cruisers and longboards and street completes and things like that. I wanted to make sure it was beyond your first skateboard but below your pro, just so it’s not full pro price.
Was there a specific time in your career when you first started to think hard about protecting your personal brand and image?
I think I’ve always paid attention to that, like how I would put a video part together, what tricks to choose and what tricks not to choose. If I like a certain trick because it took me a long time but it doesn’t fit with everything else, why am I adding it? So that is, to me, branding without really thinking branding. I’ve always made sure I have some street, pool, vert, mega, bowl. Even though it’s always heavily vert I try to make sure I have all terrain because I wanted to make sure that I was a skateboarder. Even though I don’t put all that stuff in my video parts, people know I could skate it.
Do you remember when you first heard people call your Anti Hero tattoo a tramp stamp?
I don’t remember. I’ve seen a lot worse ones than mine but it reflects the way I was. It wasn’t about the company, it was about the guys. When I left Anti Hero a lot of people asked me if I was gonna cover the tattoo. I could add a bunch of tats but that’s never going away.
Has a sponsor ever asked you to get their logo tattooed on you?
Could you be convinced to get another logo tattoo?
Yeah, like if you sold that part? Why not? You can always take it away afterwards. You live with it at that time, you’re just gonna feel pain.
But when you remove a tattoo it leaves a scar behind.
There can be, but are you trying to model for that particular area? If someone came to me and said the contract included a tattoo on the side of the leg, well shit, you gotta add a few zeros to this contract, but it’s not a deal breaker. Show me the logo and how much you’re willing to pay.
But you wouldn’t get like a Walmart tattoo, right?
If it was, make sure you’re getting paid! And just have a plan. When the contract is up, the tattoo is gone.
I read that you used to smoke weed when you were learning new tricks. Is that true?
Cannabis was part of our lives for a long time. There were times where I did, and it has kept me from other drugs. I’ve had 35-37 broken bones in my life. I would take Vicodin for them and all of a sudden you’re healed but you keep taking it. If anything I should be addicted to opiates. So I’ve always handled it with smoking weed. It was something I liked to do whether it’s medicinal or recreational. Nowadays they have better substances than smoking weed. The CBD stuff is pretty incredible. Nowadays that’s all I take. If I get hurt I don’t even take Tylenol.
For a long time I kept quiet on that side because the “smoke weed bro” thing isn’t the direction I wanted to go in, but now people are seeing the effects of opiates. You don’t treat chronic pain with an addictive substance. It makes no sense. So me as a skateboarder and someone that has gotten hurt my whole life, you don’t just shrug off THC because it’s magical as well.
“I’ve always handled [injuries] with smoking weed.”
So you’ve smoked weed and skated a halfpipe?
If I told you I didn’t it’d be like a Clinton lie, right? But it’s not something that made me a better skater. I have this rule to this day that I don’t drink and skate. They don’t combine. The day I broke myself at Baldy, I had no drugs, no painkillers, I had nothing on me and I broke my right foot, sprained my left ankle, and broke my right wrist. If you’ve been to Baldy you know it’s not easy to walk out, and I didn’t even have a foot. Jake Piasecki showed up with this big ole’ green bud. We smoked that and it was the best thing ever. It was like when someone shows up with a glass of water after you’ve been walking for hours and you’re so thirsty. I was in so much pain and it saved me until we got out.
I also read that your mega ramp is zoned for agricultural use. Did you ever grow weed there?
No. I used it as an excuse to say the mega ramp was a greenhouse and I was skating on the roof. I already had a farm here when I did my restaurant back in ’01-’02, so when the code building people came over to check out what I was building they were like, “What is this?” I said it was all scaffolding. It’s a greenhouse, we just happen to skate on the roof. But I’m sure for the longest time, especially at a place where there’s green hills, it’s mega, it’s Bob, people think he’s growing mad weed.
Have you ever slammed so hard you pooped your pants?
No, I haven’t done that.
Ever heard of that happening?
Yeah, I’ve heard of it. One of my most painful slams I landed on the coping and hit my coccyx bone, so that would be the time where I guess that could happen but it didn’t go that route.
Do you follow any mental or physical rituals before skating your mega ramp?
Not really. I just take deep breaths and try to not get influenced by people around me. I like visualizing before materializing stuff, so I’ll close my eyes and see my body positioned, see how much I gotta pop, and go through the run. I’ve had times where I’ve closed my eyes and visualized white light around me. This came from my mom and my early days. Kind of gives me some protection. If I’m going down the 70ft ramp or going 20ft plus in the air, I need that.
Is there a religious connection to you envisioning white light before your vert runs?
It’s energetic. We all have chakras, we all have our spiritual connection, so it’s a way to put some harmony into everything that’s going on. Just thinking about it kind of takes you there. Our minds are like that. Confidence gives protection and my protection is spiritual. It’s not religious in the sense of a particular religion, it’s just understanding the energetic realities and trying to work with them to my advantage.
So are you into meditation?
I’ve done a little bit of that but when it comes to religion I’m a spiritist Christian. I believe in reincarnation but I’m also a Christian. It’s more of a moral compass to go through life and when it comes to skating, to me skating is like little prayers. Every trick is hard work. There are tricks I only do once, so I’m just thankful for those happening. Skateboarding’s almost a prayer to me. Like my way to say thank you. I’m alive, I’m healthy, I can skate, and I just landed something I’ve never done. The reason you skate is for the feeling of landing a new trick. You only get that feeling when you learn a new one, so all those are collections of battles you’ve had to manifest. That’s why skateboarding exists for me. Every trick was a battle and every successful thing that I do, it’s not me alone. It’s a collection of your whole life. For me to land that at that moment, it took that much time to learn how to skate then land that particular one at that particular time. You can think about it like surfing too. That wave, it was built for you then it’s gone, but you caught it. Skateboarding is the same thing.
What do you imagine yourself being reincarnated as?
Another person. I’m not a Buddhist. I don’t think I’m gonna come up as an animal because we progress, we don’t regress. I’ve already evolved, I’m here, I keep going forward. The universe doesn’t design us that way. So in my belief that’s reincarnating and continuing to evolve as human with different experiences. I don’t believe I come up as a bird or as a dog or as a cockroach. We’re animals but we’re developed into intelligent beings in a sense, or we think we are. At least we’re having a conversation and we’re aware of us, that’s the evolution.
When someone decides they want to build a mega ramp, what kind of investments do they need?
Well, you need land. Hopefully the geography is good so you spend less on materials because you can use the natural incline. Just the Skatelite and materials for the surface will cost $100K. The whole ramp would probably go for $400K, maybe $500K. I don’t know how much I spent on mine over the years. I used money out of my salary to build ramps so you gotta really want it and then you gotta really use it, so you don’t spend that much money and then get scared to skate it.
“The whole ramp would go for $400K, maybe $500K.”
Do you own your mega ramp or is it jointly owned by different sponsors/investors?
No, I built all my ramps, I own all of it. It’s all on my land. At the time I was with certain partners so they would put money in for the duration of my contracts with them. So if I rode for éS and I asked for money for the bowl, they gave me like $40K or $50K, then whenever I was out of éS it’s not like I owed them the $50K or that I had to maintain the sticker there. They’re more like sponsorship deals through the duration of the contract. Usually those stickers come up when I do this mega ramp event for Globo TV, this Brazilian TV channel. I get companies that sponsor that event so I can I asphalt the area around the ramp or concrete the vert bowl. I use the event as an excuse to bring money in to upkeep everything.
When you have an idea for a ramp do you put together a Powerpoint and have a pitch meeting?
Yes. From the floating ramp in Tahoe to the Grand Canyon idea pitch, you have to put together the plans, the exposure, how much it’s gonna cost from every aspect. Usually you put together a piece for content-based delivery. You’re pitching it to investors’ marketing budgets. They just want the views and the alignment for that particular year. Sometimes you can pitch it to a few different non-competitive companies, but the easiest is to go to some kind of content delivery, a TV station or YouTube or whatever, and say you have this project. Then I can say I have this many eyeballs and get a budget approved.
How important is it to you to see skating pushed in the direction of loops and mega ramps?
To me, it’s just my progression of ability. My thing was filming video parts and trying to do things I hadn’t seen anyone do and just create, that was my push. As I was creating I started twisting ramps just because that was in my mind. It’s good ’cause then you’re doing things in skateboarding that you wouldn’t do if you didn’t have that drive. Progression by ability and tech is good but progression by design opens doors up. When you come up with an obstacle, like say on the mega ramp I put a rail that pushed me onto the quarter pipe, it gives you opportunity to do things in a different way.
When you get to the point of grinding a rail into the Grand Canyon, does it feel less like skateboarding and more like pure stunts?
I don’t call that skateboarding. I call that a mix that combines my skills. I learned how to skydive and base jump, and I can skate mega ramps, so how can I put all those skills together into a manifestation, just like a trick would be? It’s that feeling of a new trick that you tried a bunch of times and landed, it’s the same thing. When you get to a point and a certain set of abilities, it just takes a much bigger thing to give you that feeling. All those things are is a pursuit of that feeling.
Do you compete with Danny Way to try to have the biggest, gnarliest, new ramp?
I think I’ve always been inspired by Danny and when you get to a certain level you have to have someone you balance and compete with. Because there’s no one else out there that I can bounce wild ideas off of. I’ll call Danny and he’ll call me for a lot of different stuff. Like his drop over the guitar. We had conversations and I helped in any which way I could. It doesn’t matter if it’s me or it’s him doing it. It’s better for skateboarding if we collab and do things.
When it comes to actual skateboarding progression and the size of ramps, we do it a lot harder nowadays because we don’t make NBA or NFL athlete money. Skateboarders have never been paid like that. But building these ramps is super expensive. If I had more money I’d be able to manifest a lot more of my ideas. Most of the hard part is raising the capital to put out an idea. So if we made more money you would see a lot more progression, period. If I had a chunk of that Lebron James salary you’d sure be seeing a lot more ramps.
Would you ever want to build a ramp with Elon Musk?
A ramp on the moon? I don’t know, we’re gonna need some gravity. It’s kind of funner with gravity so I like it on Earth.