Legendary skater shares some thoughts

Date Published: 
July 4, 2014

I don’t get star-struck very easily — especially since getting into journalism. I’ve interviewed some of the best surfers and surf-film makers in the world and, yes, I would like to take this opportunity to name drop all of them — Craig Anderson before he had his own movie and signature board, Matt Meola after he won Taylor Steele’s first ever “Innersection” contest and Taylor Steele himself. This past winter, I got to interview WNBA star Ellena Delle Donne.

Even as a child, I wasn’t very taken aback by celebrities. In fact, as a baby, I used to chew on former Orioles third-baseman Brooks Robinson’s gold gloves when my parents would take me over to his house for visits. What a rude baby I was — didn’t even ask for his autograph.

But this past Thursday at the Dew Tour in Ocean City, Md., I got the chance to interview one of the best skateboarders in the world, Bob Burnquist. For those of you unfamiliar with Burnquist, he holds the all-time record for X Games Medals, with 26, and Tony Hawk has named him as his favorite skateboarder — yeah, he’s kind of a big deal.

Now don’t tell anyone at the Coastal Point, but I don’t prepare for interviews — ever. I might look something up beforehand if I’m not familiar with the subject matter, but usually I like to let the conversation flow naturally. People are typically less edgy and give better interviews when you’re not marking off a notepad. I don’t prepare for anything, really. It’s just not my style.

But this was unquestionably my biggest interview ever (unless you want to count drooling on Brooks Robinson’s gold gloves and, personally, I don’t see the journalistic merit in that) — surely I would prepare for this one, right?

No, you are not right. Although I will admit that, after having his name announced at the Toyota tent in front of the crowd and then being whisked away by the media coordinator, I got a little bit nervous. That faded away as soon as he started talking, though — I mean, he’s a skateboarder, not a political figure. As long as he didn’t start talking about global GDP for the fiscal year, I was pretty set.

We got to talking — about Dew Tour, what he thought of Ocean City, what he and his family were up to while they were visiting. It was mellow. Then I asked him about Shogo Kubo — one of the legendary original “Z-Boys” from the early days of skating, who had died a few days earlier while stand-up paddleboarding in Hawaii.

I think the question caught him off guard a little bit, but he answered it and seemed to feel pretty much the same way I did about Kubo — after all, we’re both skateboarders (although Bob has won a few more X Games medals than I have, the last time I checked). He had only met Kubo briefly, but Kubo had indirectly impacted both Burnquist and the sport of skateboarding.

“Master of the layback.” “Style for miles.” “An original.” These were all statements made about Kubo’s influence on the skateboarding world, both before and after his death. To say that he had left his mark on the culture and the sport doesn’t even begin to describe his impact — he’s one of the reasons that there are marks to be left.

Without Kubo, and the rest of the Zephyr team, there is no X Games. There is no Dew Tour. Maybe Bob Burnquist never even picks up a skateboard. Maybe he never even sees one. Without those guys, who knows if skateboarding even exists? They were the pioneers, the trailblazers. They set the precedent for everything that happened before the resurgence of skateboarding in the ’70s and everything that’s happened since.

Born in Japan, what are the chances that Kubo finds fellow modern skateboarding catalyst Jay Adams at the age of 12 in the streets of Venice — “Dogtown” — skating around in a parking lot outside a judo class they shared, and who encourages him to start surfing and skating, too? What are the chances he’s good at it? What are the chances it ends up being one of the things he loves to do most in the world?

I have no idea what the chances are, but I can only assume that they’re about as far away from “probable” as you can get.

Despite the almost infinitesimally minimal chances of it all, Kubo’s path took him through Dogtown. It took him to that parking lot. To the Zephyr Team. To revolutionizing the sport of skateboarding. And, eventually, it lead him to his death, as everyone’s path inevitably does.

However, what is by no means an inevitability — for anyone — is finding the path that you’re supposed to be on. And, considering Kubo died doing what he loved, I don’t think there’s any question that he was one of the few that found his way.

I don’t know why his trail was cut short, after only 54 years, but I do know that his mark on the skateboarding world, and the world in general, will never vanquish.

While I’d like to live to see years well past 54, I can only hope to live however many years that I have left even half as well as Kubo lived them and to one day die still doing something that I love to do — to really find my path and to never falter from it.

I’d like to think that I can honor the way he lived his life by heading out to the nearest embankment and ripping as stylish of a layback “bert” as I can pull off, but I think the right way to go about it is continuing to tap away at this keyboard and to never trade it in for a job taken out of fear disguised as practicality.

Rest easy, Shogo. And thank you for showing us, once again, how it’s done.