chrome ball interview #174: chima ferguson (2024)

14 years later, chops and chima sit down for another chat.

Thanks for sitting down with me once again, Chima. First off, I gotta ask how you are divvying up your time these days? Are you still splitting it between the U.S. and Australia, or are you full-time back in Sydney now?  

I still travel to the States a lot. I just got back, actually, but I haven’t lived there for nine years now. Before that, I used to go for three months every year until I got a visa, and then I would do eight months. I did live there for a time while I filmed my part in Propeller, but now I just go over once or twice a year. I’m married now and have a daughter, so…


Yeah, I know you just dropped your little one off at school. How did you realize that you could still maintain a pro skateboarding career in Sydney without having to play the Cali game? 


To be honest, it’s social media. It’s a total love-hate relationship, but that’s probably what has helped me the most. Instagram is largely how I’ve been able to stay here and still skate without having to live in the States. While social media has definitely taken away a few of my favorite things that I grew up with in skating, the fact that you can still put things out on your own terms, through your own channels, and be relevant to your following? That’s a good thing. Because companies can see that and it works for them, too. 


Unfortunately, social media has trained people to just want more and more content. It’s become this difficult thing where you have to split up your footage between long-term projects and what you should put on Instagram. You’re constantly trying to figure out what that standard of quality should be. But I feel like skateboarding is a little different now because of it. Like, Europe has always had a big scene, but people are finally able to see it now and learn more about it. Same thing with Australia. For a while there, to be relevant in skating, most companies wanted you to be in California at least half of the time, if not all of the time. But nowadays, you see a lot of your favorite skaters living all over the world. It’s not so California-based anymore. 

photo: karpinski

Was it basically a given growing up that you’d have to come to the U.S. in order to go pro? And would you say that it’s still that way now? 


Oh yeah, without a doubt. It has come a long way, but you still have to do that California thing, to a degree. You probably wouldn’t have to put in the same amount of time over there like I did. And you can always be a professional skateboarder in Australian with Australian companies. But to really live off of it, you need that endorsement from an international company, which usually means somebody in California. 


How much do you think geography has shaped your career? 


I wouldn’t say it’s the geography that’s necessarily shaped my career. I think it has more to do with only being able to stay in the States for 90 days per year. Knowing that you only had a certain amount of time every year to do stuff, you always had to be very productive during those three months… versus just taking it granted, possibly, as your everyday life. I realized early on that if I was wanting this to work, and people were paying for me to be over there, I knew I had to deliver. 

photo: peters


But having spent so much time away from the California epicenter over the course of your career, how have you dealt with the “self-managing” aspects of being a pro skateboarder? What are the pros and cons, and how has that changed with age?


It’s different for everyone. I’ve always had good sponsors, and I’ve been with most of them for my entire career. I think we’ve always been pretty good at choosing the right footage to put out there and how to do it. Like, I probably could’ve filmed a video part every year and now have 14 video parts, but we’ve always tried to be more selective. Not just putting out stuff to put it out. Spending three years on a part instead of one. Really thinking about what I want to do. Keeping in mind the trick selection and overall quality of the part. That’s basically what it is… quality over quantity. 


I’ve always enjoyed living in Sydney. My family is here and I’ve always had a large group of friends here. It’s always made leaving hard for me, especially when I was younger. I would get homesick, even though it was such an exciting time in my life. Being in my teens and twenties, I appreciated it all and still do. But now that I’m older, again, with a wife and daughter, I have to pick and choose whenever I want to do things. Because I don’t want to fall off in skateboarding, but I also don’t want to miss out on life with them, either. You just have to be smart about it. 


You’re one of those rare pros whose video parts have only gotten better over the years. How much of this is progression in your skating, versus an evolution in your filming process? 


It’s a bit of both, especially in the past eight years. I had an ankle surgery around that time. Before that, I would exercise a little bit, but not really. When I had that first ankle surgery, I had to do physio to recover, which I basically adopted into my lifestyle and am still doing to this day. Because I noticed after all of the squats and ankle work, really working on my core, that I could bail “better”, you could say. I’m much stronger now. All of this wasn’t until my late 20s, so I do feel like my skating has actually gotten better after that. That was probably the biggest thing for me. 


With anything you do in life, in order to be good at it, you have to love it. You have to want to do it, and I still have that in me now. At this point, I’m 35, and I feel like I’m better than I ever was. I still have the motivation to do it. And I get so much inspiration from what I see out there. It’s incredible what people are doing on skateboards these days… not that I’m trying to compete with anyone else. I just want to do my best until I can’t do it anymore. Especially with skating as a career, you really only have such a finite amount of time. When I’m done with it, I want to be able to look back on everything and know that I did everything the way I wanted to, to the best of my abilities. 

photo: robinson


So, you think that you’re better now at 35 than you were in your teens? Not that I’m disagreeing with you, just saying that is very uncommon. 


I think so, yes. Because with age, at least the hope is that you become smarter and more tasteful. You learn from experience. Because back then, I would go to spots and do a trick just to do it, whereas these days, I try to be more selective. I’d much rather wait to do something of a better quality.


I read an early interview where you said that you always waited until the end of filming to look at all your footage, “it is what it is” style. I can’t imagine you still doing that, right? 


I basically do the opposite of that now. Especially as you get older, you’re now prone to injury. So, instead of just going out and trying whatever, I’m trying to be smarter and more strategic with what I put my energy into. Like for my last Vans part, Nice To See You, I was stuck in Sydney the whole time because of COVID. But because of that, I could really focus on every single trick. And that’s why it’s my favorite part. It’s the only one where I chose everything. It’s like I had final cut, instead of filming a whole bunch of things… even knowing something would probably be b-roll as I was filming it. For this one, I had every trick in my mind with how it would all play out. 


For Nice To See You, I already had three or four songs in mind while I was filming, so I was loosely going about filming in that way. Ultimately, it comes down to whatever rights you can get and how much it’s going to cost. We ended up clearing the songs about four or five months before deadline, so then it became this process of listening to those songs over and over again. Figuring out the time and how you’re going to piece all your tricks together to the music. Filming a longer line or whatever you might need for a specific part of the song. The music became my way of mapping things out. 

photo: coady

We’ll get into Nice To See You more later, but since we’re on the subject, what were the other songs you couldn’t get? 


Well, one song was “Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke. A super powerful song. Very political, about a very heavy subject. I actually had to write a letter to the record company explaining why I wanted to use that song and what it meant to my life. Unfortunately, they wrote me back that basically no one would ever be allowed to use that song and that was that. Because you have to remember this was 2021, coming out of 2020 with all sorts of racial protests happening in the States. For anyone who’s ever listened to that song, the whole substance of it was very close to what was going on. It would’ve been a great song, but I guess nobody’s ever gonna use it. 


Are you a “list” guy now? Sounds like you never were before. 


Oh, back then? Definitely not. I mean, I would definitely have spots floating around in my head, ideas for stuff I’d like to do. But for that last Vans part, yeah, I had to make a few lists. Because it kept on happening where right as I was falling asleep at night, I’d start having all these ideas. And not even just skate stuff, but full-on life things. Epiphanies, to a certain extent. You need to write that stuff down because if you wait until morning, you’re never gonna remember it. 


They weren’t serious checklists or anything, like I have to go out and do these tricks. More so, I find that I need to jot things down just so I can remember them. So, whenever the day comes to go out and film, I’m not like, “Aw, fuck! What do I need to be filming again?” Now, I have this list of ideas to go off of. 

Greg Hunt said that your “cool, calm and collected” attitude is unlike anything he’s ever seen, but is that really the case? Or are you freaking out on the inside?


Nah, not at all. When I was younger, I would freak out, for sure. Always feeling like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders. But now that I’ve gotten older and know what I want to do, I actually like having that pressure. Knowing that I have to go out there and get things done? I like that. Instead of cruising around and maybe getting something, no, we’re gonna go to this spot today and do this. 


I don’t want this to sound “too professional” or that I don’t enjoy skating, because I do. I still love going to the skatepark and cruising around, but I also enjoy the heavier stuff as well. Like when the cameras are out and it’s all on you? It’s good to have these types of situations in life, because being complacent is the worst thing you can do. It’s good to have constant pressure, in a sense. 


How did you get on Real? I presume it was through a sponsor-me tape? 


Yeah, while I was filming for the Killself video, I sent my tape to the Australian distributor who was doing Deluxe at the time. They sent it to Real, and three months later, I went to Tampa and met everyone there. After that, I went to SF and shot an interview with Gabe. It’s funny because they didn’t even tell me that they were gonna put me on the team. I just remember getting back to Australia and they’d put my Killself part on the Deluxe website. It said, “Real’s new am”, and at the time, I didn’t even know what that meant. All of a sudden, I had everyone coming up and asking me about it, like, “Oh, you’re on Real now?” I didn’t know what to say… Somebody had to break it down for me, then I was psyched. (laughs)


I’ve been on the team for almost 20 years now. 


Did you send tapes anywhere else? Baker, perhaps? 


I’m not sure where else that distributor might’ve sent it, but I think they only sent it to Deluxe. At the time, I feel like every kid was obsessed with Baker. This was back in the mid-00s, when Baker was sorta at its pinnacle. Getting on there felt like such longshot. It’s not like I knew Dustin back then, either. 

Of course, we have to talk about that Killself kickflip ender. How long after the ollie did you think about kickflipping the Cook & Phillip 17? 


On the day that I filmed that line with the ollie down those stairs at the end, that’s when I got the idea to try kickflipping it. So yeah, I tried to kickflip it that day, too, but I ended up bruising my heels. The slam that’s in my part is from that same day. 


We ended up going back for the kickflip, and that ended up being a big day for me. Because I’d been gearing up for this kickflip the whole time while my heels were getting better. I was figuring on it being a battle, but I ended up landing it first try that day and had all of this extra energy, so we just kept it going. I actually did the kickflip a second time so they could get the photo. And from there, we just went around and I want to say that I filmed something like four more tricks that day. 


How old were you? 


Fourteen or fifteen. 


And that ended up being the cover of Slam, right? Your first cover? 


Yeah, that was my first cover. Total surprise. I didn’t think about that even being a possibility at the time. No idea until it came out. We were all so ignorant back then to stuff like that. You were just skating, not really thinking about the rest of it. 

photo: chami 

Are you one of those guys that if you can ollie something, you can kickflip it?


Pretty much. If it’s down something, for sure, but not so much over stuff. I find it’s always harder to kickflip as high as you can ollie. But yes, in theory, I think if you can ollie over something, you can kickflip it. 


Like that fucked-up arrow gate that you ollied in Spinning Away, only to kickflip in Nice To See You


That one was really hard, though. A bit more time in-between there. Because it has a downhill run up… I don’t know if other people have this problem, but I’ve always found it more difficult to kickflip off things going downhill. It tends to not want to work properly. But yeah, I guess that really is the ollie-kickflip theory put into action. 


Did you try to kickflip it for Spinning Away as well and just not get it? 


No, I was happy with the ollie and wasn’t even thinking about kickflipping it back then. It wasn’t until COVID hit that I got the idea, because I couldn’t leave Sydney. I couldn’t even go to Melbourne or anywhere else. So, for a while there, I could only go back and skate things in Sydney that I’d already skated. Trying to one-up myself, basically. 

photo: coady

But I feel like a lot can come out of that kind of forced premise. 


Oh, for sure. There are a bunch of spots in that part that I normally would’ve never skated. But because everything was limited, I had to figure things out with what I had.


How finicky are you with clips? Like, when is one hand down okay versus doing it over? 


It really depends. If it’s obvious that you needed to put your hand down in order to make it, then I’ll probably do it again. But sometimes, a little hand touch in the right way can add to it. It can almost be like surfing, at times. Touching the wave, know what I mean? It can actually make it look better. Or sometimes, your hand just hits the ground, like if it’s a bigger drop. It all depends. Sometimes, it’s style. And sometimes, it’s necessary to stay on the board. If it looks like it’s out of necessity, then we’re probably gonna have to do it over again.


Did you have much experience with filming prior to Killself? And how serious did you take that part, being so young? 


I want to say Killself was actually my first video part. Before that, I had a few clips in things... Little bits and bobs, but never a full-length video part. Not that it was anything like how I film for parts today. I had no idea what I was doing back then or what the finished product was even going to look like. I was just going out and filming as much as I could. Just gonna see what comes of it and hope for the best. 

photo: o'meally


Killself comes out and launches your career, but how was Volcom’s Let’s Live by comparison? I imagine that being way different than the homie video, right? 


Yeah, but at the same time, I was still only sixteen or seventeen. The thing is with that one: I was riding for Juice prior to that and I’ve always felt guilty about leaving them for Volcom. One of my first sponsors, I was with Juice from 2001 to 2005. All through Killself, I was riding for them. I was just so young at the time and Volcom Australia had so many good riders... Shane Cross, Jake Duncombe, Lewis Marnell. I knew all those guys and wanted to be a part of that, too. Volcom was a big thing in Australia and around the world, so I hit up Peanut about getting on the team. He was running Volcom out here at the time, but he wasn’t sure about putting me on at first because he knew Guy, the owner of Juice. It was this whole weird thing, but in any career, there will be a few tough decisions you have to make. So yeah, I quit Juice to ride for Volcom. 


Within four or five months of me getting on the team, they decided to make an Australia video with everybody. And that’s when I met Dustin Dollin and became good friends with him. He started calling me up and I’d go stay at his house in Melbourne. He had a pad. 


Again, being so young, this was a pretty crucial project for me at this point in my career, but it never really felt stressful or anything. It all felt very natural to me, somehow. I think because we were all around the same age and had become such good friends. I hate to use this term, but it really did feel “organic”. Just a bunch of Australians together, working on this thing. We traveled all over Australia and over to the States, as well. All for that video, which was super exciting. It came out good. 

Sorry to get heavy here, but I know you lost both Shane Cross and Lewis Marnell in relatively quick succession at this time. How did you manage to keep it all together, again, being so young?


It was hard, for sure. It’s still a trip out, even when I think about it now. But I feel like when you’re coping with someone passing away, you never really get over it. You just learn to deal with it. Especially with Shane, it was so out of the blue. I mean, it’s always a bit of a shock whenever you lose someone, but with Shane, it was such a crazy thing that happened. And the timing of it, with us just having made that video together and all of the things that were happening for him. 


Honestly, I think it would’ve been a lot worse for me had I been older at the time, because I would’ve been able to think about it more logically and with more maturity. I would’ve understood the scope of that tragedy a little better. Whereas, at the time, it was obviously heartbreaking but I’m not sure I fully understood the depth of it because of my age. 


It's still sad, even to this day, but you just have to keep on going. That’s really all you can do. 


Well said. With so many heavy hitters on Real over the years, who can you always depend on to battle a spot with you on trips?  


Kyle Walker. He’s incredibly talented and I’ve seen him do so many things within a couple tries. First try. But then I’ve also seen him battle things for four hours… and still be able to walk the next day like nothing ever happened.  

photo: peters


Gotta ask, what inspired your short-lived sunglasses phase at this time? 


I don’t know. I feel like a lot of people were wearing them for a bit there. Nick Trapasso was wearing them around this same time and I’ve always been a big fan of his… not that I got it from him. I have no idea why that was, but it was never something I meant to be a thing for me. Volcom was making them at the time, too. They would always send me boxes of them. And at that point in my life, I was probably smoking a lot of weed, too. I probably just thought they were cool. 


Why’d you stop wearing them?


Again, no idea. I guess I got a little older and figured that it had run its course.


Did you have a band on the back to keep them on your head? Or were you just raw dogging it?


Nah, they would just stay on. I’ve got a big head, so they would just stay right there. They were always the cheap plastic ones… Because if you get good Ray-Bans, they tend to be loose. Cheap plastic ones just kinda wrap around your head. 


So what made you start wearing gloves? Makes perfect sense but has anybody given you shit? 


Nah, nobody’s given me shit. It’s always been kind of a safety thing for me. Like, you know how Greco used to always talk about his “Hammer Gloves”? And I grew up seeing them in the Zero Videos, like Jon Allie and Chris Cole. I’m sure I got some inspiration there, too. 


But you’re not going fingerless Billy Idol-style with them, right?


No, that would defeat the purpose. Honestly, the gloves stemmed from having a kid. You don’t want to come home with your hands cut open because it’s a nightmare trying to do anything like that. And the last thing you want is to be bleeding all over your kid. If you can protect yourself and avoid that, you should.  

Can’t argue with that answer. I know you switch back heeled that LA Riverbank gap later on, but your nollie backside flip there in Since Day One was insane. Landing fakie into that thing could not have been easy. 


It was terrifying. I don’t know why everyone was skating that spot at the time, but it was super hot. Growing up skating parks, I would always do nollie backside flips into banks, but I’d always come into it at a bit of an angle so I could see. I thought I could just take that into the riverbank that day, but you can’t really do it that way. Because if you land even slightly off on that thing, it’s like a cheese grater all the way down. 


The one I made was really the only one I stomped. Before that, it was one of those things where I just kept trying it, but never really getting on it, you know? Almost like you’re too scared to actually do it, but you keep trying it anyway. It eventually got to a point where I had to tell myself, “Alright, I’m up here. I can continue wasting all of my energy and my legs, or I can take one in and see what happens.”


And that’s how it went down. I took one in. You can kinda see my legs go a bit bow-legged because I’m trying to hold on as much as I can. My kneecaps are almost touching each other there. But a tricky thing about that spot is that once the bank hits the flat, if you’re slightly off at all, it’s going to throw you. And that makes it even scarier, because you’re going full speed by that point. Luckily, it worked out. 


What about your switch backtail down Clipper? A lot of people don’t like that spot because it’s so loafed out. 


Yeah, and with all the contests that have gone down there since, it’s definitely blown out. This was back in 2009, and even then, it was little blown out. Just not to the level it is now. 


The switch backtail was pretty straightforward. I wouldn’t say it was easy, but it came fairly quickly. No slams or anything like that. I just kinda showed up and did it. 

photo: morford

Are you a battler? 


Yeah, I’ll go for as long as I can. Sometimes, things do come easy. Other times, I’ll have to go for three or four hours. It’s that thing where you know you can do it and don’t want to have to come back for it. 


But you can’t really battle some of these larger gaps, right? 


Sometimes you can. Like that kickflip over the fence we talked about earlier? That was probably an hour and a half. It was weird, because I was so nervous to try it. We went to the skatepark beforehand and it started raining. And it was really cold that day. Then we went to the spot, and since we were all there, I figured that I might as well give it a try. In the footage, I kickflipped it on the fourth try… but the thing is, my board overflipped a little. It looks fine in the footage, but not in the photo, so I had to keep trying it. And going back to the downhill run up and all that, it was super hard to get a level flip for the photo. It took me another hour and twenty minutes to get that photo. I probably went over that thing thirty or forty times. I ended up making two other kickflips that day where the footage wasn’t usable but the photos turned out. 

photo: mapstone

What about your frontboard ender down Walnut? Did you go there specifically for that? Talk us through your process. Was that really just two tries? 


It was four tries, but that’s one trick where I felt very pressured to do it. It was me, Andrew Mapstone, Troy and my friend, Bucci. Just us. It wasn’t some fun session where all the guys were there, trying stuff. We had driven from Costa Mesa to there, which is like an hour and a half. I'd never even been there before, but I’d seen it in videos and felt like I could probably frontboard it. But when we get there, I just remember feeling like it was way too much. Honestly, I didn’t even want to do it, but again, I’d taken everybody out there. We’d driven all this way because I said I was going to do it, so I was really feeling the pressure… I have to try one, at least. 


I didn’t know about this before I got there, but there’s a crack about a foot before the rail, so I had to put a sign on it. The problem with that, you really don’t know how the sign is going to feel when you’re going full speed until you’re actually going for it. With how big that rail is, I’m pretty sure I hesitated for a fraction in the air and got into it weird. I fell back, all the way to the bottom, and broke my scaphoid in my right hand. It was a super bad slam, but now that I’ve gone for one, I know I can go for it again. And my adrenaline is going now, too. You’re a little more confident. You’re eaten shit once, but it’s probably not going to happen again. Hopefully. 


I tried two more after that and slid both of them. The fourth try is the one I rolled away from. I just remember thinking to myself, “Fuck! Alright, I’m done!”


That was a time when the pressure really helped me. Not that anyone was actually saying anything, it was more in my own head. I just didn’t want to have wasted everyone’s time. 

I’ve noticed in footage where you’ll get smoked and look like you’re done, but then you get up and do it. Are you just trying to get it in before the swelling and soreness set in? 


Yeah, while you still have that adrenaline going. It’s a specific type of slam. Because there have been times where I’ve eaten shit and knew right away that it was over. That I’ve really fucked myself up and maybe not that I couldn’t go on, but that I shouldn’t go on… because if I do continue, I’ll end up really injuring myself. I think it comes from starting skating at a young age and slamming over the years. You’re more in touch with your body and have a better gauge for slams. 


A big reason in all of this is that I hate coming back for stuff. That’s always way worse for me. Bad juju in my head. I’d rather just go there on the day and do it, because by the time you go back, you always have way more shit running through your head. All of the stuff you’ve been thinking about for the entire time since that first day. That’s why I feel like your first time there is always a little easier, because it’s fresh. You’re still feeling out the spot and learning as you go. 


I have to imagine Propeller being the biggest project you’ve ever been part of, right? How long did you film for that? 


I started filming for that about five years before it came out, but genuinely trying to make the video was more like three years. We had the idea to do a Vans video for a while, but bringing everyone together and giving it an actual deadline was three years. 


Did you go about that project any different than previous parts? 


I was a little more serious about that one, yes. Going out and trying to get specific tricks for the edit, to make it all fit better. Definitely more for that one than the ones before it. 


I always loved your switch backlip on the Tarzana outledge in that part. 


That was right when I moved to LA in 2011. It was a trip, because while I had stayed in other countries, that was the first time I ever moved permanently outside of Australia. I was super hyped to be there.


When I look back on this one, I don’t think there’s any way that I could possibly do it now. Not that I’m not good enough, but that spot is just so narrow and weird to skate. It’s another one of those things where I was in my early 20s and not really thinking about things like that. Now, I think about every single thing at a spot. Cracks and everything else. But back then, stuff like that didn’t even cross my mind. 


I wouldn’t say that one came quickly, but I got it that day. I don’t remember any gnarly slams or anything. I don’t know what was going on with me that day, but I’m glad I was able to get something on that thing. Because I’ve actually gone back there for a few other things and never got them.


Talk about your boneless on the cover of The Skateboard Mag? Because I don’t think I’ve seen you do that trick before or since. How’d that one come about?


I honestly can’t remember… David Gonzales had already ollied into it. And I know that spot is in downtown LA somewhere. I feel like we just happened to drive by it that day. I don’t recall it being a mission or anything. 


You’ve probably never seen me do a boneless but it’s one of my favorite tricks to do. It just feels really good. I remember going on a trip with Grant Taylor and watching him do them, not that I can do them like him. I can’t even really do them that well on tranny, but off of a huge drop or into a bank like that? I’ll throw it out there, for sure. Like, watching Tony T do them is always cool. My doing that one was actually kind of an ode to Tony T, and I also thought it would be nice to have a different type of trick in my part. That and they’re just fun to do. You can extend them all crazy. 

photo: acosta

That varial heel over the fence looked like a battle. You caught it so low!


Yeah, that was another weird one. Because with that spot, you have to ollie into it, so it’s super hard to do anything over that fence. You have to carve to the left, alongside a wall, and then ollie in right before you pop over the fence. It’s really quick. And when you ollie in, you have to adjust your foot in the air so that you’re in position for your trick as you go down the bank. I remember for a lot of those tries, I was just flying over the fence. Nowhere near it. 


That one just happened to work out, which is weird because I normally would’ve bailed something like that. It was flipping so slow. Big risk of possibly landing primo there. Not that I would say it’s the way I normally varial heelflip or that there was even much skill to it. It was more luck than anything else. Having it flip around and waiting for it. Believing in it, I guess. 


For some tricks, I’ll just black out in the middle of it. I’m so focused that later on, I’ll only remember rolling up and rolling away. Your brain is so tapped in that it doesn’t record anything. You’re so focused, almost like a survival thing. But for that one, I do remember the whole thing. Popping in and being the air, watching it flip. Waiting for it. I can still see it in my mind. Then landing it, standing back up and thinking to myself, “That was so weird.”


Did you try to do it again or immediately keep that one? 


I feel like if I would’ve done it that way down some stairs, it would’ve been weird. But with that spot, it works. Because I’m catching it maybe three feet below the fence. From when I pop and flip my board to when I actually catch it, I felt like I was in the air forever. But I thought it looked good and everybody else seemed to be hyped on it, so I kept it. But there’s no way I could do it like that ever again. 


I think you were living with him at the time, but were you around for any of Dustin’s Sunset Carwash kickflip attempts? And would you have ever tried something on that thing?


Maybe. If Dustin wasn’t already trying it or if Milton hadn’t done it, I might’ve tried a kickflip back then. But it’s one thing to stand at the bottom and look at it… and even that is pretty crazy. But when you really look at how high it is, how steep it is, and how quickly it’s going to throw you into the ground? Especially after watching Dustin try it? That thing is super gnarly. 


But yeah, I was there for almost every time he tried it. It would’ve been glorious if he did it, but the circumstances were always pretty crazy. Because every time, it was always after we’d been up all night. We’d either gone to Black or this other bar that we used to go to all the time, the Dark Room. We’d be there drinking until close, then go back to the house and party all night. A few times, he actually called up Doctor Dave at six in the morning to come over and give him a massage before going to try the kickflip. This was after we’d been drinking for hours. The sun was starting to come up and we’d been up all night. It was the dumbest way to go about doing this, but that’s how Dustin wanted to do it. 


So yeah, we’d head over there around seven in the morning or so, and he’d just get smashed. I remember watching him try it so many times… after the fourth time there, I honestly didn’t want to go back anymore. Because you could totally train your body for it and then go try. You’d be better off. But because it’s Dustin, he wanted to make a spectacle of it. Because there would always be a huge crowd of people there. I remember Dan Lu being there sometimes. Rowan. Figgy. Every time, there would be an entire posse, which Dustin loves. Everything he does is kinda like a performance, which is what this was, too. 

photo: burnett


How was Spinning Away after Propeller? I imagine that part being a lot more mellow to make. 


For sure. A good amount of that was LA and Sydney, with some China mixed in there, too. Yeah, that one was very different because Propeller was kinda all over the place. Big trips, too. Propeller trips always had a lot more people on them, which I always found made it harder to get anything. Because you might have eight different personalities and styles of skating on there. With Spinning Away, it was typically just me, Kyle and Tyson. Rowan and Elijah were on a few trips, too. But it was always this smaller, tighter-knit crew. We all jelled really well together, and whenever everyone is vibrating the same way, you’re gonna get better stuff. 


While you’ve always had a good switch tre, that one down the 10 and over the poles was nuts. 


That was the last trick I filmed for my part. A month before that, I was in Melbourne with Kyle and Elijah. We went to that spot and I don’t know if I was just sore at the time or what, but I didn’t try it and had been thinking about it ever since. A few weeks later, with only a week left to film, I went back to Melbourne by myself for two days. I got a couple other tricks on the first day and that one on the second. I saved it for the end of the trip. But that one took a while, like an hour and a half. I was really close to giving up on it, to be honest, but then I got it. I remember having to change my clothes really quick afterwards and going straight to the airport. 


It was super hard at that spot, because for a switch tre, you need ground that you can get good traction on. Good grip. And that run up is downhill with these slick tiles that have all this dust on top. It’s kind of the opposite of what you want. It doesn’t grip that well, so they weren’t really popping great the whole time. 


Both great clips, but what made you go with the switch backtail bigspin for your ender over that one? 


I just felt like I hadn’t seen too many people do switch backtail bigspins on big ledges like that. And it’s kinda funny how that one worked out, too, because I was in LA for a week or so. I went to this one rail and tried switch backtail shuv down it, but my board kept overrotating into a bigspin, so I ended up trying that the whole time. I couldn’t get that one, so the whole week turned into me trying to get a switch backtail bigspin for my part. Just one. Actually, going back to what we were talking about earlier, I went back to that Tarzana outledge and tried it there. Because I’d switch backlipped it before, a switch backtail variation made sense there, but I couldn’t even get into the switch backtail on it. Then I went and tried it at two other spots, but couldn’t get it on those, either.


When we finally got to the school, it was perfect. I started throwing down switch… but quickly realized that it was too close. Not enough runway. I needed wood. Fuck, I guess we’re gonna have to go find a Home Depot somewhere. But no, I look over into this little garden they had and there was the most perfect piece of wood to make a little ramp going down these three or four stairs. It was like a gift from the universe or something. Lying right there, right when I was asking for it. I was grateful… and I finally got the trick. 


Talk to me about your relationship with Martin Place? When did you first start going there and how does it compare to other plazas around the world? 


The first time I went there, my brother would’ve taken me in ’97 or ’98. It actually used to be way different, but because Sydney had the Olympics in 2000, they renovated a bunch of spots. It kinda just became the spot in the early 2000s, like a meeting ground for all the skaters in the city at that time. Everyone I knew would always skate there, because it was just a perfect spot and you’d never get kicked out. 


It's strange because I’ve never meant to depend on it so much in my career, but if you’re in the city and need to get something done or if you just want to get a clip today, you’ll head there. There’s still plenty of tricks open, it’s got good ground, and there’s hardly ever anyone around. You can get something going there and not have to worry about getting kicked out. I can’t say that it’s my favorite spot, but probably the spot I skate the most. 

photo: robinson

How long had you been looking at that double set before trying to ollie it? 


Well, that section has been there since the ’60s or ’70s. When we were little kids, we actually used to skate that as two sets in a row. Ollie the first one and then the second. I can’t put a finger on when I decided that I wanted to ollie it, but it was always an idea. Chris Pfanner was looking at it 11 or 12 years ago. I remember thinking to myself, “Maybe it’s doable? I don’t know, but if anybody is gonna try it, it should be Pfanner.”


It didn’t work out for him, so the double set just became another idea floating around in my brain. So, when it came time to film for that Nice To See You part, I figured that I would just go ahead and try it. 


And you did it that day?


Yeah, I did it that day. For that part, I did a lot of my last tricks first. Because I knew if I was able to ollie that, it would be my last trick. That and the switch tre over the rail were some of the first things I filmed, which was nice because I had all of my last tricks done. I could kinda reverse engineer my part instead of building up to getting the enders. All of the heavy lifting was done, I just had to go back and fill in the rest.


You have a couple of aces in your back pocket.


Yeah, it felt pretty good. I got all of my heavier stuff and wasn’t that injured. I’m good. Now I can just film everything else without having those enders weighing on me the whole time. Constantly thinking about when I’m going to try this last thing and wondering if I’m gonna break my leg or something. Then I’m fucked. 

photo: chami

But what if you broke your leg at the beginning? Then you’re double fucked.


Yeah, that’s true. But before I tried that double set, I started working out for a solid two weeks. On my exercise bike every day, getting my legs extra good for it. I felt much stronger and super fit. Of course, on the first or second try, I ended up breaking something in my foot, but it became another one of those times where I had to get it while my adrenaline was going. 


I actually tried to push into those first two tries. There was a tiny bit of headwind, so when I ollied, I barely made it over the end of the stairs. I was like, “Fuck, I’m not gonna be able to do this.”


Luckily, Sammy Winter was there with his bike. He’s towed mad people into spots before and is really good at it. So he started towing me in, and on the very first one, we went way too fast. It was basically the opposite, where I ended up clearing it by four feet or something. Okay, we’re gonna have to slow down and figure this out. Figure out exactly where I should run and throw down, where I grab onto Sammy and where I should let go. And at what speed we need to be going at. 


But how did you even warm up that day? What were you doing right before ollieing that massive double set? 

I drove my car into the shop because I needed new tires. 

(laughs) Of course, you did! 


Yeah, I dropped my car off and skated into the city. There’s a nine stair right beside the double set, so I just ollied that a bunch of times. One thing that I like to do is have everyone set in position and ready with their cameras, so whenever the time comes that I am going to try it, I don’t have to wait. I can just get into it. So yeah, I ollied the nine stair a bunch and then went over to look at the double set… alright, time to do it. 


What’s funny is that there were probably forty or fifty people there. You can hear them in the background, there’s a huge crowd of people watching me. Normally, I don’t like a crowd whenever I’m trying something difficult, but for this, all you had to do was ollie. It was actually pretty sick to have all of my friends there for it. I don’t think it would’ve been as cool if it was just me and the filmers. It’s a very much a Martin Place thing to have a crowd standing around, watching.  


But yeah, I did it. Then Jack O’Grady tried to 50-50 the rail right beside those stairs that day, too. I watched that for a little bit, then it was time for me to head back to the tire shop and pick up my car. I went home after that. The next day was Father’s Day, so I was limping around a little. 


How did making that one feel compared to that Cook & Phillip 17 kickflip in Killself


They were different feelings. The Cook & Phillip one was first try and I was just so stunned by it. Honestly, that’s something that has always haunted me, because when I land it, I put my hands up, like, “Oh my god!” I remember looking on the Slap Messageboard at the time, they’re like, “Who the fuck does he think he is? Throwing his hands up like that?”


I never meant for that to seem egotistical, I’m just so surprised there. I’m just a 15-year-old kid. But reading that, it always made me hate that I threw my hands up. It was because I did it first try that day. That’s why everyone is freaking out, not that I landed it and I think I’m the shit. I was genuinely shocked. It’s a natural expression, especially after trying it once before and eating shit. It was such a surprise. 


That’s how it always looked to me…


Yeah, but I think the ollie felt better, actually. After looking at it for so many years and wondering if it was even possible, rolling away from it was such a great feeling. I’d never gone that fast and ollied something before. That was the hardest thing. So many of those ollies, I didn’t even hit my tail. I would just air over the stairs. Because, again, it’s marble on the top. You can’t get the greatest traction on it. I would be going so fast that it was hard getting the timing right for my tail to hit. 


Gotta ask, would you ever try to kickflip it? 


Someone else asked me that, too. It’s definitely possible, but going that fast and setting up your feet for a kickflip? You’d have to do it first or second try. I bailed it three times, and each time was painful. Going at that speed, it’s pretty hard to bail. Because normally, whenever you’re going down stairs, you kinda know how it’s gonnna go. You can land and roll away, or bail and roll out of it. But with that one, you can’t really figure out what’s going to happen. It’s so long and you’re going so fast, you have no idea what kind of position you’re going to be in. 


So yeah, it’s possible. And I do think that I could probably do it. But at this point in my life, I don’t know if I need to do it. I remember in Arto’s Epicly Later’d… not putting myself on Arto’s level, but this is something that’s always resonated with me. Skin Phillips is talking about Arto, like, “People are always asking Arto about what he’s going to do next. He’s already done it. What more does he have to do?”


Because when does it end, you know? You can chase that forever. Kickflipping that double set feels like it would be more for everyone else’s pleasure, definitely not my own. 

photo: peters

You mentioned earlier about Nice To See You essentially being a Sydney incubator piece during COVID… 


Yeah, that was from June of 2020 to August 2021. Probably the quickest I’ve ever filmed a video part. 


It’s a six-minute part!


Yeah, and every single one of those clips was either a Saturday or Sunday. Because the two people I was filming with: Lee has two kids and Colin has a full-time job. I couldn’t really go out on weekdays with them, so I started to get very strategic about my weekends. I think that’s why it worked out so well, because I knew if I didn’t get that Saturday or Sunday, I probably wouldn’t be able to go out and get another clip until the following weekend. Six or seven days later. But it was great having that kind of pressure. Not wanting to wait for another chance, but also because I’d brought those guys out, I can’t fuck around and waste everybody’s time. 


Again, the song choices are amazing. We talked about Sam Cooke earlier, but how did you land on Bobby Womack and Dusty Springfield? Hardly your typical skate soundtracks.


The Bobby Womack song comes from my wife being obsessed with the tv show, “Euphoria”. It was in that show and she was playing that soundtrack all the time. I think she actually brought it up to me, like, “I think this song would be really great in your part.”


“Alright, that’s the one then.”


That’s sick.


Yeah, shoutout to Bianka.


And that Dusty Springfield one is just a song I’ve always listened to. This was probably 12 or 13 years ago, somebody played it on a trip and I remember telling Pfanner, “This would be a good song to skate to,” and he goes, “Yeah, but you would have to go so heavy with it.”


I always knew that part would be two songs. I wanted the Sam Cooke song to be the second song, leading into that heavier section. But if it couldn’t be the Sam Cooke one, I still wanted it to be a classic, heavier-hitting song. Something with levels to it. So I sent that one to Greg and he liked it, we were able to get the rights to it, and that was it. 


Oh, I’m sure Greg was all over these choices. They’re so cinematic… Like, that Dusty Springfield song feels straight out of a Scorsese film. 


Some people might find it cheeky, but growing up watching different skate videos and movies, I’ve always appreciated when the soundtrack evokes some kind of emotion. To pull some kind of feeling out of it, you know? I’ve always kept that in mind when making these parts, because the song is just as important as the skating. 

photo: chami

Frontside half-cab frontboard to fakie is a rare one. That had to be terrifying.


Definitely. There’s a bit of a story behind that one. Because ever since watching Arto’s Sorry part where he has all of the mirrored stuff in there, I’ve wanted to do something like that, too. So for that one, I actually did both a nollie backlip and the frontside half-cab frontboard… or whatever it’s called. The filming wasn’t that great, so we went back there to do it again. And while I was able to get the fakie thing again, when it came time for the nollie backlip, I had a shitty board and got completely smoked. I ended up leaving it as just the fakie one, which I’m kinda more stoked on now. 


Before that part, I’d only ever done that trick on flatbars. I remember having to go to a skatepark so I could really learn them. But after that first time we filmed it, it was a while before we got back to that side of Sydney to film it again, so I had to go back to that skatepark and do a bunch of them again. Kinda relearning them, in a way. That’s how my skating is a lot of the time. I can do a bunch of tricks, just not all of the time. A lot of the tricks in these parts, it’s not like I’m doing them on a weekly basis. A lot of times, if I want to get a clip of something, I’ll have to go back to the park and figure it out again before filming it. Then it goes back in the locker until the next time I want to break it out for a part. 


Is that why you went back to fakie on that one, because you were doing the nollie backlip to regular?


Yes, exactly. And honestly, it just feels more comfortable that way for me. Going back to switch instead of going all the way around. 

Talk about the back three and switch tre over that rail, the hard way. Was that just a concept you were exploring at the time? 


Well, everything else I’d done at that spot was the normal way, it just made sense to start trying things the other way. Those rails are slightly angled, so it’s not the same as going over a straight rail. And I’d never seen anyone switch tre a rail before like that, alley-oop style. Or the back three, either… that was the ultimate one for me. It was sick to get that one the other way around. 


Which one did you do first?


I did the switch tre first. I was stoked on that one. It was a crazy battle, to be honest. Switch tres always want to take you back onto the rail, like you’re gonna do a switch tre boardslide or something. I had to go really fast. Running from across the road and throwing down into the downhill runway to get enough speed. That’s why I flew over the rail like that. Because I was barely clearing the rail before I started doing all that. It was super hard to get one of those across the right way. 


Was that harder than the back three?


I think so. The back three was pretty straightforward, probably five tries or so. And by that point, I’d figured out how to get enough speed. Same thing: Run across the road and throw down. You just had to come in at such an angle that as long as you kept it on your feet, and you were going fast enough, you weren’t going to land on the rail. And that’s it. As long as the board doesn’t leave your feet, it’s usually very straightforward. It’s the flipping of the board that always complicates things more. Way more variables. 

photo: chami 

What about that manual over the flat gap, alongside the building? I feel like that was something you’d been eyeing for a minute. 


Yeah, that’s an old Sydney spot. One that I probably never would’ve skated under normal circumstances… but yeah, I saw it and thought it might look sick. That one was really scary to do because it’s maybe a foot-and-a-half wide, with a wall on one side and a seven-foot drop on the other. It was really hard to ollie into a manual and keep it together. 


At first, Lee was filming from the side on that one. Rolling down the path with me. But because it’s so high, that angle made it harder to give the viewer a proper idea of what the spot actually is. Luckily, there was a postbox nearby where we could shoot it from behind. That way, you could show the run up and how narrow it is, along with the drop and the danger. Filming it from behind proved to be way more effective. 


I heard you were quite hands-on with this edit. Is that typically the case with you? 


This was the first time for me. Normally, Greg would be more hands-on with a project and do it his way. But because he had seen all of the footage and knew what this part meant to me, he told me at the very beginning, “This will probably be the best part you ever do. At the end of the day, it’s your video part. Let’s make it however you want it to be.”


I didn’t actually edit it myself, but I did pull whatever out of my mind to explain everything to him. He basically put it together that way, which was amazing. 


The part feels very much like a statement piece. What were you hoping to put across with this project, beyond just amazing skating?


It’s a little bit of everything. When COVID first kicked in, we all thought it would be over soon. But as the months went on, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to go back to the States for a while. And thinking about not being in California for so long, you start to worry about people forgetting you or whatever. So I had a bunch of things swirling around in my head. Trying to stay relevant, but also, I’ve always wanted to film a part entirely in Sydney. The pandemic kinda forced that scenario. I also wanted to show my bosses that I could do my best skating I’ve ever done without their input and without their help. Without leaving my country or even my city. Not saying that I don’t want to go anywhere ever again, but a statement in that sense. I made the best video part of my career without having to go 50 kilometers from my house. 


I feel like it’s the same thing with movies and music. I can imagine for musicians, whenever the record label gets a little too involved, it can change things about your music. Same thing with being the director of a film and the studio starts to interfere. Same thing with skating. I can probably do my best work if you just let me cook. 

I was there for your big backside 360 at the Dime Glory Challenge a few years ago on that 12-foot bump to bar. You’ve talked about being more selective and not wanting to get dusted on crazy shit, but that Challenge is easily the most hairball craziest shit ever. How do you navigate that?


Contests, in general, don’t really compliment my type of skating… especially with the format and all of the strategies involved with them now. I mean, it’s amazing what people can do in Street League and all that, but I just don’t have the mentality for those things. But having said that, the Dime one is just so much fun. Normally, I would hate skating in front of a crowd like that, but it’s hilarious. It’s like a wrestling match or something. Total spectacle. And everyone is having such a good time, you find yourself actually wanting to skate for the crowd and for Dime. It’s such a different thing. It’s so funny that it makes you want to do it, and the crowd is truly stoked. 


I really had the time of my life there. I can’t wait for the next one. 


It really was the best time. What’s the secret to a good backside 360 anyway?


It’s weird because I actually do mine a little different. Like, I can’t even do them on flat because of how I do them. It’s not one single motion. You know how Ethan Fowler scoops it and spins the whole time? Mine are more like a scoop, a backside 180, and then I bring it the rest of the way around. I have, like, a last turn. It’s such a different thing. But the key is to spin your torso early. As your torso is getting around to facing backwards, that’s when you pop. Because your torso is gonna lead you the rest of the way around, hopefully your bottom half just follows everything else.


I feel ridiculous even asking this, but it has been a longstanding rumor: Did you ever try to backside 360 El Toro? 


(laughs) No, I definitely did not. I’ve never been into skating those type of spots, just for the glory… Although, my friend was just telling me how I should go to Wallenberg in the next year or two when I have to sign new contracts. Maybe that’ll be part of my contract negotiation process going forward. 


Not a bad idea. So, what are you working on now, Chima? What can we expect to see from you next… besides El Toro next year?


I don’t really know yet. I am filming right now, but not for anything, in particular. Something will pop up, for sure. So many of my last parts have been for Vans, it would be nice to do something for Real. 

I first interviewed you back in 2010, right after you had just turned pro. It’s been amazing to watch your career unfold over the years and I congratulate you on everything. But if you could go back to our first conversation, is there anything that you would want to tell that kid now, 14 years later?


I don’t know, actually. Probably nothing, to be honest. Sure, I’ve made mistakes, but I think that I’ve also learned a lot from them, too. There’s honestly nothing that I would change with where I am now in life or how I got here. I’ve been very lucky throughout my career, in that it’s all kinda gone the way I’ve wanted it to. I’m very grateful. 

Big thanks to Chima for taking the time. 


Anonymous said...

Great interview!!!

Anonymous said...

Awesome interview…. One of Australia’s best

Anonymous said...

Legend. Thank you for this.

Anonymous said...

Such a sick interview! Chima should've got SOTY with that Nice To See You part. Master class.

Anonymous said...

Love it. Keep them coming.

Brendan said...

Australians are always claiming great New Zealanders as theirs, so I'm claiming Chima for NZ.

Dustin Umberger said...

Super dope interview, cool to see the follow-up. Chima is one of those greats that defies a genre categorization. He is unique in his approach and everything looks natural. Great tricks, great control, and goes the distance on all terrain. Really down-to-earth vibe and clearly loves skateboarding. Excellent.

Anonymous said...

Loved this interview !