Chico Brenes 20 Questions

Smooth Operator
Words by Mackenzie Eisenhour
Photography by Dave Chami

Defining style and grace on a skateboard can be far more complicated than counting stairs or sewing together ten-trick ledge combos on a plastic bench. Throughout his fourteen-year career as a professional skateboarder, few individuals come closer to embodying pure style than Chico Brenes.
A product of the notorious EMB heyday, and having run across the border from Mexico at the innocent age of ten, Nicaragua’s favorite son has never looked anything but magical on a skateboard. Nobody can deny or dent that. Proving that the means can sometimes define the end, Chico has not always had as smooth a ride as would dictate his effortless style. The following is a look back at an illustrious career on some of skateboarding’s hottest companies for their time, a few near brushes with death, and the weight of being your country’s sole professional participant in this roundhouse party some of us call a career on the old shred stick.

1. Are you the only Nicaraguan pro?
Yes, I am the only Nicaraguan pro. It feels good to actually say that.

2. What are your memories of running across the border when you were only ten years old?
It was one of the craziest experiences of my life, for sure. I could probably write an entire book just about that whole ordeal. I remember my aunt, uncle, and I took a bus from Nicaragua to Tijuana, Mexico. We found a “coyote”-the guys who you pay to guide you-to get us across the border. We met up with him around midnight, and there were ten other people with us. I was the youngest person in the group. As we headed towards the U.S. border, we were told not use flashlights or wear any reflective clothing. The coyote knew his way around and all the places to hide. It’s scary to think that the coyote could have taken our money and killed us. I have heard that can happen to you. I remember walking a lot and hiding in the bushes from immigration officers on horses, and there were all these helicopters with spotlights. At one point, I almost fell off a cliff walking too fast to prove I could keep up. By morning time, we were in the United States, after walking and hiding all night.

3. How did you first get involved with skateboarding?
When I first moved to S.F., around the corner from my house was a park with a launch ramp and quarterpipes. I used to borrow people’s boards and skate. Then one Christmas, my grandma-not knowing anything about skateboarding-bought this Ninja complete board for my brother and me to share. After that, I eventually bought a used Bryce Kanights Madrid setup from some kid in the neighborhood. That’s when I really got serious about it.

4. How did you eventually get your green card?
I was able to get a green card through my mom, who became a U.S. citizen in 1994. I, too, was supposed to become a U.S. citizen, but because I was eighteen at the time, I had to apply on my own, and I had a skateboarding ticket that prevented me from receiving my citizenship, so all I got was a green card-which is all I have to this day.

So a skateboarding ticket can keep you from getting a passport?
I guess so.

5. That’s pretty lame. Who started calling you Chico and how did it stick?
It started in middle school. There was this black dude named Chikkoh, and because my English was not that great at the time, I couldn’t pronounce it right, so I would just call him Chico. He would always get on me for not pronouncing it right and he’d be telling me it was Chikkoh not Chico. So eventually he started calling me Chico just to mess with me, and in no time the whole school was calling me Chico. When I got to high school it had just stuck and was the same thing all over again.

6. Is it true you almost quit skating to join a gang?
It wasn’t really that I almost quit skating, I just started hanging around the wrong crowd at school, and before I knew it I was spending me time with them and not skating. But eventually the whole thing got old.

What made you decide to stick with the shred stick?
I was getting into too much trouble, and all my new friends wanted to do was start sh-t with people. You had to be down when stuff went down even if you got your ass kicked. It started getting real old after a few instances. After a while, I was just over it and that’s when I pretty much started skating EMB every day instead of hanging with those dudes.

7. Run down your first trip to Embarcadero and getting the boot.
I didn’t really get the boot. I just got punked by this dude Scottie “Puppet.” I remember I was doing some trick on the C ledge and my board shot out and hit him in the ankle. I went over there to get my board and because my English wasn’t so good, I just grabbed my board and walked away. He was like, “Excuse you, punk!” I told Scottie that story years later, but he didn’t remember what I was talking about.

8. Is it true that you backside 360ed “The Seven” way back in ’91?
Yeah, I did a backside 360 down The Seven. It’s actually in my sponsor-me tape that I still have to this day. I remember I sent it out to a few companies, but nothing ever happened.

How was it having Steve Rocco come out to see you skate The Seven?
It was crazy, we were all at Embarcadero, and Jovantae (Turner) was telling Rocco, “Yeah, this is the kid who backside 360ed down The Seven.” So Jovantae was like, “Why don’t you do it again, Chico?” I was like, “Okay, gotta do it for the big boss.” I tried it like ten times but didn’t make it. I was still able to get on World Industries, which was a dream come true for me at the time. I did tailgrab one-foot The Seven for Rocco.

Your all-time best trick down The Seven?
I guess it would have to be the backside 360.

Did you ever try to ollie The Gonz?
I tried it, but I ate sh-t.

9. Break down the EMB hierarchy, circa 1992.
James Kelch was basically the mayor of EMB, but there are some other dudes who had been around the longest, and were most dedicated to being there and holding down the turf: Jake Vogel, Shelby Woods, Scott Thomson, Thorin Ryan, Chris Deleon, Wing Ding… And then there were all the young EMB peeps like me, Sam Smyth, Little Nick (Lockman), Ben Sanchez, Shamil Randle, Lee Smith, Mike Carroll, Henry Sanchez, Karl Watson, Umar and Saladem, Marcus and Lavar McBride, Mike York, Aris… I know that I’m forgetting a lot of peeps, so I’m sorry about that.

10. Who first told you about Chocolate? Was it a tough decision to leave World?
Rick (Howard) and Mike (Carroll) told me about it. It wasn’t a tough decision at all. Rodney (Mullen) and Rocco were always good to me, but after everyone had already quit for Girl, I felt kind of left out. At the time, I was always staying with Tim (Gavin) and Eric (Koston), so I was always skating with them regardless. One year later, Rick and Mike decided to start Chocolate, and I was stoked to be asked to be involved.

Is it weird to see so many of the O.G. dudes kind of fade away or leave?
Yeah, it’s weird, especially when those dudes are your close friends. On the other hand, it’s great to see some people like Guy (Mariano) start skating and ripping again. I think skateboarding was missing him for a while. I know I was.

11. How many of the voiceovers did you do in Spanish for Los Nueve Vidas De Paco?
I think I did like four of the voiceovers in Paco, not too many.

12. How was it smashing the bottle over Mike York’s head?
It was kind if weird. I think York talked about it in his interview, but we only had like two of those candy Hollywood bottles, so we had to get the scene in those tries. It’s not as easy as it looks.

13. Did your cousin in Nicaragua really take your appendix out? How crazy was that?
I could have seriously died. I was in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, and I remember my stomach started hurting, but I didn’t really think too much of it, so I decided to go visit my dad. He lives in this small town, eight hours away by bus. Like two days later, my stomach pain got worse and I was throwing up everything I ate. With no real hospital nearby, I began to seriously worry. By the third day, one of my uncles was driving back to the capital, and by this time I was feeling like a zombie, so I decided to go back with him because I thought this could be my last chance of getting out of there and to a real doctor of some kind. When I got to the capital that afternoon, my aunt had called my cousin Carlos Ruiz-no relation to the dude who rode for Blind-who is our family doctor. He took me to the hospital where he worked with an ultrasound machine and saw that my appendix had burst. The pain was becoming unbearable, and I remember at one point just thinking I didn’t care what they did to me. When I woke up, my stomach was closed, but this cut was still open-about six inches across my belly button. The doctors told me that the cut needed to be open until I was able to go to the bathroom.
They wanted to make sure all of my insides were intact-it was so insane. Nine days later, the cut was still open and I was unable to use the bathroom. I was freaking out thinking I was straight up going to die in this hospital bed. By the tenth day, I was finally able to go, and I remember thinking to myself that this was the best sh-t ever! Talking to my cousin afterward, he couldn’t believe I survived. The whole thing only cost me 400 dollars. I can joke about it now, but to be honest, I’m very lucky to be alive and sharing this story with you guys.

14. Is it true that when you lived with Koston and Steve Berra that you would sell all Berra’s boxes that came when he was away on tour?
Well, it was Matt Schnurr and me. When Eric and Steve lived together, Matt and I would stay there a lot, and Steve would always leave packages at the front porch. Matt would always tell me that it was crazy that Steve would leave his boxes at the front like that-anyone could just walk up and take them. So one day, Matt and I were broke, and we grabbed some stuff and sold it. Sorry, Steve.

15. How did you end up getting hooked up with L-R-G?
I met one of the owners through a friend, and I knew Karl (Watson) was on, and I really liked the stuff that they were doing ’cause it was different than a lot of the other generic stuff out there.

16. How did Andrew Reynolds end up with a clip in your DVS Skate More part?
Giovanni (Reda) and I were at my house talking about who my favorite skater was, I told him that I was psyched on Reynolds. Then my roommate Jay was like, “That would be sick to have him in your part.” So Reda called him right there and asked him if he had a clip for my DVS part and he was down. That’s how it happened. Thanks, Reda.

17. Having been pro for fourteen years, what kind of lessons have you picked up that you want to share with someone about to get their first signature stick?
First of all, make sure that you get on a board company that you’re really hyped on and that they support whatever you do. Also, don’t ever let that sh-t get to your head, because it could be gone in a second. Always stay positive and never forget where you came from. That’s my two cents.

18. What kind of future do you see for skateboarding?
I see skateboarding going back to its roots-when style and enjoying yourself counted for something. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

19. Is it true that in Argentina and other parts of South America, there’s a trick named after you?
Yeah, there actually is-backside nollie heels. The first person to tell me that was Diego “El Butcher” Bucchieri, and I thought he was just messing with me. But then I met some people from Peru and Ecuador who told me the same thing. I was just like, “Wow, that is such an honor.”

20. How would you want people to remember you?
“St I didn’t really think too much of it, so I decided to go visit my dad. He lives in this small town, eight hours away by bus. Like two days later, my stomach pain got worse and I was throwing up everything I ate. With no real hospital nearby, I began to seriously worry. By the third day, one of my uncles was driving back to the capital, and by this time I was feeling like a zombie, so I decided to go back with him because I thought this could be my last chance of getting out of there and to a real doctor of some kind. When I got to the capital that afternoon, my aunt had called my cousin Carlos Ruiz-no relation to the dude who rode for Blind-who is our family doctor. He took me to the hospital where he worked with an ultrasound machine and saw that my appendix had burst. The pain was becoming unbearable, and I remember at one point just thinking I didn’t care what they did to me. When I woke up, my stomach was closed, but this cut was still open-about six inches across my belly button. The doctors told me that the cut needed to be open until I was able to go to the bathroom.
They wanted to make sure all of my insides were intact-it was so insane. Nine days later, the cut was still open and I was unable to use the bathroom. I was freaking out thinking I was straight up going to die in this hospital bed. By the tenth day, I was finally able to go, and I remember thinking to myself that this was the best sh-t ever! Talking to my cousin afterward, he couldn’t believe I survived. The whole thing only cost me 400 dollars. I can joke about it now, but to be honest, I’m very lucky to be alive and sharing this story with you guys.

14. Is it true that when you lived with Koston and Steve Berra that you would sell all Berra’s boxes that came when he was away on tour?
Well, it was Matt Schnurr and me. When Eric and Steve lived together, Matt and I would stay there a lot, and Steve would always leave packages at the front porch. Matt would always tell me that it was crazy that Steve would leave his boxes at the front like that-anyone could just walk up and take them. So one day, Matt and I were broke, and we grabbed some stuff and sold it. Sorry, Steve.

15. How did you end up getting hooked up with L-R-G?
I met one of the owners through a friend, and I knew Karl (Watson) was on, and I really liked the stuff that they were doing ’cause it was different than a lot of the other generic stuff out there.

16. How did Andrew Reynolds end up with a clip in your DVS Skate More part?
Giovanni (Reda) and I were at my house talking about who my favorite skater was, I told him that I was psyched on Reynolds. Then my roommate Jay was like, “That would be sick to have him in your part.” So Reda called him right there and asked him if he had a clip for my DVS part and he was down. That’s how it happened. Thanks, Reda.

17. Having been pro for fourteen years, what kind of lessons have you picked up that you want to share with someone about to get their first signature stick?
First of all, make sure that you get on a board company that you’re really hyped on and that they support whatever you do. Also, don’t ever let that sh-t get to your head, because it could be gone in a second. Always stay positive and never forget where you came from. That’s my two cents.

18. What kind of future do you see for skateboarding?
I see skateboarding going back to its roots-when style and enjoying yourself counted for something. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

19. Is it true that in Argentina and other parts of South America, there’s a trick named after you?
Yeah, there actually is-backside nollie heels. The first person to tell me that was Diego “El Butcher” Bucchieri, and I thought he was just messing with me. But then I met some people from Peru and Ecuador who told me the same thing. I was just like, “Wow, that is such an honor.”

20. How would you want people to remember you?
“Smooth Operator”-Quiero que me conozcan como “Chico Brenes” el latino que emigro de su pais Nicaragua y triunfo en el mundo de skateboarding. Todo es posible de conseguir si te lo propones.

R>”Smooth Operator”-Quiero que me conozcan como “Chico Brenes” el latino que emigro de su pais Nicaragua y triunfo en el mundo de skateboarding. Todo es posible de conseguir si te lo propones.