In the spring of 1995, an unknown Brazilian named Bob Burnquist showed up at Vancouver, Canada’s Slam City Jam skateboard contest and won it. His switch-stance skateboarding shocked the crowd and left fellow competitors wondering, “Bob who?”
Looking back we know that those lucky enough to be in attendance at Vancouver saw a new era of skateboarding unfold in the course of an afternoon, and nothing’s been the same since. Soon after Bob’s come-from-nowhere victory, the finals’ rosters of professional skateboarding contests around the world began to fill up with strange names like Rodil de Araujo, Rodrigo Menezes, and Lincoln Ueda. Thousands of cities, towns, and villages in all corners of the globe began building public skateparks. The total number of vert ramps in the U.S. increased by at least sevenfold. And, to the shock of very few, Bob’s been in almost every vert final since.
Can we attribute all those changes to Bob? Did he really set the wheel in motion? It may just be that Bob beat everyone else to the punch, that he was in the right place at the right time, that nature and evolution had destined it to happen regardless of his performance. But when you get the chance to sit with the tall, sinewy Brazilian and talk about his opinions of skateboarding and life, you find yourself thinking it’s more Bob than fate.
TransWorld photographer and Bob’s close friend Atiba Jefferson sat down with the Brazilian phenom¿who, since that afternoon in 1995, has become one of skateboarding’s hottest commodities¿to talk about the surf, dual citizenship, breaking down walls, and burning flags.
Atiba: So, how have things been?
Bob: Good. I just got out of the water. I went out for a little surf.
How was it?
It was fun.
You’ve been doing that a lot lately?
Yep. I got back from Puerto Escondido a couple of weeks ago and caught the best waves of my life there. I took the trip with Dave Downing, Chad Dinnena, Danny Way, Paul Gomez, and the Hurley guys.
Have you surfed since you were a kid?
I probably stood up on a board for the first time six or seven years ago. I’ve only really gotten into surfing the past three years, since I moved to the States.
What do you like about surfing?
When I’m in the water, I’m just out there having fun¿stoked. There’s no pressure. It’s the opposite of skateboarding right now. I don’t think I’d ever enter a surf contest. I go out there to be free, be stoked, and re-energize.
What about snowboarding? Do you do that, too?
Yeah, I really enjoy snowboarding. I’m not used to the cold, but I like being in the mountains. And that’s just another thing that’s rad¿if you snowboard, surf, and skate, you pretty much cover the whole Earth.
Have you been traveling to a lot of crazy places lately?
The last crazy place was Thailand, then Puerto Escondido for that surf trip¿that was amazing. Oh, and South Africa not too long ago. I love going to Australia, and even going back to Brazil was super crazy.
Now that you live in the States, is it weird to visit Brazil?
Oh, fully. It’s weird not to have a house in Brazil anymore. I have a bunch of friends I can stay with whenever, but it’s not the same. In Brazil, it’s become so chaotic¿traffic is out of control, you see a lot of people suffering, you see a lot of street kids. You tend to forget that stuff when you’re in the U.S. Everything’s really easy here, and you’ve got a lot of opportunities compared to Brazil. If you’re homeless or if you live in the streets in the U.S., it’s because you really want to, or you’ve lost touch with life, or you just don’t care anymore.
Do you see yourself ever moving back to Brazil?
As of right now, I don’t think I’ll be moving back too soon, but I like going back there and visiting. I have the opportunity to live in the States¿I have an American passport, and I’m a dual citizen&mdassh;I should take advantage of it. So I stay here, where I can do a lot more and probably even help Brazil.
Do you have Brazilian pride?
Yeah, I’ll never forget where I’m from. It’s easy for people to think I’m American, when I’m talking to them or just hanging out. I’ve had Mike Crum come up to me and say, “Whoa, sometimes I forget you’re from Brazil.”
It’s important for kids in Brazil to have someone to look up to. This is the first time a pro or a skateboarder from down there has come to the States, traveled everywhere, and is in the magazines so much. I remember when I was growing up, I saw a photo of Lincoln Ueda in TransWorld or Thrasher, and I was trippin’ out. It was just unheard of. When I go back there, kids are really supportive; they’re stoked, and they look up to me. I have to make sure I don’t lead ’em in the wrong way. It’s a big responsibility to have.
It seems like you’ve also helped the Brazilian skateboarding industry.
Well, there’s lots of stuff the Brazilian industry can learn about how things work in the States¿how companies deal with their athletes, and how much responsibility each side has. You can’t just lay it all on the company, pros need to have a professional work ethic and the ability to represent the company in the right way. You can’t take it for granted.
Who was your first sponsor?
A clothing sponsor called Momento Angular. All I got was clothes, or when the guy was at the park, he would buy me a Coke.
From there, it evolved into entering all the contests. Then I got on Slide, which made accessories¿bolts and griptape. Those guys Marcello and Gericio were like big brothers to me. They took me everywhere; I’m still in touch with them. They took me to my first contest. It was more like moral support, I mean they didn’t really have any money and I knew it. I was just stoked they had enough money to take me to the park and take responsibility for me. If they wouldn’t have done that, my mom wouldn’t have let me go anywhere.
So that Slide was phase two, and then I got on Urgh!. Urgh! was the coolest company in Brazil. If you were on Urgh!, you were cool. I had some friends who rode for Urgh!, I bought an Urgh! T-shirt, and I was Urgh!-boy all the time¿but I didn’t ride for them. They always called me a poser, ’cause I was rockin’ Urgh!s. They’re like, “You don’t ride for Urgh!, take that shirt off.” It was funny, but then I finally got on.