Chris Senn – Father, Artist, Skateboarder.

Fast. That’s how Chris Senn skates. A true-to-his-form stalwart of the skateboarding world, his explosive nature on a skateboard is a complete contradiction of his character when not riding one. He’s a quiet, mild-mannered human being who enjoys the simple life, art, and fatherhood. Make no mistake about it, though–actions will eventually surpass meaningless words, and no one knows this more than Chris Senn.

pull quotes

“I want my kids to see that material things don’t mean anything–that you don’t need things, you need to help other people. That’s most important.”

“I think the only way to be an artist who has a voice and has their intentions heard throughout the world is to collaborate with people.”

“I don’t understand how people can live their lives and not have an artistic outlet.”

“I think more people should be doing this, taking things into their own hands, and not getting involved with all these corporate people.”

“I think if I didn’t have a family to take care of, I wouldn’t even have a house. I’d just travel around the world constantly.”

 

So why have you been avoiding me, I’ve been trying to get you to do this for the last two weeks?

Because I just had a kid and I don’t want to leave him. I’m crazy, I just sit at home, stare at the wall, and avoid everybody. That’s what I do, I avoid everybody.

So you’ve got a new baby, tell us about Julian.

Julian was born nine seconds after midnight on New Year’s Day. It’s awesome having another kid. You can’t really explain how it feels unless you actually do it, but I can just say that it’s the best thing that you could ever feel.

What do you feel?

You feel the whole universe. You just feel all the power of everything, you know? There’s no money, buildings, cars, or anything. Just life coming out, and I really can’t explain it. You feel everything, and then all of a sudden, your emotions just come out at once. It’s crazy.

What’s it like to be a father figure?

Sometimes it makes you feel crazy because you’re responsible for everything, not just for yourself. So you worry a lot, making sure

everything’s taken care of. But it makes you feel more powerful in a way, ’cause you look at the rest of the world and feel you’re on the same level as most people because you’ve taken the responsibility of raising a human being and trying to mold them into something.

How do you approach the responsibility of shaping a new person?

I just try to remember when I was a kid and the things that I liked about other people’s parents–how they treated them and taught them things. I’ll mostly let Anakin (Chris’ oldest son) do whatever he wants as long as he’s not in any danger.

Is that how you were raised?

Sort of. My dad was into sports, but he’d help me out with skateboarding, too. He didn’t really push me in any direction. I let Anakin have a lot of freedom because I don’t want him to think that I’m this dad who’s gonna always be pissed off at him for something. I just try to be his friend, most of all. It’s a fine line to walk, though, because you want to be his friend, but sometimes you have to get mad at him and make sure he understands you’re upset. Because you know that if you don’t, he’ll probably get in more trouble later. Then when he goes away, I get all upset at myself for getting mad at him.

You seem to have gotten better at disciplining him lately, though.

When your kids get older, you start to see that if you don’t put your foot down sometimes they’re gonna get screwed up in the long run. And it makeit easier for you to be around them because they behave. As they get bigger, it’s even more important ’cause they turn into powerful men who’ll kick your ass. I think the most important thing is to just be their friend and treat them like you would any other friend. Give them advice when you think they need it. Don’t overstep the boundary.

What kind of values do you hold onto and try to instill in your kids?

Mostly just to have a really broad view of the whole world. Not just this country and this way of life, because I’ve traveled the world and I’ve seen a lot of stuff–poverty and all these different races and classes of people. I want my kids to see that material things don’t mean anything–that you don’t need things, you need to help other people. That’s most important.

How much of the world have you shown him?

I’ve taken him to Europe and just around the U.S. a little bit, but I usually tell him about all the things I’ve seen and where Julian’s mom’s from (Brazil), which is a pretty crazy place. I tell him about a lot of the experiences I’ve had there. Whenever he asks for a toy, I’m like, “You don’t need that, man,” and try to explain to him that there’re kids in the favelas (Brazilian ghettos) who are flying kites on roofs, falling off, and dying and their parents aren’t even watching. And he wants some Yugio cards, you know? 

I just don’t want him to have a shallow mentality that a lot of Americans have, that’s what scares me the most. The mentality that we’re right, ’cause we’re not right. The whole world’s a community now, it’s not just one country against another. I think that’s what’s going to help future generations the most because of the way the world’s going–everything’s really easy to access. I mean, you could go anywhere in the world in twelve hours. When he’s our age, the whole world’s going to be a lot more knit, however that is, and you have to be aware of every part of it.

What kind of sacrifices have you made with all the traveling you do, being away from your family so much?

I make sacrifices for leaving for two weeks out of each month, but when I’m home for the rest of the month, I’m home 24 hours a day. I’m with my family the whole time just hanging out at home with the kids. It’s cool because if I had a nine-to-five job I’d be gone all day and then come home exhausted, so I really don’t think of it as making sacrifices–I think I’m lucky. I’m more in touch with my son as a young person and his lifestyle. I go to the skatepark and hang out with his friends. I think that makes it easier to relate to each other. I think the lifestyle I have is actually better than a normal lifestyle.

Years ago, I saw Tony Hawk at the Santa Rosa skatepark with his son, and his son was on Rollerblades. Some of the locals naively said, “How could he let him do that?” How much influence do you have on Anakin’s pastimes? Do you ever push him to ride a skateboard?

I’ve never pushed him to ride a skateboard. I always just sort of put it there. When I go skating, if he wants to go with me, he can go, or there’s a basketball court by the skatepark. When I go skate a school, he can ride his bike, play soccer, or skate. I don’t push it on him, that’s just what I do, and if he wants to hang out with me, it’s my job–it’s like I’m going to work. He does happen to take to it and enjoy it, but his interests are totally scattered everywhere.

As far as the Rollerblade thing goes, I don’t really enjoy watching Rollerbladers. I don’t think it looks too great. I don’t have anything against them, though. Once, one of Anakin’s relatives got him some Rollerblades for Christmas, and he took ’em to the skatepark a few times. I thought, “This sucks,” you know? There’s no way he’s doin’ that. So one day he was at school, and I just took the Rollerblades and threw them in the garbage. A week later, he asked me if I’d seen them, and I was like, “I don’t know. They’re your Rollerblades, where’d you put ’em?” After a while, I told him I threw them away and he was stoked on it.

Do you consider yourself a self-taught or formally trained painter?

Honestly, I hate those two labels so much. Lots of people are out there trying to sell art, be famous, and say, “I’m self-taught,” or “I went to art school.” Everyone reads the same books, everyone sees the same art history, and everyone has their own vision. Whether they learn it from someone else or they learn it in their room by themselves, it’s the same thing. I went to art school, but I consider myself self-taught anyway. I’d be doing it regardless.

I think the only way to be an artist who has a voice and has their intentions heard throughout the world is to collaborate with people. History has proven that–the only way to change the world through art is to get a group of people together and make a good voice. Art school just happens to be a good way to do that. Surround yourself with ideas. So I guess I’m self-taught in the way that I’m self-inspired, but I learned so much from going to art school and talking to lots of people. If you have the opportunity to go to school, I think it’s stupid not to.

Do you look at your painting as an obsession or a pastime? What’s important to you about it? What does it do for you?

I don’t know. I just have to paint. I can’t not paint. I don’t want to sound cheesy, but I’ve just always painted. It’s always been something I enjoyed doing, and a good way to express the things I’m thinking about. Maybe make other people think about some things. I feel lucky to have the desire to do it, and the more I do it, it just makes me feel good to learn new things. It’s like magic–a never-ending puzzle.

I’ve always looked up to people in the past who have been good artists. The way they looked at the world and their lives. It’s always been so interesting to me. You can do like twenty paintings and not get anything out of it, but then for just like five minutes, you hit something on one and you get that feeling back. You’ll keep going back to it like a drug.

It’s been said that there’re rules of proportion and perspective in painting, and when followed properly, things sort of happen like magic and you can’t really go wrong. Do you think there’re similar rules in skateboarding? That when you apply them, you can’t help but improve. Or do you think rules hinder more than help when it comes to skateboarding?

That’s a hard question. Art can be like a science–you can

mathematically measure everything, even in an abstract painting. But skating is really more about having the drive to not care if you get hurt. A similarity with art is that you can’t be afraid to do a bad painting. Sometimes you’ll work on something for weeks and it ends up sucking and that hurts. Skating’s the same thing, you have to be willing to go to a fifteen-stair handrail and noseblunt-slide it. And you might go to the hospital, you know?

Even if you’ve been skating for twenty years and you’re the best skater in the world, you have to be able to trust yourself that you’re not going to get hurt. You gotta have balls, just like with painting. No matter how good you are, you’re gonna f–k up. Don’t be afraid to fail and get back up. Most of the people I started skating wielatives got him some Rollerblades for Christmas, and he took ’em to the skatepark a few times. I thought, “This sucks,” you know? There’s no way he’s doin’ that. So one day he was at school, and I just took the Rollerblades and threw them in the garbage. A week later, he asked me if I’d seen them, and I was like, “I don’t know. They’re your Rollerblades, where’d you put ’em?” After a while, I told him I threw them away and he was stoked on it.

Do you consider yourself a self-taught or formally trained painter?

Honestly, I hate those two labels so much. Lots of people are out there trying to sell art, be famous, and say, “I’m self-taught,” or “I went to art school.” Everyone reads the same books, everyone sees the same art history, and everyone has their own vision. Whether they learn it from someone else or they learn it in their room by themselves, it’s the same thing. I went to art school, but I consider myself self-taught anyway. I’d be doing it regardless.

I think the only way to be an artist who has a voice and has their intentions heard throughout the world is to collaborate with people. History has proven that–the only way to change the world through art is to get a group of people together and make a good voice. Art school just happens to be a good way to do that. Surround yourself with ideas. So I guess I’m self-taught in the way that I’m self-inspired, but I learned so much from going to art school and talking to lots of people. If you have the opportunity to go to school, I think it’s stupid not to.

Do you look at your painting as an obsession or a pastime? What’s important to you about it? What does it do for you?

I don’t know. I just have to paint. I can’t not paint. I don’t want to sound cheesy, but I’ve just always painted. It’s always been something I enjoyed doing, and a good way to express the things I’m thinking about. Maybe make other people think about some things. I feel lucky to have the desire to do it, and the more I do it, it just makes me feel good to learn new things. It’s like magic–a never-ending puzzle.

I’ve always looked up to people in the past who have been good artists. The way they looked at the world and their lives. It’s always been so interesting to me. You can do like twenty paintings and not get anything out of it, but then for just like five minutes, you hit something on one and you get that feeling back. You’ll keep going back to it like a drug.

It’s been said that there’re rules of proportion and perspective in painting, and when followed properly, things sort of happen like magic and you can’t really go wrong. Do you think there’re similar rules in skateboarding? That when you apply them, you can’t help but improve. Or do you think rules hinder more than help when it comes to skateboarding?

That’s a hard question. Art can be like a science–you can

mathematically measure everything, even in an abstract painting. But skating is really more about having the drive to not care if you get hurt. A similarity with art is that you can’t be afraid to do a bad painting. Sometimes you’ll work on something for weeks and it ends up sucking and that hurts. Skating’s the same thing, you have to be willing to go to a fifteen-stair handrail and noseblunt-slide it. And you might go to the hospital, you know?

Even if you’ve been skating for twenty years and you’re the best skater in the world, you have to be able to trust yourself that you’re not going to get hurt. You gotta have balls, just like with painting. No matter how good you are, you’re gonna f–k up. Don’t be afraid to fail and get back up. Most of the people I started skating with have quit because they were getting hurt and they had jobs. They didn’t have the energy to keep doing it day after day. I still get hurt every time I skate, but some people have something in them and they don’t care. If you have that mentality, you can do anything.

A lot of skateboarders today skateboard and then go home to play video games because they don’t really know what else to do. What do you think is the importance of having a variety of interests and passions?

I was talking about this with someone the other night. I don’t understand how people can live their lives and not have an artistic outlet. How can you not play music, take photos, write, paint, or whatever? It’s hard for me to even think about it as anything other than the way life should be. So it’s not that it’s important, it’s just natural. Everyone’s born with this thing. Kids are born with the talent to draw, play the piano, write, or whatever. And when people sit down to play video games all day or whatever else they do, I don’t know what it is. People who don’t have an artistic outlet are just killing themselves. They’re not expanding their minds or challenging themselves.

Does having lots of interests take away from being really good at one thing?

Yeah, I struggle with that a lot, because I try to skate, paint, do

tattoos, draw, and be a dad–go snowboarding and play basketball with Anakin. It’s hard to focus on one thing. Something’s always taking away from something else. But at the same time, when you stop doing one thing and you go do something else for a while, when you come back to it, it feels fresh again. It’s hard, but if you can keep doing it and juggle a bunch of stuff, that’s just the best thing.

Give us a brief history of the Adrenalin saga.

First, the guys at Think approached Jaya Bonderov and I and asked us to start a company with them. The skateboard industry was different then–there wasn’t a lot going on–so anything happening was great, and we had a good thing going with those guys. That lasted about two years–our relationship with Think went sour, and it fell apart. So Jaya, Hanzy Driscoll, Justin Strubing, Toad, and Mike Manzoori kept it going, and I rode for Toy Machine for a year. I didn’t know what was going on–I just had a kid and had to make sure I had money. I couldn’t risk staying with Adrenalin at that time. So Jaya did it with someone for a while, and that went bad.

At the same time it went bad, Ed Templeton kicked me off Toy Machine for whatever reasons. I was pissed–fed up with everything and the way it all worked. At that point I said, “Screw it. I’m doing Adrenalin.” And for the next two years, we scraped by, barely even making boards. Now we’re starting to get more money, starting to run ads, and make good boards. Just trying to get more business oriented and do things right.

Right now, it’s actually the best it’s ever been because everyone’s coming together and communicating. We have the opportunity to make it into something, and people can see what we’re doing. That’s all we really want to do. We don’t want to be a big company and make a bunch of money. We just want it to be alive anyway it can. It’s kind of more our little skate gang than anything else.

Who’s involved in it right now?

Right now it’s Manzoori, Toad, Jon Miner, Jaya–sort of, Keegan Saunder, and myself. Brian Gaberman’s helping us out with some things, and Greg Chapman is helping us out with making boards, so the wood’s really good. Personally, I’d like to see people recognize what the people on Adrenalin do. We all skate everything. We’re not like street skaters or pool skaters or fresh guys or punk rock or whatever. Everyone’s just a skateboarder. Not really trying to make money, be famous, or anything like that.

We just want to be involved in skateboarding and show people our outlook on things. Express ourselves and the way we skate and look at skateboarding, ’cause we think it’s a good way to look at it. I think more people should be doing this–taking things into their own hands and not getting involved with all these corporate people. I don’t want kids to think that skateboarding’s about being good. It’s about skateboarding and passing it on to the next generation. Showing them what a great thing this is to do.

Do you think your involvement in skateboarding has shaped your sense of responsibility in other areas of your life?

It’s made me learn how to deal with people better. I’m not perfect, but I think I can pretty much deal with any type of person now from traveling and being in so many crazy situations. If you’re a skater, you’re always ending up in sketchy areas with weird, unstable people, and seeing the raw side of the world. I’ve met every type of person, and it’s really taught me to not judge people by how they look.

But, as for being responsible, I think skateboarding’s made me less responsible. When you’re a pro skateboarder, you leave to travel so much that it’s hard to get your life in a routine because you never really know when you’re going somewhere–i