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Saturday, 20 April 2019 04:14 pm

Life after pro skateboarding includes helping next generation

Former professional skateboarder Chris Wood performs a backside air at Chaffers Skatepark, Wellington

You wouldn’t know it from looking at him, but Wellington IT worker and skateboarding advocate Chris Wood lived every boy’s dream, winning cars and earning money through skateboarding. 

Winning his first national skateboard contest at 15, Chris Wood’s series of contest placings earned him a spot in the 2001 World Cup Skateboarding event at the Rod Laver arena in Melbourne, and eventually to him following the circuit around the world, placing well and living the dream

Getting into the World Cup of Skateboarding started a snowball effect for Chris, winning a car at an event and selling it to a car dealer in the audience for $30,000. He told DVS shoes he planned to use the money to follow the skateboard contest circuit through Europe. They said he shouldn’t have to worry about the money and paid for his flights to the different competitions in Europe. 

At his peak he was living in Melbourne, getting paid well from sponsors, as well as cheekily making money from selling the free clothes, skateboards and some of the 20 pairs of shoes he’d receive in the mail every couple months.

“If you were my friend and wore size 9 shoes and the same size jeans as me you were styling, mates would come around just to shop at my house,” he says.

He was getting looked after well, and at risk of sounding ‘conceited or shallow’. He recalls going to the Volcom Clothing warehouse in Los Angeles and being told he could grab whatever he wanted, no limits.

“I ditched everything I came to America with, filled up two new giant bags with as much stuff as I could handle. I pillaged the whole warehouse, even grabbing suits. I absolutely had no need for a suit.”

Chris says he’s never been technically gifted at skateboarding but wasn’t shy of jumping down big stuff, which he accredits to a sibling rivalry with his older brother. It worked to his advantage in an era when magazines were prolific, as big tricks tend to make better photos and he got paid a significant amount of incentive money from sponsors.

“I knew that if I did a trick on a big handrail, I’d get a magazine cover out of it and get paid three or four grand. When it’s your only source of income you’re ready to go throw yourself down stuff if there’s pay in it.”

After more than seven years living the dream, the Global Financial Crisis hit in 2008 and his major sponsor couldn’t continue paying him.

“I got the dreaded call from the Volcom clothing team manager saying ‘hey look we can’t afford to pay your anymore’. I stressed about what I was going to do, I knew it had to end sometime, but that cheque was my rent every month. 

No longer being able make a living out of skateboarding professionally, he moved back to Wellington and did a crash course in IT, working his way up to a management role in a major technology company. 

Skateboarding didn’t stop along with the paychecks, and Chris co-founded the Wellington Skate Association, a not-for-profit group dedicated to working with the council to make sure future skateboarding facilities meet the needs of the community, something that hasn’t always happened in the past.

He says councils were paying for skateparks to be built by people didn’t really skateboard themselves. 

Instead of taking the cheap options, the group wants the council to invest heavily in the short term for a good long-term approach.

“We don’t try and tell the council what to do; we’re really trying to offer assistance and guidance so they do come to us and don’t put their backs up.”

The group is currently trying to secure some funding for a new small ramp in Lyall Bay, keeps a maintenance log on Wellingtons skateparks and in a long-term wants to see an indoor skateboarding facility built, although Chris acknowledges it’s an uphill battle with a council that allocates almost no budget to skating.

The group is banking on skate boarding’s controversial inclusion in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics – a polarising issue in the skateboarding community –  motivating the council to make a change.

“You hear people crying ‘it shouldn’t be in the Olympics’ and I understand, because it’s like your favourite band getting popular and becoming mainstream. You’re a bit upset, it was your thing and it was cool when other people didn’t know about it,” Chris says.

“But when the WSA is applying for grants, you know we’re saying that skateboarding is going to be in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and that we want a future proofing grounds for our athletes, and if that helps us get an indoor park one day, then so be it.”

Despite all of the ups and downs of his competition career Chris speaks fondly about all of it, and every chance he gets is still out skating at parks like Treetops DIY which he helped fund and design.

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