20 Years of Chocolate Interviews – Chico Brenes

Interview – Stephen Cox

Congratulations on 20 years Chico.
Thanks, man.

How does it feel to hit this milestone?
It’s unbelievable to tell you the truth. If someone would have told me that in 20 years I would still be with this company, still be skating and still be involved I never would have believed them. It’s a blessing and a miracle. I seriously can’t believe it. Time seems to have gone by pretty fast.

Did you go to the art shows?
We did the first official 20 years art show in Los Angeles. Then we did one in Denver, then one in New York. The cool thing about the one in Denver was that Evan Hecox is from there. He has such a big involvement in the company. When you see Chocolate, he’s almost like a team member. It was pretty cool to see him over there, he’s still involved. The other cool thing was catching up with the old faces. Almost everybody was at the one in Los Angeles. The only person missing was Shamil Randle. Gabriel Rodriguez, Ben Sanchez, Paulo Diaz were there. Stevie Williams too.

Few drinks had?
Yeah [laughs]. When you see old faces like that, you catch up, have a few drinks, have fun and talk about the tours and good memories. It was great.

Good to hear. So there’s that legendary story of you not being able to fit in the van on the pre-Girl tour.
At the time I was always staying with Tim Gavin and Eric Koston. We all rode for Blind, 101 and I rode for World. We all hung out together though, so when Girl started I thought I would get on. Me and Tim Gavin were sitting at the Courthouse and he was going down the list of people who were going to be on Girl: Jovantae [Turner], Sean Sheffey, Jeron [Wilson]. I remember sitting waiting for my name to come and it never did [laughs]. I was devastated but we were all friends and it was all cool. I would stay at their houses. I was still riding for World when Girl started and I just started riding Girl boards. I was getting paid by World but out riding Girl boards [laughs]. I remember the first tour was happening with Girl and Tim and Eric were like, “just come! Pack up your bags”. I packed up my bags and showed up at the parking lot and the van was just too full, man. They took off and I was just like, “it’s all good”. [Laughs]. Looking back maybe if I had of went on that trip I could be on Girl today. Maybe Chocolate would never have been born.

But it was a year after.
Yeah in 1994. Mike [Carroll] and Rick [Howard] felt like they left me behind and said, “let’s do Chocolate”.

How did you feel about it?
Right away I was like, “yeah. I’m down”. There was no thinking about it; it was where I wanted to be. It was all my friends I grew up with and the people that I respected. I called Rodney [Mullen] at World and told him I was going to do something else.

How did he take it?
Not too well because we were all calling at the same time [laughs]. He was just getting hit with everybody leaving at the same time. He was like, “Chico, please don’t leave”. There was nothing that could be done. I wanted to be with those guys and we didn’t even know if it was going to work or not.

How did you first meet Mike and Rick?
Me and Mike kind of grew up together in San Francisco during the whole Embarcadero era. When I got onto World I just started going up to LA a lot and skating with Guy [Mariano], Tim and Eric. I would stay there for months and months then come back home, and then go back again. That’s how everything began.

Is it true about you flaking on Carroll a lot?
Yeah [laughs]. Me, Mike and Henry Sanchez all went to school together close to where my family lives in San Francisco. Mike used to live a couple of houses up from me. He lived with his brother Greg and they had a mini ramp. I would skate down the hill on the way to school and on the way back we got the bus up the hill. It was easier to get off with Mike at the next block but he would get off at my stop. I always used to go up to his house. The first time I met Mike actually, he was away at a skate camp with his brother Greg. Me and my friend sneaked into his back yard and skated the ramp for a whole week. I thought they were going to come back on a Saturday but they came back on the Friday [laughs]. They were like, “dude! What are you guys doing?” We were just skating his ramp [laughs]. But yeah, they were always at Embarcadero and Greg had a car because he was a little older than Mike. Sometimes Jovantae [Turner] and all these dudes would be in there and there just wouldn’t be any room for me. I would have to take a bus to Embarcadero to meet up with those guys. Pretty funny.

Why are Girl and Chocolate up there when it comes to skateboarding companies?

I think the fact that we were all friends before it started. We were all tight. That works. When people try to replicate it and they’re not close and are putting random people on, you might not get along with somebody on a tour. That has helped us; you can see the unity in the videos.

You’re the OG, there from the beginning. How do you feel compared to the other riders in that way? Do you feel like you lead the team?
I don’t know. I try to help out when putting people on and they seem to value what I say. Sometimes I guess I lead, but some of the others are leaders just as much as I am. We started this together. It’s cool if they look at it like that but I don’t feel that.

What’s the Chocolate camp like without Gino [Iannucci] at the minute?
I was bummed. I tried to get a hold of him, tried calling him but you know, it’s sad. I guess not everything is forever. That’s the way you’ve got to look at it too. Definitely bummed. I feel like I’ve just got to keep on going. I’ve got to keep on doing what I’m doing and help out the company as much as I can.

What makes someone fit on Chocolate?
Style, character. We’ve had a lot of people on flow but sometimes it just didn’t work out. Skateboarding changes so much and we have to change too with the times.

Do the Trunk Boyz reflect that change?
Yeah. They definitely do but those guys are great, they’re all good kids. They’re rippers. At first I was kind of weird about it. I thought Elijah [Berle] might have been a better fit for Girl but then after going on tour with them I was glad to have them. Raven [Tershy] grew up in the Bay area so I would always see him, he’s such a ripper. I always saw Elijah from living in LA. I remember we got a hold of Vincent [Alvarez]’s video and we just thought he was perfect.

How does their skating affect your progression?
Those guys push me. We come from a different era though. We all push each other when we go on tours, whenever we’re trying stuff.

A western with subtitles was a strange place to start with a video for Chocolate.
That was Spike [Jonze] and Rick’s idea. I remember we all just went and got to the mountain area it was like a full production with make-up, people there from first thing in the morning through to late at night. It was the real deal, like a movie. We were young and tripping. We just did what they told us to do and it came out so amazing. It was crazy.

Did you feel comfortable doing it? Jeron told me he was fine with the Brothas from Different Mothas skit because he did a popcorn ad back in the day.
[Laughs]. Yeah, we all knew each other plus we were drinking so it was all good.

Where did the story come from?
Spike again. I remember they told us about it and that they wanted to translate it into Spanish. You can kind of tell it wasn’t just one person translating. You had Socrates saying things, me too and a lot of other people [laughs].

How did you feel about that part? I know your part in Finally is your personal favourite.
Yeah my part in Finally probably is my favourite. I was also psyched on my stuff in Yeah Right! too. I was always tripping on Gabriel though, man. We would skate together but he would also go off on his own and next thing you know, he’d have this full part. He was killing it.

Keenan [Milton] got on shortly after Chocolate was born, how did his death affect the team and the company?
It was a devastating blow to Chocolate. When it happened every body was kind of lost, with Stevie leaving and then Keenan’s death too. I remember thinking that we didn’t know what we were going to do. For a few years it was almost like we stalled. It affected everybody in a big way. It came so unexpectedly, we couldn’t believe it. He’s a big part of Chocolate’s legacy.

Well said. The Chocolate Tour is a classic.
Yeah. That’s when Chris Roberts got on and Ricardo Carvhalo I think. I know a lot of people don’t remember him, but he came on as well. They helped us move forward in and around that time, man.

How much did you guys contribute to the narrative of that video? Where did it come from?
I think that was down to Spike and Rick, plus the experience of going to so many different cities. Then Kenny [Anderson] got on, didn’t he? Wait, that was Hot Chocolate. I get confused, man [laughs].

Was the dialogue in the parking lot between you and Spike improvised?
Yeah [laughs]. Nothing was ever planned. Spike let us be ourselves. That was cool, man. They had an idea; we just went with it and kept the cameras rolling. We told the shop in Chicago to let the kids know what we were doing. I was completely overwhelmed [laughs].

Someone mentioned the multiculturalism of the team in Hot Chocolate, do you think that has had anything to do with the success?
Yeah. When Chocolate first started it was perfect because everyone was different and the name to go along with it. The crazy thing was that the name was almost “Sister” before that.

Mike mentioned that to me.
Yeah, Rocco trademarked it before we could do anything with it [laughs]. Everything worked out perfectly. It’s only a name but I don’t know if everything would have worked out the same if it hadn’t have been Chocolate. It was perfect for everybody who was going to be on too.

We got to see your rap skills in Hot Chocolate too. Ever going to set the board aside and pursue a career in that?
[Laughs] not a chance. It’s funny because kids do come up and ask me to bust a rhyme and I’m like, “man, I can’t I suck”.

It’s admirable to see that with the success you’ve found, that you reciprocated that back into your hometown in Nicaragua. You fully planted the seed there right?
I first went back and introduced skateboarding to Nicaragua when I was 18. When I got there I felt like I was the only skateboarder, I didn’t know anybody. Then I kept going every year. I always had a dream to open up a skate shop there, man. About 6 years ago I finally made that happen. I started bringing people out there because I want them to know where I came from and experience this place. But yeah, it’s taking off over there now. We have seven skate parks in the country and now there’s a big community of skateboarders out there. I’ve seen it grow to what it is now, “I made this happen, this is crazy”.

I saw that old photo of your stomach, what happened there? Was it skating related?
That was actually when I was visiting my family in Nicaragua too. My appendix burst. I should have died. All these fluids came out, man. They had to open me up to get rid of all the puss and fluids from the appendix. The crazy thing was that my uncle is a doctor and he did the surgery. I actually thought I was going to die, man.

Not good.
I didn’t think I was going to make it. My stomach was actually open for 10 days. They didn’t want to sew me back up because they wanted to make sure my insides were working properly. The thing was, the whole 9 days, they said, “we just need you to fart”.

I couldn’t go to the bathroom or anything. The doctors would be taking notes every single day, “did you fart?” “No”. On the ninth day one of the doctors told my uncle, “there’s nothing we can do. Let him go. Let him die”. The next day I farted and the whole hospitals went crazy like, “yeah!” [Laughs].

[Laughs]. But you could see inside yourself?
It was like a big piece of sushi actually, man [laughs]. It was just the top open. But that picture that you saw was probably from an old Slap magazine or whatever.

Crazy stuff. Congrats on the Pretty Sweet part Chico.
Thanks, man. It originally started out as a Chocolate video actually. The Chocolate guys were slacking a little bit and the Girl guys were getting a lot more footage. It just became this big other project. It worked out.

Things have come a long way since Paco.
It seems like people like Ty [Evans] always want to take it to the next level. You saw in Pretty Sweet that there were a lot of different types of roll up shots. We would be like, “why are we doing this roll up shot?” Before we would just do the trick and then go to the next spot. Now you do the trick and then you’re told you have to get this roll up thing: “really? Come on!” [Laughs]. I just want to keep it moving, you know? But yeah, everything progresses. Not just the skateboarding but the videos too. It’s a trip how videos are right now. They’re like movies with crazy Red cameras and all this other stuff. You almost don’t want to do a trick in case you break this $50,000 camera.

With each video comes more and more hype. Do you feel the pressure?
A little bit. You always try to have your best stuff in there, plus there are always the new guys. At the end of the day people just want to see how you skate. But I always try to film and learn new stuff. Sometimes it’s hard though: getting older and it hurts more when you fall. What I really trip about is someone like Guy Mariano, man. Daewon Song. Those are the guys I look up to. These guys are still killing it, doing amazing stuff on their boards. It makes me want to keep going, man.

You mentioned Spike earlier, what’s it like working with him?
I’ve known Spike since he used to take photos at World back in the day. So to see his success not just with skateboarding but through everything else he’s done is pretty amazing. I can’t even describe it. To see him nominated for an Academy Award, you’re like, “wow. This is big”. Strange when you step back and think.

You mentioned Evan being a team member. How important has he been to the company?
If it wasn’t for him I don’t think Chocolate would have the same impact that it did or does now. People relate to his graphics. They look at each series and see Chocolate. My favourites are the portraits; they’re just so amazing. Every new guy that comes on the team gets one. It’s really cool. Andy [Jenkins] and the rest of the art dump also contribute to a lot of the Chocolate stuff too. Sometimes Evan is super busy.

How do some of your ideas make it onto the boards?
We just give Rick ideas, “it would be cool to do this, and it would be cool to do that”. He just gives them to Evan and he works his magic, man. They’re always looking for ideas though.

“Nollie crooked grind, coming out regular not switch”. Great ad.
[Laughs] oh yeah! Lance Mountain took that photo actually. I remember being at Embarcadero that day. That was just those guys being those guys.

Substitution time Chico. One in from Girl and one out from Chocolate. Who are you stealing and who’s going?
I remember telling Rick actually, that we should do the first skateboard trade. Like how they do it in baseball and football. I’m going to take Jeron or Brandon [Biebel] for Chris Roberts [laughs]. It feels like they’re more Chocolate guys, you know?

And lastly, give us a quote to summarise the 20 years of Chocolate.
“That’s buttery” – Jeron Wilson.

Images courtesy of crailtap.

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