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20 Years of Girl/Chocolate Interviews – Chris Roberts

Photography provided by Chocolate Skateboards

Words by Stephen Cox

So Chris, what’s it like being with Chocolate hitting 20 years?

It’s exciting stuff. I don’t think many companies hit that mark. I feel like Chocolate has powered through the ages. I think skateboarding has its highs and lows; some companies don’t make it through the lows.

 

How have you been thinking about your contribution to Chocolate after all this time?

I’m just grateful to be a part of something so special. It’s one of the elite in skateboarding. Thinking about all the people who have been on Chocolate over the years and the new kids, it’s special. The art shows were pretty amazing. They put your time on Chocolate into perspective. You look from the point of creation to today; it’s a trip through memory lane. You forget as the days go on and you’re living your life, you don’t look back. When you see it in front of your face it’s amazing. Everybody came out to the shows, I saw people I haven’t seen in years. It’s very nostalgic.

 

Who were you skating with prior to getting on Chocolate?

I grew up in Malibu and all my friends out there got into drugs. They became frequent drug addicts. I wasn’t into that and they all quit skating. I ventured off into Santa Monica and the LA area and ran into Tim Dowling, who filmed Mouse, Daniel Castillo, Tim Gavin, and [Eric] Koston. I kind of found this new crew. I would skate with Tim and he would skate with all the guys. Growing up skating the west LA Courthouse was a huge stomping ground for everybody to go and meet. I just gradually became friends with everybody and Daniel would give me boards. I was sponsored by Daniel for a while [laughs]. After a while it was like, “why’s Daniel giving you boards? We’ll give you boards”.  After that it was history I guess.

  You were buying shirts off Tim and Eric before that too right?

That’s true [laughs]. I remember buying shirts off them for 5 or 10 bucks. It’s funny that I became friends with them later. I looked up to them then you’re driving with them, skating with them and Tim Gavin or Guy Mariano is picking you up from your house [laughs]. It was strange.

  Did you officially get on when you were on a trip to San Francisco with Ty [Evans]?

For a while they weren’t really putting anyone on. I think the last person to get on was [Mike] York maybe. There were years and years of it being the same team. I remember I would get put in the edits for trade show videos and stuff. Everybody would have their name appear; Scott Johnston with a red square, Chico [Brenes] with a red square. Then my name but no red square [laughs]. Little things like that happened but they were still including me in stuff. I wasn’t officially on. It just happened really. I did go on a couple of filming trips to SF with Ty but strangely I don’t remember there being a definitive moment. It kind of gradually became official.

 

I remember you had a few tricks in The Chocolate Tour. Were you on by that stage?

My memory is so bad [laughs]. I’m the worst with timeframes. Was I on? I think it was around the time I was getting on. I remember Robbie McKinley who was a good friend of mine at the time was on Girl, and he got put on Girl before I got on Chocolate. He was in the video as well. Yeah, it was around that time.

  Do you still talk to Robbie?

We have the same mutual friends so I run into him a lot but not as much as I’d probably like to. He’s doing his own thing. He surfs a lot and works in graphic design. But he’s good.

Good to hear. Ben Sanchez spoke about in the beginning how the Chocolate riders were more your up-and-comers in comparison to Girl. By the time you got on the brand had fully established itself then.

I think so. Personally I didn’t look at it like that. I looked at it as a fully established company. I thought the guys were the most dope elite skaters. Everybody including myself looked up to those guys. It was a lot more refined by the time I got on.

 

When did you meet Mike [Carroll] and Rick [Howard]?

I was always a little intimated of them because of who they were. It’s like watching a movie, then you see the actor in real life – “that’s him”. It was kind of like that – “I’m standing next to Rick Howard of Plan B”. But then obviously I got to know them and they’re amazing guys. I remember little things like Rick saying when I first started, “who does this guy skate for?” I remember being a little shy skating around them and I didn’t want to be judged for my skating. But it wasn’t like that.

 

Kenny [Anderson] said the same.

[Laughs]. Well that’s it, these are the guys. They were my skating gods when I was growing up. But they’re skateboarders just like me and you. They want to have fun and I quickly realised that.

 

Was there ever any talk of you going to Girl?

No, always Chocolate. I was more friends with the Chocolate guys. It seemed like that was the fit plus they had Robbie and other guys on flow at the time.

 

What did you think of the brand when it first started?

I was a huge fan of all these guys when they were on Blind and World Industries. That was my thing; I didn’t care about what else existed. I followed the transition to Girl and when Chocolate came around I thought it was even more rad. There was some type of allure about Chocolate, that raw style. Something different from Girl. Girl was more…I don’t know if polished is the right word. But Chocolate was so raw with Paulo Diaz, Gabriel [Rodriguez] and all the flavour involved with it. There was a feeling that came with it and so much style.

  How did you feel about Paco when it came out?

I probably watched Paco ten thousand times in a year [laughs]. It was the first video that I saw that had skits. It kind of changed my view on videos and I thought it was on another level. I loved it. It was hard to put into words what it did for me. Then you would see more and more companies do skits too. Paco just kind of ran with it and now so many videos have skits. It was incredible.

 

Stevie Williams has spoken about how Chocolate inspired DGK for him. Is The Back Forty inspired by Chocolate for you, Marc [Johnson] and Kenny?

I think so. I’m inspired by a lot of things so to have Chocolate is definitely a factor there. You can’t help but take away everything that goes on. But we just want to have fun and do rad stuff. We’re not worried about anything else. Chocolate and Girl do that too.

 

We’re looking for answers, have you spoke to Gino [Iannucci]?

I haven’t but I’m bummed. He is Chocolate you know? As you get older, things change. I don’t know what his feelings were on everything but there’s nothing we can do. I wish him all the best and we’re still friends. I hope he’s happy.

 

Fair enough. What about when the new guys come on like Raven [Tershy] or Elijah [Berle]? How are these guys representing the future of Chocolate?

I love them. I’ve been there, being on flow when the company made a change and took me on. Every company needs to evolve and keep current. The new guys are rad. The cohesiveness of people’s attitudes and personalities is the most important thing to me. The last thing you want to do is spend a month in a van with an asshole [laughs]. We’ve had a lot of people on flow and have taken them on tours and they just don’t gel. I’m not going to name any names [laughs]. There have also been people who have got along with us too but there’s just something wrong there. These guys are all amazing skaters and people. That’s what is important. It’s what has kept Chocolate together for so long. There are rarely any fights after a month in the van, which is pretty remarkable when you think about it. I’m stoked to have them.

 

At a first look that switch 180 nose manual revert you did in Yeah Right! almost looks like one of those moments that goes with the title of the video. Anyone ever mentioned that?

Oh yeah, down at Santa Monica beach. No actually, but it’s funny what people take away from skating and it goes to show that skating is so diverse and everyone loves certain aspects of it. In The Chocolate Tour I did a nollie heelflip off this bump over a barrier and I also did a nollie varial flip over a sand gap block in a line. For me the nollie heelflip over the barrier was such a personal achievement but no one talked about it, instead I had so many people coming up to me saying, “dude that nollie varial flip over the beach block!” I would be like, “what about the nollie heelflip over the barrier? Didn’t you see that?” [Laughs]. So you never know. But you’re the first person to mention it to me. I loved that trick actually, I was super pumped on it. It was different and I had never seen it before.

 

Were you involved in any of the skits for that video?

No, I got left out, man. It was a Girl video though to be fair [laughs].

 

Less pressure in that sense when it came to filming then too?

Yeah. I wasn’t even thinking, “we’re filming for this video, I need to film”. It was different with Pretty Sweet, which was this huge video that had both teams. I felt pressure with that, it probably f**ked me up a little bit because you’re wondering if a trick is good enough or will make it in.

 

Were there feelings of getting left behind?

It’s tough. Everybody had full parts you know? I had a lot of stuff that was in the bonus section too and could have had a full part or could have shared a part with somebody but I get it you know? It’s a video with over 20 people and it’s hard to make those decisions, “are we going to showcase the new guys or what do we do?” It is what it is. I don’t have any animosity over it. Some people were a little bummed out after working so hard. I wish there had of been two videos, a “pretty” and a “sweet”. It was an incredible video and personally, I’m just happy to be in it. You could sit and moan about not having a full part but you have to take a step back and look at what you’re a part of. It’s a history making video. People are going to watch it in 10 years and I’m happy to be in it.

 

How important is Aaron Meza to the smooth running of all things Chocolate?

I’m a huge fan of his. He’s done some of my favourite videos and some of my favourite tour videos. He has a sense of look and feel but also fun. I’m all about fun, skateboarding is fun and that’s why we all start it. Some videos can be a little dramatic at times; I think Meza captures the other end of the spectrum really well. I wish he would do more videos [laughs].

 

You killed it at the Courthouse in Hot Chocolate. How long did it take to get those tricks?

The switch flip switch manual took quite a while. There were only so many times you could jump up that thing in a day. You’d go there for a couple of hours and then after a while your legs were dead. There was no point trying to skate it for 6 hours. Back then the Courthouse was a place you could just skate on the weekends and have fun. If something was working then the camera came out, it wasn’t a big mission or anything. But the trick took a long time, then one day it just clicked and I got three of them. It was really bizarre. Sometimes skating works that way. The others came just when we were having a session. I didn’t try a lot of those tricks for days on end. But the switch flip switch manny took a while. I really wanted to get it. It came though and I think Brian Wenning was there actually, “what the f**k was that!”

The opening of Hot Chocolate looked like so much fun.

That was insane. That was the first time I was a part of something on a production level. Spike [Jonze] was in the van with us for the whole month. He was the first dude out of the van skating and the last back in. You forget that he’s this Hollywood director because he’s in the van and skating. There were cops there, roads closed off and people with walkie-talkies. That was the first time I was involved with a big skit. It was a long day, but super fun. Then to see it all put together is amazing. I’m sure Spike had a vision of what it would look like but when you’re doing it you don’t really think about the angles and stuff. It worked out so well. Being together as a whole team is really powerful for you though. When you get back from tours you start skating a lot more together too.

  I saw that Parallel footage with Jesus Fernandez, how often do you see him?

I would try and go out there at least once a year. The longest amount of time I spent out there was about 6 months. I ended up renting a room at Paul Shier’s place. It’s no secret that skating in Barcelona is a whole different beast. I wonder what we’re doing here. That city is made for skating. You’re out there all day long and hardly ever driving. I always tell people to go out there, skating is a proper culture there.

 

Is it strange him being away from the team?

I miss him. He’s the most lovable human and he’s hilarious. I’ll always throw him a little comment on Instagram and he’ll respond, “¿Que pasa?” You read it in his voice. I miss him and that’s why I go out. I’ve stayed at his place a few times.

You looked like you were going to murder that kid at the start of that edit.

[Laughs]. Hey, Parallel is a frustrating place. Barcelona is full of little plazas where people hang out. People will just sit on the ledge when you’re blatantly skating it. That happens so much. Out there they see skaters every day so they’re not jaded by it. They’ll just sit down.

 

Unlike China.

Talk about a crowd gathering when you’re just skating flatground. Plus you’re in remote but densely populated places. All of a sudden you have fifty people standing watching you.

 

The suit skit in Pretty Sweet was rad too.

It was hard because it was kind of done guerrilla style. Lights would turn red, people would get left behind. At one point there was three of us left and we didn’t know where anyone was. We were trying to ring them but they weren’t answering because obviously they’re filming. At one point I think I was out of the loop for an hour. It was difficult.

  Did you meet Will Arnette?

Yeah! They were just feeding him this and that. It was incredible to see his improv. I was kind of blown away, he was a real professional. I wish I had of been there for Owen Wilson though, he’s one of my favourite actors. To tell you the truth I didn’t really know who Will Arnette was [laughs]. I googled him after and stuff though. He was on point to be able to go into a situation he knew absolutely nothing about and create all that improv.

  So funny. How did you feel about the technology upgrade camera-wise?

Oh god, I hate technology. It’s a bummer. When you had a VX there was no need to put a 6-foot fisheye on or whatever. Sometimes people pull something out of their bag, “what the hell is that?” “This is the new DSLR 5.0 with the blah blah lens” Jesus Christ. But you can see the difference and there’s the slow motion and this and that. It’s technology, it advances. Roll with it or stay in the Stone Age and film with a Super-8.

  Could things take a slight step back next time around?

That’s hard to say. We had Ty Evans. He is a very technological guy. He would have different cameras with him when we were filming with Pretty Sweet, “this is the doper one, and you can do this and that”. Obviously he’s amazing at making and filming videos. I think it just depends on who they get. You would see a big difference if Meza did the next video. I would like to see a new Chocolate video going back to the old roots; fun, skits and raw skating. People can get caught up in the technological advances too. That’s just my own personal opinion; it’s fun to not worry too much about angles or something else. Sometimes perfect is too perfect.

 

It was crazy to see the video at the top of the iTunes charts.

It was more watchable to people who don’t skate. People were amazed by the cinematography, Jack Black and the effects. It opened up a lot of doors in that sense. Are those people going out and buying the new Transworld video? That’s hard to know. More than just skaters watched it for sure.

  Do you remember your first ad?

Yeah. It was nosegrind over a ledge that went out over 8 stairs or something. I still have that somewhere in the archives.

  What’s the atmosphere like over at the Girl and Chocolate building?

When I go down to the warehouse I like to say hi to everybody. I wouldn’t get product and leave or just go and see Rick, Mike and Meza. Everybody is making that place run you know? They’re all skaters and all so cool too. It’s good to bullshit with people, but not too much because I know they’re busy [laughs].

 

I watched that Crailtap video of the tour of your apartment where you mentioned your enthusiasm for darts making it onto boards.

The good thing about being in LA is being able to go down to Girl and talk with everybody is talking about your interests. I’m a huge darts and Phil “The Power” Taylor fan. At the time I was going to bars with Paul Shier and we entered a darts competition so they did a darts board. After that video obviously they did Garvey the cat boards too.

 

[Laughs].

They were like, “this is amazing, we have to do Garvey boards”. At some points I would go into the building and be like, “ok guys, enough Garvey” [laughs]. But then they would show me a new graphic and I would have to agree to it one more time. When we were filming that I said it was the most stupid thing we could ever do. I was opening my refrigerator, we had nothing [laughs]. Then the socket falling into the wall happened, and Garvey coming in, which a lot of people thought was set up.

 

That’s timing for you, did I just hear Garvey?

Yeah, he wants to go outside. Garvey, what are you doing? He’s a little diva now. He thinks he’s hot shit. But yeah, they’ll always hit you up for one-off graphics too. I did one Garvey graphic for them, which was cool.

 

Just to wrap things up Chris, I have a couple of short ones for you.

Hey, I could go all day. We can get into my love life if you want? I need to talk to someone about it.

 

[Laughs]. I need you to switch a Girl and Chocolate rider. Make your pick.

Oh god. I bet Chico said me, that f**king guy. Such a difficult question. I don’t want to offend anyone. I’m bringing Howard over, because he’s so hilarious. Then from Chocolate to Girl? I’m drawing a blank on who is on the team. Not Marc, not Kenny. Not Chico. I’ll trade Elijah. No offence Elijah, love you bro.

 

And a quote to summarise the 20 years?

Brothers from different mothas! I need another cup of tea right now. It’ll be my third in an hour. You’d be proud too, PG tips with a splash of milk.

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