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Bob Burnquist

7/10/2012

Bob Burnquist lives in the sunburned hills that swell up along the edge of the Pacific ocea in Vista, calif., just north of san diego. set back off a narrow, pebbly road, up a path from a dirt driveway, chez burnquist rests on a ridge, just to the side of nearly two acres of land cultivated for growing organic vegetables. it's a quiet, rural, peaceful setting, even with the humongous skate ramp in the front yard. Of course, "ramp" isn't really the right word. burnquist is a pro skateboarder, so one could be forgiven for thinking "ramp" implies a halfpipe, even a big halfpipe, even a huge halfpipe. what sits in front of burnquist's house is more like a personal skatepark.

supersized, as dreamed up by someone who'd much, much rather skate than, say eat. Or breathe.

The specs: a massive oval bowl, nearly 40 yards long and 20 yards wide, features a shallow end (7 1/2-foot walls) and a deep end (12 1/2-foot walls). the deep end is capped with a minibowl that sits on the larger oval like a scoop of ice cream. It's possible to drop in from anywhere because a landing surrounds the structure. More than any pool, the thing resembles the hull of a Viking ship. The design motivation being, simply, that a skater should flow without stopping from one area to the next.

Then there's the loop.

Burnquist is one of the world's greatest skaters not merely because his repertoire includes all the top-shelf moves, augmented with variations and inimitable style, along with a few tricks he's pioneered, but because he performs them all "switch," or switchstance. Meaning he can ride with either foot forward on his board. (Think throwing a 95 mph fastball with either hand.)

In 2001, burnquist decided to try a loop. a few other riders (tony hawk, Peter hewitt, al Partenen) had skated a 360 degree corkscrew ramp, centrifugal force keeping them pressed to their boards and the boards to the ramp as they skated up and around. So burnquist decided to ride it switch. He nailed the trick, and it became a finalist for feat of the Year at the 2002 ESPN Action Sports and Music Awards. As hawk himself put it, "Bob can skate switch better than most people can skate regular."

The loop in burnquist's front yard adds another variation. For the pay-per-view special King of Skate, the world's top pro skaters were asked to pick a trick, and the necessary structure to complete it would be built. Burnquist asked for a loop with a top piece that flipped open on a hinge, creating an exponentially more difficult, and dangerous, trick. (The opening requires the skater to fly across the top of the loop instead of rolling around it.) He landed a switchstance frontside air across the gap, and the loop of death won him the King of Skate comp, not to mention $25,000. at 6'2", 163 pounds, burnquist, 25, is equally At home skating street or vert. he has won more than 50 pro comps, including best trick (fakie 5-0, fakie kickflip off the grind bar) at the 2000 X games, and Vert at the 2001 games with a run hawk called "the best we've ever seen." a native of brazil, the product of an american father and a brazilian mother (bob's full name is robert dean silva burnquist), he skates with a pronounced, natural style that recalls the way his countrymen play soccer and dance: smoothly, passionately, soulfully. indeed, burnquist considers skating a "gift from god. It's a very spiritual thing, something sacred, a form of prayer."

In the past few years, he has achieved a level of fame approaching hawk's, and has become something of the kobe bryant to hawk's Jordan, the heir to skating's throne. With tVfriendly good looks, natural charm, fluency in english and Portuguese and an intuitive understanding of what's required of a modern pro, it's easy to see why. But spend time with burnquist, and it becomes clear that the very things that keep him grounded are the reasons for his ascent. it'sa June afternoon, and a silky Portuguese singer rasps over a brazilian bossa nova through the speakers above burnquist's ramp. Most of the ramp is trimmed in paint of green and yellow, brazil's colors. Burnquist and his family had gotten up at 4 that morning to watch brazil play a world cup game. Like most of his countrymen, burnquist is a soccer fan, having played goalie as a kid. He began skating at age 10, turning serious at 15 when a vert ramp opened near his house.

"I skated every day," he says. "i failed sixth grade because i basically cut summer school to skate. My mom had to take my board away."

Burnquist grew up in sao Paulo. His family was poor and he was expected to work to help out. Instead, he pored over skating magazines and videos and mimicked what skaters in california were doing. It was as a kid in brazil that he learned the early tricks-frontside airs and disasters-and wired his brain to ride switch. burnquist soon became one of the hottest skaters in the tiny brazilian skate scene, and at 18 he moved to san francisco with his older sister, Milena, to compete in pro events. (The rest of his family-mother dora, father dean, younger sister rebecca-would trickle north over the following few years.) Burnquist won the first pro comp he entered, the 1995 slam city Jam in Vancouver, skating with tube socks pulled to his knees.

That burnquist ever became a pro is remarkable, considering where he'd been. As a kid in brazil, he hung out with an older crew, and when they sniffed glue to get high and kill their hunger, he did too. He moved on to cocaine and then struggled for most of his teenage years to stay clean. Eventually, says burnquist, skating saved him.

"I realized i couldn't be the best skater if i was partying all night, high on coke, and trying to skate the next day," he says. "I got to a point where it was like, what do i want? to get high, or to skate?" In 1995, at about the time he moved to the u.s., burnquist made a vow "to just skate." he has talked about his past in the brazilian press in hopes of helping kids, and he returns to his home country several times a year to skate in exhibitions and to speak with kids about life lessons he's learned. Skateboarding's popularity in brazil has exploded the past few years, and the hordes of kids who follow burnquist around Pied Piper-style when he visits confirm one of his driving beliefs: that he can make a difference.

"Brazil is a big thing for me because it needs my help," he says. "I believe we all have a mission- small, big, whatever. The puzzle is set out in front of me, and i'm like, 'all right, let's do it!' "

Today, burnquist lives with his girlfriend, Jen o'brien, also a pro skater (they met eight years ago while snowboarding), and their 2-year-old daughter, lotus. Bob's mother and father, who are divorced, and two sisters live close by. Together, the family owns and operates Melodia, a mostly vegetarian brazilian restaurant in leucadia, calif., that serves organic produce from the garden next to burnquist's house. a note on the restaurant's menu sums up the family's philosophy: "we love music, we love food, and we love to live! Let's be a big family and spread out the loving vibes "

A similar feeling prevails at the loop in burnquist's yard. As the afternoon sun begins to set, neighborhood kids and friends drop by to skate. O'Brien is outside with lotus, a radiant, blonde toddler who seems addicted to giggling. "Our spot is really cool," says o'brien. "Our neighbors are part of our family. Their kids come by and there's a good community atmosphere."

A photographer and a friend with a dV camera also stop by to capture the afternoon loop session. (Skating epistemology 101: if a trick is landed but no one shoots it, did it happen?) Burnquist switches the music from bossa nova to the gorillaz. He changes into a new hurley t-shirt and does handstands to warm up. "Bob pushes himself and doesn't just go for the fun stuff," says O'Brien.

By now, the kids who've been skating the shallow part of the ramp have moved closer. A pole-vaulter's mat has been placed below the backside of the loop. Burnquist takes a couple of practice runs, and the mat is moved away. O'Brien, lotus, the kids, friends and relatives, maybe 15 people in all, grow quiet. Burnquistsucks in a deep breath and drops in. His first attempt ends with a fall, as do his next two. Then, on his fourth try, he nails the full loop. everyone claps.

"You never actually feel like you're upside down," he says before run no. 5. apparently not, because he drops in 30 more times, landing the loop 28 times. after his first loop, though, he focuses on trying to complete a nose grind off a quarterpipe that the loop feeds. again and again he lands the loop but can't complete the grind, a trick he can otherwise pull with ease. The kids go back to their skating. Even lotus stops watching daddy. Soon, only the photographers are left. burnquist takes a few falls. "Why did i start this?" He says out loud to himself. then he smiles at the photographer. "Because now i can't stop." He does stop, though, after attempt no. 36, when he skates the loop and finishes with a perfect grind.

Melodia is a small, charming place with brazilian items and Burnquist skating memorabilia as decor. Burnquist arrives wearing, as always, his thick, black glasses, which make him look more like a young english professor than a pro skater. "Because of skating," he says, looking around the restaurant, "I have all these funds coming in. I could either put them in a mutual fund, or I could help other people, promote good ideas like organic food and start a business that includes my family."

Burnquist, a vegetarian, orders a tofu sandwich. it's obvious when he talks that skating is a vehicle through which he can impart his worldview. "He really does believe in leading by example," says O'Brien. Toward the end of lunch, burnquist runs though a list of social issues that interest him: the environment, nuclear safety, fuel emissions. Has he ever thought of running for political office? "Honestly," he says, "I think it's going in that direction for me. The contact with the mediaand these big press conferences are preparing me for a lot more. I feel I'm representing a group of people already-skaters and skate culture."

Finally, Burnquist launches into a story about being flown with Jen to Monte Carlo in May for the annual laureus Award program. He was nominated by European sportswriters and his*********************************