Chima Ferguson's "Propeller" Interview

By Michael Burnett

I’ve noticed that you have really good manners. Were manners important in your house growing up?
Very much. My mom always told me that manners will get you a long way in life, and I used to get my ears pulled if I didn’t say please or thank you. So I say it now. I don’t want to get my ears pulled.

Have you ever been in any situation as a pro skater traveling, where you’ve been embarrassed by the behavior of your peers?
Oh, definitely. I’d say on, probably not on a daily basis, but definitely on every trip there’s a lot of times when someone’s drunk or whatever. Not all Americans are like that, but there’s a lot that when they travel to other countries; they’re just ruthless. They want everywhere they go to be like America. For example, Cody comes across very, very rude to people, like ordering in restaurants or whatever, which, of course, embarrasses me

You know Australia has this reputation for not necessarily being more racist, but the people say what they mean and kinda talk more shit to each other openly. Was it weird growing up black in Australia? Were there situations where you felt like an outsider or mistreated?
Yeah, definitely. Where I grew up is the Western suburbs of Sydney so it’s all Lebanese, Maori, Tongan, Samoan—very multicultural. I remember growing up in school and I had Asian friends and we’d all call each other names I don’t really want to repeat now, but if you were to say them to a random person it would come across as very racist and rude, but amongst me and all my friends in Australia we make fun of our race in more of a funny way. But in Australia it’s very much so. Certain places you go it’s blatantly racist. I remember one time, I would have been like seven or eight, and I went to go to a bowling party with these kids and one of the kids parents wouldn’t let me bowl because I had colored skin. That was my first run in with, like, blatant racism and I honestly couldn’t understand why I had to sit down and couldn’t take part or whatever.

That’s crazy. That was in the ‘80s, too, right?
No, that would have been early ‘90s. So it’s not even that long ago, you know? And it’s still very much alive now. I mean, everywhere you go people are racist, but in Australia people just say it even though it’s not socially correct. People are just out there with it.

What’s your family history?
My mom was born in South Australia. She’s like a farm girl. She’s got English and Scottish blood and then my dad was born in Nigeria and he’s 100-percent Nigerian.

The dreams of children.  Switch front blunt. Photo: Peters

That sly dog!
Yeah, credit card scams and all that. My dad’s not part of that, but I’m sure he grew up with people who do that.

So he’s not that prince that wants to give you the money he inherited?
No, he’s not a prince that needs ten-thousand dollars to get his billion-dollar fortune back.

Did you grow up with both parents?
Yeah, I did.

And you’ve got brothers and sisters, too?
Yeah, I’ve got one brother and two sisters.

Nice. How much did American hip-hop inform your idea of what America was gonna be like?
Uh, a good amount. And movies too. The first time I came here I was 13 or 14 and that was 2003, so I thought I was gonna get to LA and there was seriously gonna be like dead bodies in the street; people getting shot, ‘cause it always seemed like such a dangerous place to me. My mom told me that as well, so I always kind of kept my eye out when I got here, but then I realized that obviously anywhere you go there’s sketchy neighborhoods but it’s not as common as I thought it would be. I thought it was gonna be pretty real when I got here.

This one hurt! Massive 180 to the road. Photo: Burnett

So did you distinguish yourself as good on the board early on? Were you one of those little kids that was getting hooked up?
I think I got sponsored by a skate shop called 99 Degrees in 2001. So I would have been, like, twelve, and then I was getting Juice clothing which was an Australian clothing company around that time. But then I didn’t really, like, come to the States and really try to do anything until I got on Real in the end of 2004.

How old were you then?
The first time I met all of the guys from Deluxe I was 16. I mean, nowadays you see like 11 year olds doing 540s, so I wasn’t on that level but I guess at the time I was pretty young to be sponsored at the level I was.

I know you can skate pretty much everything, but in this interview we have a lot of big hucking going on. Were you jumping from an early age?
Yeah. That’s exactly what I learned. That’s how I learned how to skate everything. When I was little I never skated mini boards or anything, I always skated boards that my brother or his friends gave to me so I was way too small to flip it. So I’d always skate the three stair at my local school. I think when I learned how to kickflip I could kickflip the three stair like a week later and then tré flips, backside flips and heelflips I learned down things before I could ever do them on flat. So then that got me started with just jumping down things. I was heavily influenced by Misled Youth. When that came out I wanted to wear black clothes and jump off shit and do big things. That’s what got me started.

Are black dudes better at heelflips?
It seems like it. I mean, what there’s Neen, Antwuan, Theotis—he does a bit of both. Then we’ve got Wieger who’s way off skin tone.

He’s like the white ‘Twuan.
Yeah, the white ‘Twuan. No, I hear that from a lot of people. Everyone says black people are heelflippers. I never used to do heelflips. I always was a kickflip person and then one day I started heelflipping stuff. It flips slower so it’s easier to do down things, I think.

Nollie front nose. Must be the shoes. Photo: Burnett

So let’s talk about this video. You’ve been working on this for a while. Were you done two years ago? Is the dirty secret that you were actually done in 2012?
I mean, I’m sure that with the amount of footage I had two years ago I could have come out with a part, but thinking about it now I’m psyched on what I’ve got in the last two years. So I guess technically I could have been done but now I’m definitely done.

And I know from being out with you that you go through periods of intense production and then intense relaxation. Why is that?
It’s all a mindset. I think sometimes I wake up and I’m, like, “Alright, I want to go do this today. I’m ready.” Then other times I’m just not really feeling anything. But while I’m in the States I like to skate and put as many things out as I can. ‘Cause I like to go home every year for, like, four or five months to Australia, so I like to try and top the quota and go back and see my family and friends there and then go back to work again over here.

I was under the impression that you typically don’t like to call out a trick or a spot. Do you try to keep it in your head ‘till the last minute?
Yeah, normally I won’t claim it unless it’s something I really know that I can do and I got it. Then I’ll claim it. But otherwise I like to maybe get someone else to skate something that’s nearby and be like, “Oh, we can go look at it.”

A fluffer? You need a fluffer?
I need a fluffer, yeah. Yeah, it sucks when I claim a trick and then I go there and it’s way different to how I remembered it or how I thought it would look and then I don’t do it. So that’s why I try to keep the claims on the down-low normally.

Can you remember an incident where you really got your nuts in a vice and realized it was make or break?
Yeah, it was 2010 and I was going back to Australia after living here all year and I claimed the front board on that extra-tall rail that Rowley had back boardslid and Dan Lu grinded. I was feeling good the whole way. We drove like an hour and a half to get there and I got there and I seriously felt like shit. I was thinking, “There’s no way I’m going to do this.” Somehow, like, I don’t even know ‘cause it was just me, Mapstone, Choi and my homie from Japan. There was no warm-up. It was just straight to it and I was, like, “Fuck, I don’t know. Mapstone’s got kids. He drove me an hour and a half to get here so I have to at least try it.” So then I psyched up and I went for one and totally under-ollied or something and just couldn’t get on it right and I fell to the bottom and broke my wrist.

Strike that, reverse it. Fakie varial heel, deep in SD. Sequence: Burnett

Holy shit! I didn’t know that.
Yeah my scaphoid broke straight away.

So you didn’t even get in the slide at all?
Nah, I ollied and instead of going for it I hesitated. I got on kinda weird. My board just gripped and I fell to the bottom and broke my wrist. After that I was so hyped on adrenalin that I thought, “Fuck it. I’ve tried one. My shit’s gonna hurt either way so I might as well.” And then I slid two more and I can remember seeing a truck rolling by as I’m rolling up and I still went for it. And then the next thing I know I’m 30 feet away from it rolling around the corner just like…

You blacked out?
Yeah, that’s what happens to me sometimes when I’m so focused on a trick that the mind is in such the right place that it’s not even recording what you’re doing. It’s literally 100-percent focused on the trick that you’re doing at the time. It doesn’t record it. I’d call that being in the zone. That’s as far in the zone as you can get. That’s blacking out without drinking right there! It’s blacking out off adrenalin!

That’s fuckin’ nuts. So let’s talk about your teammates in this video. How has Crockett changed from when you first met him?
Trying to explain him to anyone is so hard because he’s such a weird, introverted guy, but I’d say since when I first met him in 2009 when he first got on, I’d say since then he’s definitely found his sense of fashion, more sense of self and he’s a little bit more crazy than he used to be, I guess. He’s nuts.
They’re all crazy, but Crockett’s nuts.

Chima’s been stacking for days. Hardflip, Summer 2013. Photo: Karpinski

And you live with Dustin and he’s also your teammate. Was he a mentor of yours growing up?
Yeah, definitely ‘cause in Australia there’s only a handful of them that really went to the States and kept it pushing. He’s definitely the one that exploded the most, so he’s always someone I looked up to. I used to see him every so often at Sydney before I even
knew him.

Of course there must have been the moment where he was a dick to you when you were a little kid, right?
Oh yeah, even when I got on Volcom and Vans I still didn’t like him that much because I just didn’t understand him. He used to give me shit and I kinda was just a shy kid. Then I came out of my shell and I obviously realized that if you give a little bit back to him then he’ll back off. ‘Cause he preys on the weak is what he does, so if you let it be known that you’re not to be fucked with then he won’t fuck with you.

Who do you vibe really well with on Vans? Who are you hyped to skate a spot with?
Definitely Dan Lu, Kyle, Rowan and probably Pfanner. Those are the guys I probably square with the most. They’re the most similar to me, I guess, so we’re all into the same shit.

Is Dan Lu really as nice as he comes across or does he have an evil streak?
What I say is that no one’s ever that positive. Everyone’s got a dark side regardless of how nice you are. I’ve seen Dan Lu get really dark. I think people who are that positive, when they do get angry it’s a lot more intense than someone who is normally pissed off. So when Dan Lu freaks out it’s really kinda scary.
Yeah, he’s definitely got a dark side to him.

So what’s been kind of your most epic trip so far? What was a trip where you like couldn’t believe you were there? What’s been your greatest adventure?
I’d say Paris was pretty fun last year. Paris ‘cause it was my first time ever going there and then I went there another two times maybe, like, three weeks after that, which kind of blew it out for me but I don’t know, it was fun. Paris in the summertime is very beautiful and the weather was seriously so good while we were there. We got lucky. Tricks worked out very well on that trip. It was pretty funny. It was just me and Curren at the end. It was a pretty interesting squad, but definitely Paris stands out and then when we went to Perth. I couldn’t really skate on the trip ‘cause I was fucked up, but a bunch of crazy shit went down. You’ve been to Perth, right?

Sometimes street skating means you miss the street altogether. Photo: Colen

I’ve never been.
Yeah, that place is epic during the summertime. The time that we went was perfect. I’d have to say Paris, Perth or filming in my hometown of Sydney is always good, too.

When you go home are there still guys to skate curbs with?
Oh yeah, the whole posse. The main thing about Sydney is everyone just gets drunk, so every time we go skating, even if you’re the one skating or whatever, there’ll be like 20 other homies drinking and talking shit. So it’s good in that sense. As far as skate posses go, Sydney doesn’t really have too many people coming out of it. We’ve got Nik Stipanovic here. He rides for Volcom and Vans in Australia and Dane’s from Sydney. I grew up skating with him, but he’s sober so I wouldn’t throw him into that part of the crew.

Yeah, how is Dane such a weird Australian?
I don’t know. I guess I think he used to drink when he was younger and then I know he used to smoke bongs and stuff. I guess everyone gets over it at some point in their life and I guess he just got over it earlier and realized what he wanted to do instead.

He has a reputation for being a smart ass. How would you describe him?
Yeah, he’s definitely got that Australian thing going on where he says what he wants, which in skateboarding isn’t going to work out for you the best. He doesn’t talk as much shit as he used to, but there have been times where I’ve heard about some shit that he’s done or whatever and I’m, like, “Oh, that’s a bit weird,” but these days he’s a bit more grown up.

It’s never over, but this switch tré at La Defense earns Chima curtains. Félicitations Waffle Squad. Photo: Burnett

Speaking of grown up, how old are you?
I’m 26.

What was the hardest trick in this video?
Fuck. There have been a few where I had to go back probably like a max of three or four times, but there’s the varial heel over that bump to fence in Albuquerque. That was really tough. I’ve always wanted to skate that spot and I didn’t realize that you have to ollie into it. So ollieing in and then trying to get ready for a varial heel—I don’t know if it will be in the bonus or whatever, but there’s probably 120 attempts where I’d ollie in and then get to the top and my feet would be in the wrong position and I’d have to just jump over the fence, all the way to the ground. So that was probably one of the most stressful things.

Did you have to ollie and then land with your feet in the varial heel position?
Yeah, you can’t ollie and then wiggle your feet as soon as you touch the ground. I’d literally ollie over the curb going into the bank and hope that my feet were in varial heel. So the one I landed, you can kind of tell I catch it so low. It’s like the slowest varial heel I’ve ever done. That was one that really fucking got to me. Just jumping, flying over that thing and being 13 feet in the air.

And you knew as soon as you ollied in whether or not you were even going to be able to try it.
Exactly. Yeah, so that was one that was definitely a bitch to get. There’s also the 180 that you shot—that big old one into the street. I went there three times and I shouldn’t have bailed ‘cause every time I seriously bruised both of my heels. Every fucking time. So I’d bail one and then have to run back up before the pain really kicked in. I knew I had to go back and get that but I never looked forward to it. It always bummed me out a little bit.

Mad snaps in downtown LA. Photo: Burnett

If you just were skating for fun what would you skate?
Probably just ledges. Yeah, ledges are my favorite thing to skate. I never really skated ledges that much until Fully Flared came out and Lucas Puig became my favorite skater, so I started, like, trying to learn all of the shit he was doing.

Who’s your top-three favorite skaters of all time?
Shit. I’d say Kyle.

Kyle Walker?
Yeah, definitely.

How good is that guy?
He’s amazing, right? Watching him skate, like, once you watch his video part, obviously you know that he’s ridiculous. But then watching him in real life and seeing how easily he can do some things and how much he battles other things—I respect that. And then yeah, Lucas is in my top three ‘cause he’s the freshest. He skates in swooshy pants and all that kind of shit. He skates in shit I grew up skating in in like ‘98 or ‘99. And then Geoff Rowley is the top because he’s always been one of my favorites and now I’m gonna be in the same video as him, so I’m pretty stoked on that.

Fuckin-a right. Not bad. How’d those Vans Chimas move?
Um, good.

You buying dune buggies?
Well, I just spent all my money on a house which is a very responsible thing to do.
I’ve paid all my taxes. But no, they’re good. It’s been the number-one selling Vans skate shoe since it came out, so I’m not really complaining with that.

One of those days. Photo: Burnett

You made it!
Yeah, my mom’s pretty proud of that so if I ever make some Nyjah money I want to buy her a house.

Yeah, that’s the dream. That’s Elvis. You buy your mom a house.
Buying your mom a house is when you know you’ve really made it. Things can only get better from there, I think.

What came first, you met Odd Future or they put you in their rap songs?
They put me in a rap song, actually. I had no idea who they were and then Cody was, like, “Oh fuck, you’ve got to listen to this. It’s hilarious.” And then I was listening to this song and they just call my name out in it and I was, like, “What the fuck?” Like, I don’t know what’s going on here and then I found out that they’re all into skating and shit so, they came out to Australia in 2011 and they were playing at the Opera House. I used to have a Twitter so I hit up Tyler and I was just, like, “Oh, let me get some tickets or whatever.” I went down with my brother and watched them do a sound check or some shit and it went from there. Everyone thinks that I’m really good buddies with all of them but I don’t really know them too well. I like them and I know that a lot of kids like them so I was, like, “Fuck, let’s do a Real board.” Make me a little bit cooler and you know, a couple swag points right there.

What do you think about when people start cheering like maniacs when Lil Wayne 180s down seven stairs without hitting his tail in a skatepark?
It’s fucking pretty annoying to see. I mean, I like Lil Wayne’s old music. I don’t know.
I started skating in 1998. People have been doing it forever, but it was considered the lamest thing growing up. I got a lot of shit for doing it, but I kept by it. I understand Lil Wayne. He does have a good time skating and all that, but just the view that it gives outside people of what skating is is just stupid. And there are a lot of people who think it’s cool because Jaden Smith does it or Lil Wayne does it, you know? When all of us have actually been here through the good times, when it’s cool and when it’s not cool. And we’ll still be here after that. But, yeah, when you’ve got Justin Bieber getting a million likes for ollieing a three stair with a thousand girls around him, that’s fucking pretty lame. That’s all the more motivation to keep it real, I guess. Bullshit will always fade out, you know? Lil Wayne is obviously not gonna skate forever. If skateboarding becomes really shit and uncool tomorrow, I’ll still be here but Lil Wayne might not be. Justin Bieber definitely won’t be.

Is Shane O’Neil a human or a robot?
He is an absolute legend in my eyes. I’m very proud of him! He came from not a lot at all and now he’s got a million-dollar fucking skatepark in his backyard, so he’s doing something right. I’ve heard people say he’s a square but he’s not at all. But then when you see him skate and you see the way he pulls shit off it seriously is like a robotic thing—like a code you put in a computer to make something happen, ‘cause he’s got it like that which is fucking sick. I mean, I wish I could skate like that. He’s gnarly.

To what do you attribute your positive outlook? Because I think of you as a pretty positive person. You’re serious but you have a good time.
I’m serious when I have to be. I’d say definitely growing up in Australia and being in the States sometimes there’s certain days I have here where I’m in traffic or I’ll come across the wrong person and it always makes me want to just pack it up and go back to Australia. But that’s one thing that definitely keeps me positive is that I’ve always got a beautiful home to go to. Definitely my mother, she raised me very well, told me not to take things too seriously. And just the fact that every now and then I think I’m just a skateboarder and I grew up doing this my whole life and it’s brought me this far and I’m living off it and I’m meeting new people all the time. So that’s always something to be stoked about, not being in an office under artificial lighting all day. That’s what gets me going in the morning.

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