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The Green Life: Bob Burnquist: Skateboarding's Organic Ripper

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August 24, 2010

Bob Burnquist: Skateboarding's Organic Ripper

Jamie Mosberg / Digital Action Sports Network
Fifteen years ago, an unknown skateboarder arrived in the U.S. from Brazil and began crushing the competition. Bob Burnquist came with a fresh crop of tricks and an appreciation for the environment that was unprecedented for a skater. He went on to co-found the Action Sports Environmental Coalition (ASEC) in 2001 and now runs a small organic farm in Southern California.

Q: How do your environmental views dovetail with your career?

A: I felt I had to connect on some level with my sponsors or else it wouldn't make sense. I've turned down some, like energy drinks, that would have paid a lot of money. Ipath has been using hemp for a long time, and Toyota hybrids are a natural fit. I skated a couple of contests on bamboo boards. It's all about being who I am and trying to hold my ground.

I understand that demand drives change. Voting with your dollars in a capitalist society is the best vote.  It's made me think about living an ideal but also juggling my family responsibilities. 

Q: Did growing up in Brazil shape your perspective?

A: I was raised in a country that's beautiful, tropical, and diverse, and I'd always eaten fresh food. So there was a culture shock when I came to the U.S. The waste bothered me, and my stomach couldn't handle all the fast food. I remember driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles and eating an In-N-Out burger. Then I drove past a huge farm with rows and rows of cows and thought, I have one of them in my stomach right now. It made me shift gears. On [skateboarding] tours, I made supermarket stops instead of eating at fast food places with everybody else.

Q: Describe the farm where you live.

A: I live with my wife and three children on a 12-acre ranch in San Diego County. When I looked at properties, I was looking for that Brazil-type environment. I grew up in Sao Paulo, the city, but we got out a lot and I wanted a place that was quiet, so I was thinking, "Quality of living and a skateboard ramp."

I built a vert ramp, a loop, and a corkscrew. I found a metal full pipe and eventually I built a mega ramp. It's a wild place. There's a small garden and lots of green. I have avocado and lemon trees and horses and goats. Sometimes it's hard because a lot of people come by but I do take days off when nobody is around and I walk around and eat the fruit off the trees. It’s pretty soothing. 

Q: What have you done to raise environmental awareness in the action-sports world?

A: The ASEC created a "green room" at a surf shop in Laguna Beach with sustainable products. Shoppers don't have to look through each brand to find the few green items; they're centralized in one section.

Q: What's your largest conflict as a pro skater and somebody who's passionate about the environment?

A: I travel a lot, I use a lot of skateboards—I try not to be wasteful but I do go through a lot. You've got to keep pushing and understand that you can't do it all and it doesn’t change overnight. It's all about the transition. You can't unplug all at once with one giant plug. You've got to make a lot of smaller plugs and pull those out one at a time. You've got to live a hybrid lifestyle and understand that some things are good and some are not and try to balance it so that you have more of the good in your life.

Q: Have you noticed a shift in environmental awareness in the skate industry since 1995 when you became a part of it?

A: I see it in a lot of places. But it takes time to penetrate. The mentality for a long time was that it was more expensive to be green, but eventually as demand grows, it becomes cheaper because you can buy in larger bulks. Just one shift in a large company, like McDonald's not using Styrofoam, is huge. That one little thing makes a huge difference, but skateboarding is such a small industry that people used to think, "We're struggling as it is, who cares about sustainability?" Sometimes that makes it harder for industry people to open their eyes.

For a long time, ASEC brought new connections and worked to get everybody together and bring prices down and break the myth that being green is more expensive. Some things are more expensive, of course, but if you look at the long-term bottom line, it's a lot cheaper and better for all of us.

--interview by Sean Mortimer

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