Chippa Wilson Stacks Up
25 questions with the Australian air boss
For those of you that read our magazine even semi regularly, you'll certainly recognize the visage of the sleeved-up Australian goofyfoot named Chippa Wilson. We ran a boatload of photos of him last year, and for good reason, the dude is a machine. And he proved his worth in the last part in our movie Let's Surf Seriously, one of the craziest video parts to hit in the last year. Despite all that coverage, we never actually told you much about the guy. Which is a shame, because he's got a cool story. With a new sponsor, and a sick little air comp he's created, we figured it was time to hit him up and throw a few questions his way.
He was virtually unknown in the surf world back in 2009, then won an online video contest, and within two years became one of the most high profile surfers on the planet. From his own video, to a finalist in the 2012 Kustom Air Strike, to multiple Surfer Poll nominations, to leading the TransWorld Business exposure meter, Chippa blew the f—k up. And yeah, his air game strikes people with awe, but in the last few years he's also improved his on rail attack immensely, which is when things started to get interesting. Chippa Wilson is not a hollow marketing symbol—he's the real deal, one of the gnarliest guys in the world right now. It's a heavy call, but if you ask the guys at the top, most reckon Chippa has elevated himself to the elite. We caught up with him in London, where he was chilling for a few days in between two far-flung trips.—Casey Koteen
TransWorld SURF: You have a ton going on right now, at least that's how it feels looking in.
Chippa Wilson: Yeah I have the Flight To The Flats video air comp, which has been fun. I've got a company that me and Josh [Kerr] and a few other mates are doing, VNDA, an underwear brand. I've got a million trips coming up too, so it's been quite full on.
It seems like pro skaters tend to be more involved than surfers in starting their own brands, are you going down that path?
Surfing is the best thing in the world to me, but I also thought of myself doing some other things as well, like a competition I made up, or being involved in a cool brand, that's what I see myself doing in the future.
You grew up in Cabarita, which is just a bit south of Coolangatta. What kind of town is it?
We moved from the country when I was one, and it's a super small town now, but back then it would've been tiny. It's just a coastal, country town. Coolangatta feels like the city compared to Cabarita. And Byron Bay is ten times as hectic, if that puts it in perspective. It's getting developed now though, it's going to start taking off.
A lot of the guys from that area grew up surfing, fishing, and into football. Were you on that program?
Not really, I spent most of my time on a skateboard or surfing. I was never into team sports, I just grew up hanging in the bush, building tree houses and shit. And then surfing and skating. Where my house was there's a nature reserve, it's all forest, so we'd just hang out. We'd have BB gun wars, build forts, it was pretty sick. It was the best upbringing ever, really. I actually started surfing before skating, but at one point I was skating like four hours a day.
You didn't take the typical path into pro surfing. You worked as a laborer for a while first, right?
Yeah, although when I was 16 I was lucky, a company called Cult somehow sponsored me, and I rode for them for a while before they went under. But from then on I worked. I did everything; from the board industry, in restaurants doing the dishes, and with my dad who's a carpenter. I also did tiling, tree loping, I pretty much did it all. I never allowed myself to get good at any trades though, which I guess was good for me. But I was definitely thinking about being a carpenter.
Did you have hopes of going pro back then?
My whole goal growing up was to be in movies, that was it. I guess kids growing up, they might be out there trying to get scores in their head when they're surfing, like, "I gotta get a five," or whatever. But in my mind, I'd count how many airs I'd do, and then think about someone like Taj and how many cool airs they'd have done in a session. I'd imagine a fake camera on the beach filming a section, which I guess is weird. If I did six good airs I'd be thinking how many airs Taj would've done, that's how I grew up thinking.
Part of that must've been because there haven't been any pros that've come out of your town.
No, and not many people came through town, so I never got to know how consistent guys were. In my head I was thinking they were landing every single thing, from watching movies. So I thought I had to be super consistent.
What was your first real break?
I guess it was a little video clip me and Nick Brooks put out in 2009, I think transworldsurf.com was actually the first to run it. It was just a two-minute piece, and that sort of went bananas. And then Little Weeds was after that, and from then on it was all crazy.
Within a short amount of time you went from being virtually unknown to starring in your own movie, shooting with Kai Neville, finaling in the Kustom Airstrike, the list goes on. That's a massive change of lifestyle—what's been the most challenging thing to deal with from all those changes?
Yeah, so weird, but it's all been good really. I guess the hardest thing is… I don't know, trying not to get a big head or something. Most of my friends at home will ask what I've been up to and I'll tell them 10 percent of what I've been up to and they're like: "Holy shit, that's crazy!" And I'm like, "Yep…" Home is the best thing ever, but I've spent more time flying than f—king surfing.
Does it trip you out to get recognized?
I was watching the Brazil comp, that looked scary. At events when everything's hyped up and antsy, I trip out a bit. Being recognized is cool though; I get stoked out when that happens. I guess that was part of the goal growing up.
Has your perspective about the industry or pro surfing changed now that you're inside the bubble of it all? Or do even consider yourself to be inside that bubble?
Not really. There are so many different styles of pro surfing. It's almost like snowboarding where there are the street kids, big air kids, and the like. There are big wave guys, contest surfers, air surfers, power surfers. I guess contest surfers are the real pro surfers.
You lost your main sponsor last year. Did growing up without a sponsor make that time any easier?
I guess it did. And I had such a good year that I think it made it a little bit easier to find a sponsor, or made my outlook more positive about getting one. But in the end it was sketchy, it went from a lot of offers to two. That was gnarly, quite scary. In the end it paid off and I got with a good company. I wasn't too freaked out at the start, it was actually nice to hang at home for a while and chill.
This is sort of a ridiculous question since you had a massive 2012 and established yourself as one of the most high profile guys in the world, but as things dragged on did any thoughts ever creep into your mind about the possibility of fading back into surfing at home, and getting out of the pro game?
It's not even a bad thing if that happens. I've worked before so I know what it takes. All my friends work, so we'd be on the same page. I'd surf after work and on the weekends. It'd be hard to swallow for a little while, but you gotta live, it's not bad man.
Did having Bruce Irons on the Fox team help your decision to go there?
We were talking before I signed and they were like, "We're going to bring someone huge on, you're going to be stoked." I wondered who it was going to be. Bruce is a badass, he's been one of my favorites since I was young, so that was a big kick.
You seem to always have new stuff up your sleeve. How do you go about working on a new maneuver?
When I was growing up I would do those backside shuvits or whatever, and then one day I'd do one a little bit further. I was thinking, "Shit if I went one more bit further it'd be a big spin." So you try a little bit harder and spin a bit farther, and do a big spin. This year there's been about four times that I've come super close to a 540 frontside spin, but flat. So a full rotation and that extra bit more, which started to make my brain tick into 540 mode. My goal is to hopefully get one of them by the end of the year. Sometimes a little mistake will trigger something new in my head.
I don't see you doing stock airs. Is there any maneuver you see being done out there that makes you cringe?
Hmm, the good old chop hop alley oops are f—king annoying. A real alley oop is sick, but those fake ones are shitty. Most airs are fun, if you're in the air you're having a great time. I was watching a surfer in the Brazil contest, and I won't name any names, but he was doing the same air reverse every time, which gets super old.
So it's more about being overly repetitive?
Yeah, they were even saying it in the comp, it's more about variety. You can always do an air reverse.
Right, like when people are skating a line they'd never do the same trick over and over.
Yeah, kick flip, kick flip, kick flip. That'd be so whack, people would beat you down.
Your surfing has improved a lot in the last few years, how consciously have you worked on that?
A lot. I don't do contests, so my main focus is trying to get better and trying to improve my turns. I was never that good at them growing up, they were forgotten about. It used to be about doing one maneuver per wave in my head, and now it's more about combos. It looks so much better if you do a combo, like a big turn then a huge air, that looks insane. So yeah, I try super hard. I know some guys train really hard, but I feel like more time in the water is going to make you better.
Do you ever want to break away from having the air label attached to you?
I did, but I love it, it's the funnest shit ever. I don't want to be known as Joe Crimo or something like that.
Have you ever talked to Josh Kerr about that? He's done really well at moving beyond a one-dimensional label.
Yeah he's done well. I've looked up to Kerrzy my whole life. I haven't talked to him about it, but I've been watching him and copying. I don't know where surfing is going to go in the next 10 years, but I just got off that Nixon Surf Challenge, and that was really cool. It was a comp, but you're surfing on your own time and every wave is filmed, and at the end there's an overall winner, and best trick, and I like that, that shits cool. I couldn't imagine myself down in Brazil, that looked trippy.
You're consistent as hell, which lends itself to doing well in traditional comps. On the talent and consistency side it seems like you have what it takes to do well there, are you just not interested at all in that?
Not really, no. At least not right now. If you're at a comp and you're not in a heat then you're surfing with tons of pros in the water. I guess I'd rather be in the tropics with four people on a boat, bettering my surfing, and getting some mental clips, and hopefully doing something new. That's me right now, maybe in the future…I don't know.
And of course you'd have to do the whole WQS to get there.
Yeah that's a whole different story, that's miserable.
For someone that's successful enough not doing comps, I think it's a hard argument as to why you would.
That's exactly right, why?
So in terms of comps going on right now we've been working with you on the Flight To The Flats thing. You got a big break from an online video comp, was that part of the motivation when you were coming up with this?
Yeah, online comps are really good for semi unknown people. Even the known people, really. They're insane, they get a lot of views, and no one has to be there at the comp to watch. That's why I chose to do it online, and that's kinda how I got started. So I wanted my comp to be different, more head to head like skating. So everyone gets to see it, and then the finalists at the end go to Bali to do a whole little video section, so you get it all in one. You get to see the head to head battles, which is mental, and then see the overall performance of the finalists, which is going to be cool.
Okay, so tell me to f—k off if I'm wrong, but I feel like you held back a little bit in submitting your own clips.
I didn't hold back, but I don't want to win my own comp.
Stay tuned to transworldsurf.com to see who won Chippa's contest, Flight To The Flats, a winner will be announced July 24 after a special premiere at Fox Headquarters!