Balancing Act

Chris Cole midway through a balancing act boardslide. Launch Dew Gallery » Ty Bush

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On Sunday, Chris Cole was crowned the 2009 Skateboard Park Dew Cup winner and overall series champion at the final stop of the summer Dew Tour at Amway Arena in Orlando, Fla. ESPN's Mary Buckheit was in Orlando to cover the event and sat down with Cole over a Wendy's Frosty after Saturday's Skate Park Finals. Cole discusses his first year on the tour, what it means to be a family man and skateboarders versus stick-and-ball athletes.

As action sports melds into the mainstream, do you think skateboarders like you are more like stick-and-ball athletes or do you think they're totally different animals?
I'd say we're all actually more of the same. Skaters might cool-guy it and say we have nothing in common, but I disagree. Yeah, they're very different talents but it's really just about what you do with your life, what you're good at and what makes you happy. As long as it's a positive talent being put out, I think it's all the same in the end. I don't care that baseball players don't come home with elbow scabs every day. I have respect for what they do and I hope they would have respect for what I do.

What makes for the obvious differences between action athletes and the guys on "SportsCenter"?

I don't know, the money, I guess. We don't have those big signing bonuses -- not even close.

You've won some of the sport's most lucrative contests; you're a big-time sponsored pro. Do you have to worry about money day-to-day?
Absolutely. I'm always worried about it. Every day. I have a family. We don't make the kind of money that you see pros splurging their lives away with. My friends would probably tell you I live under my means. I keep it really simple but I still worry about it all the time. Just making sure we're OK.

You won the Maloof Money Cup and a slew of Dew Tour trophies this year, plus you're the 2009 Dew Cup champ. You've really never splurged on anything after receiving one of those big cardboard checks?
I have bought a $4,000 guitar, but it was worth it.

What's a big money contest for a skater?
The stakes are completely different at different contests. It all depends on what's at stake. For example, you go out and compete in a Wallenberg contest for street cred. You know that you are going to come home exhausted and your body is going to be completely beat up and you might win $10,000. But you do it, and it's totally worth it and it's important. Then there are big money contests like the X Games and the Dew Tour.

How much is at stake out here?
I think the Dew Cup winner gets like $75,000 -- I think. That's worth it, I'd say.

Some of the old guard of street skating frown on big money contests and selling out for sponsors. You're only 27 but you're kind of right in the middle between the glitzy kids and the old guard. What's your take?
Our world is totally changing right now. No one can deny that. Guys like Chaz Ortiz, Paul [Rodriguez] and Ryan Sheckler, they've become stars. Like, real stars. The old guard wants to hold on to the way it was -- on the streets. I care about street skating, that has to be respected, but at some point you have to look after your family. You have to pay your mortgage and I really don't think some guys understand what it's like trying to get by. You can't just get down on things that keep skateboarding alive. That way of thinking isn't helping anyone at this point.

When you do something that's more corporate, like say, come on the Dew Tour, do you have to explain yourself? This is your first year on the Tour; did you have to justify it to some people?
Yeah, of course. You have to explain that you can't just go out and ride around whenever and wherever you want because that breaks up family time. And you have to explain that you have to do things so that you're wife doesn't have to go get a job when you've got a new baby because then you wouldn't be able to take off on a skate tour for work. They don't think about that, though. Some guys just judge what they see; it's this or that, real or crap. "That's wack. You're wack." The whole "keep it real" crew. I'm sorry but I don't think they are trying to understand. If they hated on me in the first place they'll continue to hate on me, but I've learned that most of the time, some of those guys just never see where you're coming from.

What's your way of deciding a good fit for you? What keeps you well-respected but also allows you to keep your head above water?
I would never take on a sponsorship that didn't let me be me. And I would never cash in on something I couldn't live with, but just because something is a bit more corporate than something else doesn't mean you should just dismiss it. And the stuff that's not right for me doesn't necessarily make it wrong for somebody else. You have to consider your family and you have to be able to comfortably continue to live your life riding skateboards.

What would you do if you weren't riding skateboards?
I don't know, maybe go to school for carpentry, or something. I'd want to be building something, or welding something or doing tile work. I wish I could build a deck on my house.

Where are you living these days? I know you're a Philadelphia guy, but you were on my plane out of San Diego -- what gives?
Yeah, unfortunately that's where I live now.

Unfortunately San Diego?

Yeah. Unfortunately.

Then why did you move there?
Business. Strictly business.

You might be the only person on the planet who moves to San Diego "for business" and hates it.
It's just not my style. It's not where I fit. The weather is perfect but that's about all I enjoy. The way I see it, I live in San Diego on business. It has everything to do with how much I love home, though. I miss Philadelphia; that is home.

What is it you dislike about San Diego?
Keeping up with the Joneses. You know, the whole attitude of the neighborhoods. I live in North County and it's like, everyone has their nice shiny cars and their big houses and something just doesn't add up. I mean, I don't think my neighbors are actually making that much money, I don't know, but I don't get it. It's gotta be just how people choose to spend it, no matter what they're making. I would never spend money like that. It seems like it's all a big show.

Do you like the skate scene out there, at least?
Nah, not really. I miss skating back home. It's totally different on the East Coast. It's centered around fun. It's not like that in San Diego. You go to a spot in California and everyone is just asking for it. They're just waiting for you to give them the trick. It's not casual and inventive and fun in California, there's too much other stuff to deal with -- cops, knobs, all that stuff. When I go skate I just want to have fun, that makes me perform better.

You have fun, but that's your profession. Is your son old enough to understand that skateboarding is actually your job?
Yeah, he gets it. He's three and a half. It's funny because what I do is kind of like his job all day. We both do what we do, we have fun doing it. Every now and then my fun is a little dangerous but I think he understands that this is what his dad does.