Interview by Rick Howard, photos by Ando Nesia
There’s a beautiful moment at the beginning of this interview where professional skateboarder Chico Brenes says, ‘If you had of told me back in the 90s when I was skating Embarcadero, that I would be doing this, I would’ve laughed in your face.’
Chico is in love with surfing. The interviewer, professional skateboarder Rick Howard, is also having a love affair with surfing, and hearing these two legends of skate fantasise about the day they finally get tubed is amazing. Because where else would you read a conversation between two people who just got into surfing? Amateur Surfer Magazine? It doesn’t exist. It should, though, because the contact-stoke wafting off this interview is priceless.
When did you start surfing?
Dude, this is going to be my third year. I always kind of tried it when I would go to Nicaragua, but I would only go to Nicaragua once or twice a year; I would try it out there, but I was never even getting to the breaks. If I couldn’t touch the ground, I wouldn’t even get out there. And my friend, Rex Calderon, he grew up surfing over there, really gnarly, really good; he also picked up skating. I picked up surfing but grew up skating. But every time I went back, he was getting really good at skateboarding and I was sucking at surfing still because I was only doing it when I would go to Nica. And then another friend, Rodney, over here—who used to surf Mavericks back in the day—he told me one day up at Potrero, ‘You got to come surf. Come into the NorCal shop. We’ll hook you up with boards, a suit and everything. Just come.’
And then one day, dude, it was 105 [degrees] in the city. I was skating and I was like, fuck that. I’m going to go to Pacifica and just grab a board and a wetsuit, and that’s how it started. The next thing you know, I’m going every day to pick up a softie and a wetsuit from the shop. At the time I was like, ‘I don’t know what to get, I always seem to buy things on impulse—I’m going to probably end up getting the wrong board.’ So, I grabbed the biggest board there and I was catching waves and having fun, dude. The next thing you know, I ended up getting my own board a few months later. Now I can’t believe I’m that guy in the morning, checking the waves, seeing what spot is going to work. If you had of told me back in the 90s when I was skating Embarcadero that I would be doing this, I would’ve laughed in your face. We would get up at noon, go skate Embarcadero, stay up until midnight or one, go to the Civic Center or something and keep skating. That was the lifestyle that we were living.
I kick myself for not starting earlier. I’m having the same fun I have on my skateboard, man. I’m really enjoying it. I’m getting that same high. And it’s all new. It’s a new learning process, so you just want to progress and progress and progress, just like how skating was back in the day.
Are you out there almost every day then?
Pretty much, dude. Every morning. I like the morning. Dawn patrol. There’s a crew of us that always text. These dudes are gnarly. Some of them are gnarly, they’ll go to Ocean Beach. My lady actually won’t let me; she told me to stay away from that place. She knows. She’s like, ‘Don’t go to Ocean Beach.’ But if you want to progress, you got to go for it sometimes.
What’s your go-to spot?
Ocean Beach is fun. I like going to Linda Mar Beach in Pacifica, because it’s seriously 10 minutes away from the house.
That place is amazing.
It’s really fun, man. It gets kind of crowded, but it’s fun. I got to know all the people over there and it’s cool. It’s a cool little vibe. I’m down to drive to Santa Cruz because it’s really amazing over there, but if I could just go 10 minutes away and be stoked and everything, I’d rather do that.
Yeah, you can’t ask for anything more than that.
I couldn’t imagine not living close to the water now, man. I remember living in Downtown LA, I was like, fuck, if I had to drive an hour to the beach, that would suck.
Yeah. It’s pretty life-changing.
Dude, I feel good. I feel stronger, I feel good on my skateboard. I feel happy when I get out of there. It’s just an amazing feeling, man, just seeing dolphins, whales, wildlife. And there’s times I’ll surf for two hours and then I’ll go skate for another two hours. I couldn’t do that when I was in my twenties, man.
Yeah, that’s some stamina.
I stopped drinking too, six years ago, and when you get older, man, you start taking care of your body. If you want to do this kind of stuff that we’re doing, skateboarding and surfing, you got to take care of your body at some point.
But I feel good, Rick.
I know the feeling. I’m chasing it myself.
How long have you been at it?
I think you got a little bit of time on me. The last few years I’ve been really hooked, and we started in the 90s with Tim [Gavin] and a few people. He was friends with some heads in Malibu. Remember Surfer Pete?
You tagged him that. That’s funny.
I know. I gave him that name. Imagine if we started around that time when he was going. We would be getting tubed every day, man.
Seriously. I tested it out then, and then we went on a trip to Hawaii and I couldn’t… After that, I was like, ‘I can’t learn to surf these waves,’ so I kind of just gave up. It was frustrating. It’s that learning curve.
It is, man. I remember going to Linda Mar and not knowing anything about the tide, so I would go at any time of the day. I would go on low tide, close out, and I would try to take off and I’d just get smoked. I was like, ‘What the fuck, man? Yesterday I was just dropping in.’ And then you start learning how to figure the tides, figure out the waves, what they’re doing. And your board is crucial. I think the mistake that a lot of skateboarders who start surfing make is they grab a little board, dude, and they say, ‘I skate. I got this. I can do this.’ I’m glad my friend was like, ‘Just grab a big board, have fun and then start moving down.’ And that’s what I did. I grabbed a 10 footer and then I moved down to a 9’7”. I went down all the way down to a 5’9”, and then I started climbing back up to the mid-lengths.
What’s your next challenge? What do you want to learn in the water?
I want to get tubed, man. I think that’s everybody’s goal, to get tubed. I’ve been close, got a little shampoo on the hair, but nothing… There’s been times that I think it’s almost been there, but I remember I was at Linda one day, it was kind of big. There were a lot of short boarders around and I remember I dropped in and it felt like I was going to get it, but then I was just spinning to get out, and a dude who saw me was like, ‘Dude, if you had of stalled a little bit, you would have got tubed.’ But I can’t think that fast yet.
It’s gonna happen, especially with how much you’re surfing. Have you had any scares?
Oh yeah, man. This winter, there were some 15, 18 footer days at Ocean Beach, and I’m definitely not stepping.
Yeah, man. I definitely have a lot of respect for the ocean. I’m not going to go out there when it’s crazy big. If I get denied paddling out, then I got no business out there, you know what I mean? There’s been times I would do the walk of shame, walk back. I tried to get out, got denied, walked back to the car and just went to hit something else that’s mellower.
It’s humbling, man.
It is humbling. I never thought it would be this hard. Back in the day I was like, ‘They’re just dropping in from these waves—how hard could it be?’ But I’ll drop in from a 10-foot ramp or whatever, but I won’t drop in from a 10-foot wave, dude.
What are some dream spots you want to hit? Little trips or waves…
Dude, Bali, I would love to go to Bali. Definitely try to hit Hawaii.
You’ve not hit Hawaii yet?
I haven’t hit Hawaii to surf. I’ve been out there to chill and then skate and hang, but not to surf.
Oh, you’re going to lose it.
We were going to go right before the pandemic happened. Last year, we had a trip with Maya [Brenes] and my wife, and the pandemic happened, and everything got cancelled and went to shit. I actually got back from Nicaragua around March, from a surf and skate trip that I did down there, and a week later everything shut down, dude. That pandemic happened, corona hit, and I was like, ‘Oh, it’s just going to be a month or two.’ And next thing you know, it’s a year later…
Have you been cutting out any boards to skate? I see you’ve been shaping a couple of planks.
I’ve actually been trying to make these 60s with the rollerblader trucks and everything like that. Recently I’ve been doing that. For me, that brings me… I don’t know, happiness, and keeps me stoked on skating, just trying all these different shapes and being able to do the tricks that I still can do, like the nollie heelflips, 360 flips, on all these different shapes, I’m stoked on that. For me, that’s like when you’re a little kid and you’re first learning your first tricks on a skateboard.
Makes it interesting.
And it all started kind of like that Big Boy board from you guys, that Big Boy shape. I remember I got hurt. My last regular shape was an 8.25, and then I got hurt and then when I started coming back, I started setting up a cruiser. It was that Big Boy nine, I think it was a Brian Anderson, and then I put soft wheels and everything like that, just to cruise and get my strength back. Then I took the soft wheels off and started doing little ollies. Next thing you know, I’m doing nollie heels and the board and I started tripping. I was like, ‘Oh shit.’ Next thing you know, I’m just tre flipping it, everything, dude.
You’ve been on the same board for a while now.
But that board, that Big Boy, I’ve been riding that for six years. I’ll mess around with all kinds of retro 80s boards, whatever. Any shape, I’ll mess around. I’ll always go back to that. For me, that’s fun, dude. I’ll fucking put a two-by-four together, just to see what was possible and I was able to do tre flips and nollie heels and everything, man.
Yeah, I’ve never tried that. That’s amazing.
For me, that’s just messing around… It all started because like, ‘Damn, Chico, you can probably do nollie heels on a two-by-four.’ I was like, ‘Fuck it, I’m just going to try to skate a two-by-four.’
I went to Home Depot and I picked up a two-by-four and drilled holes and everything. I had to actually find big screws to fit through the two-by-four and through the trucks and everything. Now, I wish I would have set up some 109s, but I ended up setting 129s. That’s all I had at the time, because I was so excited to try this. It kind of stuck out like a monster truck a little bit, but then it started working. At first, I was like, ‘Holy shit, I’m not going to be able to do anything, dude.’ Next thing you know, a tre flip worked. But the thing is, you got to be so light because it was over-rotating too much. It was over-rotating too much, and then just trying to land on that thing was kind of sketchy too.
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Think you’ll ever shape a surfboard?
Oh man, a lot of the people that are on my little chat, whatever, they be actually doing it. Actually Austin Kanfoush, he be shaping his own stuff and trying.
Oh really? Shit.
I would love to, man. I would love to.
What do you think, in Nicaragua, what came first? Surfing or skating? What did people see first out there? Skating from you, or surfing?
Surfing, for sure, a hundred per cent, because I feel like I’m the one who introduced… Not the one that introduced, but I remember going back home early 1990 to 91, and there wasn’t a single person that skated, Rick. I remember asking my uncle, my cousin, ‘Hey, does anybody skate?’ I remember skating in front of the… Going to the little schools and skating in front of the kids doing demos and everything like that, but nobody skated, man. Nobody, nobody. Next thing you know, I would come the next year and I would see one person. And then after that, another person, and then the next thing you know, it’s like a community. Seeing it go from nobody to skate parks, and me doing one of the first skate shops down there, it’s incredible, man.
That’s amazing. How is it lately? When’s the last time you went?
Last time I went was right before COVID, around March.
And how is it? Has it been more kids?
It was definitely more kids. Definitely more kids, a lot more parks being built all through different little towns. And then by the beaches, a lot of the foreigners that live there have also built their own little bowls and little stuff to skate. There’s a guy from the Surf Ranch from Canada, they built a full-on skate park at their resort. That just helps a lot more kids get into skating. It’s rad, man. It’s rad seeing people grow up surfing, skating, and it’s just rad seeing… I feel like a lot more skaters are getting into surfing nowadays, man. It’s rad that Jonah is actually surfing, man.
Yeah, I know.
It’s so rad, dude.
Let’s get a session, all of us.
I know we got to get a session, definitely. Yeah, I guess his spot is, he likes surfing Malibu, man.
Yeah, we’ll get it next time.
Yeah, get Jonah, get Spike, Frost, get everybody, man. Let’s go and take a trip somewhere.
I was going to ask you, because we did this thing at Girl where we share… Where we have these little catch-up meetings with people once a week and we just share, like, what’s your stoke?
Well, I’m definitely stoked on surfing, stoked on my family. Just life, man. It’s a blessing that we’re still here doing what we love. Through this whole crazy pandemic, through a lot of buddies that I’ve lost, and then we just got to appreciate every moment, every minute, man, for real. Enjoy it with your loved ones and enjoy it with your friends and family.