Chris Joslin: Born Under a Bad Sign

The 19-year-old skateboarding sensation on his rough-and-tumble life, international drug laws, ringworm and avoiding cops at all cost

Chris Joslin and his weapon of choice. Credit: Eric Hendrikx

Chris Joslin never met his father. He was shot and killed by police officers during a methamphetamine-fueled encounter in 2004. Joslin was seven years old then. His mother was also battling with addiction, living in a rehab center in Long Beach, California. The state prison system was home to his older brother who, before his residence behind bars, introduced Joslin to skateboarding. But a turbulent family history only fueled his engine and steered him toward realizing his dreams. And at a mere 19 years old, Joslin is well on his way to becoming one of the greats.

Raised by his grandmother in Hawaiian Gardens, California, Joslin spent the better part of his childhood in skate parks, where he developed his talents while his grandmother would sit nearby and write letters to Joslin's brother in prison. It was these formative years that he cherishes most. "It was a rough time in my brother's life," Joslin recalls, "but for my grandma, it was a special time when she could watch me skate and also think of my brother. She was really spending time with both of us."

Over the next decade, the young Padawan took to skate parks and the streets. He won contests, filmed video parts and gained sponsors at an exponential rate. Then, in 2014, Joslin not only earned a spot on Plan B's skateboard team, but was introduced to the world in their long-anticipated film, TRUE, where he thrilled audiences with a big spin down Barcelona's MACBA gap, an inward heelflip at the Lincoln set in San Francisco and a 360 flip down the UC Davis gap. Joslin didn't just throw down the gauntlet – he chucked the whole damn suit of armor. And he filmed his entire part on an injured ACL.

Joslin's feats earned him The Skateboard Mag's Am of the Year in 2014 and a nomination for Thrasher Magazine's Skater of the Year. And he hasn't slowed down in 2015: With the year only half-finished, the young prodigy has already dropped several video parts and became the first Am Skateboarder to film a Battle Commander for The Berrics.

Recently, Joslin invited me to his apartment in Anaheim, where he lives with his girlfriend, Julia, and their Maltipoo, Coco. It's a humble home, and it has served them well after being kicked out of his grandmother's house. Neither of them has a car, mostly relying on friends, family and Uber to get around town. Joslin greeted me with a mischievous smile as I entered his residence, and I knew, almost as fast as I could smell, that he'd been smoking weed in preparation for our interview. Not just weed – primo shit. I hadn't had a whiff of anything like that since my last trip to The Grasshopper café in Amsterdam a decade ago.

[Joslin and I sit at his kitchen table while he methodically rolls a spliff and gives me the squintiest stoner smile imaginable as he recounts a recent skateboarding trip to Europe.]
So I wake up one morning on the curb of a gas station in Copenhagen. I'm recovering from a complete blackout the night before and I'm stumbling around trying to find my rental bike. It had to be my sixth or seventh bike of the trip. I kept losing them. As it turned out, the key from the bike rental shop unlocked all of their rental bikes in the town. Every time I'd lose my bike, I'd recruit someone else's. At the end of the trip we had to pay for all the lost bikes. Anyway, I look around and recognize the sign from my hotel, and realize that I had made it back, just never made it in. I pulled out a spliff, lit it up and took a few rips. You know, my main concern when I travel is to make sure I'll be able to get weed wherever I go.

I think most Western European countries are pretty liberal. It's just when you get to the Eastern Bloc, or when you travel to places like Malaysia, they are super harsh about it.
In Russia, they like, chop your fingers off or some shit. No mercy. And then going through customs in Canada, they almost put me in jail for a few little crumbles at the bottom of my bag. And that's insane, because weed is basically legal there. But they trip in customs. That's one of the reasons why I hate cops. I just try to stay away from them. 

Skaters and police have never really meshed. But aside from shaking you down for skating or smoking weed, given what happened with your father, I'm sure you have some pent-up emotions about the cops.
Yeah, I mean, I wasn't there and I never met my dad. But it seems like a bunch of police could have found a way to detain one man rather than kill him. They're supposed to be trained to handle situations like that. More often than not, you hear about them shooting unarmed people.

So, your grandmother raised you?
Yes, my mom was battling with her addictions, living in a rehab center in Long Beach. I grew up in my grandma's house in Hawaiian Gardens. I saw my mom every weekend. It was always great to see her. It ended up going so well for her in rehab that she started working there. It helped her straighten her life out to be a better person. Now she lives with my grandma and we see each other a lot.

Before getting this apartment, you were kicked out of your grandmother's house and lived with Ryan Sheckler?
Ryan is a lifesaver. He helps so many people out. He offered an extra room in his house for Julia and me to stay until we got our own place. We only stayed a few weeks. I had a trip coming up soon to Japan, so we had to scramble to get this place. And then Fred Water really helped us out. They stepped in and paid our rent. 

Over the past few years, you have accomplished so much in skateboarding. Tell me about The Berrics. It's been a big part of your career thus far. You are the only Am skater to have dropped a Battle Commander video.
It's pretty crazy. I've built a close relationship with Chase [Gabor]. I always knew who Chase was, but when I got to meet him, when we filmed for Younited Nations, it was a lot like meeting a pro skater. He's famous for what he does and one of the greatest filmers. We traded numbers and he said I could come skate The Berrics anytime it was available. So he and I filmed a Recruit part and in the process we had some footage for a couple Bangin! parts. Not long after that, Chase called and asked me, "Yo, are you down to film a Battle Commander." I said, "Yeah, I'm down. But isn't that shit for the pros?" There was no plan for me to go pro yet, but we filmed it and now it's done.

Was there a moment when you recognized that skating would be your future?
I was ten years old. I took first place in my first contest ever at El Dorado Skate Park. I still have the trophy right here. It's one of the biggest trophies and most important trophies that I have. In elementary school, I always wrote down "professional skateboarder" as my chosen career path. I was really little. Then in middle school, everything was awkward. I kept to myself and I didn't really want to talk about things like that. The teachers laid out these standards, like a lawyer or fireman, so it became sort of embarrassing to talk about wanting to be a professional skater. In ninth grade, I started experimenting with things I shouldn't have. I tried cocaine and took a lot of Ecstasy. I became lost, hanging with the wrong guys and having no direction. And then in the tenth grade, something clicked. It became vividly clear to me that I wanted to be a professional skater and I wasn't concerned with what anyone else thought about me anymore. I was done letting outside things distract me from achieving my goals. My compass hasn't changed since that moment.

You seem levelheaded. At your age, that's impressive. It tells me that you're either mature for your age or you've been through some shit that makes everything else easy to handle.
Every situation could be worse. There's always a positive way to see things. I've looked at things where it seems like there is no light at the end of the tunnel, no bottom to the bottle. But you don't have to be in pain. You can keep cool and stay aware. I believe in fate. You don't always have to try to be in charge of everything. Fate will always get you where you need to be. I couldn't have gotten to this place on my own. There is always someone, or something, helping me. I don't ask for or demand help. Everybody gets where they need to go with a little help from something else. I grew up going to church maybe three times ever. So I never really got into believing in a god or a higher power – until recently. I now believe that there will always be something to help you. You're not left alone in the dust. You have to be aware of your surroundings and know where the good opportunities are, and then be open to them.

Erik Bragg [Director of Plan B's TRUE] said you're the greatest skateboarder who ever lived. Does that feel premature?
Bragg is out of his mind. He also said he wanted to adopt me when I was 17 and first got on Plan B. He said, "Dude, when do you turn 18? Can I adopt you for the rest of the time?"

I've read that a lot of your clips, especially the big ones, happen really fast. Is that true?
UC Davis gap was 12 tries. Ground Control was 20. Big spin on MACBA was third try. I did ghetto bird on Wallenberg [on the] third try. It happened so fast that one of the filmers missed the clip because he was still setting up. But since he missed it, I went back in and got another clip there.

And yet you filmed all your parts over the past two years on a torn ACL. How is that even possible?
I wore a brace for over a year. I got an MRI and the doctor who did Danny Way's surgeries read it and told me that it was my ACL. So I went to physical therapy for a year with Dr. David [Sales] in San Clemente, and he helped me build up all the muscles around it. That relieved a lot of the pressure and helped me skate. There was no pain at all with the brace on my knee. But it got expensive. I destroyed a dozen of them while skating. I actually had to stop wearing it because I got ringworm. It was gnarly. There were three ringworms on my knee. It was all underneath the cushion of the knee brace, where all the movement was. The top skin was dead and peeling away. Ringworm is a fungus that will keep growing until you kill that shit.

How many injuries have you had?
Just the torn ACL, a broken arm and I may have had a concussion when I was 12, but we didn't go to the hospital. We were on an RV trip in San Diego, a couple years after my grandma stopped making me wear a helmet. I was jumping off of a launch ramp at a skate park in Carlsbad. I went off the ramp, barely cleared the ledge and landed on the back of my board, slipping out and slamming onto the back of my head. It rattled my cage. I ran around the park yelling, "Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!" My homies checked my pupils. One was huge and one was small. They were all laughing. That night I went to sleep with a helmet on. I thought that if I died, at least they would find me wearing a helmet. When I woke up in the morning, I had I completely pissed myself. I must have been in a total dead zone. Luckily, I woke up way earlier than the rest of the guys, so I went outside and dried my pants out before they got up. Later that day we went to the Carlsbad gap and I ollied it with a helmet on.

And yet, you've hurled yourself down some gigantic staircases and gaps. Do you ever roll up on something and just say, "No fucking way!"
I feel like if it's not 20 stairs or more, like El Toro, it's not that gnarly. When we filmed the Davis gap, there was a nine-flat-nine next to it. Davis is huge, but even though the length was like a 25 stair, I still visualized the gap as only 18 steps. So you could say my safe zone right now is under 20. But don't get me wrong, I'm going for the 20s. I just don't want to go for everything all at once. Let's just say that the Davis gap was an appetizer for the future.

Have you ever tried to do anything down El Toro?
No. The last time we were there I was thinking about a tre flip. But my friends helped turn me away from the idea for now. They said, "Don't blow yourself out of the water right now. It's big, and people will remember it, but don't do the shit that's going to put you in the ranks where everyone will expect more than what you just did." Eventually, I'll give them what they want. My only hesitation in waiting is that someone else might go there and do the trick first.

 

Just finished up an interview for @rollingstone mag. Done by @erichendrikx #goodtimes#rollingstone

A photo posted by Chris Joslin (@chrisjoslin_) on

How did it feel to be nominated for Skater of the Year last year?
That was weird, not something I was expecting. When that went away, and I found I wasn't in the top eight, I was already thinking about the next year. Then I found out I got Best Am from The Skateboard Mag. I didn't even know that award existed. I found out when my friend called me and said that I had won.

Do you feel challenged now to go for SOTY?
I feel it's important in the sense of leaving a legacy, but at the end of the day, it's not why I started skateboarding. I ride because I'm a way happier person when I skateboard. And that's how I'm approaching this year. If it happens, it will be that much better. But I have no desire to chase after awards like that.