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.