Pipe dreams: Corbin Harris, 28, skateboarder
Corbin Harris is a professional skateboarder who rides for the Element Australia team. He also works as a television presenter, and is a published author.
Richard Cooke How do you find balance between your TV presenting and skating?
Corbin Harris TV is probably about 60 per cent of what I’m doing at the moment. Whether it’s the X Games or NBC Signature Series or new content I’m working on with Brett Moore, it’s a lot. I’m still skating, but it sort of took a back seat. I mean, I did well as a competitor, but I don’t think I ever did amazingly well. I placed and won medals, won bronze at the X Games and had a strong, competitive career. But it was never really my passion. I always got a bit overwhelmed, wanting to go out there and be the best, and if I didn’t do my best I was disappointed and I’d take it to heart.
RC You didn’t enjoy the pressure of competition?
CH It was more of the fact that I didn’t think this is how I would normally skate. The pressure would probably kick in, and I wouldn’t do the tricks that I could normally do really easy, so that was the frustrating part. I sort of realised that wasn’t where I could do my best work. Where I could do my best work was to be in a tour van with eight other guys and we’re pushing each other 12 days straight, for 16 hours a day, out on the streets or in the skate park trying to pull the best tricks for a magazine article or a video.
RC Skateboarding is a sport where you can create your own style of career, outside of competition.
CH That’s the thing about skateboarding, or action sports in general – you’ve got that freedom, you’ve got that imagination and you can dream up whatever you do. I didn’t love contests, I loved skateboarding, and being able to walk straight out my door and do it anywhere I like.
RC Different cities seem to create their own skating cultures.
CH There’s a lot more street skateboarding in California because they haven’t had [proper] facilities. For me growing up, at grassroots level, we had way more easily accessible skate parks in Australia than in America.
RC That’s surprising.
CH I think Canberra was one of the first places that I used to travel to as a kid, and every five minutes you’d jump in a car and you’d end up in a new park. It was crazy. It was like a wonderland, and I think that’s growing. The councils and governments don’t want to see kids out on the streets trying to do tricks in front of cars.
RC That was part of the reason you wrote your book, wasn’t it? To build some momentum to get skateboarding accepted as a mainstream sport.
CH That was definitely one reason. I travelled the world, running around hosting contests and different events, and then when I came back to Australia, I had the feeling people didn’t really understand what we do.
RC You draw inspiration from unusual sources, especially Australian art. You’ve mentioned people such as Brett Whiteley and John Olsen.
CH That’s right – it comes from my family. My father was an artist when he was younger. My whole family is into art. They dragged me around every art gallery they possibly could. So you can see that influence in things like board graphics. I actually got an artist called Jonathan Zawada [to do the artwork] for two of my first pro boards.
RC You’ve worked with Tony Hawk as well, one of your biggest inspirations. For a guy who retired in 1999, he seems to skate a lot.
CH I think it’s just in your blood. You can’t really stop.
RC He’s 46 and still going.
CH I cannot say enough about that guy. He’s a workaholic, he’s an absolute genius. The video game is the one that shot him into the atmosphere. It was unbelievable. I mean, I was in a jungle in Brazil with him this year and the kids were running out of the jungle saying, “Tony Hawk – pro skater!” It’s the next level when you travel with that guy; you realise how big he is. He’s been through three generations, going into a fourth generation. I don’t think any other athlete has been like that: [Michael]Schumacher hasn’t, [Kelly] Slater hasn’t. There’s so much you can learn from him.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 26, 2014 as "Pipe dreams".
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