Chet Childress is a rapid firing ripper on his board and at the canvas.
An artist and a skater from a young age Chet turned pro and travelled the world nomadic style throwing down shocking tricks and documenting his experiences, thoughts and ideas through art.
He skates for the thrill of new terrain and nice vibes and was eventually paid by Nike to do it all. It’s an honour to have Chet as a member of The No Comply Network.
We called him up to chat about how he learned to skate in North Carolina, why he loves The Gonz and Cardiel, hanging with Joey Pressey in the UK, Nike, Stumptown Co Coffee, his all-time inspirations and influences, his search for the best spots of all-time, art and more.
What’s it like skating for Black Label?
It was a great time for The Label.
It’s still awesome but its had it’s time and skateboarding needed it at that time.
Black Label in the 00s, it was raw skateboarding, without the mainstream success
It was a good time, the video actually mattered, you got The Label video and you were stoked, you couldn’t watch it online you really paid attention to the video and you watched it more and more and more.
Nowadays you see a great part but it’s so oversaturated. Now you’re kind of forced to watch the video come out.
When the Blind Video Days came out, my VCR player got tired, it called me collect and told me ‘Yo take a break!’.
I played it so much. I literally still have the same tape and it still plays amazing.
Sick. Where did you grow up?
I started skating in 1984. I grew up on the coast of North Carolina, in a town called Wilmington, by the beach.
My brother is three years older than me; we had just moved from down the Virginia Mountains to there, we were previously living in a redneck part of the country.
My father did my mother wrong. She was like, fuck this. My parents split and my mom moved me and my brother down to the beach.
How did you start skating?
My brother and I started looking around and we met someone with a skateboard and discovered that these dudes had build a ramp down the road from our house; it was these surfer stoner type guys.
One of them taught us how to do a ‘fakie’.
Just rolling up the ramps holding our shoulders, guiding us, we both did that and from that moment it was on.
We did a bit of BMX.
My mom was a nurse, it was a good time, back then, we had to go out and do shit, there weren’t video games, no internet.
All I knew was I’m gonna go outside and play war, I don’t know what war is but we’re gonna get on our BMX bikes and boards and do that.
I went back home and looked at my toys and thought what the hell are these things, I want to ride skateboards.
So my mom got me a board from Walmart.
It looked fresh but it didn’t ride like those boards, it had sand glued to the top, wheels were soft, trucks that didn’t turn, it looked convincing but it didn’t skate.
Me and my brother were sharing for a while but that was cool and then finally we got our own boards.
I’ve been skating for 34 years now.
You’ve grown up with skating
When I started nobody liked skateboarders, like they do today.
You started reading skate magazines, discovering punk rock and finding out all of this radness.
Then at school, if I saw anyone, with a hole in their shoe, a skate tee shirt on, we became friends.
Skateboarding was tight knit at the time, we were like an army and we were hyped to see other skateboarders.
I live in Portland Oregon today. I skated past some kids today and they didn’t even look at me. It’s so arrogant.
We got handed all this. Skating, punk rock, everything. Back in North Carolina at the time most of the surfers skated, when I was a kid, there were no skate shops; you had to go to a BMX shop or a surf shop to get a skateboard.
We were so far away from the Californian skate industry. We were on the other side of the country but there was just a handful of us skating at the time.
Do you stay in touch with your original crew?
Some of them still skate but a bunch of people disappeared but I kept skating
I don’t care if you skate or not but the worst question, someone can ask me is do you still skate?
I just say, just look at me.
Look how thrashed I am!
Do I still skate?
I’m going to skate till I can’t do anything. I’m not like you; I’m going to skate until I can’t anymore.Skating wasn’t just something that was a passing fad for me. Life without skating would be a buzzkill.
What do you think about people who quit but want to start again?
People just make excuses or talk shit. I’m too old, how old are you?
I’m over those kinds of by people who talk about why they feel obligated that they should be skating.
It comes off as pretty insecure I have friends who can barely skate but they do it every day. I don’t care about your skills it’s all about your attitude.
It’s not about being the best; the key to it all is having fun
People think skaters are freaks but what they don’t know is that skaters notice so many things, most people walk past a building and don’t even look at it.
We look at every piece of a building. Skateboarders are smarter about architecture and it makes us smarter to things in our environment. Most people don’t even know what a manhole cover is or a curb cut, they don’t even see these things.
Yeah, Skating gives you a hyper awareness of your environment.
Yeah, you’re on a date and our driving and you see a skate spot and you get totally distracted.
You know what I mean. I’m always looking for tranny spots in the streets. I call them old man street, or the great fuck up .
You know when they build a spot with transition and it wasn’t meant for skating wallrides, transitions that turn out insane for skateboarding.
I ride a lot of DIY with shitty quarterpipes, that make pivots and frontside grinds feel good. I really enjoy skating that crust. A simple trick is hard and it makes skating that much funnier.
I actually like really shit skateparks because they’re almost like skating a DIY because it’s like pro skatepark builders didn’t make them.
So, where do you skate now?
Where I live now there so many rad spots. America is so huge. You can drive across America and there’s a good chance you can find a skatepark every two hours and get out and skate for 15 minutes.
Back in the day there were like two or three skateparks in America, in the early 90s and now there are tonnes. It’s awesome. There’s a bunch of busters at the parks now though.
I don’t like kids on the scooters getting in the way. I’m like we created this, skateboarders created this, if your kid gets in my way I’m going to take him down.
If he gets hurt your wrong as a parent for letting him go in the wrong area of the park. The whole Olympic hopeful parent thing, hoping little billy is going to get on rockstar Energy drink and be in 2024 or 2028.
Were your parents supportive? Do you think that’s a good thing?
When I grew up my parent were too busy working. Skateboarding was my thing, I didn’t need my parents of that. I’d see my parents in the mornings, afternoons and evenings. My parents weren’t there when I was skating.
Nowadays I see these jock dads with clipboards, saying ah did you see my kids, they’re ripping! I think it’s rad that kids are ripping but I like Salman Aghah and Anthony Van Engelen. I like to see adults skating.
I don’t get hyped on kid’s skating.
What about Kader?
What do you think about contests?
Nowadays I feel like every contest is repetitive. I’m not really into contests anymore.
That’s when you have to hang out with these kooks. I don’t want to hang out with him, or his mom or his dad pointing out his best tricks to me.
Did being a pro stress you out?
One day I just decided to skate how I want to skate. I gave up on trying to be the best and people started to relate to my skating because they saw my footage and felt like, hey I want to try this, I could do it too.
When did you first break into the skate industry?
I turned pro for Creature in 1996, then Creature went out of business. Then I rode for 151 skateboards, then Jason Adams brought me over to Six Guns, then we decided everyone was going to move from Six Guns to Black Label and that’s how I got on Black Label.
I’d ridden for Vans since I was 13. I wasn’t going anywhere but then Lance Mountain approached me, he put me in touch with his friend at Nike.
They told me they wanted to put different people on Nike at the time. I was the fifth guy on Nike SB at the time. They were smart. They knew why they wanted me.
They wanted me because they wanted a skater who was relatable and made people want to skate transition and Daniel Shimizu came aboard too. It was great. I got money to travel the world skate, it was the best thing ever.
Did you have any other offers?
Jason Adams wanted me to go on Duffs. Duffs offered me more than Nike but I just could not deal with the shoes. At the time it was a risky decision, here I am the darkside of skateboarding going into the corporate world.
I was concerned people would look down on me for doing but most people were just like whatever, dude. I got away with more shit riding for Nike than anything else
I got to live a new life. I instantly went into flying around the world first-class, staying in first class hotels, eating really good food and all I had to do was skate.
Anytime, I wanted to do anything with friends around the world, a plane ticket showed up, they kept me around, they kept me in the mags. There’s so many things I got away with, I was a madman compared to the other people on at the time, I was skating and partying and happy to be free.
Have you ever been to the UK?
I’ve been to England so many times. Harrow on the Hill, I’ve been to all of those crusty parks.
I love Stockwell. I remember at the old PlayStation Park that had the smaller vert ramp.
I did a backside tailslide across the ramp padless, overrotated, slammed and shit myself and went back and hat to wipe my ass and throw away my boxers and I somehow filmed the trick.
Ever done that? We called it an oops poops.
Are you close with any UK skaters?
I love Joey Pressey. Everytime I’ve been in London and we hung out I had a good time.
Joey Pressey took me to the Palace house and we were raging, we had a proper party. They took me to that one Bike sized DIY spot, in Tottenham, that was rad.
In the footage of Smithy’s boardslide, in Livi in Scotland, you were there how did that go down?
I was on a Nike trip for the first video. Snowy was there, Stu Graham, Div and Colin Kennedy.
That was gnarly. Rattray may have been on board on that one. I’ve been on thousands of skate trips.
I’ve spent more of my time on the road then off the road. I’ve gotten away with so much, literally my skate career has been a lottery ticket.
Whose name sticks out for you on trips you’ve been on?
When Cardiel did the backside 360 at Marseille, he shook the beach, thousands of people erupted.
I also saw him drop off the top wall at Burnside, top wall, the Vans off the wall ad. One day I think I should write all of this down.
From Grant Taylor to Karma, my first skate trip with Dogtown was on the road for John Cardiel, Wade Speyer and Karma Tschoeff and that was how I got into contests.
I went to Atlanta and spent a week travelling with those dudes and nobody even knew who Cardiel was, he was just this insane lunatic. None of us drank, all we did was skate, read porn mags and light fireworks.
We were skate rats. Then there are people like P-Stone (RIP) and Tim Brauch (RIP). I’ve got to travel with all these unique people who’ve taught me all these lessons about life.
Best advice for living on the road?
Stay outside. Keep moving. Turn off your TV until night-time and stay alive.
Why do people call you Chalba?
My right arm is crooked. I only have one bone in-between my hand and my elbow, its fused together into one bone, so I got the name crooked arm early, then somehow, I was skating some pools with Brian Howard and some 0ther dudes.
I did a stand up grind and he was like ‘Damn Chalba’ and then I just got that nickname. I’m kind of glad that one’s over. That’s an old one but nobody calls me that anymore
That turned into us all putting Alba on the end of the someone’s name, so everybody got a nickname with ‘alba’ on the end.
Skateboarding has its own language within our friends, it’s another thing that we do that people just don’t understand.
That one is another one, when you’re on the road with these dudes and these jokey words keep coming up and by the end of the trip, you hear everyone saying it, that’s a rad thing, it’s funny.
Yeah, skate language is ridiculous, the brain droppings of skaters is funny.
How did you develop your art style?
My brother Clyde started drawing at home and that’s when I first found an interest in it. I feel like I’ve been in art school since I was 7 or 8. Then in the last ten years I found out what I want. I used to draw eyeballs, pyramids, it didn’t mean anything but now when I work on something, it means something to me.
I came up with the bruje, the beer can chicken, that I’ve put on everything, 15 years ago.
That’s been like my guy, you’re travelling the world, looking at art, looking at art books, being in Europe, being in places where there’s graffiti and rad paintings on the wall, that’s what brought it out and it makes you want to be better and better.
It makes you more involved in art. For the record I’m not trying to be an artist.
I have ADD about art , like when you meet people and they just really want to be an artists. I don’t want to be coined just as that
I’ve been analysing skate graphics since 1984. Skateboarding has been nice to me.
Skate graphics mean a lot to me and when I post things because I’m a skater people relate to me, the art world maybe wouldn’t care but the core skaters, the people in my base, they appreciate all of that shit.
I do some kind of drawing every day. I have thousands of drawings on my computer. It’s how I wake up and turn my brain on.
John Michel Basquiat, inspired me, I was stoked on that guy’s work and I could relate to his line. I could relate to his philosophy and what he was putting out into the world.
How did that insane bridge BS blunt in your Back to Black part go down?
I drive around The United States a lot, looking for spots. I’d actually visited that spot two or three years before I did that trick.
I went there did some rock and rolls and a pivot on it but it just turned out that day I did that one thing and I thought I’m gonna bluntslide this thing
Luckily my friend and filmer Jon Ponts ran across the freeway, and got that angle so you could see the drop.
It was the day the skate gods aligned with my body, spot and everything The night before we tried to skate it but we got busted by the cops.
It could have looked terrible at night. So it all worked out.
I knew my board wasn’t going over that and I knew my body wasn’t going over that, it was an 80 foot drop.
The cars were driving a 100mph underneath me, so If I did I was gonna die. I remember the beer tasted so good after that bluntslide.
I locked in and did the 5-0 variations and then boom somehow got the blunt. For me, it’s the perfect bank , there’s no flat, no kink in the barriers, no cracks, and the bluntslide was good.
I’m proud of doing that trick, its that one accomplishment that I’m proud of that when I’m sixty that I will proud of.
Another thing about that is that always looked up to Heath Kirchart because he would always do all this insane trick by himself. You knew it was a Heath Kirchart trick.
This was my chance to do something that was creative and gnarly on that Heath level of skateboarding
What made your skating stand out?
I was always finding tranny spots in the streets. People weren’t on the hunt like me. I could get photos in the mag if I found the right spot.
Nobody was doing that. People were skating handrails so it worked out to my advantage. I love street skating but I hate the lack of imagination. It’s all about finding your own spots
If you go to the same old spots there is nothing creative there except your ability. When you see a skater finding his own spots that stokes you out. Pros should bring ability and creativity but they should be getting spots to.
Raddest moment in your skate career?
I once spent a night in Barca with Tom Penny just rapping at me, it was the sickest thing. He just rapped.
To hang with him on a brother level was amazing. Also Tom Penny doing a Nollie Backside Flip into the Tampa vert ramp in Timberland boots, he just kicked away and ran down the ramp because he wanted to, he could of landed it so easily. That was one of the best.
Peter Hewitt. Bang for his buck. He knows how to switch it on and light up a session. He was the first guy I saw doing roll-in 5-0s.
Who has the best skate style?
Mark Gonzales pushing down the street. He may not do one trick but his style makes you want to skate.
Rick Howard on the street has that style.
Agree. So aside from skating and artwork what other projects are you involved with right now?
Well, I ride for Stumptown Coffee. It’s a coffee brand that makes cold brew coffee, people in America they know it and its quality. It’s Elisa Steamer, Nick Boserio, Silas Baxter Neal and myself.
It’s coffee, we’re trying to put Stumptown coffee out there, they do cold coffee, as a healthier alternative to energy drinks. We’re putting out a video, it’s going to have a bunch of skits.
I’m stoked with the team and the product and I make a cup every morning. I’ve been skating for them for ten years, they let me design a coffee bag with my art, that will be in stores nationwide. I think skaters will like to see my art on a coffee bag. I’ve never seen another pro skater’s work on a coffee brand company’s bags, a coffee mug and a tote bag, all of this stuff is coming out with the project.
Look forward to seeing the video
Yeah, you’ll be stoked it’s not full of the heaviest skating but it’s going to be funny and will feature some great tricks and moments.
Any last words Chet?
I’d just like to say I’m 44 years old all I know is skateboarding. Unfortunately I don’t make a lot of money but I make enough money to get by, nothing like this last forever .
I get boards from Heroin Skateboards, trucks from Independent, Wheels from OJ, Mob Grip and Nike gives me shoes. I don’t have a contract anymore we ran our course but they continue to give me shoes and they give me a key to use their private, heated skatepark It’s brilliant.
Nice. What’s a day to day like for you right now?
I walk 5 miles a day, bike 20 miles a day I’m just trying to skate and stay alive. I’m thankful for everything that skateboarding has given me.
I did shoes for Nike, having my art on a Nike colourway was gnarly, they’re one of the biggest. I’m going to continue to try and grow up. I never aged until I got a pay cut, until Nike said they not going to renew my contract.
I had that moment, it’s been a scary couple years but I’m still growing up. I’m still trying, because I don’t fit in with things, I’m just trying to cruise by and make the most of life.
How do you deal with all that?
Luckily I saved a lot of money and I’m busy with projects and feel blessed but I am also discovering new and different things in life alongside skateboarding.
Your life has been a colourful one
I’ve been paid to be myself for 20 years. I’ll be at a grocery store and a skater will recognised me and compliment me on something I did and it makes me feel proud that I made a little dent into society and made people want to skate.
Skate, make art, stay healthy and exercise, learn how to be a good cook. That’s all I can say.
I’ve got friends from around the world all from riding a skateboard.