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Thursday, May 17, 2012
Sky's the limit for Felipe Gustavo


Felipe Gustavo
Can you believe Felipe Gustavo isn't pro yet? What's a guy got to do? Fly all the way to Yokohama, Japan just to do a frontside flip?

You can often group great skateboarders into two distinct categories. On the one hand, you have those skaters who view gravity as a personal insult, for whom skateboarding is an act of bloody revenge against rails, stairs, pool coping and their own limits. Through sheer will, they are able to overcome the physical boundaries that bind lesser mortals to the earth. When they go down, they go down fighting. John Cardiel, Grant Taylor and Heath Kirchart are chief exemplars of this hand-to-hand-combat style. All of them belong to what we might call the "At War With Nature" school of skating.

In the second major group, there are those skaters who, instead of fighting nature, seem to charm the physical world into doing their bidding. In lieu of brute force, they seem to cast a spell. Everything their boards touch seems to turn into gold... or, uh... well-waxed ledges that slide super good. Think of the ineffable grace of a young Eric Koston, Kenny Anderson or Mark Appleyard. They all belong to what you might call the "At One With Nature" school of skating. Their achievement is less about sheer will, and more about Zen-like rhythm, synchronicity, and ease of execution.

Felipe Gustavo
Felipe Gustavo

The first style is as heavy as lead. The second style is as light as air.

Felipe Gustavo, the 21-year-old Brazilian-born Plan B am, firmly belongs to this latter category. His footage suggests that he is truly "At One With Nature." Indeed, when Mr. Gustavo skates he seems to enter into some impossibly harmonious utopia of algorithmically rendered flips and perfect slides. He possesses an uncannily precise understanding of where his board is at all times; his laser-guided ledge-mastery appears almost futuristic, not quite plausible, as though he were linked to some kind of personalized global positioning system.

And yet, whether it's his outspoken love of slain rapper Notorious B.I.G., his slightly curled fist, his cocked hat or his tendency to tug at his baggy pant leg a la Henry Sanchezthere is a touch of the 1990s about him. Decades ago, when 15-year-old skaters imagined what skateboarding would be like in 2012, they might have conjured something quite similar to Mr. Gustavo.

Fittingly enough, ESPN.com spoke with Mr. Gustavo on the 15th anniversary of Notorious B.I.G's unsolved murder.

ESPN.com: I am actually really glad we're talking because I need your advice. When I do nollie kickflip backside noseblunts I can get the board to flip and lock in and slide and I can roll away. But I can't get the board to really pop out. How do I really pop out of my nollie kickflip backside noseblunts?
Gustavo: Dude. How do I explain that? Maybe start in the middle&I guess start trying your hardest.

I'm totally kidding. Are you pro yet?
Nah, man. I just skated Tampa Pro so everybody's been asking me about that

.

Are there any formal plans to turn you pro? After your next video part?
Yeah, that's probably what it is. Hopefully after the next video. I'm out skating every day. Trying to put it together.

You wear an iPod in a lot of your video parts and at Tampa Pro you were wearing your iPod. What music were you listening to?
I'm Christian, you know? So I am just listening to some Christian music so I can get relaxed, take my time every time I drop in on the quarter pipe. Sometimes I'll listen to Lil' Wayne or Ricky Ross, just to get hyped.

Lil' Wayne and Rick Ross are not necessarily the most Christian...
But, in hip hop, I just like the beat. I can only understand about 60% of what they say but never the whole thing.

You're an ardent fan of the late rapper Notorious B.I.G.. Today is actually the 15th anniversary of his murder, which remains unsolved. Do you have any idea who did it?
Dude, I have no idea. From the movie it seemed like Tupac had some beef with him. Who knows, you know? Who knows, like, what happened?

If you could have dinner with Biggie what would you say?
I have no idea. I probably would ask him so many questions. Maybe we would have a conversation. That would be crazy. I seriously never thought about that.

Felipe Gustavo
Backside nose blunts are hard enough, but do it switch down a Hubba, like Felipe Gustavo, and you're on another level.

When you were living in Brazil, how did you imagine the United States?
I kind of imagined what I'm living right now, like, super nice. All the spots close by. All the better products to skate. The best parks. It's kind of living the dream. I'm kind of living the dream that I planned with. One day, I wanted to live in the States, learn English, have my own apartment, go to the spots, drive on the freeway, you know? I am in that moment right now. The final dream hasn't come yet, but I am working on that. To turn pro. That hasn't come yet, you know what I'm saying? But I am kind of working on that. So when that happens, I will be hyped. [Laughs.]

Are you the only skater from your neighborhood to make it in the skateboard industry?
I was the first one, dude. There's mad dudes that I know here from Brazil, they are from San Paulo from the South. I lived in the middle, the capital named Brasília. I was the first one that came out of that place. I have a homie staying at my house from Brasília, but that's it.

When you go back home are all your friends and family curious about America?
They ask me everything. They do, like, interview stuff. All the homies are like, "How's [Eric] Koston? How's Nyjah [Huston] skate?" Those dudes are just another skater, you know? They're just people. They're just normal.

I know you're close with your dad.
My dad is like the man. Not just my dad, but my family. They are like my first sponsor, you know? My dad, he works in the federal government and my mom too. They have a good job up there. I am not a rich dude, and I'm not a poor dude. I'm in the middle kind of thing. But everything they got, back in the day, they give it to me so I can be what I want to be. If you want to skate, it's coolI got you.

The first time you saw pros in America, in person, what was that like?
It was sketchy. At the time, when I came, I couldn't speak English at all but I wanted to say, "Yo man. What's up? Thanks for skateboarding." I didn't know how to say that. I was kind of a shy little dude.

You speak perfect skater.
Yesterday I learned a couple new words. My chick is going to school. Every time she comes with homework I try and help. There's still stuff that I don't know. When it comes to sign a contract or something. Or when someone says funny jokes, I can't understand. But I'm still learning. I'll get there.

Who speaks better English, you or your girlfriend?
I know it better because I have been here for five years. We met in Brazil and she visited me a little. And we were dating before, and then it just happened, dude. Pretty hyped on it. She's part of my family. I don't have any parents, or any brothers out here.

She's from your hometown?
Yeah.

You prefer hometown girls to American girls?
For sure. [Laughs] I prefer girls from Brazil. They are way more hotter. I couldn't tell American girls what I am feeling. Sometimes I have no words for what I'm feeling in English. Portuguese is my main language. I couldn't have a relationship speaking English every day. So it's way better.

Anything you want to add to your interview?
I just want to thank you for the opportunity. All my family, my friends. My girlfriend. All the homies that support me. All the sponsors that help me to keep it up. That's what's up.