Chad Knight - Roll Out
Chad Knight’s sentences are liberally peppered with “dudes,” “rads,” “right ons” and other southern California-isms that might fool you into thinking that he’s lived on the West Coast his entire life. Though it’s nearly impossible to tell, Knight was actually born and raised in Westerville, Ohio. He escaped the Midwest immediately after high school for San Diego, accomplishing the nearly impossible task of making a career from his hobby. Now, the professional skateboarder’s SoCal dialect is likely the only aspect of his persona that make him stick out in Columbus, but when he was growing up here, there was much more that made him feel like he never quite fit in.
As a teenager at DeSales High School in the early ’90s, Knight was an enigma. “I was at a school where I felt totally ostracized because of what I did, but I loved it too much to give it up and try to fit in,” Knight said about skateboarding when we recently caught up with him in Columbus. He’s proved all of the naysayers wrong who didn’t believe a Midwest boy could break into the extremely competitive world of pro-skateboarding. Since committing himself to the sport, he’s garnered a lengthy list of sponsors, including 1031, a skateboard company that sponsors several other Ohioans.
The next time Knight will be back to Central Ohio is in March for the 22nd Arnold Classic. “I think about the growth of a skater, the artistry, the thought and, of course, the individualism that comes from growing in the culture and the lifestyle that is skateboarding,” Knight said. “Skateboarding and The Arnold are an amazing fit when it comes to celebrating the self-made person.” In our exclusive Q&A, Knight reveals more about what he’s sacrificed in his quest for skateboarding greatness, what he’s got planned for the future and what it means to be a good father. Right on, dude.
Q & A » » » » » »
Where in Ohio did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Westerville.
Where did you go to high school?
I went to DeSales for the first three years, and then I switched over to Westerville North. I had enough credits that I only had to take one class, and I would go to Fort Hayes for the second half of the day for the graphic design program they had over there.
What is Fort Hayes?
It’s a vocational school. They have a high school there. I think it’s what is referred to now as a charter school, but I don’t think they had that term then. They have nursing programs, photography, fine arts. I always had an interest in art and doing something in that. And considering that I had acquired enough credits to graduate, it was like, “Am I going to take a bunch of English classes again, or am I going to go where I can actually learn what I want to learn?” It was right before the computer era had started; it was 1994 -1995. It was before the commercial design and graphic art had gone over to using all computers, and our teacher at the time was fighting it. So, I would get there early every day, and I would teach myself Photoshop—they had a computer lab there. So, I definitely knew what I wanted to get out of it and found a way to make that happen.
Define “generation next.”
To me, “generation next” is the second generation of what was started by the generation that transformed this culture from the Olympic-watching to the X Games-watching. It’s the generation that fell out of the team sports and wanted to do their own thing. That boundary was broken by guys like Tony Hawk, Matt Hoffman and Danny Way, guys that were willing to do it just for the love of it, knowing that they weren’t going to get rich off of it—because at the time there was no money to be made—they just wanted to do it. And they opened it up, so the next generation that came in saw that and it was more approachable and believable. It became more accepted and you didn’t have to fight as hard to do what you want. And now the kids, they see the videos, and X Games, and all the contests, and it’s all over TV, and they see what people are doing now, and it’s stuff that 10 years ago we thought was impossible. They think that’s the standard—that’s the norm. So, they watch these videos. Someone that jumped down a 20-stair handrail 10 years ago was the cover of every magazine, and now these kids think if they can’t do that within the first year … it’s all about what’s possible. If you see what people are doing, and you assume that is the norm, then it makes it that much easier to do it. That ground has been broken. It’s just this generation—there’s so many more people in it now, too, since it’s become more acceptable and more kids want to do it. The level of talent in the pool has become a lot greater, and the level of progression in all of the sports is just ridiculous.
You arrive in Columbus and are given $500 right away. How do you spend it?
First thing I would do is probably go to Skyline Chili and spend $100 of it. I’d get a jumbo 3-way and a bunch of coneys. I used to order that stuff in San Diego when I moved out there. I love that place. And then probably Surly Girl—go hang out. You know, I’ve been gone so long, I don’t know many of the hot spots. I’d love to go to an Ohio State game. If I could get a reunion together with all of my buddies, that would be the ideal situation. We’d go over to Skate Naked Skatepark and ride there, and man, I wish the Kahiki was still here. If the Kahiki was still open, I’d take the boys there, and we’d go celebrate in the Rainforest Lounge. We’d live it up for a night.
Your sport doesn’t have a traditional coach. How do you work around that?
Skateboarding definitely does not have any type of traditional structure. And when I started, there weren’t even very many tricks. And that was the cool part—there was so much innovation happening that the curve for learning was huge. But without the traditional coach, it’s kind of cool because you have to teach yourself. You watch things, and you study it over and over.
Drop a list of the bodily sacrifices you’ve made for your sport and career.
Oh, man. Where do I start? Two years ago, I had an orbital blowout. I was trying to run out of a trick and I was kind of trying to catch my hands on the ground—head leading, scrambling, trying to catch my balance. Then, I smashed my face into the base of a handrail. In the footage you can hear it. It just sounds like someone hit a baseball bat on it. You go to fkdparkproject.com, and it’s the second one of my videos. So, I smashed my face. I saw double for about a month and a half.
No, nothing serious. Luckily, I haven’t hit my head too hard. Next, I had an AC separation in my right shoulder from filming my buddy. He went to go push, and I was too close behind him. He kicked my board, and instead of falling on his camera like I should have, I took it to my shoulder, and it just tore the ligament, and it was another one like my eye, where there’s just nothing you can do about it but let it heal. I still have this huge lump from where the shoulder drops. On the other shoulder, I have a rotator cuff injury from ’94 when I first went out to San Diego. I tried to do something I had no business doing and ended up diving on my face and shoulder.
Knees, legs, ribs?
No ribs—that doesn’t seem like a fun one. I used to skate ramps a lot, so my hips have calcium deposits and they feel like broken glass under the skin. And that’s with my elbows, too, just from sticking halfway up the ramp and falling all the way to the bottom. And then knees - I’ve got minor patellar tendonitis in both. Then, my worst injury was my left leg. I had a spiral fracture where my left foot landed back on my skateboard—it was the only thing that landed back on my skateboard—and my board went 90 degrees left and shot out, and my body was going forward, so my foot twisted. It’s a real common soccer and basketball injury, where your foot dislocates and it takes your fibula with it, and it spins it around and breaks it like a spiral. So, I had a torn ligament off my tibia, and it broke. Then, I broke my foot, I broke my ankle, multiple sprained ankles, I had a permanently dislocated right pinky toe—it just hangs out there like it just gave up. It can rest overtop the other one. Damn quitter toe.
You tattooed your name on your back. Why?
So I don’t forget who I am. No, I’m just kidding. That’s always everyone’s reaction: “Did you forget your name, dude?” No, I always said if I ever turned pro, I would get my first board-graphic tattooed on me. And that was my first pro-graphic.
How can you spot a poser in your world?
Well, it’s funny because it’s transformed: We used to be able to tell a poser because the kid would have a skateboard and there were no marks on it. Now, it’s just the dude who sits there at the park with his fresh gear on. You can tell the dude who’s got the coolest gear, but is always just sitting there watching and talking shit about everyone else.
When you were roaming the halls of DeSales High, did you ever think you’d be a world-class athlete?
No. It’s surreal to be where I am now. I was very close to staying here and going to school and not pursuing the skateboarding career. I don’t know if it was a lack of belief in what I could accomplish out there, but I remember moving to San Diego and things really started moving, and things were going a lot better than I excepted. I remember really surprising myself on the stuff I was doing because you go somewhere where you’re around people—you’re always influenced by what you’re around, and it’s another one of those examples where you see what’s possible. You’re limited to the people you ride with and you don’t see any outside influence. When I got all this new input with people who were pushing me, it tripped me out that I was as good as I was.
Did skateboarding give you security, or did it alienate you?
There were very few skateboarders, and at my school, I was the only one. So, it was the exact opposite. Being a skateboarder meant ridicule and being the “skater-fag.” I got a lot of flack. It really sucked. I was at a school where I felt totally ostracized because of what I did, but I loved it too much to give it up and try to fit in. Now, that’s what trips me out though—it’s so socially accepted, and skateboarders are like the trendsetters. You see fashion as it’s current, and you go back a couple years and you see it in skateboarding. When I moved out to California from here, and realized that skateboarders were the cool ones, and that was mind-blowing to me. I was like, “My God, I’m kind of cool now.” I was the goof that everyone made fun of, and now it’s cool. It was like finding my mecca.
Who were you riding against when you were like, “Dude, I can beat so-and-so”?
Probably Ryan Kenrich. It was at the Missile Park Skatepark in San Diego that’s no longer around, but it was the first contest I entered out there, and I got first place, and I was blown away.
How much did you win?
Oh, I think it was $500.
What’s the most you’ve won?
I think it was three grand. I think it was the best-trick contest at the Make-A-Wish Foundation. But, I primarily do video and magazine stuff, so I don’t concentrate on contests.
Why don’t you do X Games?
I think I initially didn’t get into it because I like the core aspect of street skating, and it’s what skateboarding was to me. And the X Games seem like they’re not made by or done for skateboarders. And now the guys that have concentrated on contests this whole time, that’s all they do. They’re amazing at it, they’re experts at it. They’ve got it on lockdown. So, now going in and competing against those guys is just kind of not worth it. It would be fun to do, but it would be like going from the ski jump to doing slalom.
What do you represent?
I like to think that I represent the possibility of success in pursuing what you want to do, and what you’re passionate about—even if it’s pursuing it knowing that what your goal is makes $100 a month. You make it happen for the sole purpose of making it happen for you and not living with the regret of “what if?”
What do you love?
I love freedom of expression, and I love the opportunity to be able to push boundaries.
What has skateboarding given you?
Oh, man. Skateboarding has given me so much. For starters, it gave me a real sense of accomplishment. It gave me a lot of self-confidence and a feeling of self worth that I don’t think I had growing up. It’s given me the opportunity to travel the world; it’s given me the opportunity to meet amazing people; and it’s just given me the experience so much further than I ever dreamed I would get out of it.
What have you given back?
I’ve given skateboarding my heart and my body—a lot of blood and tears. But, I like to think that I’ve contributed somehow to the progression of skateboarding.
What’s the raddest trick you’ve pulled off?
God, that’s a tough one. I’d say the coolest thing I’ve ever done was a switch-backside kick flip at the San Diego Sports Arena Double Set because it was this iconic spot that had been in all the videos when I lived here. When I moved to San Diego, it was probably a year after when I did it, so it was very early on in my career. But, it was the first thing that really was like, “I cannot believe I just did that.” I remember riding away thinking, “That just changed my whole career.” In the photo of the trick, my eyes are closed. It’s like I blinked, looked up and was riding away. I think that’s hands down the best thing.
If you were not skateboarding, what would you be doing?
I would be doing what I am pursuing now which is 3-D modeling and animation.
What conversational topic do you avoid at all costs?
If I’m sitting next to someone on an airplane, the conversation that I would most like to avoid is what I do for a living because then I have to answer the same three questions: Are you on TV? Do I know Tony Hawk? Are you in the X Games?
Did you go to college?
I tried to go to college several times, and I just actually started again. I’m on my third major, which is 3-D modeling and animation. I’m going to Palomar; it’s a community college in San Diego. It’s one of the only colleges in Southern California that offers the program that I want, so it’s pretty fortunate that it’s there in my backyard.
Last book you read?
Currently, I’m reading A Million Little Pieces.
How close are you to your family?
I’m very close to my family. We’re really spread out. I’ve got a brother in Chicago, a brother in Rhode Island, my sister lives up in Sandusky, my dad’s in South Carolina and my mom is here. I’m the youngest to my closest brother by seven years and my oldest brother by 14 years. So, growing up we weren’t that close. My oldest brother was off to college when I was four, and then he went to med school and everything, so he was gone after that.
From whom do you pick up your OCD, your mom or your dad?
Oh, I think my dad. They’re both a little neurotic, but my dad definitely is the one who won’t let anything go until he’s accomplished it. He’s 74 now, and six years ago, he rode his bike from L.A. to Boston.
What is your finest achievement yet?
Not having a son—because anyone can do that—but being aware of my being a good father.
What was your favorite toy growing up?
Compared to all other athletes in the world, where do you rank a skateboarder on utilitarian skill and ability?
I think skateboarders have to be up on top with any sport in terms of coordination on every level. Granted, you see skateboarders throw basketballs and it’s a little harder to tell if they’re good at it or not. But you see so many other athletes jump on a skateboard, and they’re killing themselves!
What is the last line you used to get a girl?
I don’t use lines. But if I did, it would be, “Want to be knight rider?”
What is your favorite movie?
Iron Man or Fight Club.
Who is your celebrity crush?
What keeps you motivated?
What do you often find yourself saying?
Biggest pet peeve?
People putting stuff in my face.
You are walking down death row. What was your last meal?
Endless Skyline Chili buffet.
Do you see yourself following the American Dream…big house, wife & kids?
I do have a son, a 10-year-old son, Colin. He’s a great kid.
What’s the measure of any father?
I think the quality that is best for a father to have is complete selflessness. I think that really epitomizes what being a father is.
What is your favorite tradition from your childhood that you would like to pass onto your son?
Being as young as I am in my family, and how significant the age gap was, I missed a lot of the traditions, so I would like to start new ones with him.
Got a nickname?