Skateboarder Bob Burnquist, history’s greatest X Gamer, on surviving decades of crash landings

Bob Burnquist

Bob Burnquist Matt Morning / ESPN Images

Bob Burnquist’s war chest of accolades is as towering as his fakie 900 -- a super-rare trick that involves two and a half revolutions in the air.

X Games Minneapolis

U.S. Bank Stadium

Since 1995, the high-flying Brazilian skateboarding legend has racked up a record 30 X Games medals, including 14 golds. That sort of success doesn’t come without a few dings—specifically, more than 34 bone fractures, in Burnquist’s case.

The ageless 40-year-old is the only athlete to have competed in every summer X Games, a streak he’ll add to this week in Minneapolis. Burnquist chatted with City Pages by phone about overcoming injuries and staying dominant for decades.

CP: Physically, what does it feel like being a 40-year-old skater vs. a 20-year-old skater?

Bob: I feel the same pains. I hurt just as much as when I was young. If anything, what happens is you tend to pick your battles a little better. You learn to fall, and you learn to heal. It’s just about how much skating you do, and how much you take care of diet and all that. I don’t feel any different in healing yet, and I’m 40. You just gotta want it. You gotta be hungry about it. You gotta love what you do, because if not, you just can’t wait to retire.

CP: Tell me how your diet has changed.

Bob: If you’re healing or you’re hurt, you change things up. You can do it two different ways. Some people are like, “Oh, I can’t skate, so I’ll just drink some beers and hang out—I can’t really do anything.” That just delays and extends, everything takes so much longer to heal. So when I get hurt, I wanna get back as quickly as possible. So, did I break a bone? OK, lemme take all the supplements and all the things I need to do to get that bone healed. And I drink less, if at all, so I can heal up even faster. It’s all choices.

CP: What’s the most physically demanding part of pro skating?

Bob: It’s just constant. Right now, my leg muscles are sore from constant jumping, jumping, skating, jumping. So it takes me a little bit to get going in the morning, because I know I’ve gotta film all day today, so I’ll push, push, push. I love skating; I wanna skate every day all day long, but your body can only take so much. My reality is, I skate when I want, and I skate when I have to. And sometimes I don’t want to, but I have to. But it’s not really a bad “have to” because it’s what I love doing.

CP: Do you go to the gym, or is skateboarding alone enough for conditioning?

Bob: Skateboarding is that: You get a lot of cardio, depending on where you’re skating, but there’s a lot of impact. Sometimes you wanna take a day off from taking those hits, but you don’t necessarily want to take a day off from getting better, stronger, and more fit. So you go and do the side work. I have a gym in my house. When I’m in Brazil, I got personal trainers. I started about four years ago training jiu jitsu. It’s been great, but it hurts just as much as skateboarding. It’s one of those things you fall in love with. It’s made me a better skater, a better person. I just try to be active—I’m not getting any younger.

CP: Can you take us, head-to-toe, through the injuries you’ve overcome?

Bob: Oh man, I don’t have the time. I can tell you I have had over 34 fractures, lots of sprains, and different situations all over my body, from my face, nose, all the way down to my feet. So you can point arrows at any direction [on my body] and you’ll probably hit something that I’ve had—and it won’t be fake news! All my leg injuries, it’s not that cool because I can’t skate. So if I break my arm, wrist, elbows—I’m still skating.

CP: Tell me about overcoming fear.

Bob: At every level, that fear is the same, because it’s just what you feel. Everyone’s afraid—you have to push through it. You do [tricks] over and over, and you learn how your mind works. There’s a line between stupidity and reality. You have to work your skill and get into that slow growth instead of this leap. Because the leap can get you hurt. I’ve always tried things beyond my skill level, and I’ve paid for it. Now I’m more experienced, and I kind of inch across that progression.

CP: How has skateboarding evolved, culturally, since you got started?

Bob: Well, we’ve gotten accepted. Not that we asked for it, but I guess people accept us now and skateboarding is something more than just a toy. It’s a lifestyle for so many of us—it’s what we do, it’s how we grow, it’s how we become better people... by falling and getting back up. So the culture is the same, in the sense of that rebel, do-what-we-want attitude. We create; we’re creative. It’s just constant progression. In that that sense, culturally, we’re exactly the same. Aside from that, obviously you’ve got competitions like X Games that gave us that next-level exposure, that bigger audience.

CP: How much longer do you wanna keep doing this?

Bob: Until I close my eyes and stop breathing? Competing is just a thing I do—it’s my 9-to-5 job. That’s all it is. I can continue to create content and continue to evolve and progress and create new tricks until the day I die. Because it’s creativity, and not strength.

CP: So you’ll be an 85-year-old grandpa skating around, right?

Bob: You can believe that! There’s no such thing as retiring. Even if you see down the road, some kinda headline like “Bob’s retiring”—I’m just trying to do marketing. Because I’m gonna keep doing it. There is no retirement.