Interview: Corbin Harris

“Now there are people my age turning into fathers and they’re going to have kids and if someone’s dad was sponsored, that’s going to be normal.”
– Corbin Harris

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The lessons of accomplished individuals who have come and gone, teach us that repetition is one of the crucial keys to attainment, paving the way for better fortunes to follow. So time after time again, as individuals, we revisit an old challenge yet to be conquered, in order to better ourselves and ultimately satisfy a desire and buildability.

In this feature, we chat to a gentleman who found what he loved and chased it off into a future made certain through applied effort. With the recent announcement of his first ever pro model skate deck, Mr Corbin Harris has joined the elite few to achieve such a feat, stepping up to the plate as an  Element Australia team rider. Corbin spent part of his teens riding the X Games wave, resulting in bronze success, otherwise known as the ‘skateboarding man’ on the FuelTV tellie.

So you went from rugby potential to falling for skateboarding, to skating with the best of the best at the age of 16… What? How did you make that all happen?

I skated every day as much as I possibly could, that’s what happened. I basically just put everything into it because I was in love with it and passionate about it. I was just lucky that I was pretty good at it at the same time. I wouldn’t say that I was in the thick of it, though. I suppose at that time X Games was pretty heavy. I got asked to compete in Asia when I was 16 and I ended up winning a bronze medal.

Is skate touring everything it’s cut out to be? How did you manage it at such a young age?

I was fortunate that I had a good mentor at that age named Shane Serena. He builds ramps for events like the Big Day Out, and Crusty Demons of Dirt. He became a good friend of the family, and basically took me under his wing.

I ended up doing the Australian Warp Tour and Big Day Out with some of the big name skaters like Danny Way, Collin McCay and Moses Itkonen. So I had a few good guys who pushed me in the right direction and helped me travel.

Have a funny story from the road you’d like to share with us?

Anyone who knows me knows that I can’t stand weed at all. So, I was 16 and touring on buses with guys like Steve Caballero and Matt Hoffman, who really behaved. Later on in the trip, I ended up jumping in another van with one of my friends. There was a wild character in that car who was smoking a lot of weed. He turned around to me saying, “Hey Corbin, do you mind holding this bong for me for a second while I do something?” I sad, “Okay, whatever.” They ended up and taking pictures of me holding a bong and sending them to my mom.

How did you go about pitching yourself to Fuel TV? What was the whole idea behind this move in your career?

At the time I was still finishing school. My parents wanted me to do something else to make sure that I had a bit of a backing. I decided to study real estate because I knew it was the shortest course possible at TAFE. I thought that if all goes pear-shaped than that is what I’d do.

I ended up working in real estate for about 3 or 4 months before I had this idea that I needed to call Fuel TV. They didn’t have a skate presenter at the time so I asked if they didn’t mind me coming in for an interview. I didn’t have any previous experience, but long story short I went into that meeting and came out with a job.

It was small at the start, but within two or three years I had my own show called Corbin Presents, and five years later I had a show called Pop Guns.

Did TV Presenting ever get in the way of your progression as a skater?

Not that I regret anything, but looking back on it I put a lot more time into everything across the board. It definitely did take away from my skating, but at the age of 24, I wasn’t ready yet to go to America. It just worked out that way. I took on things like designing  clothes for Element and being an ambassador for the Australian Sports Commission. That’s what maybe hindered me a little bit, but I like the way that it’s turned out.

This brings me to the topic of meeting expectations of sponsors, how demanding are the people behind the funding of your skate career? 

I don’t think it’s tough. It just comes hand in hand because most of the requirements I have are linked in with what I have to do anyway. So it’s not a big hassle to me at all.

You must be doing something right, you recently launched your very own signature, pro-model deck. Please tell us about this?

For me, it’s sort of the pinnacle of my career. About two years ago Element came to me and said they wanted to go ahead with it. It’s something that I had always wanted to do, but had never had my whole career. There are two different deck designs. I came up with the Bondi silhouette graphic, and then the other design is by Jonathan Zawada; who is one of my favourite graphic designers to come out of Australia.

How did you and Jonathan end up deciding what design you would use?

I’m a huge believer in if someone is good at what they do, then let them do what they do. He came up with a snake graphic and we collaborated from there, making a few minor changes. Everything else was all him. He is the guy with the moves. He’s sold his works to Elton John for about $60/70 000 a piece, so I don’t think you’re going to tell a guy like that how to paint a skateboard.

You’re planning to move to Los Angeles, what inspired this? Is this a popular trend amongst Australian pros, or is this something you recommend?

That’s where the core of the industry is for skateboarding and action sports so it’s more of a natural progression for me. If you want to go out and get bigger then you have to move to L.A. or America at the least. The move is going to open new doors for me. I’ve got a lot of friends over there that I have met over the last 10 to 15 years. There is a little bit more television over there and the skate and surf industries are huge. I’m not planning on packing up completely, but I’m going to do six months here and six months there, summer to summer.

You must be getting up to something during your time over there, what’s the plan?

I’ve been working on a couple of television shows over there and a couple of pilots with other Aussies who live in New York. I have also been doing a lot of work with Redbull Television and Red Bull Media House. I will probably be covering Summer X Games for them this time. That’s all I know so far. It’s one of those places that if you’re in the mix and you’re around, then anything could happen.

Did you ever think that you’d one day be doing what you’re doing today?

From day one this is what I wanted to do. I always knew that I was somehow going to be involved in sports. I didn’t love school at all. I didn’t even want to go to year twelve, but mum made me, and it worked out. I think I was just probably more determined and put more time in than everyone else and that paid off.

What has been the most challenging stage in your career?

Most challenging was that people probably thought that I came from a place that had money and that it was all good and easy. Mum and Dad looked after me, but becoming a pro skater is like getting a university degree. I had to put so much time in and I’ve been doing it for about 15 years now.

I was continuously borrowing money and paying it back. There were times that were really tough. I’d have to sit down with my parents and we’d have the conversation as to whether or not it was still going on. One day, after all that effort, everything changed and a couple of decent contracts came through. I’m happy I stuck with it.

What inspired your new book, The Ultimate Guide to Skateboarding? What can we expect to take away from it?

In short, it’s a ‘how to’ book for kids and parents. It runs through everything from buying a skateboard to picking equipment, right through to Dustin Dollin showing you how to do some of the best tricks in the world over 15 stair handrails.

So you’ve taken a more nurturing approach to the future of skateboarding, and how you’re positioning yourself within that? Is this due to lack thereof when growing up?

I think it was that. On the other hand, I think that you can credit Australia for taking on action sports heavily now. Whereas before we weren’t as supportive because people weren’t educated. My Grandparents only knew what skateboarding was because I was a pro skateboarder, but they thought it was strange.

Now there’re people my age turning into fathers and they’re going to have kids and if someone’s dad was sponsored, that’s going to be normal. If someone’s dad was a pro skater or surfer it’s not going to be as weird as it may have been a few years ago.

You used to be an advisor for the Australian Sports Commission, what did that entail exactly?

I was working with them on growing skateboarding in Australia. So for me, it was quite an easy job because I was a kid at the time. I just proposed things that I wanted to see. These were things like good street skating contests, with great courses and facilities for kids and in mainstream places where people who wouldn’t see a skate contest saw them.

Favourite street trick?

– 360 flip when I could be bothered to do them

– Going fast would be another one.

– Bombing hills.

Favourite vert/bowl trick?

– Backside tailslide.

– Smith Grind.

– Front side air.

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Photography by Steve Gourlay.

Browse the Trunk Junk collection; maybe even pick one out for yourself.

© Jonathan Boonzaaier 2016

Corbin Harris Interview

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