Chris Miller is one of the few people in the world who gets to ride a skateboard for a living
A young skateboarder burst out of a crowded mall, frantically dodging shoppers. He and a friend picked up their boards and ran. Suddenly, a police car blocked their path. Undaunted, the skaters hopped on their boards, launched them into the air. sailed over the car, then disappeared into the dark.
The escape, staged for the comedy motion picture “Police Academy 4,” wasn’t real. But the flying-skateboard stunt was. One of the soaring skaters was Chris Miller, the fourth- highest ranked professional skateboarder in the world. During the stunt, filmed in Canada in wintertime, Miller had to dress in summer clothes, including shorts.
“It was so cold that we had to wear pantyhose,” Miller says, grinning at the thought.
Miller doesn’t complain much, though. He’s one of the few people in the world who gets to ride a skateboard for a living. Appearing in movies and TV commercials is just part of the fun. As one of the hottest stars on the pro skateboarding tour, he competes against skaters from five continents, winning thousands of dollars in prize money.
What makes it all possible for Chris is the simple fact that skateboarding is hot. And fans love to watch hot skateboarders in action. In the United States alone. recreational skaters number as many as 20 million. They spent more than $400 million on boards and equipment in 1986.
Miller, 21, promotes skateboards and “thrasher” clothing for the companies that make them. This helps earn him more than $55,000 per year in salary, endorsements, and licensing fees. Sometimes he appears at skateboard shops, collecting another 8300 to $500 per day.
One of Miller’s most exciting moments happened in November ’87, when he won the $5,000 first prize in the “vertical” finals of the National Skateboarding Association’s “Duel in the Desert” competition at Tempe, Ariz. The victory was important because Miller took on Tony Hawk, the best skateboarder in the world.
Entering the Tempe finals, Hawk had already won the National Skateboarding Association (N SA) championship title every year from 1983 to 1986. He also had captured the first three NSA events of 1987. Miller, on the other hand, had a best showing of only third place.
Several thousand spectators watched Miller and Hawk’s head-to-head duel. They skated on a wooden ramp with 12- foot-high sides, called a “halfpipe,” set up in a drained swimming pool.
In halfpipe events, skaters enter the U-shaped ramp from a platform at the top. They skate straight down, across the flat, and up the other side. Upon reaching the “lip,” they send their boards soaring. Like acrobatic gymnasts, they do flips, spins, handstands, and other daring tricks before landing on the ramp.
At speeds up to 30 miles per hour, competitors perform trick after trick until they fall or time runs out. Some pros soar 10 feet above the ramp edge, or 22 feet off the ground.
Competing against pro skateboarder Tony Hawk
Six-foot-tall Tony Hawk from San Diego is nearly unbeatable in halfpipe contests. His most awesome stunt is the 720 “McHawk.” He makes two complete spins (720 degrees) in midair and adds a twist before landing. He’s the only skater ever to master the trick.
“Hawk does maneuvers that are more difficult than mine, and he’s always coming up with new ones,” Miller explains. “But my mental concentration was so strong at Tempe that I felt I could actually move objects with my mind.”
Once the event started, Hawk had problems. He complained of the slick surface. He fell once, losing valuable points. But Miller seemed to defy gravity with soaring, 180-degree twists, lip slides, and backside ollies. The judges were impressed. They awarded Chris first place.
“Chris won the judges over with his more angular and stylish line of attack, similar to surfing,” says John Hogan, Miller’s former manager. Chris surfs often. He lives in Ventura. Calif, only a block from the beach.
At first glance, Miller doesn’t look athletic. He’s a thin 5-foot-9, weighing only 140 pounds. Yet, he played Little League baseball and junior high soccer. Today, he has both the skill and stamina for backcountry skiing and for surfing 12-foot waves.
Miller got his first skateboard at age 10. A year later, living in southern California, he was skating down streets, through drain ditches, in skateparks, and up and down the sides of empty swimming pools.
His life changed when he met two competitive skaters-brothers Micke and Steve Alba-at The Pipeline Skatepark in Upland, Calif. Miller recalls: “I was amazed at what they could do. Even more remarkable was they saw my potential and gave me lessons and boards.”
At age 12, Miller entered his first amateur events. The Santa Cruz skateboarding company liked his performance and began sponsoring him. By age 13, he was on the cover of Thrasher, a leading skateboarding magazine.
“My father probably would have liked me to play team sports,” Miller says. “But my parents were very supportive because they saw how enthusiastic I was about skateboarding.”
In 1985, he decided to turn pro at a major contest in Upland. But while practicing in the empty swimming pool where the contest would be, his wheels locked on the lip. He fell 10 feet, breaking two bones in his left elbow.
Miller insists that skating accidents are similar to those in other individual competitive sports like gymnastics and skiing. He admits: “I’ve broken both wrists, my nose, and suffered three concussions. However, I’ve escaped more serious injury because all pros wear extensive safety equipment.”
Proper equipment includes a lightweight plastic helmet, shock absorbent knee and elbow pads, plastic shoe caps, gloves, and wrist supports. Miller wears the gear even when practicing. He’ll practice three hours a day for a major event or demonstration.
Miller intends to keep competing because he sees a growing acceptance of the sport. “Skateboarding is becoming more of a mainstream sport, with increased coverage on cable TV.” he says.
Skateboarding is growing popular in other countries too. Early last year, Miller joined other US pros giving demonstrations in France, Australia and Japan. He receives a fee for such demos, and all travel expenses are paid.
Miller loves skating because it offers a wonderful feeling of freedom. He calls the sport “gymnastics with speed, a combination of flying, sliding and gliding.” He says, “To me, skateboarding is a serious endeavor. I don’t drink, smoke or do drugs.”
Miller disputes the idea that skaters project an image of teenage rebellion. He says most pros are high school graduates and many go to college.
Once his skating days are over, Miller plans to earn a degree in graphic arts. He’s already a promising artist. His work appears on four skateboard models he designed for Schmitt-Stix, the company that sponsors him on the pro tour.
Miller owns eight custom boards. He recommends that recreational skaters buy only the best equipment “because it’s safer, lasts longer, and performs better.” Miller suggests building your own skateboard from parts (deck, trucks, wheels). “You can pick the parts that best fit your ability. And by learning how to assemble your own skateboard, you’ll be able to do your own repairs.”
When it comes to professional skateboarding, Chris Miller has only one hang- up. He dislikes signing autographs.
“I feel awkward and self-conscious when I’m asked to sign an autograph,” says this quiet, unassuming guy. “If kids admire my skating, that’s cool. But I’m not any better than anyone else. I just happen to be good at what I do.”
Board talk – A list of skateboarding terms
Skateboard: Measuring 10 inches wide by 30 inches long, a standard, fully assembled skateboard consists of a deck, trucks, and wheels. In most cases, a board is made of solid maple. Plywood splits too easily.
Deck: Top of the board.
Blank deck: A deck with no stickers, artwork, waterproofing, or grip tape.
Trucks: Axle and rubber bushing combo. Two trucks, one at each end, connect wheels to the deck.
Wheels: Two polyurethane wheels per truck, attached to either side of the axle.
Grip tape: Sandpaper-like tape applied to deck to keep skater from sliding off board.
Regular foot: Skating with the left foot forward.
Goofy foot: Skating with the right foot forward.
Aerial: A trick done in midair.
Ollie: Standing on the board and bouncing straight into the air. This is the most basic air stunt, done either while stationary or skating. The perfect ollie is touching down all four wheels at the same time.
One-footed air: Any move in which one foot is off the board and the other on.
Judo air: The front foot does a forward karate kick while the other foot remains on the board.
Tail wheelie: Skating forward with the board’s nose in the air.
Nosepicker: Stalling the front truck on the edge of a curb.
Railslide: Lifting the front truck over the edge of a high curb and sliding sideways on the deck.
McTwist: Spinning one and a half times (540 degrees) and doing a twist in midair. A 180 means spinning halfway around; a 360 is a complete turn.