Skateboarding has progressed to freakish, frantic levels but remains essentially subjective. You can count stairs and measure rails, but beyond a certain point there’s not really a way to quantify difficulty. As such, about once a week, I see a new clip and think, there’s absolutely no way anyone else could be this good. Impossibly, there are at least a dozen people for whom this ranking applies: Tiago Lemos, Oskar Rozenberg, Evan Smith, Ishod Wair, Grant Taylor, Louie Lopez, Jake Johnson, Tom Knox, Tyshawn Jones when there’s a trash can involved, etc. In the year he’s been a pro skateboarder, I’ve often felt the same way about Zion Wright.
As Thrasher’s Michael Burnett put it, Zion is "one of these magical kids that grew up at the skatepark, grew up at the handrails. There's nothing he can't do.” From the very first trick in the “Greatest Hits” part that accompanied his promotion to pro ranks—a fast backside 360 down a sizable double set—it’s clear that, while still a teen, he can go as big as anyone. June’s “Real” part proved that he possesses a technical prowess capable of confounding the low-impact fetishists of #SkateTwitter. His win in Huntington Beach at the Vans Park Series—which, next year, will be a qualifying event for skateboarding's 2020 Olympics debut—makes him an early favorite to represent Team USA in Tokyo. And on the Thrasher/ Viceland show King of the Road, he showed that he really can skate everything—plus he just seemed like a good guy. The pro surprise—in which a skater is surprised by friends, family, and a board with his or her name on it—has nearly worn out its charm by this point, but Zion’s is a classic of the genre. Look how shocked and happy he is, dressed in a Snuggie, to see his family! Those are real tears!
I recently spoke to Zion on the phone from LA, where he’s finishing another video part. (He didn’t explicitly tell me that it’s a final push to solidify his spot among Thrasher’s Skater of the Year contenders, but it’s probably not a coincidence that Foundation, Element, Bronze, and Supreme all also have videos coming out this quarter.) We talked about his first year as a pro, his cameo on The Rock’s HBO show Ballers, and why he doesn’t mind always having to wear that Red Bull hat.
VICE: I just finished watching the new season of King of the Road, and one of the highlights was your pro surprise. Did you really have no idea that Real was about to turn you pro, and that your whole family would be there?
Zion Wright: To be honest, no clue. They told me, work on this part, you can turn pro maybe in January. Being on the trip, I had no clue. It was hella crazy, I called my friend when we were in San Francisco, saying “We’re going to Lower Bob's, come hang out.” He was like, “Oh bro, I got work.” Then everyone walks out, I see him and I’m just like, “What the hell is going on?” Once I heard the drums, I was like, “Oh that’s crazy, those drums sound familiar. My dad would love to hear whoever’s playing those drums right now.” And then it’s just boom, my dad, my mom and my brother. It was crazy.
You’re only 19. It seems like a lot has happened for you pretty quickly, from getting on Real to going pro.
All of that happened within like a year. A year of them gearing me up, taking me on a whole bunch of trips, being able to put out content and stuff. Being able to really bond with the team, because that’s a big part of getting on any company.
There are so many talented kids now, so teams have to decide who to sponsor based on things beyond sheer talent?
Yeah. You might see a kid who’s so good, but maybe his attitude doesn’t add up. I would say they kind of give people the opportunity, to really feel them out. “How is this kid? How does he react when he gets in the van?” To be honest, I didn’t finish school, but being on the road and traveling with all these people—I felt like that was my school. I was being taught throughout the way, learning life skills and how to deal with situations.
You’ve been skating since you were four, and seriously skating from a very young age. I’m sure you spent years dreaming about being a pro. Now that it’s finally happened, is it like you’d imagined?
I didn’t have a glimpse of what it would be like until it happened, you know? To be honest, the way it felt like for me was very fast. A blink of the eye. Just like, five, ten years ago, people weren’t coming out and going pro just like that. People were putting in their time and really showing that they could do it. But I guess it’s come to the point now where skating has taken off on this gnarly level.
Do you think part of that is because of social media , in that a young skater can get a huge following, to the point where a brand would be stupid not to turn them pro?
Yeah, it’s just crazy what the internet can do nowadays. You can not know about somebody one day and the next day you’re so juiced on them. I think it’s epic, too, that all it takes is one clip or a part to get everyone sparked up. There’s so many good skateboarders out there that don’t get the love shone, it’s crazy.
Before Real, you were on Organika for a while, right?
I was on Organika for like two years. It’s sad how something like that could just go under. Personally I thought they would be the best company to go pro for. I was kind of like, close-minded. I didn’t really think I was fit for other stuff, to be honest. When I started talking to Ryan Clements about getting an energy drink sponsor, I was like, “Monster would be so sick.” And he was like, “Monster? Really? I think I’ll hit up some people at Red Bull. I think that’d be a better fit for you.” I was like, “Me? A black skater on Red Bull? I don’t know about that.” Then everything was good and I’m so stoked to be a part of a company like that.
What’s the rule with the Red Bull hats? Does everyone on the team always have to have it on?
Just when I’m out skating or at events. I mean, to be honest, I would see people with a Red Bull hat and I thought that was so sick. Now actually being able to be a part of that and rep the brand, I’m going to live it up.
You’re never like, “Ah, I gotta wear this hat again?”
Nah, it’s a Red Bull hat. I get to do what I love and get supported by such an iconic company, why not show love?
So there hasn’t been a situation where you filmed a trick but forgot the hat and had to redo it?
It’s not going to be like, “Oh shit, he didn’t have on his hat.” It’s all good. I know homies who have filmed clips without hats on—as long as you don’t film a whole part without a hat on. They’re very lenient on things until it’s like, you’re doing something where it’s like, bro, come on.
You won the Vans Park Series contest in Huntington Beach this year. Next year that’ll be the qualifiers for the Olympics park contest, right? And I imagine that you’re trying for street, too?
Yeah, that would be sick to go for both.
Is it weird to know that you could be an Olympian?
It’s crazy growing up watching the Olympic games, and then being involved in your little thing, and now that thing has become so big that the Olympics want to be a part of it.
I heard you have another video part coming out in late November. Can you tell me about that?
I put out one video part already this year, then kind of started traveling a bunch, doing contests and stuff. I went three months or so without filming, then buckled down. I’ve been working on that for the last two months.
Is it attached to a specific sponsor?
All my sponsors have been helping me film it. I’d say it’s going to be a Thrasher part, but I think Real might have their logo in it. I’d say it’s all one big team effort at this point.
There seems to be increasingly a late-year push for new video parts from guys who are contenders for Skater of the Year. Do people talk about that?
People talk about it, but I’m just trying to do my own thing. Not stay away from that stuff, but I’m just here to skate. That’s what they talk about, but me personally, I’m just here to put out more content for you guys. But yeah, people do that.
Do you find it difficult to save footage and not just immediately put it on Instagram?
What I would want to do differently is, say I have a part ready and I have a minute of hammers that I’m not going to use. Why not put each hammer out slowly, week-by-week, giving people a taste of what’s been going on? “Oh shit, he’s just putting clips like this out on Instagram?” Making them really wonder what else I have.
How did you end up in the new season of HBO’s Ballers ?
My homie from Florida was like, “Yo, I’ve been giving surf lessons to one of the dudes that started Ballers. They’re going to need all these roles, I’d love to get you involved.” They sent me a script and I auditioned for this surfer role. I ended up not getting the role, but since they liked me they just wrote me into the script. I just had a little line and skate at Venice. I think it’s sick how this season the plot is really action sports—they’re really giving the world a taste of what we do.
Did you meet The Rock?
I got to meet all of them. The Rock sat me down, we had a little conversation. He asked me what’s next for me, what I have in store.
So The Rock seems like a good guy?
Yeah, really good guy.
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