Late one night in 2009, I met skate legend Rodney Mullen at a diner in LA. We talked about a lot of things -- life, death, the Bible, physics, and the past and present of skateboarding. We talked about a young kid he had mentored named Ryan Sheckler and about a new talent he had just seen on video. That was the word he used. Talent. “What's his name?” I asked. He shook his head in the way perhaps only Rodney Mullen can shake his head. “Willow,” he said.
Christoph “Willow” Wildgrube is probably a name you know. He turned pro in October with Mullen's company Almost but was already a famous name by then. The German father or two recently released a video with Transworld, where his smooth execution of hard tricks over big drops puts him amongst and perhaps even above his peers. He recently sat down with RedBullUSA.com to talk nicknames, Chris Haslam, and German cops.
How old are you?
I'm 29. Old as fuck.
Where'd you get the name Willow?
It's a longtime nickname. When I was six I had a teacher whose favorite movie was the 'Willow' movie. You know, with the little elves?
Yeah, I love that movie.
And Willow always tries to help people -- he's such a nice elf. And I guess I reminded her of him. So she started calling me Willow and it got picked up. And now everybody calls me Willow, even my parents and wife.
Whose idea was it to put the movie reference in your Almost part?
It was Haslam. I skate with him in the States and when we meet up in Germany. He always has a good time and if he wants to get gnarly he always can. He's the most epic skater I've ever seen. Sometime we play SKATE and I'll come close to winning and then he's like, “No way man. You won't win with that,” and then he murders me.
How did you come to Almost?
In 2003 I turned pro for Alis Skateboards in Copenhagen, but they went out of business just after my pro model came out. But Geoff (Rowley) and Arto (Saari) had seen me skate in Barcelona and they put me on flow. I was in the 'Extremely Sorry' movie, which is where Rodney saw me skating. And about two years I joined Almost, then turned pro two months ago.
Tell us about the new Transworld part.
I was in the States for the '5 Incher' premiere and sat with Oliver Barton from Transworld. He was going to be in Germany for nine days and had the idea for another video, so we did almost the whole thing when he was there. Everything went well and there was a great vibe. It was meant to be.
"I was the biggest loser. But I don't care. I went and I tried and I met Chris Cole. So if people think I'm a fucking loser, then I'm a fucking loser." -- Willow
The video illustrates your skill of smoothly melding tech stuff over big drops. What was the hardest trick you filmed?
The one where I varial heelflipped the 13-stair rail. We had to climb a fence with razor blades to get in and police go by there, so we didn't have much time. It’s also rough. But the weather was perfect -- no wind -- so we were lucky.
Do German cops hate skaters too?
Some of them hate us, but some of them will let you skate for like 15 more minutes. Most of the time, the German people are really strict. They say “No!” and kick you out really quick and call the cops. But if you have an Arab guy or Turkish guy or a Polish guy, they're quite mellow. They'll say “Do your thing my friend,” and give you 20 minutes.
On your first visit to the Berrics, Chris Cole defeated you with a score of SKATE to nothing. What happened?
Steve Berra asked me to come to the Berrics and I went there, then they told me I have to skate against Chris Cole. That was the first round. And I was all shook up and I messed up every single trick. I was the biggest loser. But I don't care. I went and I tried and I met Chris Cole. So if people think I'm a fucking loser, then I'm a fucking loser.
What are your plans for 2013?
In February, I will move to LA for a year. Almost is working on the visa now.
Cool. If you ever need a place to stay in New York, just let me know.
Fuck, yeah. Thanks.
Cole Louison is the author of 'The Impossible: Rodney Mullen, Ryan Sheckler, and the Fantastic History of Skateboarding.'
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