Vans release a new Chukka Pro to celebrate Danny Wainwright

2020 sees Vans release a new Chukka Pro to celebrate Danny Wainwright and his 20 year association with the brand. There are few UK heads with careers as multi-faceted as Danny’s so, in recognition of this fact we caught up with him to chew that fat and discuss the background to this Chukka Pro release.
Dotted throughout are a bunch of Danny Wainwright videos relating some of his contributions to skateboarding but they only represent a tiny faction of his overall output. He’s had more UK skate mag covers than anyone else in history, he’s a world record holder and, best of all, he’s one of ours. Read on below…


Let’s get a few background things nailed down first – were are you from originally?

I was born in Coventry and lived there until I was 11. I didn’t skate at that point though – we moved to Stroud in Gloucestershire around that time, which is where I started skateboarding.

 

When did Bristol come into the picture?

Well, Bristol was the closest big city to Stroud and it had a really strong skate scene, skateparks, loads of spots, etc. We’d travel there regularly to skate from early on really – it seemed like the obvious place to go to. Then I ended up moving there at 17.

 

 

What was your first published magazine photo?

My first photo was from an SS20 jam in Botley (where the bowl used to be) in 1991 – the caption read ‘cold kicking in effect’. That was the same event that Tom (Penny) got his first photo in R.A.D as well, which is quite mad thinking back on it. His photo was of a mute and mine was a one-foot tailgrab. I was already skating with Tom a lot at that point, travelling around to events, going over to skate the ramps in Oxford and Leamington Spa, he’d come over to Gloucester…

 

SS20 (OG Oxford skate store) was your first sponsor too, right?

Yeah, that happened after the Botley jam where I first got a photo in R.A.D. that I mentioned – it might have been related to that as I probably met Mon Barbour (SS20 owner) for the first time at the Botley jam. Sometime after that I started getting boards from Jeremy (Fox) as I was going to ride for Deathbox kind of. Then when it changed from DB to Flip I started getting flowed Flip boards too. It wouldn’t want to say that I was ‘riding for them’ because I wasn’t officially but it was kind of floating around as a possibility at the time.

 

 

When did Powell skateboards come into the picture?

Around the same time that the Deathbox/Flip thing seemed like it was kind of on the cards Shiner hit me up about riding for Powell. So I was riding for Powell through a distributor at first. That lasted for a couple of years until Powell wanted to fly me out to Santa Barbara to check me out. My first time on a plane, first time out of England – straight to Santa Barbara. I was completely out of my depth. I was expecting to get shot in a fucking drive-by at first (laughing).

 

What about Vans – when did that start?

Hard to say precisely because I’d ridden for them through a distro a long, long time in the past, long before I officially rode for them. I had stints on Emerica and Etnies before quitting those and ending up on the Vans Europe team. The thing there though was that I never did much in Europe at that point as this was in the late-90s when I was spending a lot of time in the USA doing things with Powell.
I spent more time in the States than I did in England back then, I’m struggling to remember actual dates though – I’m definitely not the best fact checker as I was probably swimming around in bong water for a lot of that period, (laughs).
Officially, I became a member of the global, ‘proper’ Vans team in 2000, hence the 20-year anniversary this year. I’d got shoes from them before that in various formats but it was never an official deal until 2000.

 

You’ve had two pro shoes from Vans during that time too, correct?

Yeah that’s right – one in 2001 and the other in 2003.

 

 

You’ve got to be the only UK pro skater to have done that whilst still being based in the UK…

Well, I wasn’t really ‘based in the UK’ for the entirety of that time, like I said already I did spend a lot of time in the USA. I guess you could say that I’m the only pro skater from this country to have ended up with pro model shoes on Vans who didn’t move permanently to America. That’s probably more of an accurate way of putting it. I did it my own way for sure.

 

The 2000 highest ollie thing – I know this has been talked to death already but we ought to mention it: I don’t know anyone else who’s in the Guinness Book of Records…

(Laughs), it is what it is. I’m proud of myself for doing that, I’m proud of all my achievements because, come on, I’m from a council estate in Coventry, I wasn’t exactly set up to achieve very much. Skateboarding came through hard for me. I’m not going to lie, it does still amuse me that I managed to win ‘The Reese Forbes Ollie Challenge’ despite not taking it ultra-seriously like a lot of the other people involved who were training, long before the idea of training for a contest was a thing like it is now. That is pretty funny to look back on, lots of the other people involved were filming clips for 411 showing how they were preparing for it like it was some battle or something whereas myself, I just adopted the same approach that I always did to skateboarding: get super high and just…skate. It worked out. Aside from that stuff though which has been talked about a lot in the past, I felt at the time, and I still do now, that me winning that thing kind of stood for British and European skateboarding at the time. That’s how I felt about it. It was a bit of a ‘fuck you’ from our scene I felt like. You know your man’s acting all Billy Big Balls, filming his victory lap before the contest had even started.
I remember thinking at the time, ‘chill out – we haven’t even started yet’, (laughs). It was presented as such a big deal at the time, like this showcase of pro skating with a huge emphasis on America and I turned up stoned out of my mind, totally anti-social as ever, not talking to any cunt because I couldn’t be bothered and still took it home with me. Like I say, I’m proud that I achieved that on a personal level but for me I was more proud of the way that it shone a light on UK skating and kind of said “we’re here”, you know what I mean?

 

Absolutely, in the same way that Tom Penny winning Radlands in 1995 in front of the entire world of pro skateboarding did…

Yeah I guess: that was the most unbelievable two-fingers up of all time.
He won that contest with his hands in his pockets. I’ve seen Tom skate better on a Sunday afternoon in a car park. That contest run, that has subsequently gone down in history, was about 2% of what he could do. He was fucking yawning throughout his run, (laughs). You remember that? That’s how easily it came to him, unbelievable. My man was yawning, his hand over his mouth mid-run in front of every single person in the industry at that time. Only a couple of years before a lot of the same people had been laughing about his clothes or his style or whatever – he showed them didn’t he? Who’s laughing now? They all started worshipping him from that point onwards. Tom’s the best.

 

Can we talk about that period shortly afterwards where you basically came first in every contest in Europe consecutively?

(Laughing), that was the year that my daughter was born. I just decided ‘right, I’m going to enter every contest and win them all, the money’s mine’.
I was on a mission. It worked though, there was one summer (2004 I think) where I won every single one that I entered. Not to be a knob about it obviously but I genuinely only went there with the intention of winning. As mercenary as that might sound, that’s why I was there. I was about to become a dad so I wasn’t playing around. I won the European Championships first and then just followed the contest circuit through Europe taking all the cash, (laughs).

 

You were always good at mixing it up in that way though – you’ve filmed more street parts than I can think of but you’re not afraid to switch the contest mode on when it’s necessary.

Yeah, you’re right. That’s how I looked at it too. I never wanted to get labeled as a ‘contest guy’ and filming and shooting street footage was always my priority but (back then more so than now maybe) part of your job as a pro skater was to step up to the contest scene as well. I wasn’t afraid to get my hands dirty when there was so much money up for grabs and all you had to do was skate perfect skateparks for a couple of minutes on your own in a stadium. No brainer really.

 

What about your first skate magazine cover?

That was a R.A.D cover in 1995, shot by Wig Worland at Bedminster skatepark in Bristol: a backside ollie on the original banks.

 

When did you and Syd open up 5050?

We opened up in 1997. It felt like something that needed to happen because of how big the scene was and how many skaters there were here. Bristol needed an SOS to cater to that, to help people out, give them routes into sponsorship, organize events, make videos, all of that. You only get that kind of infrastructure with a skater-owned store, because those are the people invested in the scene because they’re a part of it as well. A long time ago man…

 

That was back in the era when you looked like a skeleton, right?

(Laughs), yeah well I lived off cans of Coke and weed at that point in my life, with the odd Mr. Kipling’s thrown in for nutritional value. Not a diet I’d recommend to anyone else looking back but it worked at the time. I’ve gone fully the other way now – all I do these days is eat and drink red wine. Comes to us all in the end…

 

You’ve been into painting since you were really young too, right?

Yeah, I’ve always been involved in making art, painting, graffiti – I’ve been tagging since I was 8 years old – longer than I’ve been into skating. Like every skater really, we all tend to have multiple interests that cross over. There are lots of creative types in this culture – if I hadn’t already been into it, no doubt I’d have been introduced to painting and art more generally through skateboarding. It’s as big a part of my everyday life as skateboarding is.

 

Am I right in thinking that you were one of the first pro skaters to go to China as well?

Steve Caballero and I were the first pro skaters to travel to China. Strangely that didn’t end up being mentioned in Grosso’s (RIP) Loveletter to China but yeah, we were the first to go there. We went to Beijing in 1994 for two weeks. This was back when China was a hugely different country to the way it is today. Back then, everyone out on the streets would be wearing those blue workers suits, all dressed exactly the same – everybody would ride the same bicycles. I guess this was when China was still pretty much closed off to the rest of the world – an amazing experience for sure. I remember arriving in Beijing in a pair of all-white Half Cabs and feeling like I was at Embarcadero or something, (laughs). Well crispy.

 

Why did you pick the Chukka for this 20-year celebratory release?

It was always a shoe that I really liked. I’d wear them a long time ago, back when I was still paying for shoes. I’d modify them – put fat laces in them, extra tongues to make them look puffier. The style of that era, the really early 90s ‘Simon Evans thing’ – you see that being replicated again now so I thought it was a good time to revive what had always been a favourite shoe of mine. I’d always thought that Vans ought to do more with the Chukka because it’s such a classic, beautiful-looking silhouette. It was so popular in the early 90s – when people used to put bam in them to get the fat, padded tongue look. It looked so dope modified like that and it always surprised me that Vans didn’t jump on that, following skater-modifications the way they did with the Half Cab for example, which came about after people started cutting the original Full Cab down themselves. So anyway, I added padding to the Chukka Pro that we’re talking about now to try and get that look to it. Updating it but with a definite nod to the past. I added 5 mm of padding to the tongue at first, then when I saw the first sample, I doubled that to 10mm – to be honest, if it was entirely up to me I’d have probably added 30mm, (laughs), trying to relive the past – back when I wasn’t grey and my back worked properly. I’m stoked on how they’ve come out though, like I said, I always wanted the Chukka to get more love so it’s nice to have a chance to do this. The way I remember the era when it was first a popular Vans shoe, back in the early 90s, it seemed as though all of us who were starting to get into the mags at the time, myself, Geoff (Rowley), Tom – we were all wearing the Chukka so it has a strong place in my heart.

 

What’s your official job title at Vans these days?

I’m not sure that I have an official title as such – maybe ‘grassroots marketing/activation’? I work for Vans heading up their entire core skateboarding/grass roots events program and whatnot. It’s a bit of everything really – working alongside shops, organizing and doing logistics for events, helping local scenes to do things – the long and the short of it is that I’m on the ground floor if you like. I’m the point of contact in Europe for all the grass roots stuff that Vans are involved in. It’s sick. I get to work with the people who make everything happen. I get to feed my experience and my love of skating, art, music, food into everything I’m involved with – I’m lucky to have the opportunity to do that.
Vans are a family man – people often flippantly say that kind of thing but with Vans it is actually borne out by their actions and the support they offer to skateboarding. Throughout this Covid situation they haven’t got rid of one skater or one TM you know? They ran that ‘Foot the Bill’ program with skater-owned stores across the world which, if they marketed it correctly, those shops would make a solid amount of money completely funded by Vans right at the height of the Corona virus lockdown when everyone was really anxious about surviving. You know, it’s one thing to talk about supporting skateboarding and the grass roots, but it’s another thing to actually put your money where your mouth is. Vans always have done that – it’s 100% legit. I didn’t see too many other huge brands doing anything similar you know? I’m honoured to be part of the Vans family and to work for them. That’s why I’ve been with them for 20 years.

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