Chippa Wilson Discusses The Art Of Surfing Free, His Worst Tattoos, And Competition
The Stab Interview: Chippa Wilson
I remember the first time I saw a Chippa Wilson edit. The tattooed redhead seemed to come from nowhere, blasting massive airs and making aquatic skate tricks, finally, look good. It was the type of surfing that makes me want to paddle out, even if I know I’ll never come within a stone’s throw of his talent.
My mind was blown and I sincerely hoped he’d be hanging around. Flash-in-the-pan rippers are a dime a dozen, god forbid his life get in the way of my entertainment. Thankfully, the surf world got lucky and a decade later, Chippa is still the forefront of progressive, technical, stylish surfing.
To top it off, he’s a damn nice fellow. Kind enough to take a break from moving house, drive twenty minutes towards cell reception, and spend some time answering the questions of a guy he’s only met a few times.
Stab: Chippa! How’s your day treating you?
Chippa: Yeah, just busy. I’m moving houses right now. Just hustling, trying to get that done.
Moving is the worst.
It’s fucking gnarly. It’s a nightmare.
What was your childhood like? Where’d you grow up?
I grew up in Cabarita Beach, right on the border of New South Wales and Queensland. It was a pretty simple life, really. It was a pretty good upbringing.
Were you a happy kid?
One hundred percent. You couldn’t not be, back then. There were no phones or nothing. You were just doing you, completely.
I hated being a kid so much. But you weren’t a hellraiser? Didn’t get in trouble in school or anything like that?
It was kind half and half. I definitely wasn’t, like, the worst kid at school. But I wasn’t the best either. Kind right there in the middle. I never got expelled or nothing. It was alright.
So you made it through high school and everything, then started swinging a hammer, right?
I made it to Year Ten, which is fine here if you want to leave. Or you can go on to Eleven and Twelve if you really wanted to study something. But it really wasn’t for me. I kinda dropped out and started doing some labor work for my old man. He’s a carpenter.
Started doing the shit jobs for him, and my mate was an arborist, so I started doing stuff for him too. Then I finally got a lucky break and started surfing.
So you were out of school at, what, sixteen?
Yeah, sixteen. Maybe seventeen.
And then what really blew you up was Stab‘s Little Weeds, right?
Yeah, that’s exactly the break I got.
Known for his aerials, Chippa’s skill in heaving tubes is not to be overlooked.
It feels kind of weird to say, because you’re in your early thirties, I’m in my late thirties, and twenty-one seems so young. But for professional surfing, that’s a really late start.
Looking back at it, I guess it is, yeah, a pretty fucking late start. Kids have contracts around twelve nowadays. Which is pretty hectic.
I don’t know if it’s a good thing to push kids into a professional sport that young. But for you, it had to be kind of a trip. At twenty one you’re starting to put your life together, and then everything just massively changed.
Yeah, it got a lot easier. Because I was struggling, money-wise. I was just getting enough money for petrol. I was still living at home… actually, I wasn’t. But I was struggling. And then I was finally able to get enough money… I thought I was a millionaire. [laughs] It wasn’t even that much money. It was enough to live and travel a little bit and I was just overwhelmed.
And it just got better from then on.
You’ve built a damn successful life as a freesurfer and I’m curious… do you think, as a professional surfer, is it easier to be a freesurfer as opposed to a contest guy?
It’s tough. I know a lot of freesurfers who rip and they’re struggling to find support and whatnot. It’s just a weird little niche, and you need this lucky break that you can get sometimes. And then it’s easier. But saying that, it’s fucking hard too, for a lot of people. That’s a hard one. It’s a good question.
But competition, if you’re good at that… I feel like competition is all on you, and if you’re driven and, whatever—if want to make it, you will.
Me? I’m not competitive, so I wouldn’t make it. And that would be hard.
I think there’s a big difference where, if you’re a competitive surfer, shit’s kinda laid out for you. Like, ‘Go do these events and do well.’ And not that that’s easy, but there’s a kind of simplicity to it. But for you… you’re, essentially, a pro skateboarder in the ocean. You have to go get clips and keep one-upping yourself. It seems like it could get a little stressful.
I enjoy it a lot. It’s all I’ve ever known so it’s just what I love doing. And you said it best because it’s just one-upping yourself. Which is good, yeah? Because sometimes I’m looking at other people’s shit going, ‘I’m not beating him,’ or whatever.
You’re just trying to improve yourself.
There’s a real creative element to it and, I know you said you’re not competitive, but I saw you before the Surfer Poll. You were stressing a little bit about getting the win.
One hundred percent. But I was more stressing because I’d have to get up there and do a fucking speech. That’s was my stress, right there.
How much time do you spend on the road these days?
The last two years have been pretty non-stop. So, god, maybe nine months of the year I won’t be home.
Whip from above, 2018.
You don’t have kids or wife, right?
Nah, nah, none of them. Which makes it easier, for sure. But you always come home to a million bills and you’ve gotta try and jump into to the household life. I may as well just sell my houses. I don’t even need one. [laughs]
I travel a fraction of the amount you do, but we both live in fairly remote places. When you first start flying around it’s super fun, but eventually you’re just, like, ‘Another fucking airplane?’
In the end, if you do it enough, you’re just, like, cattle. You’re just going through the gates. Just walking.
What’s your goal with your career? How long do you really want to keep this going?
Right now I’m feeling, fuck, I want to go as hard as I can for another five or six years. I really want to make another really good movie, spend maybe two years on one. Later on, when I stop doing all these trips. And do some comps, like Stab High. There’s a lot of air comps right now which is kind of giving me a bit of froth again. Because I can travel and go do something a little different. So that’s fun.
But, yeah, I’ve got another six years of hard surfing.
My early thirties were when it felt like every time I hit bottom, or concrete, started catching up with me. Are you starting to hurt yet?
Not really. Just normal wear and tear. But nothing major, which is nice.
Some of the old shit is coming back. Twisted ankles, sprained knees, you can feel that. But I’m feeling alright.
It’s annoying as fuck when you get immobilized. I had a bit of lower back issue and that was hanging around for about six months. It’s all better now but you get so frustrated when you can’t be a hundred percent.
I’m not looking forward to my forties.
I’ve always wondered – you’re surfing is, obviously, super skate influenced. But I’ve never seen footage of you skateboarding.
I stopped years and years ago. I don’t know why. I’ve only just got back on the board now. Flat ground only, doing little flip tricks and shit. But I wish I’d never stopped because it’s already helped my surfing so much.
I mean, I was doing front-shuvs where I was using my hand, and then, straight away, as soon as I started skating, I was able to do them in the water with no hands. Like, proper front-shuvs, not varials. Which is all just from foot position in skating.
But you probably won’t see much footage of me skating, ever.
Cross-over pros are super hot right now. Look at Shane Borland.
Yeah, he’s nuts. Kalani [David] is pretty nuts too. But I’m nowhere near that level. I’m like a little fucking teenager doing kickflips. [laughs] I ain’t gonna film that.
What’s the Benihana of surfing?
God damn. I don’t know if people will be happy about this, but it’s probably that double grab back-flip thing. I don’t like those things.
When did you get your first tattoo?
Eighteen, I think? And it said ‘Aussie Pride’ across my chest. Which is no longer there. I got it lasered off.
Hahaha. What was the decision behind that?
I had all this other stuff on my chest and the font was old and just looked out of place. I don’t know. I’m pretty anti-script on your body, nowadays. If you’ve got it on you it better mean something pretty good. And to me that one meant fuck-all, so I got it off and put something over the top of it.
I’ve got a buddy who’s a tattoo artist, so he’s almost totally covered, and I told him once, ‘Dude, you’ve got some stupid tattoos going.’ And he just said, ‘Yeah, Rory, but at a certain point you stop caring.’ What’s your worst tattoo?
On my body right now? Shit… I’ve got a couple pretty fun ones right now that I love, but are just terrible. On my left arm, on my forearm, there’s a lot of drunk tattoos. My worst one is probably, it’s on my thigh, it’s got a wooden ship on there and it says ‘Surf or Die.’ That was one of the earlier ones. My mate did it and it was such a home job. So that’s the worst one, aesthetically.
But I like them all nowadays. Because fuck it.
Mr. Wilson is back in Waco right now. Expect more of this very soon.
Are you a happy person, Chippa?
For sure. One hundred percent. No one likes an eggy dude. I’m cruising. I see no point. Because in probably an hour and thirty minutes later you’re going to be happy again. So I just skip it. I mean, I complain, but I’m just fucking around with that.
I know you love motorcycles. When did that start?
Kinda late. Maybe twenty two? I bought my first little two stroke, Kawasaki K100, and just ripped into that. Tore it apart and turned it into a really whack cafe racer. And then I got a couple of Triumphs, which are pretty high tech and modern. And then kinda went anti-modern. I just got a Harley Panhead that my mate, Cohen, built me. So I’m kind of going back to old school.
It’s just a passion. I just like old shit. Every car I’ve owned has been twenty five years old, or older. I don’t know. There’s a simplicity about them, I guess.
Are you flipping them? I know a lot of car guys do that as a hobby. Fix something up and sell it so you’ve always got a project going.
I’m just collecting. Not too much shit. I’m not a hoarder, that’s for sure. I’m happy with what I’ve got so I’m gonna keep ’em. Maybe they’ll be worth something, one day.
How many cars and motorcycles do you have?
I’ve just got the one panhead here in Australia. And then I’ve got a Chevy C10, and old ’85 Suzuki Jimmy. That one’s from Japan. It’s a pretty sick little four wheel drive. What else? I’ve got a ’63 Chevy Corvair Greenbrier Wagon that’s halfway done. That’s over here. And I’ve got a Ford Econoline in America.
The Chevy, I’m actually building that into a camper van which I’m gonna take down to Tasmania when I move.
I can’t wrap my head around the whole #vanlife thing. I don’t want to live in a car and poop in a bucket.
Yeah, there’s no hippy vans going on here. I wouldn’t live in there. I’m definitely into doing little roadies down the coast, to surf and shit. But I’m not going month to month out of a fucking van.
Looking forward to Waco?
Yeah, frothing. How far away is that? I’m pretty keen.
First I’m heading to Fiji for my mate’s wedding. Do some training in the pool, drinking margaritas or something. Then I’ll be over there. I’m hyped. Can’t wait.
(Ed Note: This interview obviously occurred a few weeks prior to its publish date)
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