When Chris Cole tosses a T-shirt into the crowd, the kid catching the tattered threads shrieks in glee. Cole? He just made his bag lighter.
That’s one of the tricks of travel you get from the world-touring skateboarder, who brings older gear with him when he competes so he can send it flying into the crowd when he’s done.
“[The kid is] stoked and you just lightened your bag,” Cole tells SI.com.
Cole’s way of travel has certainly changed in the last couple of years. While he used to spend all his time sitting on a skate ledge or in a hotel, he’s realized lately the value in squeezing out every bit of culture he can.
“We would skate until it was dark, go back and eat and go hangout and do nothing,” he says about his past routine. “Now we are trying to break away from tour life and see things every now and then. We have traveled the entire globe and seen only skate spots. We are like musicians who shuffle in the back door of an arena and see only a hotel and the bus.”
[daily_cut]Recent trips for Cole included a jaunt to the Great Wall of China and Machu Picchu in Peru, visits that helped “really make the trip.” Since Cole and his wife had their first child when Cole was just 24, they didn’t take time to see the world when he traveled, something that is changing with his new philosophy on travel.
But while the Great Wall proves a swell memory, Cole doesn’t pass up his chance to bowl. With his group of travel companions and fellow skaters, finding a bowling alley provides a near nightly relief on some trips.
With excursions usually every couple of weeks and ranging about four or five days, each venture away for Cole proves manageable from a sports performance standpoint. While Cole travels with guys who take snacking seriously, especially with special diets, Cole doesn’t create a meal plan for the road, simply listening to his body.
“If nutrition isn’t a good balance of my time, then it isn’t worth anything,” he says. “If I can’t fit it into my normal life, I'm not going to stick to it. I know when I eat gross and I try to eat better from there on out.”
When on the road, finding time to workout proves difficult, with so much skating and video work associated with each trip. But Cole never neglects his stretching, stretching before a skate and for a while after. “You’ll see someone standing weird at dinner,” he says, “they are stretching a muscle.”
Cole doesn’t struggle with nutrition or physical fitness, but keeping his mind right presents a challenge for him. “Keeping in shape, you can mindlessly get on an apparatus and go,” he says. “Staying in the game mentally is really difficult.”
With fans at every stop expecting him to perform at his peak every time out, he says relying on his wife and manager to take travel responsibilities off his plate allows him to “stay happy and stay focused,” a key reason his wife goes to every competition with him.
Over the course of a career you start to pick up on plenty of tricks. For packing, Cole always aims to minimize, which is why a trip that includes two climates is the most difficult. He suggests a breathable snowboard jacket—the rain jackets trap too much heat—and plenty of T-shirts as the staples to any bag.
Packing gets quite a bit easier, though, when you have your own clothing line, as Cole does with DC Shoes. “Every single day you dress yourself, it is pretty easy to think about what you like and to have the opportunity because of skateboarding (to have your own line) is pretty incredible,” he says. “I get to pick exactly what I want to wear and travel with. It is pretty rad.”
The Initials Collection includes plenty of thin and stretchy materials, he says, for ease of movement. For shoes, in the cold weather Cole brings what he says are cool waterproof DC boots, but generally opts only for his own skate shoe, the Cole Lite 2, which he says is comfortable enough to skate in and go to dinner in.
“My shoe is just as comfortable as any other shoe,” he claims. Plus, it saves him weight and room in his bags. Who wouldn’t—if they had one—pack only their own signature shoe?
What makes traveling tough is the need to have his boards—and his shoes—without fear of running out. He brings one board for every three days of skating. He even divvies up his sponsor stickers in packs so he isn’t left scrambling for the right stickers in a time-sensitive situation. Sometimes he tosses skate decks in with his clothes, but when he fears the overweight counter at the airport he does something that is “smart, but sucks to do.” He tapes his boards together and carries them with him through the airport.
“If you carry one board it is fine, if it is a board and a deck it gets heavy,” he says. “Two decks and a complete (combination) and it sucks and your arm is tapped out.”
Such is the difficulty of lugging boards through airports. But at least on the way home, Cole has lightened his load by a few T-shirts. And made a couple of kids happy along the way.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.