Art and fashion lover, author, cook… Yes, you’re on the right page – this is the profile for Red Bull skateboarder Corbin Harris.
It’s just that Corbin Harris is not your average skateboarder.
He speaks like a rugby union player – wide open, articulate, Aussie – but looks like a TV presenter. He’s a demon on a skateboard, but loves his mum and his mates. His work day might include a photo shoot, interviewing a giant wrestler and negotiating contracts – but he’ll still find a couple of hours to skate.
The youngest of a tight-knit family, Corbin grew up in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire. His brother had skated when Corbin was very young, but it didn’t even register an interest for the kid more interested in waves and footy. Corbin says he “lived” surfing and rugby, going on to represent his state at Waverly College in the latter.
It wasn’t until Vert-X opened at Taren Point that Corbin truly discovered skateboarding. “I was 14 and this indoor facility opened up down the road from where I lived. This place, it looked like it had come down from heaven. It had brand new ramps and all the best Australian skateboarders were there, and from that day I fell in love with skateboarding and never wanted to do any other sport again. And here I am at 26, still going.”
… And going, and going. Corbin rode every day for three years, quickly attracting the attention of sponsors and hitting the tour circuit. If his parents and private-school mates thought it odd that he turned his back so wholeheartedly on his other sports, they couldn’t question his dedication. Today he is a three-time medallist at the X-Games, is considered one of Australia’s best bowl riders and works tirelessly to grow his sport.
As well as being the youngest advisor to the Australian Sports Commission at 24, Corbin has stood up in front of counsellors to encourage the building of a skate park, and hosts Australia’s first skate-dedicated program on Fuel TV. “I’m trying to make skateboarding as big as it can be,” he says.
The TV show was Corbin’s idea. “Skateboarding is a really, really tough industry and I’ve been running my own program, so to speak, since I was 14. With skateboarding, you go a different road every time – you don’t win the trials, then the nationals, then go to the AIS and work towards the Olympics – you’ve got to create your own destiny. So when I met up with Fuel TV, I thought, ‘well, no one else is doing this in Australia’, so there was an opportunity there.”
As well as presenting Corbin Presents for two hours, five days a week, Corbin appears on the round-up show, This Week in Action Sports, where he gets to report on fellow Red Bull athlete, inspiration and friend Robbie Maddison.
“I’m inspired by people like Robbie – people who are really good at what they do,” says Corbin. “But there’s also a lot of stuff outside of skateboarding that gives me the energy to do better. My friends and family are really important to me, and Lance Armstrong has been a particular influence over that past few years. I’m also into a lot of artists like John Olsen. I’m a huge fan of Brett Whiteley.”
As luck would have it, Corbin is able to indulge his creative side both personally and in his career, helping design skate parks, plus a few clothing lines. “I always wanted to do clothing design,” he says. “It was either sport or fashion for me.”
But it’s Corbin’s personal style that attracts the most attention. “I always find it funny that what I wear is such a huge issue,” he chuckles.
“Skateboarders wear a certain type of clothes, some wear a lot of black. Well I have a love for fashion – it’s in the family, my grandmother was a milliner, my mum and sister are really into fashion. I actually really enjoy clothes, but it’s a part of who I am rather than me just wearing something wacky for the sake of it.”
Corbin says that because of his individual dress code it took some time to prove he was well and truly into skateboarding. “People thought maybe I was just another kid who was coming in and out of skateboarding, not there for the right reasons. But now they respect me and know I’m doing the right thing. I’m good mates with Shane Azar and Dustin Dollin and they don’t care what I wear.”
Dragging skateboarding slowly, kicking and screaming, towards the middle ground is a challenge, but one Corbin is willing to take up. “Skateboarding is funny, it’s based on magazines and videos rather than contests. It could go a lot more mainstream if there were more competitions, but then it wouldn’t be what it is,” he says. “Skateboarding is absolutely huge in America. Here, it’s getting more well known and better respected.”
One of Corbin’s most recent achievements is getting the very mainstream publisher HarperCollins on board to publish his book Corbin Harris’ Ultimate Guide to Skateboarding. “I’m really passionate about what I do,” he says. “When people ask me what I do for work, I say ‘well it could be anything today’. Skateboarding, television, writing a book…”
So is Corbin Harris a role model for future skateboarders?
“I don’t know if role model is the right word. I’m consistently trying to do better at what I do. I’m always trying to push the score, to make skateboarding known to a wider audience, but I’m also personally trying to do stuff that fulfils me. At the same time, though, I’m always trying to give back to skateboarding because it gave me so much.”
But there’s one last thing he wants to make clear. “Just because I’m on television, it doesn’t mean my skating career is over – I’m not a footballer,” he laughs. “I don’t even think I’m near my prime yet. I’ve got a few more years left!”