RILEY BOLAND: A CHARACTER STUDY // 11.2
Introduction and interview by Luke Callahan Photos by Liam Glass and Gordon Nicholas Character design is a practice common in the animated...
I’ve only encountered Dennis Busenitz once in real life, and it happens to have been almost exactly eight years ago to the day of me writing this. Normally I have an awful memory when it comes to dates, but in this case I can remember the specific situation in which I met him, and the time. It was February of 2010, and I was in San Francisco with Kevin Lowry and some other friends. We stayed at the Green Tortoise Hostel, a place that was basically made into a de facto Canadian skateboarder’s embassy by the late Darrell Smith many years ago. The reason I can remember the month and year so well is because of how extraordinary it was. Firstly, one afternoon we all watched Canada win the gold medal in Olympic hockey while sitting at a strip club near our hostel. It was the nearest place we could find that was showing the game. I remember walking out of that place absolutely euphoric from what we watched. The hockey game, that is. Secondly, this was just two months before my son was born, which turned out to be a life-changer, as you may have guessed. Lastly, my birthday occurred while I was there.
I didn’t plan to write about Dennis’ part in Roll Forever because of the timing though, but as I sat down to write this intro it all just clicked for me: the Olympics are starting in South Korea today, my birthday is next week, and my son turns eight years old in two months. Suffice to say, it was a memorable trip.
Now, to the subject at hand, Dennis Busenitz. One day we met up with Keegan Sauder and Lee Yankou, fellow Canadians that were living in San Francisco at the time, to start our day at 3rd and Army, a must hit spot in the city. As our crew pulled up in a couple of vehicles, I could see one person skating the spot alone, and I immediately knew it was Dennis Busenitz. Not only because of his recognizable style, but because of his van parked right there, and his dog Gary chasing behind him. I was as much in awe of seeing him in person as I was of the absolute normalcy of what he was doing: skating alone, just like all of us have many times. But you don’t imagine a top pro doing that, skating alone in the morning with his dog trailing behind him. The guy was tied to some of the best brands in skateboarding, brands that are based in the Bay Area. He had an innovative and well-received pro model shoe that had just come out the year before with adidas. I was actually wearing those shoes. So if you didn’t know any better, you’d expect Dennis Busenitz to be skating with a group and a couple of people with cameras documenting it all. Seeing him out there trying to piece together new tricks and lines all by himself would be like seeing the 2010 Golden Goal scorer himself, Sidney Crosby, show up unexpectedly at an outdoor rink in Quebec to run through some training drills with a junior player.
Let us muse on Dennis Busenitz in Real’s 2005 video, Roll Forever, one of the first free DVDs I remember being released. —Jeff Thorburn
-It’s sometime before 2005, and we’ve got a couple of Real’s young bucks laying around on some bricks and stretching. Flash forward over a decade, and one of these guys will swell up and become very active on Instagram, labeling himself “SKATEBOARDER | LIFTER | MODEL | COACH”, while the other will reluctantly join Instagram to appease sponsors, post random things infrequently, and continue to look, dress, and skate almost exactly the same.
-Look at that trail of sweat. Will Dennis every become as synonymous with sweating at Gershon has? Also, maybe we should have seen what was coming with Nick’s coaching on that stretch.
-A Fallen-era Frank Gerwer drives a set of Spitfire’s right into Dennis’ ribs in a failed attempt at a No-Comply over him. Dennis shows his true German-colours with a completely dry reaction: “Ah, that kinda hurts.”
-Here we have the juxtaposition of the San Francisco-by-way-of-Kansas-by-way-of-Germany guy wearing a Metallica t-shirt, asking if they “Think it’s hard to get rights for Biggie?” while a folk rock song kicks in for his part. The song is by Old Canes, who are from Lawrence, Kansas, which is about 3 hours from where Dennis spent his teenage years in Newton, after moving there from Germany. Dennis would end up skating to another one of their songs in a section from Real’s Life and Times video in 2006. “Yes, America, it’s what I drink.”
-The intro to the video and then the individual intros to the parts in this video are a really cool way to make the whole thing cohesive and offer up a sample of what that person is like. I still remember some of what the guys said before their parts. Anyway, it’s worth watching the whole video if you are nostalgic, interested in some history, or just a sap like me.
-And then we just get thrown into the San Francisco hills by way of a Nollie down that double-set.
-You know you are blasting on transition when you are going higher over the lip than the quarterpipe is tall.
-As mentioned in previous musings, I’m a big fan of hitting the same spot back-to-back but in a different way. This counts.
-While technically the Alley-Oop Frontside 360 over the hip is the main event, I’m much more interested in the Kickflip opener and the casually-carved ride away.
-I love the awkward tricks Dennis has always been willing to mess with in the hills of SF. Downhill manuals, man. And then the Switch Flip off the curb. The way he 180s out of the Manual makes me think of Ocean Howell in the Ipath promo. Maybe it’s a combination of style and location. Man, that’s a part to be mused on one of these days.
-Skating in a tank top like this makes me think of Van Wastell. Any excuse to pull up some Van footage is a welcome excuse. I’m noticing just how far out Dennis flicks his front foot on Kickflips.
-This looks like a scene from a comic strip.
-This is Dennis in the middle of flirting with a mohawk. He seems to be over that phase, but still skates in a lot of jackets, something you don’t see very often.
-One of the things that I believe a lot of people like about Dennis is just how normal and hard-working he is. He’s never acted like a tortured artist or genius. He’s down to try hard and represent his sponsors. He handles skating like a job that he enjoys. He’s always been progressive, not just in his tricks, but in his approach to how skating can look. I can’t tell you with certainty the name of anyone that has won Tampa Pro before besides Dennis.
-I dig the eagerness he’s rolling with in the natural bank/QP line. He’s pushing the instant he completes the little Half-Cab slide around after the first trick, and keeps going to get the Switch 360 Flip at the end. You know he probably kept going after that too.
-The Backside Nosegrind on the stair is such an SF type spot, and most would just roll with the single, but leave it to Dennis to keep going and screech a Bluntslide on the next stair. He’s always expanding the zone like this in lines, which somehow reminds me of this scene from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
-The next two clips had to have been put back to back intentionally to show the contrasting outfits. On the Frontside Noseslide on the bank he looks like the farm-boy skater that wears big headphones and smokes weed at the skatepark everyday, with those basketball shorts and a Metallica t-shirt, whereas in the Switch Flip on the bank he’s got a nice sweater over top of a collared shirt.
-It might be interesting for some people now to be seeing the mix of shoes he’s wearing in this part, including the Vans Half Cabs seen below. Dennis joined the revamped adidas Skateboarding program in 2006 and had his first pro model shoe come out in 2009. It’s weird how excited I get just watching this commercial again and thinking about the time when this shoe came out. It just looked so different from all the Half Cab rip-offs that brands were doing at that time.
-There’s something Dennis said in a 2012 interview with Jenkem that has always stood out to me:
Is there any good advice you’ve gotten about skating?
Well my friend Matt, I guess around the time of my Seeing Double part was like, “C’mon Dennis, good part but you know, smith grinds, tailslides… you can do more!” I’ll never forget that. A well needed constructive criticism. It was funny I think. He just told me to do more than the bare minimum to get by I guess.
His response really explains a lot of what drives Dennis. But after rewatching his parts in Real to Reel and Seeing Double, I’m kind of blown away that this advice made such a mark on him. To me, he’s pushing it pretty hard in those parts, and he hasn’t really stopped since. But I guess it’s this advice that is keeps stoking the fire in him to consistently put out great parts.
-Watch the ride away from that Bluntslide on the bank and tell me he didn’t keep going to do a Switch Tre after.
-Actually, it’s possible that Dennis is driven not just by his friend Matt’s comment, but also by a desire to keep up with the fabled-but-fictitious Gary Headlock, as he explained to TWS in 2010.
Your dog’s name is Gary. Could you tell me about how that name came about?
Well, I was pretty green behind the ears on the first skate trip I ever went on with Deluxe, so everyone would kind of f–k with me. They’d make up shit and I’d believe them, because I was so naïve. So, Frank Gerwer was telling me about this incredible skater named Gary Headlock that was doing the craziest shit that nobody had ever heard of and he had a sidekick named Ducky Donzworth, I think. And, they’d tell me Gary was doing stuff like switch 360 flip frontside crooked grinds down an eight-stair handrail and it was the opener in the newest 411VM. I just hadn’t seen it yet, so the dumb kid that I was, I was like, “What the f–k? No way! That’s so gnarly.” I don’t believe anything Frank tells me now, but Gary Headlock has remained this infamous, fictitious ripper joke now.
-The China Banks bench carve. In case you somehow can’t tell, that bench is extremely long. That’s a spot he’s returned to many times over the years to approach in different ways and innovate on, even to this day.
-Fitting shoes for the spot. Wearing the Huf 3s at a spot that I definitely associated with Keith Hufnagel.
-Again, never content with just a single trick, unlike some previously mused on skaters.
-While I’m sure it’s in the Bay Area, the Polejam Backside 180 always felt like a Miami clip to me. It’s probably because of how bright it is and the lack of torso and leg covers.
-Everything about the downhill line, starting with the Kickflip Manual, seems nonchalant, just a lead up to the Nollie Heelflip, which was itself quite chill.
-If you’ve seen his Seeing Double part, you’ll know that Dennis has some serious chops in a pool or tranny park. You’ll also know that he and Jim Beam don’t mix well.
-I’d like to know what the plan was on this scorching fast downhill Manual.
-And while it’s likely got an anti-climatic ending, the cut on this curving powerslide has always left me wondering, kind of like Gonz in the intersection.
-I’ve always liked that his Nollie Flips are sort of mobbed. And this line is a nice follow-up to the earlier Nollie and then Ollie.
-A rather tame Fakie Manual at the famed 3-up-3-down spot in SF that Dennis would continue to hammer on over the years.
-He seemed to be really feeling Nollies down things at this time.
-Quick hops, very Keith Hufnagel-esque.
-Expanding the zone again with an Ollie over the wall.
-There’s a quick snippet of an awful looking sliding slam down a hill that looks like it comes from his final clip.
-A heavily mohawk’d Backside Noseblunt Slide at another spot we saw Puleo skate.
-And then an endless ride-away into the sunset perfectly timed to the music.
-That’s it, the building of a perfect storm that would lead to a German-Kansan developing one of the most popular pro-model skate shoes of all time and becoming one of the quintessional examples of a modern day professional skateboarder.