Felipe Gustavo is as well known for his big smile and positive attitude as for his technical mastery and buttery style, but it was for good reason if he seemed a little off his game on every front in 2019. In March he tore a ligament in the big toe on his right foot, then spent the rest of the year trying to skate as if he wasn’t in excruciating pain. Finishing 3rd at Dew Tour was the year’s only contest highlight for Felipe, but he battled through the rest of it, all the same, determined to keep skating with his friends and to stay high in the mix of the World Skate rankings before skateboarding’s debut in the Tokyo Olympics. Now that everything’s on hold in the midst of a global pandemic? He’s breathing a great big sigh of relief.
We caught up with him for a phone chat from his parents’ home in Brasília, Brazil, where he’s been enjoying time with his mother Liliane and father Paulo for the last three months.
Let’s start with the Dew Tour last year, where you got on the podium despite some struggles in the rest of the year. What went well for you there?
The setup was nice with the hubbas and it was just kind of a vibe! I’d just come back from a gnarly trip all over the world. In one month I went to Street League London, then to China for X Games Shanghai, then to Brazil, then back to L.A., so all four weekends before Dew Tour I was somewhere else, the whole time with an injured toe. By the time I got to Dew Tour, I just didn’t care anymore. Like, “I’m just gonna skate and see what happens.” And it ended up happening! I remember the first day of practice I was so sore. I registered, went to see the course, and didn’t even skate. I did like one noseslide and a 50-50 down the Hubba and then I left. My legs were done. When I woke up the next morning, I was just like, “Yo, this is gonna have to work.”
What was the deal with the injury?
I tore the ligament in my big toe on my right foot in March last year. I didn’t know that was going to be such a big deal at the time, thinking I’d just be off my board for a couple weeks, but when I got back to it I had no balance for anything. To do something like a nollie flip was super painful. When I went to SLS London I got a cortisone shot in my toe just to be able to skate, but it was still super painful. I couldn’t really skate at all in China, I was so hurt. Then when I got back for Dew Tour it was still numb, but somehow Dew Tour was the best contest I skated. After that, it just got more sore, with more and more damage to the ligament with no time off.
And it’s better now?
In December I finally had some downtime to get it fixed, so I had a procedure where I got stem cells taken out of my back and put into my toe. I couldn’t skate for like 50 days, and then when I tried again in February it still hurt. I decided to fly home to Brazil at the start of the pandemic in March and did one last cortisone shot, and now I can finally stand on my tiptoes again. This week was my first time really skating again. I posted a clip skating my new box and it was the first time in a year that I did a nollie flip crook with no pain in my toe. I’m pretty lucky the Olympics isn’t happening and all these other contests settled down this year because it’s time for me to heal right now.
Right now you’re 5th among Brazilians and 21st overall in the World Skate rankings. For the Brazilian skaters, and also for the Americans, that top-3 cut for the Olympics is going to be savage! How much pressure do you feel around that competition just to make the cut, not even thinking about the Olympics themselves but just getting there?
Dude, the competition for Brazil is pretty intense! Kelvin Hoefler is pretty safe: he’s way out in front. I was in 3rd, but the last two contests I couldn’t skate well. I didn’t skate SLS São Paulo for the World Championships, and I didn’t skate well at the other Olympic qualifiers. I’m still on the Brazil team through at least December but it’s going to be a good fight to see who actually gets to go to Tokyo. Whoever gets chosen it’s going to be well-deserved and I think we’ll have a solid team.
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It seems like the pause in the contest calendar is actually helping you out a little bit.
Oh hell yeah, dude. For me, it’s a blessing in disguise. God knows how much I’ve been through with this toe: so many injections, time off, ice, acupuncture… everywhere I went in the world last year I was like, “I need a massage.” I couldn’t do anything. I haven’t even learned a single trick in a year because every time I’d go back to the board I’d have to start with the basics again to get comfortable enough to skate a contest. Then after the contest, I’d be out for three to four weeks waiting for the swelling to go down so I could do the same thing all over again. It was like going to war without guns! I didn’t have anything to play with. I was just trying to maintain.
And you’re good now?
I’m finally feeling healthy. I built a gym in my parents’ house and my dad built me a new box ledge to skate, so I’m just going to go back to basics, start skating again, and have fun again. Hopefully, everything will come back around.
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My partner for life! Forever my biggest inspiration. Told him i need a ledge for when I start skating again .. here we are! Stoked to be doing some tricks pain free! Btw he’s paying guitar on the edit 🤘🏾. #hometeam . . Meu parceiro da vida ! Pra sempre meu maior incentivador. Desde pequeno sempre cmg . Falei q queria um caixote pra quando voltar a andar . Construimos juntos ! Teamo meu velho ! Obrigado por tudo. Feliz de poder tá dando umas trick denovo sem dor 🙏🏽 Obs . Ele tocando viola no fundo ❤️
I was looking at your pictures and videos on Instagram this week, of your dad building the box, you skating it, and your pictures together. It looks like you’re having some special family time together down there.
For real. The pandemic has been so good for me. In the 13 years since I first left my family to live in the U.S., I never came back to Brazil to spend more than 3 weeks with my family and every time I’d come here I’d be like, “I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to do that, I’ve got to fly to São Paulo…” Just being back home and living with my folks again is a blessing for me. If not for the pandemic I probably wouldn’t be healed up already, and the quality time I’ve had with my folks is amazing. My dad is 63, my mom is 57, and it’s real dope getting to know my family more and just be here with them. I’m not even looking forward to going back to the U.S. right away, to be honest with you, if I can’t even skate with my homies and nothing’s really open yet. I’m about to stay down here another two months and let things come down while I hang with my folks, get my body strong, and get my mind strong.
A lot of people in skateboarding know the story about your dad selling the family car to get plane tickets for you to go win Tampa Am 2007 when you were a grom, how he helped launch this whole dream for you. He’s so proud of you. In every picture I’ve ever seen of you two, he’s just absolutely beaming.
My dad’s my hero. When I say “my dad,” I mean my mom and dad, but my dad was there for every single moment of this journey, clapping for me. When I did that nollie flip crook yesterday for the first time in six months, he cheered the same way he did when I was 8 years old. The same way he built a box for me this week, he did the same thing 22 years ago, my first box. He’s always trying to find ways to help me be a better person, whether it’s building a box or telling me some old stories or whatever. It’s pretty tight. That was one of my best posts ever on my ‘gram, just telling people how important it is to have some family around. Use this time while we’re in quarantine for the pandemic to enjoy your family and the closest ones that you love. That’s going to be your strength so you can keep going for the next couple years, because I think it’s going to be some hard years coming up. It’s going to take a while to come back from this pandemic.
What’s the situation like in Brasília right now? Is everything still pretty locked down?
They’re going to start opening up some malls and stuff this week. In my city, they say it’s only been about 100 deaths so far, which is way more mellow than São Paulo. In São Paulo right now it’s like New York was three weeks ago, but here I can go out with a mandatory mask on. I’m only going outside when I really need to, like this week I’m going to go for some PT with my toe, but then I’m back home with my folks. We just got a new puppy! Life here is beautiful, I can tell you that.
Now that you’re feeling better do you have any goals, thinking about the next year out or towards the Olympics or anything else?
The main goal is to get healthy and find skateboarding fun again. Last year I felt so much pressure to get better, just to skate this contest and that contest. Now I just want to get fully better, knowing everything else will come around. I want to travel with my friends when we can travel again, maybe film a new part. That’s the dream, to find skateboarding fun again. If there’s not going to be contests this year, let’s take advantage of it. I’m chillin’ and really enjoying life right now. I know a lot of people are like, “Let’s skip to 2021.” Naw. Let’s stay strong here and now, so 2021 is better than 2020. The way I see it, humans are going through a learning process right now. Hopefully, we take everything to the next step. Humans are good at adaptation. It’s time to adapt.
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