This week we opened our 2022 interviews with the very cool conversation we had with Rodrigo Kbça. Coming from Rio Grande do Sul, he was attracted by the sense of community and welcome he found in skateboarding and nowhere else. Rodrigo went from a professional skateboarder to a skateboarding professional and ended up discovering other ways to be part of what he loves so much. In addition to being a photographer, he worked for brands such as Qix, Tribo magazine and CemporcentoSKATE and today works at Vans as Team Manager of the skateboarding, surfing and BMX team.
Obviously we had to talk about sneakers, where Rodrigo told us he has such a huge passion for the Sk8 Hi that practically all his sneakers are Sk8 His.
The model chosen for his interview was the Vans Sk8 Hi ‘Grosso Forever’, which for him represents the respect and friendship he had for Jeff Grosso. This Vans was released as a tribute to the host of the “Loveletters to Skateboarding” web series, historian, spokesperson for more inclusive skateboarding, skateboard legend and his friend, who passed away at the age of 51 in 2020. The shoe features classic Vans elements. and is a reinterpretation of a model used by Grosso in the 80s.
“My name is Rodrigo Vargas de Lima, but everyone knows me as Kbça (a.k.a. Kbça) – I’ve had this nickname since I was 7 and now I’m 45. It’s been a long time (laughs). I’ve been skating since 1987 and started working with skateboarding in 97. I’ve worked at Qix and other skate brands, worked at Tribo and at CemporcentoSKATE – which are skate media vehicles – and I’ve been at Vans since 2016, where I’m team manager for skateboard, surf and bmx, or with writing or photography as well. So I transitioned to more of a creative side of skateboarding, since I didn’t turn out to be an insane pro skater.
You’ve been a part of skate culture for a long time. What attracted you and made you want to be part of it?
Rodrigo The first time I saw a skateboard I was very young, and it wasn’t something that drew my attention right away. But when I turned 11, I got my first skateboard. I think that’s when I started to see things differently, and also started to look at a different crowd that also skated. That was a problem because most of these people were older than me, so my parents didn’t want me to skate, they didn’t even want to give me a skateboard. It was my sister and brother-in-law who got me my skateboard.
“There’s something that Jeff Grosso used to say: Skateboarders have always been weird. We were the different guys that were not accepted by others. And I guess that’s where I come in. I wasn’t an ordinary child, when I was 8 or 9 years old, I used to listen to songs on the radio and record them. I was already creating mixtapes at that time.”
There’s something that Jeff Grosso used to say: Skateboarders have always been weird. We were the different guys that were not accepted by others. And I guess that’s where I come in. I wasn’t an ordinary child, when I was 8 or 9 years old, I used to listen to songs on the radio and record them. I was already creating mixtapes at that time. So, I wasn’t an ordinary kid considering what an ordinary child from the 80’s was like – which was playing with toy cars, cops and robbers, that kind of thing. I liked art, music and movies, things that children didn’t have patience for. It was skateboarding that I found myself and found a different crew who, even though it wasn’t something as open as it is nowadays, accepted me.
From skateboarding I learned the culture of “do it yourself”, because it was always up to us, skaters, to make our own things. I learned to share and to receive shared stuff. So, besides music, art, skating itself, tricks, skateboarding also provides a sense of coexistence and of community which are very attractive.
When you are a kid who lives in the outskirts, or in a small city, that is very attractive. Not that I was a poor kid, my family was financially stable, but this sense of union and community was something I didn’t find in any other places our games. I tried playing the guitar, kung fu, and taekwondo. I tried a lot of different activities and none of them had that same power of togetherness that skateboarding has. Everything was too individual. Even though Skateboarding is an individual activity, it’s something I do alone, it has the power of bringing people together, we are united, laughing together or crying together.
At some point did you try to make it as a pro skater?
RodrigoYes. I started to skate in 87 and in 89 I began to compete as a beginner. In the early 90’s I was highlighted as an amateur. I got some good podiums, good rankings, and since I’m gaucho, from the south of the country, I was in the gaucho top 10 for two or three years in a row and at that time I was working and I was sponsored by Qix. In 2000, I told my boss “Look, now’s the moment, it’s time for me to go pro”, and he told me to wait one more year. I didn’t want to wait another year, so I gave up on the competition, I dropped everything. In 2002 I was completely off the idea of being a championship skater. I would still compete in some competitions but doing things that were not usual for those competitions. I’d be more concerned with the music I was going to listen to, sometimes I wouldn’t do a single trick, I’d just ride the track and enjoy.
That year, there was a “pro” championship in Curitiba and all my friends were participating. So, I told myself “You know what? I’m going to sign up as a pro”. In theory I am a professional skater, but not in the literal meaning of the word, I never got paid to skate nor got any money from sponsors. So, it was easy to turn off that ego switch, because there’s a lot of that in skateboarding. I think that that ego involves art and skateboarding to me is a way to express yourself creatively and artistically. I flipped that switch as in “I can’t continue through this path anymore, so I’ll do other things”. So I threw myself into different projects. I worked on the creation of a brand’s first news website; after that I worked at the Tribo magazine for six years; I collaborated with Cemporcento and collaborated creatively with other brands too. For example, the Qix logo you all know, the square one, I drew it up in CorelDRAW without even knowing how to use that thing, I just tried some things out and it worked. The logo still exists today, they didn’t change it.
There was a path, and I realised that was the way for me – to be a skaterboard professional, not a professional skater. It’s a path that works for me.
That’s very cool. There are so many branches and possibilities in skateboarding, you can get involved and work with what you like in a lot of different ways.
RodrigoThis is something we must explain to younger kids, because being a pro skater and having a big name in the market is not easy at all. Sometimes you don’t have to be a champion, you can be the guy who is killing it in the underground scene, and even then, it’s not easy. So, it’s nice for the younger kids to know that you can learn with skateboarding – it can teach you to take pictures, to write, learn about marketing, learn about art. I have a lot of friends from skateboarding who learned to illustrate and today they are illustrators. Or people who are writing or taking pictures. Skate takes you places, we just need to be open minded to absorb, observe and learn these things too.
At FFW podcast you mention that you were the first Brazilian professional skater to be openly homosexual in the skateboarding scene, in a chapter of the documentary “Loveletters to skateboarding” with Jeff Grosso. In your opinion, what was the importance of this documentary to the skate scene?
RodrigoIt was a topic that already existed, especially in the USA. I think that the guy who opened these doors for skateboarding was Brian Anderson – although there were other people, not as famous as him, who were already coming out. Especially girls, because I think that if they hadn’t taken that first step, maybe men would never have had the courage to do the same. There were already many openly lesbian female skaters, and no guys had the guts to go outhere and say “I am”. And when it happened, the media took it as a joke.
Speaking from my point of view, for my life, it was liberating. Because although all my friends knew, it was tough, some times I’d see a story about homophobia and was afraid to share it, like “people will connect the dots and know I’m gay”. So, it took me a while to say “Fuck it, so what? What are they going to do?”. Maybe I chose the worst moment to do it, I think politically we live in a time where minorities are feeling cornered. We have a president who fights and speaks openly against the LGBTQIA+ community. And his supporters, which are not few, also fight against it. So, it might have been the moment where I put myself most at risk, because to be openly speaking about it could lead to me getting beaten on the street by some guy who hates queers. But at the same time, I understand that this moment was important for many people so they could be at ease with themselves.
“I get lots of messages, from many gay skaters saying “man, I’ve never spoken to anyone about it; no one has ever suspected; never spoken to a friend, or father or mother” and that is coming from guys in their 40’s. So, I think it was good for me because I learned to not care and free myself from this thing, and it was good because I made a lot of people see that being a gay skater is not something out of this world. It’s not a taboo.”
RodrigoI get lots of messages, from many gay skaters saying “man, I’ve never spoken to anyone about it; no one has ever suspected; never spoken to a friend, or father or mother” and that is coming from guys in their 40’s. So, I think it was good for me because I learned to not care and free myself from this thing, and it was good because I made a lot of people see that being a gay skater is not something out of this world. It’s not a taboo. There are still a percentage of skaters who haven’t learned to accept it yet, and that’s their problem. What they think of me is not my concern, it’s theirs. I continue being the same Kbça from before I publicly came out as gay. The good thing is that I was in a very safe space. I was in a good place with my friends and at work, working at Vans was also important because, when I got there everyone already knew I was gay, so I was in a safe place, knowing I wouldn’t have any problems there.
And I’ll what, not everyone can assimilate my trajectory and also I understand that forcing someone to come out is not right. For me it made things much better, but each person has their own story, experiences and even your geolocation. You have your own moment, and the place where you live to consider. Maybe if I was living in Rio Grande do Sul, I wouldn’t have taken this first step, I would have been living a double life til today. Because at that time they expected certain things from me, they would ask me “Why don’t you date girls? Why don’t you go out?”. I wouldn’t go out, nor go to nightclubs specifically because I wanted to avoid that kind of situation. So, I lost an important moment of my social life. I could have been drinking, enjoying the clubs, doing a bunch of other stuff but, c’mon man, I’m not going to go to a place where I’ll be constantly expected to do something that I don’t feel like doing. Therefore, I came out at the right moment for myself.
I know I have some privileges. First, I’m white, second, I’m not effeminate and third I have an important position inside a very relevant skate brand, which is Vans. So, I know I’m more protected than others just because of those things. I was prepared to receive loads of negative messages when I came out. I had to psychologically prepare myself for that. It took my a whole week to write down very carefully what I wanted say, thinking about each word and in the meantime, I was getting prepared to be attacked. But look, I received only a single attack, it was anonymous, but it turned out it wasn’t that anonymous because later I found out who the person was. Therefore, I’m fully aware that these three factors: being white, not being effeminate and working at Vans, protected me. A lot of people reach out to me because they want free sneakers, or because they want to be sponsored or even, to get a sponsor for an event. So, these things protect me, but I also want to believe that people are changing and not minding other people’s business anymore. We must try to be a bit more positive as well.
In the “Loveletters to Skateboarding” documentary
A lot of people mention how skateboarding took in the “outsiders”, those who didn’t fit into certain moulds of society. But it’s sad to see that for such a long time the LGBTQIA+ community was not embraced by skateboarding.
RodrigoSkateboarding is inclusive to a certain point. Everything needs to follow a certain pattern. I think today we are living a very cool and open-minded moment for skateboarding. And talking specifically about sneakers, there might be the guy who likes vulcanised slip-ons, or the guy who likes those puffy looking moon boots, and everyone will get along just fine. I think that nowadays skateboarding is more democratic and open-minded than before. It has always been a community that embraced the different, it just needed to break these barriers and I believe that today is becoming more inclusive for sure. I see that guys who are 20, or under, already have a different mentality. But if back in the day I said something, or even if someone suspected that I was gay, people would explicitaly not hang with me anymore.
And do you think the “acceptance” is different in the Brazilian skateboarding scene compared to other countries?
RodrigoI think it has more to do with the culture of the country than the skate scene itself. In American and European culture, they are way less worried with what others are doing, while Brazilians love to gossip. When I moved to São Paulo in 2002, I thought I could be a nameless guy and do whatever I’d like. But São Paulo, just like any other place, is very small. Once I was with a boyfriend at McDonald’s on like, a random time, and I ran into a skater there – who, by the way, now rides for Vans – and I nearly had a heart attack because I got super worried. A long time after that, I spoke to him and asked, “Do you remember that day?”. He did, but he had no clue of what was going on. It was all in my head, the fear of someone finding out, and what people would say. Nowadays I don’t really give a fuck about what people are going to say. What I really want is to help a lot of people, the more the better. By the way, on 21/11 the first São Paulo LGBTQIA+ skateboarding meeting went down. It’s an awesome event, we never thought it would happen.
You are currently working for Vans Brazil. What is your role there?
RodrigoI joined Vans in 2016 because the skate team itself chose me. In 2015 they got together to choose who would be the team manager and they picked me. Later I ended up taking over the BMX team, which they didn’t have at the time, and the surf team as well. Besides taking care of other 21 people, which form the current Vans team, I also help in everything related to skate events as an advisor. I don’t have the final word, but I’m the one who decides if it’s a cool event and if Vans should join and participate. So, I pitch in everything related to Vans action sports. I’m there with the marketing team every day, helping out every section of the team.
It’s crazy to work there. I already had huge respect for Vans, but today I truly admire them, so much that I have “side stripe” tattooed on my arm. Because of the way they took me in, accepted me, you can see that it comes from the heart, it was something very powerful to me. I learned a lot there, because although I had all my skateboarding knowledge, I’ve always been a guy who didn’t fit into the corporate world. Vans helped me to understand some of the corporate practices. More than that, Vans is a family, regardless of me being employed there. Even when I leave, I think I’ll continue to be in touch with the people here from Brazil, or from global.
Now, getting into what we all love here – do you remember when your passion for sneakers first started?
RodrigoI have some very specific memories about sneakers. The first one was the M2000, which was the first brand sneaker I got – even though I didn’t know it was a Reebok bootleg. Later I had the Pony MVP. I remember that at that time the Airwalk were like unattainable, I never got the money to buy them. I also remember that in the early 90’s, when I cut off the collar of a sneaker for the first time – I had some brand-new Nikes, my mother wanted to kill me (laugh). Skateboarding completely changed when we got into the 90’s, everything that was cool in 89 and 90, wasn’t cool in 91 and 92. It wasn’t cool to wear high-top sneakers, so I took my Nikes and cut it right off (laugh).
I’ve always wanted to have a SK8-Hi, even though I didn’t know what the Sk8-Hi was. Vans had always caught my attention, even before I knew what Vans was exactly, because I’d seen the national skate shoes and thought that that was it. There’s even a documentary that says that people thought that Vans was copying Mad Rats (laugh). Today I have about 75 pairs of sneakers, the vast majority are Sk8-His, it really is my dream silhouette. And I only skate with Sk8-His, it’s the most awesome sneaker there is.
And out of all your sneakers, why did you choose this Vans Sk8-Hi ‘Grosso Forever’ for your Kickstory?
RodrigoBecause of an emotional connection and friendship bond with Jeff. The first time I saw him was in a video called “Santa Cruz – Streets on Fire”, and that dude got my attention. I got to meet him in person in 2013, at the Red Bull Generation championship and I didn’t even imagine working for Vans at the time.
“Everybody has a lot to say when talking about old school skateboarding with older people, and I mean, of course I admire some of the old school guys, but I think it has become somewhat of a fake nostalgia that things were so much better back in the day. They weren’t. It was hard to get skateboard parts, it was hard to get sneakers, it was hard to get information, everything was hard.”
Everybody has a lot to say when talking about old school skateboarding with older people, and I mean, of course I admire some of the old school guys, but I think it has become somewhat of a fake nostalgia that things were so much better back in the day. They weren’t. It was hard to get skateboard parts, it was hard to get sneakers, it was hard to get information, everything was hard. And I approached Jeff and started to talk about my point of view. Then he looked at me and said “you know what? I think the exact same thing; I think it’s stupid when guys say things were so much better back in my days. It wasn’t better. I had problems with money, drugs, and loads of problems. What was so good about it?”. And we instantly hit it off.
Later I started to work at Vans, and he was a guy that whenever we met, I made a point on taking a picture with him, even though we didn’t have much intimacy. Each time I met him we talked a little bit more. In 2019 he came to record an episode of ‘Love Letters’ about Brazil, and I was in charge of accompanying him and the production team. That’s when we bonded. After that, every time we met, he would stop what he was doing to come give me a hug, he always insisted on telling me how important I was, he told me “Dude, I love you, you’re fucking awesome”. For this legend to say this kind of stuff to a guy like me, I mean, fuck… You know? So, it turned into an amazing friendship of respect and admiration. I started to better understand him, the problems he had, and stuff from his life. It was dope to know how he was adopted by Vans, maybe if he hadn’t had Vans in his life, he would have gone crazy and died sooner.
He had invited me to participate in the ‘Love Letters’ episode about the LGBTQIA+ Community and I declined. I told him I wouldn’t do it because I was not prepared yet, and I wanted to speak to someone in the Brazilian media first. But then on the 31st of March in 2020 he passed away.
I’m still very close with the guys that produce Love Letters, which is the show that Grosso hosted, but it’s over now. In the LoveLetters to Jeff Grosso farewell episode only three Brazilians gave statements in the video: Pedro Barros,Yndiara Asp and myself.
When this ‘Grosso forever’ SK8-Hi came out I instantly freaked out. Since it’s a quickstrike, we wouldn’t get them in Brazil. And since we were in the middle of the pandemic, no one could travel to the United States, there was no way I could bring a pair.
“And besides, I didn’t want anyone to give me the sneakers, I wanted to buy them because all sales would go to Oliver, his son. Grosso became a silhouette – The Sk8 Mid received the name “Vans Grosso Mid”, so the royalties his father would get, will go to Oliver.”
So, I insisted on buying them. When Murilo Peres went to the US for the Brazilian Team, I told myself “Now’s the time”. I bought it and sent it to his hotel.
And then it became my baby. It has some super important Vans elements, like the side stripe, checkerboard, and it has Jeff’s name “Grosso Forever ” on the tongue. That’s the most important thing to me.
If I’m not mistaken, that’s the sneaker he was wearing in the picture they put on the Thrashers cover, I know it is a reissue of the sneaker he used to wear a lot in 84. That’s a crazy story, because people said he would never be on a Thrasher’s cover. Then he died and it happened. They made him a posthumous tribute.
And do you think that working with a sneaker brand somehow changed your relationship with sneakers?
rodrigoI think that the moment you start to work in a sneaker brand, you develop the horrible habit of watching other people’s feet. Because you are looking to see which brands the people are wearing. It’s not so much the model, it’s the brand.
I’ve come to admire the brands that work in favour of those communities that they stand up for. I believe that if there’s a brand that earns money with something – may it be with skateboarding, surfing or BMX, it should give some of it back to the community. May it be by sponsoring, doing events, creating situations, so I’m a lot more critical with this. My relationship changed in this sense. Maybe because I know how much effort we put into giving back to skateboarding at Vans, I think it is a responsibility and an obligation for brands that work with skateboarding to give back and invest in skateboarding. It’s time we stop looking at the investment on skateboarding as an expense. I heard this a lot in the market.
You’re not spending, you’re investing and giving back to skateboarding. For example, Vans just built a public skate track at Cândido Portinari park in São Paulo, which cost a lot of money. That’s giving back. There’s Pedreirage, which is something we do together with Black Media that involves Ricardo Dexter, who even had his own local colorway. We also had one with Danilo do Rosário, who was the man who started the whole having a local colorway thing, not from a Brazilian global skater, but Brazilian skater from the regional team. And the next one is Xapa that will come out in February, so you already have some spoilers that I was allowed to share (laugh). It’s a very cool Sk8-Hi and we’re also already working on the next one. So, I believe that this is giving back to the community. We have been doing our homework.
Vans Sk8 Hi ‘Grosso Forever’
Owner: Rodrigo Kbça