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Zoltan skateboard trashcan kickflip

Zoltan, over the trash can. Photo: Brad Davies

The Inertia

By now, everyone has heard about Volcom’s decision to pony up and give Zoltan Torkos the Kickflip-Off $10,000. After landing a kickflip, Torkos fell victim to that pesky rule #3 which states:

“The kickflip must be a real air “above the lip” – No backwash, No chop hops, or anything in the flats or below the lip of the wave.”

But after some consideration, they’ve decided that what Zoltan “the Magician” did deserves the money, saying “there is no denying that this is the first functional kickflip caught on video, and a milestone in futuristic surfing.” They’re even upping the ante to $20,000 for one that is truly off the lip. I spoke with Zoli a few days after Volcom’s life-changing decision.

It’s pretty awesome that they changed their minds, huh?

Oh my God, it’s been a blessing. I just really thank the people. The people spoke, and they listened.

So you think it was the social media aspect that made them reverse their decision?

Yeah, that’s what they told the media. They said the people spoke.  They said that all the people say that’s it’s off the lip and legit. I feel so lucky.  It comes to a point where you can’t argue about your own art, because you want it to be exciting and fun and what it is in your own head. For Carl and making it the Reimer kickflip, it was something special.  I didn’t want it to be ruined by anything.

Does it make it even better, winning now, after you thought they weren’t going to give it to you?

Oh for sure! It still hasn’t even hit. I thought I won it, everyone told me I did, then they said I didn’t, then they gave me the thousand, now they’re giving it to me… I mean, I thought I was getting pranked at first. Everyone’s been throwing money at me everywhere I go, saying I deserve it. I have people I don’t even know trying to give me twenty dollars towards it. I don’t even know these people! It really stirred some emotion for the people. They want to see their kid break in like this. They see a little bit of everyone in it.

When did you find out?

Just a couple of days ago.  It’s such a blur. I was at tumbling class for my kid, and my phone rang.

How disappointed were you when you found out you weren’t going to get it?

I was completely devastated. It started off like they wanted to argue about it. I didn’t want to argue about art, I’m here to revolutionize surfing. That was my main goal.

Are you going to go after the $20,000 now?

Oh, absolutely. I’m super excited about that. This has brought a new style of surfing. I have the highest respect for people who surf Pipeline and do big power turns, but there has to be a genre for the different kinds of surfing. They need to split them up.  It’s like there’s Sunny Garcia, and then there’s the ridiculous air guy. If we can define that, there’ll be more camaraderie and less fighting about what real surfing is. Let’s split it up so we can both watch each other surf. I want to go watch Sunny surf huge Sunset, then carve into a huge barrel, then he can come watch me surf Newport and bust a 360 kickflip.

So you’re going to try and do more skateboarding maneuvers?

Yeah, definitely. I want to do Christ airs. I’ve come close in Hawaii. I landed, but I bounced off. Typical surf style.

So how much has your life changed since all this happened?

One thing is all kinds of crazy sponsorship offers. Interviews, people wanting to send me on trips… it’s been so overwhelming. My phone has been ringing literally non-stop. I’m going to take my time, because I have a kid, and I want to make the smartest decisions for her.

Below is the initial conversation I had with Zoltan, right after he landed it and changed his life.

Nearly four years after Volcom put up $10,000 to the first person to land a legit kickflip, somebody finally did it. Just not quite to the specifications Volcom set forth. Sure, it may have been a bit of a chop-hop and the claim was a little bit excessive, but Mr. Torkos just made history. He also thought he earned ten thousand dollars. Unfortunately for Zoltan, Volcom announced yesterday that his kickflip was clearly below the lip and was not consider “a real air.” They did, however, congratulate him on executing the first-ever kickflip in surfing.

I wanted to find out what Torkos had up his sleeve, so I called him up to talk about what was almost a life-changing trick.

So you stuck it, huh?

Yeah, finally!

How long have you been trying this?

I tried them before Volcom had the contest, but I really got serious about it when they announced the contest.  It’s like a modern day Rocky story. I was cleaning floors at night at the butcher shop.  My little buddy Carl Reimer, who I surfed with every day, was my inspiration.  He saw me almost pull a kick-flip, and he was like, “You can do it, man, you can do it!” Later on that night, he got shot to death in front of my mother-in-law’s house.  I was filled with so many emotions, you know? I had to finish it out for him.

Woah. That’s heavy. How long ago was that?

Almost a year ago now. It’s been super heavy. I just want to make a positive change. Inspire kids to pull tricks, not triggers.

Good tag line.

Or shoot them with a camera!

So how many did you land before you actually got it on film?

Quite a bit. My buddy got the landing, once, and then I did two to layback. That started tons of controversy.

That was the one where you landed on your belly?

Yeah. Then people like Skip Engblom from Dogtown – they did the first airs on skates – got super psyched, and he’s claiming that I’m his family. He’s validating those first ones, because that was the start. This one is the evolution. It’s the evolution of the Reimer Flip.

So was it actually above the lip? In the video you can’t tell for sure.

Yeah, it’s above the lip. It was filmed from a hundred foot cliff and a couple hundred yards away. It is what it is when you’re filming from a helicopter. I was just stoked that someone would want to stand around in the cold and film.

How much of your skateboarding do you bring into your surfing?

That’s been one of the hand-in-hand things. My sponsor, Ex Drinks, is a sponsor for the Tony Hawk Foundation. Right after this happened with Carl, I was like, “Why am I here, man? What am I doing?” I realized it’s all about building skateparks for low income kids. I told Tony Hawk the story, and he got psyched. Then he saw I have a kickflip sequence that I was signing autographs with, and he wanted one! Dude, he’s Tony Hawk, he should sign mine, you know? After all that, I felt really obligated to do a kickflip, between Carl and Tony Hawk.

Is that the one you won at Surfer Poll with?

Yeah, it’s been beyond magical. I feel like Carl wants this for me. He told me that day that I surf better than anyone, and I never get recognition for it.  I had to clean the shop every night. I was back there, punching the meat, trying to think of new moves. It was like Karate Kid, man!  Wax on wax off! Tomorrow I’m going to kick flip so hard!

After that last video, the one where you landed on your belly and rode out, there was a lot of negativity. Did that affect you at all?

No, I live a life of T.H.O.R. man. It stands for “thrive off rejection.” Imagine going to kindergarten in America, and your name is Zoltan Torkos. Even the teachers were making fun of me.  That stuff makes me stoked.  It gives me energy, just knowing that I’m getting a reaction out of them.

That was quite the celebration after you rode out the wave.

Yeah, it was crazy! After I did it, I thought that I didn’t do it yet. I thought I was going to have to do it again.  I screamed “CARL!” when I threw my fists up. I fell on three or four right before that, I just didn’t have the power.  And I said, “Come on Carl, come on, just give me the power!” Like He-Man when he called upon the power of Grey Skull. I called upon the power. I just all of a sudden it all came together, like when a boxer throws the perfect punch. 

My favorite part of the whole video is right at the very end, after you’re done celebrating. You pause for a second, and then you yell “let’s go try a couple more!” Did you go out and do a couple more?

No, my brother, who was filming, he wouldn’t let me. He’s goes “Dude, you just pulled it!” I was like a little kid. I was coming in hot right then, I wanted to see what I could do.

In case you haven’t seen it, here’s the video:


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