The process behind Skull Chatter began when I first moved to LA. I had this pressure on myself. No one else put it on me—I put this pressure on myself to the point that I was not satisfied with my training. In the past, training was my way of completely zoning everything out, call it like meditation or whatever. It just was my way of being one with everything. That’s what training has been to me, and that’s why I love it so much.
After moving to LA, it seemed like I was not able to tap into that mentality anymore. For some reason, a switch got flipped. It was so frustrating because it sent me into this dark hole, and it felt like I couldn’t get out. On one hand, it felt like it was supposed to be the biggest opportunity that I ever had. I’m living in LA. It’s a sunny December—not a cold winter like in Seattle or Montana. It was a great thing. Yet, I was feeling the worst I have ever felt, which was ironic. Why is this happening?
It felt like if I kept going down that path, something bad would happen—it was a recipe for disaster. I saw it happening, and I knew that there was an opportunity to work on something bigger than me. The feeling is similar to being in a box and not being able to do anything about it. I wanted to scream, run away, and get out of it. It was this feeling of shit hitting the fan. It felt as though I could never get a leg up to take the next step forward in this stage of my life. Whenever I felt trapped, I just wished that I wasn’t feeling that way, which made me feel worse.
I started listening to Alan Watts when I was in those low moments. He has some amazing words. The quote that stuck with me the most starts off the Skull Chatter film. It’s the one about overthinking, how a person who overthinks all the time has nothing to think about except thoughts and, in that, you lose touch with reality. He explained it as chatter in the skull. When he said that, I just felt it in my heart, and I knew that I needed to dedicate some project to these words—this man—for getting me back on track and rediscovering this passion. A passion that I had had ever since I first started training.
Alan Watts talks about this law of reverse effort. The more you try and escape the negative experiences in life, the more negative the negative becomes. Instead, you set yourself up for a more positive outcome if you face the negative experiences head-on with a determination to overcome them. Again, that just hit me so hard. Suddenly, I started looking at the situation that I was in about this time last year, and I realized that that was what I was doing. I was trying to escape these negative thoughts, and that it was making it worse. It was taking me deeper and deeper into this pit of self-loathing and complete utter nothingness.
I felt nothing and was unhappy with everything. Why does this happen to me? Why is this happening to me? Because it seemed like everyone else is doing great, you know, on the surface. You see everyone on Instagram, and their lives are so amazing. So, why is my life so hard? Why do I feel sad? It didn’t make any sense. In reality, those moments give us the clarity to appreciate the good moments, and that is what I realized throughout this whole process.
It came from a combination of things, and if I fully understood why, I wouldn’t have experienced them in the first place. But there are hints that I can kind of look back on and see how those little breadcrumbs led me into the process of going down that hole. I’m the youngest of three older brothers, and I grew up in a small neighborhood. Nothing went on. I was always pretty quiet and reserved, which lends itself to overthinking more often and staying in my head. I was regularly allowing my mind to create these false realities—things that may never even happen, but my brain just kept going.
I did gymnastics for about a year when I was 12 or 13, and I remember my coach. He was a good coach, but he was extremely strict and tough. It was a kind of a rough relationship to have with him because I was so superstitious. I would do a specific routine leading up to the days when we would have our training session. If the day was good at gymnastics, I would continuously recreate the whole routine leading up to that day.
So that was the mentality that I was going through, and I felt trapped in it. I think the feeling that I had about a year ago was very similar to the relationship I had with my coach and gymnastics. It just boils down to feeling like you don’t have control over your life. We’re always chasing perfection—always looking for the next big thing, and having these huge expectations. It’s hard to not let yourself get down when those things don’t play out the way you intended.
On the bad days, it was hard to do anything. My mindset says that I won’t equate to anything so, why even try? Sometimes it’s easy to say, “No, fuck you, shut up.” On other days, it’s harder to battle those thoughts. I used to think that I was the only person to deal with them, and it was hard because I felt like I couldn’t relate to anyone. Recently, I realized that these feelings are common. Some feel those thoughts more severely than others, but for me, it helps just understanding that. In the past, I felt like if I did anything wrong or incorrectly, that it was completely my fault. There’s a reason it was wrong because it was me who did it wrong, and if I was better, then I wouldn’t have done it wrong. It’s a rabbit hole. Once you start going down, it just gets darker.
What helped me was the understanding that no one is perfect, and anyone could accomplish anything if everything went their way. The beauty in what people do and what shows their dedication is perseverance through these bumps in the road. The people who do that are the people who want it the most. For the most part, those are the most successful people. They are the ones who have stuck out and have been in it since day one. They’re going towards this goal, and they’re not going to let anything stop them—even though they’re going to make mistakes, and there’s nothing wrong with that. That was such a freeing feeling to the paralyzing anxiety. Or you don’t even want to try because you don’t want to live with yourself failing. But it’s crazy—you learn who you are in those failed attempts, you continue learning, and move on. That’s what makes us human.
Moving forward, I knew I would have to do something that would require all of my attention and focus—the Santa Monica side flip pre from one bar to the other. There’s an Out of The Mind video on the Tempest YouTube that digs into the story behind the challenge, as it is one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I have noticed that I benefit from devoting all of my energy to one thing, in my training or life. That’s where I work best, so that’s what I did with the Santa Monica side pre.
I love to find things that scare me. Physically difficult challenges are fun, and I love them. But what gets me excited and eager to keep training and progressing as an athlete is doing things that are just terrifying. Some people may have a better tolerance to it, and some people have a better skill of holding back these fearful thoughts where your brain is saying, “Hey, this is dangerous.” It all comes from a place of good intention, but I love the idea of being able to shut that part of your brain off for a specific time or place for a challenge. Not to say that you don’t listen to those thoughts because you definitely should consider all possibilities. You don’t want your hand to slip, and then you fall between a roof gap.
When people watched Alex Honnold free solo El Cap, they asked if he was afraid he would die or they would tell him that what he did was insane. He explained that he would picture himself falling every way he could and that that is what prevented those things from happening. Fundamentally, I think the reason that we have these bails, we fall, or get injured, isn’t of lack of judgment, but a lack of attention and attention towards all possibilities. Because if you only think about the good things—if I am only thinking about the rail and kicking back to double fly away—that’s my expectation. But, to build up to that, I had to know all the possibilities. Toes slip out, knee bash. Toes slip out, go to my stomach, hit my face. Heel slip out, go to my quads. When you rule those out, you can go into it without the fear of the unknown and go into it with confidence to react to every possible situation. You’re not putting it out to chance and saying that I hope I get my feet to the rail. That reality and mentality towards training expanded my understanding of the process of handling terrifying challenges.
I knew the side flip pre was possible. There’s a rail cage in the gym that is similar to the Santa Monica bars. It is not exact, but it is close enough for practicing. I remember looking at it, and for a few days, I was terrified. Then I started giving it some preps, and all of a sudden, I remember hitting my feet and bounced. It was super doable and was just a matter of just focusing all this attention and energy into doing it at Santa Monica. I didn’t want to risk the moment of everything working for it to happen in the gym—I wanted it to only happen at Santa Monica.
So, I waited. I would go to Santa Monica regularly. Going through the motion—not even doing the side flip precision—just going there, prepping it, and walking away. Going there, prepping, and walking away. Each time, it felt like a kind of a failure. Walking away and wanting to do this so badly. I didn’t do it today, but I’ll come back another day. In those days of walking away, I found all these little pieces to the puzzle, which was the whole challenge. Mentally, it was my brain figuring it all out.
I remember this one day. Everything leading up to that day felt right, and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity. I love how Brandon Douglas talks about this portal that seems to open at specific moments in time. Where you either jump through it and go or, you just kind of hold back and not go with the universe or the flow with whatever is going on. But it felt like I was meant to do it that day. In the past, I’d always thought about doing it. I’d be up on top of the rails telling myself I’d do it or that I would see how it felt. Then I’d get so anxious and begin to freak out. Then all of a sudden, that one day, it happened.
I remember saying to myself, “I’m going to do it. I think I’m going to do it today.” It was completely calming. The was no anxiousness, no fear—just a surreal moment. So I sent one, and it worked out. I got so excited. It took me four attempts, and in total, about 10 minutes to get the kickback and double flyaway. This was back in February of this year. To be on such an amazing rollercoaster—from being in the biggest rut of my life to suddenly reaching this next-level peak that I’ve never experienced. I was so stoked. That roller coaster is what gave birth to Skull Chatter.
The Nordstrom kong pre in Cherry Creek (Denver, Colorado) was the scariest challenge in the project and took the most to work up to. I saw it before with Nick, Brandon, and Lincoln before Nick and Brandon had done it. We all looked at it and knew it was physically doable, but we weren’t feeling it. So that day, I was with Kent and was already warm when we went up. I looked at the jump and practiced the run-up to gauge speed and how many steps I wanted to take. It’s not a massive kong pre, but not small either—kind of in this weird range of not full power, but also not casually running into it. It’s nice if it is one or the other because then you can judge it better. But the biggest thing for me was the drop. It was pretty hefty. The first time I did the gap, I did the standing jump down from where I would kong, hit the wall pretty hard, and knew it would be heavy. Then I cleared the landing surface to make sure it was not slippery, as the wildfires left a bunch of ash everywhere that day. There is another wall of the same height in the middle of the parking garage, so I did the kong a few times to see how it felt, and the distance felt great. I knew that I wouldn’t under-do this because it’s a death drop—I’m not surviving that. Once that clicked, I could go through the motion of doing the run-up and the prep kongs on the other wall. As long as I just did those two things properly, I would get to the other side. That thought helped a lot in the commitment for sure. And I was ready. I wasn’t going to overthink it because that’s when things can go wrong. If it were at ground level, it would be completely chill.
The biggest thing that helped me was understanding that the fundamental thing that matters is to find love and passion in the process of whatever you’re doing. No amount of success, or no amount of whatever you’re doing, to me, will ever feel like enough. It doesn’t matter what it is—there will always be something more, or there will always be something else that could have been better. It’s good to chase perfection and to have the drive to do something, but not to have all of your ego involved in that process. It is what began happening to me. It can drive you crazy and takes the fun out of everything. I was losing the passion and the joy of just training to have fun.
Although having a 12-minute video is incredible, and the clothing and photo book to go along with it is a dream come true—it’s not what made the project for me. It was the experience and the tools that I have gained from this year. Learning things about myself and understanding the yin and yang to life. I appreciated the Santa Monica challenge so much because of all the negative feelings that came before. If everything was hunky-dory, the side pre would have been sick, and I would move on. But, all of a sudden, I realized that is what gives you the clarity of just being human. We relate to the emotional—the ups and downs. At the time, it fucking sucked, but I am eternally grateful for having gone through it because it is what led me to be where I am right now.