Tre flip fakie. Photo: Weston Colton
If you’ve been following Utah skateboarding for a while, you may or may not know Cristobal Napoleon Keller. Even though Keller has been around for a long time, he’s remained pretty underground. Unless you’ve skated some random ass Utah County spot that no one else skates or Orem Park a bunch, you probably don’t know Keller. He’s not a guy you see around all the time, but when you do, it’s a real treat. He’s been keeping it real for quite a while and doing some really stylish tricks along with some really amazing artwork. This guy always has a smile, enjoys life more than most and is really fun to nerd out with on ‘90s skate trivia.
SLUG: First and foremost, who or what is Tobal?
Keller: Tobal is an old Hebrew word meaning “man who paints with huge wiener.” My first name is Cristobal, but nobody could ever pronounce it right growing up, so I just went by Cris. So now I show tribute to the last part of my name by using the name Tobal for everything creative I do. So Tobal is my name, my brand, my lifestyle, my art, my music and my way of paying bills every month.
SLUG: Do you feel your interest in art came from skateboarding? Or, better put, what got you interested in art?
Keller: I give tons of credit to skateboarding. I grew up outside the Bay Area, so me and my homies would always go skate San Francisco on the weekends. I would always see the graffiti on the walls and go back home to Ceres, California and try to do my own style there. Skateboarders have always been creative people because we look at the world differently than everyone else. They just see buildings everywhere, and we see skate obstacles and different tricks that can be done there, so being surrounded by that my whole life has definitely helped my creativity.
SLUG: Aside from skateboard graphics (if you consider them an influence), where do you draw influence from?
Keller: I draw influence from everything. I can be watching a sci-fi movie and see some cool-looking alien on there and it’ll trigger a character in my head that I want to paint. Also, I get a lot of influence from my friends. We have thousands of inside jokes that I use for inspiration for paintings. For example, we’ll say, “Wouldn’t it be funny to see a bear rollerblading down this hill…” then I’ll go and paint some bear on rollerblades. Just weird crap like that.
SLUG: I know you’re a Utah transplant, so how does skateboarding in Utah compare to the other places you’ve lived, and what keeps you here?
Keller: My family moved to Utah about five years ago, so that is what mostly keeps me here, plus I made some real good friends out here as well. What is different here than other places I’ve been is how clean the parks are. There’s barely any graffiti on them and they’re not filled with crackheads everywhere. Plus the style is different here. [In] my hometown park, you have mostly kids skating in Ed Hardy shirts, Filas and Paco Jeans, but they’ll totally kill it. Over here I noticed most of the kids have more money, so they’ll be all dressed down with name brand clothes, skating in Diesel Jeans and crap. I’m just glad the tall tee with the tight pants trend is dying out. I never understood that one, but to each his own.
SLUG: I remember talking to you about your experiences of living in New York. Could you please share a story from that time?
Keller: I always wanted to go to NYC just because I grew up breakdancing, and b-boying started out there, so I always thought it looked like a rad place to go. So anyways, I finally went out there and loved it. I was staying in the ghetto at first, in the Bronx, then randomly became friends with this movie director that let me move in to his 5th Ave. penthouse suite in Manhattan. I literally went from rags to riches. He left me his credit card every day for me to go have fun with, but I would only use like ten bucks on it for some slices of pizza and soda, and he would get mad, then take me to all these crazy expensive restaurants at night. I seriously thought he might have been gay, but he was just a cool dude that needed a friend after his wife left him. The only reason I left was because the dude would have crazy orgies at his place and that was just a little too loco for me.
SLUG: What is your spirit animal and why?
Keller: I would say a bird. That’s why I want to skate for Hawk Clothing (just kidding). Birds just seem free and can go anywhere. I hate being tied down to one location. I’m pretty known for just disappearing for a while, so I would say a bird or a bear just cause when I lose my cool, I straight up want to kill that person.
SLUG: Instead of naming your top five pro skateboarders, I was wondering if you could name your top five tricks and which pros do them the best?
1. Antwon Dixon - Nollie Heels
2. Andrew Reynolds - Backside 360
3. Cale Nuske - Kickflip Crook
4. Caswell Berry - Kickflip
5. Geoff Rowley - Frontside Flip
SLUG: You seem to be more concerned with doing tricks and doing them well than doing really technical stuff, kind of like a personal favorite of mine, Keith Hufnagel. Who are some local skaters you feel do this as well?
Keller: My homie Adam Green has real proper nollie flips, Dylan Call with front smith back 180s out, Alec Solberg with front tails, Eric Call with front shov’s, Devin York with skating in general… There’s too many to name. A lot of my OP (Orem Park) homies just grip and rip.
SLUG: Lastly, who should we watch out for in the Utah art world? Who should we be watching out for in the Utah skateboard world?
Keller: In the art world, I’m pretty clueless. I just do my own thing and try to get Tobal out there more, but my friends Colt Bowden and Aaron Eskaron are really rad painters. And as far as photographers—Weston Colton and Sam Milianta, of course. In the skateboard world, Matt Fisher is killing it, Devin is always killing it and I really want to see a full part from my homie Dylan Call. I love watching that dude cruise. I wish I could say, “Watch out for a full Tobal part,” but I’m 28 and my back hurts. Maybe I’ll just do a four minute skate part of just slappy grinds on curbs. Haha. I can’t even slappy. Sad.
SLUG: Thank anyone you feel necessary?
Keller: My family for always backing me in chasing my dreams. My Heavenly Father for giving me some talent on a board and with a paintbrush, hopefully I can use it for some good. All my homies back home in the 209, my homies Carlito, and Computer in NYC, all the OP locals. Milosport in Orem for always being down for me and my work. Everyone in Hawaii that has been rocking my art out there, and just skateboarding in general for giving me such a fun life. Now put down this magazine and go skate!