Tri Tri-Rudolf is a skater that seems custom made for the era of social media shredding. His humorously complex trick vocabulary, seemingly weightless style, and creative eye for trick development make for an endless parade of “wtf moments” that call for repeated viewing. But as this Blade Life reveals, Tri didn’t just come up in the Instagram age. A longtime midwest roller, Tri has deep roots in Ohio that extend to his current home in Chicago, plus decades of travel and event appearances. Read on to learn more about one of the most infectiously mesmerizing skaters, and hear how he’s overcome his own struggles while spending life on skates.
* * * *
Tri, tell everyone who you are and where you live.
I’m Tri Tri-Rudolf, and I’m 37 years old. I grew up in Cincinnati but live in Chicago now.
How and when did you start skating?
I started around ’91 because my school would often take field trips to the skating rink. Showing off at the rink was the cool thing to do, so I practiced all the time. My older brother was really into skateboarding at the time; I was really bad at it, but loved watching his skate videos. When I learned you could do grinds and ride ramps in blades, I was hooked for life.
So how many years is that?
Geez, I guess that’s three decades minus a few years due to injuries.
Tell us about some of the events or projects you’ve been a part of through your skating years. Anything really stand out?
Oh man, there’s a ton but a few really stand out. The Kentucky Battle will always have a soft spot in my heart because I was there from the start, when it was the Lexington crew battling against Louisville, and the losers had to buy drinks for the after party. I made an edit for the game Rolling that came out on Playstation 2, which was really cool because it was a combination of my three favorite things: skating, editing, and video games. For a couple years I would do the official edits for Windy City Riot and Schmidty’s Ramp and Camp. I also host a blade trivia show which I need to get back on, but it’s just a ton of work to put together.
What about Wally Fighter? Where did the idea come from, and how difficult was it to create your vision?
The first Wally Fighter was just a spontaneous idea I had one night. I had a ton of footage of Bruce “Wally” Shuey on the Tuxedo Rails in Lexington ready to go, so I got started editing and had it done by morning. They’re a bit easier to make now due to advancements in editing tech and game assets being readily available, but still take several hours to put together.
How about the crews you’ve skated with — how important are the people around you to staying motivated and pushing yourself?
I really miss skating with my Ohio buddies, where it’s really an “anything goes” kinda atmosphere. I’ve been skating a lot with Joe Smith and Nick Pietrobon here in Chicago, and they motivate and push me a ton every session. I feel like I skate my best just with people I’m close to or by myself. I get nervous around strangers or large crowds. I’d much rather have a chill session than go to a contest. That said, I do want to travel and skate with different people more. I recently started doing livestreams and it’s been really awesome getting ideas and tips that I could have never come up with myself, and just being able to chat about skating.
I think a lot of people feel that way about skating in front of crowds. Thinking about “Ohio Buddies,” who are some of the standout people to come out of the Ohio blade scene?
Omar Wysong, Mike Opalek, Ben Schwab, James St. Ours, Aaron Pyle, Ron Copeland, Craig Parsons, Chris Grutzmacher, James Short, Jimmy Hake, Jimmy Spetz, and Stefan Brandow are probably the biggest names I can think of when it comes to Ohio bladers. Ohio has always had some heavy hitters with their own unique style. I think that since the majority of the state follows a uniform conventional lifestyle, it takes a unique individual to take up rollerblading in the first place.
Shoutout to the videographers: Andrew Cleary, Ryan Benner, Hawke Trackler, and Mat Grimes who have helped represent throughout the years.
Has your skating remained more or less consistent in style, or has it changed over time? If it’s changed, what sort of eras did you get caught up in?
My super squat style has stayed with me since the late ’90s. I was out of commission for the better part of the hammer/spin-to-win era. I’ve always been into doing unique tricks, so returning to the Mushroom Blading era was something that really resonated with me. Looking back, my style has not really changed dramatically. I think the difference now is that I’m not the only one with a camera anymore, so I’ve been focusing more on skating rather than filming.
Some people that have skated as long as you can act like “Things were better back then…” What do you think about that attitude?
I do miss some things from back in the day. In particular, slower heel-based backslides, sessioning super long rails, and the experimental editing days of Life+. Also, the freedom from responsibility and energy of youth. I think history is important and worth reflecting upon, but I think blading in general has evolved and matured for the better. I can’t argue that ridiculousness of stunts most likely hit its peak in the mid 2000s. However, I think overall the hammer style of skating is not necessarily sustainable for most of us.
Which has been your favorite blade era?
Right now. I feel like the attitude towards blading has been more positive than any previous generation. I used to live in constant fear of harassment whenever I had my skates on, especially at skateparks or downtowns/campuses. Lately, from what I’ve experienced, as long as you’re respectful enough, people either don’t care or will watch and give props. The blading community also feels more accepting and welcoming to all types of rolling. It kinda sucks for me that the prices on retro skates have gone up significantly, but it’s really refreshing to see the industry thriving and selling out of products as soon as they are released. It’s also an exciting time for new products and technology with the advancements in 3D printing. I hope in the future there are more events like the virtual Winterclash where creative and artistic talent is also on display. Blading has always embraced diversity more than general society, and I think it continues to be ahead of the curve. Seeing events where everyone is welcome no matter their race, age, gender, income, etc. is truly a beautiful thing.
You live’d in Ohio and I’m from Ohio, and I remember crossing paths in Columbus so long ago. You were always good — and hurt! — and had cool set ups. What’s the favorite setup you’ve had?
My favorite setup was probably my most frankensteined skate I ever put together: Yellow K2 250cc boots, Xsjado 2.0 souls, Salomon cuffs, and Fiziks frames.
How about one that you never had but always coveted? Why?
That’s a really good question. It used to be King 55s, but now I have two pairs. Surprisingly enough, the only skates that I haven’t previously owned that I’m currently considering are the Danny Beers. I tried a friend’s pair of 909s and really like the feel and look of clear skates, plus Danny Beer is awesome.
What are you skating on now and what are you looking for in your skates?
I’m skating ST90s that I have had since their release. Currently they have Grey Matter souls and the original Oysi frames. I fear the boots and frames aren’t gonna survive the rest of the season, but they’ve both lasted me for several years. My ideal skate is a flexible yet responsive boot, tall/long frame with a deep groove, medium size soul with old school backslide area. I’m hoping they release the Salomon Night souls for 3D printing soon, that should help me check all my boxes. Speaking of 3D printing, I’m hoping soon 3D printed skates will be a thing and I’m excited with all the possibilities of that technology.
And work, what do you do for a job? What do you like (or not like) about it?
My official title is Manager of Video Production and Virtual Learning. I work for a non-profit organization that really cares for its employees and embraces diversity. Having a salary, health insurance, and 401k definitely beats having to do the millennial hustle. It’s nice being able to use my video talents to make a living, but makes it difficult finding motivation to work on my own personal projects. The content is continued education for accountants, so it’s not a terribly exciting industry as you can imagine.
I watch your social media and see how dedicated you are. Now, following your social media, it seems like you’re able to post a clip every day. Is that right?
Yes, I’ve made it a goal to post at least one new clip a day with the exception of Throwback Thursday and Flashback Friday. It has been a good motivator to record and push myself more often, let alone even strap on some skates. I’m not sure exactly what I’ll do during winter, but I do have my basement skate setup, and a decent size backlog of things I’ve never shared.
You grew up skating before social media was like it is now. Has the rise of instant gratification changed our community or its expectations at all?
Posting clips/edits online and on message boards has always been a thing for me since the early days of Geocities webpages. It is definitely different now that the technology is so easily accessible and rapid. It used to be that you would have to wait until you or a buddy got a new magazine or video to see new content. Then in the peer-to-peer days you’d be happy with whatever you could find. A lot of my clips made it there, and it’s interesting to hear when people first heard of me and/or my crew from Kazaa or Bearshare. Then early social media I feel was mainly home for throwaway/leftover/throwback clips with the good stuff saved for either a full edit or video. Now I feel like anything and everything goes on social media, and it’s more than a full time job even trying to keep up with a good portion of things that are posted on any given day. This might be the “old man yells at cloud” in me talking, but the instant gratification is way too addicting and can eat up way too much time from a viewer and content creator perspective. I’ve been trying to limit my time on social media but it’s very difficult especially since it’s so accessible, and I’m not helping either by posting at least once a day.
But to answer your question, yes, I think instant gratification has dramatically changed both our community and expectations. My mind is blown everyday by posts I see, but of course the over saturation leads to desensitization which in turn increases expectations. At the same time the exposure to many different styles and skill levels does seem to have a meta-breaking effect. While I feel the short form world we live in plays well for my style of skating, I find it harder to have an attention span to watch anything longer than 30 seconds. Inversely, longer form media like vlogs and streams do help put in perspective the struggle it takes to land tricks, but making time to watch said media can be a struggle in itself. I think the best thing about this era of social media is that we get to experience people’s skating in areas that we just didn’t have access to in the earlier days. Now anyone with a phone can get the exposure they deserve. In conclusion, social media is a powerful tool that connects and pushes our community but we must be mindful of the power it may have over us.
What other things in your life have you done as long as you’ve skated? I wonder what they have in common with blading!
Video games and video editing are the only two hobbies that I have more hours logged than skating. Much like skating, I try to deviate from the norm whenever possible. There’s just a special charm to taking a unique approach that I just can’t describe.
I was injured during the early Fast and Furious days so I got really into racing and drifting cars. Obviously, there’s similarities of having wheels on tarmac, but in particular drifting is very similar to skating. It’s basically like grinding in a car. You need the right speed, power, trajectory, friction, and balance to slide through an obstacle/turn. Of course the risk and consequences are also there and potentially even greater than skating.
I also used to be a videographer for touring rock bands, and that community had a lot of similarities to the bladers. In almost every city we went to there would be people excited to show us around, introduce us to like-minded people, and give us a place to crash for the night. There was a three month tour where we only had to stay at a hotel twice because we either knew somebody in town or someone from the show would offer a place to stay. However, when it came to stadium/festival shows, that sense of community was lost due to security reasons.
What’s the most unusual grind you’ve ever done? My friend was telling me about a citric porn star you did, or something like that?
The citric porn definitely took the most figuring out. I had written it off as impossible but a guy named Toga from Indonesia kept pushing me to try it in my live streams. It took about an hour and half and five different pairs of skates, but I was actually able to lock it and slide it a little bit.
The citric porn title of most unusual grind only lasted about a week though. Billy Gunning came up with the idea of taking the snowboard frame mount and putting the boots in a permanent tabernacle position — you posted the clip above. It was incredibly difficult to even put the skates on, let alone skate in them. It was a huge strain on my left knee so I got the grind in them as soon as I could but will never try that again!
What’s your philosophy on grinding and blading in general — do you have a guiding principal you follow?
My brand of ADD requires me to have a goal in mind or else I’ll just be running on autopilot. If I’m feeling a spot or trick I’ll be focused like a lazerbeam, but sometimes the inspiration can take a while to come or not even show up. I’m twice as focused if it’s a unique trick or what I call a lottery trick, that is a trick that has a very low chance of success. In reality, I could just do tricks that are easy for me and do them smoothly and it’d probably look impressive. However, after skating as long as I have, I want to be challenged in one way or another. There’s something so satisfying about the process of determining if a trick is even possible and then deciphering what it takes to accomplish it. Getting a wtf reaction is my favorite thing because I love seeing tricks that are just plain unimaginable. I enjoy sharing that feeling as best as I can.
I’ve been working really hard on trying to find a balance with my anxiety while skating. I tend to overthink my skating and it can be crippling to the point where I don’t even want to try anything. I’ve been learning to let go and just go for it more, but still listen to my own concerns because the last thing I want is to get seriously injured again.
The ultimate goal of blading for me is to enjoy myself and the company of others if I’m not alone.
Where was the last blade event you went to?
The last event I went to was the Windy City Riot. It was quite the humbling experience because I actually wanted to be competitive this year, but only ended up landing essentially one trick. Still, the energy and atmosphere is always incredible to be around even if it can feel overwhelming at times. Matthias St. John and Brad Magnuson destroyed it all day with so much style. Also, BJ Bernhardt was there and said hi to me, which I geeked out a bit because he was one of my first ever Asian-American role models. Of course I was too shy to say that to him then.
What’s the next one on your calendar?
Tall Tone Tour this month; it’s my favorite event of the year. It happens on Anthony Anderson’s birthday each year. To celebrate, we go to a whole bunch of parks and skate all day with the exception of eating at Portillo’s for dinner.
Anything we should talk about that I overlooked, or anything you want to say to people reading this BLADE LIFE?
I guess I’ll take the time to share that I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression my whole life. They’re both debilitating things that really kept me from being able to truly enjoy skating and life as a whole. Social media certainly had a magnifying effect on these issues of mine as well. It took a lot of effort and convincing from my wife to realize that something was wrong. I spent several years in therapy and tried a few different medications, some helped and some made things worse. I had a breakthrough when I saw a new psychiatrist this summer. In about an hour, he was able to help me realize the value of my life and that my talents are worth sharing. I also learned that anxiety and depression are both a natural and necessary part of my life but my reactions to them really dictate my mood. I’ve been much happier ever since and this knowledge has been very freeing.
I know everyone is different but if something feels wrong that you just can’t fix on your own, I recommend seeking help and keep on seeking until you find the help that is right for you. Also you really can’t go wrong with eating healthy, exercising, drinking water, and getting ample sleep.
If you made it this far, I appreciate all of your time and attention in reading what I have to share.
Thanks, Tri! I can’t believe we’re finally doing this now but better late as hell than never! Thank you for sharing your personal struggled with us, I know that will resonate with readers.
I know we’ve been talking about doing this for what seems like forever, but perhaps now was the right time to do so. Thank you so much for the opportunity, it really means a lot to me!
Photos by Nick Pietrobon