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Matt Berger in the streets of LA for "Ritual de lo habitual: Matt Berger"

Ritual de lo habitual: Matt Berger

Jan 032018

Some of your favorite skaters believe in rituals and superstitions before they try a trick. Some top psychologist think the obsessive nature it takes to become a professional athlete are signs of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). The disorder is what keeps them training for insane amounts of hours. This defiantly falls in line with skateboarding. It takes a certain kind of crazy to keep inflicting pain on yourself in the name of progress. You’ve got to put in countless hours of falling on your face to become a pro skateboarder. Call it ritual or superstition but the goal is do the impossible and trick gravity with a thought process revolving around magic!

At it’s core skating is a combo of muscle memory and confidence. If the rituals help the confidence who cares right?! Most of the time yes, but a few doctors think it can get out of hand pretty fast. Athletes in other spots have been known to put too much value on these little tricks and not on their own skill set. So much so that it’s lead to  compulsive behavior that registers on the spectrum of mental illness! So be carful with that voodoo you do!

A 90’s baseball legend named Larry Walker, had a thing with the number 3. He wore the number 33 for his entire career, made sure the phone company gave him a number with as many threes as he could get, and he would only wake up at 33 past the hour. He even got married on November 3rd at 3:33pm!

Without knowing it, Our friend Matt Berger subscribes to the Larry Walker program of crazy. It’s unclear weather it’s OCD or ritual but he has a thing for tapping and spinning his board before he tries a trick. Check out this interview and decide for yourself if it’s mental illness, strategy for landing tricks or maybe a combo of both.

Interview: By David Broach


All right, we are recording officially. Ok so I had you take that online OCD test. What did you find out? Are you crazy?

[laughter] Well, it said it was 50/50, and so-- Ha! Well it said it was 50/50. I scored exactly 50% so it recommended that I go see a clinician! So maybe I’m half crazy who knows. 

Oh it was 50%!

Yeah I scored exactly 50% on the OCD test, and so it recommended that I go see a clinician. [laughter]. So maybe I'm half crazy, who knows?

Yeah, half crazy is pretty good. Okay, so tell us what you do because I noticed it that day we were shooting photos.

Man, I don't even know how to explain it, it changes every spot I go to, but it's kind of like, it's like a repetition that creates a bit of confidence, it's like having a go-to set of mannerisms for me, and when I execute them it's like-- how could I explain it? It's just going through building my confidence almost in a sense where, okay, if I do this little combination properly, then I'm okay to go for it and try the trick. There's no second-guessing it, it cuts out all of this silly talk in the back of my head if I just gut to the top and run through this little OCD programming, and then I can try my trick.

Wait so explain what you do. Does that pattern ever change?

Yeah. The pattern is usually pretty consistent with like I'll spin my board three times and tap it three times, but it if it's a really gnarly trick and I'm pretty nervous, then it might turn into tap three, or, sorry, spin three, tap three, spin three, tap three, spin three, tap three. [laughter].

So is it the scarier it is the more taps and spins?

Yeah or if I'm just having issues committing. But, yeah, it usually is like the gnarlier it is for me the most of it will get up to you. I think the worst it's ever gotten to was, it was in a repetition of four, so it was three taps, sorry, three spins, three taps, three spins, three taps, three spins, three taps, three spins, three taps.

Dude, in the stuff I read, though, that's the beginning of-- what you're doing is exactly the beginning of something that can get worse because people start to rely on it, and start to think its the ritual and not their own skill. Don’t do it, it'll mess it all up, and so they start doing more of it. Do you know what I mean?

Yeah. [laughter]. You know what's funny is that I never really used to do it, it just kind of has became a habit in the last year, and it's just become something I've been reliant on because the last few weeks of me filming for the Etnies video and just sort of going for it like the hardest shit I had on my list of tricks, it was kind of like a little security measure to give myself a little confidence boost to clear my mind before  trying a trick, and it's like if I don't run through that, there's no way I'm committing or going for my trick, and if I just go through this little two to three-step process, then I'm 100% going all-in. It's really bizarre how well it works for me when I'm trying scary shit.

No. It's really handy because it does-- it can't hurt unless it gets way out of hand, but all it can do is give you confidence, and with skating, I mean it's muscle memory, and then confidence, you know?

Yeah for sure, man. And-- I won't lie. I've only had one or two sessions where it got up to a full sequence of four. And I remember when I was doing that, I was like, "This is insane. This is taking way too much time to go and try the trick [laughter].”

Yeah. And that's when they say it becomes a problem! When it actually starts hindering or I mean when time starts to be taken away from your life, basically.

Absolutely. And so that's when-- while I was doing that, I was like, "All right, I'm just going to do a repetition of two and then just go for the trick because this is taking too long [laughter].”

That's hilarious. So you really think if you didn't do your repetition, that it would matter? You 100% believe that?

Psychologically, yes, absolutely. Because it's just a process for me of-- I don't even know how to explain it. It's like going through the motions makes me feel more confident to dive into the unknown, even though those motions are the simplest little things in the world. It's like my little trick to basically push myself out of my comfort zone when I'm trying something gnarlier, I guess, when I'm nervous. It allows me to see that it's gnarly, and it's scaring me, accept that, and then I'm able to just go for it and go all in. It's weird.

That's hilarious. Do you do it with anything else besides skating?

No. Just skating is the only thing that I've ever had it with. And it's funny because we'll go and film certain tricks. If I'm doing a ledge line, I don't get into that OCD repetition. It really only happens when I'm trying gnarlier shit [laughter].

It's just crazy how the brain works. So how did it start? Did somebody tell you? Or did you see somebody doing something and try it? Or what happened?

Man, I honestly think I was just in the mode trying to get myself to do something that was-- trying to find a way to get myself in the headspace to just go all in on something that was-- it was scary to me. And I don't even know. I just got into this habit of rolling up and tapping my board.


What was it? What was the first time?

I don't even remember.

So you think it was-- well, when did it start roughly? You said a year ago? Is that what you said?

Yeah. When I first started filming for the Etnies video, right after I came back from my knee surgery, is when it just started to happen [laughter].

Okay. All right. Let's see. This is kind of-- it's not really off-topic, but are you religious? Because it kind of seems like it's a weird form of a prayer.

You know, I have absolutely no religious background in my family at all. It's just a comfort thing psychologically, man. I mean—

Yeah, which is what a prayer is. So that's why I wondered if it had-- maybe that's why people pray.

Yeah. I mean, maybe it has some weird psychological assurance. But in those times, when I do that, I'm so in the moment in kind of in this mode of like, "All right." I'm not even consciously thinking about what I'm doing. I'm just doing whatever feels right that's going to get me into the headspace that I'm going to be able to just go for the trick I'm trying.

I guess it's just a way to detach enough to stop thinking so much, right?

Yeah, that's the thing is that's why I can't even tell you when I started doing this OCD tap thing because the times it happened is when I basically was unconscious but reaching for things or habitually doing things to make myself feel better in my mind to go for something that I know I could potentially get broken off. Just so I could cut the noise out of my brain. It's like, "All right, I did the checklist. Now I'm ready to go.”

Have you ever heard of anybody else in skating that does crazy stuff? Not that what you're doing is actually crazy. I'm just kidding. But—

I mean, I'll classify it as crazy for sure. It's like some mania. I've seen Nyjah do it—

Nyjah does it?

-- in pressure situations. He kicks his leg a few times and-- or, no. He taps the ground a few times, and then he kicks his trucks with his heel, and he puts on lip chap on.

That's amazing. Does he really?

Yeah. He taps the ground three times and then kicks his bottom truck left and right, and then puts his Chapstick on. But the first one I ever saw it from though was definitely Reynolds, seeing they did some vice release of Reynolds trying to be-- when he was trying to backside flip Wallenberg, and they talk about how he gets into these head-spaces where he just has crazy OCD, and that's his process.

Yeah, I've heard him talk about it before in the van. He was claiming it was actually getting out of hand for a while.

Yeah. I could totally see it getting out of hand, man, because that day that it got to-- or the handful of times with me out skating trying something, and it got to the repetition of four times in sequence, it was so time-consuming. And it was so hard to break that sequence [laughter].

Yeah because, like I said, if you don't do it, then you think you're jacked and you're never going to do it. It's pretty fucking crazy how easy it is to get sucked into something like that.

Dude, 100%. I've never done it in my life, and now it's become a staple in my life filming in the last year [laughter]. And you know what's even-- dude, actually, you know what? The very first time I did see it was on-- you know those TV shows where addiction has just ruined people's lives? And it was this mother who had two kids, and she was unbelievably OCD addicted to the point where it ruined her life, and she couldn't sleep. She couldn't do anything because of it. She had to check her alarm 500 times before she would go to bed and go through this process. Just psycho shit where you're like, "How did it get this out of hand?”

Yeah. Well, if it gets like that, will you go see a doctor?

Oh, yeah. I definitely am going to be making sure that I don't get that out of hand [laughter].