Last month, the very finest skateboarding talent from across the globe descended on Barcelona to compete on both amateur and professional levels in this year's Mountain Dew AM Skateboarding Tour. Somehow, under the blistering Catalonian sun, skaters from around the world demonstrated their skating chops across two red hot days. The first day was primarily focused around amateurs before the professionals took to the bowl. US skate pros Sean Malto, Chris Colbourn and Jordan Maxham (above) came over from their respective spots across the West Coast to judge some of the rising talent.
All three skaters came up at an interesting time for the industry; despite having come up via the traditional route of filming tricks onto VHS and sending them through to various brands for inclusion on their feature length reels, things have since moved on. Just as the music industry is constantly evolving in line with fluctuating online trends, so too is the skateboarding industry. The feature length VHS tapes (that are still talked about, by the way) have been eschewed in favour of Insta and Snapchat. Even YouTube seems antiquated in this new landscape. As attention spans dwindle and the flood of skate videos on social media increases exponentially, it's become harder and harder to make yourself heard over the noise; whether you're a skateboarder or a musician.
We caught up with Sean, Chris and Jordan to discuss the changing face of skateboarding, how they got their come-ups and whether or not Barcelona could be about to replace California as the centre of the skateboarding universe.
Have you been to this competition before?
Yeah, I've been before when it was in Amsterdam so I'm stoked it was here this year.
How does Barcelona compare to California?
Ah, dude. This is so much better than California. This city is huge. You can spend months and months and months here and never skate in the same spot twice. Whereas, you go to LA and you can probably only do that for five or six months. It's not as big as it seems out there. Everyone's like “Yo, Cali's the spot!” But everything is nobbed, everything's a bust. Even if you find somewhere they kick you off super fast. And every single thing has been done, every trick has gone down already. All these spots are either destroyed or they're not even there any more. I'm not saying you can't skate in Los Angeles, because it's 100% doable, but it's nothing compared to Barcelona. Barcelona is so huge and has everything to offer. It's amazing.
That's nuts because growing up in England, watching the skate videos, they were always in California. It seemed like a Mecca.
It is a Mecca in a sense, because that's where the industry is. If you want to be a skater, that's where you have to be. That's where the parties are and the video premieres. You just have to be in the scene, you have to be out there showing face.
Is that why you moved from Vermont?
I didn't have any sponsors, none of that, I just wanted to skate. I mean, we have winter half the year so my original reason was I just wanted to go somewhere where it was sunny.
Could you see yourself moving to Barcelona?
For sure. I don't know if I could move here permanently but I definitely want to come live here for a year one time; just learn Spanish fully and skate all the spots.
I guess learning Spanish is a transferrable skill in California.
When you moved to California, what was the moment you realised it was a full-time thing?
I moved there when I was 18 and I'm 27 now and I didn't get to the point where I didn't need a day job until I was 25. So it was almost 10 years of being in California, skating before I didn't have to work anymore to fund skating. You got to really be out there paying your dues. Some people just rock up and it happens right away but that's so hard to do.
Is this your first time in Barcelona?
Nah, I been a bunch of times before. Eight years ago, this place was the mecca that people come and travel to but there was a solid ten years when it was crazy. People were coming a few times a year. So I kinda caught the tail end of that period. This is my second time this year.
Where are you based at the moment? LA?
I moved to LA from Kansas City about three years ago.
What's Kansas City like for skating?
Kansas City's great, it's just small. The scene's strong but there's just not a lot. It's a smaller market but we've all worked together for a long time to make it the best we can. There's not a lot of room for shops or stuff to get kids involved, it's more community-based.
Was that why you moved out west?
LA, California is just where the industry of skating is so when it became time for filmers and photographers and getting into the barracks, I felt like to do my job the best I could, LA was the spot. Even though I love Kansas City so much, every little thing that popped up in LA was a three and a half hour flight. Now I can just drive there and spend a little more time.
When did you realise this is your full-time thing?
When I was 16 I started traveling with companies and I got a little recognition from the skating industry. At that point my sponsors told me they wanted me on every trip and everything they do. I told them I wanted skating to be my career, my life. So I just tried to make the best of every opportunity and skate the way I wanted to skate. It really just went from there.
How did you get the attention of these brands in the first place?
At the time I was coming up I would film with my friends in Kansas and we would put together every few months the best 45 seconds of footage, put it on VHS and mail it to the sponsors. That was a common thing back then. I was on my seventh ‘Sponsor Me' tape to Girls skateboards before I even got recognised. I was just sending them in. I wasn't even getting calls back, I just kept sending them in. It's a good way for them to see your progress; every few months you send something in and they can see it almost in real time. Putting it on a VHS tape and mailing it is kinda funny now.
Yeah, those videos would be like feature-length movies and now it's just 30 second clips on Instagram or Snapchat. Do you think you could've come up the same way now? It seems very saturated.
It's definitely more saturated and the attention span of people has gone down. Everyone wants 30 seconds on Instagram. It is hard now. There's a lot of really good kids that you see every single day. Coming up now is pretty hard. You can see it more now, it's right in your face. When I was coming up, I didn't really know the level of kids coming up in other cities because I didn't see it. I'd watch other local videos and videos from other spots but that's me really searching for it and I'd really only see stuff maybe once every six months. Now you just see it all. Everybody has the power post the own videos and share what they're doing. For better for worse, that's pretty scary for kids these days.
How does the skate scene in Barcelona compare with the scene in LA?
Well, Barcelona has a lot of skaters but California, the state, doesn't accept it as well as they do here in Barcelona. Cali was the old school mecca for skating with all these iconic spots, but that's all gone now. Everything's been shut down. Most spots like the schoolyards, if you skate there you'll get arrested. You gotta hop fences, run from the cops and so on. Barcelona kinda reminds of that old school skate style that I kinda missed - the plaza-style skating. But when I come here to Parallel, the train station and you've got all these street plazas with all these kids skating. It's just where you go as a skateboarder. I love that. And the city loves it too.
Have you been to Barcelona before?
Yeah, this is my fourth time.
How does the skate scene in California compare to the one in Barcelona? I heard it was getting locked off in LA.
There are some of those old iconic spots that are getting shut down but there's also tonnes of passionate skateboarders de-nobbing spots and looking for new ones. It's always growing, especially with the Olympics on the horizon. Whether or not any of these people will be skating in the competition, I don't know, but it's spreading a lot of hype.
So what was your come-up in skating? How did you get to doing it as a proper thing?
I moved to California with the help of a good friend called Paul Wilson whom I met on MySpace. I was sending my footage out and looking for sponsors. He hit me back saying he'd started this board company for his son and was looking to expand. I got my friends Jordan Maxham, Chris Whitaker and James Buchman on board to build the company up a bit. So thanks to him I moved out to California with my buddies. After that it was a snowball effect. We started skating round LA, meeting more people, eventually I put together a video part I was proud of. Sadly, the board company that helped me move out there in the first place has since gone under. I was in limbo for about six months after that until my friend Ira recommended I send my footage to Element. He knew someone there at the time and he decided to very graciously sponsor me.
You're heading out to New York later in the year. What's that like for skating? I just think of it as being very built up and claustrophobic.
New York's great for skating in the summer and the fall. Winter's pretty brutal but it's great because there's always new developments and construction sites that lead to skate spots. If you can link up with a few locals who will show you some new spots, then you'll have a really good trip. If not, there's some iconic spots I'm looking forward to hitting like the Brooklyn banks. It's been fenced off for like 10 years but as of this summer they've made it skateable again. So I want to go over there before it gets too cold.
What about the future? Do you think you'll move away from the West Coast or the US?
I'm living in California now but I don't know if I see myself staying there forever. I'd love to move to a city like Barcelona. It's hard to think of anywhere else I'd like to live besides Barcelona. It would be a very dramatic switch, but it'd be so needed. Just for some change. I miss Vermont, though.
What was the skate scene in Vermont like for skateboarding?
I grew up looking up to this older generation of guys that I would see in the skatepark. Eventually they started putting videos up of them skating round town. It single-handedly inspired me and my friends to go out and make videos just like them. That led to the internet coming out and us having all this footage ready for people to see. I had a couple of bits that I'd made that Transworld featured in maybe 2012, maybe even earlier. They were the first to post my footage. It meant the world to me that they posted it.
I guess the assumption is that a skater gets to a certain level and immediately moves out to California but clearly there are still these pockets of homegrown talent, right?
Yeah, a lot of guys never moved out west and they still have great careers in skating. It does take a lot of traveling back and forth but I've seen plenty of guys not make the move and have perfectly happy and successful lives. Brandon Westgate, for example, he's an East Coast legend.
Do you think the internet has made the come-up easier or harder?
Easier for sure. If you do a trick you can have it seen around the world in seconds. Except you also have millions of kids doing the exact same thing. So it kinda floods the market but it's better to have too much than not enough. It does take away a sense of getting to see someone skate in person. That's still way cooler to me than watching a video of your favourite skater. It always resonates more in person. Nothing will ever trump face-to-face interaction.