An Interview With Philly Santosuosso

philly wallride

Photo by G. Dagostaro

Most people do not know much about skateboarding in New Orleans. You can walk down a major city’s downtown anywhere in America and bet on seeing at least a few skateable things. When you walk around downtown New Orleans, where the few tall buildings are, and there’s next to nothing. (Places like that make me feel bad about writing things like this, even as a joke.) Its first public skatepark has been entangled in red tape for years. Its most recognizable skater might be Lil’ Wayne.

Philly and Humidity have been our lens into New Orleans’ underreported skate scene for years now, a city that manages to make something out of not very much.

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Not many people think of New Orleans as a skate city. How did you first get into skating down there?

My half brother got into skating when I was eight or nine, then quit, and I kept going. There was a small indoor park called Second Nature, which was run by the best skaters in the city. I hung out there, and they had a skate shop that you could rent skate videos from. I would watch a lot of 411s, video after video, and that exposed me to what was going on in skating. I ended up riding for the shop inside the park when I got a little older.

What was the scene like at that time? It feels like it never gets much coverage.

Duane Pitre is from here, and was riding for Alien Workshop around that time. The first actual skateboard I bought was off his grandma, who owned poodle grooming shop where she also sold his boards. Dyrdek would come down — when Dyrdek ollies over a shopping cart off a little bump in Mind Field in one of his little clips from when he was younger — that’s actually in New Orleans. Sal Barbier is also from here, so there was a good community of skateboarders at that time when I was first starting to skate.

I didn’t even know New Orleans sucked for skating until later.

Filmed by Thom Musso / The Man Who Films

Why do you say you realized it sucked?

First, the park closed down. Then, the first Zero video came out, which was sick, but really bummed me out on skating. I saw that everything was about jumping down shit. In New Orleans, we have like one eight-stair and couldn’t really follow in that direction. I was young, so I got a bit more into BMX instead, building dirt jumps and shit, being a kid, you know?

Was it tougher to keep up with skating once the park and shop closed down?

Well, New Orleans has always had a skate shop. Humidity has been open since 1996. I grew up as the young dude under all the OGs. The park closed, and I was a bit too young to go out skating with them, you know — they’re drinking and shit — and most of the kids my age are playing basketball. I remember wearing Stevie’s DC shoes to school growing up and kids clowning me saying they were knock-off Jordans. I didn’t have anyone my age to skate with. Even now, all my homies are 22 because the older guys stopped skating a while back.

How’d you end up coming back around to skating?

What got me hyped on skating again was that promo video from when I-Path first came out. It was them bombing hills and riding in milk crates. They were ollieing curb cuts, doing long 5050s, skating obscene stuff, making something happen out of nothing. It made me think “wow, there isn’t a lot to skate here, but that’s fine.”

To me, I love all sorts of skating, but the best skating to me is being in the city. Like in New York videos, when they’re skating over knocked over trash cans, that’s the best sort of skating to me, not under some bridge at a skatepark. Being a part of a metropolis is the most exciting thing in skateboarding.

I remember going to Chicago with my mom when I was real little. She was like, “Do what you want, go venture off, just remember where the hotel is.” I was thinking how insane it was compared to what I was used to. When I first realized how big a city like that was, it was a real eye-opener. You keep going and going and it never ends. You can skate through New Orleans and back in under an hour.

philly back 5

Photo by G. Dagostaro

How did you come to run Humidity?

A lot of jobs opened up after Katrina [in 2005.] A homie of mine hooked me up with a job that paid well at Honda. Soon after, I got a call from my homie Todd who said one of the dudes working at the shop was moving to Germany. He asked if I wanted to work there. This is when my other homie Steve owned the shop; he bought it back in 2000.

My life changed right there. I was living with my moms and asked her what I should do, and she said do whatever makes you happy. I was thinking about it forever: like am I really about to give up on having health insurance, a paycheck and stability so I could work in skateboarding for minimum wage? This was before I even knew what a “skate rat” was and what that whole lifestyle meant. People here weren’t really living like that. All the dudes who skate here have good jobs and skate in their free time. Nobody slums it on couches. I was just like “Fuck it.”

I worked there for close to eight years, and then Steve was like “I’m out, I’m moving to Austin.” He didn’t tell me ’til last minute. At that time, all the hip-hop stores started selling skateboards. Every gas station was selling DGK, Diamond and all those sort of brands that touched hip-hop.

Is this after Lil’ Wayne started skateboarding and all of that?

It was earlier, like there was a whole craze about Diamond down here and all of the hip-hop stores followed that. They were selling a lot of what we had. When word got out that the store was for sale, all these people started coming in, like “Is Steve here?” and I’d send them away because I knew they didn’t skate.

My mom and I tried to get a small business loan so I could buy the shop, and it didn’t work out. We rented my whole life, and she bought a house after Katrina. The only way we could get a loan is if they put a lien on the house. I’ll never forget that day. Shit got real. She was like “We got the loan,” but I was so nervous. I wasn’t even stoked. We paid the bank off already though, we’re straight.

philly noseblunt

Photo by G. Dagostaro

Has skating in New Orleans progressed in the time you’ve owned the store?

It maintains itself, but we’re surrounded by water. We can’t really grow. If you slice up the same pie up a hundred times, it’s still what you started with. A lot of homies also move away to San Francisco or New York.

I try to do a lot of stuff, like events, scavenger hunts, barbecues, whatever it takes to keep the community involved down here. That way we never lose. Skateboarding seems to be going down a little bit right now. You talk to any skate shop and you know that the money isn’t in skateboards; it’s in the kids who come in trying to be fashionable with whatever is in at that time. And now it’s moved past skate gear towards “joggers” — and I ain’t selling joggers. I’ll sell sweatpants but that drop crotch shit ain’t happening over here.

What’s up with that Ninth Ward Park? There’s a bunch of stuff online about how the city can’t get it open. Baton Rouge has that sick concrete park, so why is so hard for the biggest city in the state to get a proper one?

I don’t want to say New Orleans is corrupt, but people like to get paid down here. The small towns get skateparks because you and your mayor probably live next door and go to the same grocery store every weekend. Skateboarding is new to New Orleans, so they don’t really know what to do. The park under the bridge in Gentilly is coming along, and there are these dudes constantly working trying to get it right.

How many days do you work at the shop?

Seven. My good friend Carlos, who was like my right hand man, moved to L.A. along with my other good friend G. I got homies that help me out, but I’m like two weeks straight here now.

How do you find the time to skate if you’re working that much? It seems like you had two parts in only the past year.

When Carlos was working, we’d trade off. He’d go to Europe, come back, then I’d go to New York. I wanted to work hard for that Butter Goods part, because those dudes have held be down super hard. I never had anyone believe in me like that. So I flew to New York and managed the time. Now, I skate every night after work.

Is it tough to get motivated if you’re working every day?

I started this “Night Shift” thing on Instagram (@_night_shift_). All the kids skate during the day, and I take the night shift. No one gets a shout out, no one gets mentioned, no one says “follow this person.” You barely know who it is. Everyone has some motive behind skating now. This is about the skating — everything from slappying curbs to dudes doing gnarly shit — not credit or followers. I’m just over it.

Special thanks to Thom Musso, G. Dagostaro and Humidity Skateshop.

16 Comments

  1. I don’t even skate, but I think I’ll put some money down on the counter for hard goods the next time I pass through the shop. You do a lot to help the skating community and I respect the hell out of that.

  2. i haven’t met philly, but i know he rips and have heard only good things about him. after reading this interview i think it confirms all i’ve heard. keep doing you philly, hope i see you in the streets of nyc on your next visit.

  3. Stopped by last weekend before all the Easter festivities-good to see the shop’s still hanging in there. One of the best things about the FQ. Keep holding NOLA down!

  4. “When you walk around downtown New Orleans, where the few tall buildings are, and there’s next to nothing.” You may want to delete either the word “when,” or the word “and.” Otherwise, neither of the two clauses subordinates to the other. -Cory.

  5. Am visiting Baton Rouge and New Orleans next week with my gf – Planning to pop in humidity skate shop – Love this article – Visiting from Ottawa, ON Canada


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