Photo by Nathan Éthier-Myette
Becoming a professional skateboarder seems pretty tough. You have to get really good at it, but it’s not about who’s the best. Everyone is too good for us to tell the difference at this point. The people who sustain themselves in skateboarding the longest are those with charisma and moxie — “something else.”
Jamal Smith has been exemplary in this regard, pretty much since the invention of YouTube. He finessed himself into the public eye with the Tornado Spin trick tip ten years ago. But, as evidenced by his Sabotage 4 opener, the new Palace clip, his pre-Glory Challenge pseudo-prize fighter Instagram campaign, and most importantly, getting on Stingwater, the dude has been especially feeling it as of the past year or so. I checked in with him outside of the Glory Challenge trying to roll a joint in the wind. He had just suffered a heart-wrenching loss to Wade Desarmo — but he was fine with it. His phone was blowing the fuck up. They both won.
You just skated against defending titleholder Wade Desarmo in the the Dime World Championship Game of S.K.A.T.E. What was it like going into that for you?
It’s all about theatrics. At the end of the day, if you can put on a good show, it doesn’t matter who comes in first or last. But I mean, of course I wanted that $150,000 or whatever the fuck these Dime niggas are joking about. I was nervous as fuck though. I know I can’t kickflip and this nigga has all the kickflips.
When you saw the kickflip, what was going through your mind?
It was like everything went in slow motion. I felt every drop of sweat running down my face, I saw all the reactions, all the eyes on me. I had to turn inward, and I knew I was fucked.
You rattled off a couple tricks, right?
Yeah, because I’m that nigga. You spin to win. Unfortunately, I didn’t win.
Do you hope to battle him again next year?
Hell no. I’m just trying to smoke everybody else’s weed and watch motherfuckers huck their bodies down the biggest gaps onto swords and numchucks.
You live in Philadelphia?
Yeah, I’m originally from Ohio. I lived there until I was like 11. Then I lived in Massachusetts, and I lived in Ithaca [New York] after that.
Why’d you move around?
My mom passed when I was 11. I was a ward of the state, which meant I had no legal guardian and I had to stay in Ohio until I found someone who would take care of me. At the time, my sister was living in Massachusetts and took me in. I lived in Northampton, some weird little area in Western Massachusetts.
Did you start skating there?
Yeah, I want to say that I was maybe 14 when I started to really get into it. 11 to 13, I was on my Rocket Power shit, riding rollerblades, bikes, whatever the fuck, I didn’t care.
Photo by Zach Baker
I feel like there aren’t many black people any of those places.
Hell no. I’ve gotten very used being the one black dude in a mass populated white area — not even different nationalities — just white. That definitely helped shaped the way I go about my skateboarding, because I skated with all hesh dogs. They would always make me watch Anti-Hero vids like, “yeah, this is how you wanna skate! Stand up on that frontside 5-0!” Thankfully, I moved to Philly. Skating with all the dudes at Love Park is what got me skating the way I’m skating right now.
When did you move to Philly?
When I was 18. I got my GED and said fuck it, Ithaca is corny as shit. I had a homie in Philly who used to skate the Ithaca skate park and he had a room open for $300 a month. Fuck it, I had $250, moved out there and somehow am still out there.
Who did you start linking and skating with?
Fools would skate City Hall, and then there was a little flatground area across the street called Clothes Pin and I just would start going there. In the beginning, there were way more weird, hood black kids who were just into skating because of “Kick Push” and all that shit. Then, they all stopped skating. They started getting fixed gear bikes and all this shit. So a lot of the kids that I started skating with in Philly don’t even skate anymore. They are straight swag lords.
Any good stories from living with Ishod?
One time — it was just a random night — I was laying in bed, computer on my chest, about to hit up the young Pornhub or some shit. I hear somebody walking up the steps and I was like, alright, it’s all good, it’s just ‘shod. This nigga Dustin Dollin opens up my door, no knock. I make eye contact with him, lotion is next to me, tissues and shit, and he’s wasted, like “Oh, I just wanted to see how the house looked.” Then closes my door and keeps walking. He completely made me not want to jerk it. This professional skateboarder you grow up watching just literally almost caught you with your dick in your hand. I’ll never forget that look on his face. Pale and round…dead eyes.
Tell me about the Sabotage 4 part.
My now ex-roommate, Brian Panebianco, forced me to film a part. He wanted me to have a part in Sabotage 3, but I was on my 9-to-5 grind working. Around the time that video was about to come out, I got my first clip with him. That was the start of me filming for Sabotage 4. I was filming for so long, but I wasn’t consistently filming to the point that I had an idea for a part. It was whatever I get, I get. That part was kind of freestyle. Now I want to drop some shit where I’m fully pushing myself.
I remember first hearing of you in that Tornado Spin video. What was the story with that?
Back then, the Transworld website always had terrible trick tips. “Put your foot here and put your foot here and you flick and land.” I wanted to troll those niggas. I was like “Yo, I’m gonna choose the hardest trick possible and explain it in the worst way possible.” It was initially for my homies college A/V project. Somehow, it turned into some shit I could never escape, even if I wanted to. It’s about to be the ten-year anniversary of that video and we’re still fucking talking about it!
But I guess the point of bringing it up at all is that, in a way, that launched your career as a skateboarder. You’re fully on Palace.
Yeah, which is a troll that I’m so hyped on. Literally, every trip, it’s just do what you want to do. It’s not like pressure to get clips and all that. It’s just all the homies.
How did you get on?
That shit was straight Twitter. I hit Lucien Clarke up. I was like, “Dog, y’all niggas gotta get some Palace shit in Philly!” Lev hit me back like, “Yo, what’s your address?” I didn’t send them no footage. I didn’t even ask or anything, niggas just started sending me stuff.
Why do you think that Lev saw you and was like “Yeah, this guy’s Palace?”
Tornado Spin video, nigga. YouTube changed my life, on some bullshit. It’s so strange. I know there’s so many people that would love to be in this position and I’m still trying to figure out my shit. Traveling and all this shit, is like an out of body experience where I’m witnessing this shit through somebody else’s perspective. I don’t even feel like it’s me doing this shit right now. It’s kind of insane.
What are your goals in skateboarding?
Get sponsored by Chick-Fil-A and shitty sponsors that have nothing to do with skateboarding. I’m trying to get that Sobe money, on my Andy Mac shit. I’m trying to get on my Pizza Bites shit like Tony Hawk. I want niggas to send me food. I don’t even want to grocery shop anymore. Just give me checks and send me food.
What would the title of your self-help book be?
How A Real Nigga Get Bread by Jamal Smith.