It’s always a strange feeling to meet a professional skater. Your head is full of preconceptions, tricks you’ve witnessed and general anticipation because they are pro and you are not. When the moment comes, the surprise can be either bitter or sweet.
Sometimes that one pro you adored and worshipped throughout your pre-pubescent years turns out to be more annoying and self-centered than your older sister.On other occasions you can’t seem to get to grips with how down to earth the pro can be, and how wrong the rumour mills were. Thankfully Pat Smith was a sweet surprise.
I met Pat completely out of the blue, skating a spot in Belgium of all places. In fact, before Pat got there, someone told me about this guy who had just rolled through the day before and literally killed it, only to skate off oblivious to the impression he had just made on the locals. I was a bit disappointed to have missed the rare sighting, but could live with it.
But, sure enough along came this lone skater who started to empty his stylish bag of tricks again; a wall ride here, a wallie there, a tweaked ollie over this and a determined grind on that. This was Pat Smith. I knew it because I’m a geek that studied skate videos at college.
Anyway, Pat was here and no-one knew for how long so I had to jump at the chance to introduce myself. That first moment you meet someone is crucial because it moulds their idea of who you are and what you want. Well, I’m a journalist and I want to talk to a pro – simple as. I managed to catch Pat before he sped off again on an ATV attack of the landscape.
“Hi. You’re Pat Smith, right? I’m Ralph. I work for the Belgian skate magazine, Flatspot and Crossfire and was wondering what you were doing in this wonderous land of waffles and beer?”
Pat looked at me slightly shocked I think!
“Uhh.. Hi, Ralph. I’m just passing through. You work for a magazine?”
“Yes. In fact that’s one of the editors over there.” I pointed in the direction of a friend and fellow skater.
“Oh..?” Pat still looked hesitant at this groupie encounter, so I skipped to the chase.
“Say, would you like to try and get something done while you’re out here, like take photos or something?”
“Sure!” Pat Smiled. Phew… ” No problem. When and where?”
Just then another magazine employee rolled up, so I introduced him too.
“Here’s another editor for the mag… We’re nearly complete except for the last editor and photographer.”
Pat looked at this odd trio and asked, “Three editors and no photographer? What kind of a mag is this?”
My friends were a little hesitant with their English so I answered, “Oh, this is Belgium Pat. We take things easy here. Don’t worry!”
Our visiting pro smiled sheepishly, probably asking himself what he had just got himself into, and we worked out a plan of attack for the following day.
Like any good skateboarder, Pat isn’t averse to travelling. The young American has come a long way since his early memories of riding his older brother’s board in Maryland. Pat’s skate path has taken his talent from the East Coast to the West Coast and back again. Most people remember Pat from his part in the Black Label video, Label Kills!, where he shone through as this merciless trooper wrestling with unforgiving New York and Jersey terrain. During this period, his ties to Southern California were strong, but his roots in the East were stronger.
“The history goes….Real, 5boro, Black Label, 151, 5boro, CODA. Steve (Rodriguez) and those guys at 5boro always appealed to me: Authentic East coast skateboarders. So I left, came back, and then left again to start CODA. (The East Coast) is rough, dirty and the winters suck. There are lots of cities, each with different architecture styles- And winter. So you have a lot of kids who can rip anything, simply because they ride anything they can get to; parks, pools, streets… Just look at Zared Basset: So good at everything. I think it makes you appreciate it more and affects your skating a lot.”
Whoa! Lets take two paces back and re-read that: “…left again to start CODA.” What’s CODA, I wondered?
“Ah…Coda…It’s my retirement plan (Laughs!). Its goals are to perpetuate skateboarding in a purist way, and try to provide that ethic and ideal to kids whose only other choices are corporate. So we try to just keep everything skateboarding… Through the company, we hope to provide the skateboard community, not only with a good and pure product, but a resource. Whether it’s building spots, or sponsoring kids and trying to help them experience some of the stuff I was lucky enough to experience with skateboarding.”
So, here was a man with a mission to change skateboarding and the way kids perceive it. Well, perhaps not so bold a mission as that, but definitely out to try something new. From what I gathered, CODA was an artist/skater based company that wasn’t interested in marketing ploys and target audiences. It was more like a family looking out to benefit it’s community. The idea of community rang a bell in my head and reminded me of the famous Tylenol Bowl that got built in New York to help the skaters get through the harsh winters. Pat refers to the project as the Autmn Bowl, but he definitely had first hand experience of the operation because he led the team along with fellow constructor Dave Mims. You see, even if you’re most likely to spot Pat in the street skating, he’s actually pretty good at the transition technique too.
When we met up with Pat the following day in Gent (an old university town North of Brussels), we had in mind to stalk out any odd bank or natural quarter pipe-type spots. However, Gant isn’t really known for it’s tranny, but more so it’s ledges and street spots. Ah… Needless to say, Pat was very humble and willing to skate anything. At the first spot, a huge bump and drop-in mound, Pat looked pretty excited, but the neighbours weren’t. None of us were from Gent, so our spot list ran about as long as a post-it. Luckily our third editor and photographer had an idea. As he led us down a dirt track and past some abandoned buildngs, myself and the rest of the Flatspot staff looked at oneanother as if to say, “We are going fishing! The concrete is back there…”
We turned a corner and there ahead of us lay a steep brick bank which looked hard enough to drop into and roll away from with the Olde Land’s cobblestone runout, but the labourer’s pick-up truck parked at the bottom wasn’t going to help either. Our man from America was pretty interested, but the van needed to go. As skateboarders, we have plenty of experience buying time at spots and dealing with authority. Today Lady Luck looked down on us and granted us a friendly bunch of burly builders who were glad to see us skate their worksite. I think the actual reason was that it meant they could clock off work a bit earlier…
Pat got down to business straight away, and even asked us what we wanted from him. My friend simply said, “Oh, an ollie is fine! Maybe a flip..?”
Pat seemed puzzled, as if any other media might ask him to leap through fire halfway down the bank. I quickly mentioned that, “We’re a Belgian magazine. We take it easy here…” he smiled and got to work. After a stella performance of ‘on-the-spot’ skateboarding I asked Pat what he thought of the bank (which in my eyes was far from perfect!).
“Those are the spots that I seek out; Just anything new to me, anything fun. But because of my background, it allows for a little more open-mindedness on what is “skateable”. Versatility is important. If you can’t skate, then you can’t. Either you can ride your board or not. Sure, some kids can do amazing tricks, but if you can’t ride your board, then what’s the point? I want to be able to skate anything. I might not be good at it. You don’t have to be good at everything, but I want to be able to skate it all. It’s all fun.”
We made a brief pit-stop for lunch and then strolled across town in search for more spots. Pat spotted a great wallride opportunity, but helas the landing was covered in the slippiest grease known to mankind. Sure he could steer his plank across this vertical divide and over the 2 foot wall, but the landing was not going to be so easy. We made a mental note of the location and carried on our travels. Speaking of traveling, Pat had this to say on the matter:
“I kinda hate “tours”. You have to do demos and get stuff done. You don’t always have time to enjoy the culture. I love traveling. And I love traveling with my friends, skating, seeing new shit, and generally experiencing life.”
Now I understood why Pat wasn’t stressing about going to see hubbas or rails, or the fact our photographer had us waiting in a bustling town square for half an hour because his camera bag was weighing him down. Pat just skated around with his eyes looking upwards at the ancient architecture that surrounded him. He even asked about the different languages people spoke in Belgium: French and Flemish (a sort of Dutch), so I let one of the many editors answer that as I was a foreigner here also.
Once our trusty camera man arrived we wheeled it across town to a plaza that offered a wallie-able fountain, smooth ground (Very rare in Europe!), steps and ledges: A true street spot of some sorts. Here, Pat cruised around faster than the rest of us and surprised a few of the local rats with his barrage of tricks over the steps and adjacent trash cans. Pat obviously loves skating and tries to skate everything. The Flatspot staff love skateboarding too, but we also love a nice cold beer and Belgium is the land of hops and barley, so naturally we skated hard (maybe not as hard as Pat…) and retired to a nearby terrace for refreshment. Once positioned at a table, we stuck out like sore, sweaty thumbs with our skateboards and camera equipment.
So much so in fact that a business woman at a table across from ours leant over and asked Pat, “Are you a professional skater? My son skates and loves Tony Hawk – can I get your autograph?”
We all laughed and Pat felt genuinely embarrassed, poor chap. However, he naturally complied to the ladies wishes and she left in a hot flush. Pat said it was weird, but she had probably picked us out because of our accents and attire. I asked Pat if he felt like a pro:
“No! My relationship (with skateboarding) has been as a lifestyle, as gay as that might sound, but it is. It just creeps into every thing I have done or do. It has ruined jobs, and relationships, and oddly enough, sponsors. I like to skateboard. I like to hang out with my friends. I like those times when you are having so much fun lying on some dirty ass ground. It’s great!”
It wasn’t long before Pat’s Girlfriend came and joined us at the bar. She seemed honestly surprised by the Flatspot staff, but we quickly explained that we were the equivalent of The Skateboard Mag for Belgium, or roughly thereabouts… Pat’s girlfriend was the main reason he was in Belgium: She came from here, but they met in New York. Together they assisted some of the Fashion Week events. We joked and said Pat must have enjoyed being surrounded by beautiful young women. Pat pleaded the Fifth and we dropped the subject.
The sun was starting to set and Pat told us about this one last spot he had seen that looked skate-able: A wall to bank drop-in. We agreed and made haste so Pat and our photo guy could use the remaining light. Pat’s spot was killer (for lack of a better word), but in the literal sense. It was a 2 foot skinny ledge atop a 70 degree inclined precipice of bumpy tiling. It is in moments like these that I appreciate not being a professional skateboarder. It was going to be tricky because the run out led straight into a busy road, but Pat didn’t care. He just ran up, positioned his tail and dropped in first go! After a couple more drop-ins, Pat suggested an ollie into the wall of death. As an eager eyed kid I said , “Yes! Of course.” As an intelligent adult, I kept my mouth shut and thought, “What? Are you mad?!?”
As if the stress of performing for foreign media wasn’t enough, Pat’s girlfriend and sister had booked a restaurant that evening for a farewell dinner (Pat was leaving the next day). The clock was ticking- literally! Pat battled with his nerves and the bank for the first few tries. Committing to such unforgiving terrain was not a small feat. I couldn’t encourage him with my attempt at the wall because my flimsy 7.5 inch deck with 49mm wheels wouldn’t cut it. However, Lady Luck was still with us and the girls cheered from the sidelines (It was an awkward yet amusing sight), and Pat finally pulled through with a sick backside ollie into the fearsome brick wall.
We congratulated Pat on his feat, but then had to quickly let him go to have dinner in the normal world, one without skateboards on the menu. Pat was thankful for us showing him around and experiencing the Belgian way of life, and invited us to visit him in New York. My three editors and myself weren’t sure if the magazine budget could get us that far, let alone to the airport, but we agreed with Pat and shook dirty hands.
A few days later, I emailed Pat back in New York. I apologized for our lax approach to skateboard journalism, and that we would steer away from the beer and concentrate on the proverbial ‘hammers’ next time. I posted him a few quick fire questions, and this is what he said:
Does anyone call you ‘Back Smith’?
Upon occasion. Usually it’s “Patside smith grind”.
Who skates faster- you or Suski?
Suski definitely skates faster!
Was there some inside joke about Vallely’s “pushing” part..?
I think Mike V is the joke! (Laughs)
If you weren’t skating, what would you be doing? What did your teachers think you would become?
I didn’t interact with my teachers. I hated most of them. I avoided school as much as possible. So if I wasn’t skating? Hmm… Probably music or some sort of art, and working a lot still because I wouldn’t be that good at those things either. (Laughs)
Grade yourself for the following subjects:
Geography– B all those “-akistan” countries and Eastern Europe /post Soviet Union countries confuse me.
Gym– B I get bored quite fast
Home Economics (cooking) – B I can cook a little and I do cook very little. (Laughs)
New York Bagel OR Belgian Waffle– Bagel
Rough Tarmac OR Bricks – Smooth bricks.
Frontside OR Backside – Backside
Coffee and Cigarettes OR Beer and Chips – Irish coffee
Brooklyn with T-Bone Tyrone Olson OR San Diego with Skatopia’s Brewce Martin –
Fucking Brewce Martin and the pools of San Diego of course! Have you ever hung out with that guy? Legendary.
What is the Coda Code of Conduct?
Photos courtesy of Alexis Vandenplas and Brian Uyeda.