The road to becoming a modern American professional skateboarder can be an arduous one. Contrary to the “slacker” stereotype from outsiders or the occasional pillow talk from part-time skaters, becoming a “pro” rider is a serious undertaking. Not only is a shop sponsor and constant placement in local and regional competitions a basic pre-requisite, but now, thanks to social media platforms like Instagram, there’s also the ambitious task of having to separate yourself from the ever-expanding pack of extremely-good-out-of-the-womb skaters. I mean, why should any company care about paying your way when 12 year-old Carlos is 360-ing down 12 stairs for a few shirts and decks a month? Then there’s also the trips and eventual forced move to California, where most of the big skate companies, magazines, and exposure opportunities reside. Alas, even once you’re on as an amateur skater for a said board company, you’re still inherently supposed to out-hunger team mate pros so that you can solidify your own potential spot. And the madness doesn’t stop there because there’s always that elephant in the room for every professional skate career—popularity, aka their shelf life and/or expiration date.
But that’s just one way of approaching a career in skateboarding. Not every road is straight and narrow and there are always less-stressed exceptions to the rules. Krooked Skateboards rider, Sebo Walker, is one of the least stressed of them all. Notorious for his technical wizardry on the board, nomadic van-living, and laid-back vibes, the Oregon native became an AM for Mark Gonzales’s board company nearly two years ago. Since then, he’s transitioned from van life to a chill Venice Beach residency. He’s also acquired skateboard jewelry and food sponsors to accompany his Lakai shoe sponsor, all while frequenting coffee shops in the mornings to work and dedicate time to his burgeoning grip tape art hustle. Sebo also gets to travel the states and world thanks to Krooked and Lakai. The most interesting point to note is that while he’s had access to all this, he isn’t “pro.” Of course, this doesn’t stop fans—including Thrasher Magazine “Skateline NBD” host, Gary Rogers—from spreading the #TurnSeboPro gospel on social media. It’s hard not to agree with them when you scroll through Sebo’s magical IG feed of tricks. When I spoke to the wizard himself, however, I also got the sense that perhaps becoming pro isn’t the only way to enjoy the proverbial riches of skateboarding. During our talk, it became apparent that it was his travels and enthusiasm for both art and the board that have allowed him to savvy his way past the typical skate rat race. Don’t get him wrong though, becoming pro would definitely be some very sweet icing on that cake, Sebo admits.
(Note: upon calling Sebo early on a weekday morning, he requested that I call him back in 15 minutes so that he would have enough time to bike over to a nearby coffee shop. Of course, I obliged.)
RAINEY CRUZ: Is this how you typically begin your mornings?
SEBO WALKER: Totally. I go to different coffee shops to start the day. It’s part of the process. I read The Week, paint griptape, catch up on emails, drink water, and eat a healthy breakfast.
Where exactly are you residing nowadays?
Venice Beach. I was living in a van before, so I was all over traveling all the time. Now I’m more stationed and I have a little studio down here. But I kept it low-key. I actually had a Lakai shoe with my van on it, so I was preserving that van life in the media a little longer because a lot of kids supported that. I moved in five or six months ago, but I’ve only stayed there for two or three.
You travel a lot with your skating, right?
I’m always out for skate trips. Maybe not always for a particular company, but it’s always centered around skating. Usually it’s trips for companies like Lakai and Krooked. Filming trips.
I saw a recent Krooked in New York City edit. How was that trip for you?
I love New York, but I totally winged it with my connections for places to stay so that made it tricky for me. We were all just going to skate rat it around, which was rad, but I was bouncing around every night and I didn’t have a steady spot. Personally I wasn’t stoked on my skating. I felt off. I was hitting up people everyday and felt a little less focused. I was always rushing to meet up, late, and flabbergasted, so I wasn’t on point. Next time I’m going to be on point!
“AS SOON AS I TRAVELLED ON ONE SKATE TRIP, I JUST KNEW THAT THERE WAS A BIG WORLD OUT THERE.”
Where are you from originally? What was it like there?
I’m from Salem, Oregon. Portland is the bigger city out there and Salem is more of a quiet place where everyone knows everyone and there is one skate shop and a downtown mall. It’s a pretty small town.
How did exploring outside of Oregon begin for you?
As soon as I travelled on one skate trip, I just knew that there was a big world out there. It was for Element as a flow skater. It was up and down the Northwest and wasn’t really far, but it was my first experience out and skating. We were getting photos and we were filming. That whole thing is pretty addicting. It makes you just want to skate new spots and go to new places and eat new things and meet new people. I got hooked.
Did that make you want to pursue skateboarding more seriously from there on out?
I actually got hurt on that trip so it was a big bummer for me. I put off my second year of college for that trip. It felt like a time for me to shine but getting hurt was a doozie. After that I went to California to pursue the dream and couch surf. I was doing that for about two years. It wasn’t the safest thing to do and it was really bugging my mom.
What’s it like to be on the constant move and couch surfing like that?
Even though I had a lot of friends that would look out, sometimes it would be 10 o’clock at night and I wouldn’t know where I was going to stay. I would ask to come by and shower or brush my teeth, all the simple things that you tend to take for granted. It was a good learning experience.
When did you decide on living out of a van?
It was my mom that sparked the idea to get the van as a backup and somewhere to sleep. It became my jam. It was mobile and I had a gym membership for showering. I had it down to a science. That’s why I did it for almost four years.
So how exactly did you go from van life to getting onto Krooked?
I used to be on a company called Stacks thanks to Michael Leon and Reese Forbes. They made awesome boards and graphics. Michael is an amazing artist and Reese is a legend. I was on with them but it’s just hard to have a small board company and make money. They weren’t in the position to really hype it up and promise us things so that had to end. Then I wound up talking to John Alden at Tampa AM and he understood my situation. Deluxe Distribution had just been super cool with me since I’d met them. They were making sure I was okay and taking me out to skate like family even though I didn’t have a board sponsor.
They ended up flowing me and the van life sort of made me more famous because it was a different way of doing things. I didn’t do it to get recognition, but it worked out that way. People were loving it. It was pretty funny. One thing lead to another and I got fully on [Krooked]. I couldn’t be more psyched with Gonz, Mike [Anderson], Dan Drehobl, Bobby [Worrest], Ronnie [Sandoval], and Brad [Kromer] on the team.
Krooked is known for putting art and aesthetic on the forefront. It seems like a good fit for you and your own artistic nature.
Yes, it’s in that same vibe. Michael Leon also used to do “Rasa Libre” with Matt Field and Nate Jones on Deluxe. It has that similar colorful feel and style. I feel that same way with The Gonz, they are both amazing artists and people that I look up to. To be a part of something that they made is a big honor. The boards are super snappy, they last forever, and the stickers are awesome. I couldn’t be more happy.
Tell me about your grip tape art hustle. When did you start doing that?
I used to draw a bunch on my grip and cover the whole thing. I’ve always been into it. On New Year’s Day of 2013 I remember deciding to make an Instagram page for my art to see if kids would want me to paint grip for them. It was a simple, small idea and I didn’t think much of it. Now it’s awesome and I’m super busy with it. I even wanted to create a website, but then I realized that IG was just more immediate and easy.
How’s making the art going you in terms of motivation and practice?
It’s cool doing that for kids because it’s fun and it keeps me busy. It’s cool to connect in that way. I give them my email and they’re just so supportive.I get to do 10 to 20 a month. Sometimes I surprise myself with different ones that I wind up painting or ideas from kids that I wouldn’t have thought up of on my own. It turned out to be a lot cooler, beneficial, and positive than I would’ve imagined.
It must be perfect for you to include the ubiquitous “Krooked eyes” in your grip tape designs?
Yes. Exactly. It never fails. Ever since I did my first grip with the eyes, I think it was a Bart Simpson or something, it started firing off. Every kid wanted one, “I want Beavis and Butthead with Krooked eyes. I want Spongebob with Krooked eyes. I want the Tazmanian Devil with Krooked eyes.” That’s Gonz’s style and influence. It’s heavy.
What do you think has made your work so sought after?
What stands out with my work is that I hand paint everything that I do, as opposed to just having it mass produced in a warehouse. You can see my tiny mistakes and I’ll just leave it. I think it’s cool to be able to see that and say that I really did it.
When did you first begin to get into art itself?
Before the grip tape, I used to paint and draw. I took every art class and elective in high school. I remember I was even going to take weight training at one point because I thought I could just go to the gym and chill out. But they wound up giving us a checklist of exercises to do and I remember thinking, “Why can’t I be in a sculpture class making a pot for my mom or something?” I loved art as an outlet—just quiet time with a pen and paper.
“I SKATE HARD BECAUSE I LOVE IT. I SKATE DEMOS UNTIL THE END BECAUSE SKATEBOARDING NEVER CEASES TO BE FUN FOR ME.”
Who are some of your favorite artists-slash-skaters or artists in general? I’m sure Mark Gonzales and Michael Leon are two.
Gonz and Michael Leon are both huge, yes. There’s just so much art in skateboarding. The mixture of the two is rad. I was also always a fan of M.C. Escher. His style is just super unique and his artistic vision was remarkable.
What are some of the collaborations or projects that you’ve worked on with skate companies?
I worked on a colorway for my shoe on Lakai and actually drew the van. I’ve also worked on other stuff with Andy Mueller at Lakai. I did a “Dia De Los Muertos” skull shirt for Independent recently too. I also have a lot of small unheard companies that ask for logos. It’s cool that I get to mesh my work into the world of skateboarding.
You recently acquired an El Señor New York jewelry sponsorship. How did you manage that? You don’t particularly strike me as a jewelry or bling kind of guy.
I’ve always been into jewelry. I was fascinated with my dad’s crazy rings or nice watches. Not in an extravagant way, but in a super subtle, low-key way. I thought that it was cool because it’s Spencer Fujimoto. I remember growing up and seeing him skate. I like to think that I’m pretty savvy at pursuing sponsors that I want to ride for. I just made a contact and found an email telling them that I really liked what they were doing and to let me know how I could support with footage or whatever. I made that connection and they hooked me up. I got the parking block pendant on me right now and I love that it’s skate related and simple. It’s also not a huge six inch pendant with diamonds on it. Something about wearing it everyday makes me feel stronger. It’s hard to explain but it feels good.
As far as your style of skateboarding, it’s pretty unique and refreshing to watch. What went into developing it?
A lot of it has to do with the time frame that I came into skateboarding. When I started, the first video that I ever watched was “Round 2” with Rodney Mullen and Daewon Song. As I was trying to figure out skateboarding, watching Mullen was insane. I’m trying to ollie over here and he’s nollie-ing into a crooked grind and dark sliding picnic tables. I also loved watching Mike Carroll and Heath Kirchart video parts.
I have always been into learning new tricks and also always into having fun. If I get stressed on a technical trick maybe I’ll just kick my board into the wall and see if I can land back on it. I also have a lot of friends like my boy, Ryan Toshiro who skates for Welcome, or my boys Devin Neil and Brian Martin that always skate Stoner Park. They also just think outside of the box, whether it’s ganja-influenced or just feeling feisty that day. I have a lot of friends that skate “weird” for a lack of a better word. I try to keep a good mix of new tricks and fun at the same time.
What about when you’re not skating or making art? What else have you been getting into?
I’ve been surfing a lot recently. I got addicted pretty quickly. I also work at a market here in Venice. That kind of depletes a little bit of my spare time, but it helps keep everything in perspective. I get a bit more excited when I have a free day and I don’t take it for granted. I like reading and biking, mellow stuff like that. I actually want to get a little more tech savvy and into stuff like Adobe Illustrator so that I can do graphics or stuff like that in the future. I’m pretty heavily addicted to skating though—six hours a day at least. Skating and work makes everything pretty tight.
What are your thoughts on fans and skateboard personalities like Gary Rogers hashtagging #TurnSeboPro? Would becoming pro change things?
I’m honored to have positive words coming from Gary. I mean, he keeps it real. His show is more or less his personal opinion on everything happening in skateboarding, which gives the show it’s genuinely funny entertainment factor. Somebody has got to keep it real in the world of skateboarding. So much of it is a joke these days, let’s be honest!
Getting a pro board has been my dream for over 15 years, so reaching that goal would be a huge achievement for me. I’m not going to change personally though. I skate hard because I love it. I skate demos until the end because skateboarding never ceases to be fun for me. Signing autographs because I was that kid once, you know? I’m lucky to be living my dream, and turning pro just comes with hard work.
Photos by Tom Bender.