‘My parents were crying ‘Oh my god, you’re going to leave’ but I left with the biggest smile ever. I was gone.’
Can you tell me something about Puerto Rico that no one knows?
You do not need a passport to go there if you live in America. A lot of people in America have the assumption that since it’s not in the States, it’s a foreign country. I feel like a lot of people don’t know that America owns the island. You could just go with your driver’s license. You do not need a passport, so that’s funny.
Can you tell me something about yourself that people do not know?
I was born in New York. My mom was still in college. I lived in New York for three years. I moved back to Puerto Rico when I was three and a half. And then I lived there for the rest of my life till I was 17.
I just assumed you were born and raised in Puerto Rico. I did have to tell you something, Rio. I tried to do some research but there is not much about you. It’s quite refreshing to see like a 21-year-old not being obsessed by (social) media.
I grew up like in the outdoors, surfing and skating. I grew up without a TV and I got my first phone when I was like 16 and a half because I bought it myself. So, technology wasn’t there when I was younger. And I was raised by parents that were super open minded and outdoorsy, so I was always doing stuff outdoors, not really paying attention to social media. I’m so thankful for that because I’ve seen so many things around the world that if you are stuck on your phone, you don’t really get to see. I’ve been spearfishing my whole life, skating and surfing in the wild. I’ve seen all the things people see on the TV and National Geographic. Also, I don’t really post a lot on Instagram because I’ve just been working like 40-hour weeks. California is expensive. I’m always just skating, surfing, or working. So, I don’t really have time to take a lot of pictures or do a lot of posts. But I must start being better at that because one of my sponsors is on my ass all the time: You got to do more posts.
How did you get into skateboarding?
My dad grew up surfing and skating so he had all the boards lying around all over the place. So, me as a little kid they looked like toys. Instead of playing with toy cars, well, I had surfboards and skateboards to play with. My dad started taking me to the skate parks in New York. I don’t really remember this but my dad told me that we went to Chelsea Piers skate park, in New York City when it was all wood. He would put me on his shoulders, sit in the middle of the bowl and all of his friends just skate figure eights around me and my dad. Back in Puerto Rico, I would start to surf and skate. You know there are parents that are really pushy with their kids and they’re like, oh, you got to do social media. You have got to skate and surf. My dad was like that surfing. He kind of got mad at me for losing interest in surfing. I have seven surfboards and I go surfing all the time as I just live near the beach. He was pushing me so hard to become a pro surfer that I stopped surfing. Then I started skating instead. I learned how to kickflip and grind. The feeling I got from doing those two tricks was the best thing in the world. I fell in love with it and I never stopped.
‘I’ve been spearfishing my whole life, skating and surfing in the wild. I’ve seen all the things people see on the TV and National Geographic.’
What are some of the local heroes that you looked up to at the time?
That’s a good question. Some of the local heroes I used to look up to are no longer like my local heroes. It went up and down. There is this big skate scene in Puerto Rico. The only down part of the skate scene in Puerto Rico is that nobody really has the mentality, they don’t have the dedication or energy to actually put everything into it and take the risk. I feel like that mindset is really missing in Puerto Rico. A lot of people don’t have it. That’s the reason I moved out. Local heroes, I remember seeing Jamie Melanda skate. I remember seeing Roberto Santana. When he was younger, he didn’t really have a lot of money for shoes. So, he would skate regular until his right shoe would break but his left would still be brand new. So, he would skate switch till the switch shoe would break too. He was super good at switch and regular which was crazy to me. I think one of the biggest influences on skating for me from Puerto Rico was probably obviously my dad. There is also a person called Fico Rodriguez. He’s from Maya West. He owns a skate shop with Manny Santiago which I ride for. And you definitely know who Manny Santiago is, right?
Yes, but I had no idea that Manny has a skateshop in Puerto Rico.
I met Manny when I was around 11 or 12 when I started skating. I met Fico with him because they used to do this competition in Puerto Rico called ’Prince of Puerto Rico’. Fico and Manny are like really good, super humble and super nice. They’re like family to me. There is also Robert Lopez Mont. May he rest in peace. He was one of the best skaters in Puerto Rico.
Despite the skateboarding popularity in Puerto Rico, do you think there’s anything missing? Something that can be improved?
I would make it a little less toxic. People that are from different side of the island sometimes have some beef and they don’t really like each other. If the whole skate scene worked together and kind of forgot about where you’re from or where I’m from or what generation skater you are versus what generation skater I am, it would be a lot better. Puerto Ricans are really hardheaded, if I can say it that way. They like it either their way or the highway. Just more love between the communities. Also, I’d say more skate parks in the island would be good too.
‘He was pushing me so hard to become a pro surfer that I stopped surfing.’
You now live in the US. Why did you move?
I grew up in Lucca, Puerto Rico in a super small town. I knew almost everybody. I had no skate parks around me. The closest skate park was one hour drive away. So, I’d always be skating street. Then I got to a point where I was winning a lot of the competitions in my age range. I don’t want to say this in a cocky way but I felt I didn’t have somebody pushing me. I kind of felt stuck because I won a couple contests back-to-back. It didn’t really feel like I had pressure on me.
My dad got really involved with my career because saw that I was talented. He started taking me to competitions in the States. I would go to Tampa. I went to California twice. I went to New York for my first competition and I got dead last. People over there really knew how to skate. It was not like back home where I walk into a contest and feel like a top dog. At contests in the States everybody is amazing. There are so many good skaters. I remember the first contest in Tampa. I met Jagger Eaton which is now the third bronze medal Olympic skateboarder for the US who is also my best friend. I wanted to be part of this huge movement in the US. I didn’t want to be part of a group of 300 people in Puerto Rico doing the same exact thing forever. I wanted more for myself and I wanted to see the world.
I finished high school in 2017 and saved up some money by winning the Prince of Puerto Rico contest. I moved out to Tampa first where I lived with my dad’s friend in a little apartment. He’s an older man but still skates. I lived there for like two months. I went back to the Prince of Puerto Rico contest run by Manny and Fico. I told Manny that want to go to Cali with him. So I did and never came back. Well, I came back to Puerto Rico and visit and then I ended up winning two other prince of Puerto Rico contests back-to-back. 2017, 2018 and 2019. They banned me from the competition so I’m now a judge.
You’ve done it all by yourself.
There was a point in my life in Puerto Rico where I wanted to party. Girls were getting interested in me. I had all these distractions where I caught myself skating less. My brother told me to leave. ‘You’re so talented, like you could do so much you’re going to get lost if you stay here.’ That was a big push to get out of Puerto Rico. I could not have not done it without my parents though. So, I’m so thankful. They would help me with money when I was younger and didn’t have a job. I’ve been living on my own in the US since I was 17. I’ve been like doing everything on my own and getting used to the adult life like I having a job, I model, I skate. I do all my stuff on my own. I kind of like to try to get my life together. It’s going pretty well.
‘They banned me from the competition so I’m now a judge.’
Manny helped you out a lot too.
Me and Manny are like best friends. He’s like an older brother, a mentor, and a father figure. I lived in a house with somebody that was Puerto Rican who understood skateboarding and took care of me. He always made sure I took the right steps in life. I will thank him for that forever. He’s not even like a skater homie. He’s like fam. However we are both like super competitive about anything we do. It doesn’t matter what it is. Bowling, wrestling, surfing, skating. We’re always going to talk shit to each other. Push each other up but tear each other down.
How was it to leave your family and buddies behind?
I wasn’t missing anything at all. We do the same thing all the time. Like it’s always the same. You wake up in the morning, you go to the bakery, you get breakfast, you go to school, you go surfing, you go to the mountains, you go to the river. You do the same thing all the time because there is nothing else to do. I’ve only seen so little of the world that I didn’t think about it twice. My parents were crying ‘Oh my god, you’re going to leave’ but I left with the biggest smile ever. I was gone. I sat in the plane and I was in charge of my life.
Any animosity when you went back to Puerto Rico to compete for the Prince of Puerto Rico?
Some people made some comments after the second win of ‘Prince of Puerto Rico’. However, you can’t make it in Puerto Rico as a skateboarder. For example, if you’re a surfer, you either live in the Gold Coast in Australia or you live in Hawaii. You don’t live anywhere else. As a skateboarder everything is California.
Most of the sponsors would be too.
I skated for element skateboards in Puerto Rico. My dad had a friend that had a skate shop. He got me on Element. I pulled up to the skate shop one day and there’s a box with my name on it. What’s this? I opened it and there are element boards. The PR rep for element walked in and hooked me up. When I came to California, I went to the Element headquarters where I met the owner Johnny Schillereff. Johnny sold Element and founded a new one called Heart Supply which I am riding for.
‘He’s a super good human being. He’s like, literally, godfather of the Puerto Rican skaters.’
‘I make a lot of my own clothing.’