J.P. Laughlin grabbed his skateboard and walked up a ramp at the Mather Skatepark in Rancho Cordova. He turned around, ran towards a railing next to a staircase and jumped to try a smith grind.
His board landed on the rail and he slid down, all while he tried to keep his balance standing on a piece of wood 10 feet off the ground. When the ramp ended, he haphazardly flipped his board up and attempted to land, a move that could end in a trip to the hospital if he didn’t move his body just right.
He didn’t stick it, but cleverly avoided injury by landing on his side and rolling through the fall. Then he picked up his board to try again.
Laughlin is far from alone in honing his skills in Sacramento, a city whose skateboarding scene has always been vibrant and is on the rise.
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Jeff Landi is a 41-year-old Sacramento-based photographer who built a career through the friends he made while skateboarding.
Landi described his transition to photography from skateboarding as “seamless,” with thanks to the mentorship he got from being around successful skateboarders and photographers.
“I had a lot of support,” Landi said. “The people I was skating with, they were really doing it. And so I kind of always had access to skateboard photographers and met people that way as well.”
Now Landi shoots commercial, editorial and action photography, though he said he has stayed involved in the Sacramento skate scene through continued work with area skateboarders and skate companies.
“The skateboard scene in Sacramento has been strong forever, since I was a kid in the ‘80s,” Landi said. “I know it was strong for years before that and it continues to be into 2019.”
Landi is right: the skate scene in Sacramento has always been vibrant, producing professionals like Stephan Jenowski, John Cardiel, Omar Salizar and Brandon Biebel. Several notable skateboard brands have risen from the area as well, including Lurk Hard, a clothing company that specializes in graphic shirts and sweatshirts and has amassed more than 23,000 followers on Instagram, and Blockhead Skateboards, known as a pivotal company in 90’s skate culture.
“In the ‘80s and ‘90s, skateboarding was pretty influential, but I don’t think to the degree that it is now, that’s pretty insane,” Landi said. “Now everybody has a Thrasher T-shirt.”
Miles Silvas is one of Sacramento’s rising skate stars: He’s ranked by Boardr as the 380th street skater in the world and has been sponsored by Adidas, Numbers Edition and Wayward Wheels, to name a few. His sixth collaboration with Adidas — a specialty Colorway shoe design that pays homage to Sacramento — was released in October.
When he isn’t traveling to skate competitions or to work with sponsors, Silvas spends his free time practicing and hanging out in the place he says “just feels like home”: Sacramento.
“When I come home I like to just have it feel quiet,” Silvas said. “I feel like a lot of people here end up being pretty good at skating and like I feel like everyone kind of pushes each other. A lot of good skateboarding comes out of here.”
Silvas said another benefit to practicing in Sacramento is the lack of traffic here compared to Los Angeles, the birthplace of the skateboard and a hub of skate culture.
“I can choose where I want to go and there’s not any traffic here, if I want to go to this side of town and then go to that side of town on the same day to skate something I can, it’s pretty manageable,” Silvas said. “In LA you spend about an hour going to one place, and then if you want to switch it up it’s a waste of your whole day.”
Silvas is a member of two of Sacramento’s most reputable skate crews, PLA Boys and FOFA, and even has the groups’ names tattooed on his arms.
“It’s just kind of just like a group of friends,” Silvas said. “We’re always together skating and filming.”
While some crews take skating more seriously than others, PLA Boys is a legitimate team sponsored by the Sacramento skate shop PLA.
“I remember just going into PLA and then there was a couple of people that I knew of before I hung out with them,” Silvas said. “I skated with a couple guys and then just over the years everyone just kind of became one. It’s like the main skate shop in Sacramento, so if you skate you’re pretty much hanging out around there.”
PLA shop manager Jason Talbert said sponsoring young skaters helps both groups win.
“You seek out the guys who are just out there doing something, that helps us as a business for them to promote us,” Talbert said. “We have a lot of relationships with the companies that we have in our shop. So it helps push (skateboarders) to get sponsorships through actual board companies, shoe sponsors, things like that, which really helps out for everybody.”
Laughlin, who isn’t a sponsored skateboarder, says he and his friends often see Silvas and other local skateboard celebrities at skate parks. He said that the professional skateboarders and other skate crews are “pretty friendly” while practicing.
Some area skaters aren’t concerned with sponsorships though, including 22-year-old Laughlin, who said he prefers skating without pressure to land certain tricks or stick to a set schedule.
“It’s not like you have to go to a spot and you have to get the trick, you just do whatever’s capable,” Laughlin said.
When asked what has changed in Sacramento for skateboarders, Silvas, Talbert and Landi all agreed that the number of people who skateboard in the area has increased.
“Skateboarding is always growing, I mean some of the brands we carry, Nike, Adidas, Converse and Vans, you know, a lot of those big corporate companies are sponsoring people and it’s just more televised,” Talbert said.
While there might be more corporate money flowing into skateboarding, participation isn’t up nationally, according to a study by Sports Marketing Surveys in collaboration with IASC.
Every year since 2006 has seen a decrease in people who skate more than 25 times per year, the study reports. However, casual skateboarding, which the study defines as someone who skates less than 26 times per year, is on the rise and has been since 2011.
Skate culture is a part of Sacramento, Landi said, in a way that’s engrained after nearly 40 years of riding that has produced generations of skaters.
“Sacramento skateboarders have always had that genuine respect for skateboarding and all that it kind of encompasses like,” Landi said. “It’s really authentic.”
Both Talbert and Silvas said that though more people are starting to skate in Sacramento, the core community is still tight-knit.
“I mean everyone kind of meshes together a little bit though,” Talbert said. “And so skateboarding is growing, but it’s still a small scene where everybody still knows each other.”
Landi said the reason so many of the region’s skaters are close is because the community has become more accepting over time.
“It’s such a big thing now, but it’s just much more inclusive than it’s ever been, just in every way that you could say that,” Landi said. “That’s a really important aspect of how things have changed over the years. Maybe not necessarily directly related to crews and that kind of thing. But I think it’s really cool.”