Leo Romero

Leo Romero has come a long way in a little time.

On this day, as Leo Romero arrives at his parents’ Fontana, California home, weathered from many days away, his family is out front basking in the blustery April afternoon. Not that they don’t love their son and sibling, (because everybody does love this kid, right?) but the attention isn’t on Leo as much as it is the fleet of mini crotch-rockets Leo’s older brother has recently acquired. Two of the half-dozen mini-cycles are out of their cardboard boxes, and Leo’s younger brother and sister are maxing ’em out up and down the block. “I’ll give you a hundred bucks right now,” yells Leo to his older brother—the hundred will be a down payment on the third of the six. A transfer of funds, a little gas, and a few Emerica and Spitfire stickers—he was out of Foundation, Pharmacy, and Thunder ones—slapped across the frame, and he’s right out there gunning it with the rest of the fam.

For Leo, the fun doesn’t last long. His mini-bike goes kaput shortly after the exhaust spat fumes for the very first time. Besides running out of gas, his brother and sister’s bikes seem to be doing fine. Leo sits down on what looks to be a recently landscaped brick porch and starts ranting about the other things in his life—about how he wants to get his own place and about how he wants to get his own vehicle: “I’m trying to get a car right now. A Kia—for only 300 bucks. My homey’s supposed to hook me up.” A professional skateboarder being able to live in the Inland Empire (50-plus miles east of L.A.) carless is as much of a long shot as getting a board with your name on it by your seventeenth birthday.

Leo’s managed to do both so far. In two short years, he’s elevated himself from a random flow kid trying to make a name for himself at the Tampa Am, to a now well-known and respected rookie on a team where his model sits amongst those of skateboard greats, Ethan Fowler and Justin Strubing.

We recently sat down at his local pizza spot to talk skateboarding, but not before Leo paid an extra visit to the counter to complain about them skimping on the cheese on his Philly cheesesteak. That’s all he wants. Right now, anyway.

Where did you grow up skating that made you love to skate rails?

I’d skate down the street from my house in Fontana. There was this community center with these ledges. I’d just skate ledges all day with my friend James. He quit skating, so I’d skate with my friends Frankie and Mikey from middle school. I’d never seen a skate video before, and they’d just bought a shitload of videos. I was like, “Let me borrow one!” They were like, “Okay, we’ll let you borrow the shittiest one.” It ended up being Misled Youth. They were all ledge skaters, so they didn’t like it. After I saw that I was like, “Dude, I want to do what these f—kers are doing!”

When you sat down and watched Misled Youth, you didn’t have any idea who was who in skateboarding—and you definitely had no preconceived stance. Who were the people that stood out the most to you as you watched your first skate video?

Probably Jamie (Thomas) and Erik (Ellington). Jamie is just sick and gnarly, and Erik is sick and has the best style. I didn’t know shit about skating then. I wasn’t like, “That’s what I want to do for a living.” I was more like, “That’s just what I want to do.” It looked fun.

How long have you been skating now?

About six (years).

How has living in the suburbs affected what and how you skate?

It hasn’t affected much of it. I pretty much skate the same stuff. I try to get different things in magazines just to make it seem like I don’t skate the same shit all the time.

You just told me you wouldn’t like to live in a large city like New York. What is it you hate about big cities?

There’re too many people and too many big buildings around—it weirds me out. There’reoo many things going on at once. I’m a little claustrophobic. I was in New York City when the whole blackout thing went down. I was in this hotel with a guy from Gravis, some surf dude I’d never even really met—weird. It was a panic attack. I was stressing out.

Do you have IE—Inland Empire—pride?

Yeah, I have IE pride.

Who’re the best skaters to come out of the IE?

Sean Peterson, Eric Koston, Ray Barbee, Chris Miller.

If you had to get one of your sponsors tattooed on you, which one would it be?

Probably Pharmacy Boardshop. If it wasn’t for Pharmacy, I wouldn’t be here getting interviewed right now. They weren’t my first sponsor, but they were the sponsor that pushed me and helped me out the most. I got help from Active for a little bit and was getting flowed from this dude, but they didn’t do much for me. As soon as I got on Pharmacy, they were instantly like, “Get footage and we’ll send it out!”

I’ve heard from photographers that you’ll skate just about anything, no matter what. What does it take for you to not skate a spot?

If I try a trick on it and get hurt pretty easily, like mess up my feet, I’ll be over it. I have to get hurt to not feel comfortable skating a spot.

Sean Peterson: I’ve seen you get wrecked and still get up and skate the spot.

Well, I don’t know what it takes me to not skate a spot. I pretty much give every spot a go. I’ll try anything once. You can’t give up too easily.

Now that you’re pro, do you feel more of an obligation to know how the skateboard industry runs?

Kind of, but I don’t really care much about all the other companies, just what’s going on with me. There’s too much going on—too much drama. I really care about what’s going on with my skateboarding career.

What’s it like to think of it as a skateboard career?

It’s really weird. In airports, people in other countries think, “Oh, so you’re a professional skateboarder, but what’s your job? You skateboard? What do you do?”

“I don’t really do anything, I skateboard. That’s my job.”

“So you’re a professional skateboarder?”

“Uh, yeah, I guess.”

How has turning pro affected you and your skateboarding?
Now I actually want to skate a lot more. I kind of feel a little more confident in skateboarding—to go out and try to skate anything. When you’re am, it’s all about going out and getting as much coverage just to go pro—just to get to that status. But when you’re pro, you need to stay there, get that many more photos. It’s not more work, but … I’m just a little more confident.

Would you say you’re more motivated now?

Yeah. I wasn’t less motivated when I was am, but I’d say I’m a little more motivated now.

What scares you more than a fifteen-stair handrail?

I’m really shy around some people—’cause I’m just really shy. I’m a little intimidated.


Social-anxiety issues?
Pretty much.

Has succeeding in skateboarding heightened your confidence in the rest of the things you do in your life?

No. (Laughs) No, it’s just skateboarding.

You used to have a hard time talking to girls. How’d you meet your girlfriend?

At the Volcom Goddamn Am. She came up and started talking to me. I was scared. I said something, and we ended up going to the liquor store together. We just ended up talking from then on. We were friends first. We talked every night, then I ended up going out there (New Mexico), and then we ended up being together. She just moved out here to Irvine.

It’s four o’clock in the morning, you awake restless in bed and have a yearning to go bang a trick out. Who do you call?

First I call a filmer named Greg (Esquerre). Greg’s either drunk, gonna start getting drunk, or just getting home from being drunk. But usually I call SP (Sean Peterson).

Whose iPod did you last rip some music from?

Wow, that was a long time ago. But I think it was Justin Regan. I remember getting some Flaming Lips CDs off him.

What kind of input did you have on your first board graphics?

I don’t know if that’s something everybody usually does (give an artist free rein without any input) for their first graphics, but I like Ed (Templeton), so I wanted him to do a graphic for me. And my Thrasher interview, “Everybody Loves Leo,” pretty much got me out there and built my name, so Foundation said, “Yeah, we can do a board with that. And a bumper sticker!” So that’s how that came out. I have another board coming out with a tattoo of a heart with “Mom” in it ’cause I love my mom. The next one will probably be a pretty random cool graphic.

Why does everybody love you so much?

I don’t know. I just think that sells. I guess.

How did you feel about your part in That’s Life?

I dunno. I just feel like … I’m psyched about it, but I don’t really know what to feel.

You don’t sound too psyched.

I dunno, (laughs) I don’t really know what to say about it.

People said it was really long. Do you think it was too long?

Uh, nah, uh, I dunno. I don’t know what to think about it. Is it too long? I’ve only seen my part twice. I wasn’t even there when it was edited. I told Josh Beagle, “Do what you want.”

Did everyone edit their own parts? It seemed like everyone’s part had its own take.

Everyone was like, “I want this like this and that like that.” That’s what was cool, there wasn’t a set way to go about it—everybody’s part was a little different. The only thing I had any input on was my intro. I wanted it to be that sack and then the make. It’s weird—it’s actually a lot longer. After I sack I walk up and stand in the back for a minute, just holding my balls ’cause they hurt. And then I went and did it. So they cut that out and made it shorter, but it really was the next try (that I made it).

Sean Peterson: Did you steal Justin Strubing’s song (“Between Us and Them,” by The Moving Units) for your part?

(Laughs) No, I picked that song a while ago, but I wasn’t sure I was gonna use it. Then I figured out I was gonna use it. Justin was having a hard time finding a song, and he brought the song to Beagle and Beagle said, “Sorry, Leo’s already using this song.” Justin was like, “What!? What the hell? Are you serious?” It’s so funny.

In the short time you’ve been pro, what’s the worst thing about being a pro skateboarder?

Everything’s been good so far. I hope it doesn’t get too bad, (laughs) that would suck.

What’s it like to be the youngest pro on the team?

I’ve never even realized that. I guess it’s pretty cool.

You’re only seventeen, but a lot of your amateur teammates are older than you. Do you give them shit, or them you?

That’s kind of weird—kind of funny. I never tease them about it. But they’ll be like, “Oh Leo, we’re at the spot. Get out there and get skating.” They don’t give me too much shit about it.

How long do you think your yearning to skate handrails will last?

I dunno—forever. Skating anything’s fun, I think. Handrails, stairs, ditches, banks—everything’s fun.

If you like skating everything, how come the majority of your part was handrails?

That’s what kids like to see.

So you made that decision: “Kids want to see this, so this is what I’ll do.” Fun doesn’t sell, but handrails do. If everything’s fun, you’d have a balanced part, right?

Well, handrails are really fun to me, too. I just wanted to have a video part like that ’cause that’s the way I watched video parts—that’s the way they were. Jamie’s part and the Zero videos were mainly like that. It’s not that I only like video>Whose iPod did you last rip some music from?

Wow, that was a long time ago. But I think it was Justin Regan. I remember getting some Flaming Lips CDs off him.

What kind of input did you have on your first board graphics?

I don’t know if that’s something everybody usually does (give an artist free rein without any input) for their first graphics, but I like Ed (Templeton), so I wanted him to do a graphic for me. And my Thrasher interview, “Everybody Loves Leo,” pretty much got me out there and built my name, so Foundation said, “Yeah, we can do a board with that. And a bumper sticker!” So that’s how that came out. I have another board coming out with a tattoo of a heart with “Mom” in it ’cause I love my mom. The next one will probably be a pretty random cool graphic.

Why does everybody love you so much?

I don’t know. I just think that sells. I guess.

How did you feel about your part in That’s Life?

I dunno. I just feel like … I’m psyched about it, but I don’t really know what to feel.

You don’t sound too psyched.

I dunno, (laughs) I don’t really know what to say about it.

People said it was really long. Do you think it was too long?

Uh, nah, uh, I dunno. I don’t know what to think about it. Is it too long? I’ve only seen my part twice. I wasn’t even there when it was edited. I told Josh Beagle, “Do what you want.”

Did everyone edit their own parts? It seemed like everyone’s part had its own take.

Everyone was like, “I want this like this and that like that.” That’s what was cool, there wasn’t a set way to go about it—everybody’s part was a little different. The only thing I had any input on was my intro. I wanted it to be that sack and then the make. It’s weird—it’s actually a lot longer. After I sack I walk up and stand in the back for a minute, just holding my balls ’cause they hurt. And then I went and did it. So they cut that out and made it shorter, but it really was the next try (that I made it).

Sean Peterson: Did you steal Justin Strubing’s song (“Between Us and Them,” by The Moving Units) for your part?

(Laughs) No, I picked that song a while ago, but I wasn’t sure I was gonna use it. Then I figured out I was gonna use it. Justin was having a hard time finding a song, and he brought the song to Beagle and Beagle said, “Sorry, Leo’s already using this song.” Justin was like, “What!? What the hell? Are you serious?” It’s so funny.

In the short time you’ve been pro, what’s the worst thing about being a pro skateboarder?

Everything’s been good so far. I hope it doesn’t get too bad, (laughs) that would suck.

What’s it like to be the youngest pro on the team?

I’ve never even realized that. I guess it’s pretty cool.

You’re only seventeen, but a lot of your amateur teammates are older than you. Do you give them shit, or them you?

That’s kind of weird—kind of funny. I never tease them about it. But they’ll be like, “Oh Leo, we’re at the spot. Get out there and get skating.” They don’t give me too much shit about it.

How long do you think your yearning to skate handrails will last?

I dunno—forever. Skating anything’s fun, I think. Handrails, stairs, ditches, banks—everything’s fun.

If you like skating everything, how come the majority of your part was handrails?

That’s what kids like to see.

So you made that decision: “Kids want to see this, so this is what I’ll do.” Fun doesn’t sell, but handrails do. If everything’s fun, you’d have a balanced part, right?

Well, handrails are really fun to me, too. I just wanted to have a video part like that ’cause that’s the way I watched video parts—that’s the way they were. Jamie’s part and the Zero videos were mainly like that. It’s not that I only like video parts like that.

Which part of your skateboarding could use improvement?
All of it.

What in particular? Tranny?

My transition skill is all right. I just eat shit a lot. I go for anything and eat so much shit. It’s not like I can’t skate tranny. I can skate tranny and have fun—I just wish I could do some good stuff on tranny.

Kickflip backside noseblunts?

Exactly.

Whose part would you watch to get psyched before you go skating?

Arto’s (Saari) and Geoff’s (Rowley) in the new Flip video (Really Sorry). They’re such sick video parts. They have good style, they do gnarly-ass shit, and they make it look really, really good.

Are you aware that you have an ongoing fan club on the Emerica message board?

Yeah, I know they have people talking about every rider. When the Web site got updated, Matt and I checked it out. I’ve checked it out maybe once or twice since then. It’s crazy that people are on there talking about me. Sometimes I see haters—it’s funny. I like seeing the haters. I posted some hating on me.

How do you go about progressing? Is it more about learning new tricks or about taking ones you can already do to bigger and better spots?

Both. It’s always good to learn new tricks. But I always like to go bigger for myself.

Do you care that people dub you a “handrail skater”?

I just don’t want people to think I can’t skate anything else. I really don’t care. I hope people don’t think I suck at skating, and that being the reason why I only skate handrails.

What’s a trick you have a problem doing?
Manual tricks. It takes me so long to do manuals. I get frustrated with ’em—and lines. I get so frustrated with lines. I always try a line first without filming it. I’ll get it down and be ready to film it, then it takes me twice as long even though I just did it without the filmer.

You’ve had a full feature interview in nearly every skateboarding magazine before turning pro. Is there such a thing as too much coverage?

I think so. After this interview I’m pretty much not gonna skate for the next two years—I’m just kidding. I’m gonna try and chill on interviews and try to get photos in magazines. No interviews after this one—just working on a TransWorld (video) part after this.

What more do you want out of skateboarding?

I just want to get a house—that’s all I want.

ideo parts like that.

Which part of your skateboarding could use improvement?
All of it.

What in particular? Tranny?

My transition skill is all right. I just eat shit a lot. I go for anything and eat so much shit. It’s not like I can’t skate tranny. I can skate tranny and have fun—I just wish I could do some good stuff on tranny.

Kickflip backside noseblunts?

Exactly.

Whose part would you watch to get psyched before you go skating?

Arto’s (Saari) and Geoff’s (Rowley) in the new Flip video (Really Sorry). They’re such sick video parts. They have good style, they do gnarly-ass shit, and they make it look really, really good.

Are you aware that you have an ongoing fan club on the Emerica message board?

Yeah, I know they have people talking about every rider. When the Web site got updated, Matt and I checked it out. I’ve checked it out maybe once or twice since then. It’s crazy that people are on there talking about me. Sometimes I see haters—it’s funny. I like seeing the haters. I posted some hating on me.

How do you go about progressing? Is it more about learning new tricks or about taking ones you can already do to bigger and better spots?

Both. It’s always good to learn new tricks. But I always like to go bigger for myself.

Do you care that people dub you a “handrail skater”?

I just don’t want people to think I can’t skate anyything else. I really don’t care. I hope people don’t think I suck at skating, and that being the reason why I only skate handrails.

What’s a trick you have a problem doing?
Manual tricks. It takes me so long to do manuals. I get frustrated with ’em—and lines. I get so frustrated with lines. I always try a line first without filming it. I’ll get it down and be ready to film it, then it takes me twice as long even though I just did it without the filmer.

You’ve had a full feature interview in nearly every skateboarding magazine before turning pro. Is there such a thing as too much coverage?

I think so. After this interview I’m pretty much not gonna skate for the next two years—I’m just kidding. I’m gonna try and chill on interviews and try to get photos in magazines. No interviews after this one—just working on a TransWorld (video) part after this.

What more do you want out of skateboarding?

I just want to get a house—that’s all I want.