Kristian Svitak is a professional skater. His saleable name and abilities detach him from the multitudes. Advertising and video production have made him known to you. In skateboarding’s blurry eyes, he’s a man of commendable escapades—a hero some might say.

But, if you would, gaze up from your scuffed toes and reflect on this thought for a moment—no one’s really unlike their so-called heroes. The main difference between you and them is only one of these three things:

Situation (right time).

Geography (right place).

Absolutely nothing (right?).

Svitak is genuine. He’s actual. He doesn’t walk with a posture stiffened by the toxic gloss and bright lights of popular skateboarding. Instead, he bends, stoops, and slouches right along with the rest of the situational and geographical prisoners. He gets bummed on what he doesn’t like, unashamedly loves the opposite, stays true to his actions, and looks at life with the same sharp view he first honed through skateboarding over fifteen years ago.

Svitak is neither a champion, paladin, idol, nor hero. He’s a skater who just so happens to get paid. He has friends just like you, likes to have fun just like you, and through doing what he needs to do, he’s trying to become better than he was yesterday.

Just like you.

Okay, let’s play rock, paper, scissors to establish who has the upper hand, so to speak, in this interview.

All right.

On the count of three. Ready?

Yeah.

One, two, three. I had rock.

I did, too (laughs).

Okay, ready? One, two, three. Scissors.

Rock.

Okay, so you got that one. Wanna go two out of three?

(Laughs) If you wanna have the upper hand.

No, that’s cool. It’s yours. Let’s start with where you live. Oceanside, California isn’t exactly the center of the skate world. Why live there?

Well, it’s funny ’cause when I moved out here, everyone was like, “You gotta live in Encinitas.”

Was that because of who you were riding for at the time?

Yeah. I rode for Invisible—they were out of Oceanside. But still, everyone I knew was saying, “Encinitas is the cool place to be.” Everyone also said, “Don’t ever move to Oceanside. It’s the worst.” And all this shit. So I lived in Encinitas with some friends, and it sucked—it’s just a bunch of surf goons.

It so happened that a friend of mine needed a roommate up in Oceanside. I was like, “Okay, here I go. I’m doing what everyone told me never to do.” I moved to Oceanside, and it ended up being one of the better places down here. It seems a little more grounded. There’re definitely a lot more blue-collar people here. It’s cool because it’s a bigger place, and it seems like the cops have a lot more to do than bust me for skating.

Do you ever get the urge to move back to your native Cleveland?

All the time. I just talked about it today. I want to go back, but living in California works out good. I go back there a lot, anyway. If I have an opportunity to shoot photos, film, or something, I always go back to Ohio.

Do you go back for holidays, too?

Yeah. I always go back for Halloween, Christmas, and I’m there sometimes in the summer. If I go on a trip, I’ll always make sure we pass through Cleveland to do a demo or something. That makes it a lot easier for me.

Are you as big a fan of California as you were before you moved out?

I think stuff has changed in the way I view things. I’m probably not as big of a fan. I’m just talking about Southern California, you know. It sucks. I think L.A. is pretty good, but in general, it sucks compared to being back home.

Are you as big a fan of some of your skate heroes as you were before you moved to California—before they became your peers?

I’d say probably even bigger. There may be a few I won’t name who we a little bit of a disappointment. You look up to them, finally meet them, and then you realize that they’re just some jerk, you know? But for the most part, people I meet—other pros I looked up to when I was younger—are all super cool and good people. It makes it that much better when they’re cool people. And now some of these guys are my friends. They were awesome when I didn’t know them, and now that I know them personally, they’re really cool people, too. It just makes the whole package pretty good.

How’s riding for Black Label, being teammates with people you idolized while growing up?

It’s awesome, man. I can’t even put into words how amazing it is. I think it’s important to always hold on to the eye you had when you were thirteen or fourteen years old. It keeps your life exciting. I mean, come on. Matt Hensley, Mike V (Vallely), (John) Lucero, (Jeff) Grosso, (Wade) Speyer, and now Neil Blender is part of our deal. Duane Peters is, too. Salmon (Agah), Jason Adams. These are all guys I’ve seen in the magazines, ridden their boards, and watched in the videos for years and years.

On top of all that, Black Label isn’t just some company I stumbled into. From the time it started, it was my favorite skateboard company. In fact, when I first got on Black Label, I went back to Ohio, went into my parents’ attic, and I dug out all my old Black Label clothes from the early 1990s. And now I wear them. I’m so stoked! Like, “Man, I haven’t worn this old Max Evans shirt since 1991.” I can rock it now, I’m a part of the team. This is more like childhood-dream stuff.

Not all of us skate together all the time, or whatever, but I think it’s one of the purist teams out there. It’s not like, “If this guy’s not keeping up on his coverage, he gets cut.” This is our team. This is who we are.

Skateboarding seems to be the only organized activity out there where we don’t take care of the guys who made a big impact on our past. Michael Jordan doesn’t do anything anymore, but we don’t just forget about him. There’re certain people who I feel should be supported and have pro models out maybe forever because of what they’ve contributed to skateboarding. Everyone else can go make their decisions on their money, and whoever the hippest fourteen year old is out there, but I don’t know.

If there’s one thing you’ve learned since riding for that team, what would it be?

The best thing I get out of it is that in skateboarding—and when I say skateboarding, I mean skateboarding and punk rock go hand-in-hand—there are no rules, and with that comes fun, creativity, personality, and a great time. When it comes to the so-called rules in skateboarding, none of that applies to Black Label. We have no rules—we do things our way, and that’s the way skateboarding should be.

Did your involvement in music and starting a band come from the same sort of beginnings as your skating?

Since I was a little kid, I’ve always wanted to be in a band. My dad and my uncles were in rock-and-roll bands. Everyone in my family is a musician and everyone’s in bands, so I think it was in my blood from the beginning. But I saw the importance of what could be done by being in a band once I started skateboarding and listening to punk music. That’s when I realized there were people out there who were singing about things other than screwing chicks and drinking beer. I realized that there was a whole network of people out there who were like me and felt like I did—passing ideas, helping each other out, and communicating.

What’s the band called?

The Heartaches (www.angelfire.com/apes/heartaches/).

What instrument do you play?

I play the drums.

Playing in a band and being a skater, what’s your take on the past couple years of recycled tendencies in skateboarding? I’m not talking about the act of skateboarding, but the looks of people skateboarding.

To put it bluntly, it sucks. I’m to this point where I’m so stoked to go to a contest and see guys like Caine Gayle and Rob Dyrdek—their whole nine yards. They got their jerseys, their necklaces, and all this—it’s not what I’m into, but when I look around, there’re all these cookie-cutter, punk-rock-skater guys pushing around. Now it’s like these other guys—the guys who have their hip-hop thing—look more punk rock than anybody because they’re the ones sticking out like sore thumbs. Obviously, it’s not the trend, but they don’t care. They’re doing what they want to do, and I think that’s sick. That’s what it’s more about. Be what you’re really into. I just get so tired. Maybe I just take it a little more personally because I’ve been this same skate-punk kid since 1988.

Is there anything authentic anymore?

Everything’s so planned out. I’m over it. I was a kid once, too, and I wanted to look like Mike Vallely and Matt Hensley. I’m sure kids open up a magazine, they get stoked, and they want to be like the guys in the magazines. The only thing is, the guys in the magazines have a little bit of a responsibility to be real.

You know what it is? There’s got to be some kind of age cutoff line. Like, by the time you’re fifteen, you gotta have it figured out. You can’t be a seventeen-year-old hip-hop kid, and then when you’re twenty-one, decide you’re some ripping, raging punk-rock guy. That don’t fly. Come on. There’s nothing worse than some kid looking up to his favorite pro, but little does he know that this guy is just some fake. That sucks, man.

What’s something that the mainstream will never know about skateboarding, even if skaters tell them about it?

People trip out a little bit when I say it, but being a skateboarder makes you see the world in a different way. And I don’t mean that like, “Oh, you see a bench to sit, I see a bench to skate.” I mean human behavior. It’s not always happening on your skateboard. It’s the experience of just being a skateboarder and being in a different social setting. I think (as a skater) you experience human interactions.

What kind of name is Svitak?

It’s Bohemian. The way you’d pronounce it would be the Polish way of saying it, because my great, great grandfather hooked up with my great, great grandmother and she was Polish. I think they started pronouncing it the Polish way.

Have you ever been over there?

I’ve never been to the Czech Republic, but I went to Poland a few years ago on a Slap magazine trip with a bunch of other Polocks. It was me, Joe Brook, Justin Strubing, Mike Rusczyk, Stefan Janoski, Ed Selego, and Aaron Suski.

Did you guys have any feelings of home over there?

There were no feelings of home, but there was a lot of emotion. I have this weird thing with World War II. I’m just intrigued with it—more specifically with the holocaust. I couldn’t help but everywhere I looked just picturing the Nazis coming through, snagging people off the streets, killing people in Warsaw, and all these horrible things.

We went to Auschwitz. That, by far, was the most life-impacting place I’ve ever been. When you’re around the punk-rock thing, a lot of punk rockers like to draw swastikas, make remarks like it’s funny, or whatever. But when you go there it’s like, “You know what? This isn’t a joke anymore.” There’s nothing funny about it. There’s nothing cool about putting swastikas anywhere.

You’ll hear people say, “I think Hitler was a smart man, really.” Well, I’d love for you to stand right there over the pits where they dumped all the ashes of the incinerated bodies. I’d love for you to go walking down into the gas chambers. I’d love for you to stop and wonder if you have any Polish, Jewish, or Gypsy blood in you anywhere down the line and think that maybe some of your ancestors were in there.

And it wasn’t just them that the Nazis were after, either—it was at it bluntly, it sucks. I’m to this point where I’m so stoked to go to a contest and see guys like Caine Gayle and Rob Dyrdek—their whole nine yards. They got their jerseys, their necklaces, and all this—it’s not what I’m into, but when I look around, there’re all these cookie-cutter, punk-rock-skater guys pushing around. Now it’s like these other guys—the guys who have their hip-hop thing—look more punk rock than anybody because they’re the ones sticking out like sore thumbs. Obviously, it’s not the trend, but they don’t care. They’re doing what they want to do, and I think that’s sick. That’s what it’s more about. Be what you’re really into. I just get so tired. Maybe I just take it a little more personally because I’ve been this same skate-punk kid since 1988.

Is there anything authentic anymore?

Everything’s so planned out. I’m over it. I was a kid once, too, and I wanted to look like Mike Vallely and Matt Hensley. I’m sure kids open up a magazine, they get stoked, and they want to be like the guys in the magazines. The only thing is, the guys in the magazines have a little bit of a responsibility to be real.

You know what it is? There’s got to be some kind of age cutoff line. Like, by the time you’re fifteen, you gotta have it figured out. You can’t be a seventeen-year-old hip-hop kid, and then when you’re twenty-one, decide you’re some ripping, raging punk-rock guy. That don’t fly. Come on. There’s nothing worse than some kid looking up to his favorite pro, but little does he know that this guy is just some fake. That sucks, man.

What’s something that the mainstream will never know about skateboarding, even if skaters tell them about it?

People trip out a little bit when I say it, but being a skateboarder makes you see the world in a different way. And I don’t mean that like, “Oh, you see a bench to sit, I see a bench to skate.” I mean human behavior. It’s not always happening on your skateboard. It’s the experience of just being a skateboarder and being in a different social setting. I think (as a skater) you experience human interactions.

What kind of name is Svitak?

It’s Bohemian. The way you’d pronounce it would be the Polish way of saying it, because my great, great grandfather hooked up with my great, great grandmother and she was Polish. I think they started pronouncing it the Polish way.

Have you ever been over there?

I’ve never been to the Czech Republic, but I went to Poland a few years ago on a Slap magazine trip with a bunch of other Polocks. It was me, Joe Brook, Justin Strubing, Mike Rusczyk, Stefan Janoski, Ed Selego, and Aaron Suski.

Did you guys have any feelings of home over there?

There were no feelings of home, but there was a lot of emotion. I have this weird thing with World War II. I’m just intrigued with it—more specifically with the holocaust. I couldn’t help but everywhere I looked just picturing the Nazis coming through, snagging people off the streets, killing people in Warsaw, and all these horrible things.

We went to Auschwitz. That, by far, was the most life-impacting place I’ve ever been. When you’re around the punk-rock thing, a lot of punk rockers like to draw swastikas, make remarks like it’s funny, or whatever. But when you go there it’s like, “You know what? This isn’t a joke anymore.” There’s nothing funny about it. There’s nothing cool about putting swastikas anywhere.

You’ll hear people say, “I think Hitler was a smart man, really.” Well, I’d love for you to stand right there over the pits where they dumped all the ashes of the incinerated bodies. I’d love for you to go walking down into the gas chambers. I’d love for you to stop and wonder if you have any Polish, Jewish, or Gypsy blood in you anywhere down the line and think that maybe some of your ancestors were in there.

And it wasn’t just them that the Nazis were after, either—it was anyone who got in their way. The rest of the world was next on the Nazis’ list, including Americans. But to come out of there and think it’s really cool to go drawing swastikas and making dumb jokes—I don’t know. We live in such a Disneyland country. Nothing’s real for any of us around here. There’s a war going on right now, but what do we care? We’re going to skate and go to the grocery store—nothing’s real.

When you visited there, did skaters from the area relate to you guys because of your names?

No. It’s just normal. A lot of their names end with ski or ska. They were nice, though (laughs).

I’m wondering, do you skate more now than when you first turned pro?

I’m skating about the same. I rip it up almost every day.

So are there still aspects of skateboarding you’d like to get way better at?

The aspect I’d really like to get better at—and I’ve been working on this a lot lately—is keeping my cool when I film. I never get mad when I skate, period, but when I film, I lose it. I just flip my lid. I want to have fun no matter what I do. Filming can be fun—it is fun—but when I go skating with my buddies down at the local strip mall or skatepark, it’s totally different than being at a spot trying to do a whoop-de-do, you know? Now you have pressures on you. You start thinking, “Why do people even pay me? I suck. Geoff Rowley could have done it first try. I should just go back to Ohio. It’s over.” That’s the biggest thing I’m working on now. Keeping my cool while I’m filming and just having fun, man.

All right, anything else?

I’d like to thank my sponsors. Are you recording this?

Yeah.

Hello, hello? Black Label, 88 shoes, Innes clothing. Destructo trucks, Speed Metal bearings, Accel. wheels, Negative One griptape, and Westside Skates in Cleveland.

Oh, that’s cool.

Oh, you know it’s cool.

I’ll stick that in there at the end.

I’d also like to tell all the children in the world—don’t be contrived.

as anyone who got in their way. The rest of the world was next on the Nazis’ list, including Americans. But to come out of there and think it’s really cool to go drawing swastikas and making dumb jokes—I don’t know. We live in such a Disneyland country. Nothing’s real for any of us around here. There’s a war going on right now, but what do we care? We’re going to skate and go to the grocery store—nothing’s real.

When you visited there, did skaters from the area relate to you guys because of your names?

No. It’s just normal. A lot of their names end with ski or ska. They were nice, though (laughs).

I’m wondering, do you skate more now than when you first turned pro?

I’m skating about the same. I rip it up almost every day.

So are there still aspects of skateboarding you’d like to get way better at?

The aspect I’d really like to get better at—and I’ve been working on this a lot lately—is keeping my cool when I film. I never get mad when I skate, period, but when I film, I lose it. I just flip my lid. I want to have fun no matter what I do. Filming can be fun—it is fun—but when I go skating with my buddies down at the local strip mall or skatepark, it’s totally different than being at a spot trying to do a whoop-de-do, you know? Now you have pressures on you. You start thinking, “Why do people even pay me? I suck. Geoff Rowley could have done it first try. I should just go back to Ohio. It’s over.” That’s the biggest thing I’m working on now. Keeping my cool while I’m filming and just having fun, man.

All right, anything else?

I’d like to thank my sponsors. Are you recording this?

Yeah.

Hello, hello? Black Label, 88 shoes, Innes clothing. Destructo trucks, Speed Metal bearings, Accel. wheels, Negative One griptape, and Westside Skates in Cleveland.

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Oh, that’s cool.

Oh, you know it’s cool.

I’ll stick that in there at the end.

I’d also like to tell all the children in the world—don’t be contrived.