Early on in the rise of Sean Malto (just after he was officially inducted into the ranks at Girl Skateboards), Marc Johnson comically said: "Caveman learn how to skate, pre-historic era. He came out of the caves, learned to skate, man evolved. We are witnessing the dawn of a new era: the Malto Age." Frankly, I'm pretty sure he's right.
When I picture the progression of skateboarding and the lineage that eventually produced Sean Malto, it's hard not to draw parallels to Darwin's theory of evolution: Just as life came from the sea, crawled landward and evolved, skaters, too, have had a similar arc in progress. Our ancestors, like it or not, were surfers who began to roll on the concrete that crept right to the edge of the ocean. The Dogtowners got their start bombing hills that led directly to their local beach break. Early on, pool skating was all the rage, re-enforcing the bond between early skaters and their sea-dwelling ancestry. And as skating has grown through the decades, our most fertile breeding grounds have always been on the coasts.
Since skating's thriving meccas have all been coastal (San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Barcelona, etc.), it stands to reason that our "species" is a shore-dwelling one. We're integrally tied to the seas our ancestors paddled out of. Clearly, though, skating's evolution has been pushing further inland for decades; this trend is evidenced in new skating hotspots further and further toward the middle. Places like Philadelphia and Sacramento, and even as far from the ocean as Arizona, have begun to show their mettle with thriving scenes and top-level pros.
But in every evolution there is also some genetic mutation -- those freak changes that help the process take a leap forward. For skaters (if you choose to believe this theory of mine), these mutants have cropped up in each generation, pushing skateboarding a little further down the line and a little farther inland. In the '80s, you had the Zorlac boom in Texas with anomalies like John Gibson; Craig Johnson; and the late, great Jeff Phillips. These mutant Texan skaters sprouted up and spawned a progressive vert scene far from the shores of Galveston and the Gulf of Mexico. In the early '90s, singular evolutionary mutants began popping up, like Jesse Neuhaus in Chicago or Steve Berra in Nebraska. Not only were these skaters singularly talented, but they also came out of inland regions where we barely knew skating existed.
Since then, more talented skaters have come out of the Midwest than ever before: Angel Ramirez holds it down with the Wet Boys in Colorado. Peter Ramondetta blew doors when he made it to San Fran from Tulsa. And when Don Nguyen announced his arrival by ollieing the El Toro 20, he showed the world the Oklahomies weren't messing around, either.
Despite these standouts, most of the industry still holds that real talent comes from the coasts. Sure, Dennis Busenitz came from the Midwest, but he's a freak of nature who welded his own flatbars and talked in monosyllabic sentences when he first got hooked up. (Just kidding, Dennis -- you're amazing.) After all, all these guys moved to California to make it. Nobody's moving to Missouri to jumpstart their pro career -- but maybe they should.
I got a tape of Malto when he was 13 years old and 4 feet tall. I could tell the only thing holding him back was his size.
When we went out to film Sean Malto at home in Kansas City, I thought, "This should be interesting." I knew Malto was an amazing skater, but I thought he was a freak of nature, certainly not a product of his environment. After all, the kid has been good forever. Girl's talent manager, Sam Smyth, recognized Malto's talent years ago.
"I got a tape of Malto when he was 13 years old and 4 feet tall," Sam says. "I could tell the only thing holding him back was his size."
Sean Malto is a freak of nature. His skills on a skateboard are completely ridiculous. It's obvious the moment he steps on board that he's head-and-shoulders above many of his peers and is destined to go far. People know it, too. Smyth recalls a run-in with OG skate photographer Bryce Kanights.
"After Sean's run at the Goofy vs. Regular comp two years ago, Bryce came up to me and said, 'Everyone thought P-Rod was going to be the next Koston, but he's not. Sean is!'"
With that kind of hype around a 19-year-old, you'd think it would go to Malto's head. But what I found equally as awesome as his talent was Malto's complete humility and level-headedness. He's the kind of kid you want to skate with, growing into the kind of man you want grab beers with. Skateboard Mag writer and Sole Tech team guy Rob Brink has nothing but good things to say about Malto and recognizes his appeal.
"He's the type of guy you want to be friends with. And I can see how kids all over the world get that vibe, too. It resonates with them. They love Sean."
Sean Malto is also a product of his environment. It turns out Kansas City has one of the tightest, most friendly and most progressive skate scenes I've seen in years. The owners of Escapist skate shop -- Dan Askew, Nick Owen and Adrian Frost -- deserve a lot of credit for helping the scene really thrive. They made a place for kids to come, get boards, talk shop and push their own limits. Sometimes that makes all the difference.
During my time in KC, I was continually struck by the high caliber of both skaters and spots. Sorry if I'm blowing a secret, but Kansas City has spots! Ledges, stairs and bank spots for days, plus a handful of serious concrete parks including one built by Grindline. Though the Coffee Curb has since gone bye-bye, Energy Park, the University double-set, and the endless ledge and stair spots downtown should keep everyone progressing for a long time to come.
Rolling with Malto and the Done crew, I kept doing double-takes at just how good everyone was. Malto is clearly the wunderkind, but he's kept on his toes with friends like Max Chilen, Tyshuan Johnson and Ryan Pearce. The scene in KC is tight. So tight, in fact, that nearly every skater we ran into seemed to be friends, acquaintances or firmly down with the crew. These guys are pushing the level, and if you haven't seen them in Through Being Nice or Fourteen Deep, you will be seeing more of them soon.
The KC dudes aren't really showing you a good time. They're always having a good time. You're just kicking it with them, having a good time.
Best of all, the Kansas City skaters have a real sense of what it's all about: fun. Every one of them has a smile, a laugh and a joke for every session, and you notice it instantly. Photographer Sam McGuire is a regular visitor to the area. He's been coming back often enough to have figured out a few things about the KC scene: "Those dudes aren't really showing you a good time. They're always having a good time. You're just kicking it with them, having a good time. When you leave, they are going to be doing the same thing as when you were there."
Malto may be one of the first skaters from Kansas City to blow up internationally, but he isn't going to be the last. Far from the ocean and the industry, skateboarding stands tall on the plains, whole and evolved. The Midwest has arrived. Coasts need to recognize.