Tell Me More: DQM’s Lee Smith Talks About Skateboarding in the ’90s
We recently caught up with professional skateboarder Lee Smith to discuss how skateboarding has changed since the ’90s and get his insight into the culture. Check out how Lee breaks down the differences between then and now.
What was your first interaction with skateboarding?
Lee Smith: I started skateboarding around 1985. I didn't know any skateboarders or anything like that. My mom bought me a banana board for Christmas when I was eight or nine. I lived in Oakland, in the hills at the time, so I used to ride it down the hills. I always liked skating around with it, but it was a toy. I always kept skating throughout the years. I didn't know there was any culture behind it or that people could go pro and make money. I didn't know there were tricks or anything. I just used to ride it around. One day, there was a book fair at my school, and I found a book about skateboarding with a picture of Jeff Kendall going off a launch ramp. I remember the caption said his name and then you could see that the bottom of the board said his name as well, so it kind of intrigued me. That's when I started digging deep into skateboarding, getting magazines, and discovering the culture of it. I skated by myself for about the first four or five years. I didn't know anybody. One day, I met Karl Watson and all these guys from Embarcadero and the rest was history.
You were on Menace, which was really influential in the ’90s. How did being on that team shape you as a person and as a skateboarder?
LS: Being on the team was amazing and incredible, and it shaped me in a positive way because we had the whole world looking at what we were doing, but we didn't really skate that much. We had a very strong image, but we kind of didn't take skateboarding that seriously at the time, which is pretty funny now because if you look at most of the Menace pros, they've all kind of faded into obscurity. I was just happy to be a part of it.
You mentioned EMB as a huge place for progression in skateboarding. What was your fondest memory of EMB?
LS: My best memory was just being there everyday. It was pre-cell phones and pre-Instagram, so basically, you didn't want to miss a day. You never wanted to be that guy who missed something. Every day was pretty incredible. My fondest memory is probably of just being young and free, and watching Henry Sanchez, Mike Carroll and Jovantae Turner progress, learn and do the craziest tricks right in front of your eyes.
For you, what are the biggest changes in skateboarding you've seen from the golden era in the ’90s to present day?
LS: It's just money. There's a lot of money now, so that changes how people skate, their motivation for skateboarding, and how seriously they take it. We took it seriously as well. We loved it and that's why we skated, but had there been a lot more money involved, we might have thought a little more about it. When I was young, if you did a kickflip down five stairs and you did it once, that was it. Forever in history, you could walk past those five stairs and say, "See those stairs? I kickflipped that," and someone would be like, "Yeah, it's true. I was there. I saw it with my own eyes." However, the mentality of kids nowadays is that they've got to kickflip something 10 times a day, so skateboarding is like basketball for them. It's like muscle memory. When you look at Street League and all of that, you think to yourself, "How can they do all those crazy tricks back to back?" These guys do more crazy tricks in five minutes than I did in my whole skateboarding career. It's insane.
What do you think are the three best places to live and skate in?
LS: Los Angeles is obviously amazing for skateboarding and so is San Francisco. Everybody knows that Barcelona is incredible for the lifestyle and for the plazas on plazas on plazas. That's something we don’t really have here in a major metropolitan city in America. You just get one plaza. You've got Embarcadero, you've got Pulaski, you've got Love Park, but there, it's incredible.
You were with FTC for a while and now you're at DQM. Are there any projects you're personally working on or is there anything you have coming up that you’re excited about?
LS: I started a small brand called 7-8 with my girlfriend. It's a cut and sew T-shirt brand, and we're going to make candles and stuff that adults like. Right now, I'm just taking it easy, trying not to stress too much, and living in the moment. We'll see what happens.