Veterans of Vert - Leon West
We are excited to feature a bio on one of our favorite concrete shredders, Leon West. If you have not yet heard or seen this skater who pops up on our Instagram feed regularly by the alias @skeighty_8_legs then you must have been hiding under a rock - much like the ones he's been known to stall on *see below*. As we learned while interviewing Leon West, he might only have seven years clocked on his quad skates; it is rare to come across a skater with such a pure passion for the sport of quad roller skating. In his mere seven years on skates, Leon has become a staple of the local skatepark and spread the stoke in his local community. We are so stoked to share his story.
Take it away, Leon.
Image: Leon West, Snap Kick Air. Harrisburg Skatepark. Photo by LeAria West
First things first: I'm not exactly what you'd call a veteran of vert. I did, however, start skatepark rollerskating very early on in the sport's resurgence, so I feel like I have an interesting perspective on it.
I graduated from Oregon State University in 2010 with an engineering degree, 30 pounds of late-night-study-snack fat, and severe depression. My wife and daughters had joined roller derby, so I often ended up going to the roller rink to watch them skate while I filled out online job applications and searched for work. One day my wife convinced me to put on some rental skates and join her on the rink floor.
I hated it. It was challenging and painful and embarrassing. But my wife talked me into trying it for a month by pointing out that I could stop running at the gym and get my exercise while having fun with the family. So I got a one-month membership and gave it a shot.
At the end of the month, I told my wife I was going back to running next month because at least I didn't fall or get concussions when I ran. She got a weird look on her face and admitted that she'd already purchased roller skates for me for Christmas.
So I tried out my skates, in my kitchen, listening to my music, and I loved it. It turns out, I didn't hate skating; I just hated my local rink and learning in front of an audience.
So I started searching YouTube videos of jam skating tricks. I cleared out my garage. I became obsessed with finding new ways and places to skate.
I skated around town when it was dry outside, but when it rained, I usually got stuck in my garage. So I started going to schools, to look for covered concrete outside that I could skate when it rained, which is where I encountered my first skatepark. Like a total egomaniac, I thought to myself: "I've gotten pretty good on skates. I bet I could do that."
Five minutes later, I had multiple bruises and scrapes and a torn rotator cuff in my shoulder that took almost a year to heal. But I knew I was hooked, even as I limped back to my car after only fifteen minutes in the park.
As soon as I got home, I sat down with my injured shoulder to scour the internet for videos of rollerskaters in skateparks. I found three: Brian Wainwright, Duke Rennie, and a guy in Portland named Lenny Johnson (VoV interview coming soon!). I found a small handful of others in my first year skating, but there really wasn't anything you would call a skatepark rollerskater community when I started. At least not any I ever found.
So I tried to create one. I made a Facebook page and invited people to skate with me. I brought friends and family members to the parks. Despite a lifelong hatred of participating in team sports, I joined roller derby solely to recruit park skaters. I just about begged anyone on skates to come to try it, but I mostly skated alone in those first few years.
Nowadays, things are different. It feels like the scene is growing exponentially. I have a small crew of roller skaters that includes my daughter, her boyfriend, and my buddy, Shred Eye. Strangers contact me a few times a year to set up skate sessions. People make "trick tip" videos on YouTube. There are huge online communities to help skaters share and grow and inspire each other.
I draw my own inspiration from everyone and everywhere. Skateboarders, bikers, scooters, inlines, roller derby, jam skating, and figure skating. I get inspired by video games, and IGORS roller skaters, and Instagram posts, and cartoons, and dreams I only half remember. And every skatepark comes equipped with a whole bunch of inspiration built right into it.
For example, I'm currently obsessed with the china bank at my local skatepark. It has a psychotic snake run and inlaid brick pattern and crazy chunks of native rock embedded in the concrete. It's hard as hell to ride, but it keeps me up at night, just thinking about it, and I usually get up at 4 am so I can skate it before I go to work.
That inspired worldview is probably my favorite thing about skating, the way it changes the world around you into one big skatepark. A loading dock or a set of stairs or a freeway overpass all acquire a new significance. Every new town either contains a new skatepark or is, itself, a new skatepark.
And this inspired worldview goes much further and more profound than just the way you interpret the physical world around you. Skating changes your relationships with other people and the way you understand life events and your learning process. It informs everything if you let it.
Kevin Yee, one of my favorite inline skaters, said: "To truly know one thing, is to know all others through the lens of that one. For me, that one thing is skating. The greatest gift I've received from all the years of time and effort I've put into skating is the ability to use skating as a metaphor for viewing and understanding life."
That resonates with me.
Skating has also been an excellent way for me to bond with my daughter, LeAria (aka Boom / @bumi_the_king). She was the first one in the family to roll into a skatepark (months before I ever put on roller skates), and she was the first one to drop in on a ramp with coping. She is my skate buddy, my primary camera and video person, and my best friend.
In the past seven years, I've seen the park roller skating community explodes from a tiny group of mostly isolated skaters to a worldwide community. I regularly take skate trips up and down the West Coast, staying with skaters, skating their spots, exchanging tricks and tips and wisdom and friendship and points of view.
This year I'm going to leave the country for my first real trip outside the United States. I'm going to Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama with a bunch of skater friends. We will be meeting skaters of all types down there, from inliners to skateboarders to derby girls; from newbies to paid professionals. Some of us don't speak any Spanish, and some of them don't speak any English, but I'm not worried about communicating. Because we all share the universal language of skating, the passion to skate, and that inspired the world view that comes from viewing your world through the lens of skating.
We might not be able to communicate in words, but we will understand each other, and we will do so in ways much deeper than words could express.
- Leon West