For one fleeting moment, he is flying. His hair— a mop of dark brown curls bleached blonde on one side— blows in the wind. His eyes are both laser-focused and distant. He looks as if he is in another world entirely.
And then the spell is broken. His feet reunite with his skateboard and there is the unmistakable sound of wheels scraping on concrete.
It’s no wonder he compares skateboarding to meditating.
“When I skate,” he says, “I always forget what I'm worried about. It completely clears my mind.”
Gabe Guerrero, a Saint Peter’s University sophomore, has been skateboarding almost every day for the past eight years. Skating has taught him everything from perseverance to being more accepting of others— and it has opened the door to meeting a community of eclectic young creators he plans to stay friends with for life.
Guerrero, now 19, started skating when he was nine. “I think it’s pretty common for people who don’t fit in,” he says.
His first board came from Walmart. Seventy skateboards later, Guerrero has sought out skate parks everywhere life has taken him, from L.A and Manhattan, to London and Paris.
But Guerrero’s favorite skate park is in his hometown of Syracuse, New York. Built by the local skating community who pooled their money together to transform an abandoned tennis court, the park is “by the people, for the people,” and perfectly embodies the DIY ethos of the skating community.
Guerrero is part of a generation of skaters who call skate parks like these their home, but it wasn’t always this way.
In the 1990s, skate parks were a lot less common— which meant skaters spent more time in the streets, and often risked getting stopped by police.
“The generation before, they’re harder than the kids now.” Guerrero says. “Kids today can just live at the skatepark. It’s a more positive environment...it brings people together.”
This kind of sentiment comes up again and again among skaters. Ask any skater what they love most about skating, and chances are they’ll all give you the same answer: the people.
Antonio Badilla, a Saint Peter’s freshman who often skates with Guerrero in Jersey City, treasures the openness of the community.
“They accept everyone,” he says. “When I started skating two years ago, they showed me the ropes first. Things like park etiquette—wait your turn, stuff like that.”
“Everybody in the community just wants to support each other,” says Drew Roque, another one of Guerrero’s skating buddies. “And nothing is cooler than going down one of Manhattan's avenues, with a pack of fuckin’ people, going in between cars... it’s like you guys versus the world.”
Today’s skaters have grown up in an age where there is no trick that can’t be learned from friends or Youtube videos—so it makes sense that Guerrero and his “homies” are remarkably self-motivated go-getters, unafraid to roll up their sleeves and dive head first into fashion, filmmaking, and everything in between.
Their inspiration comes from people and brands like Tyler the Creator, Frank Ocean, Skate Jawn, Fucking Awesome and Supreme. And like their idols, today’s skaters have become a conglomerate of Renaissance men, refusing to be confined to a single artistic identity or medium.
For Guerrero, this means pursuing a business degree in hopes of eventually working in music production. He has also experimented with film photography, and is planning to develop a fashion brand.
“In skate videos, style has a big impact,” he says. “You could be trash at skating, but if the way you skate looks visually appealing— I like that more than someone who is dressed terrible, doing hard tricks.”
Recently, Guerrero and Badilla have launched a brand called East Coast Skaters, which seeks to highlight the abilities of skaters from the east coast by posting clips of them doing tricks on Instagram.
Skating has also been a springboard of creative expression for Roque, who designs boards and produces skate videos through his brand, Amateur.
“I’m doing this for the love of it,” Roque says. “My whole goal is to build something out of me and my friends’ skateboarding experience— to create and get us recognized.”
Producing art and making a name for yourself in the skating world is tough— but if there’s anything skaters are good at, it’s getting back up, even when they fall.
Sometimes, when Guerrero is at a skatepark, parents will approach him, and ask him to teach tricks to their young skaters.
“I was one of those kids at one point in time, so I know what they’re going through,” Guerrero says. “It takes practice. You should be ready to fall a lot, and not give up.”
To support East Coast Skaters and Amateur, follow @eastcoastskaters_ and @amateu_r on Instagram.