It’s 10:30 a.m. on a beautiful spring day as Sammy and I pull up to Buena Park. If you’ve never been, it’s a classic city block public park with a fenced-off concrete skatepark in the middle.
The skatepark’s empty naturally, it’s still early, and besides the chirping of birds and the odd car passing by, there’s a calmness and serenity to what looks like a sleepy suburban block. As we sip coffee in the sunshine about to get started on this interview, the interruption of DiCaprio’s ex disrupts up. Unbeknownst to us, a lady, presumably homeless, sadly, and probably in her late thirties – although the scars of substance abuse spread across her face have probably added a couple of years – has quietly sat down next to us.
"I just got divorced from Leonardo DiCaprio. Fuck him anyway, all he wanted was my money."
Sammy turns to me, “Shit, this is what I mean about the shit you have to deal with here.” The lady continues her incoherent rambling about her failed marriage with Leo as Sammy elaborates his point. “I had to call the police on this girl a few months back. She was over there yelling whilst squatting completely naked in this cardboard box clutching a dog. I went over, picked up her clothes, and was telling her to get dressed and let the dog go. Eventually, the cops show up and whatever, she gets dressed and they leave her to it. They’re like, ‘We can’t arrest someone for being crazy.’” The lady asks for a cigarette through her clenched, drug-induced jaw and Sammy obliges on the grounds that she agrees to leave us alone. She complies but only after pointing out two houses she claims to own down the block before ambling back across the park to join her fellow bums, victorious in her mission for a smoke. “It’s so sad to see those guys over there, but the truth is it’s not just about homelessness. I mean, truth is these guys are out here and doing a bunch of drugs.” It’s a vicious cycle, but not one Sammy’s prepared to give up on. “I mean, shit, there’s this homeless dude who lives here we call ‘Love’, his real name’s Lavelle Watkins. He used to skate, so we hook him up with boards and stuff, I created an Instagram account for him: @lovefuegonorth. Y’know we’re just trying to keep him on some positive vibes.” He shows me the account he created as well as some edits he made for Love, there’s even a photo of Youness Amrani giving him a setup. In fact, Love’s father discovered the account and reached out to Sammy personally to thank him. It’s a beautiful thing to see skateboarding have such a positive influence, but by his own admission, Sammy doesn’t have all the answers. “It’s crazy because no matter what you do, they just keep multiplying. In Anaheim, they have the whole sewer bed. It’s, like, a mile long of tents. Like if we go to the ditch spot over there, there’s syringes all over the floor, it’s fucking gnarly! Truth is, though, it’s even worse in Costa Rica!”
For those unaware, it’s probably time I formally introduce you to Sammy. Despite being born and raised in California, Sammy spent his teenage years living in Costa Rica, eventually moving back to LA once he finished high school. “Fuck, I was a wild kid, always getting into trouble, always getting kicked out of school for being loud and crazy.” It was at 13 years of age that his father sent him to live with his mum in Costa Rica, in a bid to escape the downward spiral. “I don’t know what happened to me, but I ended up skating and it changed my whole life, it bettered me as a person, I mean.” Before the move, Sammy would just ride mountain bikes, but as he couldn’t take his to Costa Rica with him, he ended up taking his brother’s skateboard. “I didn’t have anything to do, didn’t know anybody, didn’t even speak Spanish at the time, so I just started skating every day.” It probably explains why Sammy’s so adapt at skating any terrain. “Yeah nothing bugs me out here because the spots over there are so gnarly. Like, super third-world, cracks everywhere, just the most rugged type of skating you can imagine.” Fortunately, Sammy befriended the older locals who showed him the way. “I basically met, I’m gonna say, the best skaters in Costa Rica. Miguel Castro and all these older dudes who knew skaters, knew videos, and they basically took me under their wing, taught me everything I know. After that, I never looked back.” Perhaps the defining moment of that time was his first cover. “Funny story, Miguel had a buddy called Olman Torres who ran a magazine in Costa Rica called blast. And basically, I did a noseslide on a hubba. Dude! It wasn’t even that big! It’s like an eight or nine stair hubba and they put it on the cover. It was insane. I didn’t even know what that feeling was. It was just a noseslide, I wasn’t that stoked on it, but the fact they gave me the cover was super dope.” Blast was eventually bought out, but Olman now runs his own skate mag called Stand By. “It’s sick dude, it’s just pure, raw skating from Costa Rica. That’s basically where I got my inspiration from, all those dudes. It was the best thing that could’ve happened to me. It changed me as a person. So when I came back here, I had a different mentality.”
After graduating at 18, Sammy attempted graphic design at VERITAS art school but, after a couple of weeks, became disillusioned, dropped out, and moved back to Los Angeles to pursue skateboarding. After various dead-end jobs, Sammy eventually got picked up by the new wave of Alien Workshop, but it wasn’t until his recent acquisition to Globe that he was able to focus on skating full-time. “I’m not gonna lie, I don’t wanna say kids are spoiled these days, but fuck it, they are spoiled, they get everything they need just by knowing the right people and the fact they’re cool kids. Back in the day, it wasn’t like that, you had to be 100% skate rat to gain that respect.” It’s safe to say Sammy’s aware of the opportunity he’s been given and it’s not one he’s about to sleep on. He’s eager to go film and as we head to downtown LA, we meet up with sml. wheels founder Aaron Brown, also acting Globe TM, as well as fellow rider Mark Appleyard and a young up-and-comer named Eric Lord. Within five minutes, Sammy’s already nailed a fisheye ledge line and another on Super 8. As we skate over to a triple set down the road, I ask Sammy if it’s surreal to be out skating with Apples on a regular basis. “Apples is the man, dude. He’s been my favorite for years and it’s so sick we hang out now, we’ll text and call each other like homies and we go skating. Funny story, I actually first met Apples in Costa Rica at this cement skatepark in the mountain called De Laura. I was about 16 and I was getting Volcom flow at the time from Latin America, nothing much but a few bits here and there. Anyway, the Volcom team came down there and it’s, like, David Gonzalez, Nick Trapasso, Jake Duncombe, Mark Appleyard, etc. So I see Apples at the hotel bar and he’s up there rolling a couple of stogies or whatever. So I go say, “What up,” and he’s exactly how you’d imagine from the videos, y’know? Super mellow, super cool dude. Then years go by and we both end up riding for Globe. I brought up that story recently and he remembers it! So cool. Apples is the man!”
Our conversation gets cut short as Sammy wants to ollie the triple set. It’s big and even Mark’s frowning at Sammy’s insistence that he can land it. Although it’s Sunday, security’s still tight, but for some reason, the security guard here isn’t fazed. He’s stood in the adjacent building watching Sammy but appears to be unmoved. “Dude, he’s staring right at me and he doesn’t even care.” Sammy slips out on the first attempt landing heavily on his coccyx. For a moment, it seems the session may be cut short, but Sammy picks himself up and within two minutes, he’s rolling away on the second attempt. We move on, squeezing in a hippie jump over a bike outside the Broad for good measure. “This is my favorite type of skating,” Sammy exclaims with a wide smile. “Just parking the car and going skating, moving from spot to spot, not even knowing where you’re going. Just pushing. Sometimes you can spend the whole day just driving from spot to spot and it’s brutal. City skating is always the best skating.”
Two blocks further down and there’s a busy junction with a sweet bump to downhill. Sammy instantly throws himself into it, blasting a huge ollie off the bump straight into a downhill bomb. He climbs back up the hill with a wry grin. “Shall we film that one?” The fact I didn’t have to ask is a welcome surprise. Sammy’s hungry and unlike some skaters awaiting direction, he’s instigating the clips.
Another block down and there’s a flat rail alongside a hotel Sammy’s never seen. “See, this is what I mean. There’s so much here in the city. You see stuff you’ve passed a hundred times but never really seen.” He smashes out a few grinds for the Super 8 before the valet guys catch on.
The next day consists of the same proceedings, the session’s never slowing down. Seu joins us and nails a photo of Sammy’s wall ride over the “Ulysses“ sculpture by Alexander Liberman at Mellon Bank Center. Apples films a couple of clips to boot and Sammy ends the day with the gnarliest of noseblunts down an eleven stair rail. In fact, he does it three times to ensure we get both digital and film angles. He’s that good. It’s amazing to witness and even more impressive that no serious injuries occur. It’s at this point Sammy tells me the importance of learning “how to bail”. “So back in Costa Rica, I broke my shoulder at Arenas Skate Park,” he shows off the scar. “There’s, like, this ten foot mini ramp, it’s kinda big and I was doing 50-50’s to drop off, like, at the end of the mini ramp. And I go to do one and when I drop, I’m in like a backside lip position on the coping, so I start stepping back and I as step back, I step off the ledge and just drop. I put my arm down and it just completely buckled. I just remember sitting up and nothing hurt yet, but my shoulder was down to my left nipple. Out of pure adrenaline and panic, I lift up my arm and break something else. So I just completely ruined my arm. I broke my humerus bone and the rotator cuff. Crazy thing is, health care’s free in Costa Rica, but you have to wait in alphabetical order. So my name’s Montano. I had to wait three months in this hospital bed because if I left the hospital, I’d lose my bed and my slot for surgery. So I basically lived in this hospital for three months and real shit, they had no more room for broken bones, so they put me with people who were really sick. Cancer patients, people with stab wounds. I’m not gonna lie, I’ve seen like five people die in front of me, just from my hospital bed. Some dude with colon cancer died. His whole family came down and he passed away. One day, there was an earthquake and this guy in front of me had a heart attack and died. It was pretty fucking brutal man, it was one of the gnarliest experiences I’ve had. And I was still in high school, so I had to do all my homework in my hospital bed.” Before I can even contemplate how crazy the situation is, Sammy continues. “So I had the surgery, left the hospital two days after and I had like this pin holding my humerus bone together. So my dumbass decides to do a tre flip on my friend’s board, I land in primo, fall back, and when I stand up, the pin’s moved in my arm. So I’m like, ‘Ah man!’ and go back to the hospital. No shit. Another three months. I basically lived in this hospital for six months.”
It probably explains why Sammy’s so eager to make the most of every moment he can. As we end the day with Mexican food and a cold beer, I ask Sammy what his goal is. “Shit, I don’t know. Just keep skating, I guess. Keep growing. Keep doing a good job. Just keep going. It kinda saved me, y’know? I mean, if it wasn’t for skating, I’d probably be a pile. I had a bit of a drinking problem when I was younger, so I’d probably be going down that route. It goes back to what I was saying about these kids. I mean, it’s so easy to stop skating or just chill for a couple of months or whatever. That’s fine when you’re injured, but I know guys who aren’t injured and aren’t skating. I can’t do that shit. I just wake up and wanna go skate.”