In the latest story for our lifestyle section, we catch up with rising skateboarder Manny Santiago, aka Manny Fresh. And right from the beginning we find out that the 22-year-old Puerto Rican kid knows struggle — from his early years living in the projects of a third world country to skating the streets of Lowell, Massachusetts.
As the young skater explains, skateboarding is his savior and has kept him outta trouble and on the straight and narrow path from a very young age. And this path has led him to much success so far in his amateur career, attracting big name sponsors such as Think Skateboards and Travis Barker’s Famous Stars & Straps clothing label.
With a buzzing name in the skateboard world, we decided to chop it up with the young Massachusetts bred skating wiz and he shares it all with us — discussing everything from his beginnings, how girl trouble lead him to picking up a board, the perks of having big name sponsors under his belt, and how he plans to keep moving forward in his career.
BallerStatus.com: You’re 22, you grew up in Puerto Rico … what age did you come over to the U.S.?
Manny: When I was 4.
BallerStatus.com: What was it like over there for you?
Manny: I lived in the projects, so it was … gunshots, sh** like that. Family everywhere. My grandmother lived near me in the same projects. It’s nothing different from any other projects anywhere else. Although one time I remember my mother was about to give me a shower, and there was some people going after my uncle, so they shot up where my mom lived. So, she threw me in the tube with my sister, and there was bullets going through the walls and crazy sh** like that. We almost got hit.
But after that we moved to Lowell, Massachusetts. It is a way better than how we were living before.
BallerStatus.com: When did you first pick up a skateboard?
Manny: At the end of my freshman year, and in high school I started skating.
BallerStatus.com: What was it about skateboarding that you liked?
Manny: A year before I started skating, in my town, they built skate parks. I was going through hard times … girl problems. I had a crazy break-up with some girl and I couldn’t deal with being at all the same places as her, so I had to get away from it. I made friends with skateboarders, thought it was really cool, and just ended up picking it up.
From there, it just took off. It’s my life now. I couldn’t get away from it if I tried.
BallerStatus.com: When you first started, what was it like learning new tricks and evolving from a beginner?
Manny: It was hard at first, you know, skating in my Adidas Shell toes and trying to learn how to ollie. It took me a long time to pick it up at first. But after I started picking it up, it became easy for a little bit, and then I started doing the harder things like kick flips, manual trips, nollie tricks.
For a while, it became hard again ’cause it was a whole other stepping stone I hard to reach and I had to push myself. In my town, my best friends pushed me to get better because they got better too. They would learn new, better tricks, then I had to do the same. So it’s just a learning process, and it still is today. If there’s a new trick, you gotta learn it to if you’re the sh**.
BallerStatus.com: Is there anything specific, story-wise, that stands out from your early days?
Manny: Nothing really. I mean, there’s all kinds of crazy stuff you do as kids. There’s fights, people trying to jack sh** from other kids. Nothing out of the ordinary really.
The other night actually, at the skate park [in Lowell], some kid got stabbed 10 times on the basketball court. A few nights before that there was like a 150 person brawl … there’s always fights there.
BallerStatus.com: Damn, so I guess the skate life isn’t all that different from just being in the streets.
Manny: Nah, not at all. At least where I live. It’s pretty bad where I live. To me, it’s not bad, but some people tell me it’s pretty bad there.
BallerStatus.com: You still live out there?
Manny: Yea, Lowell, Massachusetts. I don’t plan on moving anywhere else. I fly out, then I come back. Then I’ll fly somewhere, but I always come back. I just don’t see myself living anywhere else.
BallerStatus.com: What are some of your favorite skate spots out there?
Manny: There’s this memorial for Jack Kerouac, the author. It’s called Jack Kerouac Park, and it’s a bunch of benches. That’s probably the best spot in that town, but there’s a bunch of different cutty spots. At the police station there’s a bunch of drops, and downtown there’s a bunch of spots. You just gotta find them. It’s pretty cool that we have so many spots in such a small city.
BallerStatus.com: Now that you’re becoming known, traveling and all that. So far, what’s some of your favorite places to skate?
Manny: Every where you go there’s a dope place to skate. Where I could skate every day is our park, Haldy Skatepark (in Lowell). It’s like a skate park, but it’s not really one at all. It’s ghetto as hell, but that’s where we skate every day. I could skate there every day for the rest of my life and be happy.
BallerStatus.com: You are an official member of the Famous Stars & Straps Skate team, so tell us how that’s been going for you and how that came about?
Manny: Famous is insane. It’s a crazy lifestyle. They party big, but you have to put in the hard work. I was skating for them for pretty much a year before they [officially] put me on the team. I got in because one of the guys I f*** with at home starting being the rep for Famous and he hit me up about it. I know Felix (of Famous Stars & Straps) … he told Felix and he was like “Yea, I’m down for Manny.” Right away, three days later, they brought me to California for this contest.
Now, whenever I come out, there’s always these Hollywood events and these crazy parties, VIP … it’s a whole different part of the skate industry that I’d probably never see with anybody else. It’s insane. It’s sick, I’m so hyped to be a part of it.
Them and Think Skateboards back me the most outta everybody.
BallerStatus.com: I know you’ve won a few competitions in your young career thus far. So far, what win has meant the most to you?
Manny: I won a contest in New York at the Brooklyn Bank, it was a rail contest. That meant a lot because that’s spot is already famous and it’s rugged. For me to get 1st was crazy. Then there was this one in Minneapolis, Minnesota — it was a Damn Am contest. I won first for qualifiers, and I won the whole thing. That was rare for someone to qualify first and win the whole contest, so I was happy with that.
They all mean a lot to me because they all bring you to where you’re at.
BallerStatus.com: Most kids, when they are skating growing up, they don’t expect that they might go pro one day, and if they do, it’s a long shot. What does it feel like for you to be getting paid to live your dream?
Manny: I never thought this would happen. I never had in my head that I’m going to be successful at doing this, I just did it because it was fun and it kept me out of trouble. I owe a lot to my best friend Dave because he and his mom encouraged me to go to the contests, they drove me. Without him, I wouldn’t be where I’m at now.
BallerStatus.com: And your mom… I know growing up in the projects in Puerto Rico to being one of the rising skaters, she’s gotta be proud.
Manny: Oh yea, every time I come home from a contest, she’s so happy to see me. But she is just happy to see me living what I love. She shows off magazine photos to her friends and all that.
BallerStatus.com: As a skater what keeps you inspired to come up with new tricks or even learn new tricks?
Manny: You see certain things and you wanna learn them, but it gets to a point where you get kinda stuck. You’ll learn all these new tricks, and you finally get them all down, but now it’s like, “What do I do next?” For a couple months, you get stuck, but something will hit you and you’ll think of something new. From there, it escalates to other sh**. It hits me randomly.
BallerStatus.com: What are your favorite tricks right now?
Manny: I do a trick called a nollie flip feeble, a varial heel feeble. I started doing 360 shoves into stuff. There’s just a lot of stuff I’m doing right now.
BallerStatus.com: As a part of the Famous Family, what are some of the things you’re required to do?
Manny: They are really lenient. They don’t force you to do stuff. It’s more like you work hard to show them they didn’t waste their time getting behind you. You wanna show them that you’re one of the best. I just keep doing what I’m doing. Once you’re in, it’s like a family. It’s all love. That’s what’s dope about Famous, it’s a family situation. Everybody knows what everybody else is doing and we support each other to the fullest.