Manny Santiago, skateboarder, on representing Puerto Rico with honour.
Read our exclusive interview with Puerto Rican skateboarder Manny Santiago to learn more about his journey to Tokyo 2020 and the inspiration he draws from Monica Puig and Carlos Arroyo.
M. Santiago Olympic Games Tokyo 2020
Skateboarding celebrity Manny Santiago can be identified by his trademark toothless grin, blue hair, and infectiously upbeat demeanour.
After Monica Puig made history on the tennis court at Rio 2016, the pride of Puerto Rican skating is poised to represent her country in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, where she may become only the second Boricua to win gold.
Manny, at the ripe old age of 35, has qualified to compete in the Olympic debut of skateboarding in Tokyo.
He said, “Today I have a dream, tomorrow I will have another”.
As soon as I’ve changed the course of Puerto Rican history, I want to move on to Paris in 2024 and, if I’m lucky, Los Angeles in 2028. People always tell me, “but you’ll be like, 40, or 43,” and I always respond, “So what?”
Right now, my goal is to skate at least to Los Angeles, represent Puerto Rico, and prove that hard work and self-care can take you far in life.
I’m almost 36 years old, and I’m riding and feeling better than I ever have before. I also feel like I haven’t yet fulfilled my full potential.
Here, in an exclusive interview, Manny discusses his upbringing, his influences, and the role his mother has played in shaping his life.
He also discusses the sources of his unending optimism and his love of music and dancing.
The Disney movie based on Skater Manny?
Santiago didn’t start skateboarding until he was 13, but now that he’s here, there’s no stopping him.
His mother uprooted the family from Cayey, Puerto Rico, to the United States, where he first tried skating at the Roberto Clemente Skate Park in Lowell, Massachusetts.
He jokes that it was “love at first fall,” and that it was this feeling that kept him out of the expanding gang culture. He says that his mom is the one who made this happen.
She led me away from potentially harmful situations and into a location where I could pursue my passions and realise my ambitions.
At the age of 14, he began skating seriously; by the time he was 17, he was attracting sponsors; and by the time he was 18, he had produced movies like “Everywhere We Go” and “Pound for Pound,” each of which has amassed close to half a million views.
Santiago’s unmistakable appearance is the result of him putting everything he has to his skateboarding, including a tooth he lost in a botched rail grind.
In his own words, “I have a full skate park in my back yard so I get all the practise I need for contests.”
Convenient for locking down in case of Coronavirus outbreak.
In 2012, Santiago beat off industry heavyweights including Nyjah Huston and Chris Cole to win “Best Trick” at a trick event. Then, not long after, he turned pro.
Even without the backyard skate park, he would have found a way to get through these unusual times.
If I didn’t have the park in front of my house, I’d put in a tube, a ramp, or whatever. Never one to dwell in gloom, I instead seek for creative solutions.
An optimistic outlook has helped him get quite far.
Consistently competing on the SLS Select Series, he made history in 2012 by finishing third at the X Games in Barcelona, becoming the first Puerto Rican street skateboarder to do so.
They now refer to him as “Manny Slays All” because of his ferocious skating and the wide variety of tricks he performs, from kickflip backsides to heelflip boardslides, crooked grinds to shuvit lipslides, etc.
You can trust that Manny will try anything once, and his crash reel will make your eyes bleed.
Santiago has brands and enterprises, and he is well-liked and admired all over the world; he hosts annual skate tournaments in Puerto Rico for men, women, and “coquis” (a type of skateboarder), and he does everything he can to give back to the community.