Skateboards the first Native-owned skateboard company
is championing these new concrete warriors, translating an ancient
heritage onto the silk-screened deck of a skateboard.
is nothing better than the feeling of pushing the wood under your
feet, the adrenaline rush of skating down stairs, or the little
accomplishment of landing a kickflip," enthuses Razelle Benally,
one of two female members of the Apache Skateboards team. "There
is nothing else that can replicate that feeling of accomplishment,
of knowing that you put forth the effort and skill to land a new
Navajo and half Lakota, Benally was recruited by Douglas Miles,
team leader and founder of Apache Skateboards, after he spotted
her dropping in the pipe at the San Carlos Skate Park one night.
Ranging in age from 11 to 25, the eight team members also include
Tracy Polk Jr., Douglas Miles Jr., Keith Secola, Reuben Ringlero,
Irwin Lewis, Tony Steele, and Tashadawn Hastings. The team is a
family affair: In addition to Miles' son, Doug Jr., Ringlero is
have been with Apache Skateboards since the beginning, when we took
our first trip to Cali to get our first batch of skateboards,"
Ringlero says. Based out of the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation
in Arizona which Miles calls home the team travels
the country doing street-style demos, hosting skateboard contests,
and teaching skateboard basics and safety at schools.
has emceed team events throughout the country, working with tribes
like the Gila River in Arizona, the Chemehuevi in California, the
Red Lake Ojibwe in Minnesota, and the Jicarilla Apache in New Mexico.
me," Ringlero says, "it's about giving back as a skateboard
company to kids who don't have many options where they come from.
The cool thing about skateboarding is that you can do it anywhere
a curb, a parking lot you don't necessarily need a
skate park. It is just you and your board and you're having fun."
Ringlero grew up in Komatke, Arizona, on the Gila Indian Reservation,
where he now lives with his wife, Deanna, and their 3-year-old son.
wasn't popular at all on the reservation when I started," he
says. "Everybody was into drugs and gangs and causing trouble,
and my friends and I just wanted to skate. Skateboarding has definitely
grown since then. There are skate parks now in San Carlos and Gila
River, and kids are starting to see the fun that we have."
popular in the '60s and '70s by California teens who developed daring
tricks in abandoned amusement parks and empty swimming pools, skateboarding
has always had an outlaw reputation. Now it has a new face
and a new design thanks to Miles, who is turning the world
of skateboarding on its edge.
channeled his teenage penchant for graffiti into a successful career
in fine art, creating provocative, graphic spray-painted stencils
that meld pop culture images from The Godfather and Apocalypse Now
with gun-toting Apache warriors.
it wasn't until his son took up skateboarding at age 11 that Miles
got back to the boards of his youth, necessity becoming the unexpected
mother of Apache Skateboards.
could not afford the full-color name-brand skateboard that my son
wanted at the mall," Miles says. "Indian people for centuries
have made a world out of the things around them pots out
of clay, bows out of reeds. I don't want to get all anthropological,
but I found a way to work with the tools and resources I had."
first design was a simple anime- inspired image of an Apache warrior
on the skateboard deck. Not only did his son love the board and
ride it around San Carlos until it broke, but he came home and informed
his dad, "Everyone wants one."
realized he couldn't hand-paint a skateboard for all of the teenagers
in San Carlos, so he saved up money from the sale of his artwork
and found a company in California to print the first 100 skateboards.
was in 2003. Now, in addition to the silk-screened decks, Miles
creates handpainted skateboards that are part of the permanent collections
of the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis,
the Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey, the Institute of American
Indian Arts in Santa Fe, and the Smithsonian's National Museum of
the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
sees his deck designs, and the team, as an opportunity to share
cultures both the tribal culture of the Apache and the tribal
culture of skateboarding. "Surfing was created by native Hawaiians,"
Miles says, "and was brought to the mainland in the '30s. Surfers
and skateboarders inherently are very tribal about the way they
do their thing. As tribal people, as Apache, we understand that,
and it is a perfect fit."
members of the fringe, skateboarders like punk and hip-hop
artists have created their own language, attire, movement,
sound, and art, which are often viewed as primitive, or unsophisticated,
or unworthy of appreciation by members of the cultural mainstream.
Native art, which is lauded when it meets historic artistic standards,
is often devalued when it takes a less traditional approach. Miles
thinks that it's time to recognize the aesthetic power of a new
kind of tribal art, one that exceeds all limitations.
skaters are all about forging a modern tribal identity. "When
I first tell people about Apache Skateboards," Benally says,
"they superimpose an image of us just being Native, but we're
not concerned about sticking to what's Native, or sticking to anything
that will limit ourselves.
generation has to deal with a certain identity crisis, about how
to break the mold without breaking our traditions, how to balance
my ancestral blood while progressing with the rest of the people
in this world. It's a hard thing to do, but through Apache Skateboards
I'm able to uphold my background and not forget who I am,"
she is is proof that you can't judge a boarder by the baggy clothes.
Benally started skating when she was 13 years old, but she stopped
at 16 to focus on school because she wanted to get into a good college.
She studied mathematics and physics, then became interested in filmmaking
at the end of her senior year.
went on to become a film student at the Institute of American Indian
Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and now serves as team filmographer
along with Ringlero, who got his degree in media arts in Tempe,
and filmmaking go hand in hand," Benally says. "Skateboarding
is a very spectatorial sport, a very visual sport. I want to capture
on film that feeling of landing a trick, that feeling of the wind
in your hair as you push faster and faster, to show it to others."
she frames her shot, watching a team member stand above the obstacle
he is about to 360 flip, Benally wonders what is going through his
mind. "I try to capture that feeling of Ollieing off, and the
emotion behind the trick. Because it is a special thing, and not
many people on this earth are going to know that feeling personally.
It is my job to provide the visual image to capture the emotion."
and Ringlero can be found behind the lens, and riding the ramp,
at the team's big annual event the Apache Skate Blast
held every spring at the San Carlos Skate Park. Miles' mom cooks
fry bread and beans for the sponsors, and the team hosts a punk
rock concert for the participants.
idea is to get skaters far and wide to come and skate and have a
good time," Ringlero says. "Hopefully every kid can go
home with a prize. A couple of major companies in the valley have
made donations, and that's how we get skaters far and wide, not
just Native skaters, to see what the reservation has to offer and
what talent we have."
hope to foster the talents of other kids by example. "We're
not your stereotypical Indians," Benally says. "We're
not your stereotypical kids in general. We're all different, and
we're using those differences to create inspiration and influence
for other people who may not know they have options. When we travel
to different reservations, the kids may be able to draw well, to
paint; they may be into graffiti.
in the society they live in, those talents go unnoticed. When we
come to those places, we let them know that those talents are worth
something. Because we all have those same talents, and we're doing
something with them."
Skateboards is unique," she says, "because we are combining
diverse backgrounds, talents, and different means of expression
into one embodiment. We are all, to some extent, artists and poets.
We all skate, we all care about progressing ourselves and each other.
We push each other to skate better, to make better films, to live
better, to live more interesting lives. You're not going to find
another team like us."
himself can't contain his enthusiasm for his team. "I can't
express how proud I am of them, but it is very nerve- wracking because
they are still kids. It's like herding cats. But I wouldn't take
anything for it, because they are artists in their own right. And
they inspire me to no end. They are Apache Skateboards."
he has concerns, too. About recognition and acceptance of new Native
art forms. About ensuring that Native Americans are able to own
their new imagery, without being culturally hijacked. About tribal
concerns for legal liability standing in the way of building new
skate parks. But people are taking notice, and skate parks are getting
think a lot of what we do will impact how Native Americans are going
to be viewed in the 21st century," Miles says. "People
are going to say 'Wow.' It is about a new Native American iconography,
a totally different way of looking at Native American youth in the
see more of Brendan Moore's photos of the Apache Skateboards team,
Artwork of Douglas Miles
to Davison Koenig, curator at the Dada Contemporary gallery in Tucson,
Arizona, the opening reception for Apache Chronicles: The Artwork
of Douglas Miles was one of the most successful they have had to
date. "The energy and excitement were amazing, and people were
blown away by his work," Koenig says. The exhibit, which ran
through March 28, showcased Miles' ability to capture a raw, new
Apache identity. After the reception, Miles conducted a painting
demonstration in the parking lot on a piece of found metal from
a local mining town. "Douglas walked [the attendees] through
his process and approach, and the assembled crowd gasped when he
finished his painting," Koenig reports. "A couple then
pulled up their brand-new Toyota Tacoma pickup and Douglas obligingly
stenciled a painting on the tailgate. The evening was without doubt
a smashing success."
goes with filmmaking like polyurethane wheels go with concrete.
It is as much a visual performance as a physical sport. Amateur
videos of Native skateboard teams proliferate on the Internet on
websites like YouTube, but skateboard films are growing up. Films
like Lords of Dogtown (2005) and Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001) about
classic California skateboarding have been successful on the Indie
circuit, and now Native films are dropping into the field.
Directed by Dustinn Craig (2008)
Shown at the 2009 Native American Film + Video Festival at the
National Museum of the American Indian's George Gustav Heye
Center in New York City, this short film explores how skateboarding
on the White Mountain Apache Reservation links cultures past
and present. Growing up on the Fort Apache and Navajo reservations
in Arizona, Craig began his directorial career making skateboarding
videos of his friends. His documentary Home continues to screen
through 2010 as part of the Heard Museum exhibit HOME: Native
People in the Southwest. He is also a producer and director
of Episode 4: "Geronimo" of the PBS miniseries We
Shall Remain: A Native History of America, which premieres on
May 4. Visit www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/weshallremain/
and www.heard.org for more
Like A Warrior: The Apache Skateboard Story
Co-directed by Douglas Miles and Franck Boistel (2008)
The Apache Skateboards team rolls past stereotypes about skateboarding
and Native Americans and presents both in a bold and innovative
way. Walk Like a Warrior will be screening on May 7 at 7 p.m.
as part of the Native American film series "Bringing
the Circle Together" at the National Center for the Preservation
of Democracy in downtown Los Angeles. Douglas Miles will speak
following the screening. For more information, visit the
Nations Skate Jam
Los Altos Skatepark
National championship of Native skaters held each year in conjunction
with the Gathering of Nations Powwow
San Carlos Skate Park
San Carlos, AZ
At the foot of a rocky mesa, skaters battle under the fierce Arizona
sun and punk bands like JFA, The Sirens, and Dephinger perform.
City Throw Down
Sacaton Skate Park
Hosted by the Gila River Indian community, the event features concurrent
skateboard and BMX competitions as well as music from local Native
bands. This year's event took place in March.
Full Blood Skates