Grinding the rails with Sean Malto at the Dew Tour

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Sean Malto. // Photo by Tim Rogers

In Iowa, they have a saying, ‘build it and they will come.’ Previously, it referred to baseball in a cornfield somewhere in Iowa. However, this past weekend it referred to skateboarding in Des Moines.

Build on the banks of the Des Moines river, the newly opened Laurendsen Skatepark is now hailed as the largest in the country and possibly the world at 80,000 square feet. Just like the saying predicted, they built it, and 330 skateboarders from all over the world came to Des Moines to compete in the Dew Tour DSM. Some came for a spot on the inaugural United States skateboard team.

Des Moines had it going on that weekend, they threw a good party. Whether it was at Ernie’s Boondock where there is always skate videos VM411 playing on the big screen behind the bar or at The High Life where you could catch the live feed of the Dew Tour and find the founders of Boarding for Breast Cancer (B4BC) partaking in the signature fried chicken dinner. In the East Village, you could watch some of the Dew Tour on a giant outdoor screen before wandering down the river walk to see the Iowa Cubs game (minor league AAA affiliate of the Chicago Cubs). All over town you could watch skateboarding. But for professional skateboarder Sean Malto, Kansas City’s favorite son, he was living it and had one thing on his mind. He wanted a spot on the U.S. skateboard team.

We caught up with Sean after his practice session in the street competition to talk about all things skating, Kansas City, and how weird the world has become.


The Pitch: Will you tell me about your origin story and your journey from amateur to pro skater and how it got you here?

Sean: I grew up in Leavenworth, Kansas. I’m 31 now. I started skating when I was 10, I have three older brothers. So I just always kind of followed them into whatever they did. Somehow skateboarding kind of fell into our laps. Um, and so I grew skating in Leavenworth, and then around 12 or 13, we just started to go up towards Kansas City because, you know, we were like skating, skate parks. And then we started to Skate Street and then we just started to meet people along the way. And I met a great group of people, Aaron Chalene, Matt Chalene, and Ben Chlumsky. And so I started skating for Escapist skate shop. With Dan Askew and Nick Owen and those guys really helped me put together tapes to send to sponsors to see if I could, you know, have a potential career in skating. And companies were liking what I was doing and they started sending me some free products and then it just grew from there. So, you know, that’s how kind of skating works. Companies send you free products. You keep sending them videos of how you’re skating their product.

And then when I was 15, they took a chance on me and took me on a trip. They flew me to Canada, Montreal, and I skated with some of the best pro skaters in the world that I looked up to. Eric Koston Rick McCrank, Brian Anderson, yeah, I got to skate with these people that I’ve watched videos of. And I was well, it was crazy. And I also knew it was a really big opportunity for me. So I just tried to skate as much as I could. From then it just kind of naturally happened. They were like, cool, OK, well, we want you to be a part of the team. We want you to just skate for us full time. And, you know, the rest is kind of history, started to make a little bit of money from skating and eventually got on Nike SB when I was 20 years old and now I’m skating for Mountain Dew, Nike, Girl, and Escapist. And it brought me all the way to Dew Tour. 

How do you think the new Lauridsen park compares to, say, Harrison Street? 

Well, I mean, this is a multimillion-dollar, ninety thousand square foot city bill skate park. So everything is to perfection here. Yeah, Harrison Street is, you know, the city is allowing it, which is great, but it’s built by skaters for skaters and so everything has its little quirks and there’s lumps and cracks, bumps. But that is what makes Harrison Street so unique. You won’t find anything in the world like Harrison Street. You know, the skate park here is amazing, but you’ll find these features in other skate parks as well or something similar to that. This just is a lot of it. And so it’s amazing. I’m really proud of the city of Des Moines to listen to their skate scene and the local community and actually provide this type of caliber park for them. But I’m also, you know, really, really proud of the skate scene in Kansas City that took it into their hands to build their own amazing, amazing place to skate. 

How does it feel to be competing for a space or a spot on the inaugural Olympic skateboard team? 

It feels cool. You know, it’s unique. It’s a unique experience. You know, I can say I competed for the first-ever skateboarding Olympics, you know, and if I make it, I’m in the first-ever. You know, there is history being made right here. And it’s incredible that Mountain Dew has come together to bring us Dew Tour to have that opportunity. I just think it’s cool and special. It’s fun too everyone’s really excited, everyone’s skating really well. 

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Lizzie Armanto. // Photo by Tim Rogers

So many kids are going to see the Olympics. How do you think it’s going to impact skateboarding? Let’s bring it home and just say in Kansas City, how do you think it’s going to impact skateboarding in Kansas City and around the world? 

I think it’s just more eyes on skating and more people that skate is amazing to me. I wouldn’t have done 80% of the things I’ve done in my life if it wasn’t for skateboarding. It has totally changed my life for the better. And it’d be awesome for kids to experience that, you know, it’s easier making friends. It is easier to exercise and be outside. And it’s just something that challenges you physically and mentally. And I just think it’s an amazing lifestyle to be in skateboarding. And so the more people, the better. You know, as far as, like, the skate scene in Kansas City, we have a really good skate scene and a really good skate culture. And I don’t think that’s going anywhere, Olympics or not. But, you know, anything to help grow that is is great.

How does the Dew Tour compare to Street League when it was in Kansas City a few years ago? 

 Street League was before Olympics, so it was, you know, the top 50 best skateboarders in the world competing and going at it. And so it was an elite event and it was in the Sprint Center, which was incredible. So Dew Tour is just a different type of contest. When you add that Olympic component to it, this is a hundred and twenty different skateboarders from around the world. You know, half the guys aren’t really known yet. They’re just coming up. And because they’re the best in their country and they’re here. So it’s a different event. You get to see a lot of different talent from around the world and people that, you know, aren’t necessarily household names but are really good at skating. And they’re making their way through the industry. 

Do you plan your runs in Street or do you just kind of free flow when you get in there and when you practice and then when you go to compete, is it a planned run or is it more improv? 

It’s definitely planned. You’ve got to kind of figure out your strengths and then how to navigate it and 45 seconds is not that long to squeeze in the tricks that you want to squeeze in. And so for me, the first practice session is all about just skating, trying to figure out the course, having some fun, figuring out what works. And then after that, it’s all just, find your lines, find the tricks that you want to do and then just hammer those in. So I would say most, if not everyone has a pretty clear idea of what they’re going to do, and improving is fun and it’s great. But you don’t want to get lost out there. Like, let’s see if I can make it to this obstacle. But you’re like in a time like this. Forty-five seconds. Every trick matters, every second matters. So you want to make the most of it. 

How would you encourage kids that may not be into skating how to start? What do you suggest?

Personally, I would suggest going to your local skate show. I think just go in there, tell them that you’ve never skated before, that this is something you’re interested in, and have them kind of walk you through that. You know, I think they’ll depend on your body type, height, weight. What you’re looking to skate. They’ll be able to outfit a board for you because the skateboard is so personalized, every single one of our boards is different out there. And then just go out and have fun, figure it out, push around, stay safe. I actually padded up for the first couple of years I skated just to kind of, like, figure it out. I do think, like talk to people, be respectful of people’s lines. And yeah, skate parks can be really intimidating. But everyone’s there to skate and skaters are generally pretty nice, you know. So I think, yeah, go to the shop and figure out what board and then just have fun and cruise around. And skateboarding definitely takes a little bit of being fearless, but you can do that in a safe way. 

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Oskar Rozenberg. // Photo by Tim Rogers

Where is your favorite spot to skate in Kansas City? 

Barney Allis Plaza is an amazing spot to skate. I know the city of Kansas City probably doesn’t want me to say that, but I do love skating there. 

See Red & Yellow? 

Yeah, exactly insert Red & Yellow. You know, there are some unique spots there, too. There’s a spot we call the slabs, which is a pool abandoned pool down off Gillham – It’s down off. Uh, it’s kind of right by Westport middle school. And, um, that’s really fun. It’s just an abandoned pool. There are a thousand different ways to skate it and a bunch of different lines. It’s just a unique spot. Uh, but there are some other spots that I hold really close.

I think you alluded to this little earlier with your story about when you got on Girl skateboard team and went on a trip with them. Who influenced your skating as you were on the come-up? What skaters did you watch? Who do you like to follow now? 

Eric Koston will always be my favorite skater. Growing up he was my favorite. Still is my favorite. Now he’s a good friend of mine, which is always an outstanding guy as well. But he just did everything very well. He skated street well, he skated contests well, his golf is great too. But I really looked up to him. I looked up to Rick McCrank. I grew up in the industry skating with Mike Mo Capaldi. And so he and I definitely fed off each other. And that, you know, I think my progression in skating and I would have to kind of credit him on that as well. So I’d say, yeah, those three, you know, locally associated with Joseph Lopez a lot. Ron Harper a lot, my friend Hunter Halmon. And those guys, you know, they’ll always be a special place in my heart for them. And, you know, they’re like family to me. 

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Adaptive. // Photo by Tim Rogers

How long have you been sponsored by Mountain Dew? 

It’s close to 10 years? Mountain Dew has been a great sponsor of mine just for events like this. I mean, they sponsored the Dew tour like this. This has been a huge staple in skateboarding for a very long time, as far as I can remember. And not to mention all the very amazing creative cool projects they’ve done in the past. They let us do this back to Kansas City project where, you know, my friends and I got to showcase Kansas City in a six-episode social media kind of platform to show the barbecue scene, donate to Harrison Street DIY. And it’s just incredible things that they do for our industry and for me personally. I’ll always be forever grateful to Mountain Dew.

What’s your KC BBQ spot?

I think if I’m feeling a little like I want I don’t want to take a shower afterward, I just want to get a sandwich and cruise around. I’m going to have to say just Joe’s KC Z-man. I love this Z-man sandwich. That’s one of my favorite things. See, in general. But if I’m going all in, I’m getting burnt ends, I’m getting brisket, pulled pork. I’m doing the whole thing… Arthur Bryant’s. That is that’s my favorite. Arthur Bryant’s that’s where I take people that have never been to Kansas City before and when they come to town. I take them to Arthur Bryant’s just let them see the whole vibe of it.

Thank you, Sean, for taking a few minutes to chat with us and talk about skateboarding in Kansas City.

One thing I should add, not to end it on a sad note, but RIP to Corey Lawrence, skateboarding legend in Kansas City and Escapist skateboarding. If you go to their Instagram, they have a GoFundMe to help his family get through this hard time. So let’s come together, help Corey Lawrence’s family as a thank you for all the great times and good memories we have of him.

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