Most skateboarders have to contend with security guards or local police officers when they are using a spot outside of a designated park.
It’s not often, though, that fictional police officers get in the way.
But that was the case for Spokane professional skateboarder Nathan Vitale. During a trip to New York City – his favorite place to skate – Vitale was locked in a battle of wills between himself and a concrete “hubba” ledge. Vitale had tried his desired trick – a 360 flip into a dark slide – hundreds of times the prior night and had to be pulled away by his friends.
“One thing that is great about New York is that you can scream at the top of your lungs,” Vitale said. “You can scream at the top of your lungs because you’re frustrated.”
Cameras and several actors greeted Vitale the next day. Confused, Vitale was told an episode of “Law & Order” was being filmed, but they were on a lunch break and he had 45 minutes.
Vitale landed his trick with five minutes to spare.
So goes the life of a professional skateboarder, or any skateboarder for that matter. Doing something on a ledge no rational human would think to do. Rethinking basic architecture. Viewing the world differently from most of the population.
Vitale, a Spokane native and graduate of Shadle Park High School, became a professional in February . His board sponsor is a brand named The Space Program, founded in 2015 by former Spokane resident Sebastian Lopez. Along with Vitale, fellow Spokanites Austin Visintainer, Elijah Curd, Jordan Rosales, Alex Alaniz and Brian Lupcho ride for The Space Program.
“There is a lot of good talent in Spokane when it comes to skateboarding,” Lopez said.
In addition to The Space Program, Vitale’s shoe sponsor is Etnies – a legacy brand that has been active since 1986. Vitale is also sponsored by Ace Trucks, Orbs Wheels, Roughneck Hardware, Black Gold Grip Tape and Tactics, a skate shop in Portland.
It was his former skate shop sponsor Pistole where Vitale was surprised with his own pro model skateboard in February.
The sponsors are nice, sure, but Vitale is a true skateboarding purist. He’s not a contest skater. Like others who participate in action sports, skateboarders are typically unconcerned with who the winner was. It’s as if the prime objective of a basketball game wasn’t who won but who made the flashiest pass, pulled off the best dribble combination or finished the best dunk. Somehow, completing a trick after hours of grueling tries can be just as rewarding as a gold medal or trophy.
“I really like progressing skateboarding and trying to think of new things or think of ways maybe somebody hasn’t done or think of a trick nobody’s ever done before,” Vitale said. “If I could make skateboarding just increase just a little bit of it’s difficulty, that’s what I’m aiming for.”
Vitale said he received his first skateboard from his grandfather when he was around 5 or 6. Unfortunately, after his mother found him practicing without a helmet , Vitale ditched his first board into some bushes and was unable to find it later. Vitale was gifted another board a few years later at Christmas and then at 12 years old, after moving to Blacksburg, Virginia, for a spell and living near a local skatepark, Vitale was hooked for life.
Vitale later returned to Spokane and graduated from Shadle Park. Ball and net sports weren’t his thing. He did, however, enjoy track and field, specifically the jump events and pole vault. Something about flying through the air agreed with him.
Despite enjoying his time on the track team, it was always skateboarding first for Vitale. He started in front of his house practicing on the flat land and a small rail before venturing out into Spokane’s skateboard scene and the park at Dwight Merkel Sports Complex. Now 24 , Vitale said he knew he wanted to push to become a professional when his talent began to match his desire.
“The idea of a job when I was a kid was not the most fun thing to me,” he said. “So I was like, ‘You’re telling me if I get good enough at this thing, this could be my job?’ and I just kind of stuck to it. As long as I’m having fun, I’m going to keep progressing, and then maybe at one point those two things will meet up.”
The path to becoming a professional skateboarder isn’t linear. For Vitale, it isn’t just about being good at skateboarding. To him, and his teammates, it’s about being a good person and, unconventionally, performing outside of a skatepark. Somebody has to see something in you, and for Vitale, that somebody was Lopez.
“He is extremely creative as a skateboarder,” Lopez said. “He’s not pro because he’s my friend. He’s pro because he’s an exceptional skateboarder.”
Skateboarding has allowed Vitale to travel across the country, from New York to Atlanta. He’s especially excited about a trip to Barcelona, Spain, next year. For now, Vitale is working on a graphic design certificate through an online program from Clark College in Vancouver, Washington. He also has his associate’s degree from Spokane Falls Community College.
In the future, Vitale hopes to design his own skateboards.
Even though he has traveled to places where skating is, perhaps, more welcomed, Vitale still has love for the Spokane scene that made him who he is today.
“I’m really happy that I grew up in Spokane and experienced it the way that I did, personally,” he said.
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