Stevie Williams: Renegade, Pt 1

You don’t have to just grind – you can skate out of the hood too. North Philadelphia’s skateboard dynamo Stevie Williams has been doing just that since turning pro as an adolescent. Fine tuning his trade in Philly’s infamous Love Park [where skating is now banned], Williams quickly ascended to be one of street skating’s […]

You don’t have to just grind – you can skate out of the hood too. North Philadelphia’s skateboard dynamo Stevie Williams has been doing just that since turning pro as an adolescent. Fine tuning his trade in Philly’s infamous Love Park [where skating is now banned], Williams quickly ascended to be one of street skating’s premier athletes, regardless of his race. His career has seen him run the gamut from being homeless to amassing a long list of sponsors that enabled him to keep a crib in Los Angeles-and purchase one for his mother-where he now spends most of his time.

Stevie’s latest coup is becoming the first pro skater on Reebok’s roster, which includes Allen Iverson, Jay-Z and 50 Cent. The deal entails Reebok distributing Williams’ DGK line of kicks and clothing. Surely the haters will come out of the woodwork to throw salt in his game, but the laid back brother plans on steamrolling right over them. Alternatives brings you the exclusive on Stevie’s rise to the top of a game that few expected him to win. Alternatives: What made you start skateboarding and not some other sport?

Stevie: Since I was young everybody loved running around, recess and all that. [I] played basketball, I ran track for school. I moved to West Philly [and] kept getting into fights cause I was from North or whatever, the projects. So instead of going down to play ball one day and rumbling, I went up the other way. I saw these three kids on a porch. Two of the kids were skaters [and] they were trying to teach the other dude to skate. As I’m walking past they’re like, “I bet you he can learn before you.”

AHHA: Are these white kids or Black kids?

Stevie: These are Black kids from my hood. I learned how to ollie right there. It wasn’t the biggest ollie but I got off the ground.

AHHA: How many tries before you got it?

Stevie: About four or five. That’s equivalent to somebody showing you how to shoot a three pointer, you like ten, wanting possibly to be a basketball player, you make it, you hooked on basketball. I learned how to ollie I was hooked on skateboarding. I’ve been skating ever since. I left basketball. I left running track. I left homework. I was just in it to skate. By 8th grade summer I was already sponsored.

AHHA: Damn, that was pretty quick wasn’t it?

Stevie: I didn’t know about sponsorship really. The kids that taught me how to ollie, they were always talking about they went downtown, this place called Love Park. So I skated down there one day by myself, from 40th Street all the way down to 15th Street. It was like 50 skaters; Black, white, Asian, Puerto Rican, Indian and it wasn’t even Black no more. Ya know, you from the hood it’s all Black, when I went down there it was different and everybody was just skating, drinking from the same cup and all crazy kind of stuff. I was like, “Yeah, this is where I wanna be at.”

AHHA: Who was your first sponsor and how did you get down with them?

Stevie: Element. Some skaters from New York came down to Philly, cause everybody heard of Love Park, and they saw me skating. Dude asked me who’s giving me stuff. I’m like, “Nobody.” He was like, “Well, let me get your address.” He gave me a board right there. I didn’t think nothing of it; you want to send me some free stuff, then hook it up. I remember like three days later I’m coming home, I go straight to the kitchen to go cook something to eat, I’m going back to the room and I just see this big UPS box on the couch. I open it up and it was just…five boards, ten shirts, everything. [So] I broke bread with all my peoples. If I had something free, we all pretty much got free stuff.

AHHA: You’re getting all this stuff because of your talent, but was it all good in the ‘hood skating?

Stevie: I got laughed at for skating. We all three got laughed at, called “White”, ya know, “Y’all corny”. To the point where I used to start hiding my board before I came back home. By 9th grade I was just over. I tried to wear some cool sh*t to skate in at school…man, I got laughed at 3rd period! It was crazy. So I dropped out, I ran away to California. I hitchhiked from Philly to California to turn pro and to be in a more skateboard environment. To be accepted and let people know that I got skills in this.

AHHA: Did your mom know about this plan?

Stevie: She found out when I got to Cali.

AHHA: Straight up, thumb up walking on the highway?

Stevie: Nah. [laughing] I got down to Washington, DC on Greyhound for Winter Break. Then me and my man was hitching rides, like asking dudes if they was going to California. Here comes one dude that just wanted to go. He was down to drive the whole way, and his name was John Wayne. We used his credit card and all that, I only had like 20 dollars. I only had one tape the whole way, Method Man’s Tical. I been coming back and forth ever since.

AHHA: Where were you staying out in Cali?

Stevie: I was homeless. I would stay on people’s couches, stayed up all night, slept in cars, hotel lobbies. It wasn’t “Alright I’m homeless and all day everyday asking for change and smelling like a wino.” It was [being] homeless with a goal. I’d go skate all day, but then I wasn’t the only dude that was homeless. Everybody pretty much kind of did that. It was just the whole skateboard community at that time, in San Francisco, was just large. But I had to fend for myself, no mom, no dad, no cheddar, just the street.

AHHA: Did the skateboarding help you survive?

Stevie: Yeah, ‘cause I could sell skateboards and product ’cause I was sponsored, but the checks wasn’t really coming in every month. It was endorsements and it was some money, but once I got out there that company got shook ‘cause my mom was going crazy and they let me go.

AHHA: This was Element?

Stevie: Yeah, Element, and I got another sponsor and they was like, “Look, we ain’t trying to go through what you put that other team through.” Like here go some money, we’ll pay for your ticket back home, to Philly. That’s when I came home. All the money that I hustled up on the street and that they gave me, I just went home and gave it to my mom. That was like four months after I ran way. I was on a team back and forth, California, Philly, California, Philly, California, Philly. I started developing who I really am.

AHHA: So at 16 years old you must be living plush with all this free stuff?

Stevie: I learned a lot that’s what it was. I learned how to travel. I learned about racism. I learned about a lot because it was at a point where I was Black but being called white when I came back to the hood. Then I’m Black and being called a ni**a with a skateboard. So I always found myself in the middle. I remember being on a plane like ‘Damn where do I fit?!” like really on some confusion.

AHHA: At one point you stopped skateboarding?

Stevie: I ain’t want to skate no more. I just had had a street rep. That’s the thing that held me back. Just wilding out, just not caring, being stupid, until it was nothing left. My sponsor went out of business. No other sponsor wanted to put me on. I was like “Yo, I give up I’m going back home to Philly.” I told my mom – she was in a basement living at somebody crib, roaches and rats. She’s like just come home and get a job. But I always skated at Love Park. I held it down, me and my peoples. My man Josh Kalis showed and was like “I’m trying to move to the city.” I’m like “Yeah, whatever.” Four months later he came back and he found me. I was in the subway with my man, drinking a forty. We were always cool [but] had a falling out ‘cause I just was young. I burnt a lot of bridges basically. But he came back to Philly [and] let all the stuff we went through go and was like, “Yo, I got an apartment and I want you to live with me, I’ll give your own room. All you gotta do is skate.” He gave me a key right there.

AHHA: What part of Philly was it?

Stevie: North Philly. 50th and Fairmont. He pretty much just moved up the block [from Love Park] but I was with him and I was his credibility up there in Love Park. Nobody would shoot through his pockets or none of that. “That’s Steve’s roommate.” Eventually I was back on my grind.