"A LOT OF MY TATTOOS ARE RANDOM—KIND OF WRETCHED, REALLY—BUT THEY ALL HAVE MEANINGS TO ME. AT THE END OF THE DAY IT'S MY BODY AND I'LL PUT ON IT WHAT EVER I WANT TO." - Stevie Williams
“Professional skater” sounds as if it would be a pretty easy job: you get to travel all over the place and get paid to skate. not so fast. At its core, being a great pro skater isn’t just one job; it’s really more like four jobs wrapped into one. Few people have ever understood this part of it greater than Stevie Williams. in order to be a successful pro you can’t just be a skater—you need to become an icon. Knowing this, Williams made himself a brand. he started his own skating and clothing company, DGK (Dirty Ghetto Kids), appeared in video games, fused the world of hip-hop with that of skating, and, when there was time left over, he’d get on his board and become one of the most respected technical skaters in the world. here, Williams talks about building that brand, the crazy risk he took to become a pro, and some of the ink he has that drives his mother insane.
INKED: How did you get your start in skateboarding?
STEVIE WILLIAMS: I started skating 20 years ago. From the first moment that I could land an ollie I knew that was what I wanted to do. When I figured out that you could turn professional and make money while traveling around the world to ride a skateboard, I knew that’s what I would be doing for the rest of my life. And I stuck with it.
How old were you when you turned pro?
I went pro at 19, in 1999. From 2000 through now I have been able to maintain a healthy 12-year career as a professional skater. I started my own brand when I was 22, called DGK. At that time I wanted to express my creativity that I had learned through skateboarding and my physical skills with my friends we handpicked to represent the brand. Fast-forward 10 years later and we have probably one of the most innovative street wear–skateboard companies that is pretty dominant over any other skateboard lifestyle company right now. It’s just hard work, blessing, and skills. We have a great distribution company and a good team that represents the brand.
Was running a clothing brand as natural of a fit for you?
I’ve always had brand awareness, but it isn’t just me in charge of the brand. I have a company and a partner to smooth the mechanics of the brand so I can go out there and work, promote, and skate. So the brand can have some legs.
Tell us a little bit about your signature shoe that Supra just released.
The new shoe is called the S1W from Supra. They asked for my input and I pretty much told them that I wanted a classic- looking shoe that not only has the Supra feel to it but also represents me and the shoes I like to skate in. When they brought that first sample to the table I told them right away that they nailed it and we should move forward right there. It’s super hot, it’s got about six different color waves. It’s a big high- top shoe. It’s pretty dope.
Obviously the shoe’s name—the S1W—are your initials, but is it also a shout-out to Public Enemy’s security detail, the S1W?
Kind of. I think that the feel of it with the black has a militant style. It’s an innovative brand that Supra and I have together, and the name fit. It’s a dope name that we thought totally represented that shoe.
Can you describe the creative process that goes into creating a new trick? Is it something that often happens organically while skating, or do you think about it off the board for a while before attempting it?
You have to think of the trick in your head before you go try it. You got to go there, skate, feel it out, and then try the trick. If it works, you work on it and film it. If not, you move on and try another trick. You need to be creative enough so that you leave the day with something healthy. Every day isn’t the same. It’s always a battle when you hop on a skateboard and go skate if you are filming or taking photos. If you are just skating for fun, then it doesn’t really matter. I haven’t really skated for fun in a long time.
That’s always a pitfall of turning something you love into a profession. Skating is always fun, but it’s still a job. It’s not a bad job to have, but it’s still a job.
How did you decide that being a technical skater was your niche?
Years and years of skating. It’s like basketball. You might start off dribbling really good and having a nice 15- or 20-foot shot. Yet as you play ball and learn ball and become more experienced, who knows? You might become one of the better three-point shooters in the game. You still have to start off with basics. Learn your craft and find out what you’re good at and improve your craft. Some skaters are good at everything while others are only good at a few things. Just because you are good at only a few things doesn’t mean that you aren’t a great skateboarder. You just need to practice that thing and make sure that you can dominate that skill. That’s what I’m pretty much known for. Being really good at the things that are more technical and being real creative.
Do you feel like your tattoos are another way to showcase your originality and creativity?
My tattoos are what I have experienced in my life. What I have and what I stand for in my life. A lot of my tattoos are pretty random—kind of wretched, really—but they all mean something to me. At the end of the day it’s my body and I’ll put on it whatever I want to.
What are some of the pieces you have that stand out?
I have a huge tattoo of a heart with my mom’s name and “I Love You, Mom.” On top of that, I have a scroll that a couple of my friends also have. I have “San Francisco” on the left side of my arm and “Philadelphia” on the right side of my arm. When I was younger, I went out from Philadelphia to San Francisco to skate. On my back I’ve got an Uzi shooting out money—a money gun. At that point in my life I felt that was what life was like. I like to share these moments and so it was like a party gun popping off. On my chest I have “Hard to Impress.” I have so many tattoos now it’s hard to remember them all. I have a bunch of DGK tattoos, a bunch of Stevie Williams tattoos. I’m not done. I just got another tattoo done the other day. It says “Urban Legend” in Spanish. I look at myself as a walking urban legend.
I haven’t given up skateboarding but I’m still walking with the stature of a legend. I’ve got my son Paris’s name with an Eiffel Tower, some family tributes.