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Friday, November 5, 2010
An American Original: Louie Barletta

By Mike Munzenrider
ESPN Action Sports

Louie Barletta: skateboarder, original, ukulele enthusiast?

Louie Barletta is an American original. Youthful, optimistic and sincere in the way he skates, Barletta is never contrived and always on-key. The past decade in skateboarding has been marked by a seriousness and a weight of intensity that Barletta served as the perfect antidote to. The light hearted way that Barletta approaches skating is a breath of fresh air to remind us why we started in the first place: because it's supposed to be fun. But Barletta and his skating that we've come to appreciate today had already been in the skate game long before he really broke out; in fact, before he "made it," skateboarding almost lost Louie Barletta entirely to the world of academia.

In the beginning, that murky time known as the 1990's, Barletta was living in San Jose, California [where he lives to this day] skating, and getting by. He explains, "I was going to college to be an English professor. Skateboarding really wasn't my dream profession at the time. It was just kind of what me and my friends were doing in between going to class and reading 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' or something." Asked whether his current closet full of corduroy and cardigans have something to do with his desire to be a professor, he says, "Maybe that is it. I wanted to someday smoke pipes and stuff, so yeah, I think it's totally the college professor thing."

Louie blasts a wallride stalefish from the hip into the bank.

While skateboarding wasn't Barletta's total focus back then, he was still eking by with some skate benefits, riding for San Jose based Sonic skateboards. In fact, it was pretty cool, he explains. "Corey and Gavin O'Brien owned Sonic. Corey was a pro from the '80's, and his brother Gavin was the lead singer of The Faction. Those dudes were amazing." Riding for Sonic was a badge of honor, of sorts. "The Faction was the biggest punk band in San Jose, and it was really cool to be a part of that, or to say you were going over to Gavin's house." After a while, though Sonic slowed down, and eventually ended. Figuring his flirtation with a little skate career was over, Barletta admits he thought, "Well, that was pretty cool."

Without ever turning pro for Sonic, Barletta could have been relegated to the dustbin of skateboarding's also-rans. In an alternate universe, he could have been teaching college freshmen the benefits of reading "The Picture of Dorian Grey" and smoking a pipe. But that was not to be. After Sonic folded, Jason Adams offered Barletta a spot on Black Label skateboards. Sitting on a curb one day, Barletta brought up the offer to his friend Jerry Hsu. Hsu then countered that offer with one of his own; to ride with him on Maple skateboards. While riding for Black Label would have been, "respectful because of Jason," who was one of the older, punk skaters in town, Barletta went with Maple, because his friends, Hsu and Marc Johnson were already a part of that squad.

Shortly thereafter, Barletta had filmed a part for Maple's video, "Black Cat," and found his way back onto the skateboard world map. Next Barletta began filming for a video for San Jose's NC Skateshop, a video that would be called, "Tilt Mode." Little did anyone know at the time, that video and the crew of fun-loving skaters it came to define would change skateboarding its own way by bringing friends and fun back into the spotlight's focus. And Barletta would be one of the stars at its center.

Barletta explains those times, "We had a house together—me, MJ, Jerry, Chris Avery, the dude who filmed ["Tiltmode"], and Matt Eversole." Sharing a place was a fertile breeding ground for "Tiltmode" ideas. "We all lived in one house, so the ideas were always there to be doing dumb s**t [for the video]." Barletta remembers, "I was the only one who had a working-class lifestyle. It was pretty wild back then, because all those dudes were making money off of skateboarding, and just wilding out every night. So was I—I was trying to keep up with those dudes, but in the morning I had to get up and go to work, go to school."

As history tells, "Tilt Mode" was a huge success. Barletta explains his explosion into skating's shared consciousness. "I've always just thought that this was some fairy-tale little thing; like, 'Ok, yeah Jerry, thanks. I'm going to get on Maple now.' And then Marc is like, 'alright, we're doing Enjoi, you're on.' Cool, thanks. 'Alright, you're pro.' OK, cool." He takes a breath, and continues, remembering that he'd thought, "This is cool, but, this isn't real. My life is not ... there's more to this than this silly little toy. That's all I could think of it as. It never really sunk in that this was a full-time gig. It was just what I did." For a while, Barletta thought it was nothing but a fairy-tale thing. In his early pro days he kept right on working a regular job.

A unique obstacle, a unique skater and a unique trick: Louie with a popped no-comply.

"That whole time I kept my job," Barletta recalls. "I was pro for three years, and I was already manager of the coffee shop that I worked at, still." Eventually, Barletta quit the coffee shop, but not because he was confident in his pro status; It was all about friends. By the time he quit the coffee shop, Barletta was the actual boss of many of San Jose's skate luminaries including Caswell Berry and Edward Devera. In fact, he says, "everybody who skated from San Jose worked there."

Barletta was in charge, but his travel duties for skateboarding made him feel like he was burdening his friends, making them cover too many shifts. "Who wants to work all day, then pull a double, because I'm in Australia?" he sums up.

Fast-forward about a decade, and the toy riding gig remains a full time job. Asked what makes for such longevity in a two-phase skate career, Barletta is quick to answer. "If you never slow down—or look back, then the future is wide open. Its when you start looking back that you start seeing how long you've been doing it for, and then maybe that starts wearing on you," Barletta says.

Barletta is famously guarded about his age. While a bit of mathematical deduction and study of late '90's skateboard publications could give one a rough estimate, he's staying quiet. When asked all he says is, "Next question, dude." Age not-withstanding, Barletta remains youthful, still living in a skate house with friends and ripping as per usual. As if to affirm that he can keep up with the younger crowd, he points out, "I can do switch flip crooked grinds, c'mon!"

"Louie has truly found a fountain of youth," says Matt Eversole, Enjoi Brand Manager and longtime friend. Either that, or, like the novel he alluded to from his college days, Barletta has a Dorian Gray-esque secret somewhere keeping him eternally youthful. But probably not. If anything, Barletta stays the optimistic and not-that-serious force in skateboarding because he's in awe of what skateboarding has done for him. "It gave me the entire world, I'm such a cultured person now," Barletta says. "Its not from a book anymore, its from real world experiences, that you almost can't get from reading National Geographic. Its pretty rad. I'm pretty proud about that."

Barletta keeps things fun and in perspective because he's always seen his skateboarding success as fleeting. He could have been an English professor or a benevolent coffee shop manager. Instead Barletta wound up the skater that frontside half-cab Salflips double sets and reminds us to have fun, too. He's never seen skateboarding as permanent and maybe that's his whole secret. "I always pictured it ending the next day," Barletta says. "So I just lived it up, and I'm still living it up every day."