From amateur to, professional, to team manager, to entrepreneur, Satva Leung has really made it happen for himself. He’s seen the ups and downs and experienced success and failure Through it all, he managed to survive the often fickle skateboard industry. We recently had coffee with Satva and got the full story. All we can say is that if life is truly a game, Satva Leung is on top of his.
48 Blocks: You’ve been in the skate game for a long time now. I remember first seeing you in early Toy Machine ads and Thrasher videos, how did you end up getting in the mix in SF and blowing up at an early age?
Satva: Well, it wasn’t that early. I moved down in ’94, when I was eighteen, from Arcata… from Humbolt. We used to come down from Humbolt since I was like fourteen or fifteen. We’d always come to SF. My uncle lived in the Castro, so I’d just stay with him. I would come down for the summers and skate Embarcadero from fifteen up until like eighteen, I was always down here. That’s how I kind of met heads. Then when I was eighteen and graduated from high school, I decided to move down here and go to SF State. I moved down and was living in the dorms, but basically I wanted to skate so bad… and moving down here, I was not into school at all and just sorta dropped out. What was weird was the day that I actually dropped out, I went down and skated Embarcadero and Jamie Thomas and Josh Kalis were there. I was just so psyched to be out of school and skating Embarcadero and was just having a good time skating and feeling free… and that’s sort of how it all started. Jamie was like, “do you ride for anyone?” Jamie was just starting with Toy Machine and getting it restructured, and he just sort of hooked me up from there. It all kind of worked out from that, dropping out. It was weird, it happened that night. There was no way that I would have been at Embarcadero skating that night if I hadn’t dropped out. SF State is on the other side of the city, so if I would have been in school I wouldn’t have been there and probably wouldn’t be where I’m at right now.
48 Blocks: Back when you were filming it, did you think that Welcome To Hell was gonna be as big of a deal as it ended up being?
Satva: I didn’t know. I mean I knew that Jamie is very… .Jamie knows what he wants and he’s very motivated. I learned a lot from him. I didn’t know it was gonna be that big of a deal. One thing that I wanna say is that Jamie was supposed to come up to SF and film me for like five months. He basically called me and said, “You have two weeks to film your video part, come down to San Diego… we’re flying you down.” I said, “I thought you were coming up here, I don’t know any spots in San Diego.” That’s why the majority of my footage is in San Diego and filmed in like two to three weeks. So, thanks Jamie. (laughs)
48 Blocks: Speaking of Jamie, is it true that he’s got a vault of footage locked down? I’ve heard stories that he has tapes locked up and won’t let anyone see them or touch them.
Satva: Yeah, Chad Muska 50-50’d the blue double kinked rail that was the two page spread for his Toy Machine ad, I filmed it that day with a fish eye. Jamie just took my Hi8 tape and locked it in a vault. That trick didn’t resurface until later, cause Chad quit Toy Machine and had a part in Shorty’s. It finally came out in Shorty’s, he somehow got the tape back, I still haven’t got paid. (laughs) Thanks Jamie, Thanks Shorty’s.
48 Blocks: Any good stories about Ed Templeton from back then?
Satva: As weird as Ed seems, he’s a pretty normal guy. Everyone thinks he’s weird, but honestly… nothing too crazy. He’ll try to take a photo of you when you’re going to the bathroom sometimes, but other than that nothing too crazy. I remember being in situations cause he’s vegan where we’d be in the Midwest and there’s no vegan restaurants and he’d be driving around for two hours and end up eating a ramen with no flavoring, just dry while we were all munching down Denny’s. Nothing too crazy, he’s just kind of a perv.
48 Blocks: So, I think after Toy it was Maple then Dynasty. How did that transition happen?
Satva: Well basically, all of you know ZA Pizza that live in SF. I was on Toy Machine, I was am, I was making a couple hundred a month which is not much living in SF. I was working at ZA full time, paying the rent, bringing slices home to Brad Johnson and Nikhil… the household was surviving off ZA as a lot of skaters still do. I wanted to turn pro, I was am for awhile and everyone was asking me. Then I got an offer from Maple for a couple G’s a month to turn pro. I gave Ed the ultimatum, I was like, “look, I got other offers, do you wanna do this or not? I’m gonna give you a month to decide.” He never got back to me, so I called him and was like, “sorry dog, I gotta make money to live in SF and I don’t just wanna work at ZA for the rest of my life.”
48 Blocks: Since we’re on the subject of ZA, you were one of the first people to work there. Whether people know it or not, I can probably name like fifteen skaters off the top of my head that have worked there over the years. That pizzeria in Russian Hill is pretty much skater run and everyone is like Satva was the first person, Satva got me the job there. How did you initially hook up with ZA and how did that end up being such a skate thing within the city?
Satva: Well, I definitely wasn’t the first because the person that got me the job there was Karl Watson, I think Karl was working there. Dennis McGraph was working there and I think he kinda hooked it up. Za has definitely helped a lot of skaters out, skaters still work there. I had to make a choice, work there and be am for Toy or turn pro and I had to get out of there and just skate. But it is great pizza, thin crust, it’s all about the Potesto.
48 Blocks: Let’s move on and talk about Judah for a little bit. How did that start and end and what was it like running a company by yourself?
Satva: It was a very good learning experience. I was riding for Maple then I switched over to Dynasty. I kind of always wanted to start something through someone, I didn’t know what it was, but there was an opportunity there. My boy Dave Flores up in SF was kind of wanting to do something too. We just put together some graphics and showed it to the guys down at Maple and they were into it. What’s crazy is that my boy Rich who was at Maple moved over here from Australia to kind of fix everything at Maple and make it run better. But the real guy, Steve Benson, kind of knew that everything was gonna go down in flames, but he didn’t really tell Rich that. Benson started 88 Footwear which is now Vox. So, he kind of knew he was bouncing, but at the same time they did give me the chance to start it. I learned a lot about branding and marketing, but it’s funny that he knew from the beginning that the whole Imperial Distribution was gonna go down and still let me start my own company and get it going. It’s cool, but it’s tough man, the marketing expense that you have to spend on running a skateboard company is way too high… you have to do ads, you have to do tours. If you don’t have the gnarliest team, good luck. If you don’t own a wood factory, it’s tough. Everyone wants the top brands, Alien, Element, World, whatever… but it was a good learning experience.
48 Blocks: Cool, let’s talk about music for a little bit. You DJ quite a bit here in the city. Are you making good money from that, how serious are you with DJing?
Satva: With Djing I make anywhere from a G to 3 G’s a month depending on if it’s a good or bad month. I love music, but it’s something that you can make some good money from in this city… that’s what’s great about it. I kind of transitioned more into promoting. There’s a difference. You can DJ for an hour, get hired to go DJ or you can actually promote the party. If you promote the party, then you get the door money and that’s where you can come up, but it’s also more of a risk. There’s positives and negatives between both. That’s what’s cool about SF, it’s real tight-knit and you get your crowd. I like doing little skate video premiers, that’s always fun. It’s fun, but it’s a hustle man. Its a full time thing, it’s nonstop, you always gotta be planning a couple months in advance. I’m all about paying rent with my passions… skateboarding, djing, doing videos, just having fun with it.
48 Blocks: Being that you’re a DJ, what music are you into?
Satva: I like a lot of stuff, you know. Of course Hip Hop, Funk, Soul, Dance Hall… I just got that lap top dj software. I was kind of against it at first, but it is amazing with all the free music that you can get. The only records that I really buy now are weird obscure Funk and Jazz, with all the new stuff you can just download it all. I definitely like a good amount of music, I like Blues… I play Blues guitar.
48 Blocks: Now you’re TMing down at Ricta and Mob. How did you make the transition from skater to team manager, and how is that going for you?
Satva: It’s all about the trade show. (laughs) I was down there and they needed a TM. I was with the right people at the right time and they asked me if I wanted the job and it was a done deal.
48 Blocks: Is it hard to deal with, all the skaters?
Satva: It’s not that bad, it’s just a lot of phone calls and emails. When you go on trips it’s one thing, but it’s not like we’re always traveling. I gotta say that I got the first Ricta and Mob articles coming out in Transworld, the New York article is coming out and the Toronto article is coming out. The old team manager for Ricta and Mob wasn’t really doing everything that he could, he was taking care of the team… but he wasn’t looking outside of that. They wanted someone closer to home. You know, it’s fun… it’s kind of like the same thing, you get to travel, you get to skate still, you just gotta hound skaters for photos and footy. You still travel and get paid for it, you still get to go and pillage the warehouse, that’s always nice. As far as the transition, I was already with Judah and that went under, well I sold the name to Vision and then right after that I was at the trade show and boom, they asked me if I wanted a job. It’s all who you know in the industry, you know how it is.
48 Blocks: I know that you still got the skills, are you at all still interested in skating professionally or is that phase in your life behind you?
Satva: Nah man, I’m definitely not into like… you know, Hustle Jamie is trying to put a board out and I’m like “calm down Jamie, calm down.” (laughs) I’d rather just skate for fun. Like I said, being team manager I still get all the free product and still get to travel, but you don’t have the pressure. I mean it’s gnarly nowadays, you know how it is. Kids are no joke, you gotta be on top of your game man… so I’d rather just skate for fun and do what I’m doing.
48 Blocks: What’s going on with the Streets series? Are you making another video, what cities are you looking at if you are?
Satva: With the Streets, you can check out streets.tv, we’ve done SF, LA, New York, Toronto, Melbourne, and Barcelona… New York being the newest. Yeah, we’re looking at a couple more cities. They’re on Fuel TV and they’re sold through NHS and our own distribution. We’re just a travel guide for skateboarders for different cities. Next year we’re waiting to decide which cities, but I’m thinking it might be Atlanta, Dirty South, and possibly Tokyo… but we’re still waiting to find out and figure out what’s up, but yeah check them out. You can get them at FTC.
48 Blocks: So what other projects are you working on. I know you have a clothing line with your wife called Kleome.
Satva: Handbag line. It’s called Kleome. Me and Karen always wanted to start something together, she’s an artist. We went to a couple trade shows and we were looking around, like these fashion trade shows like Agenda… it’s all t-shirts, it’s so saturated with t-shirts and there’s not really a bunch of handbag companies pushing art on their bags. They kinda are starting to now, but we always wanted to do something together, I’m doing all my projects and she’s doing her art so we collaborated together on this handbag line. We’re launching at Magic in February and it’ll be available at FTC, True, Lower Haters, and Shoe Biz… so look out for it. We got laptop bags, messenger bags, men and women’s. Check it out, kleome.com. Then another project that I’m doing is the watch company. I’m not gonna say anything about it now cause it’s not launched yet, but just look out for it… you’ll know about it, you’ll hear about it, ITS.
48 Blocks: Watch out for the watches. I remember maybe around the third FTC video, you had a whole little section filmed in Europe. You were kind of one of the first people that was on that hype that a lot of people are on now. How did you first get interested in the European skate scene and filming a lot out there?
Satva: I mean, I think it had to do with the whole Streets thing. We were covering different cities as a travel guide and my wife Karen is from France, so we’d always go over there. I was just over there and it was kind of right before Barcelona blew up, and I was like well, “we gotta cover Barcelona.” So we went there for four summers straight, which was amazing. It’s amazing out there, and it’s still fine out there… you hear rumors that you can’t skate, but it’s still fine. Europe’s dope, Europe’s the place to be man. People there live first before they work, while people here in America work before they live. I like that lifestyle out there.
48 Blocks: Would you ever move there?
Satva: Hell yeah! South of France.
48 Blocks: Who are some pros current or past that you admire for their skating and why?
Satva: Well with SF, I would definitely say the EMB crew, Mike Carroll, all the boys back in the day. Wing Ding (Mike Cao), that was definitely some of my biggest inspirations just coming down here from Humbolt and seeing the level of skating at Embarcadero was just so crazy. Seeing Mike York and Henry Sanchez just destroying it as a little kid and just fanning out. Once you sort of get in the industry and turn am and turn pro, you sort of loose that because you’re so engulfed in the whole industry side of things. I guess I would say that all the EMB heads were my biggest inspiration. Jovontae! Wait, I got a funny story from Embarco back in the day. One time we came down from Humbolt, we were probably about sixteen. We were staying on California and Presidio at the Laurel hotel and we skated all the way down to Embarco, down California street. We got there and it was probably the end of the day and there was only a couple guys there and it was winding down, but Wing Ding was there skating good. We put our bags right by the big three, or little three, whatever…. the little three now, big three then. So we put our bags there and were skating, and we see this video tape there. My friend, Jake Jones, who’s now the team manager at Santa Cruz, grabbed the tape and put it in his bag. So we had the tape and were still skating and then Wing Ding came back, you know Wing Ding… he was big back then, he still is probably now. He had his shirt off and was all flexing saying, “who took my tape?!” We were scared and didn’t say anything. Anyway, he skated off, but that tape was crazy. It was footage from the Powell warehouse contest. It was footage of like Tommy Guerrero , Jim Thiebaud, Mike Carroll, and Henry Sanchez all skating the Santa Barbara warehouse. I think Jake still has that tape, but when we got back to Humbolt we were so psyched, like “we got the secret footage!” (laughs) So Wing Ding, we got your tape bro, sorry.
48 Blocks: Jake Jones, Wing Ding wants his tape back. What was the first real set-up that you got?
Satva: That would be a Joe Lopes. Well the very first board would be a plastic banana board probably when I was like ten years old. But then it’s funny, cause my dad actually… I was sponsored from day one cause my dad had a computer store / skate shop in Fort Bragg, in Mendocino County back in the day. Well, he had the computer store first, it was called The Software Store. My older brother was real into computers and I was like, “what’s up with some skateboards dad?” It’s crazy right? He opened a shop up and my first board that I got from him was a Joe Lopes with Kryptos and we did the whole griptape. My second board was a Tommy Guerrero with the knife and the flames and I remember cutting out all the flames and the knife. That was cool, thanks pops.
48 Blocks: Let’s talk about your filming career a little bit. A lot of people probably don’t know this, but I know that you used to make the Thrasher videos pretty early on when those started and have probably been filming and editing longer than a lot of people have been skating. How did you get started with that?
Satva: I gotta thank Mr. Renwick if you’re out there. I grew up in Arcata and they had this multimedia class. It was great, it was the last two periods of the day, twelve to two. They had video equipment. It was kinda labeled as the easy class, you know it’s Humbolt, there’s stoners in there and they just make claymation videos all day long. I really gotta give it up to him cause that’s when I first started filming. We could actually get credit, go skate during class, go film and the teacher was all about teaching you not only developing stuff that you like to do, but trying to make something with it. We would make these sponsor me videos in class and send them out, and we actually got some responses from people. Counterfeit Skateboards called me back, but the teacher was psyched on that. He’s trying to teach you real world stuff. We learned to do basic editing there, they had a Hi8 deck-to-deck. We learned how to do basic filming, that’s pretty much what started us being little video rats. Then moving down to the city I met Bryce and he hooked me up with the job at Thrasher. But yeah man, I don’t think I’d be where I’m at if it wasn’t for that high school teacher, Mr. Renwick.
48 Blocks: Awww, that was heart-warming. (laughs) Okay, you’ve watched the city change a lot over the last twelve or thirteen years since you moved down here. How is it different now from back then?
Satva: There’s more lofts. (laughs) You know, I don’t know… everyone’s older and married with kids, everyone has real jobs now. Honestly, I don’t think it’s changed a whole lot. There was that whole dotcom craze, which is the reason why there’s so many lofts now. It has changed, but it’s still SF… one of the best places to live, I love it out here still. Obviously it’s different from the early 90’s when it was the Embarcadero heyday, the mecca of skateboarding, but there’s still a bunch of dirty hippies on Haight, still a lot of skaters. More stuff is knobbed for skating, but it’s cool to see skaters retaliating and ripping them off. It’s a good open minded city, that’s what I like about it.
48 Blocks: Cool, I think this is gonna be a tight interview. Any closing comments that you wanna say to the readers?