When he was growing up in Puerto Rico and Massachusetts, skateboarder Manny Santiago just wanted to skate and do something he loved. But come 2020, Santiago and his fellow pro skateboarders potentially may end up on the biggest stage in the world when the sport makes its debut at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“It’s beautiful and exciting to me, an amazing opportunity for the world to see skateboarding for what it really is,” Santiago tells Men’s Journal. “To have the possibility to be there and maybe become the second Puerto Rican to have a gold medal, it fuels my competitive fire.”
Thinking back to his early days of skateboarding, Santiago is also excited about the fact that the Olympics will give skateboarding the chance to be seen in a new light.
“Hopefully it will help the sport in general and for kids everywhere who skate to be taken more seriously,” Santiago says. “When a kid says to his parents he wants to be a skateboarder, now it could be looked at in a different way. Sometimes it has a bad reputation for parents, and this could mean some major progress in that way. That would be exciting.”
Santiago spoke with Men’s Journal about competing for a spot at the 2020 Olympics in Japan, how he trains for his sport, and why he became a vegan.
Men’s Journal: What does it mean for you to see skateboarding making its debut at the 2020 Summer Olympics and for you to potentially compete there?
I think it’s an amazing opportunity, and can shine a light on how skateboarding is a great sport with some incredible athletes. It also will bring more attention to the sport, and it can bring the skating cultures in different countries closer together. It’s expanding the world of skateboarding, and it’s honestly an honor to possibly have a part in it. To be able to represent where I’m from in something I love and am very passionate about, it’s so humbling. To be able to skate on a big stage and be seen as something more than just a skater guy, it would be so special.
What are some of the ways you train for your sport apart from actually skating?
In the past, maybe up to four years ago, in skateboarding, it was looked down upon to train, because it was a street sport; just skate how you want, don’t work out. I always liked boxing, and so as I became more of a fan, I would train with a little bit of boxing. Sometimes I would go out on runs, but those hurt my knees. Skating is a very leg-oriented sport, so you need to be careful about that. I like to do small workouts, like 20 minutes on the stationary bike, 15 minutes of leg lifts, pushups, situps, squats, stuff like that to keep my body strong. The thing that helps the most is stretching; honestly yoga is the best thing you can do if you skate. I started doing yoga, I’d say nine years ago. I did it heavily for a while and it helped a lot. I’ve gotten away from it, but yoga and hot yoga really are great for skaters.
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Why did you decide to start following a vegan diet?
I’m 34 and I’ve been a vegan and vegetarian for nine years. I truly feel better than I did when I was 18. What you put in your body is huge to me. To me, it’s about being open to trying things and being open-minded. We’re all spiritual beings, I feel there’s an energy that moves in the world and I’m a firm believer that there’s no reason to be killing animals for food. It takes away from your spirit; the animals you eat didn’t have a full life, they’re full of fear, they’re sluggish, and then that goes into you. To me it’s a sad fact that those animals don’t have a chance in life, they’re born to die and made to be meat.
What else do you do in your nutrition to stay in shape?
I recently became gluten-free as well to see what gluten really did to my body. I would kind of cop-out when I had pizza or pasta with no cheese, but I decided I wanted to cut down on my weight to make it better on my knees. I thought that for me the mileage adds up, and if I could lower the stress a bit it would be helpful. I went gluten-free for the health benefits and I instantly saw a big change. Gluten slowed down my metabolism, slowed down my digestion, and I made the chance to try and be the best version of myself physically and mentally.
You’ve been able to skate all over the world. Which places have you enjoyed the most?
Anywhere I have my board and backpack, it honestly doesn’t matter as long as there’s something to skate on. Every place I’ve been has a different spot in my heart, but if I had to pick, it would be Brazil and Spain. São Paulo was phenomenal, and Spain is just great. In Spain there’s a great train system to get around, and the architecture and buildings are awesome to see. The way everything is built is great, whether it’s marble or something smooth, it’s a beautiful and fun place to skate.
How did you first get into skating?
I grew up in Lowell, Mass. after living in Puerto Rico, and at that time skateboarding wasn’t really a thing. Especially as a Spanish kid there, it was kind of looked down upon in the community. There wasn’t a big skate scene, but one day I walked by the Boys & Girls Club, and near there was the Roberto Clemente Skate Park, and I saw some other kids there having fun, and it caught my curiosity. It didn’t make any sense for me to do this, but I asked them if I could try, and I couldn’t do it at first and fell a lot, and so the challenge to get good at it took over my headspace. After that, it was love at first fall for me [laughs].
What’s coming up next for you with qualifying for the Olympics?
The 2020 qualifying season, which goes from September of this year into May 2020, is going to be hefty. There are supposed to be around 7-9 total contests, and that will take a toll. As skaters, we have to stay focused and healthy and be in the right mindset. Because of qualifying, it’s squeezing like three seasons into nine months. It’s good because the more contests the better, they’re like a big family gathering, but it’s also tough on skaters physically. I think it’ll be the most total contests in skate history in a single season.
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