by Ellen C Warren
Rob Owens is not your average skateboarder. He’s a pro, with a capital P, Professional. He does not just slide smooth and easy down the street. He jumps his board into the air grabbing the edge of a bench or flying over whatever he chooses to put in his way. He could do smooth and easy with his eyes closed, or backwards. His style flips the board into the air and flips it while in the air pulling off stunts that seem to erase gravity.
He has been refining, defining and improving his riding style for quite a few years now. His dad gave him a skateboard when he was six years old. A few years into it Rob started learning about the skate scene, the culture. That’s when he began to learn some tricks.
Home was in the Midtown Milwaukee area in those days, near Capital Court. In recent years he has gone back and forth between there and Riverwest. He has been living here for about a year this time.
When Rob first came to Riverwest in 1995 he recalls that there was a huge skateboard presence. A skateboard shop was in business on the corner of Center and Bremen. It was standard for block parties and other events to feature skateboarders. Then around 2004 “it all went away, and hasn’t been around for awhile,” he says. “People still skate here,” he explains, “they just don’t have like a place where everybody’s meeting up and kind of getting the culture.”
“This time around, living over here I’m trying to get back on it, some type of way.” Lots of the local skateboarders are skating at a site over at Estabrook Park right now. But there are no spaces like that here in Riverwest and Rob would like to see that change.
“It’d be cool if we got something, even if it wasn’t like a skate park, maybe just a spot, an obstacle somewhere. Kind of like how they have those Little Free Libraries. [Private homeowners or businesses] could have a spot you could skate. Not like a park, like, maybe one obstacle they have set up. A flat bar, whatever. And when it was out people would skate it and when it’s not out they wouldn’t be skating it.”
(Now here is where, if you are as ignorant as this writer was of what real stunt skateboarding jumps, “grinds, and slides” look like, you might want to go online and watch a few videos. You can check out Rob and other pros at Grimeofficial.com to get a better idea of what he is talking about. One obstacle can provide lots of possibilities for performance.)
“I want to get the conversation going about it, people being active about it” says Rob. “You know, you might spend an afternoon with a buddy building an obstacle (for example: A two by two by four foot wooden box), a ramp, or something. And if people know it’s there, and it’s cool to skate it, it could make somebody’s summer, in this neighborhood anyway, with not a lot of places to skate.”
A big part of skateboarding is the scene, the culture. Rob suggests you look to local places and sources. The chain stores in malls do not contribute to the area, the sense of being part of the scene. They also don’t have a spare part should you need one.
If you or your kids are into skateboarding there are a couple skateboard shops; Sky High in Bay View and Phase II that moved from Farwell Ave. to Wauwatosa. The skateboard parks are Four Seasons in downtown Milwaukee and Cream City in Butler. Interested skaters can tune into events and contests through these local spots.
In 2003 Rob created his own business and brand, Grime Official, which sells skateboard decks, five sizes of skateboard wheels, and Grime Official Apparel. The decks are made in Wisconsin. He sells through his online store and is in forty-five shops. www.GrimeOfficial.com
Of course, he rides one of his own boards, and skateboards with lots of different people. He’s still learning and sometimes after he has watched that video over and over he still can’t figure out how it is being done. “He just defied every law… I don’t get it!” Interestingly, Milwaukee is known around the country for putting out a lot of good skateboarders.
A regular customer at Fuel, Rob is now working on a collaboration with the cafe to create a skateboard. Coming soon, the finished product will be a street board/stunt board with graphics that bring Fuel and Grime Official together. They will be available for purchase at Fuel Cafe.
Off the skateboard, Rob is a father who, since 2006, has raised four kids on his own. “I married very young,” he says to explain how his kids can be high school and college age. Jeremiah, who goes to Bay View High School, Robby, who attends M.A.T.C. and Matthew, an online college student, all skateboard. His daughter, Emily, plays basketball for Pulaski High School. He is also dad to a little two and a half year old, Claire, who lives with her mom.
Rob’s past includes two incidents of being shot, once twenty-two times. He lived through extraordinary injuries and a two-week coma to keep skateboarding and spreading good will and a positive approach to life. He is revered by his fellow skaters as not just a phenomenal talent, but also a great spirit who supports and inspires.
Keep an eye out for Rob and maybe you will catch him in action. And consider adding an “obstacle” to your terrain. You might just make a kid’s summer!