Photos by Alfred Ruiz
Manny Santiago grew up on the East Coast, lives in the West Coast, but reps for his native island of Puerto Rico. This geographic trifecta has fostered his infinite love of one thing – skateboarding. Now, the burgeoning entrepreneur and philanthropic rider is connecting the dots by giving back to his roots. We took some time to reach out to the compadre about his annual “Prince of Puerto Rico” tour and what it takes to bring it all home, both figuratively and literally.
MA: For those that aren’t so familiar, who is Manny Santiago and what’s important to him?
MS: Manny Santiago was born in Cayey, PR. At the age of four his mother relocated him and his sister to Lowell, Massachusetts where his father was living. Manny was always an active kid. He grew up going to the Lowell Boys & Girls Club and one day the city of Lowell built three skate parks throughout. Manny, a curious child, always found skateboarding interesting. Seeking to stay away from the gang-infested streets, he found his way to the skate park one day, only to realize that once he tried it, riding a skateboard would become his “oasis.” 14 years later, he’s now living his dreams in California skating everyday like it was the first time he stepped on a board.
MA: Where in California are you currently residing?
MS: After living in Los Angeles for six years, I currently moved to the “Valley” which is north of Los Angeles.
MA: So back to skateboarding, it was like love at first sight for you?
MS: Once I stepped on the board for the first time, that was it, it’s all I wanted to do everyday. Also, when I skated I didn’t think about any of the problems I had in my life so that’s another reason. Never mind the fact that I was having so much fun. I also met a lot of cool people. Skaters are dope!
Kickflipping in Ponce
MA: Who were some of your biggest inspirations when you first started?
MS: At first I didn’t know much, all I knew were the pros from videos my homies had. Somehow I got my hand on the “Menikmati” És Footwear video, so it was all I watched! Everyone in the video was amazing, but my favorites/inspirations were Ronnie Creager, Rodrigo TX, and Eric Koston. After that, the list kept growing, but my top three are PJ Ladd, Paul Rodriguez, and Eric Koston.
MA: Any favorite videos or parts?
MS: “Menikmati”, PJ Ladd in “Wonderful Horrible Life,” and Paul Rodriguez in Transworld Magazine’s “In Bloom.”
MA: One of the most renowned things you’re known for is organizing the annual Prince of Puerto Rico skateboard tour and competition. Can you tell us how that started and what your intention was for creating it?
MS: At first it started as just a skate trip to Puerto Rico for the *AMMO* Skateboards team. We had a dope year and I won some extra money [competing] so I wanted to show them my island and all its beauty. After telling Felix [Arguelles], the founder of *AMMO*, about the trip we kept bouncing ideas back and forth. I told him that I wanted to throw a contest to give back to the island’s skate scene and he said let’s make a tour with a contest at the end. Considering that the idea helped the scene and we would get to skate the whole island, I was super hyped on it! We just finished the 3rd Annual one which was amazing. I already can’t wait for the fourth one…
Prince of Puerto Rico 2014 crowd
MA: This year’s tour looked like the best and biggest one yet, even though it was plagued with a few injuries and setbacks. What kind of mindset or attitude does it take to still pull everything off?
MS: This year was amazing, it just keeps getting better and better! We had some ups and downs like Ray and Rio breaking bones and the van breaking down numerous times. At the end of the day we had to stay positive so that the trip continued, also so that we wouldn’t let down the people the got injured. No matter what happens, the show must go on type of attitude. [Laughs]
MA: Do you think that’s an attitude that skateboarding has taught you for life, or something that life taught you to bring into skateboarding?
MS: I have always been a “get it done no matter what” type of person but skating has taught me a lot of things. The most important one being, just because you’re not blood does not mean you’re not family. Skateboarding is my family.
MA: What’s most difficult about putting such an ambitious tour like this together?
MS: Timing is hard because everyone has such different schedules. Other then that, it falls into place. I surround myself with hard-working, respectful, and humble people.
MA: What’s the most rewarding part of putting it together?
MS: There are two parts. One, the kids faces when we show up and hang out with them. Two, the day after the contest when it’s our mellow day to relax, and just hearing everyone talk about the people, food, and culture of Puerto Rico.
Local student interview
MA: If someone wanted to start a tour from scratch, what would you say are the basic things they need to check off before beginning the journey?
MS: Get a team of people you trust and work hard. I plan it and get everything done a month before the trip. And last but not least, don’t do everything yourself or you won’t enjoy it!
MA: What was your favorite spot to visit during this past Prince of Puerto Rico 2013 and why?
MS: Mayagüez, all my good friends are there and they have two great skate parks within two towns.
Kickflip front nosegrind in San German
MA: Who made the logo for the 2013 tour?
MS: This Puerto Rican artist named REZ who lives on the island.
MA: If you had the opportunity to visit other islands or countries for a tour, what would they be and why?
MS: I would continue the “Prince of (Place)” so that it continues to bring awareness to skateboarding and youths across the world.
Product toss in Ponce
MA: Can you tell us about all of the sponsors involved and how they connected to support the tour?
MS: Most of the sponsors for Prince Of Puerto Rico are my current sponsors: Rockstar Energy, Flat Fitty Headwear, Grizzly Grip, Diamond Supply Co., *AMMO* Skateboards, Bliss Wheel Co., Andale Bearings, PSD Underwear, SK8HOP Distribution, and the Sheckler Foundation. Then other companies like Goodwood, Rastaclat, The Room Skateshop, Wave Rebelz Surf Shop, Xtreme Gel, and Mundo Rad TV. A lot of them helped with donations for the trip and contest prizes. Goodwood made the trophy board which I was super hyped on.
MA: If you had to describe the vibes in PR in three words for outsiders, what would they be?
MS: Dopest. Place. Ever.
San Juan cementary
MA: Puerto Rico as an island has a long history of politics and indigenous culture. Puerto Ricans in America also have a renowned history of achievements in entertainment and socio/political movements. Are there any heroes or movements that you’ve been particularly interested in or proud of?
MS: Any Puerto Ricans doing anything positive or striving towards their dream wether they are actors, politicians, athletes, or artists, I’m interested in and proud of. I’m just hyped to see my people pushing ahead and making a change. I’m super interested and proud of what Miguel Cotto has done for Puerto Rican boxers.
MA: For POPR you guys specifically created a “coqui” division to include younger skaters in this year’s contest gathering. What can you tell us about the legendary Puerto Rican frog?
MS: Yeah, we wanted to include a division for the younger kids since they are the future of the Puerto Rican skate scene. As for the frog, it’s been relevant to me my whole life. I even have the Taino coqui tatted on me. I know [the coqui's call] is an amazing sound to fall asleep to and that it wouldn’t survive anywhere else but on the island of Puerto Rico.
Young “coqui” repping Manny’s Bliss Wheels Co. pro model
MA: Even though you were born in Cayey, are there other cities/towns/parts of Puerto Rico that you dig?
MS: I honestly enjoy the whole island, but I really like Luquillo a lot. My friend Freddy owns this bistro business called “Pasta Y Pueblo” which is the best food on the island, no lie. People drive from the west to the east to enjoy a plate of his food.
MA: Okay so this is the part of the interview when we’re going to grill you about a bunch of Puerto Rican-themed novelties that you will have to pick from. Like Lechón or chuletas?
MS: I’m a vegetarian, but if I went back five years I would go with my mom’s chuletas.
MA: Pastelitos or Pasteles?
MS: This is a hard one, but since I like rice a lot, I’ma go with meatless pasteles
MA: Playero or Reggaeton?
MS: Ahhhhhhhhhhh, Tego!
MA: Daddy Yankee or Big Pun?
MS: Big Pun.
MA: Hector Lavoe or Eddie Palmeiri?
MS: Frankie Ruiz.
MA: Campo or caserio?
MA: Boxing or baseball?
MS: Boxing. Miguel Cotto.
MA: Bacardi or Medalla?
MS: Jugo de piña (pineapple juice).
MA: What kind of music are you currently listening to? Who are some of your favorite musicians?
MS: I listen to everything; oldies have been in the mix! Anything to get me hyped and jumping around. Always been an Eminem fan. I been bumping Hopsin’s new album “Knock Madness.”
MA: How did you come up with the name Manny Slays All? It’s a pretty cool title.
MS: Tony from Thrasher Magazine made it for me when I rode for his company Think Skateboards. Then I took it into my own hands and made it what it is today alongside the other half of “MSA,” which is SpanishMikeTV. Check it out at MannySlaysAll.com
MA: Tell us a bit more about your relationship with Felix Arguelles, your fellow *AMMO* Skateboards mate. How did you guys first connect?
MS: Well Felix is my mentor and good friend, he saw something in me that no one did. If you are familiar with boxing then he is my Cus D’Amato. That is one of the reasons I got on *AMMO*. When he started, I saw his vision and always believed in what he was doing, if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be where I’m at today.
Nollie heel down a 9-stair
MA: Who’s skating inspires you today?
MS: Everyone around me. Skateboarding in itself inspires me to be better everyday and not just on a board, but in life. My son Ocean is a big inspiration in my life now, I want him to grow up being proud of me and seeing that I did something with my life.
MA: I think the general consensus around the industry and folks that we know is that Manny Santiago has to be one of the nicest guys they’ve ever met. And that you’re always smiling? Why does everybody say this?
MS: Honestly I don’t now, I am always smiling though even with the missing tooth! I just treat people how I would like to be treated, my mom raised me right. I’m a mommas boy!
MA: Any last words? Quote that you live by?
MS: Smile while it’s still free.
For more on Manny “Slays All” Santiago be sure to check out www.mannyslaysall.com. And check out the entire 3rd Annual Prince of Puerto Rico 2013 tour video for in-depth look on all the action that went down.