Words & Photography: Atiba
I have watched Nak grow from a kid to man with a determination, focus and drive that show he's just getting started. Meet Na-Kel, the man.
Where are you from?
Los Angeles, California. The real LA.
When did you start skating?
5th Grade. Baker 3 was out so it was after 2005.
What got you into skating?
Staying outta trouble, mainly. That’s what kept me skating. I went to Valley View Elementary School in the Hollywood Hills. Everyone used to skate the bump over tables. I used to bus from my house to there by myself in 5th grade.
You prob saw some shit?
How did you get your first board?
The first board that I got that was like a real skateboard was from my uncle Kareem.
And that’s Kareem Campbell, right?
Kareem Campbell, yes.
Was he a big inspiration to you skating?
No. You know who took me skating though, KATCH, from Natural Concept. Cause that’s my dad’s homie too. I remember when they were filming for Illegitimate Bastard Child Part 2. That was my first time having a van experience. I fully rolled the fuck outta my ankle trying to kickflip that seven stair by Santa Monica triple set where that shoot out ledge is at. Then we went night skating; we went to the courthouse before it was a skatepark. I was all hyped!
Did you ever think, “I want to be a Pro skater.” Is that something you wanted to do?
Hell yeah. It was always something I wanted to do.
What was it that you thought you had to do?
I just wanted to skate all the time. I love skating. When you love something you figure out everything about it. So I wasn’t just skating like, “Oh this is fun.” I was skating but I was learning about it. I was learning who the people are. Learning the levels of skaters. And then I started seeing the tricks. And you got your favorite skaters and people you wanted to be like. And then you get to a point where you’re kinda good so then you take that talent and you try to figure out how to live from it.
That’s what I was doing so that I don’t have to get a real job: I got sponsored, and get paid. And then I could travel. I’m an extremist so whatever I do I want to do it the best that I can possibly do it.
Pop shove-it. Los Angeles, California.
And that takes hard work, yeah?
Hell yeah, that takes hard work. That takes starving. Doing shit that you don’t ever really wanna do sometimes.
The cool thing about you is that you’re always really positive. Has that always been the case?
I’ve been through hell. I done seen and been privy to a lot of shit early that I wasn’t supposed to. I dabbled a little bit in some bullshit but it didn’t get ahold of me. I was smart about it. I realized what path I was going down and decided not to do that. The reason for that is because I wasn’t just living aimlessly; I was trying to be a Pro skater.
I did some graffiti for a little bit in middle school; I was going around trying to get up in shit. Then when I started needing money and stuff I started doing other shit, and I was like, I can’t do this. ‘Cause if I get caught up for this, you can’t skate in prison at all. So I was just like, Let me stay in my lane. If you stay in your lane then there will never be any traffic.
Was there anyone who guided you?
I was never really under anybody’s wing, but there were a lot of people who would drop gems. I guess a lot of people told me that they never really worried about me. They always knew I was gonna do what I wanted to do, I guess—it just was part of my character.
I just learned more from watching. Dudes at Supreme helped me a lot just learning etiquette, as far as how I ask for something. How to be around different people and not be annoying. Most of the time if you just sit back and watch, your question will be answered before you have to ask it. Just being in the world.
Like you said it’s really smart because you gotta pay attention and learn from other people.
I look at that all the time. Especially like, ‘cause I’m around so many different people that I’ll look and talk to Mikey or Dill about running a company. And then I’ll talk to Thebe or I’ll watch Tyler make a beat and see how he makes a song. I’ll really listen to certain songs. Looking at it deeper than like, “Oh this is an enjoyable song.” I’m like, “Whoa that flow pattern was weird and shit.”
What are other things you’re into besides skating?
I like music. I kind of like rapping ‘cause it’s like poetry and shit, you get to tell a story. It’s fun.
And you’ve done a lot of rapping. You’re part of Odd Future, right, so you’ve done tours.
Yeah, I toured with Thebe for a whole year and it was gnarly. But it was really fun and I really liked it a lot and it made me want to make music ‘cause I wanted to go on my own tour and have shows. I guess making the music is the hard part.
You were with REAL first. Did you do a lot of tours with them?
Yeah, I went on a few trips with them. We went to Atlanta and Florida. That was so sick; I’m so appreciative of those times. I’ve done most of my traveling with adidas.
Who was your first sponsor?
I think that I got on Supreme, or was it REAL? It was either REAL or Supreme.
Was there anyone who helped you get on Supreme?
I kinda got myself on Supreme by just being there all the time. And always just showing them all my footage and shit. For a while that’s where I’d always go to get boards so I wouldn’t have to pay for them, but they weren’t gonna just give them to me if I wasn’t like skating them and shit. So I always go, “Well I got this clip or I got this clip.” Chima helped me out a lot. While he lived out here they were filming for Propeller. I was in the van with them all the time and shit, that helped me. Around that time is when people started respecting me as a skateboarder.
You do a lot of different things: you rap, you model, you skate. Has all that stuff influenced you in one way?
It’s all of these things that make me me. I’ve tried to define myself before, like, “I am a skateboarder that also does other shit.” I think skateboarding helps me do all those other things because it exposed me to the world, you know. I wouldn’t be able to rap if I didn’t spend time actually rapping while skating from this bus stop to my house, or my house to my friend’s house. When I’m skating by myself, if I have headphones or not, I’ll just rap. That’s why I’m like, not like the worst at it, ‘cause I guess I practice it at least a little bit.
What do friendships mean to you?
They mean everything to me. My friends are my support system and people that I can really trust when trying to make decisions or just trying to figure some shit out. That’s like the most important thing in life. You gotta be able to stand alone but you also need a team. You gotta be very good at character judgment. You gotta be around people that make you feel good.
I’m very overprotective of my friends. And loyal. Man, what type of person you gonna be if you’re not loyal? If you just in it to do dirt, just kinda rat your way up to the top, that’s just sneaky. Sneaky shit is not accepted. I don’t like that. I’d rather you just be honest.
That’s what so good about skating—you can kinda see who’s that kind of person.
You can see that shit outta anybody if you got the right eyes. If you’re looking for the right traits then you’re like, “Ah, this nigga’s sneaky.”
Where do you see yourself in the future?
I have a lot of goals and my ultimate goal is to own my land and home, and have my family and a big backyard and a twelve-seat dining room table. A big family environment. And just set up my kids and grandkids for success so that after I’m dead and gone, my name can live on through my family. How I’m exactly gonna get there, I’m still working on that.
Coming from a skater when you do modeling or acting, compared to what you gotta do to get tricks, does that stuff kinda come easier or do you treat it the same?
It depends. Because before I was a professional skateboarder, I was so embarrassed and so shy about it. I didn’t own myself.” And then people at skate companies are like “Oh that kid sucks, he’s a fucking little model kid.” Talk shit or whatever. But now it’s like “Fuck are you gonna tell me?” I own it more. If I want to be in a modeling shoot or whatever, I’m gonna do that well.
When I’m 30 if I still wanna skate, if I still physically skate and I want to do it, I will love to do it. But I don’t wanna be like, “I can’t do this anymore but it’s my only means of income, so I gotta keep doing it. I want to do everything that my mind tells me that I can do.
Are there any skaters that really influenced you?
Dylan Rieder. Because he did things the way he wanted to do them. And he dressed the way he wanted to dress. That’s the only person that, even after I met them, had the same impact on me. That was like a true idol of mine. Even to how I try and do tricks, or what I consider a good kickflip, or a good 360 flip, or a good frontside flip like, Dylan. Dylan has the best one. That’s just like, “him is him.”
There’s other people. AVE is somebody who I really like being around and enjoy his skating because he like reminds me of me I guess. He’s almost 40 and he’s still killing it. I like the fact that he’s not short lived. Like, “Oh, remember AVE?” Nobody says that. He’s a warrior.
Backside five-0. Los Angeles, California. Photo: Muller