Le’andre Sanders has packed a lot into his two decades of life.
Raised in the mean streets of Hawthorne, California in what could fairly be called a dysfunctional home, Le’andre the boy turned to skateboarding as a distraction. Over time, that distraction developed into a source of solace, and Le’andre began spending every day at the Venice Beach skatepark. When his home life got to be more than he could bear, he started spending his nights on the beach too. Things were grim, but they got better. A chance meeting with another boy resulted in Le’andre being adopted, and his love affair with skateboarding flourished into a career—which lead to the production of a documentary movie. And that brings us to the interview you are about to read. Monster Children sat down with Le’andre on his recent visit to Sydney to discuss the cinematic retelling of how he came to be, and the role love, acceptance and inclusivity has played in his exceptional life.
I don’t want to ruin the documentary for anyone, so I’ll be careful with my questions.
Ok. First question: where are you from?
I’m from Hawthorne, California.
Hawthorne is in Inglewood so it’s maybe 15, 10 minutes from LAX. I was raised everywhere in L.A., but I remember being with my family and kind of comfortable in Hawthorne. That’s when everything was kind of good. I got adopted when I was 13.
By a lady you met in Venice.
Yeah. Her name is Katie. So, I got adopted by Katie and moved to Venice.
And your dad, was one of the founding members of the Crips?
Yeah. My dad was a big thug in Venice. When I was a little kid, I didn’t realise how much power he had on the streets. People would be like, ‘Oh, you’re Lee-Roy’s son? Oh, wow. We owe you this.’ Or like, ‘Here’s some money,’ or ‘Here, have this.’ Random people would just come up to me. And sometimes it would kind of scare me because of, you know, what my dad was capable of. But yeah. He’s from Venice Crips. He’s a crazy one.
And at Venice skatepark you met a kid, Kevin (Bradley), whose auntie became your mother, right?
No, no, Haden (McKenna) is the little white boy that got me adopted. His auntie is my mom. Which is Katie, so me and Haden are like brothers. But Kevin was in our group. Kevin was always there, cause me and Kevin went to middle school together.
Kevin is like a big-time skater and me and Kevin met through family friends and kinda grew up together. And we went to middle school together until he got kicked out for skating off the roof, and he moved to Venice.
Wait, Kevin got kicked out of middle school for skating off the roof?
Yeah, at middle school.
What’s he doing skating off the roof?
Right? So, Kevin knew Haden in Venice, and Haden’s auntie became my mom. I was coming to the Venice park every day and they were like, ‘Yo, are you going to go home tonight?’ I was like, ‘Nah, can I stay here?’ So, I was staying at the house for weeks, and Katie was like, ‘All right so, what, you don’t want to go home?’ And I was like, ‘Nah, I hate home.’ And so she let me stay, and eventually became my legal guardian.
So, you had a really rough childhood and skateboarding kinda changed it.
Yeah, skating saved my life the second I found out what a skateboard was.
Tell me about your first skateboard.
My dad got me and my little brother our first skateboards from a shop in Venice. Tony Hawk boards. And ever since then, skating has been like my guardian angel. Skateboarding was, like, legit, and it’s still my guardian angel. It guides me through a lot. When I’m not feeling good or happy or whatever, I always have skateboarding. I just know. It’s real love. It’s not like, you know, a girlfriend that’s going to walk out on you and break your heart. A skateboard is loyal.
Speaking of girlfriends, you had a girlfriend in Melbourne?
Oh, yeah. Chantelle. She’s an amazing girl. I owe her a lot in a way, because I was younger when we were dating, and she took me in. She was older than me. We were probably, like, six years apart or something like that.
She was an Aussie chick who was in Venice and you met her there?
I met her in Venice on her last day before flying home to Melbourne, and then we stayed in contact. I would instant message this girl every day for like six months, seven months. The connection was so real. And then she returned for six months and then I was like, ‘I’m coming back with you.’
So, you’ve been to Australia before?
Oh yeah. I lived in Melbourne for over two years.
Yeah! That’s the reason why I’m here today. I have a little bit of Australia in me from me growing up and me dating Chantelle in Australia. She was my first girlfriend.
How old were you when that happened?
Dude, I told everybody I was 18 and I was actually just like, 16. I’d just turned 16. So, I moved to Australia when I was 16.
And how’d you like Australia on that first stay?
I mean, I found myself here. I feel like I found who I was and what I wanted in Melbourne.
Yeah. And I got really good here. My skating ability turned from like, notch fucking 10 to like, fucking all the way to 100. And when I got back home, I was just like… I didn’t want to come home. I love Australia so much.
Would you move here permanently?
Yeah. If I get the opportunity to work and skate and pursue the things I want to do, then I would love to fucking live here. I got so excited flying back here just now, I stayed up the whole 14 hours. And people here love what I do, and I don’t have to try to be something I’m not.
How do you mean?
I mean, there was times when I’d buy jewellery. I thought I was the shit. I was a big fan of icing all my money. I was obsessed with shiny things. I would spend like, thousands of dollars. And then I got robbed in New York. It was my first year in New York. My first time ever in New York, the second day. I bought a grill piece; I had 5K in my mouth, top and bottom, and I almost lost my life on it.
In New York?
Yeah, it was like, four, five months ago. I was at a Jamaican bar and I was just drunk, and I invited the wrong person to my room and as I was walking to my door and pulled out my key, he choked me out.
Yeah. You could see the camera. FBI was all involved…
What did you lose?
He robbed me of all my jewellery. He dragged me in and choked me out, then took my grills, rings and chains. The hospital people were like, ‘Dude, you could’ve died.’
Right? So that’s why I don’t like jewellery. My focus is on the bigger picture.
How did the Levi’s partnership come up?
So, Levi’s have come and blessed me. They love my story, and they back up the whole documentary. Levi’s just see that it’s going to be a good film and they want to be a part of it, and I accepted because I love Levis’. My mom worked at the Levi’s warehouse. She used to carry the boxes. And then my sister worked there as well.
So, you’ve got a family background with Levi’s.
A little bit. I think Levi’s have always been in my wardrobe somehow. I used to steal my older brother’s Levi’s when I was in middle school. They were so big for me and I’d tie two plastic bags on the side like this.
Oh, like you’d cinch them at the sides.
Yeah. My older brothers are street boys. Levi’s are streetwear pants and denims. I always used to see my brother wearing Levi’s 501s. I used to love it.
How many brothers?
Two brothers: Antwan and Lewan.
What do your brothers think of what you’re doing now? What does your family think?
My whole family is happy for me. I wish I could have gotten my older brothers more into the documentary, but they’re not really around. My family has always… I don’t know how to say this… I’ve never been arrested in my life. I’ve been in handcuffs once, but I’ve never been in jail. I don’t like it. It fucked up my family. My whole family has been fucked up by the police, by the government. It’s just scary that you can get the blame. I have a cousin that went to jail for a very long time, and he didn’t even do anything. He’s lost 12 years of his life, and now he’s learning what an iPhone is. It’s so sad. So, I’m just hella-scared to ever put myself in that situation.
I read you were a garbage man in Melbourne?
Yes. I was a garbage man.
What was the weirdest thing you found in the trash?
Nothing really. I’d see dead animals sometimes, but nothing really.
Just thought I’d ask.
Oh, dude! Wait. One time we went to this brothel to pick up their trash and there was legitimately a trash bag full of condoms.
That was the craziest thing I’ve ever fucking seen.
What did the Aussie garbage guys make of you?
Oh, they fucking loved me because I was super-fast. I hate the dark, and we’d be down dark streets and I’d go hella-fast to get back to the truck.
Did you have a nickname?
They used to call me the ‘Yankee’.
How long are you in Sydney?
Ah, dude, I leave Friday, but I want to try and stick around for Mardi Gras.
Oh yeah, you should try to change your flight. Mardi Gras is amazing.
Yeah, I wanna check that out. You know, I’m queer, so…
Oh, right! I didn’t know that.
Yeah, I like girls, I like boys too.
Well, dude, you should be here for Mardi Gras. It’s incredible.
That’s what I’m saying.
Can we talk about being queer?
Yeah, yeah. I mean, I’m open-hearted, you know. This girl I’ve been seeing, her name is Briana King, and she is the reason why I am super open. I just fucking love this girl. She’s such a cool person. She does these queer and girl skate meet-ups. She’ll post it on Instagram and people come. Everyone is welcome. It’s so amazing because it’s like, skater girls and queer skaters and whoever.
It’s called, like, Gal & Queer Skate Sesh.
That’s really cool.
Yeah! So, I’d go to all of these and see that there’s so many people that have talent, you know? And I just feel like there’s so many people that are scared to come out, to say that they like guys or I’m queer or whatever it is. But when you speak to Briana… we dated and she made me so comfortable.
About being queer?
Yeah. Growing up it was such a bad thing. My grandma, for one, she hated me when I was putting my hands like this (holds wrist limply) as a kid. She’d pinch me and shit, she hated it. She’s all about Jesus and, ‘Jesus don’t like this, Jesus don’t like that.’ My cousin is gay. He called me the other day and I could just hear in his voice like, ‘I got something to tell you, cousin. I don’t know, no one understands me.’ I was like, oh okay I know what this is.
When did you come out?
With Briana, she was just like, ‘I can see it in you.’ All her friends are queer, so I guess she can tell. Anyway, one day I woke up and I was like, ‘Damn.’ I don’t know where it sits with me yet, but I just know that I love people.
And that’s why I want to get it out to there to other skateboarders who might feel like they have to hide who they really are. I kind of want to write a book, open up and just be like, ‘This is me.’ You should be able to be whatever you want, experience whatever you want without anyone telling you that’s not right or that’s not good.
Why monitor yourself?
That’s the thing. You know that dude, Rickey Thompson? The YouTuber, the black guy, funny.
Oh, yeah, yeah. He’s hilarious.
I think he is amazing. And he don’t give a shit about what anyone thinks of him. He’s amazing. And I just know that the more people let the world know who they are, and that being who you want to be is all right. And I just feel like life is a little bit too short, and every day we wake up, I think we need to just think about what we can do to change the world. And I feel like I can definitely help in a way.
I feel like I can. People hit me up like, ‘How do I do this?’ ‘Cause I used to be hella depressed, like the most depressed in my life. Fuck, I can’t even explain it. I used to go through these phases where my depression would make me feel like I don’t have anyone.
Why were you depressed?
Just from life stuff, family shit. I used to wake up every fucking day for like a year feeling the same. And I don’t know if you know that feeling, it feels like being stuck?
Like stuck in a negative headspace?
Yeah, and not knowing what to fucking do and hoping it would go away somehow. Then I’ll end up in the hospital ‘cause I’d hurt my ankle or I’d break my wrist. It’s like you can’t skate when you have negative thoughts in your mind or are just thinking a certain way. But I know that I have a talent and a gift with something. I don’t know what I have exactly, but I know it’s something and it’s what I’m working with at the moment.
Nice. Wanna do a shout out before we wrap this up?
Man, my friends. My friends are the people I love skating with. It’s Ethan, Haden. Well, Haden is getting back to skating still, he’s like my brother, my soulmate, he’s in the film. You’ll see Haden; he’s my fucking boy. We got Kevin Bradley. And then you also have number one, Briana. ‘Cause I just love… she’s like my ultimate, she’s everything.