A Family Affair: What Keeps Na-Kel Smith Grounded

Words by Anthony Pappalardo

In professional sports, writers and commentators always point to the “intangibles,” as difference makers—instinct and feel.

Perhaps it’s his pedigree or his intrinsic ability to look like he’s having fun while doing the hardest things possible, but Na-Kel Smith has a magnetic quality that most lack. Introduced to skating’s potential via his uncle and veritable legend Kareem Campbell, Smith’s steadily made his imprint on skating.

Forever connected to Supreme’s cherry full-length video, Smith’s well-documented breakout moment was just a flashpoint, hinting at his potential. Since then he’s continued to impress with a stand-out personality, and he’s done it unconventionally. At times there’s not a single board on the FA site that bears his name, but that looseness works with his agenda.

Smith’s insightful, determined, and understanding of his celebrity, while staying focused on skateboarding. Along with his footage, he’s been privy to three colorways with adidas Skateboarding over the course of only one year, his most current being a floral decorated Matchcourt Slip set to be released July 1.

I caught up with Nak in between his perpetual travel to talk skating, design, home, and beyond.

Three Stripes and three colorways under your belt in about a year. Does it feel like a big accomplishment to have your name on shoes that are received so well?

Honestly, it’s amazing. Literally, a dream come true, but I want more. It’s a huge stepping stone and now it’s all fun. I just want to keep making stuff I like.

Since cherry dropped, you’ve kept up a pace of touring, putting out content, and promoting product, so what keeps things fun and what keeps you grounded?

Doing other stuff. Now that skateboarding has become my job, my priority, and world, doing creative things including making music, movies, and modelling gives me a fire. It gives me motivation and an inspiration that I used to get when skateboarding was secondary to school—like, an itch. I haven’t completed all of my goals in skateboarding so I still have a lot to work towards.

Fans always have expectations for you, but what expectations do you put on yourself and what are you looking to achieve next?

Oh shit, yeah. I put a lot of pressure and expectations on myself. I’m just trying to make this dream last tastefully. I still have to put out a part that I like and be able to put my 1000% into it, sit back and smile and think, ‘Yes, this is my favourite one.’

What was it like working on a project like Away Days vs. your recent Real Street piece for X-Games?

Aways Days was fun! We travelled a shit ton. It was cool because I was getting to know all those adidas guys better during that time. It was really sick.

In comparison, the X-Games Real Street video was just me and Jolly going out and skating every day in LA between other trips. That was a breath of fresh air being back in the streets of my own city, comfortably.

Speaking of that X-Games part and your slams in general, how’d you learn to roll out of shit so well… those are some of the most potentially dangerous slams out.

I fall a lot more than I roll away so I guess I’m just used to getting back on my feet. I’m not the type of person to just lay down.

How hard do you critique your footage? Are you ever like Reynolds, who will flip out if he crumbsnatchers after a landing, etc?

Hard as fuck. I’m probably the biggest Na-Kel hater.

We’re in an era where every single person who skates is “good,” so what makes someone stand out?

Attitude, style, trick selection, and spot selection. Filmers are like music producers. They can make trash people look good or make good people look great! So when filmed, get on your stuff!

Music selection is one of the things that catches my attention the most. Shout out to Tyshawn, Kevin, Louie Lo, Dylan Rieder, Sage Elsesser, Sean Pablo, Ave, Donny, John Caleb Barnett, Ben Kadow, Vincent Greg, Kevin Rodrigues, the Blobys, and Alex Olson.

What keeps you in LA?

My family is here. I’m from here. I live in a skateboarding and industry hub already, so why leave everything I already have here just to be going back and forth? I do plan on moving away for a few months soon, though, just to get out, explore and skate new spots. I kind of want to move to Paris and maybe stop in New York City on the way back or something.

What made you choose a slip-on for this colorway?

It’s the shoe I like to skate in. I love slip-ons and their board control. I wanted a darker toned shoe. It all comes from what I see in my head.

What’s the significance of the rose theme on the shoe?

It’s a pretty sensitive image. It’s just what I was into at the time. It kind of symbolises an encore when roses are thrown at your feet.

Your last colorway had a nod to your mother, who was in Urban Prop and your dad makes music. Do you think you’ll never continue to pursue music or even try to make a track for your own part?

Yeah, actually. I learned how to record myself, so I have been making hella rough drafts of songs. They started to sound a lot closer to what I hear in my head, so I’m getting happy and antsy. I always want to listen to beats, write or get into the studio and patch shit up. I’m in my learning process now but it never stops. I don’t know if they will ever be in my parts but who knows? I’m just playing around with music right now.

What’s coming up next?

I’ve been skating a lot with Bill and Johnny, so you know what that means. I’ve been trying to get out with Benny. I’ve been doing a lot of shit outside of skating and trying to secure the baggage.

I think what makes FA so relatable, even more than the graphics, is that it’s so loose and natural. What’s your favourite part of being on the company?

That’s my gang! Like, that’s not just a team assembled. I grew up down the street from Kevin Bradley. I was skating with Sage when he was still pushing mongo, before the teenage experimental phases of starting to smoke cigarettes and so on and so forth. I was skating with Sean Pablo with Shrimp, Abe, and Mario. Those were our big homies.

Do you have a favourite graphic of yours or one that holds a lot of significance?

I love the Mother Africa hoodies, t-shirts and the board. The ‘Ruby Bridges’ is amazing. The ‘Three Girls’ board lowkey got slept on. And my class photo is funny because I literally saw that picture every day.  It always just caught my eye when I’d be leaving my house or coming in. To see people wear it or skate in it, I’m like, oh shit.

What clip of yours are you the most proud of?

All of them got me here: “Treat every scene the same, no one scene is greater than the other. They all matter.”

If you looked forward 10 years, what would success mean to you in skateboarding or otherwise?

In 20 years I want to own a few properties—a couple to live in and some to rent out. I want to be able to buy my mom a house. I want to be happy and I want to know for a fact that my children will have a home and a good grasp of life when I die. I want to change my family history. I want to have a full family Christmas at a huge 20-seat table, like a real family.

We can laugh, reminisce, talk shit and smile. I just want everybody around me smiling. I want to be able to still express myself creatively and just enjoy life.

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