Manny Santiago: The Patron Saint of Puerto Rican Skateboarding

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With his signature missing front tooth, endlessly positive demeanor, and uniquely disciplined approach to his craft, Manny Santiago has quickly become an international ambassador and unofficial patron saint of the burgeoning skateboarding scene in Puerto Rico. Since turning professional in 2011 and establishing himself at major competitions in Brazil and Barcelona, Santiago began a philanthropic love affair with the island of his birth. Thus far, his work includes helping with the (re)construction of skateparks in Cayey and Naguabo, opening a skate shop in Mayagüez, and launching an annual competition, Prince of Puerto, for local skaters on the island. Not a bad resume, which is why I decided to send the Los Angeles-based Santiago a few questions and learn more.


Néstor David Pastor (NDP): You were born on the island, but grew up in Lowell, Massachusetts, a city with a Puerto Rican population of 11.3%. How old were you when you moved to Lowell? What was the transition like? And what was it like growing up in a Puerto Rican household?

Manny Santiago (MS): I was 4 years old when my mom decided to move to the United States. The transition wasn't bad because Puerto Rico was always in my household. Although the cold winters weren't so good, it was rad to see my mom keep the house the same no matter where we moved. My home always had family photos all over with the PR flag and Puerto Rican memorabilia everywhere.

NDP: What does the Roberto Clemente Skate Park and the community of skaters in Lowell mean to you?

MS:  means the world to me because that's where I fell in love with skateboarding. When I first walked by and saw kids enjoying themselves and doing something fun...that pulled me into skating at the park. 

NDP: What does your brand, Manny Slays All, mean to you and what does your lifestyle blog and video series offer to fans? And just for the record who slayed first: you or Beyoncé?

MS: Manny Slays All is everything I do from skating, filming to designing, etc. It offers a look into my life. I just want to show kids skating through my eyes. In regards to Beyoncé, well, let's just say, we all "Slay" haha. 

NDP: Prince of Puerto celebrated its fifth year in December. What has it been like to host the competition and watch it grow? Are you involved in any other community-based projects here or on the island?

MS: It’s been a blessing to see the skate scene grow on the island. Just seeing what the contest does to the kids is amazing. It's like a huge family reunion where everyone just has fun. Right now I'm in the middle of doing another contest based in Brazil called "Battle For Brazil" with Tulio Oliviera. It is a part of the Skateboarding World Series

NDP: What is the skateboarding scene like in Puerto Rico for you? Is there anything in particular that you like about skating on the island?

MS: The skate scene in Puerto Rico is growing which is really important to me. Seeing everyone get together to skate means a lot to me. The contests unite and gather crews from different parts of the island. It's amazing.\

NDP: You’ve said in interviews that the Boys & Girls Club in Lowell really helped you a lot when you were younger, can you talk about the parallel between that experience and then spending time with the Boys & Girls Club in a town like Loiza?

MS: The Boys & Girls club was an important place to me in my youth. It brings kids together with broken homes or just kids that need help socializing. It offers a family inside a club. As for the Loiza Boys & Girls Club, the experience was beautiful. They have so many amazing programs and classes for the kids. The fact that they teach "Bomba" there blew me away because it's important to bring awareness to our culture and seeing that they succeeded with doing that.

NDP: You self-describe yourself as ‘Boricua hasta la muerte.’ What does your Puerto Rican identity mean to you?

MS: Representing my Puerto Rican identity means everything to me. It's who I am. Representing my people and Latinos all over the world is important. I want to show the world our culture and what we stand for.

NDP: What are you up to these days? Any upcoming projects to look forward to in the near future?

MS: Currently, I have a video part dropping for Ecko Unltd called "The Rematch". It's a sequel to "Pound For Pound". Also, the next Street League Skateboarding contest series is starting so I'm preparing for that.  

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From Puerto Rico to Lowell, Lowell to Los Angeles, skateboarding may not have taken Manny Santiago off the island, but after honing his skills stateside, it did bring him back.

As mentioned above, you can follow Manny through his website and blog ‘Manny Slays All.’  Look out for the trailer to ‘The Rematch,’ dropping soon, which is the follow up to 'Pound for Pound'.


© Center for Puerto Rican Studies. Published in Centro Voices on 4 March 2016.

Centro Voices (ISSN: 2379-3864).
The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of Centro Voices, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies or Hunter College, CUNY.