skipping class with skateboarding wunderkind sage elsesser
The 20-year-old Supreme star has superhuman skate chops, two writing credits on Frank Ocean’s ‘Blonde,’ and just released his very own Converse sneaker.
Shortly after meeting Sage Elsesser at his Bed-Stuy apartment, the skateboarding prodigy and I make the five-minute walk to Pratt's campus so he can drop his English class. While at first it feels like watching the embodiment of a skater cliché, I later find out that he's already taking four other courses this semester - 16 credits, all arts-related - and that he also received a full scholarship to attend the school. If anything, it becomes increasingly clear throughout the day that the LA-born, New York-based skater doesn't embody any clichés.
"I'm gonna keep it a buck, and say college is the shit," Sage tells me, using a phrase he repeats several times over the course of our hangout. "It's crazy, though, because I'm so young and already at this stage. It was always my dream to be a pro skater. And not only to go to college, but to go to art school."
By dropping that extra class, his only one in the afternoon, he thinks he'll have more time to skate - something he's been able to do less and less lately due to his increasingly demanding career. And that's saying something. Because Sage has been in the skate world spotlight ever since he was 15 and blew minds and broke hearts with his feature spot in Cherry, Supreme's first full-length skate video, in 2014. In the years that followed, Elsesser's skill and fan base both exploded, leading to more opportunities than most skaters earn in a lifetime. And it feels like now, at age 20, he's making moves again, and proving that there's nowhere for him to go but up.
Cherry became infamous for many reasons. For starters, it has an all-star cast, a who's who of skating that includes cameos by Supreme affiliates like Chloë Sevigny. But it's also memorable for introducing the world to Sage and a crew of other teenage rippers in their salad days, cementing Elsesser, Sean Pablo, Nakel Smith, Kevin Bradley, Aidan Mackey, and Tyshawn Jones as the next generation of skateboarding greats. There's even a jailbait shot of Sean Pablo, Sage's partner in crime, holding a board with "take my virginity away" scrawled on it in Sharpie, a wink at the group's median age (15) and the young skaters' first time appearing in a Big Deal skate movie. There's also plenty of footage of Sage killing it, displaying the type of natural style and grace that only a special handful of athletes possess. Several peers have compared watching Elsesser's skating, in Cherry and even more so today, to watching Jesse Owens at the Olympics.
The film led to "The Cherrington Effect," a skate fashion trend sparked by the Chuck Taylors Sage and company wore while shredding. Suddenly, skaters started buying the shoes en masse for the first time in decades. In the years between the release of Cherry and starting art school, Elsesser became the face of another brand: Supreme. He's modeled in the company's lookbooks alongside other skateboarding MVPs for the past four seasons. He was also the first skater signed by the cult-favorite board company Fucking Awesome, effectively turning him pro and leading to a sold-out deck with his adorable class photo on it. And then he traveled through Europe, Asia, and South America on the Converse One Star World Tour, skating with a team of the most buzzy, stylish, and talented athletes to step on a board since Jason Dill, the legend who also starred in Cherry and has mentored Sage and his friends since they were in elementary school.
"Sage has this certain quality that separates him from any normal skateboarder," Dill says of Elsesser, who he views as a son. "You can take any normal pedestrian, any person from anywhere in the world, show them Sage skating in person, and their mind will be blown. That's not true with most skateboarding."
Dill met Sage and Sean Pablo when they were nine or 10 years old. It was around 2007, and Sage's mother would bring him to skate at the Berrics, an indoor park in Los Angeles not far from where he and Sean grew up. Despite their age, Dill noticed that "each one of them had a certain little deal - Sean Pablo's little deal, Sage's little deal." Sage, in particular, could jump and ollie higher than people twice his age (a skill he's still known for today), and the iconic skater saw potential in the boys. Dill gave Sage one of his boards, leading to a friendship that eventually evolved into professional tutelage when Cherry began filming in 2012. "Dill is definitely the biggest mentor in my life," Sage says. He attributes a lot of the success he's experienced to the elder statesman.
Dill sees things a bit differently and resists taking much credit. "Sage has a certain je ne sais quoi about him," he tells me over the phone. "He could have done anything. Whatever he might have picked up he would have been a virtuoso, whether that's basketball, music, art. If anything, I taught him how to tap into the past of skating and bring something new to the future."
That retrofuturistic skate sensibility translates into Elsesser's other creative outlets, too. He makes t-shirts with Afrofuturist designs for his friends and calls the personal project Freedom Man ("I only give the shirts to black people"), he talks easily about an interest in art history that spans from the Italian Renaissance to Kerry James Marshall, and, in his latest project, he collaborated with Converse on a shoe that was released last week. The Converse One Star CC Pro (Sage Elsesser) is the skater's take on a 1970s Converse design that he spotted in a vintage clothing shop during a skate trip to Japan. The shoes have been spruced up so they work better for skating, and are updated with fresh blue suede and white leather uppers. "It's a definite look," Sage tells me before holding up a teeny-tiny pair he's going to give to his baby nephew. He also added a rose emblem from the cover of Depeche Mode's Violator on the tongue and imagery from Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway on the inside sole. "The company has great history, so I felt like I should kind of bring it back with my shoe, you know?"
After dropping the class at Pratt, we head back to Sage's apartment. He shares the large-but-unadorned spot with Earl Sweatshirt, a close friend since childhood who he's collaborated with low-key on a handful of projects, such as the art direction for I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside and a recent interview for Quartersnacks. As we hang on the couch, Sage's girlfriend, the model Binx Walton, lounges nearby in a slick leather jacket and chats on the phone. Our conversation floats from Sage's friendship with the late skateboarding great Dylan Rieder to how he's always had "really good rhythm" because his dad taught him how to play Afro-Cuban conga music when he was a child. Sage believes those chops manifest not just in music (he has two songwriting credits on Frank Ocean's Blonde), but also in painting and, unsurprisingly, skating. As we move from subject to subject, he remains gracious, articulate, and effortlessly likable - like a mixture of a type-A valedictorian and the cool kid in school who blazes before class and everyone (teachers included) crushes on.
When I ask if he sees himself carrying the torch of people like Rieder and Dill into the future, Sage compliments his peers instead. "It's great to see so many black skateboarders in the game right now. We're leaving our mark and showing that you don't have to wear a do-rag and a fucking basketball jersey to be black and a skateboarder. Be who you are." Despite his modesty though, it's beyond evident that Sage is, to use Dill's words, "a shooting fucking star." Certain people are born with innate talent, but that doesn't always guarantee success. It's that magic mix of individual identity and skill that makes someone not just great, but truly special, sui generis.
"I just do me," Elsesser says. "I've created my own path and just do the Sage thing and it somehow works out."
Text Zach Sokol
Photography Eric Chakeen