Skateboarding can be a positive force for change. When the Mayor of New Orleans declared they would not comply with the new immigration ban Phillip Santosuosso from Humidity Skate Shop decided it was skateboarding’s turn to take a stand as well. Learn more about Phillip and the new UNITED WE STAND series from Actions REALized, benefiting the ACLU to continue their work for equal right and liberties for everyone.
Interview by Kevin Wilkins
Lots of people dream about working at a skateshop, but running the place might feel out of reach. How do you go from being employed at a shop to making the moves to own that same shop?
Before Humidity, I actually had a job at Honda making good money with benefits. That was like ten years ago.
But the homie who was working [at Humidity] was like, “I’m moving, and the skateshop needs part-time help.” I was like nineteen, maybe twenty, but I just wanted to be around skating more so I asked Mom, “Yo, is it cool if I go do this? I feel like if I don’t do it now I never will.” So I started and then I worked at the skateshop for almost ten years.
When the old owners decided they were gonna move to Austin, that’s when shit hit the fan for me. I didn’t know what to do. They had offered the shop to a couple other people, but I asked them, “Can we see if my mom and I can do it?” I didn’t even have a bank account. I had no money and my mom didn’t really have any money, either. She got a lean on the house and fought pretty hard to get a loan. It wasn’t easy, but we ended up getting one and just worked our asses off.
What other jobs did you have before the shop?
I dropped out in tenth grade and I worked in a shipyard for a little bit. I was doing fire watch—working with the welders. I’d have to climb inside a boat—the insides of ships—and make sure that when they were welding on something, if the paint caught fire, it got put out. And then I think when Katrina happened I was working in a pizza restaurant.
Do you think other skaters should make the effort to start their own shops, too?
I mean, I would never want to open a skateshop again. Skateboarding doesn’t give a fuck about skateshops anymore. It ain’t like it used to be.
But you must feel like you’re doing something at Humidity that makes it worth staying open.
Yeah. The impact that we have on the community—skateshop or not—is why I do it.
It seems like the French Quarter—where Humidity is located—was fixed up pretty quickly after Hurricane Katrina. Is that true?
Nah, nothing happened to the French Quarter. But the way we look at life in New Orleans is just keep it moving. The sad thing is, [Hurricane Katrina] forced out a lot of culture. It moved out a lot of poor people, and now a bunch of the neighborhoods are being gentrified. You had these neighborhoods that were made up of families before, and the government came in and took them, in buses, out of the city and that was kinda it. Those houses had been handed down from generation to generation, so a lot of people got fucked over by FEMA.
Did New Orleans see a bunch of new construction over the last decade? Is there new stuff being built? I’ve been watching the Humidity clips and it looks like there are a lot of cool spots?
Here and there, but not like you’d think. It’s been getting better, but the spots are rough here.
So do you travel a lot to skate?
Oh, yeah. I used to go up to New York a lot. I stayed with B.A. for like two weeks when he lived in SF. And when he moved to New York, I would go see him twice a year, and then from there go to Chicago, Minneapolis. I’ve been to LA couple times—when I started riding for Butter Goods, those dudes brought me out to LA. I went to Spain last year with one of my good friends—Barcelona. I’m going back to Barcy in August. I was just in SF like a week and a half ago.
As you travel around, what other skateshops do you see out there that are doing it right?
I’m really good friends with James over at Labor. I actually ride for Labor, which is awesome. Uprise [in Chicago] is always doing a really good job. My favorite skateshop when I was a kid—the shop I try to base [Humidity] off of—was Autumn. Five or six years ago, when I first got the store, I’d already been following Autumn. They were the first the skateshop I saw that was small, that wanted to stay small, had a nice wood floor and they displayed their product really nice, and it had that feel—it looked like everyone there was just homies. I’ve always based our shop around that. And then, you know, I grew up loving Supreme. I still love Supreme: all the old stuff that they did back in the day, documenting skateboarding in New York City so well. I also have a lot of respect for FTC and the homie, Julio, out in Barcelona. FTC Spain. That dude’s the best, man. I like Lotties Skateshop. I like what their doing. They motivate me a lot. I really liked MIA; it was sad to see that they went under.
It seems like you pride yourself on how the shop is stocked—you pick and choose some small brands while still maintaining a level of classic American companies. Does this come from like consumer requests?
Man, the consumer doesn’t know what the fuck he wants in a skateshop. Right? I mean, why’d you go to a skateshop back in the day? You went to skateshop because you wanted to see what’s cool. Like [the skateshop] told you what’s fucking cool. But I know that’s a dying thing. My theory is that it’s because of social media. A kid knows what they want and they’re gonna go get it no matter what. So my job now is to get shit that I know is fucking cool … that people can’t not like. I try really hard to get brands that aren’t even available in the States, and be the first to bring them over. I think I was the first to bring three or four brands into the States within the last five years.
You have a good crew working at Humidity?
I do all this shit almost by myself. Everything from Instagram to ordering a fucking dozen Deluxe boards to ordering bolts. My friend Mike works the shop with me and it’s just us two. Everything that you see come through the store is just two people.
You contacted Deluxe right after the first executive order to ban Syrian refuges and a handful of majority Muslim nations from entering the United States. What was your hope in calling them and why call Deluxe?
I didn’t call Deluxe; I called Jim [Thiebaud], because as soon as I saw that, I was super pissed. I just fucking hate racist people more then anything, and Jim did that Hanging Klansman board. I was like, “Man, you used to be able to get away with anything in skateboarding.” I wanted to do something like that: Basically, fuck what’s going on and have something to say.
Stand for something?
Yeah. It just made sense that if I was going to deal with anybody it’d be Jim. He’s already about that, you know?
Is that how this Actions REALized program began—as a reaction to the immigration ban?
Our mayor came out and said we’re not gonna comply with the ban. And then I saw a bunch of people coming together—not even through skating—and I was just like, “I want to do something with Jim that makes sense.” We’d kinda been talking about doing something for a while and seeing everyone come together and protest made me want to do something, too. I wanted to give back. I wanted to figure this out. I wanted to have the Statue of Liberty holding up the black power fist. You know, just saying, power to the people.
Did you choose to donate proceeds to the ACLU because they were on the frontlines, defending Civil Rights for everyone in the US no matter where they’re from or what religion they practice?
Exactly. But I didn’t even know what the ACLU was until that, to be honest with you.
What a great path to discovery.
Yeah. I started seeing all these people donating money to the ACLU, and I was like. “What is that?” It’s for everyone. I was just like, “Man, can we do something with the ACLU?”
Owning the skateshop gives you such cool opportunities to do stuff like this and impact your community in positive ways, but does it ever get in the way of your skating?
I’d be at a whole different level if I didn’t have the fucking shop. The shop’s held me back in skating more than anything.
Do you feel like you’re paying dues or is that just part of living skateshop life?
Man, I’m just trying to live. I ain’t trying to pay no fucking dues. You only pay dues if you want something out of it. I’m not paying anything. I just want to be able to wake up and be able to go skateboard every day.
You know and there’s definitely sometimes I wish I could just clock out, instead of “We gotta go do this fucking barbecue.” Or you’re at the bar and they’re like, “Yo, you got those in a size ten?” And I’m like, “I don’t know, motherfucker. I’m not at the fucking shop.” And it doesn’t help that I don’t know how to run a business. I’m winging it every day. My dude Mike is the most patient guy. I feel so bad for him. [Laughs] He’s the best. He’s in there right now and when go on my trips I trust him to not let the shop burn down [laughs], which happens fairly often … the shop likes to burn down. Nah, I’m just joking.
I’m blessed, man. I get to go skate every day and meet cool people. But I want the shop to make an impact on skateboarding because I hate the way skateboarding is. I hate pretty much everything about skateboarding except for the physical act of skateboarding.
I don’t feel like anybody’s standing up for what they believe in. I just don’t like people to lie, man. If everybody would be like, “Yo, this is how it is now and we’re okay with it.” Then okay; at least you’re honest. But I’m so over people having excuse for why they have to sell out. I understand that everyone has bills, trust me, but who started skating to get a fucking family and a Bentley? You know what I mean? That thought never happened. There’s just a lot of shit going on, but if I can make an impact now, then I can die happy.
Visit Humidity Skateshop for more.