The big interview

Heimana Reynolds interview: skateboarder goes for gold

Dressed in Polo Ralph Lauren, Reynolds excels in the park discipline

Heimana Reynolds Polo Ralph Lauren

“For people who know nothing about the sport,” says Heimana Reynolds, currently the top-ranked US skateboarder in the park discipline (which means he skates in bowls as opposed to the street category, which replicates real-world terrain), “all they know is that skateboarder is vandalising that rail on the street right there. That skateboarder, all he does is hang out and does nothing at the skate park. There are always going to be those people [who think that].” 

Reynolds, however, is no such skateboarder. His schedule is rigorous: up at 6.30am, training, skating, more training, then more skating for pleasure. He has a personal trainer who helps him build up the muscles around his joints to avoid injury; and he avoids eating junk food – having never really been a candy bar or chocolate kind of person.

And the 22-year-old has his sights set on the Olympic gold. The sport was one of five new additions agreed upon by the International Olympic Committee in 2016 to debut at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, which is due to start on 23 July. “I wake up and I train. I work out. I practice. I’ve worked my butt off, so I would definitely consider myself an athlete,” says Reynolds, who beams with enthusiasm non-stop as he talks about skateboarding.

Reynolds, who has been dropping in the skate bowl since he was about six in his native Hawaii, is nothing if not dedicated and was in good shape before the pandemic brought a year-long delay to proceedings. “I’ve been working on a lot of tricks,” he shares, having made good use of the unexpected time. “Especially the judges knowing that we have had an extra year to practise and we’ve had a lot more time to come up with more tricks so I’ve been really putting in a lot of work and I’m going to come out with some new stuff, so I’m really excited.”

It was just three years into his skate career that Reynolds was already starting to rank highly. Come 2019, Reynolds had a turnaround year: in Nanjing, winning his first international competition and then in Sao Paulo at the World Skate Championships pulling off a 360-fliptail grab just at the last moment to earn him his current ranking.

“Once skateboarding is established in the Olympics and as a real sport it’s going to open it up to all these parents and people who want to have their kids skating,” he explains. Because, back to his original point, the sport hasn’t always received the respect it deserved. “Most people right now, they’re like, ‘I don’t want my kids skating, I want them to go do basketball. I want them to go do [American] football. I want them to go do all these other sports because skateboarding, it’s not a sport.’”

Except that when you see the skill and courage required for what are essentially acrobatic tricks, the jumps and flips in the air these skaters pull off, there’s no questioning skateboarding as a sport. It’s one that also comes with the potential of a few broken bones, arguably. “Oh, of course I had fear,” Reynolds laughs. “That’s just part of the game with skateboarding. You’re going to be scared but you got to kind of overcome it and do it for the love of it, you know.” 

There’s something democratic about it, too. You’re only as good as you’re last performance. “Anybody can have their best day. And anybody can have their worst day. Honestly, I think the beauty of skateboarding is that you can be the best guy, you can be the highest ranked dude, but if it’s not your day, you might not land all your tricks in that 45-second run. And I think that’s awesome too.” 

That said, Reynolds obviously has no intention of heading to the Olympics and coming in third. “Oh, I want gold!” he enthuses of a passion he has managed to turn into a career. “Turning this into my livelihood is the greatest accomplishment, honestly. It’s amazing.” He beams again.  

Watching footage of Reynolds competing, it soon becomes obvious he has something of a signature – skating shirtless, which also seems very brave given the solid bowl surface beneath him. “Lately in California” – where he’s now based – “it’s been wintertime so it’s a little harder to want to take my shirt off when I skate. But I grew up around that. In Hawaii I just wake up, put on board shorts so I can jump in the water and then go straight to the skate park without having to change. It’s hot in Hawaii so it’s just a comfort thing.”

Today he’s in Ralph Lauren, the official outfitter for Team USA. It’s something the all-American brand has been doing since 2008. In a bid to support American athletes who were hoping to compete at the 2020 Games, Polo Ralph Lauren last year debuted a 32-piece collection, called The One-Year-Out collection, with 25% of proceeds going to the Team USA fund, helping athletes maintain their focus during this downtime. Reynolds says: “I plan on skating in it [the new uniform] just as long as I don’t do like super gnarly tears and stuff and rip the clothes!”  

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