Professional Skateboarder Joey Jett is Paying it Forward

In his own words, the Towson native explains the sense of belonging he found in the sport growing up—and how he's sharing that with the kids he teaches today.
—Photography by Matt Roth

Towson-raised professional skateboarder Joey Jett, 25—who rose to national acclaim when he was only seven—found a sense of freedom and belonging in the sport. Today, he’s sharing that with future generations. In addition to creating his own skate-inspired streetwear line, JETT Brand Clothing, he helped to organize fundraising efforts to launch Jake’s Skate Park at Rash Field. Opened last year, the park was built in honor of a five-year-old skateboarder named Jake Owen who was killed by a distracted driver. At Jake’s Skate Park, Jett offers free lessons to children 12 and under as part of an event called Boards and Breakfast.  Here, Jett talks about his journey.

When I was six, I thought my neighbor was the coolest person ever. He was five years older than me, and he was always on a skateboard, so, eventually, I grabbed my own. At first, I was bad at skating—probably way worse than the average person who first steps on a skateboard. But it pretty much became my life. Within an eight-month period, I became the youngest skateboarder to do a backflip, was invited to the Dew Tour, and won about 50 contests in a row.

At 10 years old, I quit. When I first started skating, it felt natural. But once I joined the competition circuit, there was more pressure. People were predicting that I would become the next Tony Hawk. But all I really wanted to do was be a normal kid. What I first loved about skateboarding was the freedom that it brings—the creativity, the fun, the adrenaline.

Five years later, I moved to Calvert County. I knew one person at my new high school, my stepbrother, who told everyone I was a professional skateboarder. Here I was, 4 foot 7, with buck teeth. I had nothing to lose, and so I kind of went along with it. Soon, other skaters started coming up to me, inviting me to skate with them. I was terrified because I hadn’t done it in five years. I basically lost everything I knew when I was younger. I was at a beginner level—couldn’t even do one trick—but they accepted me.

From there, we skated every day. I filmed a couple videos in high school. Filming with my friends got me back to the real reason I fell in love with skateboarding in the first place. There was no contest, it was just about creating new tricks and having the freedom to be able to do whatever you want without being judged. I sent one to Mike Vallely, who was my favorite professional skater when I was starting out. He said, ‘I really liked this video. You should meet me on tour.’

From there, I ended up going to Japan, Denmark, Greece, Italy—all around the world—and then, Mike named me pro. I did that for three years and then I started my own clothing line, JETT Brand, and now that’s what I do.

I also helped raise money for the opening of Jake’s Skate Park at Rash Field. At the time, I had just finished touring the world for about three years. I was planning a really big art show in Baltimore, and Jake’s family approached me and said, ‘We would love to do this show with you. Would you mind helping us raise funds for a skate park?’ I really wanted to help make it happen, for them and for Baltimore. I felt like we needed a skate park.

We did the art show and ended up selling out and raising $35,000. When opening day came around, it was cool to see everyone there. I wouldn’t trade the feeling of seeing that community blossom for anything.

When you’re a kid, skate parks can be intimidating. I decided to create Boards and Breakfast at Jake’s Skate Park just for them. I picked up skateboarding at such a young age, and never really had a teacher, I just learned it in my own way. So now, teaching kids is very natural for me. I know exactly how to work with them. To see them with big smiles, and such excitement for skateboarding, makes me get excited, too. That’s what I’m here for. I’m not really into gatekeeping. I’m here to teach people new skills and help them be creative, because I know what that’s done in my own life.

If I can help inspire one kid, or help them be creative, then that’s good enough for me.