We stopped by Berlin’s Nike SB Shelter to spend some time with professional 25-year-old skater Sean Malto.

During Berlin Fashion Week, Nike SB rolled through the German capital with a big team in tow featuring some of their younger, upcoming skaters. Among those visiting and skating the city was Sean Malto, a Kansas City native who splits his time between his hometown and Los Angeles. We had the chance to spend a few hours with Sean at the Nike SB Shelter to learn more about the recently launched SB Free and a few other things he’s been occupying himself with.

Please introduce yourself. 

I’m Sean Malto. I’m twenty-five years old.

Describe what the skate scene was like when you were growing up in Kansas City.

The skate scene was small in Kansas. It’s still small. We’re pretty far away from some of the Meccas of skating, like New York and LA… But it’s strong, man. The scene that we do have; it’s like we’re all friends, we’re all cool with each other. I had a lot of people help me out, too. You know, Ernie Torres lived in Kansas at the time, and he kinda introduced me to how the skating industry works, and stuff like that. There are a lot of good dudes. Noone feels competition over there. It’s not like, ‘You’re sponsored by this, I should be sponsored by this!’ We’re all supportive of each other.

Do you remember your first skate shoes, or rather, the first shoes you skated in?

I did hand-me-downs forever. Back then I was really into all the Zero videos, and I was a huge fan of Jamie Thomas, so I always wanted his shoes. Whatever I could get my hands on, you know. I was a kid. I used extra socks, just to make them fit.

Do you remember the transition from the puffier shoes in the ’90s to the more streamlined ones in the early 2000s?

Yeah, absolutely. I had some pretty puffy shoes growing up. My brother did D3s all day. I never went that route but it was funny to see that transition. I was at the very tail end of it. I had some puffy shoes, and then right when I started to get sponsored, it transitioned. I remember vulcanized shoes were a thing.

Did you work directly with Shawn [Carboy] on the SB Free?

Yeah, Sean and Kevin [Imamura].

What was that process like?

It was intense. When they told me they were going to use the Free technology for a skate shoe, I was skeptical. But then I thought about it and Nike has all this technology and all this knowledge, so if anyone could pull it off, it was these dudes. I saw the first samples, and I was like, “Okay, this thing is definitely crazy…” It was cool to see it start low and end super good. I have the first samples at my house and I put them next to the production ones, and this shoe got so much better. It has all the Free features: Your foot can move, and it feels so light and relaxed in there but you still have the grip and the protection that you need. Also, a huge thing was the issue of doing these features to where it still protects your foot. They did a really good job.

When I saw the Free SB for the first time, I thought it looked more like a running silhouette than a skate shoe.

For that technology you have to put it in this streamlined kind of silhouette but I’m really psyched about how it turned out. Looking down at it, skating in it, it’s really fun. Like nothing I’ve ever skated before. It’s cool to have something completely different. I’ve never seen it before; skatings never really seen it before. To do something new is really exciting.

Did you have a say in the materials?

Yeah, those guys included me in a lot of things which was really rad to see. It was such a cool process to go through the various steps with Nike. I have simple tastes when it comes to skate shoes – I like suede. You wanna make it breathable and lightweight, so the mesh and suede is what I wanna skate in. But you also have to pick materials that will let the foot wiggle around. In order for your foot to move you have to deconstruct the shoe a bit. The upper has no heel cup, for example. It’s all simple. It’s all about not losing focus of what we wanted to accomplish in the first place.

Since you worked so intensely on the development of this shoe, do you think of it as your shoe, or tailored to your style?

I definitely have an attachment to it. It’s not my shoe. Shane [O’Neill] worked on it with me as well. I was really psyched to be in that process. Just to learn about it. As a skater you’re always trying to get better and better at skating, and I wanted to move that into getting better at designing stuff.

Was it your first time being part of the product design process?

I did a little bit with the One Shot as well. With the Free I was in there a lot more though.

Did you do wear-test the One Shot as well?

I did a couple wear tests and they had us come in to show us whatever. With the Free I was there from the first sample. They had made it in my size and told me what they wanted to do. I’d never had that before – it was awesome. I’m an 8 ½. Sample size is a 9. When they brought me that 8 ½ it was like they really wanted me.

A few months ago I was talking to Janoski and he made an interesting point on shoes being what people really pay attention to these days. Do you think that there’s truth to that statement?

Sure, there’s definitely truth to that statement. But I think that everything is important in its own way. Boards are always important – I love Girl Skateboards. But your shoes are definitely a huge part. It’s like a tool. A good shoe makes a lot of difference. I wear Nike SBs every day, with or without skating, so I think that’s a huge part of your life as a shoe sponsor.

Do you remember the first SBs you used?

When I got on the team. I was just really hyped to skate Janoskis. At the time they were the shoe. They’re still a really popular shoe. I would always see it and be really jealous of people skating it, and I was really psyched to get my hands on those. Then I skated Team Editions. That was my first introduction to Nike. I saw them, and I wanted to test them out. Other people skated them for years, and I wanted my turn with them.

Do you think a signature shoe is in the future for you with the SB?

I’m just trying to learn about the process and grow as a skater. We’ll see. I’m excited for the future. Nike’s been amazing to me – with or without a shoe. I can’t really complain.

Recently, skating has become a force in fashion. Influential shops like Dover Street Market started carrying Palace and Supreme. What do you think of this implementation of skateboarding within fashion?

I think it’s pretty natural. It’s weird to see it happen because skaters were not the most popular at one point. It went from not being popular to hugely popular. You know, streetwear brands like Diamond are huge. I think it’s cool but it’s weird because it’s what I’ve always been wearing. I’ve always been a skater. Nothing changes for me because Supreme is in these stores. But I do think that it’s cool for those brands.

You’re also an ambassador for Saint Archer Brewery. Are you into beer as well?

It’s funny: Paul Rodriguez, Mikey Taylor, and this guy Josh Landan actually had an idea to start a beer company. I don’t know how it came about or where the idea came from but I’m good friends with those guys. They wanted to do this, and of course I wanted to get in on it. So I invested in it early and I’m an ambassador for it. It was a cool thing to do with my friends. What’s cooler than a beer company? So we did it. A bunch of other people got on board – Shane O’Neill, Slash, Omar Salazar.

The guitarist Slash?

(laughs) No, Brian Hansen. Skateboarding Slash! There are like fifteen skaters, fifteen surfers, a couple of snowboarders. It’s a cool action sports beer company.

And you guys are based in San Diego?

Yeah. It’s kind of the Mecca for craft brews. It’s funny, someone asked me which was better: German beer or Saint Archers. Well, Saint Archer’s been around since 2013 and German beer has been around for a few hundred years…

I’d agree German beer is consistently great but U.S. craft beer culture is on a roll.

Yeah, we love it. Hopefully we can make it to Germany in a couple of years. Do a little pop-up bar. I’ve seen what happens at some of the bars here late at night and I’m not sure that’s such a good idea now. (laughs)

Pick up a pair of the Nike SB Free straight from Nike.com.

  • Photography: Chris Danforth for Highsnobiety.com
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