Loon Skate Cult is bringing quality skate parks to Native American reservations
By Jenn McKee
Venice Beach-based designer Skyler Mendoza, 34, grew up splitting his time between the Menominee and Oneida reservations in Wisconsin. Eventually, though, a skate park became his third home.
“They had lights there, so I’d be the first one there in the morning, sometimes before school,” Mendoza said. “I got a job at a flower shop, and I used to take the truck there between deliveries and go skate. … I would shovel little pathways in the winter just to get through. I was there all the time.”
Mendoza aims to design and build high-quality skate parks for Indian reservations, by way of Loon Skate Cult, a nonprofit he launched late last year.
“Just thinking about when I launched the brand, and what was going on at the time – as not just a minority, but as an indigenous person – 2020 was heavy for a lot of us,” Mendoza said. “ … Even now, (I get) emotional just talking about it.”
Named for the first syllable of an Oneida word that means “immortal,” Loon Skate Cult is a one-man operation, with Mendoza building and painting original skateboards to sell for the cause.
“I’ve been skateboarding since I was 4 years old, so I always wanted to make my own skateboards, just like any other skateboarder,” Mendoza said. “And then, of course, as a boy being raised by his grandmother, you want to make her proud. She’s always wanted me to celebrate my people and ‘Be a real Indian,’ is what she would say. For years, I was like, ‘Man, how can I do that? How can I do that in this world?’”
Mendoza hopes that reservation skate parks might not only provide an outlet for fun, creative expression, but also inspiration.
“I don’t want to speak for all of my people, as far as changing someone’s focus from depression or anger to creativity,” Mendoza said. “But skateboarding, and specifically skate parks, helped me.”
As a young student, Mendoza had once read that you need to separate yourself from your history to grow and forge a new path for yourself; so after graduating from high school, he moved to Chicago for college.
He also became a DJ during that time, but as he got more and more successful, his alcohol consumption spiked, and his skating life went dormant (initially because of injuries).
“I found myself, for almost six years, just not skateboarding,” said Mendoza. “I was a mess. And it wasn’t until I spent some time in jail in Chicago that I realized. I wasn’t skating. So about two months after I got released, I moved to Venice, and I’ve been skating that park basically every day for the past nine years, and I’ve completely left music alone. Beautiful things have been coming from it. So I think it’s not just about a skateboard, this piece of wood, but about a place where you can express yourself as a creative person.”
The money from Loon Skate Cult sales has been reinvested to make more boards, and Mendoza hasn’t yet sought out donations – for money or for materials.
“I’m not a beggar,” Mendoza said. “I like to create my own opportunities. So through all of my other projects, I’ll be using mostly my own money to start everything. I don’t want to wait for anyone to give me money to do anything, because I’ve done that before, and you can end up waiting your whole life.”
The designs Mendoza creates for the boards aren’t shaped by Loon Skate Cult’s mission, but rather happen organically.
“I’ve never painted before in my life,” said Mendoza. “I’d never done any type of visual art until I started this brand. … I always have such an elaborate idea, and then I go and sit down to paint, and I just go right back to, like, when I was a boy and not paying attention in math class. Doing this whole project has really taught me … you’ve got to just put you out there.”
Mendoza aims to start his reservation skate park quest by designing and building one at his old stomping grounds in Wisconsin (specifically, the Menominee reservation).
But if he’s going to do it – getting the ball rolling during the summer of 2022 – he wants to do it right.
“There are a lot of times, like, (we’re told), ‘Oh, they’re building a park on the reservation,’ and it’s just some wood,” said Mendoza.
“Like, it’s a little ramp. But if you want these kids to maybe become professionals, or take it seriously, give them a serious park. Give them parks like the ones you have in California. My people are very athletic and have a high tolerance for pain and incredible endurance. If that’s not a recipe for a professional skateboarder, I don’t know what is.”
Plus, a strange bit of synergy seems to be at play between the world of skateboarding and one of the reservations Mendoza called home.
“Coincidentally enough, there’s a neighborhood on the reservation where a lot of my family lives that’s called Dogtown,” Mendoza said.
“My aunts – when they see me wearing these shirts that say ‘Dogtown,’ they think I’m representing their neighborhood. It’s pretty great.”