Land Surfing in Arizona
March 1st, 2013 by Nancy Jorgensen
tony-steele

Tony Steele displays a skateboard designed by Douglas Miles Sr., who creates original skateboard designs and mentors the Apache Skateboards Team in San Carlos, Arizona. Photo by Brendan Moore

Like many 14-year-olds, Doug Miles Jr. pined for a skateboard. His father, Douglas Sr., couldn’t afford to buy his son a fancy board, so he created one, painting it with edgy designs inspired by comic books, with an Apache twist.

When other kids on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona saw his son’s board, they took notice. The Apache Skateboards Team was born, followed by a new skateboard park. Ten years later, the team is still going strong, giving demonstrations across the country.

Skateboarding provides kids in San Carlos, population 4,000, with a healthy diversion, but Douglas shies away from being labeled a community do-gooder.

“I’m not the Pied Piper of skateboarding,” he says. “We’re just having fun.”

The team averages seven or eight members.

“Original members like my son have grown up and have jobs and families now, but they still like to skate,” he adds.

The Red Lake Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota recently invited the team to give a skateboarding demonstration.

“We’ve worked with them for a couple years now,” Douglas says. “They asked us to help them design a skateboard park, and after they built it, they invited us to the opening.”

Douglas and the team relish the opportunity to travel and demonstrate skateboarding techniques and safety, whether it’s at a reservation or a big city.

“We average four trips a year,” Douglas says. “Kids in the community have fun skating with our team. We’ll go where we’re invited.”

More than creating a team, Douglas created a business, Apache Skateboards. Douglas provides each member of the Apache Skateboards team with one of his limited-edition, screen-printed models, which go for $125. His hand-painted boards sell for $1,500, and grace the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., and the Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart, Germany.

“I’m pretty sure mine were their first skateboards,” Douglas deadpans.

Douglas’ designs have spread to skateboard-related clothing and shoe lines. But he paints more than skateboards. His canvases have appeared in Phoenix’s Heard Museum and in other galleries, art shows and private collections.

Don’t look for dream-catchers or End of the Trail knockoffs. Douglas’ work is contemporary, and clearly appeals to the young and young-at-heart.

“My art focuses on strong graphics of men and women,” Douglas says. “I’m influenced by native art, animation, film and music.”

Douglas encourages team members to develop their own art. Two are now involved in film production—one has been invited to speak at the Sundance Film Festival, while another runs the video department for the Gila River Indian Community south of Phoenix.

“Native Americans are heavily stereotyped,” Douglas says. “People want to put labels on us, but we defy labeling. We’re not making a heavy statement. We create art because we’re artists. It’s fun.”

San Carlos lies in a remote area a couple hours east of Phoenix.

“It’s quiet and you don’t have to worry about traffic,” Douglas says. “It’s challenging to make a living here, but rural people are tough. It’s worth it to be your own boss.”

What is in the future for the Apache Skateboards Team?

“We’re growing in so many directions,” Douglas says. “I’d like us to keep growing, to travel more often and I’d like to sponsor more young skaters—not just Native American kids, but kids from all backgrounds and ethnic groups.”

To see the team perform, attend the annual Apache Skateboards Blast in San Carlos later this year. Visit Douglas’ website, www.apacheskateboards.com, for the date of the event, and for links to art, videos and photos of the team. Or, find them on Facebook. Watch a performance by Doug Jr., here