Carter Riley hits the streets to share his sport.
Written by Michaela Gibson Morris | Photographed by Joe Worthem
Carter Riley’s competition schedule may have been a little tripped up by COVID-19, but it hasn’t kept him from catching air.
Riley and his skateboard have been grinding, jumping and flipping as he has worked on two filming projects. The Belden native who now lives in Oxford is crossing his fingers that industry competitions will restart before 2021, but for now he’s enjoying the change of pace.
“Filming is more like a camping trip,” Riley said. “You’re with your friends, just
trying to have an adventure.”
While points earned from skateboard competitions count toward global ranking, videos of skaters showing off their best tricks are an essential part of connecting with fans and sponsors, Riley said. For high-level competitors, that means heading out on the streets to find challenging spots.
Riley credits videographer and skateboarder Brandon Hayes with pushing his skateboarding to the next level.
“He gave me the motivation to do more than just go out and skate in the park,” Riley said.
People who catch Riley out skating are more likely to want to watch than ask him to leave. There’s an appreciation and curiosity about the sport, he said, not to mention some awe at seeing skaters land the kinds of tricks Riley and his friends attempt.
“It’s definitely recognized more as a sport,” Riley said.
Riley has also spent part of his down time advocating for improvements to the Tupelo Skate Park, where he got his start.
“I was playing soccer when (the Tupelo Skate Park) was getting built,” said Riley,
who traded his cleats for a board.
The park is now 16 years old and starting to show wear and tear. In the short term, Riley and other skaters have been working with Tupelo Parks and Recreation to propose an update to the Ballard Park facility. In the long term, they have conferred with the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau about a competition-level park that
could draw contests to the city.
“This park made me something,” Riley said. “I don’t want to be the last.”
Riley’s great-grandmother Bobbie Scott took him to the Tupelo Skate Park every
Saturday. He arrived to the youth group meetings at Mount Vernon Baptist Church early, so he could skate in the gym with others before and after the weekly program.
“Not everyone can or wants to throw a ball,” Riley said.
Riley’s career in skateboarding has reached new heights over the past two years, making him one of the first Mississippians to be recognized on the industry level.
The line between amateur and pro in skateboarding is thin. Riley competes in amateur events but has sponsorships and wins prize money. The top amateurs make a living skateboarding and can compete in pro events. Skateboarders are typically considered pro when their sponsors create a skateboard and shoes with their names on them.
Riley is in the top 1,000 street skaters in the world, according to theboardr.com, which compiles rankings based on industry competitions.
In 2018, he placed fourth in the Grind for Life series competition in Austin, Texas, while skating with a broken wrist. He delayed surgery on his wrist so that he could participate in the Tampa AM competition, considered one of the industry’s elite events.
“If you’re a professional athlete, you have to sacrifice your body,” Riley said.
After surgery, he jumped back into competitive skateboarding. In October 2019, he placed third in the Red Bull Cornerstone semifinal in St. Louis. Once competitions resume, Riley expects to be back on the road. But northeast Mississippi will always be home.
“I just realized how special Tupelo is,” Riley said. “I’m seeing the world for what it is, and I’m seeing Tupelo for what it is.”
Visit http://www.invitationoxford.com/post/skate-park-sensation to see Carter Riley in action on his skateboard.