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Road to Tokyo ’21: Skateboarder Dashawn Jordan shoots for Olympic history

By his own admission, Dashawn Jordan was so clueless about skateboarding when he started at the age of 11 that when a wheel kept falling off the borrowed board he was riding, he took it to an AutoZone across the street from where he was living.

“The guy at the store put a little lock nut on it,” Jordan recalled laughing.

Ever since then Jordan has been good to go.

While the North Hollywood resident might not have been up on the basics, he grasped the big picture of skateboarding almost immediately; a youngster drawn to what he saw as not so much as a sport but an art form with an ever-changing and limitless canvas, where the only limits and borders are in your imagination.

“The constant battle of progression and just getting past those things you thought of in your head and you wanted to learn and that whole process of falling and getting back up and mastering it,” Jordan said. “That became very addictive.”

Jordan has mastered it enough that he goes into this weekend’s Dew Tour stop in Des Moines, Iowa, on the brink of qualifying for the first skateboard competition ever held at an Olympic Games.

Jordan, 24, will skate onto Lauridsen Skatepark, billed as the world’s largest skateboard venue, this week for what could be the final Olympic qualifying event for the fourth-ranked American, ninth overall in the latest Olympic World rankings. Jordan will likely be able to book a spot in the Tokyo Games by finishing the weekend among the top three U.S. skaters in the World rankings.

The inaugural Olympic skateboarding competition would be five-ring landing spot for a skater who has ridden the most unlikely of routes to international prominence. Jordan, whose early success came on secondhand boards and hand-me-down shoes a size or two too big, has eight corporate sponsors, including Nike SB.

It has been a ride where the two constants have been a desire matched only by his mother’s unwavering support. He has been inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement to reach for new heights and reach out, and grown to see his success as an opportunity – and an obligation – to grow the sport with new audiences and stretch the canvas even further.

Dashawn Jordan skates at Kicksperience at the 2018 BET Experience Fan Fest on June 23, 2018, at the Los Angeles Convention Center. (Photo by Brandon Williams/Getty Images for BET)

Jenkem magazine recently called Jordan a “role model for the next generation and pumps out some damn good footage while he’s at it.”

“One thing I feel that is important I do with the platform that I’ve been given is to uplift and motivate anybody else around me, whether it’s African Americans or other races. Just believe, go hard,” Jordan said. “In any space, whether it’s music or art, the evidence is there that they’re really good at it so they can see what’s possible.

“It’s very important because a lot of times kids grow up in certain households where they see or are taught that it’s harder for us, it’s harder for African Americans. You have to go and be hungry and stay humble and I feel like them seeing somebody – whether it’s myself or any other African-American skateboarder who has reached a level of success – I feel like it’s very motivating. It’s a good a way in which they drove into wanting to do it, wanting to accomplish, wanting to see what hard work can do for them. Having that person to look up to and as far as that person is maintaining that awesome display of what you need to get there, I feel like that is the ultimate empowerment.”

The woman who empowered Jordan, however, won’t be in Des Moines this week. Tora Simpkins, Jordan’s mother, will be home in Arizona.

“I’m so nervous (at competitions),” Simpkins said. “I worry that my nerves are rubbing off on him, so I don’t go. I don’t want him to feel that energy. So I watch on TV.”

It doesn’t matter. Jordan knows Simpkins is still with him. She always has been.

“My mom, my No. 1 model,” Jordan said. “When I was growing up, it was just my mom. I didn’t have my Pops around.

“She really tried hard to give us the best life she could give, but also give us the freedom to go out and bump our head a couple times and grow through things and learn. That is a huge part of the type of person I am today, how I look at things, my work ethic, how I grind. Everything is because of seeing that and having that to look up to as I grew up.”

Bump your head or roll your ankle.

Simpkins realized her son’s commitment to a sport she knew little about when he injured his ankle early in a skate at one of his first competitions. Jordan’s injury was so severe he had to be carried from the park by Simpkins’ boyfriend.

“I was so scared,” she said. “(But after the injury) he just got right back up and kept going. I knew right then he was not going to be stopped.”

In addition to being across the street from a helping hand at AutoZone, the family’s home in Chandler, Arizona, was also not far from a skate park. Soon 11-year-old Jordan developed a routine: Come home, do 90 minutes of homework, clean his room, wash the dishes and then head off to the skate park, where Simpkins would pick him up when it closed at 10:30 p.m.

“He stayed until they shut off the lights,” Simpkins said.

The late nights paid off. Sponsors soon noticed the kid with the beat-up board.

“I learned everything through experience,” Jordan said. “I was in it and I wanted to be good at it. Anything is possible. You can get there with hard work and being true to yourself.”

Jordan’s success also caught the attention of his father, Toren Leggins. Jordan said he didn’t meet Leggins until two years ago.

“Fell into my lap,” Jordan said. “Got a Facebook message from a lady he had a relationship.

“I never really carried a chip on my shoulder as far as ‘Oh, I hate my dad, he wasn’t around,’ I just wanted to meet him.”

But Simpkins was upset when Leggins showed up at one of Jordan’s competitions.

“It had a big effect on him,” she said. “I was so hurt because it messed up his focus, he couldn’t skate right.”

Still Jordan said: “I wanted to fill that void of know where I get my features, know who I talk and act like, know who I look like. That was important to me more than whatever happened back in the day. I never judged him for it and I never judged my mom.”

Dashawn Jordan competes in the Men’s Street Skateboard semifinal during the Dew Tour on June 15, 2019, at the Long Beach Convention Center. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

Jordan’s focus has returned and in recent months he has been inspired and energized by BLM protests in the wake of the George Floyd murder.

“That just really allowed me to make sure I was the best I can be and to display that fight on not only that side but life in general,” he said. “To always help to provide direction to change direction, to help things change, to be confident in the things you believe in, to empower those around you to try and stay happy and always try to be the best you can be, to help shift things as a whole where everybody can live happily, just share positive energy.”

And now he channels that energy into this weekend and the dream of stretching his canvas across an ocean.

“I feel like you do yourself a disservice when it’s something you love and you don’t fully try to tap into it,” he said. “Nobody likes to live on regret and how would you know if something was meant for you or what you could possibly achieve if you don’t give it. And I feel like a lot of that comes from having those role models and having those people you can see who achieve those levels of success that you were curious about but haven’t reached yet.”

Source: Orange County Register

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