Kristian Svitak doesn't sound like a competitive sportsman. In fact, the 27-year-old skateboard pro's laid-back attitude doesn't suggest any sort of athletic instinct whatsoever.
"It's not about winning or the money," he says. "It's about hanging out with your buddies, showing off your latest stuff, and having fun."
Svitak and more than 20 of his pals will be doing that this weekend, when the world's top skateboarders roll into town to grind, flip, and catch air at the Vans Triple Crown of Skateboarding/Mountain Dew National Championships at the Nautica Entertainment Complex.
A native of Garfield Heights, Svitak honed his talent on the streets of Cleveland. He was a member of Team Insanity, a nine-man crew that skated in the industrial parks along Turney Road and took the RTA downtown, where they would grind the curbs and railings on Public Square.
Svitak has since transplanted to California, and these days, he spends his time touring the world. But he stays in contact with his Cleveland friends, and he even has "TI" tattooed on his wrist as a permanent reminder of their bond. Right next to it is another mark of loyalty, the tattooed logo of Black Label, the team/sponsor that helped Svitak turn pro in 1998. He has since attracted an arm's worth of other sponsors -- for his skateboard, shoes, axles, wheels, and clothing -- but none has received dermal permanence.
Svitak's laid-back approach doesn't appear to change for competition days. "I really don't do anything to get ready [for a performance], other than try out the course the day before," he says. "Although the course layout at each event might contain the same pieces and parts, they're arranged differently."
This weekend, expect Svitak to bust his best-known moves: the Front Side Blunt and the Heel Flip. The former involves a board jump on a curb or railing, as the front end of the board is raised and grinds along on the back axle. The latter trick is made up of a heel kick to the edge of the board, resulting in a 360-degree roll and (hopefully ) a perfect landing.
Of course, mastering such moves can be risky. "It seems like I'm always bleeding from somewhere," says Svitak, who has scars on his chin, elbows, and hips. But he is drawn to it almost instinctively. Not surprisingly, he uses instinct in choosing his program as well. "I usually decide at the moment what [tricks] I'm going to do next," he says. "I usually include a few moves I've been working on and feel good about. It's all about instinct and feel, not planning."
Spoken like a true noncompetitor.