Wheels Of Fire

3 Mar 2016

Published by eyekorner

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(Last updated 55 weeks ago)

Natas Kaupas (born 1969) is a Lithuanian professional skateboarder. He grew up in South Santa Monica, California in the area known as Dogtown and is of Lithuanian descent. He attended Santa Monica High School. He is often referred to as one of the first true professional street skateboarders.


Kaupas began skating during his childhood years. In 1983 Kaupas won a local Santa Monica surfing contest and received a Santa Monica Airlines (SMA) skateboard as a first place prize. SMA was operated out of the back of a surfshop owned by Skip Engblom. Kaupas approached Engblom about becoming a member of his skate team, which did not exist. However, Engblom was impressed with Kaupas's skating ability and offered to sponsor him.

Kaupas by his own admission remained clueless and uninterested in the mainstream skateboard subculture. He honed his street skateboarding skills by utilizing his surroundings, preferring not to ride ramps or parks. By the mid 1980s, Kaupas had discovered riding walls where he would throw his skateboard up against a wall and ride off of it. He then perfected this trick by riding up the side of walls without using his hands.

In 1984 Thrasher Magazine photographer and skating commentator Craig Stecyk took a photo of Kaupas riding off a wall which featured on the cover of Thrasher Magazine's September 1984 issue. With this cover photo, Kaupas began to receive more magazine coverage and recognition from professional skaters. Also in 1984, SMA released Kaupas's first pro-model skateboard, which infamously featured a panther image drawn by Santa Monica artist Kevin Ancell.

At this point, Kaupas was regularly skating with such notables as Mark Gonzales, Julien Stranger and Jim Thiebaud and pioneering what would be known as 'street skating'. Kaupas and Gonzales innovated many new skateboarding tricks and ideas, the first of which was transferring Rodney Mullen's kickflip from freestyle skating to street skating.

In 1986 demand for SMA skateboards had grown at an increasing rate which they struggled to meet. At 16, Kaupas impressed Engblom when he arranged a manufacturing and distribution arrangement with the much larger company, Santa Cruz Skateboards. It is claimed by some in the skateboarding community that Kaupas pioneered rail slide manoeuvres in the late 1980s while at a Pro-Am skate contest held in Oceanside, California. Kaupas stunned the crowd by attempting a board slide down a handrail. Although his attempt was unsuccessful, skating history was made. This was followed up when Kaupas and Gonzales performed what is considered the first legitimate rail slide and later with 50-50 grinds.

In 1987, Kaupas had his debut role in the Santa Cruz skateboarding video, Wheels of Fire. In the film, Kaupas displayed an ability to ollie which far surpassed anyone else, and his part is considered to have paved the way for the new direction of skateboarding. This role gave Kaupas a sudden jolt of notoriety, however attention was soon turned to the spelling of his first name as 'Natas' spelled backwards is 'Satan'. Kaupas attempted to explain his name as being the masculine version of Lithuanian female name, 'Natalia'. Despite this however, many schools and shops instituted a ban on any merchandise bearing the name 'Natas'.

Later in 1987, Kaupas had become such a well-known figure that shoe company Etnies offered him his own pro model shoe, an entirely new concept in the skating world. The marketing and design of the shoe was influenced by Kaupas. He was able to use his artistic talents, which he later incorporated in SMA skateboard designs.

In 1989 Santa Cruz released a follow up video toWheels of Fire entitled Streets on Fire, in which Kaupas played a greater role. Kaupas stand-out performance in the film was a new trick where he ollied up onto a fire hydrant and performed a 720 degree spin on top of it. The trick would be known as the 'Natas spin' and has also been adapted to the sport of snowboarding. The 'Natas Spin' was also incorporated into the Tony Hawk video game series since Tony Hawk's Underground 2.

Kaupas along with fellow skater Jim Thiebaud, who was now skating for SMA, began a tour across America driving used Cadillacs. During the tour, the duo discovered many unknown but talented skaters that would later skate for SMA. Upon their return in 1990, skateboarding's hype had died with a slowing US economy.

In 2005, Kaupas received the Legend Award at the seventh annual Transworld Skateboarding Awards.

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