You can imagine how stoked we were when we entered the dream factory that is Reggie Barnes’ empire. We were kindly greeted and escorted directly to his office. Old school skateboard decks signed by other legends of the skateboard industry adorned the office walls, adjacent to a large black and white painting of Buttons Kaluhiokalani. Several large, stuffed billfish lay around the spacious office where a nice full set of frequently-played drums hid out in the corner. Guy’s got it down for sure. Our favorite was the solid, redwood Donald Takayama single fin that was surrounded by hundreds of other items deserving a place in the Smithsonian Museum of skateboarding and surfing Reggie has assembled. He waxes poetic as he begins to spin the yarn we’ve come for. It’s exciting. I think to myself what a mistake it would have been not to bring along my son to the interview. Actually, I would have made him come.
Reggie grew up in Cary but his heart has always been at the beach. He’s more core through and through. He got his first skateboard for $2 after he saw it dusty and resting too quietly at a neighbor’s garage sale. Shortly after that, Reggie’s other neighbors would be frequently summoned to the Barnes’ kitchen to behold the giant trophy their son had won at one of the skateboarding contests. Reggie remembers beaming as his dad handled the trophy over the kitchen table. He was initially turned on to the sport when he saw a cover of Skateboarder magazine spreading a future comrade skating just halfway up the wall of a pool. It wouldn’t be long before Reggie was taking it up to and over the lip of the pool, strapped in pads and a helmet from his sponsor. Reggie is a freestyle skater who rips park, street and vert. In the early days, his performance level continued to rise quickly and his reputation began to spread just as fast. Reggie skated all over the Triangle and worked for a while at the Wizard’s Skateboard Park, a park legendary for it’s rough cement and high performance skateboarding of the day. If you skateboarded in the 70s, you knew about Wizard’s Skateboard Park, and you knew about Reggie Barnes. He became a local skateboarding celebrity in the region and it wasn’t long before he turned professional. He still longed to surf but being landlocked, settled for sidewalk surfing as his best option. Reggie had one advantage over all of the other kids in that his parents actually supported him skateboarding. Reggie’s peers were not so lucky and he credits his parents for a great deal of his success. His father went so far as to mortgage the family home for the money Reggie needed to buy out his partners when the time came.
Still longing for an even greater challenge, Reggie continued skateboarding for the Pepsi-Cola® team. He went all around, skating for Pepsi® and saving every single check in a folder so that he would have enough money to travel to and live in California for a while. He was very careful with his resources and at an early age was already endowed with good judgment and a forward thinking approach. He wasn’t satisfied with being an “East Coast pro”, and wasn’t until he moved out to Huntington Beach to immerse himself in the real skateboarding scene. He vividly recalls skateboarding beneath the Huntington Beach pier every day while large crowds of by-standers would toss money to he and his peers below. Ultimately, he was finally able to enter a professional contest where he would compete with the same West Coast and global professionals he had looked up to during his entire skating career. He remembers it cost him $50 to enter the contest and that, by taking his place ahead of many of those heros, he won back the $50 for fifth place. It was then that he says he finally felt like a real professional skateboarder.
His career just continued to take off from there. He became a globally recognized expert at street skating and could skate vert just about as well. His peers were Per Weilander and Rodney Mullen, both of whom he keeps in touch with now.
Reggie’s heart was still at the beach when he finally moved back down to attend business school at CFCC. He has been able to purposefully parlay his education into becoming one of the biggest suppliers of skateboards and skate equipment in the Nation. His first endeavor though, would be a construction company, Barnes Construction. He recalls those days with a glimmer in his eye and you can tell he’s been loving the ride the whole way. The guy’s a class act and is filled with aloha too. Undeniably one of the coolest guys on the planet, astronaut status with us.
Reggie continued to prosper and enjoy the construction industry until a family friend and skateboard retailer named Skip Flythe (of Flythe Cyclery in Raleigh) approached him about opening a skateboard distribution company, Eastern Skateboard Supply, they would call it. While not a big fan of the name, Reggie assumed his natural place in history also managing his own “Endless Grind” skateboard shop, just beneath the Flythe Cyclery.
Reggie’s heart was still at the beach though and as soon as the opportunity came up and with the help of his father, he bought out his two partners. The banks that he visited were skeptical but Reggie was able to pay his father back just three weeks after taking over the company. Reggie had big plans and was confident that he was the one for the job. His other two partners were retailers, not skateboarders. It really worked out well for everyone even then. Now that Reggie was in charge, he saw his chance to make a break for the beach. He looked for a building in Wilmington and ultimately settled on a 5,000 square foot facility used to house inventory that he still maintains. They soon grew out of that facility and built a new one where the office stands currently, two more additions later.
The place is amazing to visit. Even better than a kid in candy a store, we felt like we were being led around by Willy Wonka himself. Every skateboard and skateboard accessory you can think of is there and there’s a LOT. The place is running like clockwork, folks skating nearly everywhere they have to go, every one with a bright smile on their face. It’s hard to convey Reggie’s sincerity and Jocelyn’s kindess, how they relate to their entire staff. They never made us feel rushed. We felt right at home with them during our entire visit, but it definitely went by too quickly.
After a tour through the facility, Reggie had one last surprise for us. In an adjacent building, is the most awesome, all wooden skatepark with the baddest wooden bowl we had ever seen. It’s a skateboarder’s dream come true. Those dreams do come true too, when the vendors are able to bring their teams out to skate or do demonstrations. Reggie was the first to conceptualize the distributor’s park, a concept that caught on quickly afterwards. The park was built by Tim Pain but it’s anything but painful. The transitions are perfect, the large wooden bowls have pool coping in the deep end and steel coping in the other two sections. Superfun. The last event was July 25th when the Zero team brought their 2013 Cold War Summer Tour to his facility with record attendance.
Ultimately our visit had to come to an end and we left our hostess and host at the end of their work day. On the way home with my son we talked about what a great person Reggie was and how he reminded us of a well-known Zen saying that we think describes him perfectly:
“The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he is always doing both.”
Thanks for all of the fun, Master in the Art of Living!