Leo Baker

With a debut signature shoe and a bucket list new part, Leo Baker’s uncompromising attitude continues to inspire, innovate, and evolve. An homage to his journey, dedication, and out-of-the-box performance needs, the Nike SB React Leo mixes classic court-inspired design with subtle couture touches by Leo.

Celebrating the first signature shoe by a Trans athlete, the Nike SB React Leo is both a milestone and a new beginning that celebrates positivity, utility, and all the creativity to come. Amidst a whirlwind tour of release events, skate jams, and hometown catch-ups, we spoke to Leo about the React Leo’s design and everything that went into his new part.

Why was it important to you to have a full part drop with the shoe release?

It’s almost second nature. Anytime I put something out, I want it to come with a video part because I feel that should be standard procedure. Nike asked what I wanted to do (to coincide with the shoe release) and immediately filming a part was an obvious thing.

First of all, getting a shoe is like living my childhood dream. As a kid growing up, the videos I watched–I wanted to skate those places. Sometimes I did get to skate them from traveling and competing. I wanted to go back to the places I dreamed about skating or did get to skate and just skate street without having to deal with contests. Tying it all together with the childhood dream.

How long did you spend on it?

Exactly a year. Last September, I finished my Spitfire part and then went straight into filming this. So yeah, a solid year on it.

From the song choice to the b-roll, this part has a different vibe than a lot of your previous parts. The skating is powerful, there’s a lot of creativity, and it feels very uplifting.

I wanted to use that song (Len “Steal My Sunshine) in the past but was finally able to get it for this one. I feel that it aligns with the vibe, now that I'm on the other side of the documentary and I don't have to talk so much about what I'm going through, I can just kind of exist and focus on my craft. It’s reflective of where I’m at. Living a dream like this I want it to reflect how it feels. I feel like that was just the perfect song to capture that vibe.

Can you talk about some tricks that define the part for you?

I definitely wanted to get a half-cab heel nose manual because it's been kind of a long time since I've filmed one. I actually learned that trick when I was 16 or something but I haven’t gotten a good one since then. I really wanted to get one of those. I got some bucket list tricks for the part and some that are still on the list for my next Glue part. Overall, I want to improve and show new skating after I’ve been skating contests for so many years… after all the repetition that comes with that. As a mode of practice, it’s cool but I want to do different stuff. I really tried to expand my skill set into harder variations.

There were a lot of dope combo moments that I was really proud of like the nose manual half cab to switch manual in Lyon was really dope. I hadn’t had a chance to film one of those yet and then shove-it nose manuals. That trick’s always been super hard for me butI got a shove-it nose manual to big spin in Prague, so I was very excited about that. The back 180 nosegrind to switch manual was hilarious. I’ve been trying 180 nosegrinds for a while but I’m really intimidated by slipping out but that just ended up working–the manual kind of came with it, so I was like, “Alright, that’s sick!” Just kind of exploring and not being too rigid about “the plan,” so if something comes naturally I can lean into it.

Being part of a generation of skaters where filming is the norm, you get to see an evolution through someone’s parts. What do you like about that aspect of street skating?

With street skating you can skate similar spots–say ledges or whatever genre of spots you like–but anywhere you go each spot is unique. It’s cool to pull up to a spot and then figure something out and show the process of creativity. That’s what it is to me–showing up with no expectation, feeling it out, and then making something happen that maybe I’ve never done before or something I’ve been thinking about trying and finding the perfect spot for.

With your shoe coming out and this part releasing, does it feel like you get to have ownership in telling your story?

That feels accurate. Through all of the different eras of my career, whether it's skating contests or whatever, I’m still always trying to film video parts—even in the harder times after the recession when a bunch of people got let go from their sponsors, you know? My Thrasher “My World” was one of the heaviest hitters I had ever put out to that point and I filmed that part while working a full-time job. That was really hard to do. I still skated in contests back then and sometimes I’d win money but ultimately I was slammed–I didn’t have time to just skate.

Being at this point in my career, being on the other side of the documentary, I’m like, “OK, this is what I want to do and there are no questions asked.” This is what I want. I get to do that and have support which feels like a huge blessing. It’s once in a lifetime thing–getting a shoe and getting to film with who I wanna film with. I’m super grateful.

I think that ties into the central idea for the actual shoe: no compromise. Can you talk about that?

It’s a little convoluted because so many skate shoes are derived from basketball shoes but I wanted something that feels really “skate vibes.” I’ve always loved mid-tops and I wanted something that felt utilitarian and fits well–just a good skate shoe with super subtle touches that show my tastes. It was super dope that we were able to pull off the monogram for example.

We had lots of conversations about what materials we’d use. For now, the overlays are always suede, the top of the toe is a nice premium leather and then you have the monogrammed fabric on the quarter and back. When you put the shoe it just feels really good.

I wanted it to be utilitarian with tiny elevated moments with fashiony vibes but ultimately be a great skate shoe. The overlays with the toe cap create three layers, so it takes a long time to wear through. I do a lot of flip tricks so my big thing is blowing through shoes in a day because I’m flipping my board for three hours and ripping through my sock. I wanted it to be really sturdy in that spot. The triple stitching on the toe helps with the durability. I wanted it to last long but skate well out of the box, so this new vulc-cup combo is perfect for that. It’s pretty much everything I could have ever dreamed of in a shoe. I’m really proud of it and grateful for the opportunity. I hope people like it! It’s a good shoe, I’ve been skating it all year.

Is there significance behind releasing the “cacao” colorway first?

I just love the combo of brown and black. When we got that sample it was like, “No notes, we’re running this, no doubt.”

When I was looking at it, it reminded me of brownies… it looks kind of delicious even though it’s a shoe. [laughs] That’s one of my favorite desserts so that’s how it came to fruition. Even with the speckles of white on the sole it looks like powdered sugar. Maybe I was just really hungry when I looked at it! [laughs]

I also love the white colorway too. The white came out good with the black bottom. I wanted the toe bumper to work as monochrome or have a contrast. The way the shoe is built there’s a lot of opportunity to do some interesting colorblocking. There are so many different elements that you can tweak but it’s also super nice to see it all-one color too. It can go in a lot of directions which is fun for me and the designers. I’m excited to see future colors and premium versions to come.

Was there anything during the design process that was memorable for you?

People get moved around but for the most part, it was a really solid team that I got to work with on this shoe. Carly (Mikkelsen) has been doing materials for a long time. The collaborative process was really cool and I got to work with designers who skate and know what’s up. Just getting on calls with the team and maybe having no real inspiration then talking and riffing and by the end of it we had ideas that wouldn’t have happened had it been one person working on it. The collaborative process was cool. Getting to work with people that I love and care about, like Shelby (Smith) who’s a longtime friend. It’s been really dope all across the board.

How does it feel to not only have your own signature shoe but also take place in a cultural milestone?

It feels huge for me and I think it's huge for the community of Queer and Trans folks all across the board. This could be inaccurate but I haven’t heard of any Trans people getting a signature shoe but I could be wrong about that. I don’t mind talking about overcoming things in my life because I feel like that’s super powerful but as a “marketing” tactic, it gets really old. Can we be done with this narrative?

Let’s think of ways to create equity for folks who need it. So many people out there, if they had the resources would be thriving but they unfortunately don’t. That’s the reason why these stories are so important to raise awareness so that hopefully there’s a shift in a better direction.

I don’t want to call anyone out too hard but I’ve had people come to me and be like, ‘We have a sick idea: rainbow bearings!’ And I’m like, “Dude, c’mon man…” There are more things about me than that I’m gay. It’s nice to let that be a fact about me without letting it permeate the entire process while not overlooking it, you know?

It’s worth celebrating that we’ve come–at least–this far to where there are Trans pro skaters getting recognition and support. But obviously, there’s plenty of room to grow. Hopefully, it just keeps going that way.

I know it’s a heavy question but is there anything you want to say to the people who have supported you or people who see you as an inspiration?

I have been thinking about that. At this stage, there have been many chapters and along each one, through the hardest moments, there have been people who have really had my back–too many people to name. You all know who you are and just know I understand the support you provided me and helped me get to this level. I’m super grateful for the people that helped me, know that I’m thinking of you.

It feels nice to be able to talk about this finally because it's been in the works for so long. I'm hyped.

The SB React Leo releases September 15 in select skate shops and Nike.com.