The double life of Sacramento skateboarders

How three local riders find satisfaction that transcends injury, age and the ever-present cash crunch

Ben Cathcart catches air; when he’s not on the board you can find him playing with the Sacramento doom band Chrch.

Ben Cathcart catches air; when he’s not on the board you can find him playing with the Sacramento doom band Chrch.

Photos by Michael Miller

Skateboarding isn't a crime, but ask anyone who has thrown enough tricks on a board and they'll say that the aftermath of a gnarly session can leave the body feeling like it's been put through corporal punishment.

Indeed, the life of a skateboarder is a transient existence that is typically short-lived, either because of frequent injuries—and, simply, age—or because of the financial difficulty in competing without the benefit of large sponsored paychecks.

For three local riders, however, the answer to skateboarding’s temporary nirvana exists in a solid backup plan.

When skateboarders Clyde Moore, Chuck Donnatin and Ben Cathcart aren’t perfecting noseblunt slides or frontside heelflip tricks, they can be found refining the art of creating the perfect high-top fade, exhuming spiny crabs from the depths of the San Francisco Bay and playing doom-laden music that’s drenched in ethereal vocals, respectively.

Moore, a member of the local Lurk Hard skate team, spends hours riding concrete waves around the streets of Sacramento and grinding on the rails at one of his favorite spots in San Francisco for a Lurk Hard video. When he’s not on the board, however, he stays busy perfecting skills behind the chair at the Good Hands Barbershop on 16th Street near Broadway.

“I always cut my own hair and I cut my friends’ hair, and then it just [evolved from] a little side hobby that I did from time to time to working at Good Hands three years ago,” he says of his off-the-board career path.

While Moore says that his heart will always belong to the decks and wheels of the board, future aspirations involve taking his barbering chops to the next level, hopefully with a shop of his own.

“I’m going to start my own business of some sort; it might be a barbershop, it might be a barbershop-slash-something else,” Moore explains.

Clyde Moore shows mad skills with both wheels and a pair of clippers.

The point, he says, is to have a better paying, less physically strenuous career option.

“I [work with] a great team of barbers and the vibe is always nice,” Moore says. “We all stay busy so that’s a blessing. I love making people look good.”

Chuck Donnatin is another Lurk Hard rider and one of the team’s original members. He was courted by the brand’s founder Geno Failla who’d witnessed his prowess on the board. For a while, Donnatin seemed set for a pro career.

A couple of knee injuries, however, derailed his hopes for skateboarding stardom. And so he turned to commercial crabbing.

Donnatin fell into the business by chance. A friend of a friend was in a pinch for an able body on the boat after another crew member broke his back. The gig was tempting—who wouldn’t be down to earn a six-figure paycheck during a six-month season? Still, Donnatin says he needed some prodding to take a place on the boat.

“I was just getting into the motion of skating and I was like, ’What do I do?’” he explains. “So I called my mother and she said, ’You’d be a fucking idiot not to,’ and I was sold.”

He packed his bags, took a train to San Francisco and hopped on a boat.

“It’s just been love ever since,” he says.

But participating in this real-life version of Deadliest Catch can make for backbreaking work. Once, Donnatin almost lost a finger to the frenetic pace of life on the boat. It’s not unlike skating, he says: The job is also an adventure that endows the rider with more than just a hefty paycheck.

Chuck Donnatin had hoped for a pro skateboarding career, but a knee injury took him down the lucrative path of commercial crabbing instead.

“I love … the sunsets and sunrises,” he says. “We work 16- to 20-hour days, we work harder than the sun, as they say out there on the ocean, but that’s one of the more amazing moments.”

For Ben Cathcart, the long view is about two equal passions. Certainly, there’s no doubt that music and skating are close bedfellows—from festivals that celebrate the union between the two, like the Skate and Surf Festival in Asbury Park, New Jersey, to the soundtracks that accompany the grinding and raucous action in those skate videos that dominate Facebook and Instagram feeds. Where there’s skateboarding, music is sure to follow.

Cathcart, who rides for one of the new shops on the block, Subversions in Oak Park, has also embraced this symbiotic relationship with his band—which recently changed its name to Chrch thanks to a legal battle between the Sacramento doom rockers and the ’80s alternative rock band the Church.

Such issues aside, the band’s on an upward trajectory, Cathcart says. It recently released an album, Unanswered Hymns, and a vinyl version is set for a September release.

“We’ve been playing shows for nine months now, so it’s relatively new, but it’s gotten a lot of hype,” Cathcart says.

More hype means bigger and better gigs for larger audiences, such as an upcoming slot at Deadfest in Oakland and a spot on the bill with Pentagram, one of the most famous acts in the doom metal subgenre.

As the quintet—which also includes vocalist Eva (who only uses her first name professionally), guitarists Chris Lemos and Shann Marriott Jr., and drummer Matt Silver—delves into the murky and convoluted world of trademark laws, Cathcart is also gearing up for the Zumiez Best Foot Forward 2015 Skateboard Contest Series, scheduled to take place this Saturday, August 1, at the Mather Sports Center skate park. The competition doesn’t necessarily fall into his skating comfort zone—Cathcart says he prefers bowls and pools to Mather’s street-style, obstacle-laden course—but he’s nonetheless looking forward to having some good old-fashioned fun.

“A lot of people take contests so seriously; I just want go and skate,” he says. “I like skating with a bunch of people, so contests are kind of fun. Like, I don’t care if I win or do horribly.”

Skating is a risky profession—even the most talented riders aren’t guaranteed a spot among the ranks of local legends like John Cardiel and Matt Rodriguez. And few nab Nike shoe contracts like Sacramento’s Omar Salazar or Vacaville’s Stefan Janoski have. Still, the “skate or die” ethos continues to reverberate throughout the community. And even though Moore, Donnatin and Cathcart have developed an exit strategy for when their bodies can no longer bear the grind, each says the exhilaration they get from riding will never wane.

“One of the best moments and feelings with skateboarding is, like, when you do something that you’ve never done before,” Moore explains. “That feeling of, like, of doing something new, is kind of a feeling that you can’t get from anything else.”

True, but it never hurts to think about a wheels-free retirement.