A few weeks ago, security guards handcuffed Sean Malto for doing his job in the wrong place. He and his friends were detained for skateboarding in the street. They were a couple of blocks from the pro skateboarder's River Market loft.
"It was so weird," Malto says. "It was like a sting operation."
The 22-year-old pro skateboarder from Kansas City says a truckful of security guards - two in the cab and four in the bed - raced around a nearby corner. The guards jumped out of the still-moving truck and took off running.
"I thought somebody had robbed somebody," Malto says. "And then the next thing you know, they tackle my friend J-Lo [Joseph Lopez]."
Malto says another friend also got tackled and pinned to the concrete. The guards who cuffed Malto and his crew claimed that they had received a complaint about the skaters destroying property.
"We're having fun with our friends on the street," Malto says. "We're not breaking into anything or doing drugs. But whatever - that's just how it goes sometimes, I guess."
Kansas City police officers responded, but whoever lodged the complaint didn't step forward. Eventually, the cops let them go. Malto views it as a wake-up call.
"Security guards in the downtown area have all the power of a cop, but they can't take you to jail," Malto says. "So they can tackle you. They can push you. They can cuff you. They can pepper-spray you. But they have to call a cop to put you in the car and take you to jail. It's crazy that they give them that much power because some of them are insane and have something to prove.
"The problem is, people still have that image of skaters as assholes or something," he adds. "We try to be as respectful as possible, but it doesn't register, and people freak out."
Skateboarding might be the only sport whose athletes - even the ones about to headline an arena event - run the risk of being detained by security. "You don't see Dwayne Bowe getting cuffed for playing football," Malto says. "That's ridiculous."
Malto is the hometown favorite heading into this weekend's Street League DC Pro Tour, a two-day competition that kicks off at the Sprint Center Friday, May 18, at 7 p.m. (ESPN2 broadcasts the final round Saturday night.)
Malto won last year's Street League championship, claiming a $200,000 prize. He wasn't even supposed to be in the championship round after an injury-plagued season, but a late scratch made way for Malto.
Street League is just the beginning of a busy weekend for the young pro. Really busy. After Friday night's prelims, he heads to the Uptown Theater (3700 Broadway) for the premiere of Escapist Skateboarding's "Red and Yellow" at 10 p.m. The video spotlights some of Kansas City's best skaters, on a weekend when the biggest names in the skateboarding industry are in KC.
"It's going to be good for a lot of people for a lot of different reasons," Malto says. "They get to see that Escapist is doing a lot of good things locally for skating and ... the guys who run companies are going to see local talent and see what we have going on down here. And hopefully, a couple of these guys can go on a trip and get on with skate companies."
Malto has trips of his own all summer. After Street League's KC date, he's finishing up a two-year skate-video project in Europe while touring the United States with the league. It's a grinding schedule.
Malto is also weighing an entry in this year's X Games. (He made the finals last year.) But his brother's wedding may keep him on the sidelines.
"If it works out, I'll be there," he says. "X Games are like a bonus. Street Leagues are the priority. Those are the best contests in the history of skating."
The usually unflappable Malto calls Street League's Kansas City stop "kind of scary."
"It probably is the most [high-]pressure contest," he says. "Not because I won last year but because it's in my hometown. I feel more pressure from that than anything else. You just got to relax and feel comfortable on your skateboard and just let it happen. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work. If it does, cool."
Last year, everything worked for Malto in the championship round. And he rewarded himself with a new BMW 535i. (He keeps his old BMW in California so he has a car when he's out there.)
"That's probably the biggest purchase," he says. "Other than that, it's [the money's] just been hanging out in the bank."
Malto didn't change his car brand, but his shoes are different. After his deal with Etnies expired, he signed with Nike. (He also has signed a deal with Skullcandy.) On an early May afternoon, he's wearing a pair of black-and-gold SB Zoom Stefan Janoski shoes.
"I loved Etnies. I loved everything they've done," he says. "Nike is Nike. They've been held at such a high level for so many years that when I got the offer, it was like, 'Definitely.' Nike - how can you say no to that?"
Only four skateboarders have signature Nike shoes. Malto wants to be the fifth. His first big gig for the shoe giant: a trip with other Nike athletes to China for the Festival of Sports in August.
"Hopefully Kevin Durant comes," he says. (Durant, like original Nike king Michael Jordan, has his own line.) "He's my favorite player. He may be my favorite athlete. He's just cool on and off the court. He's super humble. He's one of the best, and Oklahoma City is our closest basketball city, so I support them."
Malto, a huge basketball fan, played the game as a kid. "It didn't work out," he says. "Unless you're Nate Robinson, I don't think I'm going to make it to the league at 5 [feet] 8."
As busy as Malto is, he plans to find time for one indulgence.
"I want to make it to OKC for a playoff game, too," he says. "My prediction ever since the start of the season was OKC was going to beat the [Miami] Heat in Game 7. That's what I want to happen, and I want to be there.
"If it happens, I'm definitely going to try every single angle [to get tickets]," he adds. "Or just bite the bullet and pay."
Even more incentive to win this year's Street League.
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