Nigel Jones described joining the Army after high school as an “out of nowhere” decision, but the experience taught him how life can go south in a flash and how important it is for veterans to do something they love once they get out. Now, the gun-slinging, skateboarding entrepreneur and internet personality hopes to use his success to bring more veterans into the fold.
Jones, 28, was born in Oakland, California, but soon moved to Tracy in California’s Central Valley. He started skateboarding as a preteen and fell in love with it, even entering contests until he enlisted. His first duty station as a unit supply specialist was Camp Bonifas, just south of the Korean Peninsula’s Demilitarized Zone. After that “very unique” start to his military career, Jones said he relocated to Fort Drum, New York, where he remained for about three years until leaving the Army.
“Then, after that, straight back into skateboarding, which was a weird transition,” Jones told Coffee or Die Magazine.
After returning to California, Jones eventually discovered Braille Skateboarding, a YouTube channel — and now private indoor skatepark — devoted to teaching anyone and everyone the basics of skateboarding.
Soon, he started making regular appearances in the company’s videos, charming audiences with his “contagious” personality, Braille’s YouTube manager Gabe Cruz said.
“You will never meet anyone as funny, outgoing, and relatable as Nigel,” Cruz said. “It doesn’t matter where you go — he can talk to anyone.”
View this post on Instagram
Jones, who had been searching for brotherhood again after leaving the military, said he found that with Braille.
After making a name for himself in the skateboarding community, Jones decided to embark on another adventure: business owner. In 2017, he teamed up with Rob Ferguson, founder of The Rob Skate Academy, to start STS Skate Co. — “STS” stands for Spread the Shred. Jones found a graphic artist to turn his ideas into art and launched an online shop. He got boards into some US stores and is now in talks to get his boards into dozens of stores in Europe, where Jones has a large online following, he said.
“When I started the company, it was kind of just having fun,” he said. “I was just giving boards out to the community and never expected it to explode like this. So it’s definitely awesome to see it go this far.”
Above all, Jones wants to show others, especially veterans, that “you can have fun and live life doing whatever it is you love” and not care what other people think. Jones points to his affinity for including videos of himself shooting on his social media channels as an example.
View this post on Instagram
The videos can stir up controversy, he said, especially since STS Skate Co. is based in a state with some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation. However, there’s been positive feedback as well.
“Surprisingly, a lot of the skaters are very accepting,” he said. “I’ve almost become an advocate for guns for pro skaters. I’ve had a lot of professional skateboarders reach out and ask me gun questions.”
Jones would like to see more veterans join the skateboarding community, and he hopes to use his platform to make that happen. He released a special Veterans Day graphic, donating a portion of the proceeds to the veteran-oriented nonprofit Mission Volant, which facilitates “adventure therapy” (aka skydiving). Ultimately, Jones would like to do something similar for vets, but by getting them on skateboards rather than by having them jump out of planes.
“[Skateboarding] could definitely benefit veterans all around the world,” he said, whether that’s just by giving them something to do while returning to civilian life or helping them find camaraderie and kinship.
Cruz agreed, pointing to how skateboarding gives people a “fresh headspace to just go out there and learn something new and get away from some of the hardships in life.”
“The skate industry needs more veterans, and that’s a lot of what Nigel’s doing,” he said. “I’m just really proud of him. I’m proud of what he’s achieved, and I’m rooting for him every step of the way.”