UPDATE at 3:30 p.m., Friday, Dec. 18, 2015: Police this week alleged that Fernandez and two adult friends used his fame to coerce a 12-year-old girl into having sex with them. See our story, here.
He calls himself Baby Scumbag, and he has nearly 1 million followers on Instagram alone. Pro skater Steven Fernandez describes himself as “just a lil' Mexican kid from Compton that skateboards and makes da funny videos.”
But the 15-year-old is quite the scene maker. A Saturday appearance at a Downey mall in March quickly erupted into pandemonium as 2,000 skate-crazed teens showed up to see him and another skate pro, Keelan Dadd. Stonewood Center officials were overwhelmed and, with the help of police, shut the whole mall down.
“It's not that I was surprised,” Fernandez says. “I was blessed I was able to bring that many people to the mall.”
For decades, skateboarding — known in its earliest days as sidewalk surfing — was the domain of wealthier coastal kids, at least until the Santa Monica–based Zephyr crew injected the sport with street attitude. Beginning in the 1990s, a tidal wave of Latino, African-American and Asian-American skaters hit the sport, producing the likes of Paul Rodriguez Jr.
Fernandez snatched the mantle with his fluid, almost acrobatic street moves. He soars over stairs and destroys curbs and handrails, always landing on his wheels, as a feline lands on its paws.
His childhood took him on a route between Compton and the San Fernando Valley. At age 9, he got his first skateboard from his grandmother. At the time, he says, “My mom couldn't afford one. I was, like, so happy.”
He started making a name for himself just about the time he became a teenager. His deft social media manipulation has been almost as key as his talents on the deck. His YouTube page has a staggering 37 million views. He has more than 150,000 followers on Twitter.
You can begin to see where that mall mob scene came from.
Fernandez can come off as just about as misogynistic and girl-crazed as a contemporary rap god (“I like big booty girls,” he tells us). But either he left his self-esteem at the curb or he's mocking us. “It's something about my ugliness that makes kids like me,” he offers.
His dad owns a small used-car dealership, but Fernandez wants the fortune that can come from competing with the top ranks of pro skating, with dreams of lifting his family into a higher tax bracket. But he warns other prospective pros, “Skate as much as you can — don't take it as a job.”
Fernandez is only in the ninth grade, but he quit campus life in favor of home schooling so he can focus on his skateboarding career. He's sponsored by clothing company Honey Brand and other skate concerns, has no fewer than four credits on IMDb and says he'll appear in a yet-to-be-released film called Search Party.
He's got a lot on his plate, but he remains humble (we think).
“I don't like calling myself a pro skater,” he cautions, “because I suck.”