On the day that we meet in Tbilisi, Georgia, Sandro Popkhadze is draped in secondhand clothes, scampering around the café Nakua, a local skater hangout where he will perform tricks later for a children’s birthday party.
His patterned button-up shirt is emblazoned with silver Georgian writing that reads Managua, the name of a marijuana-brewed drink that’s made with condensed milk or water. “You cannot smoke the weed here, because it is not strong enough. It’s wild weed,” he says. “So you put it in a pot and you put some hot water or milk. It’s like juice, like fresh weed juice, and you drink it and you are high for 24 hours or more.”
Beyond the promotional shirt, the 18-year-old resembles nothing so much as a beautiful, bony pirate, complete with hair pulled into a ponytail and a hoop earring.
Popkhadze’s look may have landed him on the runway of Balenciaga’s men’s show, but it doesn’t always help him and his skateboarding pals when they’re home in Tbilisi. “There are guys who are of the same age, like 18 and 20.
They don’t like us because of our looks,” says Popkhadze. “There have been different fights for many years between us. They are strange guys who are just fucking with us because we are wearing earrings and stuff.” He’s more focused on skating (as well as making videos and perfecting his English) than on those who criticize his attire, anyway:
He’s one of the many skaters to put Tbilisi on the map, having starred in Tamuna Karumidze’s documentary on Georgia’s skating culture, When the Earth Seems to Be Light. “Skateboarding for many of us is meditation. When you feel depressed, or have some problems, all you want to do all the time is skate, because skateboarding is a moment with yourself, and you are concentrating on yourself and your skateboard,” he says. “And that is the only thing you think about, and every problem kind of goes away in the moment, and it’s a moment when you feel free.”
Not everyone sees the sport as so Zen. Popkhadze has received his fair share of judgmental heat from the older generation. “They are mostly old ladies and old grandpas who are like, ‘You’re going to break your neck,’ ” and we are like, ‘No, we are just skating there!’ Then they are like, ‘You are destroying our city! Look at our stairs! You are destroying everything around here!’ ” he says. But on the contrary, Popkhadze believes he’s part of something important: change. “The city is becoming more useful with the skateboarders.
Like the stairs that nobody uses—we are giving it a touch and we are building something newer. Maybe somebody didn’t think that ‘this ledge’ or ‘these stairs’ would be used in a different way, but with skateboarding, we are kind of giving it function,” says Popkhadze. “And giving a little bit more of life to the city.”