Cordano Russell’s Unconventional Path to Skateboarding Stardom

Cordano Russell’s Unconventional Path to Skateboarding Stardom

By the Glow of the Olympic Torch, One of USD’s Newest Toreros is Lighting the Way Forward

Cordano Russell smiles wears a black sweatband and white tank. Russell will compete in Men’s Street Skateboarding for Team Canada during the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris.

In the skateboarding world, Cordano Russell stands out as a true original. At 6-foot-3-inches tall and 230 pounds of solid muscle, the 19-year-old skateboarder glides effortlessly across concrete and rails. With a unique blend of raw power, technical precision and infectious charisma, Russell is becoming one of the most exciting prospects in competitive street skating as he prepares to skateboard for Canada during the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris.

Russell’s path to skateboarding has been anything but conventional.

A Canadian native, Russell was born in London, Ontario, a city about the size of Minneapolis, Minnesota. He was raised in St. Louis, Missouri and first discovered skateboarding at age 4, when he stumbled upon a beat-up board hidden in a bush.

“It probably had mold on it and maybe even a few worms,” Russell recalls, with a laugh. “I stepped on it, hit my head with the board, and was like, this is what I want to do.”

That serendipitous moment set Russell on a new trajectory. Russell’s father purchased a longboard so he could learn how to skateboard with his son and follow along to film Russell’s progress. Most of the duo’s early days were spent underneath King’s Highway Bridge at a DIY skate park in St. Louis.

“The bridge is low and you can almost touch it when you’re skating,” Russell describes. “There is always music echoing throughout the whole place and the bridge provides shade.”

As Russell’s skills grew, so did his desire to leave the DIY skate spots of the Midwest for the revered skateparks of Southern California. By age 8, the precocious skater was already dreaming big and convincing his parents to uproot the family and move to Carlsbad, California — home of some of the world’s best skateboarders. His parents agreed to his proposition.

"Being an 8-year-old, not thinking about what it takes to move, you’re like “Mom and Dad, can we move to San Diego?’” Russell says, laughing. “Everyone supported the idea though and we walked in faith.”

That leap of faith paid off as Russell quickly established himself as a force to be reckoned with in the hyper-competitive SoCal skate scene. Competing in his first contest at the San Diego AM SLAM series, he nabbed an impressive third-place finish. It was an early indicator of the young skater’s potential.

"When someone else is judging you off of the tricks you’re doing, I think that’s when you start to gain the perspective of like, OK, wow, maybe I am good at this,” Russell reflects.

As he continued to progress, Russell’s unique physicality began to set him apart from his peers. Where most street skaters carry a lean, wiry frame, Russell’s muscular build allows him to generate tremendous pop and power. The only downside — Russell burns through boards as fast as a sick person burns through tissues — cracking several boards in a week. Nevertheless, his size and strength enable him to take on massive gaps and rails that would give pause to even the most seasoned pros.

“Being able to pop on bigger things, being able to see a bigger person move how I move … it looks different,” Russell explains. “I like being unique. I like being different. I always try to be as authentic as I can.”

That authenticity extends beyond just Russell’s skating style. Russell is a devout Christian, incorporating his faith into his skateboarding. You won’t hear any four-letter words flying from Russell's mouth after a hard slam — instead, he's more likely to exclaim, “Chicken nuggets!” or “Oh heck!” And when Russell turns on his music playlists, you’ll find Christian hip-hop or rap artists, such as Lecrae, a rapper and singer third solo album, Rebel, became the first Christian hip-hop album to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Gospel chart.

Russell's faith has been a cornerstone of his identity from an early age, nurtured by his parents and reinforced through Christian schooling and youth groups. He credits his religious upbringing with instilling the work ethic and mental fortitude needed to excel in the demanding world of professional skateboarding.

“I want to use my faith and talents to inspire others,” Russell says.

That inspiration extends beyond just his skateboarding prowess. Russell excelled both academically and athletically throughout high school. He graduated with a 4.2 GPA while also starring as a versatile player for his school’s football team.

“I played football at Carlsbad High for two years, a D1 high school, and then I played one year at Horizon Prep, getting a couple of Defensive Player of the Year awards,” Russell recounts. “Middle linebacker, ‘D-end’, tight end, left tackle, backup quarterback, a bunch of things.”

With his combination of size, strength and athleticism, Russell seemed destined for gridiron greatness. Several former NFL players who had observed him in action were convinced he had what it took to go pro. But for Russell, the call to skateboarding proved too strong to resist.

“There were a lot of opinions about me leaving football,” Russell says. “There weren’t a lot of voices saying [I should] choose pro skateboarding. So, it took a lot of praying, a lot of discernment to decide what to do. The reasoning the Lord showed me was that my love and my heart was set in skateboarding.”

That singular focus on skateboarding has paid major dividends as Russell has rocketed up the competitive ranks over the past year. Currently the highest-ranked male Canadian skateboarder in the World Skate Olympic rankings, he has emerged as a legitimate medal contender for Men’s Street Skateboarding in the 2024 Games in Paris.

It’s a position that seemed unfathomable to Russell just a short time ago. “If you were to tell the younger me, who found a skateboard in a bush, that I’d be competing for Team Canada, I wouldn’t have believed you,” he says. “I think it’s truly amazing to have the opportunity to compete for the country I was born in.”

But make no mistake — now that Olympic glory is within reach, Russell is laser-focused on bringing home golden hardware for his native Canada. 

He’s been crisscrossing the globe to compete in Olympic qualifying events, fine-tuning his contest runs while battling jet lag and unfamiliar terrain. His competition schedule during the last few months reads like a high-stakes world tour: Montreal, Dubai, Shanghai, Budapest — and soon — Paris.

But, even as the spotlight on Russell continues to grow brighter, he remains grounded in his faith and committed to using his platform to inspire others. When he’s not traveling for contests, you can find him mentoring youth as a basketball and flag football coach.

“It’s really fun because you get to see them grow and improve,” Russell says, of his coaching experience. “I also get to be this big brother figure. I actually have my own little brother who’s in basketball and flag football, so I get to be a role model for him and for the other kids.”

That desire to be a positive role model extends to Russell’s future academic pursuits as well. In Fall 2025, USD expects to welcome him as an incoming member of the Class of 2029. Russell plans to pursue studies in business finance — fulfilling a longtime dream of being the first in his family to attend university.

“I want to go specifically into business finance because, in skateboarding, you have to know how to manage your finances and grow your brand, so it’ll be very personal for me,” Russell explains. “And eventually, I want to own a business with my family.” 

For now, though, Russell’s primary focus remains on progressing his skating and chasing that Olympic dream. Whether he’s hunting down and skating rails in his local community of Carlsbad or competing on the world stage, Russell attacks each obstacle with an intensity that belies his easy going demeanor.

A true student of the sport, Russell is constantly scanning his surroundings for potential skate spots, mentally cataloging every rail and gap for future sessions. “This is how our minds are wired,” he says. “If I see a rail at the city library, I’m like, ‘Oh, what can I do on that?’”

It’s that insatiable hunger to push the boundaries of what’s possible on a skateboard that keeps the skateboarding community buzzing about Russell’s seemingly limitless potential. With his rare combination of size and skill, many see him as a potential star who could help usher skateboarding into a new era.

But for Russell, the allure of fame and fortune pales in comparison to the simple joy of riding his board. Whether he’s linking together technical flat ground combos or speeding down massive handrails, Russell skates with the unbridled enthusiasm of that 4-year-old kid, who first discovered a beat-up board in a bush so many years ago.

For skateboarding fans around the world, the opportunity to witness Cordano Russell’s continued evolution promises to be nothing short of electrifying. Hold on tight — this is one ride you don’t want to miss.

“I give it all to the Lord, truly,” Russell says, reflecting on his journey thus far. “This has been such a blessing that words can’t describe.”

— Kelsey Grey ’15 (BA)

Photos by Kenji Haruta