Meet the Skateboarding Nomad Living the Open Source Life

You’ve heard of a super fan — someone who’s a loyal, excited supporter of a celebrity, sports team, cause, or something in pop culture. Mark-Andrew Nordstrom is the epitome of a super fan for “open source.” And WordPress and Jetpack are Mark-Andrew’s ideal manifestation of the concept. Though, he’d disagree with being called a super fan because of his individualistic, independent, free-spirited nature. 

When we first encountered Mark-Andrew, we had caught word of a man living a simple, nomadic lifestyle who was spreading the word of open source. 

You could call him a traveling salesperson, but he doesn’t do it for profit. He’s not sanctioned. Nobody asked him to do it. But there he is — showing up again and again — from places all around the world. We finally caught up with him and conducted an interview from a hostel in San Diego.

For him, the world is his home and skating is his passion. He was arrested for the first time at the age of 12 for doing what he loves. 

After helping take care of his grandparents at the end of their lives, he took off to explore the world and skate full time. His possessions are little more than the things in his backpack. And with the exception of the ring he wears on his finger — given to him by his mother — he has no loyalty to worldly objects. He doesn’t even have loyalty to the sites he builds on WordPress, happily scrapping them and starting them over on a whim any time he gets the urge to create something new.

The open source mindset

But Mark-Andrew is unequivocally loyal to something: skateboarding and the open source community. He values experiences over things, people over profits, and community over corporations. 

It’s this mindset that’s drawn him to be such a strong supporter of open source, “Open source is kind of like skateboarding,” he says, “It’s not about the money involved — people are doing it for a reason.” 

If you could pinpoint a goal, Mark-Andrew’s would be to provide independence to skateboarders everywhere. As he travels and meets new people each day, he shares how he’s achieved a lifestyle that allows him to be a full-time skateboarder without giving in to commercialism. 

“The younger crowd growing up now thinks the only way to make money with skateboarding is by being on Instagram or growing huge followings on YouTube. But if you do that, you still have a boss. You might not think so, but now Mark Zuckerberg is in charge of your life. Or your sponsors control you.”

Mark has created a website that shows other skaters what can be done with tools like WordPress, Jetpack, WooCommerce, and Pressable.

Mark Nordstrom wearing a yellow shirt and standing next to a man in a white shirt

So what exactly is it that Mark-Andrew does

“I skate around somewhere and I’ll end up at a skate park and there will be someone cool. We’ll start chatting like hey what’s up? What do you do? 

People are often like, ‘Oh I’ve got my own clothing thing.’ Or, ‘I’m making videos skateboarding.’ Sometimes they’re trying to raise money to build a new park or fund something else in their city. 

I ask them how they’re doing it or if they have a website. Most people say they don’t really even know where to begin. That’s when I pull up my example. 

They always want to know more. Usually they want me to build something for them, too. They want to know how much it costs.”

But he doesn’t charge a fee, “I just say, ‘Hey if there’s something you can throw my way to support what I’m doing, I appreciate it.’ Not everybody does, but that’s okay. I just want to spread the word.”

Q. What’s an example of a recent project that you’re proud to have contributed to?

Vessel Skatepark is a great one.

I met the owner (Stephen Shore) skateboarding. He had moved his family to a new state to start a ministry/church, and wanted to use skateboarding as a place for kids to get together in a positive environment.

He was also looking for a way to make a living, as starting a new church with a skateboarding focus is not going to get much money, of course.

I told him about WordPress, what I do, and that you could go into web development for yourself as well. I’m currently hosting the site on my Pressable plan, and I’m going to get together with him to fine-tune some structural things. But otherwise, he’s built the entire site himself!

So far, he’s raised over $3,500 a month for this free skatepark project in just four months and, with his continued learning of WordPress, I’m thinking it’s only going to get better.”

Q: Why go through all the trouble to help fellow skaters learn WordPress?  

“Skateboarding has always been like open source. The WordPress and skateboarding communities are essentially the same. 

That’s what skateboarding is: an open source community where all of the information is shared. If I learn something, if I’ve got a new trick, if I’ve figured something out, the first thing I want to do is go show everyone.

And skaters don’t do it for money. At most, maybe someone will name a trick after you to throw you some shine.

But the skate community is pretty far removed from tech. Even some of the most famous skate publications…their sites are terrible. 

I hate to see people who want to skate full time think that they have to give into commercialism to do it. So I show them, ‘There’s something like the skate community, that you can use to build your own thing. To own something you create.’”

Mark-Andrew doing a trick on a skateboard

Q: Why is commercialism frowned upon so much in the skate community?

“For most of its life, skateboarding was not only not accepted, it was illegal.  

When I was a kid, my first arrest was at 12 for skateboarding. We’d get arrested all the time.  

And then we marched and we went to city hall and we eventually got it legalized. 

There was never any money in it when it started; everyone was in it because they loved it. We don’t want to lose that. We don’t want the big, ‘blue chip’ companies coming in to oppress the movement we fought for.” 

Q: Can you elaborate more on the similarities between WordPress / open source and skateboarding? 

“Skate and open source are so much the same that it’s mind blowing. And that’s true of a lot of creative or passion fields. Skate is open source whether they know it or not. It’s organic. It comes from the ground up. There’s not a bunch of money involved.

The communities have a similar feel. 

If you show up at a WordCamp or you talk to someone who’s in the community, you have a built-in friend — ‘Oh you do that? I do too!’ 

And if I show up at a skatepark or if someone has a skateboard wherever they might be on the planet..if I show up with a skateboard, too, we’re friends.”

Q: So, why did you first use Jetpack?

“I started with social integration. I took advantage of related posts and just some things that would have required other plugins to implement. 

I’ve always been of the mindset that plugins are what make WordPress so extendable. But at the same time, just like the way I live my life, I’m a minimalist. 

Whatever the least amount I can get away with, that’s what I want. And that’s what Jetpack lets me do. 

Plus, I’ve seen your product, I’ve met the people at Jetpack. I trust you.”

Q: And now? 

“Security is the most important thing now. Brute force attack protection, downtime monitoring, and all of it.

I know that all I have to do is install Jetpack, turn those things on, and I’m good to go. My mind is clear. 

Oh, and I have Jetpack Backup, but the good news is that I’ve never had to use it.”

Q: Do you use Jetpack on everything you build?

“I use Jetpack on everything. That’s my monitoring; that’s my security. I use it for two factor login. I use it for stats. I don’t need Google Analytics. I don’t want my site connected to all of that data. Jetpack tells me everything I need to know.”

skateboarder at a skate park

Q: Your example site makes it clear that Pressable is your preferred host. How did the relationship come about? 

“I think I’ve tried them all [hosts]. And I‘ve been with Pressable since there were like four people. So I knew all of the people. And like with Jetpack, the first thing that got me in was the price.

The user interface was easy to work with and the tech aspect was good, too. The resources available, the security, all of that was what I was looking for.

But just like with Jetpack, it’s the support that kept me around. To this day, whenever I need help, they’re there. There’s no ‘I’ll get back to you,’ or ‘You owe us a fee’, or ‘You did it wrong.’ They just take care of it.  

And Jetpack’s included, so that’s a big part of it, too. 

But there is a cool story of working with Pressable: 

I’ve been around since the early days, right? So the prices have gone up over time and I kept my same plan and rates for years. Even though I was still paying monthly, I was grandfathered in and got to pay the annual rate. 

Well I changed plans and lost that rate at one point. But after a web project, I came into some money and I sent them a message. 

I was like, ‘Hey, it’s me. You know I’m pretty poor, but I came across the money and I’d like to pay for a year this time.’ And they actually remembered me and gave me the old, grandfathered rate. It was literally half of what it would have been otherwise. 

I’ve been there since the beginning and they remembered me. They didn’t have to give me a break, but they did. Who else is going to do that when they don’t have to?” 

Q: You have WooCommerce on your site as an example. Are most of the people you encounter open to using WooCommerce? 

“Yeah, if they’re already using something it’s usually something like Big Cartel. Or if they’re doing the Instagram influencer thing, they’ll sometimes be on Shopify. 

And I mean, those things are fine to stick your toes in the water with. But I show them WooCommerce and say, ‘Here’s something you can really grow with.’ 

If you’re on other platforms, you’re going to be limited by the number of products you can have or stuck with a bunch of fees. 

The big thing is that you don’t own your stuff on those platforms. It’s hard to grow, it’s hard to control your SEO and bring people to your site. And if you do, you’re still sending them to something that you don’t own. 

With WooCommerce, you can stick everything you want on there for free and it’s yours.” 

Q: Do you have any fun stories around Jetpack?

“Actually, yeah. I was the recipient of Jetpack’s barbecue giveaway! That was great. But I didn’t receive it because I’m always traveling. Where would they send it?

I still really appreciated winning, though.”

Q: Do you have any advice you’d give to your younger self?

“Ah, you know the saying, ‘The best time to plant a tree is yesterday. The second-best time is today.’ That’s so true. 

And whatever the future brings, even if we’re just talking about your own personal projects, ownership of your content is what’s most important going forward. 

So if you have an idea, just put it out there. Just put it up. It will all come around to you in the end. 

All of my sites are literally a constant work in progress so I can show people how it’s done. ‘Look, watch me work on this just a little at a time.’ That’s how people should move forward. 

skate ramps underneath a bridge

Q: So what’s next for Mark-Andrew? 

“Well, as I look around me, I see beautiful San Diego sunshine. Someone asked me just a bit ago before this interview, ‘Hey are you interested in a drink or going down to the beach later?’ 

I said, ‘Yeah, well I’ve got something to do at twelve, but after that I’m free for the rest of my life.’

Follow along with Mark-Andrew.

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