Exhausted from over 40 days of zigzagging the country seeking out shelter and skateboard spots, the crew decided to bypass Colorado and drive straight back to California. The territorial disputes over seats next to a window–for sleeping in the van requires a surface to lean upon that isn’t a twitchy, sweaty shoulder blade–grew in viciousness and regularity, as all-night driving sessions became the norm. Every few hours a passenger would awake and wonder, “Where are we?” It was unclear which state we were in at any given time. That we were still far from the West Coast was certain due to the surreal names of the gas stations we passed: Kum & Go, Giant Eagle, Flying J. We took turns sleeping on a strip of floor between the first row of benches and front seats in an area that had been reserved for the soles of our shoes and oily particles of highly processed vending machine foods. At rest stops some of us worked through our delusional weariness by walking in socks through rainy parking lots towards the nearest fast food restaurant, while others chain-smoked in a haze propped against the van.
Miraculously, we materialized in Los Angeles to let off our first crew member. Many half-conscious goodbyes were uttered in the weak morning light until the trip was concretely over—its reality carried on in the form of electronic imagery and subjective interpretations based on the meaning it held for each person who went along for the ride.
At the bottom of a gravel road somewhere in the grassy city of Rutland, Ohio, the van pulled up to a sign framed by pool coping with “SKATOPIA” written on it. The entrance lead to an 80-acre piece of land founded on ideas concerning skateboarding and freedom by a man named Brewce Martin. We let ourselves in, creeping uphill past a pink school bus with broken windows, a decent-sized house supported by “walls” that turned out to be stacked 12-pack boxes of beer, a three-story barn sheltering a breathtakingly tall full-pipe and 18-foot-tall masonite swimming pool, and finally a complexly-designed cement skatepark overlooking the whole mad vision from its hilltop point of highest elevation. A few minutes into processing our surroundings in respectful silence, a car being followed by a pack of yelping dogs and a wide plume of dust came tearing up the road. The owner, founder and operator of the infamous Skatopia, Mr. Brewce Martin, emerged, introduced himself, and then jumped onto his skateboard to show us the best lines of his homemade playground. At night, the lights in the barn came on and we watched Brewce, Joel and Ratface have a session in the vertigo-inducing wooden bowl. Noteworthy events of the evening included a skateboard hazardously dropping from the top of the full-pipe onto Ryan’s face, games of pool being played for low sums of money and two “bus tours” with Brewce behind the wheel and all of us trying to find a spot to sit where there was no broken glass as we went off-road. When the frenzied meet-and-greet burnt all the way out, we threw our sleeping bags into the pool and slid down to the bottom for sleep, but the unexpected growl of a revving chainsaw somewhere near the barn had everyone awake and mildly concerned into the early morning.
Along with multiple houses, barns, cabins and skateparks on the property, Brewce constructed a museum with-in this author’s estimation-the most comprehensive collection of skateboards on the planet. Perhaps there is another skateboard museum out there with a higher number of modern boards, but Brewce’s showcase is divided into rooms by era, featuring dozens of extremely rare setups dating back to the 1940s. He gave us a guided tour, showing us his hundreds of boards, magazines and memorabilia. There was even a pair of trucks that had a “patent pending” label attached to them, along with clay wheels. Visitors are welcome to pick up any of the boards that hang from every inch of ceiling and wall space to stand on them or spin their functioning bearings. We finished our time at Skatopia by shooting handguns, shot guns and rifles at an old computer in front of the museum.
Andy Schrock (Youtube Username) welcomed us into his home in Columbus, Ohio sometime around 5 a.m. We proceeded to fall asleep on couches and a basement floor until we woke up in the afternoon, sore from driving through three consecutive states. After eating a local delicacy of chili and cheese over spaghetti, Andy introduced us to his friends at a skate park within a basketball court that kept us entertained for the rest of the day. We were treated to another home-cooked meal for dinner at the Schrock residence and departed the following morning for Skatopia.
For two nights we slept on the hardwood floor of a barren living room among our dirty clothes, electronics and other valuable items in an area of Brooklyn populated by art students and unclassifiable weirdos. During the day we skated as a mob, taking priority over a few timid drivers but mostly dispersing at intersections to make space for barreling taxis. Ryan’s friend Daniel, a recent New York transplant from California and videographer, guided us through transfers and stairways of the subways in order to skate iconic spots such as downtown’s courthouse and adjacent kinked hubbas. Daniel committed his mind to a difficult trick, sacrificing the joints of his body in the process. We stayed an extra day for an unscheduled memorial at Ground Zero on the night of September 10th, and left the next day after one more rally down the street with a local named Jackson.
Our next stop was Albany, where we enjoyed a hill bomb tour of the streets dubbed “the time warp” by our host Ted, fresh out of the van after a long drive. Trevor, co-owner of Seasons Skateshop, connected us to a dedicated crew of local skateboard addicts who have lived together in neighboring flats for nearly a decade. The worst injury of the trip was sustained on our last night in New York. Ted led us down a particularly steep hill with a stoplight for a finish line. A yellow light blinked red as Ted made it past the front bumper of a speeding car. His upper arm and face hit the front passenger side window of a passing car in the next lane with enough force to blow out the glass. In the hospital Ted waited to have glass removed from his palm when a cop entered the room to issue him a ticket for failing to yield to traffic. Ted was lucky to walk away from the accident with minor injuries; and we were glad to have met a skater with fearless commitment.
Jesse Lack and his family spoiled us with beds, barbeques and inquisitive conversations. We skated a few of Boston’s visually appealing spots between sporadic downpours that dried up from the brick sidewalks in less than an hour. Orchard Skateshop co-owner Broderick gave us a passionate interview and we skated for a full day afterwards.
A shirtless, barefoot drunk guy swayed on top of a D.I.Y. cement bowl as he looked down at Mcnugget, Ratface and Joel avoiding puddles on their skateboards at Philadelphia’s F.D.R. skatepark. The wind from the passing storm eventually pushed him over. If it weren’t for a reflexive catch by Mcnugget, he would have fallen to the hard, wet ground eight feet below. I forgot about him after watching Ratface gain his footing on the first vert ramp he’d ever skated, but I noticed him one last time, sweeping up windblown pieces of glass shards from the corners of the park as we drove away.
Daniel, Mcnugget, Ratface and Ryan pulled off an impressive number of tricks at our next stop in Philadelphia, an elementary school with a set of stairs watched over by a homeless guy who ominously mumbled incoherent words at each of us and took off his pants for no reason. To finish off the night, we sampled some cheese steaks and headed to Love Park. The unknobbed ledges were sessioned for hours. Ratface inspired passing tourists to pull out their cameras and cell phones when he committed to an ollie into the water-filled fountain, landing into a wave with a loud splash, first try.
Our first night in New Jersey we ate nothing other than cheesesteaks and gawked at the specter of the Jersey shore. Next, we traveled to Hackensack where a small crew of dedicated skaters, including Zach, showed us their spots; a basketball court with gravely pavement, a four-stair and a curb. According to the interviews, our guides were happy with their spots and spent their time after school learning new tricks together. We were fed pizza at Zach’s family’s house in celebration of his 12th birthday before leaving for New York.
The van pulled into the parking lot of Baltimore’s indoor Charm City Skatepark as water leaked into the van and puddles overflowing from gutters spilled into streets. The park was a maze of bowls, rails, ledges, gaps and hidden second-story rooms containing lengthy spine ramps; all managed by owner Jason, who gave us a thoughtful interview with his one-year-old daughter bouncing on his knee. We met up with Josh Katz (Youtube username: enminem) and then headed back to his parents’ house for photo and video editing, writing, eating and some sleep. The next afternoon we returned to Charm City for more interviews and ended the day with one more meal with Josh provided by his super friendly family.
One more night was spent on a beach in North Carolina after a scouting mission for rooftop urban camping proved unsuccessful. The empty, peaceful spot where we rolled out our sleeping bags late at night became a lane for joggers, walking families and concerned beach patrol officers at daybreak. We met up with Levi (Youtube username eliteskater08) and his friends, a posse of a dozen skaters and some of their girlfriends, in Lexington, North Carolina. They showed us their spots until the sun set and we continued on to Chapel Hill where we celebrated Ratface’s 21st birthday at our friend James’ house. James kindly provided us with beer, good conversation and shelter for three days. During that time Levi guided us to more of his spots and we ended our time together by riding our skateboards down a steep grass hill as a group of twenty. Exodus skateshop helped us greatly, allowing us to shoot interviews in their well-stocked shop after hours. We all appreciated the help from Levi, Exodus and James as our journey continued.
Ratface and Chris Mcnugget started walking on their hands on the densely packed sand beaches of Florida. While we waited for the van’s cracked radiator to be replaced on our way out of Daytona, they walked on their hands into the unlit, moldy smelling corridor of a strip mall. They did handstands on their boards and made sharp echoes with their flip trick attempts. We got kicked out and went to go sprawl ourselves on the sidewalk.
When we arrived in Savanah later that day in sweat-stained shirts and saw the old, pocked bricks forming buildings and crosswalks, Joel decided we should smoke a cigar. We broke into groups with some eating at a pirate-themed restaurant and the rest skating on narrow ledges above a 15-foot drop while bored tourists looked on. Everyone reconvened under a bridge with an acoustic guitar sounding from the window of a restaurant above us, and freighter ships moving in slow lines along the river below. Three cigars twisted into a braid made up the “Medusa” that Joel bought for us. A few of us hacked through it until it was finished.
That night we slept outside on South Carolina’s Myrtle Beach. Without mentioning it to the rest of the crew, I used an unopened package of four toilet paper rolls as a pillow while Ratface woke up in the middle of the night and had to borrow a sock from Darren. As we drove away in the morning with the van stuffed with our sleeping bags wet from dew, we spotted a guy on a long board rowing himself along with a stick. Ten minutes after stopping to photograph him, we were taking showers and drinking coffee at our new friend Carl’s house. Our next stop was in North Carolina where we interviewed Dan at the Stability Skateshop and park. *Thank you to the owners of the shop and all the friendly people who have helped us along the way.
Florida’s New Smyrna Beach was roofed in by an ashy sky that fractured with root-like shapes of blue lightening as our van pulled in to the Shluzas’ driveway. The heat waited patiently behind the clouds, allowing us to skate chunky brick banks and well-constructed skateparks by 4 p.m. on the heels of hurricane Irene. We stared at thrashing palms from behind glass panes in the elegant home of Joel’s in-laws for most of a day. The following afternoon Florida powerhouses Joel Meinholz and Ed Selego gave us an interview at M.I.A. skateshop before leading us to a recognizable concaved structure in front of an unused building for a fun session. By the time we made it to South Beach Miami to interview Danny Fuenzalida it was a black Sunday night. The beautiful worldly tourists in high heels pretended not to notice Ratface flying over gaps in the sidewalk as they walked down the strip. Again, a spot appeared like a flash of light to Ratface while the rest of us slept in the van and a spontaneous session was on. A three-foot wide full-pipe set two stories above cement was enough room for him to perform a number of impressive tricks. Down below on Earth, Daniel kickflipped a lengthy set of stairs. We made it back to our beds just before sunrise. Our last guide in Florida was enthusiastic 14-year old Matt Stokes (username “filmsallday” on Youtube) who brought us to his local skateshop, Flipside, for an interview and a session on a mini-ramp.
The heat settled and moisture took its place in New Orleans. Bridges over swampy vegetation lead us to old men beneath straw hats swerving on beach cruisers and slow trudging tour groups. In a flash across the van’s window, Ratface spotted a ramp below a freeway overpass. Joel pulled off at the next exit to find a makeshift skatepark. Trapped within the scent of evaporating urine stood a dilapidated quarter pipe, a fun box and a cinderblock ledge with attached metal coping. We skated and interviewed two nearby spectators who—for the first time on our trip—denied us permission to use the footage after giving them a free board and a pack of cigarettes.
Other locals such as Bourbon Street’s “Bucket Man”, a lyricist who improvises complex songs and amplifies them with an old plastic bucket, were glad to help us. Within seconds of seeing the “Outside The Lines” decal on the side of the van, Bucket Man laid down a three minute freestyle that left everyone applauding. We were also treated hospitably by Phillip, the owner of Humidity Skateshop. He showed us some of New Orleans’ street spots while cops drove by without paying attention to us. We all got lost on Bourbon Street at night, hopped a fence to go swimming in a classy hotel’s pool and were housed by a young woman at the core of the local music scene who dramatically intensified our partying. The following day we left for Florida as a truck bed packed with kids waved us goodbye.
We stopped at a gas station somewhere in Texas on our overnight drive to Austin. A beach ball-stomached man inside the convenience store watched us file inside for water as if he’d been anticipating us. He asked what we were doing, and then with the urgency of an amphetamine binge betrayed all the secrets of the carnival games trade. Back inside the van we later came to a stop at sunrise in front of a leveled dirt field with slow turning windmills fading into a purple horizon.
Later that day we met up with Allan, the red-bearded and hospitable owner of the Capital Skatepark and Skateshop. After managing a mess of kids in sweat-drenched shirts at the park’s summer skate camp, Allan took us to his house and let us sleep on his couches, recliners and under his beer pong table.
The following day was spent leapfrogging to patches of shade in the 105-degree heat at a D.I.Y. skatepark constructed out of fallen cement pillars in a lot behind a motel. To cool off from the hot weather, Ratface jumped off of Austin’s Congress Bridge at the end of the nightly exodus of 200,000 bats to the confusion of tourists from around the world and kayakers below. We left for Dallas the following day for an all-night session at a steamy private skatepark thanks to our new friend Scott. We finished our time in Texas by skating down a corkscrew-shaped parking garage in the obliterating heat.
We left downtown Phoenix some time after midnight for New Mexico with no place to sleep. A persistent beeping coming from inside of a building prevented us from camping on the roof of a partially abandoned strip mall. Since no one could take over driving due to exhaustion, Joel pulled into an empty parking lot circled by trees for us to sleep in the van. The sun woke our sweating bodies up an hour later. When we arrived in New Mexico we were treated hospitably; first by a tattooed bald guy who offered to barbecue us dinner at his house, then by Chris and David, locals of Albuquerque’s 4D’s skateshop who housed us and showed us their city’s spots. The ditches that keep the valley from flooding accidentally created roadside skateparks spread throughout the city. The friends we made and the abundance of spots had us leaving at night for Texas, past schedule, once again.
The heat in Phoenix created irritability in each individual riding in the van, but it also sent us into a euphoric state when we reached the air-conditioned interior of Cheba Hut, an illegally-themed and exquisite deli in Tempe, Arizona. We decided that the outside world must be slightly cooler than the cramped, sticky quarters of the van, but the abandoned dog-racing track that we spotted and decided to skate proved the opposite. A cop told us to come outside and sit down on searing pebbles after 20 minutes of sweeping pigeon droppings and jumping across stairways in the hollow cement stadium. After that we were glad to be in the cool air of Tempe’s Cowtown Skateshop, where shop workers skate inside the store to avoid the 105 degree plus weather. We were shown the skate spots of Arizona State University by Christian Maalouf and his friend Nick. “Sick Nick”, as the locals know him, offered us a stay at his house after meeting us three hours prior. We made it to Phoenix the following night. Cops drove past us and security guards smiled and waved as a line of skaters rode the glass walls of illuminated structures and rode on top of outdoor bronze sculptures.
We spread our equipment, bags and skateboards on the asphalt outside of Metro Skateshop. Chris landed a new trick on the D.I.Y. cement quarter pipe behind the shop before the van was fully packed. With a barricade of skateboards encasing our luggage we headed south from Pleasant Hill, California to Phoenix, Arizona. During the cross of the drive we jumped the fence of a petting zoo to ride skateboards inside of cement pipes in front of bewildered llamas, smashed dozens of flies, spontaneously pulled off the freeway to skate a drainage canal protected by barbwire fences, sat on a sidewalk in a line so a cop could use outdated slang as a way to kick us out of an embankment on the side of a road, slept outside at a rest stop in the desert at 3:30 A.M. We were 300 miles away from Phoenix.