I’ll be 44 years old in July. I have long since retired from my heydays in the skateboard industry. My last “Summer Tour” happened all the way back in 2008. If you read the encyclopedia-long article in Concrete Wave Magazine about my trials and tribulations, then this will probably sound pretty familiar to you. But, most of you probably haven’t. No worries; just keep on reading, and I’ll fill you in. It’s quite the story. Hopefully, you won’t be too terribly disappointed.
It’s now April of 2016… a solid eight years later. Almost a full decade. And here I sit, in my office, planning yet another insanely ambitious, solitary skateboard tour. I guess I’m not “retiring” just yet, now am I…? And I’m sitting here at my keyboard, hoping and praying that the ‘ol knees can stand up to the strain of another summer of torture. I am, after all, 44 years old. A guy my age should really consider staying retired. If only for the sake of my nonexistent sanity, and my questionable health.
Back in 2008, my very lengthy (and very exhausting) “Summer Tour 2008” around the central United States included the states of Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and a few bits of Wisconsin. The goals of the tour, at the time, were as follows:
– To write (and photograph) a feature article for Concrete Wave Magazine (obviously),
– To document the skateparks that I visited, both in writing and in photos, for Jeff Greenwood over at Concrete Disciples (so that they could keep their skatepark database up-to-date),
– To do some in-the-field market research for a few of my consulting clients,
– To “mystery shop” skate shops across the midwest… including both Zumiez, and independent, brick-and-mortar skate shops,
– To talk to independent skate shop owners about their day to day struggles, on behalf of my clients. And to give them constructive feedback, based on my mystery-shopping them,
– To promote the brands that “sponsored” the tour, to the kids that I met along the way… and lastly,
– To get the “average skater on the street’s perspective” of where skateboarding (and the skateboard industry) were at the time.
The really remarkable thing about that tour, is that it looked nothing at all like most skateboard-industry-sponsored summer tours. First of all, I went completely solo on my tour; there was nobody else out there on the road with me. There were no pro skaters, no sponsored ams, no filmers, no photographers, and no pro-hos. It was just me, my Econobubble of a car, my road map, a few cold Cokes, my skateboards, my camera, my portable tape recorder, and a shit-ton of product to give away to kids, if and when I came across them. Stickers, mostly. But, I did give away a dozen or so completes on tour as well, along with quite a few decks and wheels. Which was all very cool of my sponsors to provide. And of course, I left a small army of happy kids in my wake. That was pretty cool.
I also went to places that no industry-sponsored skate tour would ever consider going to. I spent so much time out in the distant boonies of skateboarding, it was literally insane. I skated parks in the middle of lifeless cornfields in central Illinois, miles away from civilization. I skated things in Ohio and Indiana that barely qualify as “skateparks” at all. I stopped at, and skated, more shitty skateparks on that tour then I had ever seen in my entire life. And I had this crazy, self-imposed rule that said that I had to skate every single skatepark that I visited. Even if it was almost entirely un-skateable.
But then, there were also the really epic ones as well that deserve a nod. Grinding real pool coping in Paducah, Kentucky at 7 am was a special treat. Carving tight lines at the South Bend skatepark immediately comes to mind as a particularly precious time that I’ll probably never forget. I remember taking a run on Lew’s mini ramp, and having Weston Vickers say to me, “Man, you just spoke”. This is why skateboarders tour: to skate new and memorable stuff. In that regard, I’m just like anybody else.
I also did stuff that, for the most part, very few (if any) skateboarders would ever consider doing. I slept beside grain silos and railroad tracks. I spent a week in Amish Country in northeastern Indiana, learning about their peculiar (but admirable) lifestyle. I attended a bluegrass festival in western Kentucky. I slyly used my Concrete Wave press credentials to get pit passes at a vintage drag racing event in Brownsburg, Indiana; God, my ears are still ringing from that one. My car was nearly blown away in a tornado. I explored an air museum at length that was situated on a federal Superfund cleanup site; I was only advised of this, of course, after I had already paid my admission. The airplanes contained therein were the ghosts of relics that seemed to have been completely forgotten by time. I got stranded in a flood in Terre Haute. I was honored to sit in the pilot seat of a B-17 Flying Fortress and an F-4J Phantom II. My trip took me through miles of America’s agricultural heartland, and hundreds of small farm towns, doing things, enjoying experiences, and making memories that very few other skaters will ever live.
Mostly, what I remember are the people. Both the skaters, and the non-skaters. If and when you ever explore the world alone, you quickly find that you’re never really lonely. There’s always somebody, somewhere, ready and willing to give you a little wisdom, a couple laughs, some solid directions, or a helping hand. I came through it remarkably well. I remember it quite fondly, actually.
That tour ended up becoming the fabric of my summer. And that fabric, in turn, became a lot of the “me” that I am, today. That tour shaped a lot of my world view surrounding skateboarding. I learned that there’s a lot of stuff out there to explore, just waiting on you to get up, get moving, and to trip on it at the most serindipitous of times. And although I’d seen about six states in total… including at least a hundred shops, and probably two hundred skateparks in the short span of about eight months… it was still just the tip of the iceberg.
This year will be almost exactly the same. Same purpose, same itinerary, same goals. But, with two major exceptions:
First: I live in Arizona now. Not, Indiana. So, this year’s tour will be a southwest tour, not a midwest tour.
Secondly: while I spent the majority of my midwest tour sleeping (very uncomfortably, in retrospect) in The Econobubble… eight years later, I’m happy to report that I have a very handy, and very cozy micro-camper that I can tote around with me on my adventures. I’m pretty excited about that one, actually. Grain silos, railroad tracks, and tiny cars don’t exactly make great beds.
Having a plush, queen-size (and very, very comfortable) Sealy Posturepedic readily available everywhere you go (no matter where you might end up going) would make you pretty damn chipper, too, if you were as old and broken as I am.