This article originally appeared on VICE NZ.
Making friends is enviably easy for the travelling skateboarder. Simply turn up to a skate spot, be friendly to the locals, do some tricks, and compliment others on theirs. It doesn’t matter if you don’t speak the local language either—the act of skateboarding is a form of communication in and of itself.
Exploring non-English speaking destinations has given me some of my favourite skateboarding memories—and photographs: following a crew of Malagasy skaters around the city of Antananarivo, skating the streets of Wuhan, China on a steamy summer evening, meeting local skaters in Mendoza, Argentina, exploring the concrete jungle of Seoul by skateboard, getting lost in Tokyo after dark with a large crew of local skaters, and getting to know my adopted homeland of Aotearoa from a skateboarder’s perspective over the last 15 years.
Growing up in small-town Pennsylvania, I took up skateboarding 23 years ago as an outlet for expression, and a reason to get out. Back then skateboarding had some mainstream appeal, but it was largely subversive and misunderstood by most non-skaters. Skateboarders have an innate ability to identify fellow skateboarders with pinpoint accuracy. Tip, look at the shoes! Once I cracked this code, I gained confidence in talking to strangers.
In 2003, I purchased a one-way ticket to New Zealand, sure that I could make friends through skateboarding. Travelling for no reason isn’t really an accepted custom in small-town America, and some of my non-skating friends and family worried that I didn’t know anyone where I was heading.
I knew better. The friendships you make skating don't end when the skate session does. Because of skateboarding I have ended up at house parties, been taken to the best bars in town, and been offered places to stay. A skateboarder can achieve local status in a matter of days. The day after I got to Auckland I had made several friends for life.