There Are No Strangers at the Skate Park
Photographer Todd Henry says traveling with a skateboard is a ticket to friendship. He shares his photo album with us.
All photos by Todd Henry
Making friends is enviably easy for the traveling skateboarder. Simply head over 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 countries where English is not the most common language has given me some of my favourite skateboarding memories and photographs: Following a crew from Madagascar 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, New Zealand 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. Traveling for no reason isn’t really an accepted custom in small-town America, and some of my non-skating friends and family worried about how i'd fair not knowing 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.
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This article originally appeared on VICE NZ.