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
This article originally appeared on VICE New Zealand.
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 favorite 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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