[Fotos & Interview: Stefan Schwinghammer]
You went to Mexico to built a skatepark – how was it?
Mexico was cool, but it’s rough. There isn’t much of a scene down there in Puerto Peñasco. There’s a skate-scene, but there isn’t much to skate. There’s a crappy skatepark that we contributed to, we built a few obstacles at that park. Our mission was to go down there and build a skatepark but there were problems with the bueraucratic side of things. As soon as Levi’s took interest in the land, everybody came out and said: „We want that land. We wanna develop that land!“ It’s really prime real estate right on the beach. So when we were down there, we couldn’t build the park because we didn’t get the aproval of the land. It almost didn’t happen and then Levi’s kind of strong-armed the government with like: „Hey man we’re here right now. We’re willing to contribute to this comunity. You either give us the approval right now or we just pulling out all together.“ And then they were like: „Okay, okay!“ So they signed the papers, we got the land and before we left we came out and we had a groundbreaking with the mayor and he cut the ribbon. That was in March 2016. The skatepark eventually got built and was finished on July 2nd. The mayor came out and said, this is a great thing for the community and they will get behind it. So everything worked out.
With Levi’s you always go to places were skateboarding isn’t that big or which are quite exotic, like India or La Paz in Bolovia. How are those trips?
Bolivia was crazy because of the elevation – it’s 10.000 ft. above sea level. Basically you’re in the mountains.
You built the highest skatepark in the world, right?
Yeah, La Paz is the highest capital city in the world. It’s the highest skatepark in the world. For that one obviously it’s getting acclimated to the altitude. It takes a little while. You have to chew on coca leafes. In Bolivia we had over a 100 people, all sleeping in tents and everythingin this park. Everyone was living on site for a month.
That’s hard, hah?
It was so gnarly! And there was this woman, Betsa, who was feeding a 100 people three times a day out of her tent. But there was constantly a big bowl of coca tea. Cause the coca leaf would not only give you energy but it would help you aclimate to the altitude. It had some properties that allowed you to… keep working. [laughs] It’s not a drug but ther’s something in it that allowes you to keep doing your thing. People were working on that park like crazy. Like two in the morning out there finishing because we had built the skatepark the size of two football fields in a month. And everyone out there was a volunteer. Not to many of them actually had any concrete experience. But we got it done. There are all those different obstacles – the South American section, the Danish section, the English section – everybody was kinda doing their own thing and then it was all connected by flat bottom. Everybody just started all over the place and then we all came together. It was the most organic, most amazing. And now it’s a crazy skatepark. We spent a month building it and you could spend a month skating it and still not explore every little facette of this park. The Japanese section was all like weird and tech and tight. It was a cool experience, we didn’t go to the city that much. We’d go at night to have a few beers or whatever but we basically stayed on the camp. We all lived together, we all worked together. Over 100 people from everywhere that came together. It was a very unique experience.
"We just did a project in Detroit, which was very much renegade DIY style. We didn’t have a site, a location, permits or anything"
I think it’s cool that the teamriders actually help building skateparks. Do you actually have to have some DIY-experience if you want to ride for Levi’s?
Well, I have some experience, I worked with Grindline skateparks for a year. The other guys, Joey [Pepper] is a really hard worker, he’s mechanically inclined. Josh [Matthews] has some concrete experience. [Dan] Plunkett is a hard worker. Pat [Moran] and Marius [Syvanen] are hard workers. You just pick it up as you go along. It helps, but you don’t have to have experience to be on the team. We all got each others back. You might be good at finishing. This guy might be good at mixing. Each dude kinda falls into place where he is needed.
I think you learned a lot about building parks. Could you build skateparks on your own now?
I wouldn’t go that far, but we can definitely get on the job, pick up a shovle and have some idea of what we’re doing. We just did a project in Detroit, which was very much renegade DIY style. We didn’t have a site, a location, permits or anything. We just drove around in a truck until we found something that looks like a skatespot waiting to happen. There was a jersey barrier and we made some different transitions and made it a spot. Behind it was this whole empty street. We did a bank on that. Detroit is pretty ghetto, but we planted a seed there. We built the thing in front and behind it is this whole street that potentially could be a whole skatepark. If they don’t get any hassle for the first piece, the whole rest is just wide open. That’s kind of the idea with that one. We went to make a contribution but also to plant a seed and inspire and give an idea. That’s kind of what we try to do.
Do you get feedback or somehow stay in contact with the scenes where you built parks?
India had a little problem with the neighbour next to the park. It was a lawyer with a big mansion. But I did see a video from the local kids. They showed up when we were building and didn’t even have shoes or boards. A year later in that video, all the kids were ripping, jumping of stairs, jumping gaps, going crazy. And I look at the instagram from the guys from La Paz and see that they’re continuing to do stuff. I’m confident that the stuff that we’re doing is affecting the community and helps grow skateboarding in this places that needs it. It’s like the Robin Hood thing. We’re fortunate enough to have Levi’s back us, to go and make those contributions and the beautiful thing about it too is, Levi’s isn’t trying to brand it as their skatepark or something. They get their documentary and ad campaign out of it and they’re like: „That’s cool for us.“ So we go there and drop this little nuggets. [laughs] I feel very fortunate to be a part of it and have the opportunity to be able to do that, because skateboarding’s given me so much for my whole life.
Levi’s also has a kinda different approach on the team. You’re not really filming on a traditional video, or are you?
I don’t know if there’ll be an actual Levi’s skateboarding video. I think we’ll just continue to do these projects – that is the video. I think the things we have done in the past, we’ve kind of established ourselves as that and we’ve done that. I think maybe in the future we will get away from more of like the sad story, like: „Oh this community is struggling!“ I think in the future we will be keeping our videos and documentaries but it will be more skating in it. There’s still a story there, we still continue to be who we’re but it will be more action.