As you might already know, Jenkem is based in New York. And like any East Coast skater, we love to brag about “how hard we got it,” with our icy winters, pricey rent, grimy spots, and all the other core, cool-guy bullshit that makes us so self-absorbed. This leaves a lot of us here closed off to the perspectives of middle America, which I could only guess was overflowing with Budweiser, jean shorts, dusty roads, and that promise of freedom that the American dream is supposedly built upon.
So when Levis Skateboarding hit me up about a skatepark they were building on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, I knew I had to tag along to open my mind to what this real America is all about. So we ventured out with a bunch pro skaters and media men out of our comfort zone, past roaming buffalo and through the Badlands and into a part of America that most Americans know nothing about.
The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is home to over 45,000 members of the Oglala Lakota tribe spread out across 3,500 square miles of wide open prairies. Over half of this population is under the age of 18, and like most kids in rural communities (well, anywhere really), they’re in desperate need of something to do to expend all of that new hormonal energy. Combine this typical teen angst with the unique epidemics of alcoholism, drug addiction, and depression that overwhelmingly effect the Native American community, and you quickly realize that these kids are in greater need than nearly anyone on Earth for a good place to skateboard.
The people of Pine Ridge have it harder than most. Over 80% of the population of Pine Ridge is unemployed; over half of them are below the poverty level; and the reservation has the lowest life expectancy of any region in the United States. We’ve all rolled our eyes at the cliche that “skateboarding saves lives,” but here on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, that statement still holds power.
I flew in from New York City to Rapid City, South Dakota, a place that was remarkably less rapid then the name let on. After I checked in at the apparently haunted hotel we were all set to stay at, I took a skate around and noticed all of these amazing bronze Presidential statues set up around the city. Of course I couldn’t let this one of JFK… “Ask not what skateboarding can do for you, but what you can do for skateboarding” – JFK
Levi’s brought along a bunch of skaters and skate media heads for this trip. Each day typically started with a big brunch together where most of us would still be in zombie mode and zoning out on our phones or deciding what to order, then we’d get in the van and drive over the horizon. Here we have Jamie Owens of Transworld and Atiba Jefferson of The Skateboard Mag checking out some Buffalo we drove by on the way to the Pine Ridge skatepark.
Legit National Geographic gold as we were driving to the reservation. With a van full of media people, we had to stop to take some shots at the legendary Badlands just to the north of Pine Ridge.
Here we are! We reached our destination at the freshly built Manderson skatepark where we skated with this kid and his homies a bunch. I asked them how they got into skating, and most of them just learned about it from their friends. The only pros they really knew were Tony Hawk and Rob Dyrdek, but some of them knew about Nyjah Huston and Rodney Mullen from YouTube too.
Josh Matthews breaks in the virgin concrete by showing the kids how it’s properly done with a fat ollie at Manderson skate park.
After skating the park for a bit we bumped into these guys on the way to check out a pow wow. Dude’s shoes on the right remind me of old red and black Heath Kirchart Circas. What a dope shoe.
Since drinking on the reservation is forbidden, once you leave the Pine Ridge in South Dakota and cross state lines into Nebraska, there are about 4 blocks of bars where you see people passed out on the street from alcoholism – daytime, nighttime, whenever. It’s fucking depressing. As we drove along we also saw some stuff like this spray painted barn, “DEATH WHITEMAN.”
The next day we woke up and drove back to the reservation, but this time checking out a different area called Wounded Knee Park. We saw all sorts of wild life, my favorite being the wild horses.
Along the road we stopped for a break and found this random little rail stub in the middle of nowhere. Feeling the itch to do something with it, Zach caveman boardslided it while Chief Chris Nieratko directs and manages.
Here’s Joey Pepper of HUF and Expedition talking to a few natives at the park. Their first question to him was, “Are you pro?” in which they followed up with, “Do you know Nyjah Huston?” Pretty crazy that you can be on a rural reservation in South Dakota and you’re still getting the same exact questions you’re getting at a demo in SoCal.
And that’s a wrap! The crew stops for a photo of the media clan in front of the Badlands. A sausage fest for sure.