Is it possible to skate in Jamaica? I’d been wanting to take a skate trip to Jamaica for years, but when I started planning this one I had no idea how it would work out. With a few tenuous Jamaican connections in place, I hit up the Snack skateboards crew in San Francisco and we searched for flights to Kingston. Travellers included Roger Krebs, Sean Cullen, Zack May, AJ Petit, Sam Zentner, Matt Gottwig (honorary Snack member), filmer Zach Chamberlin and me, Bonesaw, the owner of Snack.
So this winter, when the SF fog was thick but the Jamaican skies were 75°F and sunny, we made a go for it. Heading there, our only local plug was a reggae musician, but by the time we left we were on the local news as “skate ambassadors.” Skateboards make the best passports.
This is the huge house we ended up staying at in St. Thomas, a small town 2 hours east of Kingston. My friend in SF connected me with the house’s owner, a reggae musician named Laza Morgan (Laza had a song featured in the dance battle movie, Step Up 3, and Laza’s dad, Denroy Morgan, is a famous reggae musician from the ’80s).
Even though Laza and I never met before this trip, he let us stay at his family’s house because he wants to see skating spread in Jamaica. Going there was a total leap of faith, but it completely paid off. Laza’s crib turned out to be a 5 story estate overlooking miles of lush countryside. At night we were treated to spicy Jamaican curries and in the mornings we woke up to a circle of Rastafarians smoking weed and singing Nyabinghi chants.
Laza has a huge family, and we hung out with his brother Mike the most. Like 99% of Jamaicans, Mike knew very little about skateboarding, but it was funny to watch him decipher skateboarding as he tagged along on our sessions. His cheery attitude and daily motivational speeches quickly earned him the title of Snack Jamaica TM.
Almost every spot we skated turned into an impromptu demo for the locals. A lot of Jamaicans have very few prospects for leaving the island, so it was encouraging to meet kids who view skateboarding as an opportunity to either get sponsored or make connections that might help them explore other interests. Way better than kids in the U.S. who seem to walk by only to laugh at your slam.
Kingston is divided into “uptown” and “downtown” sections. Uptown is the bougie area where you’ll find nightclubs, Bob Marley’s estate, and this junction where we would get the best coconuts and jerk chicken.
Downtown, conversely, we’d heard was like the Wild West. Taking the bus into downtown had some distinct National Geographic vibes. Sketchy gangsters, a guy selling raw meat out of the trunk of his car, and dancehall music blasting everywhere all the time. This was the stuff we hoped to find in Jamaica so we ended up skating downtown a lot.
This was the first of many “parcels” of weed we bought. Weed is insanely cheap in Jamaica — $20 for a quarter pound of “high-grade” — and it’s legal to carry up to 2 ounces on your person. That’s like 150 joints! Any Jamaican herbsman will tell you Jamaican weed is the best in the world. That’s debatable, but when you can affordably buy enough to smoke out Sizzla, it kind of doesn’t matter.
One day while skating in Kingston this kid in sandals started chasing us. When he caught up he introduced himself as Frog Boss. He quickly became part of the crew and ended up showing us tons of cutty spots in downtown Kingston that tourists would never find. In turn, we gave him as much skate gear as we could.
Skating with Frog Boss was a reminder of how befriending locals will improve any skate trip. We saw Frog heelflip his first 3-stair and learned that he got his nickname from being a long jump champion in school. Most people can’t pull off having ‘boss’ in their name, but Frog Boss truly was a boss.
This is Ibo Spice, Frog Boss’ uncle. One night Frog Boss brought us to Ibo’s restaurant for some ital stew (vegetarian curry). After eating, Ibo let us smoke from his chalice, which is a coal-heated water pipe. We got lifted and discussed all the parallels between Rastafarianism and skateboarding (thankfully no one brought up Torey Pudwill’s Rasta flag colored video part).
Jamaica gets a lot of tourists who stay in gated resorts, so when locals encountered us so far off the beaten path they usually wanted to talk. Exchanging stories about our different cultures and backgrounds became a daily activity. We also got to smoke a lot of weed and learn Jamacain phrases like ‘wa gwan?’ (what’s good?) & ‘bredren’ (homie).
In St. Thomas we met Lord Pepe (no affiliation to the Pepe meme.) Lord Pepe walked up to us in a drunken swagger on our first night at Laza’s house and assumed the role of tour guide. In typical chaperone fashion, Lord Pepe took us to a hot spring, liquor stores, and even a roller skating rink for a quick “skate sesh” (bladers and skaters must have softer beef in Jamaica). Our taxi driver Andy tried roller skating for the first time in his life, which was like watching a baby lamb learn to walk.
I’m not sure where this photo was taken, but it documents one of the team’s favorite activities on the trip: rolling spliffs. There’s a point where smoking another spliff can’t get you any higher. It’s called the theory of diminishing returns, and it’s what happens when throughout an 8 day trip you pause every 20 minutes to roll up and smoke. That’s not an exaggeration. One day we smoked an entire quarter pound.
Jamaican public transit relies on a bunch of taxis and small buses that get crammed full of people. So a 5 seater taxi in the U.S. fits about 10 people in Jamaica. Luckily, we saw an empty bus one day and negotiated with the driver to give us a private taxi ride to the countryside where we could drink, smoke, play our own music. If you’ve never haggled, you’ve never lived.
Kingston nightlife is wild. Pop-up dancehall parties happen in empty lots every night of the week, and they can last until 5 in the morning. Even if clubbing isn’t your thing, something special happens when you listen to reggae music through a massive sound system with your head in clouds of weed smoke. Or if you go to a strip club and a dancer slides down the pole and sits on your face, which happened to someone on our last night. Good times, even better memories.