Short of making it as a sponsored skateboarder — where you’re paid (-ish?) to travel the world, skate exotic marble slabs, and get drunk with strangers every night — the other main way a lot of skateboarders achieve a similar lifestyle is by becoming touring musicians. They get to travel (probably even more) and have some free time to skate, plus they don’t have pressure to “land tricks.”
Of course, because we’re not professional musicians ourselves, that characterization may not be entirely accurate. So we decided to talk with some musicians who also skate and hear firsthand what it’s like to skate while on tour and between gigs.
Most of the musicians here play some form of guitar-based music, from mellower acts like Devendra Banhart (his music was used in Yaje Popson’s Sk8Rat part) to hardcore bands like Turnstile (who co-branded a pair of mosh pit jeans with Carpet Co.).
Read on for some warm and fuzzy stories about the roles that skating can have for traveling artists. If these anecdotes don’t inspire you to skate more often, maybe they’ll at least shame you into making better excuses the next time you back out of a session.
When you’re on tour, how often do you get to go out and skate?
I have never found the sentiment “go for a long drive” in any way exhilarating or seductive. Cars were ruined by skating for me. Nothing beats cruising till the sun goes down (or up).
I find it extremely therapeutic to take a break from writing and just cruise, [it’s] very hard to be anywhere but totally present when skating.
Skating on stage after soundcheck is super fun and surreal, and nothing beats getting to play festivals with super heroes like Tommy Guerrero (I don’t think I’ve ever played in Japan when Tommy wasn’t playing as well) and Ray Barbee.
Have you ever gotten injured from skating while on tour?
Hard to top having Rodrigo Amarante literally skate into my knee (he has a very large, beautiful, and sturdy Brazilian cranium) and feeling my entire leg bend in the other direction. I don’t know how I can still walk, let alone skate after that. In his mind he was going to skate as fast as he could at me and then somehow ollie around me? I’m not sure how he imagined that working.
Still, it was nothing compared to being 12 in Caracas and learning to heelflip, missing my deck, and having it hit my tailbone so hard that i still feel like there was a board up my ass. And bombing a hill years later in California, totally losing control and skidding down the hill on my arm. Lost most of the skin on there. The things we do for love.
Seb Mueller (bass in SWMRS)
How much do you think about skating when you’re on the road?
You think about it all day when you drive. I absolutely use skating to break up my day. You get so much exercise, and it’s just fun.
My favorite thing has always been to push for hours with no destination. You kinda just push around till you find something. That’s my go-to. I’ve never been into big sets or rails. I love quick tech stuff like little manuals and slappies. So I just push around for hours with no end goal and kinda skate what I see as I go. If I stumble across something really cool I’ll stop for a while.
Does the band skate together much?
Not much of the band skates anymore. Joey used to have a mini ramp in his backyard, so I got to know him through skating it with my crew. I think the extent of skating with bandmates now is just the continuing saga of attempting to teach Cole how to kickflip. Hopefully the day will come soon.
Skating is just like music. You don’t have to have anything else in common with someone. You can be any age, speak any language, and come from any background. You don’t even have to say a word and you can feel like you are hanging and having a connection with someone.
Ever gotten injured from skating while on tour?
I’m superstitious and will not be answering this question….
Ambrose Kenny-Smith (vocals/keys in King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard)
How much spot searching do you do when you’re in a new city?
I am always looking out the window for spots as we come into different areas. Constantly I’m gasping at stuff on the street. From untouched gold to an infamous spot, it’s always a feast for the eyes and an exciting change of scenery from the highway.
Are you down to skate with fans?
Last year in Berlin we played this venue right where that indoor Skatehalle Park is. Jason [Galea, King Gizzard’s projectionist] and I put together one setup from different stuff we had accumulated from fans on that tour. Some fans were nice enough to give me and Jason their old setups so we could both go skate together, which has been a dream.
Got any good skate injuries while touring?
No, never! Touch wood. That’s the big reason why I take it pretty easy these days. I fractured my left knee skating back in November last year.
I had started to get my groove back and filmed a couple of fairly mediocre things for a friends video called Soda that has just come out here in Melbourne. It was right before we did an Australian tour which made everything a whole lot harder.
Alex Henery (guitar in Basement, Fiddlehead)
If you have time to skate before a gig, what’s your go-to spot?
Because of the lack of time we have between getting to the venue and playing, I usually just skate flat by the venue or check a local park. Sometimes we’re super lucky and there’s famous spots right by the venue.
I remember the first time we played The Wiltern in LA and I got out of the van and saw the J Kwon Ledges and Radio Korea spot and was super hyped. Being from England, all these slabs of concrete seem even more impressive as all the video parts flash before my eyes. Everyone else just thinks I’m crazy that I’m stoked on a ledge or a set of stairs.
Other highlights have been when our music has been used in the skate world. I was super hyped when a snippet of our song was used in Thrasher’s “King of the Road.” That was a real big deal for me because I’ve watched all those videos for years. Also, another band I’m in called Fiddlehead had a song used in an Emerica tour video.
When you’re traveling and in between shows, how often do you skate?
I literally just got back from skating to get a cheesesteak at Govinda’s in Philly. If there’s a chance for me to skate, even if it’s just cruising to a thrift store or a restaurant, then I am usually on my board. Sometimes we drive all day and don’t have any time to do anything but drive and stop for gas. But when I do get to skate it’s nice to escape and explore a new city in a more interesting way than just walking.
“Freaky” Franz Lyons (BASS IN TURNSTILE)
What’s your favorite skate memory from traveling?
I remember one time we got to skate with Brandon Biebel, Guy Mariano, Atiba Jefferson, and Sean Malto. To be honest, we skated a little, but I mean, look who was in the park…just us and them? We tried to play it cool but couldn’t help but pause and take in the movie we were temporarily living.
I love skateboarding and I love playing music, but since I didn’t get to make it to the level of skating that we all dream of, music is my way to be able to explore spots, cities, and parks with five of the illest people I’ve ever met. For that I’m extra large grateful.
[Skating’s] got the same power as music. It’s something we relate on so it’s easy to build a bridge to other people. We meet all kinds of cool, bright characters through skating and music alike.
Does the touring lifestyle have an impact on how you skate?
To be completely honest, sometimes it’s like starting to skateboard from the start again. Monotony means repetitive right? Sitting and driving is a task but I got sick ass company all the time so skating is just the reward for handling responsibilities safely.
Jon Markson (bass in Such Gold)
How has skating played a role in your band?
When I joined Such Gold, Ben and I weren’t even necessarily close friends. The beginnings of our friendship were definitely forged while trying to figure out casper flips at 2 a.m. in a Walmart parking lot.
John Siorek, who drums in Knuckle Puck, did merch for us on a full U.S./Canada tour back in 2012. I watched that dude, at the time a kid, airwalk over a double set handrail in Montreal.
When we are on tour with another band we will immediately fish out whoever skates. It’s such a great way to build friendships and experience the touring musician lifestyle. It’s a good excuse to exercise and laugh and take a second away from the repetition of playing shows.
Any good injuries?
I was getting a little ballsy in 2015 and ended up injuring myself twice that year.
Once by dislocating my shoulder front 180-ing down a set a week before a tour. I got it popped back into place and did the tour no problem, although it was still a bit sore. I actually had to change the way I was playing bass a bit and in the long run it made me a better and more ergonomic bass player, as I had to force myself to be more lateral with my fretting as opposed to jumping up and down the neck.