Wrentham. Walpole. Plainville. Providence. Guilford. Old Lyme. The Bronx.
Those were just a few of the communities that two friends who share an extreme passion for skateboarding passed through last summer, when they decided to make a journey from Boston to New York City relying on what they could fit into their backpacks.
What came from the trip, however, was more than just hundreds of miles of pushing their skateboards along busy highways. Zach Baker and Adam Abada recorded their multi-state adventure, and created a documentary—released this summer—capturing their interactions with locals from cities and towns between their starting point and final destination, and encapsulating an underlying message of the importance of community and the essence of the skateboarding lifestyle.
“Backstreet Atlas,” a video of the nearly two-week trip along the back roads of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York, as well as a daring jaunt on some of the busiest state highways, follows Baker and Abada as they skated between the two cities, leaning on anyone that would welcome them as they traveled.
Described as part skate video, part documentary, Abada said the footage encompasses a lot more than the typical skateboarding shots, but still highlights a way of living that has been a centric part of peoples’ lives for decades. “Upon seeing the film, a lot of people told me that they wished they could skateboard so they could do something similar. You don’t need to be able to skateboard to do something like this. The point to me is that you can do something like this anytime and anyplace with anything,” said Abada. “You don’t need to skateboard. Go somewhere you don’t know, or somewhere you think you know, and learn something new. It’s a big world.”
The adventure didn’t end once they finished their back-to-back 30-mile trips each day, though. It took months to compile all the footage that they collected of strangers from Boston to Block Island and all the way to New Haven, Conn., after spending 11 days as vagabonds, sleeping on beaches and abandoned properties. “We weren’t done when we got to New York … [we were] just getting started,” said Baker. “It took us … seven months of editing to make a movie. Having a picture-locked, scored, color-corrected documentary was the real triumph.”
When they’re not traveling through multiple states on skateboards, Abada, a freelance film editor, and Baker, a bartender, are usually skateboarding … in a single state.
Boston reached out to the duo to find out more about their adventure. Here’s what they had to say:
What made you guys decide that you wanted to skateboard from Boston to New York City?
ZB: The anecdote that we keep telling people is that I lived in Boston and Adam lived in New York, and I would always take the Chinatown bus down, and one time I said, jokingly, that I would skate to New York for the next trip. We were both like “what a minute …” and it evolved from there. It wasn’t entirely a matter of happenstance. Adam and I have always brought our boards everywhere. We use them for pleasure and street skating as well as routine transportation. If I’ve ever been on a vacation without a skateboard, I regretted it, no matter the destination. We were enthused by a vacation that was literally reliant on our favorite pastime.
You stayed in some pretty unsatisfactory spots along the way. Right from the start, you hung out in an abandoned bar. What was the worst night on your trip?
ZB: We never had a heinous night. I, for one, can sleep anywhere, and we had the tent and good friends so we slept well every place we went. The worst night was the night that we got back and the trip was over.
AA: While we may have roughed it on some nights, nothing was really too unsatisfactory for us. Zach slept in a hammock in a crawlspace one night. That definitely did not look fun.
What did you get out of the overall experience? What did you learn about Massachusetts and Rhode Island, as you traveled through by skateboard?
ZB: The trip just helped to reinforce our belief that good times and good people are very easy to come by. We didn’t cover as much of Massachusetts as I would have liked, and Rhode Island was equally a blur, but I can tell you that everyone that we encountered in both states was cordial and super friendly. I know Adam had never spent much time in Providence, so he was very impressed and intrigued by that city. I love Providence.
AA: It made me truly realize how much land there is out there and how that affects how communities grow and relate to each other. When these towns were formed, it took a long time to get from one place to another, so everyone was truly local. We really experienced the transition in the natural environment as well as the human cultures around us in a way that I imagine people used to when it took longer to get around. I felt like Boston was ages away when I got back home [to New York City].
It seems like you definitely met some characters. Who was the most unique person you bumped into during your trek?
ZB: A man named Larry, poolside at the La Quinta Hotel in New Haven, Conn.
AA: I would say that was a twofer. In New Haven, we were kicking it poolside with a 19-time convicted felon, his disabled son, and an ex-big league ball player and Vietnam vet. They were genuine and open people and a great way to end our day. We didn’t film them.
Surely you can’t skateboard on the highway. Did you guys take back roads? Or just say “whatever,” and skate the highways anyway?
ZB: We skated on the sides of highways far more than we would have liked. We were on a few cutty local roads too, though.
AA: You can absolutely skateboard on the highway. We did. It was never our intention, we were going for the back roads, but it happened. The scariest part was how normal it became. You never want to be that comfortable when you’re that close to that many speeding cars.
Did you guys cheat at all— even just a little bit—and take rides from people?
ZB: No. We agreed that the only rides we would take would be from pretty girls and the police. With that being said, we were searched top-to-bottom by some cops in Harrison, [New York] because they thought that we were interstate drug traffickers or something. We took rides from people within a place while staying there, but we would always leave from the same place that we left off skating.
AA: We rode exactly 1.2 miles in a cop car to the Harrison/Mamaroneck border when we were literally kicked out of town, Old West style, for doing nothing but looking like complete vagrants. That’s not cheating.
When you got tired of skating all day, what kept you going forward, to get to New York?
ZB: A myriad of factors kept us moving. It was very grueling to skate each day but neither of us had any doubt that we could make it. Also, starting each day, we were psyched to get out there and see what each next place was like. Other motivators included beer, lunch, and dinner.
AA: When we were beat, we knew we had to keep going because we’d get to rest and relax. There was no easy exit. You can call someone to pick you up or find whatever freaky mode of public transportation there is closest to where you were, but that all sounds like just as much work as skating to where we decided to crash for the night.
Do you think your documentary dug into the dirt, to get back to the roots of what the skateboarding lifestyle is all about?
ZB: Yes and no. The documentary is us taking the most basic function of a skateboard (transportation) to an extreme degree. Nowadays, the level of skateboarding you see on ESPN or in videos has reached such a superhuman skill level that it’s sometimes easy to forget that it’s just a primitive mode of transport—four wheels under a plank of wood. A parallel that I’d noticed, though, between the type of skating we did for this trip and your standard skating to do tricks is the idea of progress and working toward achieving and completing a goal. Skateboarding is a tight-knit community, especially in the Northeast, and I think that the documentary showcases that. That is an important aspect of skateboarding—the people you encounter. I’ve been all over the world and have made friends every place that I’ve been just from going out and skating.
AA: Having fun while skateboarding, being open to all the opportunities it brings, and being yourself in the process is the skateboarding lifestyle. Hitting the streets too. We did that and made a documentary of it, so, yeah. We got to the roots of the dang thing.
You guys seemed pretty stoked once you made it to the city. What did that feel like, knowing you traveled all that way, using only your skateboards?
ZB: I was pretty pooped, but psyched to be back, for sure. It took a couple days for it to hit me that we were done. We both woke up the next day ready to skate to the next place, like, panicking! On the one hand, it doesn’t feel like that much of a feat. People have definitely skated farther than us, and on a broader totem pole of human accomplishment, our skate trip would rank fairly low, I reckon. It’s not Everest, you know? But yeah, I’m very proud. I realized that it’s probably not something anyone’s ever done.
AA: It felt great to be in New York. It seemed like it would be a much bigger entrance. As if some gates were going to open or something. We went over a bridge and then realized we were in the Bronx. Knowing that we travelled the whole way on our skateboards felt great. I could’ve kept going.
Source URL: https://www.bostonmagazine.com/arts-entertainment/2013/08/27/backstreet-atlas-skateboard-documentary-video/
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