by Justin Bohl
I often get asked how I came to be in the position of skate host and tour guide for people visiting Detroit. Regardless of how many times this question arises, I always struggle to answer. The role was never something I was seeking out or hoping to do. By chance, I ended up helping some groups of skateboarders who visited Detroit early on and word spread that I was someone that could show people around and give them a free place to stay. Shortly thereafter I began receiving calls and messages, sometimes just the day before a team arrived, saying, “Yo, we’re coming to Detroit! Got your contact from so-and so, can you help us out?” Next thing I know, there’s 10 skaters packed into my small apartment, none of whom I’ve met before.
A Reflection on Detroit Skateboarding’s Past and the Early Days of Skate Trips
With Detroit’s popularity in recent years, it is easy to forget that just a short time ago the city was completely overlooked in the skateboard world. Aside from the lone photo in a magazine every few years, Detroit’s presence in the greater skateboarding community was essentially non-existent. Teams would visit for an occasional demo at a skatepark in the suburbs, but move onto their next destination in a neighboring state, or Canada, that same day. I was always puzzled by this, particularly because nearby cities like Chicago and Toronto garnered much greater attention in comparison. In my eyes, Detroit had all the elements of an amazing skate city: plaza spots that could be skated any time, wide, empty streets, minimal security and police presence downtown, no skatestoppers, and a very unique, aesthetically pleasing urban environment. I figured the skate industry decided Detroit wasn’t an idyllic destination, and that I was just biased, blinded by my adoration for Detroit.
However, when some form of coverage from Detroit did appear, it was immensely exciting and the first thing everyone talked about at the next session. “Did you see Danny Renaud’s Backside Tailslide on the Fort Street rail in the new Slap?” or “How crazy is it that Levi Brown had a Detroit clip in his Element part?” are two conversations I remember having multiple times in that era. It sounds silly, but I can’t emphasize how stoked local skaters were on happenings like this because they were such a rare occurrence.
Looking back, this is all quite laughable now. But those events greatly shaped my motivation in the early days of showing people around when crews started to visit and actually stay in Detroit in 2011. I felt a sense of obligation on behalf of the local skate community to make sure our visitors had the best, most productive time possible in Detroit, and that our scene was properly represented. Additionally, I felt a duty to provide a genuine experience of what Detroit and skateboarding here was all about. Ultimately I knew that, beyond locals getting to meet their favorite pro or see footage of them skating local spots, the benefits of greater recognition in the skate world could lead to increased support for skate shops, local rippers getting recognition, special events being catered to our area, and overall greater support and opportunities for our community.
Life and Times of Being a Skate Host and Tour Guide
Over the past eight years of being the Detroit tour guide, hundreds of skateboarders ranging in ages from 16 to 52 years old, from professional status to average skateboarder, have passed through my apartment doors. At times, they’ve crammed inside in groups as large as 14, executing a form of human Tetris to obtain a sleeping spot on the floor. Having 14 dudes and only one bathroom is a challenge on an entirely different level – the unpleasant details of which I’ll spare the readers. By the end of that trip however, it was hard not to feel some sort of euphoric accomplishment and reflect in disbelief, “I can’t believe that many humans fit into this tiny space for an entire week.” Receiving my utility bill for that period resulted in another type of disbelief too.
I like to think of myself as a very mellow dude but I must admit, there have been a couple instances in recent years where I questioned whether to continue this role. The balancing act of pursuing a Master’s degree, full-time work, general responsibilities of being 30 something years old, all while hosting a group of skaters, does result in stressful moments. Some skaters are just not fun or cool to be around. Being really good at riding a skateboard does not automatically translate to being a good person or someone you’d go out of your way to help. These moments are rare and fleeting, easily outweighed by countless great memories and experiences from various trips and projects that I will never forget.
When thinking of some personal favorite trips that I’ve been involved with, DVS in 2012 will always be a top choice. It was Daewon, Paul Shier, Torey Pudwill, Marty Murawski, Luis Tolentino, Jon Nguyen, Zack Wallin and photographer Matt Price. That trip was a game changer for both myself and future Detroit visitors. In addition, every single person in that crew was genuinely stoked on the scene, and has visited at least once, if not multiple times since their original 2012 mission. That trip also brought about the first time a Detroit-area spot made the cover of a major magazine (Daewon - Blunt Stall Kickflip to Fakie - The Skateboard Mag #108), which was legendary to us.
It’s too difficult to pick one specific trip from them, but Alien Workshop has done many memorable trips (sometimes visiting twice in one year) and has spent more time in Detroit than any other crew. I love that these guys are such skate-rats and skate the crustiest spots in the city, often hitting spots most others don’t. Lastly, I have to give much respect to 5Boro (Jimmy McDonald, Willy Akers, Dan Pensyl) and Carhartt WIP (Pontus Alv, Hjalte Halberg, Phil Zwijsen, and others) who did a joint trip in 2011, and were the first team of skaters to stay and skate only in the city, rather than the suburbs.
There are many small moments that stick out in my mind from over the years as well – primarily for their humorous nature. While filming for his video “Flat Earth,” Ty Evans stopped by for a day, driving a completely blacked out van with a camera mounted on the front that is typically placed on a helicopter. He wanted every clip, including lines, filmed with this camera. This entailed one person operating a switchboard with a series of dials and knobs to control the camera, and a second person to drive the van back and forth for each trick attempt. I was enlisted to be the van driver for the day. During one session, we likely drove back and forth over the same 20 feet of cement over 1000 times, shifting from drive to reverse every time a trick was not landed. I always imagine how puzzling this must have appeared to the unknowing onlooker or spectator that witnessed this process.
Amongst other memories:
*A young Mark Suciu arriving in Detroit for his first time in 2012, and making everyone wait to go skate until he finished the current chapter of his novel.
*Enjoying the lavish lifestyle of Palace Skateboards, hanging out in a million-dollar mansion and dining at local restaurants I typically cannot afford.
*Painting the entire front of the abandoned building next door the color mint with Sergej Vutuc.
*Born and raised Detroit native, now Thrasher photographer Joe Brook telling stories about skating inside the infamous abandoned train station in Detroit in the early 90s.
*Finally, getting ice cream with Fred Gall. Few words were said or exchanged. It was just a typical, everyday ice cream eating session and nothing special or cool happened, but with Fred Gall.
I’ve been fortunate enough to capture some of the moments I just mentioned, and many more, in the form of point-and-shoot photos and iPhone clips – the culmination of which has resulted in the making of this article and “MINT.”
A Word About the Title of the Video
Whether consciously or subconsciously, I believe there is a certain color (or colors) we associate with the cities we frequent. Many times, it is the color(s) that represent a local sports team, like The Giants’ orange and black, for San Francisco. And so, mint is the color I have long associated with Detroit. There are traces of it throughout the city, particularly in old warehouses and factories where this color appears to have been a staple choice when painting the walls decades ago. It is not a common color to see and for that reason, mint really sticks out when one comes across it. With this being an all Detroit skate video centered around life in my neighborhood where there is also an abundance of mint, this title was the only thing that felt fitting.