He’s spent his time on a skateboard traveling to the farthest reaches of the Earth, not only to see if it can be done, but to experience cultures and a people’s way of life different from his own. He’s often referred to as “The Traveler for obvious reasons-he doesn’t spend much time at home. Barcelona, Spain is where Kenny Reed currently calls home base, but it’s more of a launch pad to explore places like Russia, Bulgaria, Turkey, and other countries most would consider unsuitable for travel, especially to ride a skateboard.
Tracking Kenny down for his Pro Spotlight was a task. He was in Bulgaria when he first responded via e-mail. He spoke of an amazing culture and couldn’t stop talking about how good the skate spots were. He even told tall tales of gypsies walking through the streets with their dancing bears.
Kenny Reed has amassed a plethora of knowledge and experienced culture only National Geographic reporters have encountered. For his interview, Kenny had three international friends—Omae Desu from Thailand, and Quentin de Briey and Javi Mendizabol from Barcelona—ask him questions. Read on to learn more about The Traveler.—Eric Sentianin
Interview by Omae Desu
Wilfred Thesiger just died. He was an English traveler/adventurer who was pretty much the last of his kind—meaning the last generation of Europeans—i.e., white people—to be the first to see “undiscovered parts of the world. He spent many of the last years of his life living with the Samburu people in northern Kenya but never learned their language. Instead, he tried to teach them English so he could live and get along with them. This is a guy who—more than 99 percent of the people out there—understood and respected the “natives as human beings on their own terms. So with skateboarding and traveling, do you ever feel that you’re in that same position of good intentions but still having to speak English with the people you meet, literally and figuratively? Do you ever feel that going to the places you do, at a certain point, makes those places become the same as where you left?
I know what you mean. Am I somehow affecting people and changing the way they see things? Not too much. I don’t think I’m a missionary or conquistador, spreading the word or infectious diseases—for sure not changing a whole society. Maybe when people see skating for the first time. But I’m not really on the same level as that guy—no way. Everybody already speaks English now anyway, man.
Say you want to try a specific trick at a particular spot, go to a certain place in the world, or wear whatever gear you’re wearing, et cetera. What makes you think, “I want to do/see/wear/eat/whatever this? I know this is a vague question … you could ask this of most people about why they do anything in their lives and it’d be difficult to answer, but being a pro skateboarder exposed to the world and all, maybe you can try.
I guess whatever is inspiring at the time. There’re a lot of things out there that’re interesting. Looking around, waking up at six a.m. and trying to skate or going to walk around talking to grandpas. Tryng new things—spicy food, trying new tricks. Trying triple flips—I’ve been into those lately. Me and (Paul) Shier learned ‘em.
What makes you happy?
Friends, family, skating, and sunshine.
In the end, where’s it all going to? Are you trying to stay out of the United States forever? And if yes, why?
The end is the end, but before that, I think I’ll try—with what time I have—to see what else is goin’ on out there: Central Asia with the shamanistic places where you can see the magic in the air. Psychedelic places, Axum, Nairobi. Khanate of Bukhara. Samerkarn. Khiva. Timurlane. Ghengis Khan. Tunis. Cossacks. Tartars. Turkmen. Roma. Bulgars. Slavs. Caucasus tribes. Thracians, Ionic Greeks, Goths, Huns, Magyars, Khazars, and people of the steppe. Scythianss and Sarmations.
What do you think skateboard kids should know about you?
I got spots. Most skate spots I’ve found just by e-mailing kids. There’re skate Web sites for most countries you’ve heard of. I try to get them to send me pictures and stuff. If not, you can look on the Internet and see that the cities are modern, and you can find skateparks everywhere. Lebanon, Mongolia, Israel all have skateparks. Some good cities to skate are Shanghai, China; Minsk, Belarus; Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia; Almaty, Kazakhstan; and Vladivostok, Russia, to name a few.
Interview by Quentin de Briey
What makes you travel so much?
I like getting lost, learning, meeting skaters, and skating new spots.
Do you sometimes feel bad about being American?
What’s wrong with America?
No national health-care system—other than that everything’s perfect—perfect lawns and perfect French fries, oh sorry, freedom fries.
Have you ever gone to a new place and wanted to leave right after arriving?
Yes—America, every time I go back and hear people complaining.
What little things make you happy in your day?
Unexpected things like seeing a friend on the street, making new friends, or falling asleep on somebody’s floor with their dog licking me in the face. Smiles from strangers.
Interview by Javi Mendizabol
When I read something about you in the magazines or someone tells me about you, they use beautiful words. Why?
I dunno. I guess I try to be nice to people when I meet them—to pay attention. Especially if it’s the first time you meet someone. You may never see them again, or you may be good friends one day, especially if it’s a skater. It’s hard to always be like that, though.
Kenny Reed, The Traveler—you’re always on the road. Do you sometimes miss being at home for more than twenty days and try to meet your neighbor?
Yeah, I was thinking about that the other day. I like having a community—knowing the guy at the corner store. I go to this Indian restaurant here in Barcelona and I’m friends with that guy. So, yeah, it’s nice sometimes like that.
I know that you’ve been by yourself for the last year in Papua New Guinea, the Cook Islands, and more exotic places. Did you go to those places on a personal skate mission, or is it more for a spiritual mission?
I was reading this book last year about the history of civilization and how certain areas of the world developed differently and why—from their beginnings. It had to do with what plants and animals were available to people in different places around the world. Other stuff, too, like migration. There was all this information about Papua New Guinea and how it was one of the last places to be “civilized. I was on a skate trip in Australia and extended my ticket for a few weeks, so I went there to check it out. I stayed with this tribe in the jungle. Time travel is possible. Some of the people I met had never seen a white guy before.
What do you like to do when you’re back at home?
When I come home, I like to skate with my friends and play SKATE all day in crowded plazas with marble ground.
How is the life in Spain—why did you decide to move there? Don’t tell me about the skate scene in Barcelona. I’m asking you about the culture, the people, and the life on the streets.
It’s a lot different. Different than the way I lived before—skate with less hassle, learn another language, much more freedom, less driving in cars, less stress, and less confusion.