When I got a text from Kevin Coakley saying, "Let's do a Mexico City trip in the winter!" I immediately thought… Well, actually, I didn't think at all. I was already picturing myself under an umbrella, margarita in hand, sitting next to a tropical skate spot. "Let's do it," I texted back. Kevin was already down there on a trip and seemed pretty confident with the lay of the land. I figured, what could go wrong? After promises of pyramids, warm weather, and a cheap exchange rate, I recruited some fellow TOA affiliates: Ben Gore, Luke Malaney, and John Baragwanath. With Mike Heikkila behind the lens, and Matt Velez manning the VX, it was time to get to Mexico City and find Kevin.
Words by Pat Steiner
Photos by Mike Heikkila
Somehow everyone flew in right on time. There were no hiccups—minus the car rental place giving me a van with an eighth of gas in the tank—whatever, we were on our way. Thirty minutes after leaving the airport we were pulled over by two motorcycle cops with machine guns around their necks. Lesson: Don't do U-turns in Mexico. They stood at the van window demanding money… 3200 pesos to be exact (roughly 165 bucks USD). With our limited knowledge of negotiating in Spanish, the situation wasn't, how do you say, muy bien. The awkward stand-off continued for what seemed like forever until people started handing dollar bills up from the back of the van. First some ones, a five, another five… the cops seemed to be warming up. One "illegal" U-Turn and 27 American dollars later we were back on the road, albeit a little shook up. We finally arrived at the Airbnb to meet Kevin and unleashed our horror story on him. He just looked at us like we were crazy and said, "Damn, you guys just got so lucky."
Mexico City is huge—seventh largest city in the world huge—and navigating it would have been impossible without the help of our tour guides Mongo Man and Chili Eyes. Whether it's a local drug dealer letting his Pit Bull loose on you, or your van getting a boot for a "parking violation," it's never a boring day in Mexico and thankfully they kept us on our toes.
With our crew in place it was time to hit the streets. The best part about skating in Mexico was the skate-spot-to-food-cart proximity. There's nothing worse than a van full of hangry skaters who can't agree on where to eat. Thankfully that was never an issue. One of our favorite spots was Plaza Garibaldi—good food carts and even better skating. Long, colorful tile banks with gaps and ledges littered the entire plaza. It also happened to be the home of Mariachi music; we were seriously the only people there without guitar cases or sombreros. There's nothing quite like skating at sunset to the sounds of violins and trumpets serenading you in the distance. Everyone was in paradise, and as Kevin floated a perfect front shove over the gap and into the bank, it was time for a fiesta. What better way to celebrate than to eat?
The street meat had been kind to us but we needed a nice sit down meal. The crew was split between vegan tacos and pizza, but luckily both restaurants were next to each other, so we hit the road again. Unfortunately, it happened to be during rush hour. As everyone sunk in their seats realizing we were stuck for the next hour, a sign of hope appeared in the form of an on-ramp. There were hardly any cars on it so we decided to go for it. It looked like a toll road due to the little amount of traffic, but we didn't care, we were finally moving. I noticed a toll gate ahead, no booth or anything, just the beam with a flashing red light before it. Every car ahead went right through it without even slowing down. There was no turning back now. I kept tight on the car in front of me, and as we got closer it looked like we were home free. But then at the last second, the beam came crashing down, breaking off on the windshield. I heard everyone yelling in the backseat, and looked back in the rearview mirror to see the beam bouncing off the ground in shambles. Oh, well. These vegan tacos better be good.
What's interesting about skating in Mexico is as long as you avoid the cops, you can pretty much do whatever you want. It's almost as if the locals had never seen skateboarding before. We would rarely, if ever, get kicked out of a spot. Sometimes we would even move the whole spot, as in the case of this weird diamond plated bump to bar we found. The security guards and construction workers just watched, confused, as eight skateboarders picked up this giant steel ramp and walked away with it. Obviously not far… that thing was heavy. We finally got it onto some concrete and twenty minutes later Ben was riding away from a perfect back Smith. Now if you do happen to run into some cops, they'll let you do whatever you want too… it's just gonna cost you. We found that out when John spotted a gnarly set of stairs with a bank on the side. It was definitely calling for a kickflip, and John was the man for the job. He started throwing some over and just as he put one down, a cop rolled up. Fuck. We sent Kevin over to the cop since he was our most advanced Spanish speaker. They talked for a while, and judging by all the pointing and body language it wasn't looking good. We started packing up as Kevin walked back over and said, "What're you doing, John? Get out there. You got 20 minutes!" Apparently 300 pesos is all you need for a Get Out of Jail Free Card.
Being a Theories trip, it was only a matter of time before we ended up at some ancient ruins. We woke up early the next day and headed towards Teotihuacán, or "City of the Gods," where there are three pyramids (The Pyramid of the Sun, The Pyramid of the Moon, and The Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl.) Our mission: Climb the pyramids and don't get severely sunburnt along the way. We climbed two out of the three pretty good in skate shoes and 90-degree weather if you ask me. When you're looking up from the bottom of the pyramids, it's easy to miss how all three are aligned with each other. This isn't an accident, it turns out each pyramid's location aligns with the stars of Orion's Belt.
Yes, crazy I know. Here's what's even crazier—you know those other three pyramids in Giza? Yeah, all the way in Egypt. Well guess what? Yup, they align with Orion's Belt too. Mind blown. How did two separate civilizations—both oceans apart—erect these massive structures in the exact same way, with only the stars as their blueprint?
Fascinating. Almost as fascinating as us getting lost trying to make our way back to the city… with GPS. I was imagining what it must have been like only having the stars to guide you as we missed another exit. Oops. Learning from our previous mistake we all knew U-Turns were out of the question, so we kept on going until the next exit. We finally pulled off and were greeted by a sea of mosaic tile humps of all shapes and sizes. Amazing, it must have been a going away gift from the City of the Gods.
Hanging out under an underpass when you're lost in Mexico City isn't the safest idea, but someone had to skate these humps. They were a lot harder than they looked and we all waited as Luke battled a few more tries. We could feel the vibe from the locals creeping on us and then boom Luke stomps a lofty pop shuv. Perfect timing. We all got in the van and decided to head home. After a few missed streets we found the on-ramp but there was a guy with a cone blocking it. He signaled for us to get off but we kept going not really sure what to do. We got right up to him and he ushered us into this makeshift exit lane. While sitting there trying to merge onto the highway in standstill traffic, someone noticed a pile of broken wood with yellow reflectors leaning against a fence. As we edged closer it became clearer, and then, a fit of laughter erupted. "Oh shit! That's the beam you broke!" It turned out we were at the same toll road as before and the guy standing there with the cone was the new toll beam. As we drove off in disbelief I thought to myself, "Hmm, that's not a bad gig. It's not everyday you get to stimulate job growth in a foreign city."