Skate photographer Jonathan Merhing's work (you've seen his photos in Skateboarder, Thrasher, Transworld - you get the picture) has taken him to over 30 different countries around the world, and someone's finally gotten around to making a book out of his photos. We're beyond stoked to present to you an interview with skate photographer and world traveler Jonathan Mehring about his new book, Skate the World, including photos from the book itself. If your attention span is to short to make it to the end of this article, you can pre order the book here or grab a copy tonight if you're in NYC.
Village Psychic: You've made a name for yourself as someone who photographs skateboarding all over the world. How'd you start traveling for skate trips?
Jonathan Mehring: I started at SLAP Magazine back in 2000 or so and they sent me on a bunch of tours for them which definitely peaked my curiosity. Once I started working at Skateboarder Magazine in 2004, I was able to start producing my own trips around the world to various places that hadn't been skated by pros. I had become a little bored of always going to the same places that were popular for skate teams to visit over and over. I wanted to see what else the world had to offer so I started pushing to go weird places that most people have never heard of — as long as I thought there were at least a few spots there.
VP: How do you choose where you're going to go? Is there anywhere you avoid? Why?
JM: I'm not going to go into an open war zone or anything like that or somewhere that ISIS is operating. Otherwise, pretty much, as long as there may be spots, I'm down. As far as picking the spots, I'll base it on cultural events, adventure travels, or if a lot of people recommend a place, then I'll check that out. A lot of research goes into it ahead of time. It's nice to know what your getting into.
VP: Being that your photos are shot all over the globe, National Geographic seems like an ideal organization to publish this book. Tell us a little about how that partnership came about.
JM: It's all who you know and right place right time. That is the only way that this happened. I had a chance meeting with a book editor at National Geographic at a Christmas party in 2008 at my parents' house. The conversation started there and then took several years for me to find a sponsor, Levi's Skateboarding, to help fund the book. National Geographic wanted a sponsor because it was a new subject for them, and because none of the photographers involved were Nat Geo staffers.
VP: What can we expect from the book? Who's contributed to it?
JM: It's the story of skaters sharing a singular culture around the world and how that helps transcend local societal barriers. I brought in a few contributors to help round it out, filling in gaps of places I've never been or guys I hadn't shot with. About 20 in all. Some names you'll recognize for sure, and some you might not. All are amazing photographers in their own right. As far as words, Tony Hawk wrote the forward, which was very generous of him, and I wrote 13 short essays.
VP: Do any photos in the book have especially memorable stories attached? Any that we're extra hard to get?
JM: There are so many that bring to mind crazy stories. One that was tough to get was Jaws' kickflip in the intro from Utah. We had just found the "spot" and he was rolling up to it. There was a massive storm coming in and we had been warned not to get caught out there in one. But you know it is when someone is trying a trick: No one wants to stop until the skater either lands it or is too tired to keep trying. So we go rushing ahead. I'm frantically setting up lights and grabbing lenses. He's going for it and getting really close, sticking it every time, when the wind gets up and my light stand goes flying off the rock and smashed the strobe on the ground 10 feet below. We had to grab the gear and run for cover. We managed to get out of there but only by walking next to the van, holding it on the slippery mud road with our hands. It took us hours to get to the main road and he had to go back and land it later.
Another was the one of Clint Peterson, Kenny Anderson, Adelmo Jr., Raymond Molinar and Jake Johnson disembarking from a boat in Santarem, Brazil. It was after being on a boat for three or four days, sleeping in hammocks, and eating the same reheated chicken and rice meal. We were toast at that point. The photo with everyone laden down with all their gear really rings true to what we were all feeling at that point.
VP: What should skaters who've never taken a trip outside the US know about skating in other countries?
JM: It's always good to be aware of the local culture and customs. Sometimes the smallest thing, that might seem like nothing to you, will anger a local and end up in a bad situation. Remember that you are the foreigner and to tread lightly if at all possible.
VP: What's the most dedicated you've seen somebody to making skating happen?
JM: Probably Jerry Mraz here in NYC. He's made so many spots and made so many spots skateable that weren't before. He not only wants to make them for himself, but also for the greater skate community. He's also been on several park builds through the Levi's program as a volunteer. As part of that program, we went to Bolivia, which was was amazing. 100 people from 20 countries approximately came to help out. Building there was super tough because of the altitude. We camped on site and it took everyone several days to get used to the thin air. The work was slow going and the park boundaries got confused so it ended up being three times larger than planned. That added more time, more building, and more materials. What resulted was the largest skatepark in South America though, which is pretty amazing. Jerry was alos one of the hardest working skaters there.
VP: Is there anything you've seen that skaters have in common no matter where they are?
JM: Yeah of course! That's the angle of the book. We all speak at least of the same language, literally with tricks, or figuratively by knowing we have this experience, practice, interest in common. You always have a friend nearby when you are a skater. It doesn't matter what country you are in.