Michi’s Travels

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Shanghai, China, 2006. Ph. Adam Sello

Michael Mackrodt has been all over the world. I would call him ‘The Traveller’, but Kenny Reed nabbed that nickname first. Regardless, Michael’s seen and experienced a hell of lot on his various journeys. We asked Michi to retell some of his stories of dangerous situations, close calls and mayhem from over the years. Put the kettle on and get tucked in to read all about altitude sickness, CIA agents, security guard battles, bar fights, bloodthirsty cabbies and more.  – Will Harmon

Words by Michael Mackrodt

A few years ago we went to Shanghai with the Berlin homies. On one of the first days I got this lipslide on this weird railing by the water. That same night, it was the weekend so Flo Bodenhammer and I decided to go to this shitty club. We found a lonely bottle of Johnnie Walker on a table, so we drank it (maybe a little too fast!). After awhile, Flo left, a bit too wasted, and I stayed with a bunch of people we’d met. When the club closed, some drunk Aussie was standing in the exit way, looking for a fight, pushing random people. Then he came close to me… Drunk with the empty bottle still in my hand I told him to fuck off. We stood closely, staring at each other and he must have felt that I wouldn’t bother smashing my bottle at him. So he stepped back a little, telling me everything is fine and blah blah blah… When all of a sudden, his friend, standing in my blind spot, hit me from the side. Bottle in my face! What a fucking pussy. As a reflex, I smashed my bottle on the guy in front of me, the one that caused the trouble at first, but who had not touched me. So basically, my face wide open, blood pissing, and him, bleeding, too! Blood everywhere, everyone just punched and kicked all they could, getting hits and kicks in from all sides. I just thought ‘don’t fall to the ground or you’re fucked’. Soon bouncers came from everywhere, etc. I managed to escape and ran back to the hotel.
The next morning I went to the cafe where we’d have breakfast at each day and just sat quietly next to Jan Kliewer. Only after a while he realised my face! (I hadn’t been to the hospital yet. Ha ha ha, the look he gave me! OMG!) Jan freaked out!

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Frontside lIpslide, Shanghai, 2006. Ph. Lars Garta

So I went to the hospital, got eight stitches in the middle of my face and was out of order for the next few days. I had two black eyes, a scarf around my head and a crazy headache.
A few days later, when I finally felt like skating again, we went to this popular manny to manny spot (two short pads with a gap in between, sharp marble edges). I switch 180ed up the first, missed the pop (ground is really shitty right before), hung up and flew towards the gap. I was so scared to break my neck that
I somehow managed to jump as far as I could to clear the gap with (at least) my head. BUT I landed straight on my kidney. Only on my kidney! The edge cut into my body with a deep cut in my right side abdomen muscles. Luckily my kidney wasn’t cut ‘cause this could have been really bad!
I lay there in crazy pain and couldn’t really move my left leg anymore. So the others carried me to the street to
stop a cabbie, who, speaking no English, wouldn’t understand where we wanted to go. I mean it was pretty obvious, ha ha. Luckily I had the hospital address from the week before.
So in Shanghai, cabs are fully white inside… They wanna be classy. But after this taxi ride, this one wasn’t white anymore! It was rather red and bloody (he got a nice extra tip to clean it though). At the hospital the guys thought that I had been stabbed, looking at my face as well. They asked if this was some mafia revenge… I told them it was just skateboarding. So after two weeks in China I arrived home bent to one side and I walked like this for a week (‘cause the stitches on my side were so tight) and my face was green, yellow and blue… My girlfriend looked at me rather shocked!

In Mombasa one night after dinner, we (Jan Kliewer, Guillaume Perimony and myself) started to walk home in the dark. The hotel was only a few blocks away, plus, Mombasa locals are super friendly, so we decided to take another small road for a change but mainly to spot hunt!
As a joke, I said: ‘ah maybe this time we’ll get into trouble’, when just a few seconds and a few metres later, out of nowhere, a Tuk-Tuk pulls over. Two armed Kenyan army guys jumped out and stood next to us.
Now, there it was, our shitty situation: three white guys in a lonely, dark street in Africa, two bored army dudes with Kalashnikovs, asking for our passports – which of course we didn’t have. Even if we’d had them, we wouldn’t have shown it right away ’cause it’s the old, classic situation: either they try to rip you off because you don’t have your passport, or they take your passport because you show it, to make you buy it back (well, for girls this situation is way more delicate, ‘cause it might end in rape). It was a lose/lose situation.

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Backside 180 kickflip, Nairobi, Kenya, 2016. Ph. Guillaume Perimony

Luckily for us, we were just a few metres in the dark street, so when Jan pissed them off by telling them: ‘Come on, you just want our money’ etc., the guys got really pissed. I used this moment to quietly take a few steps back towards the intersection so there would be witnesses to the whole thing.
After a moment, they realised that their timing of busting us wasn’t the best. So, luckily they let us go, knowing they hit us just a few metres too early. I wonder what would have happened if they would have seen us just a bit deeper down the dark road? They were up to something for sure.
Once more I felt that in many countries, other than what the media or websites of the ministry of foreign affairs say, it’s mostly the cops and army you need to be careful with, not the people.

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Kickflip wallride, Loas Angeles, USA, 2008. Ph. Marcel Veldman

This was one of my first Element trips to California with Pirkka (Pollari) to meet everyone at the Element US office and skate to get some footage.
Unfortunately, there was no filmer with us and none of the Element US filmers were available. At first I was a bit disappointed, I mean, we went there to get footage on American soil, on some OG spots! But instead of that, it turned out to be one of the chillest trips ever, only shooting some pics with Marcel Veldman to save this trip. So there was no filming stress and, the best bit about it: we had no bad conscience, as it wasn’t our fault at all!
One afternoon before sunset, we skated this ditch spot and somehow skate legend Jeremy Wray showed up, totally randomly with some friends of his.
So we skated this wallride and he got me so hyped that I just jumped against the wall and didn’t really realise whether I flipped my board before hitting the wall or not! It wasn’t important in that moment. I was just happy being there and watching Wray skate around. Having Marcel taking the pic to make this moment unforgettable was just the cherry on the top. Jeremy Wray was super rad too, not like many other skaters who don’t even say hey, even though you might be the only other guy on the spot. This alone was worth the whole trip.

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Frontside kickflip, Abdijan, Ivory Coast, 2015. Ph. Guillaume Perimony

Last year we went to the Ivory Coast with Guillaume Perimony to film our ‘fishing lines in West Africa’ episode. Looking for spots all over the place, we decided to rent a cab to drive (3hrs) to the official capital called Yamoussouko. It’s a small city, quite empty and more relaxed than Abidjan. Here they have built the Notre-Dame-de-la-Paix, a replica of the Petresdom in the Vatican, in the middle of nowhere and totally empty. It looks even twice as big as the real one ‘cause nothing’s there to distract you from looking at the church. There’s no life or whatsoever around. It was marble heaven for kilometres…

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Frontside ollie, Abdijan, Ivory Coast, 2015. Ph. Guillaume Perimony

We decided to shoot some B-roll. After awhile, we could see a tiny yellow spot wave at us. It was a security guard in a yellow shirt, but he was so far away, that we had plenty of time ‘til he would be next to us. He told us to stop skateboarding, so we waited until he got back to the entrance of the basilica, like ten minutes. Once there, we started again. Knowing that it would take him ten minutes again to be near us. He waved again, this time more frantically. He must have shouted, too, but we couldn’t hear… We just waved back, pretending we didn’t get it, and skated on. Exhausted, he approached us again, this time a bit pissed. Guillaume told him, that considering the size of the building, he’d be better off with a skateboard, too. But he couldn’t laugh!
So once this poor guy was back at the entrance, all sweaty (it was around 35°C) a kilometre away, we started again. Fucking tourists!

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Frontside rock ‘n’ roll, Abdijan, Ivory Coast, 2015. Ph. Guillaume Perimony

The 3rd or 4th time we asked him why they kept a place like this so dead, without any life. Besides us there was a tiny other group of tourists, no one else. Wouldn’t God or Jesus like to see people enjoying this place? But he really wasn’t feeling us! We got our line and a good laugh and left this holy place!

On our first ‘Visual Traveling’ trip we took the Trans-Siberian train from Moscow to Mongolia and then on to Beijing and Hong Kong. (10,000 Kilometers video)
So one day after this tuck knee in Irkutsk, by the Lake Baikal, we went to Ulan Bator, where I fucked my ankle really bad. The evening I got hurt was also the day of Patrik Wallner’s birthday. So we went to a club to celebrate and at around five in the morning we left, but being so many guys, we ended up in different cabs. Daniel Hochman and myself were in one hustling the price and getting together 10 Euros (the real price was two Euros max for our distance but with my swollen ankle I didn’t bother). Before we left, two girls jumped in the cab as well: prostitutes, bummer. Now the cab drove to another part of town first. We managed to tell them to get out, but the driver wanted 15 Euros now. We got pissed but what could we do? So we drove near our apartment block near the train station. It was a really fucked up area, no lights and three-metre high fences around all blocks. The driver wanted another five Euros now. In local money it all sounds like huge prices so you feel even more ripped off.
Being two Euros short, (like 18 instead of 20 but also 18 instead of two in the first place!) we handed him the money and got off without a word, walking around the block towards home. Thinking all is fine as he made loads of cash, so a couple Euros short wouldn’t matter. HA!

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Tuck knee, Irkutsk, Russia, 2009. Ph. Alexey Lapin

Then, all of a sudden, he turned around, wheels burning, coming at us screeching and trying to hit us with his car! We start running taking a shortcut through the grass but he would just run us over on the other side. Our entrance to the apartment was still too far! So we turned around again, running back (away from home) and jumping several fences. ‘We’re safe now!’ we thought… So we walk, out of breath, looking at each other thinking ‘wow, that was close.’ When all of a sudden, we see a massive guy passing 20 metres from us. A random guy on his way home, we thought, but as soon as he saw us, he started sprinting towards us with a big modified car tool in his hand. He was like a football player about to tackle us! Dany just screamed: ‘RUUUN!’ We ran back to jump another fence onto an electrical box. I helped Dany over, and when it was my turn, I was almost over then I felt something grabbing my shoe, but Dany pulled harder. The moment I fell onto the box on the ‘safe’ side, the tool passed my head only by a few centimetres. It could have killed me! Now we realised how serious the situation had become.
The problem was, that on the other side of the fence, there was the taxi again. It immediately took off and tried to hit us, again. He didn’t care to damage his car; he went all in! So we ran for our lives. Dany picked up the tool (we still have it for a memory) and we just ran towards a closed gas station down the road. Avoiding holes and missing manholes in the totally dark night! You trip; you’re done. Once behind the gas station (only one way out) we picked up stones and waited. When all of a sudden, we saw a shadow appearing right next to me. Dany screamed again… Full of adrenaline, we took off again, full speed past the waiting car, and ran towards the high fence we had just jumped, to clear it again. We clear another fence, and a few more, ripping our pants to finally climb onto some ghetto garage rooftop.
Quietly lying there, we could here footsteps around and the car driving in circles, obviously looking for us. I knew nothing better than to call Kirill Korobkov. Luckily I had battery left, and luckily he wasn’t sleeping yet, but was up wondering where we were, knowing how sketchy situations can get quickly. I whispered in the phone to come and rescue us. They all came down: Laurence Keefe, Patrik, Stas, Alexey Lapin, Kirill and so on. Eight guys with kitchen knives, stones, skateboards and whatever they could find – some topless, some in pyjamas, just screaming and coming to save us, like Vikings, I was sooo happy to hear them! We made it! I’m still so thankful. I don’t know how the story would have ended without mobile phones and without the other guys. And luckily I had Daniel by my side. The fastest ninja ever! This whole crazy mission over a couple of Euros! Another lesson learned: never fuck with cabdrivers in foreign countries they are the biggest assholes. They are all connected and have no mercy.

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Frontside boardslide, Lima, Peru, 2011. Ph. Kevin Metallier

A few years ago I went to South America for a couple of months with my girlfriend. We went first to Cuba, then to Peru, Bolivia and then Argentina. Kévin Métallier, Dany Hamard, Phil Zwijsen, Sam Partaix and my friend, Berlin OG skater and hater by nature, aka Krone, joined me on the trip.
Skating in Lima for the first week, everybody told us, that before going up in the Andes, we should start drinking a lot of mate de coca. The coca tea would help our bodies and minds with the high altitude. So we drank loads of it, ALL of us but Krone. With his arrogance and big mouth, he considered this as some local bullshit! He didn’t need it.
So we started driving from Lima to Cusco (3400 metres above sea level). We passed some of the most beautiful countryside I’ve ever seen: orange valleys, purple stones, yellow mountain ranges, wild lamas and so on, up and down following curvy roads. Everybody was chatting and laughing, tripping on the scenery, getting out of the car to stare at the downhills, etc.
Except one of us got unusually quiet: Krone! He started looking more pale and weird each metre we drove higher. When we approached the more than 5000m high passes, to everyone’s joy, Krone wasn’t talking anymore at all! By then he was green and fully quiet. At the highest point, we all got out, ‘cause according to the local tradition (people there are very superstitious), you’ve got to walk around the statue they’ve installed three times for good luck on the sketchy roads.
So we all did as said, but Krone, feeling really bad, just rolled himself out of the van an laid on the floor on his back, moaning. I mean, all of us struggled a bit, but Krone was about to pass out! We took advantage of it and made so much fun of him that it drove him crazy. I mean, this was the only time he would shut up and not add his two cents to everything. Better make the most out of it!
It was the most peaceful few hours of the whole trip! We waited a little longer to make him recognise his arrogance before driving on, which meant down, at least a bit! From that moment on, Krone was in love with the coco! (Mate de coca that is).

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Backside nosegrind, Munich, Germany, 2004. Ph. Cedric Viollet

This photo was taken for my first interview from when I moved to Munich (from Paris, where I grew up) for my studies. David Turakiewicz aka ‘Tura’ (French photographer) came for a visit to write a few words about me.
It was during a very hot period in the summer, so each day before or in between skate sessions we tried to cool down a bit: either in the river or in the famous ice-cold canal, also known as the Eisbach. Right behind the famous surfer’s wave, you can just jump in and float with the fast current until the canal meets the river. Once the current slows down, you can make it out of the water again then take the tramway back to your towel. It’s absolutely amazing.
So Tura isn’t what I would call a water rat, but I still managed to convince him to try it out with me. Once we jumped in the fast current, his face changed immediately. He was shocked on how cold it was and having a hard time breathing for a moment, he looked at me with this ‘what da fuck did I get into’ look. Inside, I was smiling already…
So you float for a while, enjoying the park you cross… USUALLY! Not Tura. Still shocked at the speed of the current, he couldn’t chill AT ALL. Only when the canal turns to the right, the current accelerates even more. So much fun! But I could tell that Tura didn’t like this either, AT ALL! So when it got a little wavy and bumpy in the fast stream, I just couldn’t resist telling him that a few people have died a couple of hundred metres down the stream, so he’d need to swim fast not to get pulled under. I totally made this up! Sorry Tura!
Traces of rigor mortis hit his face (maybe his whole body). Tura started crawling as fast as he could (not that fast, ha ha) to reach the side (the canal is really narrow so no big deal), but holding on to the wall, is a little mission indeed. Grasping the wall with all his power he managed to fight and got out. I was laughing but also with a little bad conscience, I mean he got really fucking scared. I let myself drift away ‘til where you get out via a long ladder; then I walked back through the park to gather up a fully traumatised and exhausted Tura.

Chicago was really spontaneous… I saw really cheap tickets for next week to go there, so I hit up Perimony, the only filmer who’s always down for some adventures. He was in, so five days later we went there.
After exploiting every corner of the city for spots we wouldn’t get kicked out of, we found this sculpture and saw that between four and five pm the light was just perfect. Of course it’s a major bust so we had to come three or four times again and again to shoot the pic. We’d either get busted, it would be too busy or bad weather would give us a hard time.
So after a week in Chicago with super hot weather and exhausting days, I went, as I do most evenings, for a drink by myself (Guillaume never goes out). I’m sitting up at the bar, watching tennis, MMA and basketball and listening to a Grateful Dead cover band at the same time. There were only old hippies in their forties and fifties around. I was about to leave, when an African American man in his forties sits next to me, grabbing my arm and telling me quietly: ‘You’re going nowhere; you make one wrong move and you go back home in a coffin!’ Surprised, I look at him when he repeats this again. So I sat down again. He asks me things like: ‘why are you coming to the States for only one week? Why have you lost your passport? (I lost it a year ago on my way to Tunisia; someone stole my backpack in the metro). Why have I been to Afghanistan, to Uzbekistan, to Iran, to Yemen, to Palestine, etc.?
Impressed, I tried to explain that it was for skateboarding (Visual Traveling trips), that it’s my job and so on. He asked if I entered the X-games, I said no, then he replied: ‘Then you’re not a pro skater’ and went on asking question after question. When I asked if he was some sort of James Bond, he laughed briefly: ‘don’t you know who the fuck I am? Have you ever heard of CIA? Why are you coming to this bar by yourself for the second time now?’
He was probably referring to the shooting in the gay club in Florida where the terrorist checked out the place before the shooting. I tried to explain that this is the only bar near Chinatown where our hotel was located. He didn’t really listen. He also asked, and this was weird, why we’ve been to the plaza (naming the address of the sculpture of the frontside wallride, which is in front of a government building) four times in a row around the same time? I stared at him! I was shocked! Wow!

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Frontside wallride, Chicago, USA, 2016. Ph. Guilaume Perimony

He proceeded to tell me that ever since we stepped onto American soil, we’ve been followed. Now it got creepy. I thought about the quiet guy in the hostel we stayed in the first two nights that was always around but wouldn’t talk to us. And now, try explaining the wallride story to someone that has no idea about skateboarding…
But what really freaked me out was when he switched to French, to perfect French and shortly after to perfect German! He was talking about Munich, and Paris… This went on for over an hour at the bar. And each time someone approached the bar, he got loud and annoying, so they would stand further away, to focus on me again. He was telling me again and again, that someone with hair like mine, with a face like mine, isn’t welcome in the USA.
He even asked the bartender: ‘What does he look like?’
Bartender: ‘Like a nice guy.’
‘No! Where is he from?’
Bartender: ‘Maybe South America?’
‘No, look at the hair, curled… He’s Arab.’
I rolled my eyes, and when he wanted to talk about religion, I told him that I didn’t care! From that moment on that he realised that I was Christian, he, even though being Muslim himself (according to him), got a bit more relaxed. Then, he looked in my eyes with a crazy deep look and told me: ‘In over an hour, you haven’t lied to me one single time!’ I thought how would he know? But he just told me: ‘I KNOW!’ and so on… It was obvious that he had been questioning me many times before from the beginning on.
So he ordered another beer. I reached into my pockets to get my cash to pay for mine, but the second I moved my arm he had already tackled me onto the counter!
‘Don’t you ever put your hands in your pockets again!’
He was just making sure I wasn’t pulling a weapon. He told me: ‘It’s a strange world we’re living in!’
What a freak show. Before going home, he made sure to tell me again and again that I should never come back to the States ever again and not to miss my flight back or to extend it. He couldn’t guarantee anything more after that. Whatever that meant?
The next day was totally fucked. We felt followed and scared. I mean I knew that I had nothing to hide, but if something had happened while I was in the States, I would have made the perfect scapegoat. Indeed, it’s a strange world we’re living in.