Back in the summer of 2008, a group of skaters decided to go on an adventure. Starting in their hometown of Chicago, the foursome hopped on their boards with the goal of skating all the way to New York City. Why? Well why not? When you’re in your twenties, it’s high time to get busy living, and that’s exactly what these intrepid young men set out to do. Armed with skateboards, bicycles, some camera equipment, and not much else, our heroes have made it their mission to “shred America” and document the entire process.
Back in my teenage years, I made an attempt at learning to skateboard. This was mostly due to my fandom of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, the video game that introduced me to Goldfinger and made insane skate tricks look easy (note: they’re not). And while I never managed to obtain any skills of note, there was a mentality in the skating world that has always stuck with me. Namely that one will never succeed at nailing a trick if they’re too in their own head about it. Rather than trying to calculate the best angle of approach here, or the proper foot position there, prevailing wisdom in the skate community was to just do it. Put the trick into your mind and give it a go. If you bail, you bail. Then you try again.
More often than not, on the rare occasion that I managed to pull off some entry level stunt without skinning my palms and knees, it wasn’t because of preparation, but rather because I just went for it. When fear is removed from the equation, suddenly it all gets a bit easier. It’s this willful ignorance toward consequence that fuels the narrative of Shred America, for better or for worse when it comes to the well-being of the crew. On the one hand, only having portions of a plan may cause speed bumps along the way. On the other, had any of these adventurers stopped to think about the logistics of their journey in a more meaningful way, there’s a chance they’d ever have gone in the first place.
The journey starts out relatively easy. Two skaters are followed by two bikers, each towing a small cart of supplies. Along the way, the group plans to get rooms in hotels, stock up on supplies whenever possible, and when all else fails, start a bonfire and sleep under the stars. What they didn’t figure upon were the water requirements of a human body in constant motion, the fact that skateboards are typically not allowed on major highways, and the fact that hills, as innocent as they seem, can make skateboarding difficult on the incline and downright dangerous on the decline. Interpersonal troubles, too, begin to affect the team when the one area in which they did an inordinate amount of preparation, that of media coverage, starts to favor the story of the two skaters over that of the entire crew. As all are considered equal members of the team, the friction causes the gang to change their approach.
And this is all true to the aforementioned spirit of skating. By diving into their mission head first, these four friends are forced to learn what they’re really capable of when their backs are against the wall. Furthermore, they have their eyes opened to the kindness of strangers, who intermittently appear to help the boys find a place to crash, outrun a potential tornado, or to share with them some home cooked food. It’s these moments that really make the film sing. Since Shred America opens with footage of the team arriving in New York, there’s no tension to speak of in the sense of whether or not they’ll make it. Instead, the story becomes about what they will need to accomplish in order to make it, and who they will become in the process. While this may prove to be uninteresting to some, I found myself rather engaged with our heroes. They are, in fact, analogues of some of the friends I had in my early twenties. Warts and all, they’re just fun to hang out with. And anyone who has ever enjoyed a skate video will find that same renegade passion on display here. Perhaps the most commendable thing about the film is the sheer thoroughness of coverage. Every moment seems to have been captured, and I can only assume this is due to another piece of skating wisdom I picked up back in the day: Always keep the camera running — you might miss the money shot if you don’t.
Footage of the trip is cut with present day interviews with the adventurers themselves, speaking of their experience from a place of time-earned wisdom. They are remarkably frank and often quite funny as they reminisce on the trials and tribulations of their trip. As they unpack their memories, two things become clear: All who partook in this epic road trip are very glad they did so, and none are willing to do it again … at least not without better preparation. This is what’s typically referred to as “growing up.”
Available for streaming on select platforms. See shredamericafilm.com.