When I received the call from Kyle Brown asking if I wanted to go to Thailand, my immediate response was, “No fucking way.” As a professional skateboarder, I was five years deep into adhering to a policy of never saying, “No,” to a trip, but the timing of this one couldn’t have been worse. A dark cloud of uncertainty suddenly hovered over my career. I had just lost my two main-paying sponsors and with little-to-no personal income flowing my way, a bro trip to Thailand just didn’t seem rational.
But Kyle was pushy, something he rarely is with me, so I knew this was serious. Kyle is a good friend of mine and possibly the only skateboarder who has managed to land his name on both the bottom of a pro model skateboard and a Doctor of Physical Therapy diploma. Yes, the man is a doctor and you really shouldn’t say, “No,” to a doctor. Furthermore, he taunted me with the inclusion of David Cole, another good friend who I’ve been skating with for over half my life. Once I heard that David had even gone so far as to renew his passport, I said, “Fuck it,” and threw a roundtrip ticket to Bangkok on my credit card. Kyle was determined to make it a proper skate trip and lined up Cody Hermann from Napa to film. Before long Chris Collins and Nick Klein, two other friends from Napa, had purchased tickets as well. Bangkok baby! It was on.
What made this trip especially exciting was that it was a reunion trip for me, David and Kyle. Ten years before, Kyle brought the three of us to Thailand for my first international skate trip. I was seventeen, David was sixteen, and because of small roles we’d scored as skateboarders in a Hollywood film the year before, we’d been able to finance our own expenses for the trip. “What about school?” you ask? Well, the acting role also provided a path for the two of us to become emancipated, which meant as minors we could sign our own notes excusing ourselves from school. I will forever regret telling David about the significance of our emancipations, as he ended up dropping out of high school shortly after he learned what “Being your own parental guardian” really meant.
While that trip in 2006 was an epic experience for me and David, two sheltered teenagers from quiet Napa Valley towns, our presence in Thailand was particularly memorable for the Thai skaters who were our hosts. Because we killed it so hard? No, not really. Oh, because we partied like wild animals, like so many other American skaters who visit Thailand? No, we didn’t really do that either. Our visit will never be forgotten because of David Cole’s feet.
As David puts it, “When I was sixteen in Thailand, I had the worst smelling feet ever. It was so gnarly. All the Thai dudes, they know me very well from my stank foot. It’s stained in their brains forever.”
The stench was so unbearable, every night after David had fallen asleep, the Thai skaters hosting us would take David’s shoes outside and leave them there for the night. Not wanting to offend David, they would wake up early and bring his shoes back inside. “They were so polite, they never told me that it was bad. Later they would tell Kyle, like ‘Hey dude, that was really bad. Does he have a foot problem?’”
Ten years later, the Thai skaters told us that they still talk about his feet as one of the worst smells they’ve ever experienced. Tao, who took us around during our return trip, let David know, “When I told people Dave was coming, they’d said, ‘Dave who?’ And I told them, ‘Dave with the feet.’ And they said, ‘Ohhhhh.’ You’re a legend here.”
Much has changed during the ten years since that first trip to Bangkok. David and I each sort of grew up, which for David came with a cure to his foot problem (he now knows to put on a clean pair of socks everyday). We all moved out of our Napa Valley towns. I went to college and then found a way to make a living as a sponsored skateboarder. Kyle enrolled in PT school and became a Physical Therapist. David lived in San Diego for a few years and then moved back to the Napa Valley where he now works as a farmer. But despite our seemingly opposite life trajectories, we have all remained close friends. In fact, I’d say David remains my closest friend, as he’s the only person besides my mother who calls me every few days, just to hear how things are going. Truth be told, he calls me much more frequently than my mom does, but don’t tell her I said that. I’m not sure if he calls to really hear how things are going with me, or just to kill some time when he’s bored. During said calls, criticisms flow freely. David is never afraid to let me know what a kook I look like on the internet or to tell me that I should learn some new tricks. He also has a long held theory that all the “switch” skating I do is one big farce, and refuses to acknowledge that I’m actually regular footed. He shoots it to me straight, telling me what he thinks I need to hear, whether I like it or not.
A few weeks after returning home from our most recent trip to Bangkok, we were hanging out at David’s house in Angwin with Aaron Kennedy, another friend who we grew up skating with. Aaron hasn’t been to Thailand, so he was excited to hear about the trip. Keeping in line with his love for criticizing me, David went straight into my errors as a traveling companion.
“So you wanna hear what Walker did in Thailand? These are the two strikes he had, in my book.”
“I had strikes?” I asked, surprised to hear anything of the sort. I’d had a blast traveling with David and I thought the trip had gone smoothly.
“Oh yeah. The first one was when I woke up and I couldn’t find you. See, Aaron, I was on the regimen where I was going down to the 711 every morning.”
“Wow,” Aaron interrupted, “They had 711s out there?”
In Bangkok, 711s are across the street from 711s that sit two doors away from 711s. You can’t escape them.
“Yeah,” David responded, continuing with his story. “So beer and smokes, right there. And right there next to the 711 was a little food mart. Small, real small, but they had everything pre-made so you can just point and get rice, chicken, whatever. So I was doing the thing where instead of everyone getting up, getting their shit together, and going somewhere to eat, I would just wake up before everyone, buy like five different things, and take them back to the apartment. So I woke up one time and I was about to do that, but the key was missing, and we only had one key. So I was like, ‘Where’s the key at?’ Where the fuck is Walker?’ Walker was gone.”
David paused from his rant to look directly at me. “It’s like, what the fuck? You gotta tell people what you’re doing.” Looking back at Aaron, he continued, “Finally Walker comes back, fucking so hyped from taking a little chill in the pool. So I’m like, ‘Dude, you gotta tell people where you’re going.’ And he’s like, ‘You guys were sleeping.’ But it’s like, fuck sleep! At least wake me up for a second and be like, ‘Hey, I’m going to the pool.’ It was just bad etiquette. That’s all it was, bad etiquette while traveling with your friends.”
“Ok, fair enough,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Well what else did I do?”
“Then, the second strike was one night when we were all just chilling at the house and you came back from 711 with a little mini bottle of wine and a tall can of Heineken. I was like, ‘What the fuck is that? Who is that for?’ And obviously, it’s just for Walker to drink. A tall can of Heineken, one tall can, and one little half bottle of red wine. It was disgusting. I had some, because I was so angry. You see, when I went to the beer store, at 711, I bought myself smokes, I got some coffee, and I bought like fifteen beers at a time. For everybody. Not just for myself. That’s also another etiquette thing. You’re not by yourself, you’re not just drinking by yourself, you’re drinking with your friends and everybody wants to party with you. So that’s why I drank some of that wine with you.”
“I was hoping that the Heineken and the wine would sneak in, you know, that no one would notice.”
“Not me. I saw the bags. I knew where you came from.”
“So was that really it? That’s all I did wrong?”
“Those were the only ones that really got to me. Those things didn’t have anything to do with skating. That was just like, life etiquette. I feel like I’ve been a little better at that, and to see you just fumble it like that…It’s not okay.”
Throughout all the traveling I’ve managed to do for skateboarding, Thailand remains my favorite country that I’ve visited. In fact, it’s the only country I’ve returned to more than twice. For countries in that region, Thailand has one of the strongest skate scenes I’ve ever seen, the hub of which lies in the capital city of Bangkok. While I assume most tourists visiting Thailand make Bangkok the pit stop en route to more relaxing parts of the country, like small towns and exotic beaches, I’ve come to enjoy the city’s hectic nature. Sure, the traffic is horrible, the pollution is disgusting and the sweltering humidity is almost unbearable, but there’s an invigorating energy thriving within the city’s large expanse of metropolis. It’s addicting. Also, compared to other huge cities I’ve visited, Bangkok feels surprisingly safe. One evening, back in 2006, after a full day of skating, Kyle left my camera bag inside a phone booth on the main Sukhumvit road in the center of the city. It was only when we were leaving the bar at the end of the night that we realized my bag was missing. We rushed out to the street, assuming the bag had been snatched. When we arrived back at the phone booth, we were shocked to find that the bag was exactly where Kyle had left it over five hours before, completely undisturbed.
Despite what a circus of tourism there is in Thailand, I’ve found the Thai people to be incredibly genuine in their warm and friendly reception of tourists. I like to think that these qualities must be linked to their culture of Buddhism, the religion most practiced in the country, but I have no evidence to back this claim. All I know is that the skateboarders I have befriended in Thailand are some of the most kind and welcoming people I’ve ever met, friends who I expect to remain close with for the rest of my life.
In Thailand, it’s easy to live on only twenty bucks per day. And by “living” I mean living well, with a decent accommodation and a daily massage included. Five-dollar Thai massages quickly become an evening ritual, the perfect post-skating stretch session after long days of roaming around the city. Back at David’s house in Angwin after our most recent trip, I asked David if he’d enjoyed any massages while we were in Thailand.
“Fuck no!” he responded sharply, as if I’d offended him by asking. “Why would I want a massage? I’m not like you. I don’t travel the world and skate hella hard and get massages. I go travel the world for one week, every ten years, and feel fine. I’d rather massage myself in beer, dude. Something you’d know nothing about.”
Aaron wanted to know more about Thailand, surely hoping to get some of the more gritty details out of David.
“So what’d you really do in Thailand, dude? You get tricked by a tranny?”
“I didn’t get tricked by a tranny, but I saw a bunch of lady boys. Tao was telling us that the prices went down for boob jobs, so people have been doing that a lot lately. I’d have to go big if I was about to get some fake tits on myself. We saw that one dude who had fake tits at that first restaurant we went to. He was a waiter. He was just a total dude. He was not hot, not trying to look like a girl, and he just had fake tits. So he must just go home and you know, jerk off to himself while looking in the mirror. Weird. That’s the only thing I can think of. That’s what I would do if I had fake tits. Just stare in the mirror. And have a good old time. I’d just think to myself, these are awesome!”
David’s final piece of advice to Aaron was simple.
“If you were gonna go to Thailand, you’d be hyped. You just chill, skate, eat hella food. There’s no advice. The advice is just to chill, live it up. You can save hella money. You can live like you’re spending hella money but you’re not. Out there it’s so hard to spend it. You take money out and you think you have a lot and you’re trying to buy hella beer, you’re trying to buy hella food, and it’s barely putting a dent in your pocket.”
“So what do you say about going back to Thailand?” I said.
“Well it took me ten years to get back to this time, I’m thinking it’ll take me another five years to go back.”
“Let’s go back next year!”
“No, I think for my next trip, I wanna go to Hawaii. Connor’s out there. I think I’ll just go and visit him.”
“Fine,” I said. “I see how it is.”