Patinando con los Muertos:
Converse's Day of the Dead Tour
Words: Rob Brink
The Skateboard Mag, June 2011
Steve Luther is a proud Mexican man and the Brand Manager of Converse Skateboarding.
He had a simple idea: Plan a skateboarding trip around the Mexican holiday, Día de los Muertos.
But when the worlds of skateboarding, foreign culture and the deceased collide, “simple” quickly becomes “complex” and a myriad of events occur. Some expected, some fun, some frightening—but all worth telling stories about.
Paul Stanley, Banderas shots, a magical business card, parades, place settings for the dead, machine guns, Paco and a golden pistol—different tales and perspectives from different skateboarders—all on the same tour.
Learn the language and don’t forget to wash your face, gringo.
“There was this Mexican girl that Steve Luther knew—she’s a professional makeup artist who came along with us on the trip and painted our faces for a few of the cities we went to. It would take like 30 minutes per person each day. Pat was painted as The Joker for Day of the Dead and he did a hardflip backside tailslide off a shootout ledge in the makeup. It was amazing. I was the dude from KISS with the star on his eye. The girl did my makeup perfect. Nick’s face was all crazy too. They glued flower petals and all this tight, crazy stuff to his face.
“Some of the Mexican people were pretty weirded out on the face paint. They would stop and watch or just look at you when you were getting something from the store like, ‘Damn, this dude’s crazy.’ But for the most part, everyone was into it.”
“It was kind of weird sweating and not being able to touch your face, though. The makeup would run down your face and dry up and get super annoying. One day I just washed it off because I was so over it.
“For Day of the Dead, the Mexican people are celebrating the death of all their loved ones and shit, except it’s more happy than in America—it’s not like they’re sad. They think it’s a good thing.
“What I hear is they make all this bomb food and set up plates in front of empty chairs at their dinner tables for all the lost loved ones. They set up a whole meal for like, no one. Just for the lost souls or something like that. I thought that was pretty interesting, but we didn’t experience that first hand. That would’ve been cool though, man. I thought it was a waste when I initially heard of it, but when they broke down the reasons for it, I was like, ‘alright, that’s completely cool and understandable.’
“I think Americans often view death as a negative thing, and it’s not really. It’s completely natural. Everyone’s gonna do it. It’s just all a matter of time and what you pretty much wanna do before that happens is up to you, you know what I’m saying? And then after you pass away your spirit will always live on. When you are alive, your mind and body are here on Earth with your spirit, but when you die, your mind and body are gone but your spirit lives on. So I feel it’s completely natural. It’s sick, man. I wish I lived out there.”
“Just being out in Mexico and getting a little more in touch with their culture during the Day of the Dead celebration provided a little more of a storyline to the whole trip, so that was really cool. But even though it was a more culturally based tour concept, we still had to go out there and skate and try to film and get photos every day. I’ve never been on a tour in another country other than it being for a contest or something so I ended up having a lot of fun on this one.
“The Banderas shots are fucking great. You line up three … let’s see … it’s just like lemon or lime juice in the first shot, then the next one’s pretty much straight tequila. And the third one is like a tomato juice mixture or whatever. So you take the lemon shot first and then tequila shot and then the tomato juice all in a row. It fucking tasted great and just goes down so easy. That was a good experience for sure.”
“I think the cultural side of a trip like this is something the older guys like myself and Kenny were more into than some of the younger guys were. A few of them were like, ‘I don’t really know what we’re doing. Let’s go skating!’
“Me and Kenny were like, ‘We want to go take photos.’ Nick was all about it too.
“And I think back to when I was younger, being like, ‘What the fuck is this? I wanna skate!’ But the older you get, the more you start appreciating other elements of a skate trip too.
“When I was younger, going on trips to Barcelona and shit, I wish I went to museums and took time to look at the amazing architecture. I didn’t really do that stuff back then. But if I were to go back there now, I would fully manage my time better and take advantage of where I was and go check shit out when I wasn’t skating.
“Being older, you grasp onto that kind of stuff and appreciate it a little bit more. I think that’s one of the best things about going on skate trips—not only the skating, but seeing amazing places, eating amazing food and taking in the culture. Now that I’m older, I definitely see it and appreciate it more than I ever would’ve.”
“We went to the presidential palace in Puebla for a press conference because Steve was getting an award. It was pretty rad. He’s helping out with a skatepark being built there and doing a few other things I believe. So they give him a card to hold on to, like a special business card from someone pretty high up in Mexico, like the mayor or something.
“Later on we were rushing to get to a spot before sundown and our driver was just blazing through everything. He barged through a red light and there just happened to be a cop right there. Of course he pulls us over and is so pissed. He looks through the window and Luther jumps forward from the back seat, shows the cops the card and they end up telling us to hurry up and get to the spot before sundown. All Steve did was flash the card and say a couple words to him. It was crazy.
“The Day of the Dead parade was insane too. We got there kind of late and everyone was positioned along the streets to watch. I wedged my way through the crowd because we wanted to film something during the parade. And it was right before the parade started and I was like, ‘I’m gonna throw my board down and see what the cops say.’ I just wanted to skate like ten feet. But the cops didn’t say anything, so the filmer, Mark, went down to the end into the street and waited for me.
“I started skating down in the middle of this weird cobblestone street, and as I started, all the people on the sides started screaming for me. It was almost like they thought the parade was starting with me. It was like the Super Bowl or something when they do the wave in the crowd. As I passed by the people they got louder and louder. And by the time I made it to the camera, everyone was screaming. People were high fiving me and taking photos of me. It was so cool. Even though I just rigged my way in there, I felt like I was part of that celebration.
“The funny thing about the makeup, as annoying as it is, you kind of just forget it’s there, which I have a funny story about:
“There were some drunken antics with Nick and Jeff at the hotel and the security guards weren’t having it. So things got out of hand and they end up tying down Jeff and Nick.
“I was the only one who could kind of speak Spanish to security because Luther was in his room sleeping.
“So Nick’s getting carried out by the security and I go running out there, talking to them in my bad Spanish, just saying as much as I know. And things are slowly coming back to me. I was like, proud of myself for remembering a little bit of Spanish, but I just kept saying, ‘Sorry. I understand why you’re roughing him up. He’s been drinking all day at your bar. You guys fed him the alcohol. He’s a good kid.’
“Nick was just getting manhandled. They had him out front, cheeks pushed up against a stucco wall, just putting all their weight on him and I’m trying to talk, in my bad Spanish, to a guy who didn’t understand a lick of English.
“Basically, we found out the cops were coming no matter what. So I’m sitting there freaking out. We’re in Mexico during this time of drug wars and stuff and I’m picturing Nick going to jail. I’m the only one who can do anything and I’m so nervous.
“Then the hotel manager comes out and says, ‘You need to get a hold of Paco,’ who is the Converse guy in Mexico. ‘He’s the only guy who can go pick him up.’
“Now the cops show up and right away they grab me and shove me back. They didn’t even wanna hear my voice. Then Nick gets thrown into the back of a truck and they just take off. I’m just like, ‘Holy shit dude’ as he gets carted away in the back of a truck to a Mexican jail on this cold night.
“It took a while to find Paco and get everything going. We jumped in the van and head towards the jail. We see these orange cones, so we pull through them and onto this little dirt road. I’m looking out the windshield trying to focus on what was going on because it was kind of dark. All of a sudden I notice a machine gun pointed right at us. And I’m like, ‘Hey, there’s a gun pointed at us … wait there’s two.’
“And I see two machine guns pointed at us and as our headlights shine on the third guy, he’s got this golden pistol. Not even a normal gun, just this two-foot-long golden pistol. And he points it straight at us. And here’s the part about forgetting about how your face is painted:
“I’m wearing all black and my face is painted in this weird, Shogun warrior-slash-Mexican-style Day of the Dead thing. We’re in a white tinted tour van, and the golden pistol guy looks in the car and I’m just like, ‘Hey what’s going on?’
“Paco looks at me like, ‘Dude get in the back!’ And the guy comes up to Paco’s window with the gun pointed at him and Paco jumps out. They have all the guns pointed at him and he explains it all.
“They told Paco they thought we were like, some drug cartel coming in to do something gnarly because of the white tinted van and my painted face. So I think we were just seconds away from getting shot up if it wasn’t for Paco talking to them.
‘They made me get in the back of the van and told us where to go to find Nick and he just comes out of the jail screaming, all psyched, and jumps on Paco’s back like a piggyback ride—just so stoked to be free. I’ve never seen him be that thankful. It was rad.
“He was just getting smacked around in there. I guess they were like, ‘Hey what’s your name?’
“And he would answer, ‘Nicholas.’ And they would just smack him in the face.
“‘What’s your last name?’
“And different guys would just come up and ask him questions and then smack him. He was only in jail a couple hours, but for him not knowing we were coming, it was probably an eternity. Me personally, I’d just start freaking out. Maybe that’s why he was so hyped, jumping on Paco’s back and stuff.
“So I get back to the hotel lobby and I’m telling the bartender the stories, all straight-faced, and I get a glance of my reflection in a mirror with the makeup on and I’m like ‘What the fuck, man?’
“That was funny.”