Kenny Reed‘s skateboarding is synonymous with exploration, his iconic video parts are filled with some of the best tricks and most obscure skate spots ever skated.
His nomadic pro skate career and sick creative skateboarding inspired thousands of skaters to travel the world on their boards.
We are stoked that Kenny is now a member of The No Comply Network.
To celebrate we talked about skating New York in the 90s, San Francisco, Popwar, Rasa Libre, Static II and how he became Director of skate charity Skate Qilya
Hey Kenny, What have you been up to?
I’m in Jersey, going to New York, to the airport, I’m flying to Palestine.
I live in upstate NY, so, I have a flight connection in New Jersey.
How long will you be in Palestine?
Just two weeks.
My girlfriend’s pregnant at the moment, she’s due so I’m cutting the trip short
How many times a year do you go there?
I go once every year.
I’m the director of a skate charity out there called Skate Qilya
Sick. Where did you grow up?
I’m from Hudson, New York.
It’s about two hours from New York City.
Kenny, Ollie, San Francisco
When did you first learn to skate and who did you skate with?
I started skating in 1986.
It was just that late 80s era, we watched the Bones Brigade videos and skated big boards.
We had our own little neighbourhood crew.
We’d go cruising around, doing powerslides and try to do ollies over stuff on our boards.
Did you know there was a skate industry at the time?
At first we weren’t aware of anything.
We just saw a few videos and magazines.
But as we started to travel to different competitions and demos and met other skaters from different cities, we realised skating was a big thing.
Where did you first travel to go skate?
New York City.
We would take the bus there when we were 13-14 years old, not tell our parents where we were going and head to the city for the weekend.
We’d always meet up at the Brooklyn Banks.
It was there that you’d see skaters, pro’s, everybody.
We skated around the financial district in the middle of the night; there was never anybody around to bother us.
Skating those marble ledges late at night was the best.
What was the best trick that you saw go down over the Brooklyn Banks Wall?
I saw Keenan Milton do the Backside Heel over it. That was amazing.
So, how did your skating first get noticed?
There was a demo at Saratoga Springs with the Dogtown team.
I skated with them and then they asked me if I wanted to be on the team.
What tricks were you doing at the time?
Fancy curb tricks, late shuvits and flatground.
I was doing tech tricks for the time.
I could do front foot impossibles, they had just came out at the time and nobody else was really doing them.
How long did you skate for Dogtown?
I skated for Dogtown for two years between 1989 and 1991.
But then in High School I started to get really bad grades due to skating a lot and my mom banned me from skating!
I stopped travelling, I was allowed to skate with friends in my town sometimes but I couldn’t go to New York or to a skate contest for years.
That sucks. What did you do?
I had to get a job washing dishes.
When did you quit?
Well after I finished High School I was working in a factory, working the night shift.
One night when I was there I just thought ‘what am I doing with my life!?’
I saved up about $800 dollars and then I convinced a friend to drive to California and we went to San Francisco.
Who did you know in San Francisco?
I knew Keith Hufnagel from back in New York so I connected with him when I got out to SF.
He gave me boards and some wheels and really helped me out.
When I first got there I got a load of different jobs and I skated around the city constantly.
What was the first photo you shot in SF?
I got a photo in Slap. I did an Ollie shifty, that was featured in the gallery section.
That was the first trick I did that got noticed when I was living out San Francisco.
Then you got on New Deal?
No, actually I got on a Canadian board brand called Cherry Bombs first, then New Deal.
It was me, Rick McCrank and Keegan Sauder on the team.
I met them all in San Francisco and they put me on Cherry Bombs.
Where is your favourite place to skate in the US?
It’s so different but it’s got everything.
I skated Union Square, Black Rock, Brown Marble, Fort Miley, all those classic spots and the hills.
You can go to one end to the other and skate different things everywhere.
How do you think travelling the world influenced you ?
I think travelling has benefited my skating.
The funniest thing was going to countries where there was a dark spot in skateboard media and we went on a search into the unknown.
When you find something to skate that you know nobody has ever skated it before and you get your trick, it’s so uniquely satisfying.
You get it and you have to leave right away, there’s only one chance to get it because you’re not going to come back.
You might be in the city for half a day, you don’t have a lot of time to think about it and that’s what I really enjoyed about travelling and skating the world.
So, how did you get on New Deal?
One of the guys who worked at New Deal was from a town close to where I grew up.
That guy and the guy who started Element, Jonny Schiilleroff. Those guys were friends.
They both knew each other from Giant distribution so they asked me to meet up with them and they invited me to Southern California and skate with everybody on the team.
I did and then they asked me to be on New Deal.
When did you start filming for Static II?
After the New Deal video came out basically, I was already friends with Josh Stewart.
I liked the first Static video and I filmed with everyone when they filmed for that one.
Josh came out to visit me and stayed in SF and asked if I would be into it and I was down!
It was a video part not for a sponsor, just for a friend, it felt a lot different.
It felt good.
That flatground Nollie in your part was crazy. How did you learn that?
At that time I was into trying tricks on flatground and trying to move my body in different ways.
I was just trying to tweak every trick in a different way off flatground I was just doing those one days and Josh was like, ‘ let’s just film one!’.
Where was the photo taken?
We were at MACBA skating flat.
I was like “let’s take a picture of me doing that Nollie”.
Thing is Josh took the original nollie footage to be processed and then something went wrong with the original Nollie footage so that’s why when you watch the video it pauses on the MACBA photo, something went wrong with the 16mm footage.
That photo covers the glitch in the Nollie footage!
Sick. When did you first go to MACBA?
There were hardly any skaters there.
There were more skaters at Sants to be honest.
Kenny, Backlip, Barcelona
What brought you to Barcelona?
When I moved there in 1999, I just got on New Deal at the time and I just had the opportunity to do it.
I was good friends with Paul Shier too, we chatted about it and one day we just decided to move to Spain.
How did you first meet Shier?
Paul Shier used to come out to SF and visit me and I would visit him in London.
Back then people weren’t really doing that but people have started to do that more since the early 200s.
It was when people were just starting to use the internet, so it became easier to keep in touch with people and take care of stuff.
What’s your favourite spot in Barca?
MACBA. Everyday, all day.
Did you ever feel pressure as a pro?
Yeah, probably when I was on Popwar.
I felt a lot more pressure and then when you already have a few parts come out with a few tricks you like to do, the next video, you have to do those tricks on bigger and harder spots.
When you’re constantly going around and going on travelling tours, demos, videos, mag tours, and trips, you’ve skated so many hubba’s you don’t want to go back down from a 10-stair back to an 8- stair, you want to take it to to an eleven or a twelve.
It’s not written down anywhere, but it’s that level that makes progression.
What happened after Popwar?
After Pop War, I got on Rasa Libre.
Do you remember doing that Back Smith Pop Out on the MK Bus Station flatbar?
Yeah I have really good memories of England. I’ve been there ten times all for different reasons.
I’ve always enjoyed every trip to see my friends.
I went there with Josh for Static II, we went to Scotland and skated with Colin Kennedy and we went to Belfast, I went to Northern Ireland, skated Belfast, that was gnarly.
I was there figuring out what I was doing with my career and skateboard.
It wasn’t a priority to film video parts, I just wanted to skate and travel, with this crew.
I really enjoyed filming with him for Visual Travelling.
What makes those trips so good?
Patrik Wallner is great.
He makes those films possible. He’s up for anything at anytime.
He’s not about stressing on the hardest tricks.
He’s an amazing filmmaker, photographer, editor, he’ just makes it fun to work with.
He picks the best skaters to go on the trips, a group of friends and they go and have fun, and showcasing the countries and its people through the eyes of this group of friends.
So, you’re the director of a skate charity in the middle east?
In 2013 I was in Iran and I was chatting to a friend who was planning on going to Palestine.
He is an American guy, living in Dubai, working with their royal family in an art studio.
He met some people from Palestine and decided that he wanted to build them a ramp.
He asked me when I was finishing up in Iran, and said that I should go there and help them to build this ramp and that he had a bunch of other people from California coming to help out.
They had professional equipment, everything that was needed from America, all the wood, all the construction materials, it was a really big project.
That was the last skate trip that I went on and I knew that was going to be the last skate trip that I was ever going to be on.
I knew that was going to be the last time that I wanted to be away from home for so long and I knew that was the time to go home.
I made friends with the locals but the ramp still wasn’t finished yet.
I still didn’t have a ticket to leave so I decided to stay and help them to finish the ramp.
I made a good connection with the people there and it felt really nice to be there and help the people there so I just stayed till the ramp was finished.
What did you do then?
I went back to Barcelona, packed up everything and then I went back to New York for good.
How was it moving back home?
Last time I lived there was 1995.
It was rough.
I had my family and everything I was fine but I was out in the countryside.
I stayed at my mom’s I got a job teaching at a public school,
Then my friends from Palestine contacted me and asked me if I wanted to do a skate camp next summer.
The ramp needed a new deck and they wanted to do a fundraiser to rebuild the ramp and reinvigorate the skate scene there.
What did you say?
Well, I hadn’t had a chance to travel in a year, at one point that was all I was doing, so I was really excited at the prospect of getting away.
So I was like ‘let’s do it!’
We did a fundraiser, I went to Palestine, we fixed the ramp and we did a skate camp and that was four years ago.
How have things gone since then?
We did the skate camp the next year and we’ve done it every year since that.
This is my fourth year with Skate Qilya.
We’ve become an official non-profit and we’ve just started getting boards, shoes and helmets getting sent over there and we worked with Skateistan.
We won an award from Skateistan and they partnered up with us for a year, in places like Cambodia, where we did workshops, telephone calls and just gave us guidance and help with everything we felt like we need help with.
Kenny in Palestine
How do you work as a charity?
We’re able to pay Palestinians who work for our organisation.
For example our main skate instructor Omar travels to different villages and towns and introduces skateboarding to the different places in the region like that.
He goes and teaches kids how to skate, brings the boards and shows how to set them up too.
Omar dropped out of school, he was working in a carwash, and he could’nt skate because he needed to get money for his family.
I did a presentation about him for the United Nations about how we help him.
How did your UN presentation go?
It was a talk on skateboarding and foreign diplomacy.
I used Omar’s story to show how skateboarding had really changed the landscape in Palestine and that its a great way for young people to form a bridge to other parts of society.
Omar was able to go to all of these schools and get a job with the department of Education in Palestine
Do you take volunteers?
Well, its more about helping Palestinians to grow their own scene but I have invited a few friends.
Nestor Judkins is coming out for the second year in a row this year.
It’s a great feeling when you can invite friends out and you can see that they are having a powerful experience too.
That’s amazing. What’s your future plans for Skate Qilya?
So skating is in the schools now here, we’ve achieved that and we’re doing more and more.
We also are working with the sports ministry in Palestine to develop skateboarding here with a focus on improving access for girls too.