For the first-ever skate film from Adidas, director Matt Irving wanted to find the world’s unknown skate spots through a slightly different approach.
Skater Silas Baxter-Neal embraced the effort. Instead of focusing on just one city, the global perspective of the German-based brand shines through in the debut of Away Days. “Normally when you go to Japan, you got to Osaka or Tokyo,” Baxter-Neal says. “But we went to southern Japan and Okinawa as well. Some of those aren’t really well seen and we got some really good stuff there.”
Finding un-filmed terrain—while still sprinkling in some of the well-traveled skate routes—took roughly three years for more than 24 Adidas team riders to film. The crew traveled to 90 international cities ahead of the May 12 premiere in Los Angeles.
“I think that, in general, most skate videos follow a typical mold,” Baxter-Neal says. “The Adidas skateboard program is a very visual program and the level of quality and attention to detail makes the video stand apart. We have a very large international team that draws a lot of attention to places people don’t pay attention to.”
From southern Japan to Russia—a recently forgotten skate destination—and even obscure locations in China, Irving says he relied heavily on the Adidas global network of skaters to determine the unknown locations. “With that network those trips would have been such a wash,” Irving says. “We needed that perfect guide.”
Baxter-Neal says the locations were challenging but beneficial. “New spots, new things give that sense of adventure that really helps me in a lot of ways. It gives you a fresh look and new terrain,” he says.
Over the years, the Away Days team ebbed and flowed plenty, with small teams heavily focused and larger teams descending on a city or region with multiple locations ready for the skaters. Having a range of athletes—the youngest was 17 and the oldest 47—also allowed for Irving to embrace the varying specialties, roles and skills of so many skaters. From Dennis Busenitz, a legendary Adidas skater with his own signature sneaker and skate style, right down to unsung heroes of certain cities, such as Raul Navarro, known as the “mayor of Barcelona," helped bring the progression of destination and tricks Irving needed for the full-length feature film.
“We all function differently and what works for some doesn’t work for others,” Baxter-Neal says. “Some need a group of people, some need to be told where to go and some have their own ideas. I think there are difficulties and easy parts to each one of those people.”
Irving says he approached the effort akin to making a documentary and he created a personal montage intro for each skater with their own music and personality to establish the meat of the skating, the tricks. But even then, he wanted to individuality of the diverse group to shine. “People do what feels right to them,” he says, likening the effort to a fishing tip where you set up all the variables and then stand ready to document it. “That is the case of the skate action.”
Busenitz says Away Days was a one-of-a-kind project for him and one that created a mountain of memories. “I was seeing some amazing skateboarding tricks,” he says. “I’ve seen things I didn’t think were really possible. That is pretty cool. I won’t forget those.”
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Looking back, Baxter-Neal says making a skate film is like a three-year snapshot of skating, reminding him of varying trips. Whether his first-ever adventure to Russia, hanging out and watching so many of the team skate in Barcelona or creating fresh memories in old locations, it all helped created a “sense of adventure and I like that about skateboarding.”
That adventure took Away Days across the globe. And Adidas put it all together in a film, a first fresh perspective for a team formed in 1998. A perspective of the known and the unknown.
Tim Newcomb covers sports aesthetics—stadiums, sneakers and more—for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.