I met one-half of the Gnarmads, a young man named Bogdan, back in 2003-2004 or so. I was living in Brooklyn and it was the tail end of what I call my “serious” skateboarding days. I was coming home with my ex-wife and daughter and I noticed this kid skating in front of my building. I want to say he wasn’t more than 13 at the time, and I remember his board was beat to shit. I walked over and I asked him his name and where he’s from. He seemed like a good kid. At the time I used to keep my old boards by the doorway, so I grabbed a few and took them down to give him. I can honestly say I’ve never met a more gracious kid. He thanked me and was so stoked, and from then on, when he’d show up at my door, my ex would say, “That skater from up the block is outside,” or that he helped her with groceries, etc. I’d continue giving him boards for another few years till I moved away and never saw him until 2010 when I was shooting at a ThirtyTwo premier at the Etnies showroom.
Bogdan’s like a little brother to me. Never met a more positive and energetic person like him and he’s just as good on a skateboard. Over the course of the last few years, I’ve experienced him and Matt Kruz—as the collective GNARMADS—do shit that boggles the mind. Things most don’t have the balls to do but sit and make excuses as to why they can’t do it. After accidentally winning a scavenger hunt on the “shittiest Frankenstein bikes” against a slew of bike messengers, they began to take biking long distances more and more seriously. Starting with an 18 hour non-stop bike ride to Philadelphia, they’re now raising awareness across the US for various charities, and living life on the road. They’ve broken free of the constraints of “society” and traveled across the country on their own terms and by their own power nonetheless. Modern day Jack Kerouacs, city to city, road to road, riding and skating, making friends, and gathering experiences most of us will only read in books—truly living life on their own terms.
Since they started, they’ve raised awareness for Stoked mentoring and A.skate, organized a skate contest for inner-city youth, and a clothing drive, meanwhile documenting and showcasing local skate communities across the country (and soon, world). Read through for my interview with Bogdan and Matt as they share some crazy stories about their time on the road, and what they’ve learned from the kindness of humans they’ve met along the way.
Bogdan and the bike he and Matt won at the Pedal Pursuit in the summer of 2012.
Matt prior to leaving for their cross country bike ride in Summer 2013.
Tell us a little more about you guys.
MATT: [I’m] Matt Cruz. I was conceived in Poland, however my parents eloped to America and I was born and raised in Brooklyn.
BOGDAN: My name is Bogdan, I’m originally from Kiev, Ukraine, but I’ve been living in New York since 2001. I moved here two weeks before 9/11 and it was pretty intense at first, but it turned out to be a beautiful thing and it’s one of the best places to have grown up at.
What’s the story behind the name “Gnarmads”?
MATT: People have often called us nomads or gypsies. We had entered a local bicycle race and were required a team name, so it came about. “Gnarmads” began as a joke, but really has become a title for us two who share a 13-year-old friendship.
BOGDAN: Strada and Chrome were having a scavenger hunt around the city hosted by Alex Corporan and he was like, “Oh, you guys should enter this. I see you guys always bike around to spots all around the city. You should do the scavenger hunt it would be fun.” We’re like, “Alright,” he’s like, “Well, you have to come up with a team name.” And people at that time started calling us nomads because we would always just crash—from girls’ houses to friends couches. And then I have a shitty poke and stick tattoo with the word “gnar” on it so it was like, “You guys are gnarmads, nomads of the gnar.” That name kind of stuck. We ended up winning that race and things went on from there.
When you entered that race were you guys serious, hardcore riders?
BOGDAN: No, not at all. I mean, honestly we picked up the bike because we both lived in Brooklyn and we would always hang out in the city and the MTA fare went up to $2.50. It was kind of pointless spending 5 dollars every day to go back and forth and overall, it’s like a 30 minute ride from my house to LES so it just made sense for us to use our bikes to get to where we need to go.
After that we really adapted and used it to get everywhere. That was our mode of transportation. We got the race the first time. We both had the worst bikes, just the shittiest Frankenstein bikes we built with parts that our friends gave us and everyone else in the race had these really fancy fixed gear bikes with $1000 wheels and everyone was a bike messenger.
So were like, “Shit, we don’t really stand a chance, let’s just have a good time, get a beer, smoke a joint.” So we were in the corner smoking and everyone’s just like, “Ugh, what are these kids doing?” And once the time started, we just went on and I guess we knew the city better than those messengers because we ended up winning. And yeah, things kind of took off from there.
Matt and Bogdan holding the Trophy after beating out other cyclists in the Pedal Pursuit in 2012.
Matt, Alex Corporan and Bogdan with their prizes in 2012.
So you guys beat out a bunch of bike messengers?
BOGDAN: Yeah, skateboarders rule the world!
Oh, shit, that’s amazing.
BOGDAN: Skateboarders. We’re men of many traits.
Prior to your cross country bike ride, you guys bicycled down to Tampa from NYC to Tampa Am. How was that experience?
MATT: Looking back at it now, it seems very immature. We manually pedaled just about half the distance while the rest was rides and help from others. We had another companion on that trip as well, and realized that three is definitely a crowd.
BOGDAN: Well, after winning that race we were so stoked, like, “Let’s ride these bikes across the country and skate.” We won these two single-speed bikes and we started telling everyone, “Yeah, we’re gonna ride across the country! We’re gonna ride across the country!” And then my bike got stolen and Matt’s got stolen. We told everyone we were going to do it and we didn’t do it, so we were like, “Shit, we gotta bike somewhere.” At the time our friend Joel Mienholz was having the first ever Bum Rush The Spot in Philadelphia. So we were like, “Well, we should bike there!”
We partied all night and then at 4 in the morning, we just got on our bikes and rode to Philadelphia for 18 hours on the single speeds. So 18 hours no sleep, we pushed ourselves to Philadelphia and we got there. Thankfully Tre Truck also drove down for the contest, so we crashed in their truck. When we got back, Michael Cohen of Shut was like, “You think you might wanna skate in Tampa Am?” I’m like, “Oh, that’d be cool. We’ll bike there.” So we set that up and then two weeks after, we just set off and biked down to Tampa, Florida for Tampa Am. Unfortunately, my registration was put in too late and I couldn’t skate, but still had awesome time with the homies out there.
Entering the second Pedal Pursuit, in which they placed 2nd.
Gnarmads enjoying a brew post-scavenger hunt.
Did that experience spark the idea for the cross country ride?
MATT: On that trip, especially the first few cities we stopped in we were amazed at how welcoming the skateboard community is. We wanted to experience and immerse ourselves in that community nationwide.
BOGDAN: The idea was always there, and that just reinforced it. Just seeing the possibilities… biking down to Florida really encouraged us to, for the next eight months, properly put together a trip across the country. Although we thought it was going to take us four months and it ended up taking us eight months, it was still one of the most incredible experiences in my life… Of our lives.
What sparked the interest in long bike rides? I know both of you weren’t avid cyclists prior to this.
MATT: We are not hardcore cyclists by any standards. We just use the bicycle to get around NYC as simply an alternative mode of transportation to get us to the spots and parks we wanted to skate. [After the ride to Philadelphia, we] met many new skaters and even helped build another obstacle in the skatepark. I guess that’s when we imagined just continuing onwards across America, not as a race or distance ride, but more like hundreds of consecutive day trips.
BOGDAN: It was just out of necessity, we would always bike from Brooklyn to the city and we got so comfortable doing it, that we started doing farther trips: to Queens, to the Bronx. Kind of exploring the city and really getting to know it. Next thing we know, we’re like, “Why don’t we take this a little further?” Actually the first time we ever thought about it we were hanging out over at Cheeto’s house and we were all, “Hey, we should skate across the country,” and that’s how it all started, as a joke. “We should all skate across on cruiser boards.” And obviously that was very unrealistic, but me and Matt really kept thinking about it and that idea stuck on and we were like, “Well, we ride our bikes every day so why don’t we try to do that?”
Over the years we’ve met a lot of people that work in the industry one way or another—in bicycles. When we finally brought that on the table and were like, “Hey, we wanna do this,” people started reaching out and they were like, “Oh, well I work with these bike companies, we’ll give you the bikes,” and then these companies were like, “Oh, we’ll give you the gear.” And in the next couple of months everything really came together, we were finally able to get on the road and get it going. We could not have done it without people.
Can you give some details on how your days are during the rides? I.e. Do you plan your routes?
MATT: When we are on the road and in-between major cities we get a pretty early start. We don’t have a solid/planned route, just day-to-day Google Maps guesstimating elevations and how long we can ride [or] where can we make it to by nightfall. We generally ride all day until sundown, which is when we’ll start looking for a place to set up camp. We also take breaks throughout the day whenever, and sometime extend time when we’re somewhere we really enjoy. It’s amazing being on the road and not having an ultimate time deadline.
BOGDAN: Our average day wasn’t really average, we didn’t really have a set routine. Every morning we’d wake up at about 6 AM and generally probably something up and smoke, maybe have a beer if we had one left over from the night before. Figure out how far—where’s the next town and how far can we potentially get with that. And just push it. If was it was 80 miles, then we’re like, “Alright, we’re doing 80 miles today and just push it. Gun it throughout the day.”
And once we actually got to an actual city we’d meet up with all the local skaters, go hang out, and get shown a cool spot. We’d stick around for awhile.
What were are some of the more memorable memories of the trip? Any interesting people or experiences along the way that stick out more than others?
BOGDAN: Every place is so different and so unique in its own way with its own vibes. Everything was amazing. Someone asked us halfway through, “What’s the worst thing to happen?” And we didn’t really have a single negative experience. The skate community across this country is just so amazing and so close, no matter what. They don’t know who you are, they don’t care who you are, if you skate and you’re doing what you’re doing they’ll take you in. There were so many times we were going to have to find a way to camp somewhere in the city. We’d just go to the skate park and these kids would start talking to us and they’d be like, “Oh, we got a place for you to crash, let’s go, we’ve got a couch. We’ve also got a pick up truck over here,” because everybody down South has a pick up truck, which is awesome. Pick up trucks are the best things ever, I had never really ridden in one before and that was cool as hell.
All of Richmond, Virginia—such a tight crew. Atlanta, those homies hold it down so hard , they crush it so hard. Grant Taylor, Stratosphere Skate Shop. Michael Cirelli put us in touch with some of his old friends, this guy Peter who owns Fate Skate Shop - we stayed at their house for three days. Crys [Worley] is one of the most incredible people, her and her son Sasha are some of the most fascinating people I’ve ever met. We were supposed to stay for the night and we were there for three nights I think. When we left there, we started raising awareness in every state for A.Skate too [along with] Stoked Mentoring Organization, on the West Coast. Once we get to Birmingham and met Sasha and saw what A.Skate’s all about, we were fully on board.
BOGDAN: People are so nice and so willing to help and so open if you’re willing to open yourself up. Because doing what we did, we really threw ourselves in the universe and were like, “Hopefully take care of us. Hi.” And people do.
I know you guys made pit stops along the way, be it to skate or raise funds to continue. Any place you guys enjoyed more than others? Whether it be the camaraderie of skaters or just the atmosphere.
MATT: Absolutely, we stopped anywhere and everywhere we could skate. We’ve connected with skaters in every town/city, and have prolonged our stay many, many times. Baltimore/DC/Richmond was awesome. New Orleans we were supposed to stay about a week and ended up over a month. Texas is amazing in general, and we were fortunate enough to stay in Austin for two months. Santa Monica/Venice Beach was almost two months as well. Skateboarders are welcoming everywhere, and we have made lasting connections with everyone.
BOGDAN: No, there’s no place that I would say is better than anywhere else, except for back home in New York of course. I missed this place so much, I’ve been so nostalgic. As amazing as this country is there’s no place like New York. It’s like the entire country jam-packed into one island. It’s so amazing.
Every single city, every single town—had their own vibe and community. New Orleans homies hold it down so hard, they do their thing, it’s theirs. There’s no big corporate sponsors, no following, it’s just the kids that skate that wanna skate and will find whatever they can to skate. They hop on DIY spots everywhere. And it’s fucked up, the only skate park in New Orleans is the Weezy Skate Park and no one is allowed to skate it and if you do then you get arrested. It sits there with no one operating it, it’s retarded.
One of the most amazing scenes, I think, is… We were passing through Santa Maria, California and we were having coffee in the morning, and this old guy started talking to us and he’s like, “You guys skate? You should check out this shop, it’s in the mall.” And we were thinking, “Great, mall shop... cool.” And he’s like, “No, it’s a really cool shop, my son works there, they have a skate park there.” We’re like, “...what?” He said, “Yeah, it’s an indoor skate park,” We’re like, “In the mall? Let’s go check it out and skate there for an hour or something.” We stayed there for 9 days [laughs]. The One Way Board Shop in Santa Maria.
First off, riding to SF from NYC is amazing, but now you guys are planning to ride back via the Northern part of the US, why?
MATT: Flying back after such a journey seems anti-climactic. We didn’t plan what we were going to do after we finished, and now have wholly set our sights on riding back. (We are aiming to get motorized bicycles, for a slightly quicker ride). It’s summer, and if we take the Northern states now, we’ll have great weather. We have also spoken to much older people who have done similar trips in their youth… one constant piece of advice they all seem to share is to keep traveling and doing this as long as we humanly can.
Has this experience changed you in any way? Your perception of the US? Skateboarding? People?
MATT: I’m unsure how it has changed me yet, but I know the journey has altered my perception about people, places, travel. We have personally connected with strangers in a way that seems stronger than with some peers from back home. We were outside of our comfort zone on this trip, and whenever someone took an open step towards us, that’s where the magic happened—that real human being to human being connection. As for skateboarding, the same applies, and the community is smaller than you think. We have met so many skaters that share friends or stories or situations in common. It’s incredible how quickly skaters become your “brotha” almost immediately.
BOGDAN: This experience has definitely changed me a lot. It opened up my eyes a bunch to how people really live outside—how much we really overpay living in New York. God dammit, rent out here is so fucking expensive! Like, literally if you go out to Virginia, it’s $375 for a room to live in that skate park house. $375! You’re not going to find a closet over here for that. [Laughs]. People are amazing human beings all across country and really will go out of their way to help you out.
There was this one time… We were stranded in the middle of Texas, pouring rain for thirteen hours and we were at this barbecue joint. We remembered this girl we worked with from Texas and she reached out to a friend that she grew up with in high school—hadn’t spoken to in seven years—and he drove 100 miles out of his way to pick us up to drive back to his house. Him and his wife cooked us the most amazing fucking dinner, gave us some homemade beef jerky, turkey jerky, showed us his entire gun collection. He worked in an oil rig offshore so he was away for two or three weeks and then he’d be home for two or three weeks shooting a gun and hunting and having a great time with his beautiful wife. Just such amazing people. Then the following morning he drove us back the hundred miles so we didn’t have to bike extra mileage. It just shows how incredible people are.
People are so nice and so willing to help and so open if you’re willing to open yourself up. Because doing what we did, we really threw ourselves in the universe and were like, “Hopefully take care of us. Hi.” [Laughs] And people do. If you do that and you fully submerge yourself into it, they will reciprocate.
Final words? Thank you’s?
MATT: Get out and stay out. Be genuine, open, and kind to people and life situations. THANK YOU UNIVERSE.
BOGDAN: We want to thank all of our sponsors: Mighty Healthy, Shut Skateboards, Tre Truck, North Brooklyn, Skate Brooklyn, Metroflect. The Hundreds kind of helped us out in the long run, those dudes are always bagging it. Kind Snacks for hooking it up, Giant Bicycles in Blackburn for giving us the gear, Chrome Industries for supporting us as long as they have and housing us in San Francisco and showing us a great time and always supporting us in whatever we’re doing. HUF for going out on a limb and sending us stuff and giving us gear so we’d be able to skate. Everyone in New York who believed in us and supported us and donated and helped us out. Alex Corporan has been our supporter since day one. Peter Pabon, Ray Mate. All the homies, all the skater kids. Everyone, I love you guys.