Michael a.k.a. Michi Mackrodt, is an anomaly on video but also in real life. Culturally in between Germany and France he might be the Lennox Lewis of the industry. Not a citizen of a certain country but a citizen of the world. “The Maginot Line” was a line of defense between the borders of Germany and France so it felt right because somewhere there in the middle is Michi. I remember when I first saw him in Element Europe’s “Rise Up”, a project that was way better than anything their US counterpart had put out in years. Back then Michi was as good as he is now but it took a couple of years until he really found his voice. With it he also found an international audience, by being himself he had the most success. But during this interview, Mr. Mackrodt’s tone is often kinda down on himself. He doubts his own skill level, or what he has done as relevant. At the same time, he seems to care less and less about what people think, or the number of views or likes things get. It seems like we caught Michi in a transitional moment from fully sponsored, world-traveling skater to… who knows… All we know is that he still is as good as ever and he leaves you early 30-year-olds no excuses because at 40 he still has it all! Take some time and spend it on Michi you won’t be disappointed and in case you are doubting my words we got a little video dropping on Wednesday that will change your mind.
Interview by Roland Hoogwater.
All photos by Friedjof Feye.
Hey Michi how are you?
I’m good, just took care of my little one, we almost fell asleep together. I wanted to go outside for a little skate but unfortunately, it started raining. I am going to wait for a bit but I have to go skate today rain or no rain.
You are almost fully back on the board now after an ankle injury, how has the recovery been?
Slowly but surely things are coming back! About 2-3 days ago I finally did my first Frontside Flip again, which felt good. Before I was hopping around without doing any front foot flips, I am fit though, I worked on that before I was able to skate.
How did you injure your foot?
Remember right after we had seen the worst of winter, and the Sahara wind set in and it was 20 degrees all of a sudden? The night before, the weather was to set in, we put the children to bed and I told my girlfriend, I am going to skate a bit, and get used to this new board. I went to ICC and after a bit of skating, around 11 at night I had ripped all the ligaments in my foot.
How long has the recovery time been?
Around 12 weeks and about 6 weeks ago I started playing sports again, I think I played Basketball almost every day. I felt good, fit, but as soon as I would try to get on my board to Kickflip, It just wasn’t right. To me, skating with only half of your tricks just isn’t that fun, so I kept on doing other sports first.
My physical therapist told me a little while ago, that I should try again, even if it feels weird in the beginning, because I need to train my foot and get it accustomed to those movements again. Finally, now Tre flips and Frontside flips are back and I think in about a week Kickflips will be back on the menu.
I am proud of myself, I don’t think I have ever managed to wait as long and have done recovery as propper as now.
Nowadays, skaters go to people that know a bit about the way the sport impacts the body, do you have someone like that here in Berlin?
I do, I have been with this guy for a long time, I met him during my ACL recovery and have been with him ever since. He recently started his own praxis and I have also been referring people there. In my opinion he knows my body better than any doctor. He can see into my body with his hands.
Jon Wolf was going from doctor to doctor with a shoulder injury and I really had to push him to go. He went once and he was super excited afterwards.
Being that you are in your 40s do you notice a difference in recovery time and your body in general?
Maybe a bit but I can’t give you a clear answer. In my 20s I had some tough injuries as well, if you are unlucky things take a long time. Over time though I did get smarter, I had swollen ankles before for like a year after just because I didn’t recover properly and started skating early.
My body is built in a good way, I have a light frame and that is good for longevity.
Do you think that is something you where born with or is that your appetite for sports?
I think it is mostly genetics, I think I am just lucky. But I also never let myself go that hard. No real drug and party phases, that helps.
I am also a bit like a dog or a child, put a plank, or a ball or anything you can play with in front of me and I will be actively playing for the next 3 hours, my energy levels have always been high.
But when it comes to the first 4 weeks of an injury that is also what drives me mad, sitting still. I think if it weren’t for my kids and COVID 19 closing all the bars, we could have been looking at a different story as well.
No nightly distractions this time. Plus with the kindergarten being closed I can imagine you have your hands full. I know friends who have gotten close to a depression a couple of times, just because of the lack of personal time.
When I first got to terms with injuring my foot and rays of that 20 degree weather hit me, I was very close to a depression as well (laughs). I love my kids and they keep you busy and that is fun but it is great to leave them in the hand of a professional for a moment so you can spend some time on yourself and your partner.
Just making three meals a day for 2 kids can be a challenge. Going into the supermarket buying food and then you make it and them rejecting it can be a vicious cycle. The more hungry they get the worse the mood gets so it is cool but a tough job. I like to give not only my mom but all moms credit for their ability to make it happen day in day out, that is crazy.
Being a parent is an important job.
It is and I am happy to do it but as soon as my girlfriend gets home from work I tend to be a bit egotistical and hand them over so I can have some private time. You can take your kids with you to the skatepark or to the basketball court but your eye never leaves them. As I said I have a lot of energy and part of being balance is tiring myself out by sports.
It helps keeping you in good spirits.
It does, it sounds bad when I say that I am egotistical and hand the kids over but if I don’t do it I know that my mood can change and I think that is also not healthy for the family. This way, I come home, am happy and able to deal with the stress of life in a much more healthy way.
I thought me being hyperactive would decline with age but between 30 and 40 not much has changed.
40 seems to be the new 30 now.
Depending on who you talk to, but you can keep going, as long as you put the work in. I noticed around my mid-30s that if I wasn’t going to do that, my fitness was going to decline. It is no longer something self evident like it was when I was younger.
Before when I was younger I would go to the bar at night, but now when I am injured I will put on some music and do some stretching and other exercises. It might be hard to start but you start to notice it if you don’t do it. You pay a price on the board for the things you do off the board.
Sounds like you are not giving other older skaters much room for excuses. Do you think Jan Kliewer is looking at you like “Shit, if Michi is doing it I can’t just slow down”?
I don’t know!? Jan is also still really fit and I don’t really know what his secret is. He also doesn’t have the light frame I have. Jan is 2 meters and quite a bit heavier than me and I don’t think he puts on headphones at night and is going for a workout. Maybe a part of it is also just your mindset.
Maybe, my quest for fitness is mental and it is my mind telling me that it works. But I believe in routine and getting a sweat going.
Getting back to routine, how often do you skate when you are healthy?
I skate around 4-5 times a week for about 2 hours. I am not a big talker when I skate. I go to the park talk a bit before, skate and cool down and chat but when I am skating, I am focused on that.
One of the biggest things I noticed though, back to getting older is, That I can only warm up maybe like 2 times a day. A lot of these younger skaters can go and skate during the day and have a night session later on, that is something I am not really that good at. I am not that into restarting my body 4-5 times, that is when I get really sore.
A lot has changed for you over the years going from a sponsored, paid skater to now not getting paid to skate but still repping brand like Film Trucks, Haze Wheels & Nebel Skateboards (local German handmade boards). How was that transition?
That just happened, I was never paid that much and I had to do a lot of hustling, I had a lot of good moments with my sponsors but it wasn’t always that easy to convince them to support my ideas.
There came a moment where my output was growing and I was having good coverage on Thrasher and the call comes in: “Budget cuts are happening, and we can only pay you half.” and you start to think “I just can’t do what I am doing for half the money”. So in the end, you make the decision to leave.
Was that transition only negative? We both know some people, that were relieved that they were no longer sponsored because they saw it as a burden, going out, finding spots, getting footage & photos. After that ended you see a lot of people enjoying skating more and even as a result skate better.
I can understand that but I created a lane for myself in skating and that gave me my freedom. I connected skating with traveling and I wanted to see a lot of the world and come home with footage and photos that looked different. I knew I was not going to be in these places a second time and that motivated me. The money or the skate business never factored into that for me.
But I think not being sponsored is a reason I felt I could complete my recovery in full this time. I didn’t feel like I owed it to anyone to “do my work”, I could just focus on getting right.
The funny thing is, most people get footage and work on projects in their hometown but for you that hasn’t been the case for a long time.
I have been in Berlin for 16 years now and for the first 5, we went all around and did the whole filming and skating thing. I went out with Adam Sello and shot for Anzeige Berlin a lot. And after that, I kinda wanted to just skate for fun in Berlin without “Camera-Stress”.
Is that how the idea came up for “Fishing Lines”?
Fishing Lines just happened. It was after my third Element part, skateboarding was still very hammer-oriented back then, we were on a trip to Madrid and I am seeing so many good spots but we were going mostly to big rails or big stairs. My skating at that time wasn’t that, so afterward I booked a trip to NYC as a holiday thing to meet my friend Patrik Wallner.
He was living in New York at the time and we wanted to watch the soccer world cup matches and hang out. In between that, we just went out with a camera and skated the city. At the end of that trip, we looked at what we had and edited it to a song we liked and launched it on Kingpin.
Funnily enough, it was a big hit, the reception was way better than for my previous parts that I had worked so hard on. So, something clicked, why don’t I do this more often? In a weird way, it was kind of my way to protest the way the skate industry showing one side of skating.
How did your sponsors respond to that?
At first, they were skeptical, especially when I told them about some of the locations. They said “Are you going on a holiday trip?”, so I ended up paying everything upfront and if something came out they refunded my investment. Once the TM sent me a message “Enjoying your free holiday?” that kinda rubbed me the wrong way, if he could have seen what we were skating he would have ate those words.
For the people that know you, the way you skate in a fishing line is the same way you skate in real life. I remember first seeing you skate and remembering thinking “This is really his style of skating”. Because many people do “BIG” tricks but then they skate differently when you see them in their local park.
I think it unlocked something in me to skate how I really was skating. On tour, if you are in the van with people that jump on the gnarliest rails or down the biggest stairs you start to feel like you are in the wrong place. I was like “Why am I here?” (laughs) I was to scared to do stuff like that. In a way, I felt like I wasn’t good enough. I would go around the corner with the filmer and do my thing and come back. It took me a couple of years to figure out that I could do my own stuff.
When I was younger and you first get into the van, you think “I have to show these guys how good & how gnarly I am on a board”. But I learned that the public watching can’t always relate to that. There are multiple type of audiences out there, the really good skaters themselves who often compare themselves to your footy, the internet haters and trolls but also the people that love skateboarding. For them it is more like a hobby and those people I felt really related well to “Fishing Lines”.
I am talking about beginners, older skaters, and everything in between, the message of those videos is you can have fun everywhere. You don’t have to have X, Y, or Z. It doesn’t need to be a stunt or look dangerous. You can do it on a sidewalk and it can be fun and look cool.
I would like to add to that, your type of skating lends itself well to that, I couldn’t see this working with everyone. I don’t know if it would have worked as well with wade Desarmo.
I don’t know, that could have been interesting for sure!
You do have a skill to make a spot out of something that seems like it is almost nothing.
I don’t know if that is a diss or a compliment but leave that in (laughs)! I think what I do when I go skate is not learning the most tricks but stringing the most amount of tricks together. And when you get to spots where the ground is rough and the run-up has huge cracks or traffic is a mess consistency comes in handy!
I was watching a behind-the-scenes clip about a surfer who kept complaining about the number of people in the water trying to surf. He said something along the lines of “Can’t they see I am filming a part out here?” and I kept thinking, go try to film a line in the streets. Most skaters know that you have to dodge, people, cars, dogs, etc. Those factors are natural to us. In Bangladesh, nobody gives a fuck about you or your skateboard and traffic is crazy so if you want to make something happen you have to deal with all of those factors.
Fishing Lines isn’t only fun for us watching but it is also impactful for the places you visit. When we went to Tunisia your name was mentioned quite a lot by the locals there. You were the first pro to go there. How do you pick the locations for those projects?*
I depends, The first one was just because Patrick was in NYC the second one was in Bangkok because Patrick lived there and I was traveling southeast Asia and decided to add a two week stop there. The third one was in China because Patrick was living there working on another project.
Mostly it was a combination of the right circumstances, low travel costs & like with Tunisia I just really wanted to go to North Africa. I originally wanted to go to Algeria, i saw this coast town that looked amazing but I couldn’t get a visa. So I started googling Tunisia and it looked good so we gave it a go. I have to say Tunis really surprised me in a good way!
*Actually we saw an Ipath ad that placed Kenny Reed in Tunisia in 2004 but we couldn’t find the picture anymore.
Have many destination changed because of sketchiness?
Some, I wanted to go to Caracas, I was super hyped to go but Guillaume Perimony just told me it was going to be too sketchy to go down there with all the camera equipment.
Guillaume made the last couple of Fishing Lines, and because we both live in such boring places (Berlin & Paris) we often talk about going somewhere exciting (laughs). We decided to go to West Africa instead, we had nothing to lose! We went to Senegal, Ivory Coast & Togo and it paid off big time, we found so many spots. We expected nothing and it exceeded my wildest expectations, it was a goldmine for skaters.
The thing you often don’t take into account is the weather, how hot it can get and the fact that we are just two people. Where do you leave the camera bag etc? Also, in Africa there are privileges when you are white but when it comes to stops, checks, or contact with the cops you often have to pay up. It is exciting to go on those trips but after 2 weeks we are happy to stop filming under those types of circumstances.
That leads me into the next question, how long does it take to film one episode?
We told ourselves including stomach-flue and food poisoning it can’t be more than 10 days (laughs). Taiwan was the worst, we had such bad luck. We hit a heatwave during the summer and it was like 38 degrees with crazy humidity. So we were pretty weak already and because of that I slipped and fell onto a ledge and cut open my hip, which got infected straight away. That was the first time ever I had to fly home on a trip.
So, we went back in winter, the spots were too cool and we already had 3 lines filmed. And I had the worst ever stomach flu, for three days it was seeping out of every part of my body. So, on the 5th day, I felt like I could skate again and it started to rain. So all the spots we planned to skate during the heatwave, had to be abandoned. We took a train and went to another part of the island and managed to get something done.
When I look at that video now, I get embarrassed, I keep thinking about how bad my skating is and how people must perceive it all. But at the same time my body was so weak and I could barely make it onto some of those ledges (laughs).
Back to Jan Kliewer, you guys have been friends for a long time and your most recent Thrasher release was “Treasure Island” how did that come to pass?
That started after that amazing trip to West Africa. We thought we should check out East Africa. I had wanted to go to Kenya for years and the other trip was so good! So I asked Jan if he wanted to go and I managed to secure some budget so he could join. We really wanted to do a trip together because it had been years since we had traveled together.
We flew into Mombassa and there was next to nothing to skate. Guillaume was doing both the filming and the photography and our mission was to shoot an article for SOLO, that was the grounds on which I had gotten the budget but we didn’t find any spots so we got nervous.
Instead of our planned week, we left Mombassa after 4 days, it was just too hot, no spots and the only time we could skate was at 12:00 when everyone was having a siesta and the streets were empty. These Kenyans must have thought we were crazy skating in the heat? Are they trying to catch a heat stroke?
So we had a vote, and Guillaume and Jan voted to go to Nairobi early. We checked it out on google maps and found ledges, stairs, banks everything. But once we got there – FUCK! The concrete that you skate on had 15-centimeter gaps between them. Just enough so you couldn’t even push but you couldn’t see it on maps. Nairobi was busy you needed 2 hours to travel one Kilometer because of the traffic. We went everywhere and couldn’t find much. Just to paint the picture the city is big, they have a nice business center there with big banks etc. Normally you find spots there quite easily but the floor was shit everywhere.
So on the last day of the trip, Jan managed to get one photo, enough so we had the article in the bag but not enough for a video. That was a 2 week trip and it was the first time we didn’t manage to get a video out of a two week trip (this was before Taiwan).
After that, it took about a year until we gathered enough budget for a second trip and that is when we went to Tanzania. It kinda has the same vibe. It is Swahili country even though one country is Christian and the other is Muslim the people look similar. But it was the same story, almost no spots. We had planned to have a little 5-day vacation to Zanzibar but that turned into a full-on skate thing because it was the only place that had some spots.
In the end, I wrote a text for Wasted Talent but it didn’t end up there so we thought, let’s just can the whole project. It was actually Guillaume that loved my text and wanted to use certain parts of it in the video. I was a bit skeptical at first but I sent him some of the parts recorded and it turned into this epic tale about us looking for spots like in the days of the gold rush. Basically, we are looking for gold that wasn’t there.
It turned out quite nicely in my opinion. I was wondering, you often travel to places where skating is almost non-existent. Skate shops don’t exist in a lot of these countries, so how do you pack?
I fuck boards up a lot but luckily I don’t break boards that often. Truth be told I try to pack light because we move around a lot. So, I might bring like 2 extra boards next to the one I am riding. Extra grip tape is very important because some of the spots are very dirty and it is a good way to “save” a board by re-gripping it.
I will say that I have ridden some setups on trips where the amount of big chips in the deck was so bad that it became a challenge to ride it (laughs). Trucks are more of an issue to be honest, you can’t find them anywhere and they rarely break but if they do you will have a hard time fixing that problem.
Travelers tip: Always take your board as carry-on luggage because in Taiwan Guillaume’s filmer board never arrived. Luckily it happened in a place where there are enough skaters and skate shops to get a new one. But if that happens in the wrong country you will end up filming long-lens or having to find creative solutions. But I always pack a pair of soft wheels and things for if something happens to his setup.
With you being quite the world traveler what have been some of your favorite locations?
The best ones where always the ones where you didn’t expect much but you found a whole lot. Ivory Coast was amazing, Tanzania, Cuba was one of the best countries! Myanmar, I went there 15 years ago and the internet had not hit there, it was one of the most special trips.
Besides that from my travels with Patrik Wallner, Central Asia was really nice! Crazy architecture but very boring food-wise because people seem to eat a lot of kebabs. It was so bad that at some point you get excited to go to the airport and eat something with a sauce or something (laughs). But country-wise and when it comes to the people and the landscapes I was always very impressed by those places.
And what was the place you were most surprised to find skaters?
Cuba to be honest, with the trade embargo’s and everything it seemed impossible but there was a crew of local surfers there and they had built their own boards from scratch and were ripping on those things. I couldn’t see myself having fun on those board but they did!
I actually leave most of my stuff in those countries, the extra wheels, trucks, etc. that I bring always stays there, and the boards of course! Depending on the type of trip, I try to bring extra for the people there. But I don’t give anything out until the end of the trip because if you don’t you might need the product to finish the project.
Last question, Fishing Lines started on Kingpin but now it has become a Thrasher series. Did you notice a difference when you made a change.
Well that started because Kingpin wasn’t around anymore. And we wanted to reach the people from as many countries as possible, especially the ones that we traveled to. So Thrasher was a great option, and Guillaume had a connection there. We tried, sent it in, didn’t think they would support it but they did! They even paid for music rights and since then it has been our home. Every time we send one in, I think they won’t take this one the level of skating is nothing compared to what they usually post, but every time they have supported us.
I was lucky that they supported Guillaume, and myself.
Don’t you think though that it is a bit of a false comparison, to put fishing lines against some of their more “regular” parts? You guys have created something different, that stands out. Not many people are combining freestyle moves like “Walk the Dog” with tech wheelie tricks.
That trick was because I lost a bet (laughs). But truth be told, I don’t know, I really can’t tell why they supported us but I am happy they did. My sponsors at the time were happy too because it was reaching a lot of people. To be fair, if we would have done the same thing on a smaller platform I am not sure they would have loved it as much and that is a big thank you to Thrasher but it also makes me sad because the quality would have been the same, so you see where content meets corporate interest and I am on the side thinking if it is a good project it will be good all over the internet.
It can be hard when you see people do the same thing over and over and you try to do something different and it seems like a lot fewer people were interested. I don’t know if that is because what we make is shit or if people just want the same thing but I know Guillaume was a bit sad that some of the more creative attempts didn’t get more views. But do views translate into quality? I don’t think it works like that. Again, I am old enough to not care to much, this is me, this is our thing, take it or leave it!
Thanks for your time Michi, I hope to see you back on the road at some point!
If the world returns to normal and we can find some budget somewhere we will keep going!