A kickflip in Love Park in Philly, the skate mecca of the U.S. Credit: Courtesy of Shred America

e told a lot of people when we were leaving that we had the trip planned
out,” Arthur Swidzinski says now. “That we had trained, that we were in
tip-top shape. In reality we had gone on the Internet to Mapquest and
printed a 150-page document of turn-by-turn directions to New York City.
Everything sort of fell apart from the get-go.”

Today Swidzinski, now 30, might as well be brutally honest about the
hiccups—and occasional full-body dry heaves—that he and Mike Kosciesza,
also 30, endured during their 36-day, 950-mile skateboarding trek during
the summer of 2008 that began in Millennium Park in Chicago and finished in
Times Square in New York City. Because that wayward journey has finally
(finally) been converted into a proper documentary, nearly ten years to the
day since they first got confused about how to skate their way into

Making Shred America the film had always been part of the
itinerary. It’s why the two longtime skateboarding friends from Niles
recruited Tony Michal of Park Ridge and James Lagen of Des Plaines to trail
them on bikes with video cameras in tow to document it. There was to be no
grand overarching theme, really, no existential commentary. The narrative
of the film essentially boiled down to there not being much of a narrative
at all. It was about four kids in their early 20s with very little
responsibility, some basic experience in film and broadcasting, and a
binding love of skateboarding. Fuck it, why not make a memory?

“We were adventurous and wanted to make a movie—so we figured we’d just go
out and do it,” Kosciesza, who was working as a security guard in 2008,

Swidzinski, who at the time worked at a hospital transporting patients to
the morgue, adds, “We developed a passion for radio and making short films
in high school. Once we got to college, we wanted to apply what we’d
learned and do something coming-of-age that we could talk about when we
were 90 years old.” Prior to and during the trip, the pair operated as
their own DIY press and hype machine (which hasn’t changed now that they’re
promoting the film). They did local radio spots and regularly took calls on
their not-smartphones to give updates to the Chicago media outlets
following their often illegal slog along the shoulders of state routes. TheNew York Post took an interest; so did Good Morning America. Aside from the time the foursome has a
run-in with cops or when they’re impelled to interrupt Joe Ohio’s leisurely
grilling to ask for rides or places to stay, Shred America‘s
greatest moments occur when everyone is actively processing his 15 minutes
of fame.

Though that celebrity is fleeting, and though it’s tied to an outrageous
(sometimes ridiculous) stunt, the team learn to revel in it. The crew
collectively buy into and believe in the greater good of the
adventure—particularly once they come to the understanding that they mostly
don’t know what the hell they’re doing—and, well, it occasionally turns
damn near precious when they do.

“Had it been planned out, the trip wouldn’t have been what it was. A lot of
the adventure would’ve been lost,” Swidzinski says now. “Today if we had
gotten in trouble we could’ve just called an Uber. I recently got in a bit
of trouble during a bike tour up in Door County . . . and I called an

The Shred America crew eventually made it to New York City, though
they did have to take a train in from New Jersey to get there. (As they
discovered, you can’t skate on the shoulder of U.S. Highway 1 in order to
make a grand entrance.) But upon their return to Chicagoland—now with
dozens of hours of footage laid out scattershot in front of them—the film
stalled and fell flat. Even with the adrenaline of the journey fueling them
early on during postproduction, Swidzinski admits that the edit became way
too long and he and Kosciesza lost grasp of the story they were trying to
tell. They alluded to the circumstance as another example of their lack of
preparation. And so the documentary sat on the shelf for years.

Shred America almost didn’t get made,” Swidzinski admits.

But sometimes all it takes is quitting a demoralizing corporate job to
inspire you. And in 2012 Swidzinski did just that. “I didn’t know what to
do with my time after I quit, so I opened up the project again. I sat down
and wrote out each scene, what it meant, its purpose. Then I called Mike.”

“I had moved to New York City in 2011 to pursue a career working in
postproduction,” Kosciesza remembers. “I ended up as an assistant editor on
a documentary film, learning how to cut and structure a film. And then
Arthur called. We spent two years trimming the fat of Shred America, figuring out what the story is. He eventually came
up with the idea that we should interview ourselves.”

That proved crucial. Now so far removed from the shooting of the film, the
two friends—along with Michal and Lagen—were able to reflect on the days
and weeks of the trip, helping provide context and building bridges between
the scenes. “Arthur put on the director’s hat, and I put on the editor’s
hat,” Kosciesza says. “We were passing edits back and forth via Vimeo and
YouTube, just building the film.”

Now the documentary a decade in the making is set to make its world
premiere March 24 at the Patio Theater. The proceeds will go to helping get
it on Amazon and iTunes. And to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of
their initial trip, Swidzinski and Kosciesza plan to take Shred America on tour for a month—in a car this time, but
following roughly the same route—to screen the film at libraries, skate
shops, colleges, skate parks . . . wherever will have them.

Even though today Kosciesza lives in Brooklyn, there was never much of a
doubt about where Shred America would open (even prior to the
festival circuit). “It was always going to premiere in Chicago first,” he
says. “We weren’t going to do it anywhere else.”   v