‘I was definitely not trying to be underground! But now, I can see how that might be that case.’

Mike Bell

Boston Underground

December 2022

In an online forum you were called ‘Underground Boston ripper’. How do you see yourself?
20 years ago I probably would have taken offense to that! (laughing) I was definitely not trying to be underground! But now, I can see how that might be that case. I just see myself as lucky, I was in the right place at the right time. I was fortunate to have found a great group of skaters that were all pushing themselves which in turn pushed me.

How come you started skating in first place?
Like most kids of that era (mid 80’s) a friend of mine got a skateboard and in between playing basketball, baseball and riding our bikes we would mess around on his skateboard in the driveway, nothing too serious, I wasn’t really even aware of tricks. Then I saw the movie Police Academy 4 that had a montage in the beginning that had real pros as stunt doubles, it was mostly the Bones brigade along with a few others. They were skating through the city, launching off stuff. I thought it was so cool, it was the first time I really saw what could be done on a skateboard and I was hooked. After that I quit the baseball team and just poured myself into skateboarding.

What local heroes were you looking up to when you started?
When I first started my world was only the small suburb, I grew up in. There were a few other guys skating that I thought were pretty good, Kevin Coleman and Dave Samara. As I became aware of the larger local scene (Boston) I definitely looked up to and was influenced by Jahmal Williams, Robbie Gangemi, Pat Noonan, Charlie Wilkins and one of my good friends Mike Graham.

MelonGrab - Shrewsbury-MA - 1990 - Photo-Jerry Vadeboncoeur
Melon Grab • Shrewsbury, MA • 1990   © Jerry Vadeboncoeur

Which pro inspired you most throughout your skateboard career?
I’ve always been a huge fan of Gonz – who isn’t – as I started to see more pros in videos and mags, I always really liked Rob Dyrdek, Kris Markovich, Jamie Thomas, Ed Templeton. I got a chance to get to know Jamie Thomas a little bit in the mid 90’s. He was definitely a big influence on me. I appreciated his drive and work ethic, he pushed me to be better. I have one trick and two slams in Toy Machines “Welcome to Hell” courtesy of Ed and Jamie! Charlie Wilkins also had a big impact on me, we’ve been friends since our teenage years and we’ve always pushed each other, sometimes to our physical detriment.

You had an opportunity to turn pro, but you wanted to sit it out for another year. Have you ever regretted your decision?
I try not to regret anything, we all make decisions based on the information we have at the time we have to make a decision and for me it was September of 1995 and I was sponsored by a small company – Zimbabwe skateboards (which later became Balance skateboards). They told me they wanted me to be their first pro. At that time there were alot of small brands popping up and turning people pro left and right, many of them, in my opinion, were not deserving and I didn’t want to be seen as one of them. I always wanted to be someone who had a lasting career that could make a real impact on the industry. So, I decided to wait a little bit so I could get more coverage and prove I was worthy. That winter I went out to California to get away from the cold and snow in Boston. I left in early January of 1996 with Roger Bagley (of the Nine club) and in February of 1996 I tore my ACL in my right knee and had to head back to Boston early. I had my first surgery in the spring of 96 and after 6-8 months of recovery I started skating again in the fall of 1996. About 6 weeks later I broke my kneecap in half – same knee. For the next year and a half, I had 3 more knee surgeries and wasn’t able to get back on my board until early 1998. I was left with a bunch of pins and wires holding my knee together. By then I had lost all my confidence, I was in alot of pain, and I slowly realized I would never get back to the same level I was before the ACL injury so by the early 2000’s I decided it was time to move on. So, do I regret it, no, but would I have loved to have a board with my name on it? Yup! In the early 2000’s I kinda turned my back on skateboarding for a while. I was a bit jaded and was trying to focus on something new, I kinda regret that. I ended up losing touch with a lot of friends I had made through skateboarding, thankfully social media has allowed me to reconnect with many of them.

‘I got a chance to interview Jake Phelps for Street And Sidewalks which was an epic experience’

50-50 Columbus-OH - 1996 - Photo-Geoff Kula
50-50 • Columbus, OH • 1996   © Geoff Kula

Would your career turned out to be different if you had moved to California?
Possibly, the big thing that changed my path was all of my knee injuries. If that hadn’t happened, I think things would have been very different. I never really liked California, don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful and there’s tons of things to skate out there, but I never liked the vibe, I’m too much of a northeast dude, I like the lifestyle here.

You are working on a documentary film about skateboarding in Boston in the 1990s called ‘Streets and Sidewalks’. There is a trailer on vimeo which is an absolute teaser! What initiated the project?
After being away from skateboarding for a while I came to understand how lucky I was to have lived/skated through the 90’s. That time period was really transformative for skateboarding in general as well as for the Boston scene. It was the first generation of skateboarders that could make a career out of skateboarding without moving to the West coast. It was also the first generation of skateboarders that were getting a lot of national/international attention. I wanted to tell that story and highlight all the people that made it happen. It’s just one slice of the larger story of the 90’s.

How much longer until the film is all done?
That’s a good question. I was hoping to have it complete in early 2020, but then COVID happened. At that point I had a handful of interviews left and was unable to travel for a while to complete them… Also, I really want to have a proper premiere/screenings and COVID has also thrown a wrench in that. I don’t want to release it until we can all get back into the theater and watch it as a shared experience…I’m hoping to have it complete later this year.

Ollie Boston-Turtles - 2000 - Photo-Geoff Kula
Ollie • Turtles, Boston • 1995   © Geoff Kula

What are you up to now? I found another Mike Bell who is the Senior Brand Manager for ‘skate.’ at Electronic Arts.
Well, that is not me! (laughing). I’m currently living in Providence, Rhode Island, about an hour south of Boston. I own/operate a small media production company with my wife Beth (embee studio). I do film and video production and she is an illustrator/graphic designer. We have twin daughters that just turned 15. I try to skate when I can otherwise just living life!

What is still on your wish list?
As far as skateboarding goes, any switch flip trick. Skating switch was never my thing. My body doesn’t operate that way!

Last question. If you could interview a person, who would it be and why?
In skateboarding I’ve been lucky enough to interview most of the people I ever could have imagined. I got a chance to interview Jake Phelps for Street And Sidewalks which was an epic experience, it was the only time I met, he told me some crazy stories of the early days of new England skateboarding. Sadly, he passed away just a few weeks later, I would have loved to have him at the premier. I’m down to interview just about anyone, everyone has a unique perspective and a story to tell.

‘I always wanted to be someone who had a lasting career that could make a real impact on the industry.’

Paris Ollie - 1998 - Photo-Geoff Kula
Ollie • Paris • 1998   © Geoff Kula