Island Time Skateboarding
‘I always thought about opening my own business and I wanted to do something that
The Bahamas hadn’t seen before.’
Interview with and photos by Maximilian Fritsche Owner of ‘Turnschuh’ skate shop
Tell us something about The Bahamas people do not know about?
Bahamian people are never on time… I think that’s something that’s very typical for Caribbean countries in general – we call it island time – but yeah, that was something I had to get used to when I moved here from Germany, where people generally tend to be punctual.
Bahamas does not seem the obvious choice for skaters to spend their holidays. Why should they come anyway?
The Bahamas is not the obvious choice. We don’t have a real skate park, most of the roads are hard to skate on and most of the year it’s too hot to skate. But there’s still a lot of spots that you can skate, you just have to get creative with it. And the local skate scene is always happy to welcome new faces, whether you’re a local or a tourist. Oh, and the beaches (laughing).
You are a German that opened up a skate shop in the Bahamas. It sounds like an opening line for a real good joke or there is some heavy money laundering going on. On a serious note though tell us why you came up with the idea?
Yeah, people ask me that a lot. My girlfriend’s father actually asked me if I opened up my store in The Bahamas for tax purposes when we first met (laughing). But really, it’s quite a complicated story of how I ended up here.
My mother is actually from The Bahamas and growing up we used to visit at least once a year because most of my family lives here. When I graduated from university with a bachelor’s in journalism, I took a couple of freelance writing jobs for a fashion magazine. It didn’t pay very well and I just really wanted one project that I could work on full-time. Then my grandmother on my father’s side passed away in November 2016. I decided to move to The Bahamas to be closer to the rest of my family and just do something completely different.
I always thought about opening my own business and I wanted to do something that The Bahamas hadn’t seen before. At first I wanted to open up a sneaker concept store but I figured a skate shop might do better in The Bahamas. Skate shops always just fascinated me. I love that familiar vibe you feel, when you enter a skate shop anywhere in the world. It took more than two years to get everything set up – things just take longer in The Bahamas – and in April 2019 I opened up the one and only skate shop in the Bahamas.
‘Unfortunately, there is a 45% import duty on all sporting goods plus 12% VAT on anything that you bring in.’
What was the biggest challenge in setting up your store?
The biggest challenge was definitely getting the business licence. Since I am not a Bahamian citizen, I could only stay in the country for 30 days even though my mother is Bahamian and I needed the business licence to get residency. It took a year and a half just to get all the required documents.
Dealing with customs in the beginning was also a pain because there is a trade agreement between the CARICOM and the EU but no one in The Bahamas seemed to know about it.
What products and brands are you selling?
I wanted the shop to feel like a skate shop in Germany so I decided to focus on European brands. We carry Civilist, Damage, Magenta, Polar, Poetic Collective, Robotron, Skateboard Cafe but also Fucking Awesome and Thrasher. Since this type of streetwear is still very niche in The Bahamas, we mostly sell t-shirts and decks. We do also carry our own line of decks and t-shirts, which are made in Europe.
When did the skateboard scene start in The Bahamas?
I actually wasn’t aware of the local scene in The Bahamas until after I opened up the shop. I had never seen anyone skate in The Bahamas before and I knew that we didn’t have a park.
Quite a move to open up a skate shop without knowing if a local skate scene exists!
But people have been skating in The Bahamas since the 70s. Once in a while someone would come to the store, who used to skate back in the day and tell me what it was like. The first generation used to bomb hills (even though we don’t have that many hills on the island), then came the trick skaters that built their own ramps and quarter pipes from stolen wood. Now you have a lot of kids getting into it through YouTube, learning tricks in their backyard. Through the store I have been able to bring a lot of these kids together and now we skate downtown.
Are there any official and DIY skate parks around?
Unfortunately, we don’t have a real skate park. There used to be a few DIY skate parks but they didn’t last very long because people would destroy them. So we turned the downtown area into our skate park. But we have been trying to get a real skate park built, we’ll see how that goes.
How big is the current skateboard community?
I think two days after I opened the store, some skaters came to the store to check it out. They couldn’t believe that they had a skate shop now and they sent pictures to this WhatsApp group with all the Bahamian skaters. When they added me to the group it was maybe 20 skaters in there, now there’s more than 60. But there’s only a few that actually come out to skate regularly.
Who is the most talented skateboarder in the Bahamas at the moment?
I have to give a shoutout to Lorenzo. He was one of the three skaters that came to my shop when I first opened up and his progress from then to now has been amazing! Like me, he started skating rather late but he is always pushing himself to improve, skating bigger gaps, higher drops, more tricks in a line. He’s the type of skater, you could give him a trick and he’ll figure it out, even if he’s never tried it before. And he holds the record for highest ollie on the island over seven decks.
And who is the most talented local skateboarder outside the Bahamas?
Jason Ren is another talented Bahamian skater, he now lives in Los Angeles. But he tells me that he doesn’t get to skate there as much as he would like to.
‘He’s the type of skater, you could give him a trick and he’ll figure it out, even if he’s never tried it before. And he holds the record for highest ollie on the island over seven decks.’
How expensive is a brand new deck in US Dollars?
Unfortunately, there is a 45% import duty on all sporting goods plus 12% VAT on anything that you bring in. I sell our own line of Turnschuh decks starting at $69, which just about covers the cost of importing them. Most of the other decks I sell at the store start at $79, completes start at $250.
What are some of the challenges skateboarding faces in The Bahamas today?
The biggest challenge of all is that we don’t have a park. Therefore, we don’t really have a safe space to skate and it’s really hard for kids to get into it. I guess most kids get bored of skating in their backyard and give up. That’s why I have been trying to get a park built ever since I opened up the shop but things take time in The Bahamas… Also, the import duty makes skateboarding very expensive.
What are some of the challenges people in the Bahamas face every day?
The pandemic has forced Bahamians to realise that the local economy is very dependent on tourism. When the hotels closed, more than half of the country was unemployed. That is something that needs to change. Also, everything in The Bahamas is imported, which makes the cost of living very high. Bahamians need to start thinking more locally.
Last question: If you could interview one person, who would it be and why?
Kanye West, I just want to know how his mind works.