Shredding For Vets
By Kathleen Reddington
July 1, 2013
Catching up with Iraq War veterans Andrew Goldsmith and Bob Harington isn’t easy. The skateboarding, bicycling duo are constantly on the move as they shred their way down the California coast from Brookings, Ore. to increase awareness of veterans’ needs and raise money for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a nonprofit organization that provides health services, education, employment and legislative lobbying efforts to aid veterans.
Fortunately, skating and biking 8 to 10 hours a day on their 900-mile journey demands that the peripatetic friends stop occasionally to refuel. Now sitting in the front booth of a Goleta diner, Goldsmith, 28, and Harington, 29, resemble two tall, farm-boy redheads who could easily be mistaken for brothers.
They seem pretty happy for guys who served together for two tours of active duty from 2004 to 2009 in the same infantry battalion in Iraq. It’s obvious they chose this spot so they could keep an eye on their ten-speed road bicycle and makeshift trailer rig parked on the sidewalk on the other side of the plate glass window. Goldsmith politely keeps his skateboard standing up inside the booth.
“We wanted to have a grand adventure,” says Goldsmith, the more outspoken of the two. “We’re doing this to remind people. It’s easy for some Americans to forget young men and women are dying every day in Afghanistan and Iraq. We are still fighting a war over there.”
Goldsmith talks between bites while gobbling down a hamburger and French fry combo. He manages to be upbeat and earnest at the same time. Meanwhile Harington quietly chows down on his flapjacks “with lots of butter and syrup.”
For the purposes of this undertaking, the two call themselves Veteran Skate Trek. Their 39-day coastal journey began June 1 and if all goes well, it will end on July 9 in Tijuana, Mexico.
“Right now we’re ahead of schedule,” says Goldsmith, who hopes to pass through his hometown of Redondo Beach in time for the fireworks show on July 4.
After camping at Refugio State Beach, the two skated and biked to Goleta on an unusually hot day the Friday before July 4. “I ate at least five candy bars along the way,” Harington confesses with a smile. After lunch, they were destined for Carpinteria State Beach. There, they planned to spend the night and take the following day off before continuing on to Oxnard.
The idea for Veteran Skate Trek’s journey came from a package Goldsmith received in 2008 during his second tour of duty in Iraq. “My mom sent me a road map of California,” says Goldsmith.
Eyeing the map and thinking about how far away the states seemed in the middle of a war zone, he and Harington came up with the idea to publicize veterans’ causes while trekking down the coast.
“A few months ago, Andrew called me up and asked me if I was ready to go this summer,” laughs Harington, adding that he never skated when he was a kid growing up in Reno. “He sent me a skateboard in the mail and told me to start practicing. Andrew does most of the skating but we trade quite often. I‘ve already gone through two pairs.” Harington pulls his feet from under the table and proudly displays his shoes.
“I‘m on my third pair,” adds Goldsmith, who’s been riding a skateboard since he was in grade school. “Bob‘s didn’t start skating until four months ago but he’s probably skated more miles than most people cover in years.”
The two skate and bike between 35 to 50 miles every day, staying on the Pacific Coast Highway and Highway 101 as much as possible.
“We sleep exclusively at state parks—they have a hiker-biker no-reservations policy. It’s like we’re back in the infantry, but we get to sleep in which is nice,” says Goldsmith, sipping on a root beer and tossing his napkin onto a now clean plate.
The two may have numb, tingling and worn-out feet, but they’ve been buoyed by the reception they’ve been getting.
“People are passing, honking, waving. Here in Santa Barbara, Skate One, the manufacturer of Powell Peralta and Bones Bearings and Wheels, gave us a factory tour and hooked us up with fine wheels and bearings,” says Goldsmith. “We got a totally awesome reception in Santa Cruz. The skate royalty hooked us up with skateboards, gave us places to stay, fed us and gave us clothes. A guy named Gabe came into the [Santa Cruz boardroom] and said he was touched by our story and gave us $500.”
The money goes directly to Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which offers its services free to veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and has more than 250,000 members and supporters worldwide. To date, Harington and Goldsmith have raised more than $4,000 toward their $25,000 goal.
As for the adventure part of the trip, “We’ve been incredibly lucky with the weather. It only rained twice,” says Goldsmith. “Long boarding through the redwoods was incredible. There was no traffic, just the morning smell of the trees and the sound our wheels. It was majestic, like a moving meditation.”
Harington adds, “Before we started, I imagined a high and a low. The high was cruising down smooth pavement, the sun-drenched California coast, the blue ocean by our side. The low would be trucking down a crowded, traffic-congested freeway bumping on rumble strips for hours. It’s been way closer to the high than the low.”
Goldsmith and Harington pay the check and get ready to roll. Goldsmith picks up the skateboard, eyeing it with the genuine sentimentality that soldiers reserve for brothers in arms. “This is our favorite board. You know what KOTA stands for?” he asks. “Knights of the Air.
“These are made by a former F-14 fighter pilot. His name’s Mike Maloney, from Denver. He found out about what we were doing and sent us four,” adds Harington.
Once Veteran Skate Trek reaches Tijuana, Goldsmith and Harington will go their separate ways. Goldsmith will enter Pepperdine University’s law school in the fall and Harington will complete his undergraduate degree in math and physics at the University of Nevada, in Reno. Goldsmith hopes to utilize his law degree to “further veterans’ causes,” and Harington adds, “I’m on the GI Bill and it’s a very good deal.”
The two head for the Pacific Coast Highway as the 5 o’clock traffic begins to buzz around them, their gear and belongings strapped in place with bungee cords, the American flag and the veterans flag proudly taking up the rear of their caravan. They both grin, flip the shaka (hang loose) sign and take off down the road. Goldsmith turns his back and yells, “The mission’s never over!” and they disappear in a sea of cars.