Skating a halfpipe on the high seas

It was the first-ever skate jam on a cruise ship.

Matt Hensley rolled the 5-foot mini, pumping up the walls, doing smooth ollies and grinds. Part of the generation that first pushed the limits of street skating, Hensley, now 46, was enjoying a session with old friends on a Friday night.

But there was something more to it: Hensley and his old H Street skate team were sessioning the high seas with the tropical Atlantic Ocean stretching to the horizon in every direction.

What could be better than sessioning a mini on a cruise ship to some of your favorite punk bands? Photo: Courtesy of Rich Johnson/Spectacle Photo

It was the first-ever skate jam on a cruise ship. But this sea voyage wasn’t your average Bahamian jaunt. This was Flogging Molly’s Salty Dog Cruise, a swashbuckling three-night excursion of a few thousand punk-rock pirates.

Somehow, legends like Eddie Elguera, Ron Allen, Tony Magnusson, Sal Barbier, John Schultes and company grinding away in the Tropic of Cancer seemed to fit perfectly.

Ron Allen, style for miles (and that’s nautical miles out here.). Photo: Courtesy of Rich Johnson/Spectacle Photo

“It’s three years that I’ve been trying to do this and I finally got the green light. When I first wanted to do it, everybody around me was like, ‘Yeah, no problem. Let’s do it.’ I’ve been a skateboarder all my life, so I was thinking that it was too easy,” Hensley told GrindTV on his way across the pool deck from Flogging Molly’s headlining Friday evening show to the ramp, which had been assembled while he was wailing out “Tobacco Island” and “The Kilburn High Road” with his band.

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“If it was that simple, let’s just light the whole place on fire and go crazy.”

Matt Hensley rocking out on accordion during Flogging Molly’s tropical beach set on Coco Cay. Photo: Courtesy of Rich Johnson/Spectacle Photo

Hensley is that rare type who has become an icon in two worlds, first as a California pro skater and today as the accordion player for Irish punk rockers Flogging Molly. He became an influential skateboarder in the ’90s and while traveling on skate tours bought old accordions from pawn shops, eventually becoming a proficient player.

Irish-born Dave King, who was reviving a form of Celtic folk music around Los Angeles, invited Hensley to join the band in 1996. They’ve put out five albums in the last 15 years, traversing the world many times over.

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Each March, Flogging Molly does a whirlwind of live shows, TV performances and, for the last few years, the Salty Dog Cruise, a four-day, three-night tour from Miami to the Bahamas with a full lineup of Flogging Molly’s friends. This year was highlighted by everything from reggae to punk, folk, rock steady and traditional Irish music.

Yes, that’s a skate ramp on a cruise ship. Photo: Courtesy of Rich Johnson/Spectacle Photo

When Hensley got that first green light about getting a ramp on the ship, he reached out to some skate friends.

“I wanted to have skateboarders who were artists and played music to be here to skate,” he says. “I reached out to [Tommy] Guerrero and Ray Barbee, but when the company told me we couldn’t do it, it messed everything up.”

But this year, with all the legal t’s crossed and i’s dotted, the floating ramp became a reality.

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When The Enchantment of the Seas pulled into Coco Cay, Flogging Molly tore apart the stage on a tropical beach. That evening, back on the ship, between sets by Less than Jake, the Bouncing Souls, Voodoo Glow Skulls and the English Beat, the H-Street team started really letting loose somewhere in the middle of the ocean.

Hensley was responsible for getting the ramp on the boat, and it felt good to see his work become a reality. Photo: Courtesy of Rich Johnson/Spectacle Photo

“It just feels so good. I see the world through a skater’s eyes. I see transition where there shouldn’t be,” said Hensley. “With all these punk bands on this boat, I knew that if you put a skate ramp on here, it would just make a good time great. Come hell or high water, we did it.”