A Juice Called Childhood: A group of friends—bound by their love of skateboarding and healthy food—aim to change their world.

Thomas James, Preston Summers, Jair MacKay, and Ryan Satram all skate the same quirky triangle in South LA—part West Jefferson, part West Adams, and part Baldwin Hills. They bonded on the green ledges of the baseball diamond, and then at “Rancho,” otherwise known as Charmette Bonpua Skate Plaza. They listen to Sade and Al Green and Mary J. Blige and Rick James and can tell you everything you’d ever want to know about every single song. They’re also vegetarian and want to change the world—one juice at a time. 

Together with artist Daniel Desure of Commonwealth Projects, the group calls themselves Tropics. The name is a tribute to the skaters’ neighborhood, a place that used to be called “The Jungle” because of the palm and banana trees surrounding the squat post-war apartment buildings. Used to be, that is, because the name was buffed up to Baldwin Village in 1990. But these guys are into their roots. They want to bring good vibes to their streets—something fresh, organic, delicious, and affordable that they can enjoy on a hot day after skating with their friends, and goodness for their families and community, too—an alternative to the ubiquitous fast food restaurants. 

It’s too difficult to find healthy options in many parts of South LA, despite a widely reported area-wide ban of new fast-food establishments. The ordinance didn’t do much good, though; according to a 2015 RAND study, obesity increased not only in Los Angeles between 2007 and 2012, but specifically in the 32 miles covered by the ban. With a sparse number of grocery stores serving the roughly 32,000 people in Crenshaw and Baldwin Hills, the area is one of LA’s notorious food deserts, another thing Tropics aims to shift. 

The collaboration with Commonwealth first took off when the Tropics team, then in high school, crashed one of Daniel’s rooftop barbecues at the nearby design studio. The connection was instant, even though they turned down his burgers and dogs. In the months that followed, Daniel hosted meditation classes, film screenings, and arts workshops at his studio with the skateboarders. Together, their creative buzz spawned a multicultural cross-pollination of interests and ideas that ultimately came to fruition in the Tropics juice bar. 

“So much of what they’re doing is about nostalgia,” Daniel said. “The guys tell me stories about the neighborhood and its changes, stories about the area and the people and how it’s developing. So much of Tropics is about a happier time.”

Thomas elaborates, “It’s really about the skate park, too, that’s what brought us all together. When they built that park, it created that bond…and when we met Dan, everything kind of fell together.”

Another inspiration was artist Noah Davis, a friend of Daniel’s and the late founder of The Underground Museum in Arlington Heights, where Tropics’ first wildly successful popup was located. The popup was funded by a Kickstarter campaign and lasted three months in the museum’s Purple Garden. Since then, they’ve done another popup for KCRW’s Sound in Focus series at the Annenberg Space for Photography and, their latest, a mini skate ramp/juice booth at Art Los Angeles Contemporary. 

Daniel and the team are also into wellness, de-stressing with public meditations led by Uma Nicole every Wednesday night at Underground. A brick and mortar location for the juice bar is the next step in the near future—see their website (tropicsla.com) for details, mindfulness classes, and ways to get involved—but in the meantime, Tropics is willing to part with some of their favorite recipes, all inspired by music and memories.


 (think of eating that slice of watermelon on a hot day)

8 cups chopped watermelon, preferably seedless

4 medium limes

4 tsp grated fresh ginger root 

fresh mint, for garnish

Feed watermelon and limes into a juicer and stir. Fold in grated ginger root. Top with mint and serve. 


8 cups pineapple 

1 1emon

4 tsp grated fresh ginger root 

Feed pineapple and lemon into the juicer, then fold in ginger and stir.


(after the old baseball diamond with its perfect green ledges)

8 cups green apple

4 medium limes

1 whole stalk celery 

1/2 jalapeno

5 tsp parsley juice

5 tsp cucumber juice

Juice apple, limes, celery and jalapeño. Combine with parsley and cucumber juice, blend or stir.


(after Sade)

1/2 watermelon

1/2 cantaloupe 

1 lime

10 strawberries

Feed ingredients into juicer, stir and enjoy.


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