While standing among the crowd assembled at Modern Skatepark in February 2023, watching some qualifying round of the 10 year anniversary Bitter Cold Showdown as Derek French landed a solid TTS across the tombstone, I realized that not too many people in the skatepark knew what happened to Derek and Mike, or where the hell they had been for more than 15 years. They just sort of disappeared. And for any that may have known the true story of the French Bros’ battle with addiction, there could have been a natural desire to keep things quiet, or maybe temper any conversation that may speak ill of other bladers. But in this case the opposite is true: After battling substance addiction throughout the early ’00s and finally reaching rock bottom years later following a series of ever-increasingly outlandish and unbelievable misadventures, Mike and Derek French have overcome their battles, gotten back on blades, and are ready to share their story. In our small, tight-knit community where we have already lost too maybe talented individuals to addiction, this is an important story we hope you read and share.
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Mike and Derek, thank you for agreeing to share your story with our readers and skaters everywhere. Watching your reemergence in the scene has been encouraging, and when more people understand the circumstances surrounding everything, well, I think there’s a lot of inspiration in there. So let’s go through some questions and see what else this leads to.
Okay you two, when and where did you start skating?
Mike: Derek and I started skating when we were 7 years old in Washington state, where we were born. But this was just recreational!
Where it really began was our walk home from the school bus one day. We saw neighborhood kids our age (who, up until this day we beefed with for calling us jocks) skating on homemade ramps and rails with inline skates—it was like nothing we had never seen before. At that point we were heavily involved in baseball, basketball and football, and we’d even recently started skateboarding with some friends from school. So we asked if we could try it with them. That spring of 7th grade our whole life changed. We began rebelling against our previous life of organized sports and dove head first into aggressive inline skating.
Derek, same question. When did skates first get under your feet?
Derek: After our parents brought the triplets home from being delivered at the hospital, the kids on the corner that we often saw skating around in the street on play rails and ramps decided it would be a good idea to ding dong ditch our house. The triplets were all finally asleep and it was around 11pm. I’ll never forget it because our parents looked at us like it was our fault, so we ran out the front door knowing it was the neighborhood punks on some BS so we tried to catch ‘em before they got away.
Before we had skating we were in organized sports. We were athletic, but didn’t do well with authority or opposition, so there were plenty of incidents where we got into fights or got kicked out of games, especially Mike, so we were long overdue for a change of pace.
Back to the neighborhood kids. We busted out the front door and scanned the street looking for the hoodlums. While we stood, quietly listening for movement, we heard rustling behind some bushes and immediately gave chase. Three kids started fleeing and we chased them through yards until we caught up to ‘em. When we finally knocked two of them to the ground we realized these were younger kids, so we let them go but scared the shit out of ‘em. Oddly enough, after that we became great friends. They introduced us to skating and welcomed us at their house where they had a starting ramp, a kinked rail, a launch ramp, and eventually a mini ramp. We didn’t have aggressive skates but we had some street heats, so they let us rock their skates and watched us get broke off trying to keep up with them. That summer we went to Washington to visit our Dad and his side of the family, and he took us to Play It Again Sports where he bought us some Roces MPLS skates and some grind plates. We came back that summer ready to skate. We didn’t have anti-rocker wheels cuz our dad spent like $400 on our Roces that were extremely overpriced, some Pleasure Tools wheels, and some Grizzly grind plates, but we had enough to get rolling. We started trying to grind, hitting the toy rails and launch box, and that’s where it all began.
Since that event, have you two usually skated together?
Mike: We have always skated together. Sometimes we looked at it as competing to be better than one another, and other times we push each other to do things we are afraid to do.
Derek: Aside from our ventures in different directions, having kids, and my three attempts at starting families, we have always skated together.
What were some quick highlights that lead you guys to venture out to California and really start actively chasing some sort of success in skating?
Mike: We first started traveling and competing after some small success at local competitions at 3rd Lair, 4 Down, and the Roseville Oval. ASA was big back then. We went all the way to Nationals before graduating high school. Jeff Erdman at Box Magazine gave us an interview at age 15. Dave Paine and JB Snyder helped us get our names and faces in videos early on as well. Razors skates and Sixwonsix were my first sponsors, and they helped me get my name out there too.
When I started traveling in high school to film videos, I always dreamed of being a pro. I think a huge shout out is in order to Mike Franson and Matt Jeffries for showcasing us in “None” and “Second to None” which was some of our first exposure, and to the Gomez brothers, for taking us skating and taking photos of us that were published in Skeptic Magazine! Ben Weis played a huge roll in showing us the way of acquiring a sponsor and putting on a show. Rest in paradise, brother!
Derek: I never ventured out to California until I was added to Revolution’s skate team; James and Gretchen made it possible for me to finally make that dream come true. Although I broke my foot on our first trip to Santee and had to wait until we got back to Arizona before I was able to get it examined. That’s when we realized it was broken.
As for “success in skating”, I know that’s subjective, but with spreads in Daily Bread and tricks in videos, I think it’s safe to establish that as a baseline for success. So with that in mind, what was it like to start achieving things you’d set out to do?
Mike: When I moved to Arizona to live with JB Snyder and skate all year round I felt like my dreams started coming true— traveling to Cali all the time, getting my interview with DB, and winning street comps back home in MN. I wasn’t feeling great about my brother not being around so we moved him out to AZ and it really started a new chapter for us.
Derek: Although we had some sections in local videos here in Minnesota, I finally felt like we had some success when we made it into Box Magazine, Daily Bread, and videos like VG. I’ve always felt like I’ve lived in Mike’s shadow, and it wasn’t until I moved out to Arizona that it seemed like I was finally gaining some exposure and no longer just Mike’s brother. I’ll never forget the first holiday I spent in Arizona, waking up feeling lonely and alone in JB Snyder’s house on Thanksgiving. Someone knocked on the door and it was Kevin Gillian, dropping by to bring us some leftovers from his family dinner. I was star struck.
Run us through all your sponsors and blade achievements, to help put things in perspective for anyone that isn’t around for the first French Bros experience.
Mike’s various achievements
-3rd Lair-pro comp 1st place-street and Vert MN ~1999
-4seasons 2nd place (behind Ben Weis – WI)
-1st place Eye For An Eye Battle – MN 2000
-1st place Kill or Be Killed Street Battle – AZ
-70 + video appearances with around 10 profiles
–Daily Bread interview
–Box Magazine interview with Derek
-MTV Room Raiders (“Double Trouble,” Twins Edition)
–ONE Magazine appearances
Derek´s various achievements
-MTV Room Raiders
-Oval skatepark Street Jam 1st place – MN ~1998
-Best trick St. Anthony Skatepark Roll – MN ~2020
-Best trick Iowa Ruckus ~2023
-30+ video appearances
Sponsors throughout Mike’s Career
-3rd Lair Skatepark
-Big Dan Importing
Sponsors throughout Derek’s Career
-3Rd Lair Skatepark
Did that have any unexpected side effects on your privates lives and/or skating?
Mike: It didn’t really have any effect on our private lives, we welcomed publicity, however it did create some extra layers of animosity between us. Constantly fighting as twins already, we started to be more publicly hostile towards each other, sometimes making fools out of ourselves fighting in public when drinking.
Derek: Of course. Being young and having hotel rooms paid for by sponsors like Rollerblade or K2, and going on tours led to pure unadulterated fun. Without parental supervision we quickly found ourselves drinking underage, smoking weed, and worse. It took a long time to recognize there was a fine line between having fun or celebrating after a big session or competition, and realizing that I was an alcoholic or a drug addict. At some point the party has to stop, but it’s a reality that many refuse to accept and admitting to yourself that you have a problem is so much more difficult than making excuses or justifying/rationalizing why it’s okay to pop some pills, snort some coke, or polish off a bottle. The truth is, I lost a lot of sponsors or potential sponsors because of my behavior and addictions. It was also the cause of failed relationships, not only to significant others, but also my first daughter, Kaidence. My rights were terminated because I couldn’t accept the responsibility of being a father, and instead chose to blame her mom for taking me to court and getting remarried. I haven’t seen my daughter in fifteen years because of the mistakes I made in my active addiction and self destruction. I used it as an excuse to fuel my use, and like Mike said, I ran from pain towards pleasure, and ultimately, I stopped skating for years at a time due to drug use. I was dropped by Revolution and Razors because of my inability produce clips and represent my sponsors, denying them a return on their investment.
Having sponsors only magnified and reflected our hard work and acted as reward for all of the risks we took in the beginning. I remember being told when I was young that we’d never make it in skating. When the Sunshine Tour came through Minneapolis I remember asking Brian Konoske what it would take to become a professional, and the disheartening response was that I shouldn’t even try. It broke my young heart but I used it as fuel to motivate me to make something of myself in the sport. I regret that I let so many opportunities slip out of my fingers due to drugs and alcohol, especially after how hard we worked to get to the point of sponsorship.
Was there ever a time in this phase — and let’s set a date here for reference — was there a time around this era when either of you thought “Hey, we need to get this under control or things could go sideways?”
Mike: Feb, 8th, 2006, at 22 years old. The fist real eye opener when we realized partying had some consequences was Derek’s D.U.I. car accident. Almost losing my brother and seeing him so mangled really messed me up, and it definitely had some traumatic effect on him. His jaw was shattered so he needed a plate and 6 screws, 40+ stitches, and staples in both legs. It required a long recovery process. I think that was our first wake up call that we needed to get a handle on things. We wish we got it right at that moment, but learning lessons over and over the hard way is a large part of our story, and a very common problem among addicts everywhere.
Derek: The date for me was like Mike said, my car accident. But that was just when I knew things were slowly going out of control. The second date for me was June 6th, 2018, when I checked myself into treatment. I knew the life I was living was not the life I was put here to live. I had lost everything, had nowhere to go, there were three children that I had made and that depended on me to provide for them, and I couldn’t even take care of myself. I knew I needed to make some serious changes but what I didn’t know at the time was that I deserved a better life. I was convinced that I deserved everything that was happening to me. I didn’t have any previous knowledge of chemical dependency or addiction, or that there were so many others like me that were able to make significant changes, improve their quality of life, and turn shit around after digging themselves into a hole like I had.
After 11 months of treatment I thought it was going to be a slam dunk, but the truth is that five years later I am still working on it, and it takes work every day. It’s a daily reprieve dependent on my spiritual condition. Some days are harder than others, and some tragedies make me feel like I wanna just numb myself from pain. But even after the death of a close friend and the end of a ten year relationship, today I don’t have to drink or smoke or get high to deal with my emotions or even to deal with pain. I know that God put us here for a reason and our work here isn’t done, or I would have been gone along time ago.
Today I am grateful to be here. If our story can help a single person out there ask for help, or consider getting help, then all of the pain and suffering I put myself through was not for nothing. It’s okay to ask for help and it’s okay to not be okay. If you think you might have a problem, ask yourself if you might be part of the problem. And if you have a hard time going a day without drinking or putting something in your nose, stop lying to yourself and remind yourself that you are worth it, because there are people in this world that love you and want the best for you. You just may not have heard lately that you are worth it.
This really pushes us into the meat of the story here, which is what do you want to share about your battle with addiction, how it got the best of you, when you hit bottom, and what the climb back into life has been like? That’s for you both to decide.
Mike: After a ton of injuries, battles with alcohol, party drugs and painkillers for decades. We found ourselves running from pain and towards pleasure with instant gratification around every corner. Still skating but more focused on the party life, which lead to eventually selling drugs full time. That left us with an internal battle with our egos and ultimately causing our relationship, along with all of our other relationships to fall apart. Skating became a once or twice a year activity and we ultimately became distant fathers, terrible brothers, friends to no one, and non-existent family members to our loving and healthy family.
Simplifying that down to a moment, was there a time when you both can remember that things have moved from “fun” to “destructive”? How did each of you respond to that?
Mike: When life became darkest is hard to say, when you are caught in the throws of addiction, time doesn’t really register and our moral compasses were completely broken. When my brother decided to go to treatment in 2018, he begged me to go, and this was the moment I knew life was no longer fun and I was completely upside down, as far as being aligned with my higher self was concerned. Derek went to treatment on his own volition and I was in and out of county jail and toxic relationships. I was so far from my higher power that it felt like there was no coming back.
How much time between that feeling and when things really got jammed up and you were in legal trouble?
Mike: The time of that fun changing to destructive and legal trouble went hand in hand. Almost simultaneously I was in trouble I couldn’t talk my way out of, and I had to accept it and start dealing with what kept leading me back into this dark life. I was locked up with 3 drug felonies and I needed help. I took full advantage of the 6 months I was locked up and instead of fighting, I gave up control and surrendered. I found this calming peace in not having to fight and started reading, drawing, and working out, knowing it was time to face the music. Derek and I started strengthening our relationship, and all of our relationships started to get better when we began “cleaning up our side of the street,” which continued when I was released and checked myself straight into treatment.
Beyond the legal element, what did years of maintaining addition do to the people and relationships in your lives?
Mike: Maintaining an addiction leads to a double life, manipulating people to get what you want, and lying to get what you need no matter who you hurt in the process. Loved ones become strangers and people you would never even associate with become your “friends.” This idea summed up into the best phrase I learned in recovery: “If your recovery doesn’t come first, everything you love comes last”… including skating, each other, and respect for ourselves.
Mike, you told me a story this spring about how you and Derek would impersonate each other at venues where the other one had been kicked out or banned. This was in context of a casino; were there other instances? Were you both doing this or did it run oneway? How did that all end up working out?
Mike: Derek and I used each other’s identity quite a bit. This mostly began with police interactions when I had a license and he didn’t, or the other way around. Derek started this game. I found out I had a warrant in a place I hadn’t been for years but I knew Derek had. I called him and he said he got a speeding ticket in my name. When I started cussing him out, his response was—and I will never forget this: “You’re lucky it was just a speeding ticket, you almost got a D.U.I.!”
When we would get kicked out of anywhere, usually because of hanging out in places with nowhere to go during my ultimate rock bottom, like casinos or hotels, I would assume my brother’s identity. He did the same in places he was kicked out of, as well. It usually worked out, until it didn’t. I was arrested for it and now his name is associated with my record as an alias/aka, and in police records it says “He commonly carries Derek’s identification.” In most cases it came down to finger printing. Derek was arrested for a warrant I had in Hennepin Country but I was already incarcerated and Derek was furious!
And then at some time you both faced the music in different ways. How did staring down jail time or incarceration hit you guys? When in this process did you decide to authentically clean up and make real changes?
Mike: Derek never had serious legal trouble but had a burning desire to change. I was facing 12 years in prison and knew if I didn’t get a grip on my addictions I would end up serving every bit of that. The most life changing decision I made was deciding to go to an in-patient treatment called R.S. Eden Men’s Program in Minneapolis the moment I was released from jail. I followed Derek’s example and finally decided to trust the process. After just under a year of therapy, DBT (Dialectic Behavioral Therapy), MRT (Moral Reconation Therapy), and a ton of meetings, I started to find real joy. My brother had a couple of slip-ups and picked himself back up. That started when he broke his leg and they had him on a regimen of painkillers. I blew up a disc in my back and did my best to stay away from them at all costs.
I found that the best way to stay aligned with my higher self was to change the way I looked at things. Then everything I looked at changed—I have more compassion, empathy, and a better perspective. I am also not as hard on myself anymore. It’s progress, not perfection! We both strive to be simply better than we were yesterday and don’t worry about comparing ourselves to anyone else.
What can you tell us about being incarcerated? Is it something you recommend to all the homies?
Mike: I did 6 months in maximum and medium security level county jail. That time to a real criminal isn’t shit—but not me! It was a huge eye opener! Florescent lights, cement walls, and being surrounded by rapists, murderers, and woman beaters is NO way to live. The food is poison and most of the staff is condescending. Combine all of that together and it was a recipe for change. If you would ever like to go out and run the streets, first lock yourself in a bathroom by yourself for 6 months. If you love that then you may want to give crime a try. It’s not for me. Everyone in there said I was a cop because of my chiseled features and all the cops treated me like a drug dealer. The most welcoming people were the narcotics anonymous bible study groups who came into the jail to talk to us; little did I know these would be the programs that saved my life!
Okay, so you served your punishment and decide to start rebuilding your lives: where does that start and does it work the way you think it will at first?
Mike: Great question! It started after treatment. It didn’t go as planned, but I can’t complain. Derek went back to a toxic relationship and I was left to set up my own game plan. That included getting a job, going to court dates, and trying to stay on track. I ended up getting house arrest with work release for 6 months and 5 years probation because of Covid. With a record like mine, how does that look on a resume? A friend from treatment gave me a job selling garbage service door to door. I ended up finding a career with sales, eventually getting into storm restoration and this changed my life. I now serve a purpose while I work. I help people and make a decent living. I have also helped others get into this industry and their lives have changed immensely! I also make a point to skate a ton, and now I finally have the money to give back to our industry, and that feels almost as good as being there for my kids and family! Nothing compares to being able to provide for our families and raise our children. I have two children and Derek currently has a basketball team roster of children, but today we are present and actively involved in our children’s lives…
At this point you are both out in the world, but it’s been a long time since you’ve been seen in the skate scene. How did you start working your way back onto skates?
Mike: Derek and I started skating again while we were in outpatient treatment, working at getting our tricks back and losing our “recovery weight.” That plan was thwarted when he broke his tibia and fibula on his left leg, and a month later I severely herniated my L5-S1 disc into my sciatic nerve. This was during Covid and we both were sure, having been told by doctors, that we would never be able to skate again. Derek went through the pain pill addiction and I got into my job and painting portraits.
Eventually, I found a doctor who fixed my disc so well that 4 weeks later I skated. It was a dream come true! I spent a year praying I could have one last time skating without pain or even be awake without pain! I could have never imagined the life I am able to live now! One year later, December 9th, 2022, with a rod and screws in his leg and newfound sobriety after moving in with me, Derek skated again too! We skate about 3-4 times a week and push our limits every time!
What has it felt like to rediscover your talents on wheels?
Mike: We are grateful that we can still do it. It’s a miracle, given what we have put our bodies through. What we have achieved is more than we could ever ask for.
How about the community, both local and more broadly — how have you been treated since reemerging on the scene? Any standout memories or people you want to shout out?
Mike: Locally, I think most people in our community were shocked that we could still skate. A lot of people were welcoming and some were so damn cool! A lot of our friends who used to skate (but don’t now) worried more than anything when they saw us post clips! Lol!
There were also some people that were not so happy. Maybe a handful of people that during my addiction I had wronged were furious to see me back. I have tried to make amends and right my wrongs, and what I have learned through recovery is you are responsible for the effort and not the outcome. I can only make amends and attempt to clean up my side of the street. Some people take more time. I am hoping to still take care of those amends and work on them constantly. I can’t make everyone like me as much as I would like to. The majority of the skate industry probably doesn’t know who we are which is exactly why I started making the “Who is Mike French?” shirt again (originally started by Revolution back around 2006-2008). Now it has a little more meaning and substance behind it. Overall, it’s been great. We love our sport and its community. I spend less time these days with my hands out looking for freebies, and spend more time giving back and showing my support to others!
Has the time away from skating changed your approach to the sport? Has your skating evolved in ways you find surprising? Conversely, what’s been the hardest part about getting back on blades? (We’re gonna guess it’s the slams.)
Mike: We have a more graceful and grateful approach these days. As much as we just want to drop hammers we spend more effort on style and having fun! The hardest part is the recovery time. At Nutrishop in St. Pete, Shaun has helped give me an edge on our health through supplements and vitamins. Also, recovery through different vitamins! Slams are inevitable and picking ourselves back up has been a challenge we welcome!
And how about the scene, I know it’s changed so much from when you were both last really involved. What’s your take on the new vibes and faces?
Mike: Honestly, the vibes are great and the people have either grown up or been replaced with new friendly faces! Sometimes it’s hard to accept some of the changes to the way skating looks, but we are way more openminded these days and hope we are accepted and received the same from the newer generation. Sometimes we feel invisible because we aren’t new school enough, but gratitude is an action, and we express it the only way we know how and that’s old school! Hahahaha. (Derek prefers to “keep it gangster.”)
What about your personal lives and how things are going these days? What role do meetings and groups play in your ongoing recovery?
Mike: Our personal lives are blossoming both on and off of our skates! We spread our experience, love, strength, hope and positive message to addicts everywhere—showing people what is possible through our stories. Our careers are taking off; our relationships are amazing all around! Meetings and fellowship hold us to an amazing level of accountability and we are able to gain more perspective through sharing what we go through on a day to day basis. We also go to the treatment center at least once a month to give donations and run a meeting to help people that are in the same position we were years ago. We stay connected because it’s humbling and the right thing to do. We can only keep what we have by giving away what was given to us freely.
Would you be where you are now, working, living, raising your family, skating and traveling, if it weren’t for the support of the groups that you participate in actively?
Mike: If it weren’t for NA and our recovery family we would be dead or in jail. Not even close to where we are now. Therapy and treatment mixed with the rooms of NA and AA saved us and help us evolve as better people all around. We are now living a life worth living!
Is there anything you would say directly to anyone who may be fighting their own addictions and need support?
Mike: To the addict still suffering we would like to say: You are not alone. You are worth more than you believe, and there is nothing you can’t come back from. There is an unlimited amount of power in admitting you have a problem and asking for help. Reach out because it’s never too late to start over in order to repair every aspect of your life. People care and have been through what you are going through. Do it for your loved ones, but most of all, do it for yourself! Drugs and alcohol have three ultimate outcomes: jails, institutions, and death, while sobriety has an unlimited amount! Your life is a painting you can work on as much or as little as you would like. The outcome is up to you. If you would like a masterpiece, it’s never too late to drop the anchor and pick the brush back up! If we can do it then so can you!
Mike & Derek’s Shout Outs
James & Gretchen
*My Entire Family
My Judge is Wisconsin for saying I couldn’t change
Task Force for saving my life
The Gomez Brothers
Seth Scott Anderson
Kaidence Leigh French
Randy Roadhouse Spizer
My R.S. Eden Brothers from 2018, 2019,2020, 2021, and 2022
By The Book Tony Bennett
Ray the Tech at RS Eden
Kai Carlson Wei
Brad + Chad Anthony
Frankie Morales and Gawds for making the best skates!
Miss Lucy Versilles
Nelson Juan aka Andrew O’neal
Mike Murda Johnson
Brian “The Prince” Aragon
And EVERYONE ELSE WE FORGOT!
Gratitude is an action!
If you or anyone you know needs help, resources are available here (1-800-662-4357).
Images sourced from Mike and Derek French, Daily Bread Magazines, BCSD photos by Mike Lufholm, and Blading Cup photo by Steve Steinmetz