Tuesday, December 24, 2013

These Are The Days, They Always Were: Why Now Is The Best Time To Be A Skateboarder.

When I was a kid my dad used to tell lots of stories about growing up as one of 13 children on an Indiana farm. He’d usually trot these stories out when my brothers and I were bitching about something...which was a lot. I think what really pissed me off was that I always thought there was a bit of smug superiority in those stories. I always automatically thought he was going on about enduring farm life as a way to belittle my own lack of grit and to extoll the superiority of his own hard scrabble childhood; a childhood of waking at the crack of dawn, only wearing hand me down clothes and, yes, walking 3 miles to school uphill both ways. What pissed me off most of all though, was that, despite all of this supposed nostalgia for a life of rural poverty, my dad spent his whole life working his ass off to make sure none of his kids would ever have to live that sort of life themselves. It seemed hypocritical to me. If growing up that way was so much better, why weren’t we doing it? It was an easy way to intellectually negate the lesson he was really trying to teach me. I didn’t see what was really going on when dad would trot out the stories of 5 AM milkings and once-a-year mass family shoe shopping trips. Sure, there was a bit of of superiority and scolding in those bits of nostalgic musing, but the real reason those stories got repeated over and over again was to show us that things could be worse, and even if they were worse, we could survive them. Most of all, they were meant to make us appreciate what we had. Of course I was a sly, spoiled, little shit, so all this was lost on me when I needed to learn it most.

So what the hell does this have to do with skateboarding?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Beyond Go Skateboarding Day: Some New, More Festive Holidays For Skaters

Skateboarding now has its own quasi-holiday with Go Skate Day. Every year the occasion gets bigger and that’s pretty cool, on the other hand, creating a special day for skaters called “Go Skate day” is kind of like a bunch of junkies getting together and declaring a “Go Shoot Up Day”.  After all, go skateboarding day is any day you’ve got time to skate...that it isn’t raining...or that you are not in too much pain from the last “go skateboarding day”. Still, the precedent of a skateboarding holiday is great because it paves the way for some better, more specific holidays for skateboarders. Here’s a few festive ideas I came up with, some holidays that commemorate more specific aspects of skate culture that I think need to be celebrated and cherished:

Janksgiving: Janksgiving is a day for skaters give thanks for all the sketchy, chunky spots that helped them learn to skate before they were good enough to rip their local park or hot street spot. Skaters are encouraged to re-visit the two-step staircases, strip mall curbs, and school/church parking lots they cut their teeth on as a way to foster an appreciation for their skate heritage. It is also a day of thankfulness for DIY skate parks, so hug your local cementhead and give him a bag of quikrete, then get to work. The day of appreciation peaks with the Janksgiving Feast, where you and your extended skate family gather together with whatever scraps of wood and other semi-skateable materials you can find, and then use them to build a new janky skate spot. After shredding it, you have a pot luck dinner where everyone contributes their favorite recipes from old Skarfing Material columns.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Editorial: WE DO NOT CRUISE!: Lot Lurkers Of The World, Unite and Take Over.

The mainstream of modern street skateboarding, if you define it by what the media is selling, has a pretty high barrier to entry. There’s something perverse in the fact that what we now call “street skating” has developed (devolved?) to a level where it seems as if you can’t drop your board down just anywhere and start doing it. Skateboarding has matured to the point where there’s no longer an expiration date on a persons’ skate lifespan, but it often seems as if the queue up to the street skating section of the subculture is blocked by a sign that says: “You must be this young or this skilled to enter.” Videos transmit the latest, most skull-perforating tricks and create an orthodoxy of what high-impact, terrain qualifies as a legit skate spot, and what tricks are “real”. If the ledge ain’t knee high it doesn’t count, and anything less intense than popping a double set or hitting a handrail at mach 12 is mere “cruising”. “Cruising” I hate that fucking term. Its called street skating, folks, even if all you’re doing is rolling down the block and floating up curbs. In some ways street skating is a victim of its own success: in becoming the pre-eminent cutting edge venue for skateboarding, modern street skating can seem narrow, highly specialized and, competitive. In short, street skating is in constant danger of veering away from all the things that made it so crucial to start with.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Any Deck, Any Truck, Any Wheel Part 1: Freestyle Foolishness, Dungeons, Dragons, Dorks and Desires.

1988 was the year I made the transition from being a kid with a skateboard to being a “skateboarder”. The distinction between the two things may seem like a fine hair to split, but as a 14 year old who had never had a girlfriend, never made it onto any sports team and had a big brother who did his best to make sure I didn’t have the confidence to ever dream of doing either, it was like throwing down the fucking gauntlet.

Outsiders can scoff. It’s easy to think that all I was doing was falling into a fad, but if skateboarding was a fad it was the hardest fad in the history pop culture to actually participate in. Fads are supposed to be easy. Sometimes all you have to do to be in the thick of one is buy some doohickey or scrap of clothing, but with skateboarding, it was a major commitment of time and discipline just to buy your way in. By ’87 Skateboarding was rapidly gaining popularity, sure, but the return wasn’t so much a subcultural rags-to-riches story as it was a rags-to-new-outfit-from-the-goodwill story. Even in throes of Bones Brigade mania, in the midwest becoming a skater was not something that happened unless you really wanted it to. It took a daunting amount of work just to be a poseur. That’s why, even for the trendies who only skitched their way on the thrash bandwagon for a few months, the decision to dabble in skating was a lot more involved than going to the five and dime to buy a hula hoop or a pogo stick, and the effects of that decision had broader impacts. Skaters wax poetic about their first real board. It’s seen as a rite of passage. To an outsider, that’s a corny sentiment at best and a sad overidentification with crass consumerism at worst, but in a time when skateboard shops, sometimes even skateboard magazines, only existed in the major metropolitan areas in the midwest, the simple act of getting your hands on a board was more than an act of consumption, it was a true initiation: a baptism of plywood, urethane and cast aluminum. Here’s your Hosoi hammerhead, welcome to the cult.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

EDITORIAL INTERLUDE: Skateboarding Is Not Sexy

There are a lot more women skating today than there were when I took up a board way back in the pleistocene era of the late 80’s. Of course, by that metric “a lot more” could actually mean “any”, but I digress. The more random distribution of y chromosomes at the skate park nowadays is a net positive all around. When I’m Jumping through the social media hoops and browsing skate related pages and blogs, shots of women absolutely killing it are more common than ever. I find that pretty inspiring...until I scroll down to the photo captions or, even worse, the comment sections. Cliched double entendres using the word “grind”, and well-meaning but knuckleheaded captions about how “sexy” or “hot” a woman who can skate is, are mingled with fawning but nevertheless condescending marriage proposals and lamentations regarding the lack of skateboarding skills of peoples’ various girlfriends. Its all very predictable and very pathetic. I know people say riding a skateboard means never having to grow up, but this isn’t really what they mean.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Skatesploitation Part 2: SO YOU WANNA GO THRASHIN'! THRASHIN'!

When it comes to skatesploitation, the 1986 film epic Thrashin’ is the proverbial Vallely elephant popping bonelesses in the middle of the room. It’s the titan, the heavyweight, the millstone hanging from the subcultural neck. Both reviled for its hollywood cluelessness and beloved for being a much needed primer on contemporary skateboarding for anyone cut off from the subculture’s epicenters in the 80’s, Thrashin crystallizes everything sickening and crucial about the mainstream’s commodification of skateboarding in the awkward middle years of the 1980‘s. Thrashin’ is a terrible movie, but it’s OUR terrible movie. Thrashin is woven deep into the fabric of a whole generation of skate culture. People still parody it in videos, and quoting any of a handful of “classic” lines from the film at a session is sure to get you a few chuckles or callbacks form anyone over 30. As a sign of its time, a time when the mainstream was trying to make a few quick bucks off skating, and kids on the fringes were salivating for  any skate knowledge they could retrofit from the mainstream, Thrashin’ is a potent but ridiculously embarrassing landmark, a snapshot of the barney culture’s commodofication machine trying its hardest and failing to box skateboarding into a lowest-common-denominator-soluble package.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Skatesploitation or Die (Part 1of 2) "REACH FOR THE TOP!"

Learning about skating via the pre-digested, commodified versions of it we saw in pop culture was not ideal, but skateboarding’s flirtations with the mainstream in ’86-’87 turned out to be vital for me and my valterrorizing friends anyway. By ’86 I had been cruising my department store Variflex for two years and me and the pre-pubescent driveway gangs haunting the subdivisions had pretty much reached the limits of what we thought carving, kickturns and coffins could do for us. We knew there was another level of skating somewhere, but we had no idea what it looked like or how to take the first step to get to it. We didn’t even have directions to the stairwell. We were desperate for any bit of information we could digest.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Skateboarding's Critical Mass: The masonite/Boneite Revolution

For me 1986 and 1987 were the years of a sort subliminal indoctrination into skateboarding. By the end of ’87 I had reached the turning point where I realized skateboarding was not going to be just a diversion for me, but a passion. These were the years when my friends and I slowly and painfully began to realize that those Nashes and Valterras we were riding weren’t going to be enough.

These were the years before Thrasher showed up in the bookstores but Thrashin' and Police Academy 4 were on movie screens. 720 appeared in the mall arcade promising answers to the tao of skating that, alas, remained elusive no matter how many quarters we pumped into it. At home, my friend Monty and I were ignoring the hackey sack and volleyball stages of California Games on the commodore 64 so we could go straight to shredding the 8-bit half pipe in the skateboarding stage. Skate Or Die came later, and we would find ourselves taking pixelized advice on equipment and skate spots from a double-chinned, purple mohawked skateshop owner named Rodney Recloose in the hopes of taking down aggro eddie. Of course when the screen went blank, no matter how well we scored head to head against Bionic Lester, we had to go back out to our driveways with our Valterras and Nashes and be Poseur Pete.

 In the living rooms of our suburban ranch houses there were sporadic commercials with tiny snippets of skating flash cut in between pitches for cola or hair gel. Each split second of shredding between money shots of Swatch watches or perspiring cans of Mountain Dew would have me putting my face right up to the screen, searching for information. In the mid 80’s, if skateboarding was the bright center of the universe, I was on the planet farthest from, but like a radio telescope operator with an open line to alien world, I was poring through the pop culture static and aggregating a transmission of skateboarding whose signal to noise ratio was slowly getting better.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Skateboarding: The Loser's Choice.

By fall of ’87 the only thing in worse shape than my cut-rate variflex board was my cut-rate team Murray BMX bike. This was a problem because, by 1987, the brief flare -up of budget board skating that got turbocharged by Back To The Future in ’85 was beginning to fade away in favor of a return to BMX. The little bubble of interest in skateboards seemed destined to be nothing more than a breather that barely interrupted the BMX mania that had been ongoing in the rural midwest since the beginning of the decade.

I had never had a good BMX bike and skateboarding had temporarily created a level of equality between me and my peers. All our boards were more or less equal in their second rate status. (not that we really knew that). But now BMX was re-asserting it dominance. On top of that there was a new type of BMX bike every kid had to have. It was called a freestyle bike, and with their rotors, pegs and neon colors, freestyle bikes were even further removed from my rusting, wobbly-rimmed department store Team Murray. To add insult to injury, my main partner in valterrorism, Monty, dropped his valterra for a hot pink GT freestyle bike in ’87.  This was a harsh blow. I was bummed not just because I was unsure who I would have to skate with while Monty was over-flipping endos on his bike, but also because his subdivision had the best driveways. The vicarious arms race that would later have every parent in his hood scrabbling to buy their little darlings the hottest car was supplying all those cut-rate carvers I had once skated with with tricked out, eye-watering fluorescent Dynos, Haros and, GTs.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Deloreans, Driveway Destruction And Vicious Acts Of Valterrorism

Courtesy Skateandannoy.com
1985 was the year Back To The Future came out, the year I got my first wide-bodied department store knock-off board. It was a big year for skateboarding in general. In the civilized world, the sport was beginning to rebound from its near-death at the end of the 1970‘s. Corporations were beginning to, once again, wave cash around to bankroll demos and contests. Skateboarding was popping up sporadically in TV commercials, and NSA contest attendance broke records. Robert Zemeckis’ classic film kicked that momentum into overdrive. A lot of kids got their first stick after seeing Back To The Future, and I’m not just referring to the farm belt yokels either. By December of 1985, a skateboard was the christmas gift of choice for a lot of kids everywhere. Marty Mcfly doesn’t deserve all the credit for making that happen, but he certainly played a part.

Of course, living in the midwest back then was a sort of time warp in and of itself. It wasn’t that things always came to us late (although they mostly did), if a fad reached critical mass fast enough to be co-opted by Hollywood, it could break the time barrier and reach into the suburban midwestern zeitgeist in an almost timely fashion. But even when that happened, what we got was the toned-down, tone-deaf commodified and co-opted version of whatever it was. This was the case with Punk Rock, It was the case with breakdancing and, it was the case with skateboarding.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Early Skateboarding Part 2: Life's a Beach Party, And You're Not Invited

There’s great irony in the fact that my friends and I were so clueless about skateboarding in those early days, because, by the mid-80's, mainstream culture had been selling us distorted, monetized visions of the California surf lifestyle for years. Even in elementary school you had to have your OP T-shirt and tacky Hawaiian print jamz to be socially acceptable, and by adolescence we all aspired to be a part of the non-stop buzz and bikini party that was the California life as portrayed by corny sitcoms and a thousand Jeff Spiccoli analogs glimpsed in clandestine viewings of teen-nudie movies on late-night HBO. We all had extensive knowledge of how surfers were supposed to talk, how they were supposed to dress, and (implicitly) what they smoked. We knew surfers were the coolest dudes on the planet, never mind that we knew exactly jack and shit about surfing.