Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What you should be talking about when you're talking about "Old School"

The term "old school"gets thrown about a lot nowadays. Old school tricks. Old school boards. Old school style... It's a term that's crossed the rubicon of cliche and gone straight on to meaningless. So much water has flowed under the bridge, "old school" is now a term that equally applies to a backside boneless or a front foot impossible. The term "old school" is so relative its easy to clown yourself using it casually. So your $100 Powell Caballero dragon re-issue is an "old-school" deck? Let me introduce you to my bro over there whose first plank was a Bahne Fibreflex back in '78.

Refer to decks, tricks, styles, music as "old school" and  I'll probably tune you out, but there are some legitimately "old school" concepts that we should all be talking about much more. These are things more relevant than pointed noses and no-complies. You want to talk about :"old school" let's talk about about old school skate culture, and I'm not talking about Jim Phillips graphics, flipping the bill up on your Suicidal Tendencies hat, or paint penning a bad approximation of the Rat Bones logo on your griptape, either. The term "old school" ought to be trotted out only in instances where it can really matter, instances where it refers to values and practices that are getting lost in times when skateboarding is more accessible and more codified.

You want to bring something old school back to skateboarding?  Let's start with the idea that being around other skaters is exciting and inspiring in and of itself. Public skate parks have created spaces where skating with a dozen others is commonplace, where you're likely to encounter a new skater or two every time you have a session, and almost everyone nowadays takes this for granted.

It's inevitable that, as skateboarding grew, the desperation to connect with other skaters, the desperation that created a tight esprit di corps in the 1980's, would shrink. It's simple result of supply and demand. Still, where I roll things have gone way too far. I'm not naive enough to say we should all be brothers and besties at the park. Skaters are a diverse bunch, especially now.  Not everyone is going to automatically connect with everyone else. However, in the "old school" days, whether you define "old school" as pre-1985 or pre-1995, showing up at a spot and seeing a dozen skaters instantly cranked your nervous system up a couple of notches. If you showed up at a ramp and saw 20 guys up on the decks, forget it. It was time to shred. Today, you can hit the park and be 20-30 deep with skaters of all levels, and everyone there is in Ipod tunnel vision mode.

So stop talking about how much you hate hip-hop or whatever else the kids are listening to today. The tapes you listened to on the way to the spot back in '88 are not as important or applicable today as the fact that, in 88, when you got to that spot and popped the Circle jerks out of the tape deck, your adrenalin would be flowing faster if a bunch of different skaters at different levels were there getting rad. Sure, some of this energy was the result of competitiveness, but most of it just flowed from being in the middle of a heavy session and appreciating everyone's dedication and joy. Guys who could nail 360 flips with their eyes closed would be getting energized because some youngster just stuck his first Ollie 50-50 on a curb. Guys who may not have known each other's names would be exchanging props and laughing with excitement when someone landed something. At the risk of sounding like I'm rubbing crystals together here, the concept of energy being shared and amplified when big groups of skaters rode together is a cornerstone of "old school" skating, and, in my opinion, one that is disappearing.

The instances of total isolation, the unitary moment of riding and trying a trick or a line, these are integral to the appeal of skateboarding. I like to say I love skateboarding because it allows me to be by myself among lots of really awesome people, but what is happening in skateparks goes beyond an appreciation of solitude. It is both tragic and hilarious to see a group of skaters show up at the spot, bail out of their car with their crew, and then pop in their earbuds and not talk to each other. That's not a crew. That's a car pooling service. This kind of behavior short circuits the electricity that should be generated by skaters riding with each other, what Cardiel called "The Juice". Someone pulls something nice, and they aren't going to hear anyone getting loud about it. Earbuds are like second hand smoke. You don't have to indulge in the vice to suffer the ill effects. After all, there's no reason for you to get excited and expressive if no one is going to hear you anyway. It's better to just be quiet and wait for your run. Don't even think about asking for a tip on how to hit something, find a line, or throw out a suggestion. You can't compete with a playlist. You've heard of "Shut Up And Skate"? Well, this is taking it way too far.

So stop talking about how pointy you're nose is and start talking about this: Remember how you learned to ollie? Really ollie? Was it by watching videos? A trick tip in Thrasher? Maybe those helped, but, let's face it, you really learned because someone in your neighborhood blew your mind and taught you, either by giving advice, or indirectly by showing you what a decent pop looked like live in person. I hear a lot of bitching about little kids with no skills clogging up the lines at the park, but I don't see too many guys going up to those kids and showing them how to ollie.

In the real "old school" days, if you saw a little kid with a board, the first thing you asked was if they could ollie. If they couldn't then you stopped what you were doing and showed them. That's because breaking the ollie barrier changes everything for any skater. Getting it down was a conversion point: if you could get there, skating opened up. Teach an ollie, and you might just create another skater for life, and in the "old school" days, every kid on crete counted. With youtube making videos accessible, and kids being able to simply lurk at a park and watch guys skate, there's this fallacy, that no one needs to be mentored, that beginners can learn by osmosis and imitation. Certainly, the wealth of raw data on skateboarding is an advantage today, but is it a good thing that  a kid can go to a skatepark, be surrounded by skaters for several hours week after week, and never ever have a single one show him how to pop an ollie?

The wealth of footage and media exposure, the refinement and incredible advancement in pro level skating is a mixed blessing, to say the least. The incredible displays of athletic talent that novice skaters are exposed to, sometimes before they even step on the board, are not always inspiring. There's a "hollowing out" effect happening in skateboarding right now. When I go to a skate park I see throngs of youngsters and dabblers with little skill on boards, and I see a handful of extremely skilled skaters and near-sponsored level riders, but what I am seeing fewer and fewer of are the guys equivalent to me and my friends from back in the day: the journeymen, the skate rats, the guys who stuck with developing their skills long enough to get hooked, and then built a foundation of basic tricks to keep them stoked for a lifetime. These are the guys who skate for hours and maybe do 3 or four tricks, guys for whom picking up something new is a big deal, but doing something they've got dialed never gets old. In other words, these are the guys who will skate forever even if they don't learn another trick for the rest of their lives.

Beginners are not seeing this enough. What they notice at the skatepark is a handful of park heroes and about two dozen kids just like them they can talk about street league with, or vibe for their clothes or boards. They often don't notice the guy flowing around, just grinding 50-50s and sliding ledges in between some basic lip tricks. Skateparks themselves contribute to this, because, as central meeting places, skaters tend to clump together, the demographics don't split up like they used to. Just encountering a skater, ANY skater, is not such a big deal anymore. But it should be. Not enough older or more skilled skaters are taking younger kids under their wing and making them a part of their community, they are not going out of their way to say: "hey, try this instead of that, you could probably do it" to the novice aimlessly, endlessly trying to blunder their way into a laser flip down a set of stairs they can't even ollie.

The end result of this is that the skate industry is being subsidized by skaters who are destined to quit after a few months. Skaters who will buy all the well-marketed stuff and join the peer group, but maybe never learn to ollie up a curb or drop in. This is a shaky foundation to say the least, requiring a constant influx of new kids to replace the last round of kids who got too bored, too discouraged, or too bullied to actually ever discover skateboarding. It's the real factor driving the homogenization and corporatization of skateboarding all us "old school" guys like to rail about between slappies and slashers in the bowl.

I love to play remember when. I love my shaped board, and I'll go head to head with anyone on obscure skate culture references, but I don't want to exhaust the term "old school" without making it actually mean something constructive. So what do I talk about when I'm talking "old school"? I'm talking about using your reminisces and perspective as something more than a yardstick to measure younger generations. I'm talking about taking what you learned and putting it into effect. I'm talking about not just going skating, but going out and being a skater. THAT'S Old School.


  1. Agreed, to be lost in a sea of skaters but to never truley understand the skate culture , is a sad sad thing I don't think anyone anticipated would happen when they had to stop fighting & vieghing for places to gather. We handed them the keys to the they had to stop earning the right to skate by finding spots, cleaning them up, jumping fences & running from the cops TOGETHER. There was more risk involved in making a spot or session happen back then. It bonded the community, knowing everyone assumed this same risk to participate. Now they show up at a free park, whenever, leave their trash behind & don't interact with each other. It's not old school or new school - it's a general shift in the entire culture and what it once meant & stood for. No one has to fight for that any more---- & it shows.

  2. The first thing I'd ask a little kid I saw on a board is "How many 360s can you do?", heh heh.

  3. Man, right on! I think this is very true of todays skaters. I hope that these newer generations of skaters look back in fondness like i do. Thats the best thing for me these days. I still skate as much as possible being 40 years old. Its not easy some days but it still allows me to rekindle that stoke i first received so many years ago.