Sunday, July 3, 2016

I'm Not An Old Guy Anymore, As If I Ever Was before

My days of peak skill on a skateboard are long past.  In fact, at 42, I may be one ankle injury away from never popping an ollie again. I skate curbs more than anything else. I spend a fair amount of time skating bowls, but I don't worry too much about getting up on the coping.  So yeah, I'm an old skater: a veteran, a lifer.

But I don't think I want to be an "Old Guy Skater".

I have no illusions. I am old. Older than any skater I knew when I was in my prime, and there are lots of great things about being an old guy. The emergence of an older demographic in skateboarding has had positive effect on everything from the building of municipal skateparks, all the way down to the revival of curb skating. But with the coming of the old guys has also come a lot of back-slapping and self organizing, as well as a tendency toward a sort of pouty self-imposed marginalization.

No doubt, "Old Guy Skater" groups on social media  have been invaluable in getting veteran skaters together to shred, socialize, and share spots. I frequent a couple of really great ones, and when they are done with the right attitude, they are a great resource. Still I can never quiet escape the fact that, at some level, being a part of these groups, even the positive ones, also implies that being old relegates some skaters to a separate place in skateboarding, a place of either perceived privilege, or resigned inferiority.

The thing is, now more than ever, age has nothing to do with one's place in skateboarding.  Maybe it's time to drop the "Old Guy" branding from all the groups, blogs, and other outlets that bear that tag. Maybe it is time to re-think what being an "Old Guy" means, and what we are really trying to promote when we exult in our "Old Guy" status.

One pillar propping up the Old Guy" trend is the perception by skaters both young and old that one's skating ability is equivocal to one's centrality in the skate community. I think older skaters buy into this more than the younger counterparts they are avoiding. Just because most old guys can't skate like they used, or because they just skate differently than their younger peers, they often think that they need an insulating space, a space where they can escape the fear of judgment. The problem is, that safe space can be a place of exile. To fully embrace the "Old Guy"  trend often means buying into the idea that Skateboarding has passed you by, that not only do the youth have nothing to offer the old, but that we have nothing to offer them. It makes it easy to overlook the connection points that enrich all of skateboarding. Connection points you may never see if you get too fixated on "Old Guy" politics.

Skateboarding is not a sport, it's a culture. Athletics is part of that culture, but it may be the least important part. A waning ability to charge the craziest terrain has absolutely no effect on how much you can contribute or participate in the skateboarding.

Being a skater has never been about how good you can skate. It's about passion, and veterans can be just as passionate as anyone. Beyond that, art, music, the crafting of our boards, the construction of our skate spots, these are all things that define skateboarding, and these are forms of expression that do not dim with age. In many cases, they only burn stronger and brighter with accumulated experience.

Of course, there are still plenty of 40 and 50 year olds who can shred most of their younger peers to the ground, but let's not even contemplate those guys for now. Think about a small timer like me: I do not have even the modest skill set I once did on my board, yet, I feel now, I have, a bigger place in the culture than I ever did in my twenties. This is because the culture of skating is built on voices and visions as much as edits and NBDs. The writers, shop owners, videographers, artists, photographers, and company masterminds that energize skating are all heavily skewed into the 30 and over demographic. When you get down to it, the only cultural venues where youth is king are the professional ranks and the consumer ranks. Most pros are young, and kids buy most of the product, Admittedly, these are no small things for the industry, and the marketing of the brands and the output of the media reflect that, but we should never mistake the industry for the culture. Business doesn't define skateboarding. Skateboarders do. What happens on the crete is more important than what happens in an ad.

Think about Jeff Grosso: Granted, Grosso still rips on his board, but he has as strong an influence now as a commentator and personality as he ever did as a top professional in the 80's. A lot of kids  who weren't even born when Grosso's first video part dropped are taking their stylistic and cultural cues form the his Loveletters To Skateboarding.  Grosso is an old guy but he is not mired in "Old Guy" thinking. It is  not just Grosso's firsthand knowledge of the past that makes him relevant. It is his skepticism and frankness about everything in skateboarding old and new, and the way he encourages others to embrace that skepticism that gives him influence. The Loveletters challenge as much as they cherish.   That is what makes his show inspirational rather than merely nostalgic. Grosso doesn't inspire skaters to re-create the past, but to  build it into something new.

As a writer putting content onto social media I have seen firsthand how indistinct skateboarding's generational lines can be, and just how much we assume about younger skaters is wrong. I started Parking Block Diaries not to simply re-hash old memories, but also to connect history to the present in order to better understand skateboarding today and for the future. In writing this blog and putting stuff out through the youth-oriented RIDE channel, I have discovered that the roots of skateboarding have a lot to offer everyone. Maybe the youth most of all.

I put a lot of my own skating on my instagram: Sketchy slappys on janky curbs...other basic stuff that I feel is accessible to any skater. None of it is state of the art, just easily picked up insanely fun stuff. The ones who really responded to the clips were not the usual over-30 suspects, but the young skaters, kids in their early teens looking for things they can take possession of  in a climate saturated with mind-blowing pro clips. Now, I've got more middle schoolers following me than middle agers.

This is because the last decade of skateboarding has been characterized by the widening of horizons, from the return of bowl skating, to the resurrection and continued validity of tricks and styles of skating long thought lost. Now everyone can contribute at a session, whether it is by busting out some weird lip trick no one has seen in decades, or just by getting really stoked right alongside other skaters. This is the post modern age of skating. Everything is up for grabs, which means the young and old not only have more to learn from each other, but that they learn it on a more equal playing field. It makes me think of that old Blockhead graphic: "Nothing Is Cool". Why? Because everything is cool.

But there's a whole other dubious side to the self-conscious "Old Guy" rhetoric. For some, the term old guy is not just a description, it's a hall monitor's badge. For these "Old Guys", the self-imposed label is  a point of stubborn pride,  a status that, to them,  denotes privilege. These are the folks who think a few extra decades  rolling (or, more often than not, a few years way back when followed by a decades long hiatus) makes them the elder statesmen of skating, the only ones fit to judge what "real" skateboarding is. For these guys, the "Old Guy" groups and message boards become a safe refuge where they can preach to a captive audience about the superiority of their philosophy of skating, one usually set in stone in whatever years they happened to be between 15 and 20.

Most of these guys are annoying outliers, Old Skater groups are usually pretty great places to network with cool people,  but the existence of these clowns does highlight a universal truth: that self organizing by age is not a totally wise thing for skaters to do. It's just the easy thing.

Being an "old guy skater" doesn't mean you are automatically going to have a better attitude and perspective on skateboarding. Time does not equal wisdom, especially if a large chunk of that time was spent insulating yourself from other perspectives via "Old Guy Skater" groups. Just because you are old enough to remember when Danny Way was the hot new kid on the skate scene, it doesn't mean that I, as a fellow fossil, will relate to your any better than I might relate to a 19 year old skater who has grown up watching Grosso's Loveletters and skating the local bowl.  "Old Guy" cliques become great entry points for older skaters starting up after a hiatus or guys moving to a new community, but they also become a collection point for  some of the most stifling negativity in the scene today. I would lay money that just as many returning skaters bail on the culture because of bitter old guys as they do from exposure to bratty, jocked out kids.

So, If you run an "Old Guy" group or are a part of one, more power to you, but don't make being an "Old Guy" into an identity. Demographics are not a valid basis for a philosophy, especially not in modern skateboarding. Crawling too deep into the "Old Guy" mindset not only cheats you, but it cheats skateboarding.

Skateboarding is what it is because it is a culture where being different doesn't mean you have to be separate. Skateboarding is what it is because we can throw everyone together if we choose to. This is why for every Nyjah Huston out there, there's also a Ben Raybourn.  That didn't happen because the old cut themselves off from the young. Be proud if you have put time in in skateboarding, fly your flag a bit if you want to. Dress like an "Old Guy", skate like an "Old Guy", but, please, don't think like an "Old Guy".  

Because, Let's face it, When you finally find Animal Chin, he's not going to check your birth certificate.


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