We experience skateboarding with all of our senses, but we consume it with our eyes. Ironically, when you are actually skating, what you see is the least important part of the experience. The feeling of weightlessness in the air, the vibration of the grind through your feet, the sound of trucks on concrete: These are the things skaters are really chasing after when they ride. Yet the increasing emphasis on watching skateboarding, from pro vids to your own selfies, can make it real easy to lose sight of this.
I love Instagram. I love that I can post the same old tricks at the same old spots again and again and people will get inspired even by my feeble skating. I have gotten a few thousand followers on IG with slappies and curb gimmicks, followers from all over the world and from all age groups. In their own little way, my clips get people stoked to skate. That's great.
What I hate about this brave new world of my personal skating is the way it has made me, despite all my conscious efforts, begin to focus more on what I look like when I skate.
I have always been a very tactile skater. I do tricks for the sensation they give me, the experience. That's why I can do the same tricks over and over again and never get tired of them. That's why I get irate when I can't get some trick i've pulled a thousand times. Its not perfectionism or competitive drive, I simply fiend for the sensations my tricks give me and I go crazy when I can't experience them.
When I look at a clip of something that felt pure and powerful and perfect when I did it, yet looks stiff and forced when I watch it, it always triggers a poisonous dilemma in my brain, a dilemma that cuts to the soul of skating.
Skating has a dual nature: it is a full sensory experience on one hand, and a visual commodity we can only consume by watching on the other. When it comes to the actual experience of skating, does it really matter what something looks like? Is perfection of style and form worth chasing after for reasons other than the visual consumption of your personal skating by others? Does "bad style" really matter to anyone but those watching? And aren't we supposed to not give a shit about what anyone thinks
Or, to bring it back to that personal dilemma: should you change the way you do something that feels good just so it looks better?
The answer is clearly no. Period. There is no argument in the other direction that doesn't involve flexing, ambition or otherwise commodifying your own skateboarding for someone else's agenda. I'm not trying make a living or even get free shit from what I do on a skateboard. I don't skate in front of a mirror. What my skating looks like should be irrelevant for someone like me. I know this. I know it is a fact. I know that my whole philosophy of skateboarding agrees with this as a foundational principle.
But still, sometimes I watch and I feel the urge to tweak and try and alter my approach. I can't help it. I still want to do things the "right" way.
Is this a wholly bad thing? A character flaw to be overcome?
Skaters have always absorbed inspiration and instruction through their eyeballs. It's why skate mags don't really give a shit about the writing*. In the primal days we looked at our heroes in still photographs and aspired to look like them. The advent of videography just enhanced this practice. The coming of social media and universal access to videography, however, has completely and fundamentally changed the way skaters look at themselves: Back in the 70's, it didn't matter how sloppy and how far below the coping your frontside air was, in your mind you looked just Tony Alva at the dog bowl every time you rolled away. Unless some jerk on the deck told you different, you never had any reason to think otherwise. Now, in a world where you don't even need a photo nerd friend willing to document your skating to get a good look at yourself, these exhilirating delusions are hard to come by. Before we were all looking at ourselves in electronic mirrors, skating for yourself was much more likely to mean not giving a shit about what you looked like pulling a trick. You were never going to know anyway. If you rolled away you felt like Natas no matter what you actually looked like. Ignorance was bliss.
Strip away videography, photography, pissing contests, localism, whatever, and in that moment you are actually on the board, locking in that grind or sucking your legs up into some giant ollie, what you look like doesn't really matter. No one skates in front of full length mirror.
There is another perspective here. For some, the ruthless pursuit f perfection is intrinsic to their personal enjoyment. It is as much a part of why one skater might fall in love with skateboarding as the simple thrill of the sketchiest grind is to another. This is fine and even admirable, but the growing need to consume our own skateboarding means this mindset is becoming something skaters impose on themselves, not a part of the experience they relish for their own personal reasons.
There are also those occasions where something looks better because it actually feels better. I took shit for lifting my front trucks on slappies. It got to me enough that I worked on my technique and got close to eliminating the lift. Turns out, that does feel better most of the time... although, honestly, the ol' lift and lever is actually a more practical approach on most of the ratchet stuff I skate. Sometimes I wish I could go back. But every skater's mileage will vary on this, and sometimes being bullied to change your skating by how you look in a video clip can suck the enjoyment out of stuff you've loved for decades.
Case in point: as soon as "slappygate" put to rest on the Parking Block Diaries social media appendages, the even more contentious "Tuck War" broke out. Bolstered by comments by Jeff Grosso, commenters began ribbing anyone who didn't tuck their knee on a boneless. Being a site full of old never weres, there were a lot of easy targets, myself among them. I was dumbfounded by this apparently age-old rule about bending in the ol' knee on a boney boost off the crete, and, although I could see the aesthetic advantage of it, and suddenly began to notice how many pros and hotshots throughout the decades snuggled their back knee under their arms in photos, when I started actually doing it, it felt like shit.
The thrill of thinking I looked like GSD for a second paled in comparison to the constricted, limited and altogether awkward feeling of having my knee scrunched up unto my solar plexus as I hucked over the hip at my local park. I went back to my apparently ugly but altogether higher, smoother and more enjoyable boners instantly. I haven't looked back since, but I still can't help but feel some little twinge of guilt for my stinkbug ways.
Then again, Mike Vallely and Bill Danforth, two unassailable masters, don't tuck, so I don't really lose any sleep over it either way.
Style has always been misused as a bludgeon or set of handcuffs by skaters. Now, with so much emphasis on watching, its easier than ever to be controlled by the tyranny of the visual spectrum. Don't ever forget that skating is about all the senses, and that, in the moment of actual skating, looking is a distant second to feeling. Ff you are hitting a curb or concrete coping it may even be third to what you are hearing. Sometimes (OK, a lot of the time) I throw clips on IG because they sound rad.
Skateboarding is a full sensory experience. (Ever catch a whiff of a crusty curb after hitting it really hard?)Even if stacking clips is an essential part of your vision of skateboarding, don't forget to embrace the tactile, or the sonic. What others see will always be the least important element of your skateboarding. Get the camera out as much as you like, have fun with it, but remember: Don't just skate with your eyes. This ain't anybody's show.
*With the exception of Big Brother. However, what they were writing about rarely had much to do with actual skateboarding.