Skateboarding, Space, and the City: Architecture and the Body is a pretentious and interesting book. Starting therapy caused me to think about childhood, which caused me to think about skateboarding. I skimmed through the book and found a discussion of skateboarding in terms of Lacanian theory (!):
The skate move, like the mirror, does not then constitute the unity of the subject, but discloses the consciousness of the skater and his or her body, a bodily version of Lefebvre’s reminder that ‘there is no form without content, no content without form.’ The skateboard move is the projection of the self through the imaginary-and-real medium of the photograph; it is neither pure activity nor image, but a lived image. The skateboard run is at once a communication, development, and lived enactment of things such as the Influx digital journal or SkateBoarder photographs. Every time skaters make moves they are at once replaying photographs and video clips through their own bodies, reliving and reinventing them, and–ultimately–rendering images, moves, and themselves into social, fleshy, living entities.
Skateboarding, it is thus revealed, accords with the notion that there is nothing inherently regressive about spectatorship and images, and that readers and communities can be related through these processes.
I started skateboarding when I was 8. Sk8 TV on Nickelodeon was awesome. I’m reminiscing about a TV show from 25 years ago please kill me. Skateboarding progressed a lot in the mean time. The last two links feature Guy Mariano at very different points in his life. He had serious life problems including a crack addiction in between. More about that below.
It’s a cliche, but skateboarding was a lot different back then. I’m from the early 1990s, known colloquially as “big pants small wheels.” This would be a perfect example of skateboarding’s Dark Times:
Pressure flips are cool. I don’t care what anybody says. Another early inspiration was a VHS tape called “Mondo Vision” that my sister’s boyfriend gave to me. It had Mark Gonzales skating Brooklyn, the best possible thing:
This is where it gets interesting for me. Mark Gonzales is the father of street skating, and also crazy:
Gonz got the person most famous for still doing pressure flips sent to therapy. True story. Another classic Gonz part is in a video called Kicked Out of Everywhere. A few years ago, I was kicked out of a skatepark because there were $75 daycare lessons happening, and I guess I hadn’t had a background check and I wasn’t wearing pads. Poor example for the children. They built the skate park right across the parking lot from the police station, so the parents can feel safe while their children are out skateboarding. It became Little League, literally after Nike had an ad campaign to increase the public’s acceptance of skateboarders and skateboarders’ acceptance of Nike:
Having been an early 1990s skateboarder shaped my worldview a lot (thanks, Ed Templeton). An anarchist, anti-corporate attitude was part of what it meant to be a skater back then. The reason is that it was the absolute low point of skateboarding’s popularity, so there wasn’t any money or mainstream interest in it. It wasn’t very accessible. See the video above. This is Jerry Hsu talking about it:
It’s weird because the type of kids who thought skateboarding was cool in 1992 are not the kids who think skateboarding is cool in 2013. I’m generalizing of course but they are different kids. I can’t imagine what I would think of skateboarding if I was 12 years old right now. Would I be able to recognize how rad it is? I don’t know the answer to that. I feel like I would think it’s kinda weird and mainstream.. Maybe I wouldn’t have ever started. I remember the reason I started skating was because I saw these kids with green hair and big pants and they looked so stupid, and I wanted to be that. I appreciate everything skating has given me but I miss the attitude.
I remember the first “Extreme Games,” and the involvement of major companies in skateboarding has been a huge controversy ever since. By the time I was in college, it was weird to see frat guys in flip flops with longboards, or to watch my roommate play the Tony Hawk video games. My very first “New School” board was a Jeremy Klein model. This is him today:
Q: Have you ever been to a Street League event?
A: No, I haven’t. I probably should, it would probably be fun to screw around at. I’ve seen some of it and I just thought it was odd when I saw skaters skating around the course, and there were giant banners of themselves with their giant names. I don’t mind it, I just thought it was a little odd. Whoever designed that, why would they think that would be a good idea?
Q: I think it’s supposed to be modeled after other sports.
A: I understand, I just don’t like to associate skateboarding with sports, because I hate sports. I mean that’s why I skated in the first place. That’s what’s interesting, so you got that, where it almost sounds like they are taking it too seriously, and then you got my era where it’s not taken seriously at all. I’m kinda down for something in between. Don’t get me wrong, things that are going down in skating now are amazing, it just seems like some of the stuff is a little unnecessary. People riding for Oakley and stuff, when I was growing up people that wore Oakley were lame. To see people jumping on that, it’s not something I would have wanted to do if I had the deal, but I understand that money is a big motivator and it makes sense. It just seems like if you are that big and doing that well in skating, you could pick a company that is a little bit cooler than Oakley. You could pick whatever you wanted, so why not pick something that’s good?
Q: But you’re not gonna get checks that Oakley is gonna give you…
A: No, but maybe you could, something that is not as lame as Oakley that has a bunch of money. I mean where does it stop? I can’t even tell you what skateboarders think is lame anymore because they don’t think anything is lame do they? Anyways I’m not complaining about it, it’s all based around money, I understand. I’m still adapting to this new style. I’m learning.
Anyway, the reason that skateboarders are kicked out of everywhere is that it’s loitering and vandalism, and the people involved in the activity are criminals and drug addicts. Well…yeah, actually. What kind of people were my childhood idols, and how did that affect me? This one dude was stoked to meet Brian Wenning in jail:
Dealing with skateboarders, dude I’d rather work in a rehab clinic. I’d rather work at a methadone clinic in the ghetto.
Come to think of it, Epicly Later’d episodes are a lot about alcoholism and other addictions, time in jail, and fucked up family situations. What is it with skateboarders and being crazy? It’s partly a self-selection issue, because participation presupposes lawbreaking and disregard for property rights. That was true of pool skateboarding even before street skateboarding. There’s a deep connection to anarchism in that sense.
Why are those kids spending their time loitering in the first place? Skateboarding, Space, and the City talks about “rejection of the family” as a theme in skateboard culture. In this interview, Anthony Shetler talks about his horrible upbringing and smoking weed:
I smoke weed, usually only when I skate. If I smoke weed and go skate it helps me feel. Skateboardings all about feeling, if you overthink shit, it doesn’t feel right.
Also I think through being active – sweating and feeling your heart beat almost every day – that right there, that’s why I love skateboarding and skateboarders. The average person just works a job they hate and they don’t do anything active or have something that is their own. I think what people need to do, including myself, is to do something active. If your heart is beating, you are sweating, you are using your body, and you feel alive. And feeling alive makes you feel good. Skateboarding, being scared, having your adrenaline going, testing your abilities, you feel fucking alive.
Skateboarding obviously has a pain fetish. The slams section of “Welcome to Hell” is something I’ve seen countless times, unfortunately:
Skateboarders say shit that just isn’t normal. This is Jerry Hsu again:
Q: How does that work. Do you piss blood? You go see a doctor or just wait it out and it goes away?
A: No, it just goes away. I’ve pissed blood before but I’ve never pissed blood from nutting on a rail. It’s always like slamming on your kidneys, on your side that will make you piss blood. Its kind of funny, I was with Leo Romero and one time I did that and I was really worried. I told him and he was just like, “oh dude, you’re fine, you’re just hammering your kidneys, after 2 or 3 pisses you’ll be fine.” He was absolutely right. By the 3rd piss it was completely normal again.
Q: I heard when you were 14 you broke your penis?
A: Yeah, I pretty much broke my dick when I was 13 or 14. I tore my urethra from credit carding, like Stacy Lowery in that old 411. That really fucked me up, that was a pretty harsh injury for a 13 year old to go through. I was pissing blood and weird little mucusy chunks were coming out. I was screaming and crying. It was my mom’s birthday.
Some skaters have rage problems when they get frustrated. Low impulse control, antisocial/borderline, etc.:
There’s a tendency to be aloof from social media, and it has to do with a need for mental peace (issues with filtering or executive function?). Gino Ianucci on Twitter and Instagram:
I know how it helps people, but to me personally, this overload, I can’t deal with it.
Q: Besides not hearing the music, is there actually any blackout throughout the run or trick?
A: I mean, you know what you’re doing… I think it’s the reason people pay money to learn how to meditate and do yoga to quiet their mind, you know? It’s like the most extreme form of that. I think that’s why when skaters don’t skate for a couple weeks are like, “Ahh, I gotta get out and do something!” because you’re so used to that feeling and escape your whole life. You need it.
This is a really interesting clip about Andrew Reynolds and his OCD problems, and how they intensify when he’s trying superhumanly difficult scary things. An OCD specialist who used to skateboard has insightful things to say:
Q: Was Nyjah always so driven and disciplined with his skating or did his father make him become this way?
A: Nyjah was disciplined from birth. He was a text book baby that cried when he was hungry and smiled when he was satisfied. At the very young age of two we started to see his OCD tendencies. He would pick out his clothes for the next day religiously and stack up his toys in the same order. He basically did everything in a particular order, always. When it came to skating, he applied his discipline and OCD behavior which helped him to master his basic skills. Now his father was the kind of guy that was very hard to please. All of us were always trying to gain his praise and respect in our own ways. Nyjah’s natural talent on the board became their dad’s main focus as he had a child that he could push to the limits. Nyjah was extremely obedient and hated to be scolded so he was always trying to impress his dad. The combination of Nyjah trying to perfect himself and please his dad at the same time created a super talent that is almost uncanny.
Rodney Mullen was the single most important person in terms of inventing tricks, by far. He’s “an outsider in life”:
He invented the tricks in the context of “freestyle skateboarding,” which was dying out around the time I started. Speaking of skateboarding and gender, an interesting comment Jeremy Klein makes is that freestyle skaters look like ballerinas, making it “the feminine side of skateboarding.” That was his explanation for the end of freestyle. This is an accurate depiction of Jeremy Klein:
Anyway, this is Rodney Mullen talking about the meaning of skateboarding, and it makes you feel like “whoa, dude, life is amazing.” He also has thoughts on group theory, symmetry, and flip tricks (!). I’m sure he doesn’t get much opportunity to talk about group theory with other skateboarders, or anyone.
About a year ago, I talked to a kid on a scooter at the skatepark. He was about the age I was when I started. He said he wanted to be a cop when he grows up, because they have guns. I couldn’t convince him to consider being a firefighter instead. What is the world coming to? At the same age, the high school kids who taught me how to ollie used to talk about running from the police on skateboards vs. BMX bikes. What is this world coming to? The skaters are also jocks.
Getting kicked out of places by petty adults that hate you forever changes your perspective on society. Skateboarding, Space, and the City made an interesting point about skateboarders and the homeless being treated essentially the same in downtown areas. They stay in commercial areas for extended periods of time without engaging with the area’s “real” purpose. A cop kicking me out of an empty parking lot in the middle of the night once explained that the parking lot wasn’t a “designated area.” So many implicit assumptions there! The guy was black and had good things to say about Rudy Giuliani and broken windows policing. He seemed like a pretty decent person, and I later emailed him some references about why broken window theory is unsupported by the evidence. I emphasized that I wasn’t exactly complaining about the guy, who chose not to give me a citation. We had a gentleman’s agreement that he wouldn’t see me doing tricks on the curb/manual pad, only out on the flat. We had a brief discussion of risk, in which I pointed out that it’s dangerous for him to confront me out in the middle of the night with nobody around, because I might be crazy and dangerous. He couldn’t know that in advance. He actually understood the point I was making and didn’t beat the shit out of me for “threatening” him or anything! Right on!
At some point you realize that they must spend a lot more money on kicking skateboarders out of places than they do on repairing property or defending against lawsuits. You learn that authority wants to take away something deeply meaningful to you. There are other valuable life lessons about persistence, practice, and perseverative behavior. The goal is to skate freely and spontaneously in a sort of Zen-like flow state. You exercise creativity in combining things and experience a sense of mastery. It’s exercise. Those are healthy things that should be encouraged.
It’s great that people experience the joy of skateboarding, but something is lost when it no longer provides the experience of being an outcast. I just generally get the impression that people don’t understand how mean society is. They’ve never had to run from the police for hanging out behind K-Mart. It’s great, actually. I just go to the skatepark and don’t hassle with police at age 32. I’m sort of on the side of cops in that my job is to help secure the websites of corporations against hackers. It sucks for people’s accounts to get stolen, so I don’t feel like my job makes the world a worse place especially more than other people’s. The whole point is that I’m trustworthy and don’t steal people’s stuff, despite knowing how. So why criminalize my hobby?
The act of skateboarding isn’t intrinsically tied to being a weirdo, but skateboarding originated with mentally unstable losers that are hated by conservative people. Keep in mind that this is like the Babe Ruth of skateboarding. That’s Guy Mariano in the car, observing his role model:
The meaning of the activity changes when it makes money for ESPN. Another quote from Skateboarding, Space, and the City:
Similarly, skaters in Oxford were seen to possess “a vicious disregard for family, society, and British life.” The primary concern of skateboarders is to be not like the conventional family, and, in particular, not to be the conventional son, nor, by extension, to become the conventional father…Skaters refuse the model of adulthood their parents require them to participate within. In doing so, skateboarders refuse the binary choice of opting between childhood and conventional adulthood, and creating a third condition which is irreducible to the former two…This may account for some of the adult disdain toward skateboarding, for the skateboarder/child/adult is a continual reminder that the adult did not necessarily have to make the choices he or she did.
It’s, like, Oedipal. That would be the psychodynamic formulation.