My motivations for writing about skateboarding, and writing about it the way that I do.
by Bud Stratford
I started skateboarding way back in the 1980s. It doesn’t seem that long ago, really. But every so often, some kid somewhere will ask me how long I’ve been skating; when I slowly realize that the answer is in the neighborhood of about 35 years or so (give or take), I begin to realize that 35 years is a really, really long time to be doing anything at all. Let alone, skateboarding.
Skateboarding in those early days was a pretty magical place. When I say “skateboarding”, by the way, I realize that there’s two very distinct ways that “skateboarding” can be defined. On one hand, there’s the “Purist Definition of Skateboarding” that says that skateboarding is the act of physically getting on a skateboard, and riding it around… and, nothing more than that. Then, there’s also the “Big Picture Definition of Skateboarding” that says that “skateboarding” also includes everything that surrounds and supports our pastime… including the industry (the manufacturers, the distributors, and the retailers), the media, the worldwide community of skaters, the culture, the artists, you and me… everything. The great thing about skateboarding in the 1980’s was that, regardless of how you defined it… skateboarding was pretty much the best thing ever. It was, in retrospect, “The Golden Age”.
And it’s been all downhill, ever since…
In the 1980’s, the industry looked vastly different then it does today. There were only a few established “brands”, supported by just a few manufacturers that made… on the whole of it… really great, quality products, almost exclusively here in the USA. Skateboards lasted a really, really long time, and the quality controls were excellent. Broken decks were a rarity; if you actually managed to break a deck, it was a real accomplishment. “Flatspotting” hadn’t even been defined yet (because it never really happened)… and as far as trucks went, it was just taken for granted that they were absolutely indestructible. You’d have to grind all the way through the hangars, and halfway through the axle, before you ever had to worry about breaking those damn clumps of aluminum and steel. And axles never slipped, because we used spacers between the bearings (I preferred steel spacers, because they were entirely uncrushable), and skateboards generally… well… worked.
Skateboarding back then, was pretty small. We perceived it as being “huge”, of course; skateboarding in 1988 and 1989 was all over the “mass media”, and there was corporate money involved, even in those days. But in hindsight, it was nothing at all like it is today.
That “smallness” dictated that skateboarding, almost by definition, was strictly “subculture” in nature. Skateboarding existed far out on the peripheral fringes of society, relatively unnoticed and uncared for by “The Masses”. Being “outsiders” that were largely left alone, and left to our own devices… that meant that we could pretty much do anything we wanted, whenever we wanted, and with very few consequences. That allowed for a huge amount of creativity and spontaneity within our little subculture. And we maximized the possibilities that unfettered freedom provided to us.
One perk of that freedom, was that pro skaters were allowed to be themselves. Now, in hindsight, this is a bit of a fallacy and a misnomer; even in those days, “pro skaters” (for the most part) had very limited input as far as their shapes, graphics, and image were concerned. A lot of it was marketed, contrived, designed, and heavily promoted by the manufacturers, as we learned later. But, some companies were a bit more progressive in this regard… G&S, Vision, and Schmitt Stix come immediately to mind… and some of the skaters on those teams took full advantage of the opportunity to take almost total control of their art direction, image, and marketing. And thus, we ended up with a long list of legendary skater-artists like Chris Miller, Neil Blender, Mark Gonzales, and John Lucero, just to name a few. Guys that were “professional skateboarders” in every imaginable sense of the word. Professional skateboarders that we still revere, to this day.
Likewise, the skateboard media was left largely free to run amok, unhindered by the constraints of mass popularity, mass marketing, and mass censorship. Journalists, writers, photographers, and spokespeople were given free reign to say whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, and however they wanted… so long as the pages were full, the advertising sold, and the content was interesting and engaging enough to move magazines. Mofo, for example, has told countless stories about not even knowing what the fuck he was doing over at Thrasher in those early years; it was all very fly-by-night, and learn-as-you-go. Magazines were privately owned by industry magnates… not, corporate publishing houses. So in reality, the skateboard industry ultimately had no one to answer to but themselves.
The media, for the most part, embraced… I dare say, “promoted”… diversity of thought and action in skateboarding. The magazines routinely covered all disciplines of skateboarding, as a force of habit. Everything from vert, to street, to mini ramps, to backyard pools, to skateparks (when they existed), to ditches, to freestyle, to slalom was covered; in 1989, both TransWORLD and Thrasher even ran luge articles, introducing what would become “street luge” to skaters all over the world. So no matter what you were into, you were still being educated and enlightened about everything else along the way. Whether you wanted to be educated or enlightened, or not.
If and when the “mainstream skateboard media” did become “too corporately controlled”… we had no idea whatsoever that we were only seeing the very tip of the eventual iceberg, in this regard… skateboarding responded with “‘zines”, which were truly independent media in every sense of the word. Even then, a small army of ‘zinemakers ultimately infiltrated the “mainstream skateboard media” over at TransWORLD and Thrasher, and kept the “major magazines” fundamentally independent and unrestrained in nature for many, many years. And everyone that made ‘zines, collected and read everyone else’s ‘zines. It was open-minded information and inspiration exchange of the highest order. Leave it to skateboarders to devise such an inspiring, engaging, and influential mini-media paradigm.
When you empower skaters to run amok and create things of their own design, you will always be pleasantly surprised by what they can accomplish. That much, I can guarantee.
When I look at the “skateboarding” of today… it’s sad to realize that, in almost every single way imaginable, it’s pretty much the exact opposite of what it once was. “Mainstreaming” truly has invaded our pastime, prevailed, dominated, and then bastardized almost every single premise and principle that our beloved culture once represented.
The mass-manufactured “products” of today suck ass; decks break in a day (or less), as do trucks, and wheels flatspot at the slightest hint of a powerslide. Everything that isn’t made in China is made in Mexico… or at best, it’s “made in America” with Chinese and Mexican-sourced components. Nothing is labeled to enlighten the consumer to any of these realities (even though the industry and the consumer base has been discussing this for eons now), so everyone just goes with it, not really knowing (or even caring) what, exactly, is under their feet. Pro skaters themselves seem to be empty, mindless shells of what they once were, either unable or unwilling to put creative, challenging ideas or ideals out into the public realm, while being more than happy to let the mass marketers dictate their images, their art direction, the shapes they ride, their fashion sense, and their talking points. The media is likewise corporately-controlled and heavily “thought-censored” to the point of being reduced to pandering puppets for the mass-money-making machine. Every discipline in skateboarding has fifteen magazines at hand to cover it, but there exists no magazine anywhere (outside of my own) that is willing to push boundaries, cover everything, and educate and entertain their readership with any real diversity of thought and perspective. And then we bemoan the entire world when “the kids”… the skateboarders that we’re presumably “working for” over here… have no diversity of thought or perspective of their own.
The reality is that we have sold ourselves out to the lowest bidder. We put short-term profits, over long-term gain. And in doing so, we… ourselves… have become the very agents of our own death and demise.
The reason that I bother to write at all, is because I feel some weird, abstract, but noble sense of duty to protect the “brand” of skateboarding that I discovered, when I was a kid. Skateboarding can’t suck everywhere, all the time; somewhere, in some deep, dark corner of the universe, we need to defend, support, and perpetuate the ideals that once made skateboarding such a rich, colorful, and empowering experience. Somewhere, we need an American craftsman… preferably, one that skates… pushing the possibilities of skateboard design, construction, and manufacturing. Somewhere, we need trucks that grind for life, and wheels that roll fast and don’t flatspot. Somewhere, we need independent voices pushing for diversity of opinion, perspective, and action. Somewhere, we need a shoe company that is responsive to the needs of skaters… which basically means that we need Steve Van Doren to kick around for another 50 years. And somewhere, we need skaters that are willing to step out of the herd, and keep skateboarding controversial, individual, engaging, and purposeful. Because if there’s no individual freedom or empowering purpose to fight for, then what’s the fucking point of it all…? Isn’t “individual freedom” the “empowering purpose” that skateboarding is supposed to be all about in the first place…?
I’d like to see that brand of skateboarding kick around for a while, so that the lost and wayward kids of the world… and sadly, today’s world is cultivating a vast army of lost and wayward kids… can discover the same “skateboarding” that I discovered, when I was a kid. So that they can find the same sense of purpose and belonging that I found in skateboarding. And maybe… if I’m lucky… one of those kids thirty-five years from now will pick up a keyboard, peck out a crafty little think-piece, and brutally defend the very things that I’m brutally defending, right now. And the whole cycle will begin anew.
So, yeah. That pretty much explains why I’m such an asshole. Sorry about that. I’ll try my bestest to do even worse in the future, thank you very much.
By Ian Whyte – firstname.lastname@example.org
“Dad, you said we were going to be on the road at the crack of dawn,” my nine-year old son Kaiam squeaked from the Subaru’s backseat. “This is before the crack of dawn!”
Driving I-84 up the Columbia River Gorge into a midnight (well, 5 AM, technically) blue sky underlined by a dark pink horizon, I had to admit he was right. It was early.
We were already a long way from our Seattle home which we’d driven from the day before, stopping for the night at our friends’ place in the Gorge. We had another 150 miles to go before we would reach Pine Nursery Park, site of the first annual Bend Beatdown distance skateboard races. Ours wouldn’t be the longest home-to-start-line trek, though; the inaugural Beatdown would draw riders from all corners of the country.
I was stoked. When I gave Kaiam a longboard for his birthday in the fall of 2014, I’d picked one up for myself, too, thinking we’d figure them out together – modern boards looked like a lot more fun than the 15-inch pine plank from which I’d regularly tumbled a few decades before. Little did I know that the 14-15 winter would be so dry that the local skiing season never really happened.
So instead of skiing I found myself riding my Omen Mini-Sugar 2.0 all the time and loving it, bumping and carving my way up the learning curve until I started timing my 14-mile round trips to Shoreline and back on the InterUrban trail, which by a gift of the skateboard gods was just up the road from our house. Sometimes Kaiam would come, but at some point I claimed the sport for myself; this kind of riding demanded strength, endurance, and balance and, especially in the context of my primitive skills, it generated adrenaline in attention-riveting quantities. I was hooked.
Late that summer, the Centennial Sk8 Festival appeared on the horizon. I made my way out to Arlington, Washington and entered the half-marathon. In the parking lot, I met friendly fellow post-adolescent rider Phil Priestly. Phil and I rode that race; later that winter he would share the news of the Beatdown. I pumped up my workouts and counted down the days… And now the Beatdown was just a couple of hours down the desert on US 97.
I gotta say, the race really lived up to its name. The 1.3 mile course had turns that the Arlington race didn’t, and I never really did get my bilateral regular-to-fakey switches working efficiently. Smooth Phil dusted me in both races, and I got lapped by the IDSA’s best towards the end of the 10K. It could have been worse, though: I left my board a few times, but I never hit the asphalt, and I traded 50+ age-group wins in the two races with local rider Tracy Beaupre.
It was great to connect with the IDSA, too. After Arlington, I had followed a link to the 2015 standings, and seeing my name in them fired up my competitive juices, without even knowing much about who was behind the competition. So it was great to have a sense of the warm, generous, deeply committed spirit that drives the organization.
It’s interesting to me how deep the desire to compete runs in my blood, although it runs parallel with the conviction that, these days, that desire is more about motivating me to get out and have a great journey than it is about winning. The goal of winning is ephemeral; it’s the journey it creates that really matters.
Waxing philosophical further, I have to say that the best thing about the Beatdown was the kids. There were a bunch of them out, and if you look at the results you’ll see a lot of family names repeated. I know my kid had a blast in the 5K and the shorter kids-only race that went off between the 5k and the 10k. Of course, they were all there for the awards and the ample schwagfest in the welcome shade of the park gazebo after the racing was done. Top-to-bottom, young-to-old, everyone contributed to an inclusive, festive denouement and a great event. We’ll be back!
Right now, skateboarding is going through a number of changes.
The fact that it embraces a wide range of skaters and skate styles is something that bodes well for the future.
The Cloverdale freestyle event has become an annual affair and this 5th edition was filled with a huge amount of stoke.
It took place over the May 20th weekend and over 50 competitors from fourteen countries got together to take things up a notch.
I was at the event a few years ago and I can attest to the fact that the level of skating has improved greatly.
What inspired me more, however, was the camaraderie displayed in Cloverdale. Freestylers may be small in number, but their passion is mighty.
As I was arriving, the thirteen year-old phenom Isamu Yamamoto was being filmed for an upcoming potential segment on a major TV show.
Although there is a temptation to tell you which show, I think the surprise is worth keeping. So, yes, there was local media coverage, but something bigger is afoot.
What was almost equally intriguing was to watch 24 year-old self-proclaimed “language nerd” Ryan Brynelson translate the entire interview in Japanese.
That’s the great thing about freestylers. They have a remarkable ability to engage in both sides of their brain!
The show is produced by Monty Little and Kevin Harris. Monty has over four decades of experience in putting on skate events and his ability to juggle several dozen things at once is quite mesmerizing. Kevin is a legendary freestyler and member of the Bones Brigade.
Their commitment to spreading the word of freestyle is unrivalled. Thanks to their incredibly hard work, the event comes together beautifully. AJ Kohn is one of the hardest working MC’s and competitors you’ll ever encounter.
The Cloverdale Fair is a huge supporter of the event and entire pavilion is set aside to run the contest. It would be great to have it outdoors, but with the fickle weather, it’s probably a good idea that there is a roof. Unfortunately, the surface is quite slippery, making many tricks even more of a challenge.
Along with a huge number of talented pros and ams, there are some exceptionally interesting people who come out for the event. Veteran photographer Jim Goodrich has been taking photos of the event since it started five years ago.
Russ Howell, who at age 26 got a ‘Who’s Hot’ in SkateBoarder Magazine in 1975 is one of the key supporters of the event. He paved the way for many in the skate world. He was one of the first pros and travelled the world sharing the stoke. He’s also a heck of an amazing skater at age sixty something….
Speaking of age, the most unusual thing about the contest is that it ranges from 13 to 56. Judging by the crowd’s reaction, they enjoyed watching it all, no matter how complex it looked.
The Brazilians were out in full-force this year and made quite a splash.
All freestylers were delighted by the appearance of Per Welinder. Back in the mid-eighties, Per bridged the gap between freestyle and street. He also was Michael J. Fox’s stunt double in “Back to the Future.”
For many, it might seem inconceivable to realize that freestylers are a huge part of the foundation of skateboarding. Just take a peek at this list: Steve Rocco (World Industries), Pierre Andre (Etnies), Don Brown (Etnies), Rodney Mullen (no intro needed) and Reggie Barnes (the biggest skateboard distributor in the world). I could go on and on, but freestylers have made and continue to make an impact on skateboarding.
Thirty years ago, the skate world had a number of freestyle contests (that took place during street and even vert contests!) What was crucial is that skaters saw a variety of skateboarding, just like they had in the 1970s.
Now, most events are in silos. Wouldn’t it be great to have a major street contest at a downhill event? Or even a slalom event at street contest? Certainly, bringing a freestyler to the Berrics game of skate would be an eye-opener for many!
As I kept watching the riders, one thing kept running through my mind: “these guys don’t stop.” Practice sessions? Of course. Lunch time? Yes. While the contest is going? Indeed. In fact, there wasn’t really a moment where the Freestylers stopped skating. Well, maybe to eat.
It all added up to a truly wonderful weekend of skateboarding. You just never know what the next spark will launch the next generation of skaters. My sense it just might come from the world of freestyle.
For all the results and videos, visit www.theworldroundup.com or click the image below:
Dan Bourqui (our photographer for the latest issue) just shot a new video from the Vans Pool Party
By Fergus Odonnell
Having had a 35 year love affair with all things skateboarding, I was stoked beyond belief to recently have the opportunity to leave the U.K shores to go on a tour of the American northwest with a production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night . The production was to tour for 9 weeks and included the cities of Boston, Philadelphia, New York and Chicago.
Although I am passionate about my work as an actor and can’t deny I was excited at the prospect of playing Shakespeare in such great theatres, I couldn’t help but immediately think “I’m taking my skateboard!”
I was soon Googling skateparks in the cities I would be visiting and was very excited by what I saw. We have some great skateparks here in the U.K and I’m lucky enough to live a stone’s throw from some of the best. But to go stateside and witness firsthand what the home of skateboarding had to offer was quiet frankly a dream come true. The parks didn’t disappoint either!
From Boston’s Lynch Family Project with a bowl the scale of which I had never before witnessed to the final days of Love Park in Philadelphia and it’s new Paine’s Plaza skatepark with views of the Schuykill river and plug sockets for phones and speakers (a luxury we have yet to acquire in the U.K!)
Other parks included the Durham skate plaza in Durham, N.C, the Chelsea pier skatepark in NYC!(a personal favorite), and last but not least the Grant park skate plaza in Chicago! I did what I set out to do and got my fill of U.S concrete.
What I was struck by most on all my visits to these parks was how friendly and welcoming everyone was. It’s like that here in the U.K (on the whole) and was very pleased to find it the same across the pond. The international skateboarding community is full of peace and love! Skaters are friendly and supportive; once again it was confirmed to me that I am doing the right thing by continuing my love affair with this coolest of sports