Anyone reading this blog can tell that I’ve gotten pretty much sucked into the world of skateboarding once again. When I was a teenager skating the streets and mini ramps of suburban Maryland, there was no such thing as social media. The internet was just being invented. You were lucky to have a friend with a handheld video camera. There were no mobile phones, much less ones with decent cameras. So, apart from a few rough-and-tumble videos which haven’t survived well over the past two decades, and a photograph or two lost in a box of old photos, nothing at all exists to document what was at one time an all-consuming passion of mine.
Which is kind of a shame. One of the things a skater coming back to skating after a long time does is watch all the old skate videos (many of them are now available, at least until they are pulled, on YouTube). Because that’s what we did back then on a rainy day, watch videos and study tricks, making mental notes for the next day. I had a collection of them on VHS cassette: beginning with Powell-Peralta’s Search for Animal Chin and Santa Cruz’s Wheels of Fire and Streets on Fire, Streetstyle in Tempe (a contest video from 1986 which illustrates the light-speed progress street skating made in the next few years; just compare it with Blind’s Video Days a mere five years later), Powell’s Ban This! and Public Domain, H-Street’s Shackle Me Not (that Matt Hensley sequence was my favorite) and Hokus Pokus , all culminating with Plan B’s Questionable in 1992. This last sounded the death knell for many of us at the time, I believe. Watching it again, it seems clear that we recognized that what those guys – Mike Carroll, Pat Duffy, Danny Way, Rodney Mullen, etc… – were doing had gone so far beyond what we could realistically hope to emulate, had become such a terrifying mix of technical prowess and sheer courage, that there was almost no point in trying to keep up with them. Skating had moved beyond us, had left us out in the East Coast cold. Unless you were willing to risk your very life for the lens, you were out. Skateboarding had become – perhaps always had been – a kind of poker. The ante was high, too high, and I folded.
But as any skater will tell you, it’s all about having fun. That’s the main thing, sure, but parallel to having fun is pushing yourself. It’s a kind of evolution, the way nature pushes itself into endless forms and niches. It can’t sit still and just do the same thing forever. Similarly, a skateboarder gets fed up after a while doing the same three tricks. Skateboarders push themselves, and each other, into new realms, new possibilities. That’s how skateboarding went from where it was to where it is, from Tony Alva doing the first air in a pool to Alan Gelfand doing it without hands (the first “ollie”), to Rodney Mullen doing it on flat ground, and then Natas doing it over a trash can. Then it branched out in a million different directions like the tree of evolution, adding infinite variations, to the point where today the ollie is the ur-trick of street skating, a discipline which has essentially cannibalized what was once called “freestyle” and brought its technical virtuosity to places like monster ramps and 30-stair handrails. The world of skateboarding is not for the weak-willed. It is a place where you could crack your skull open for the sake of landing a trick which has never been done.
These thoughts are on my mind as I nurse my most recent injury, a pulled muscle around my rib cage. At 40, you don’t need to attempt to tre flip a double set to get hurt. All you need is one wrong movement, to twist your torso just a touch in the wrong direction, and you are off skating for a few weeks. There is no room any longer to contemplate keeping up with the latest tricks. That is no longer what it’s about (and, as much as it was “all about having fun,” it was also about not falling behind the changing times). Now it really better be about having fun, getting your mind off work and money and car repairs and your in-laws, taking a much-needed break from adulthood. But the tricks, the impulse to push and move beyond where you are, never really goes away. I remember thinking, just a few short weeks ago, “I’ll be happy just to roll around without falling off.” That lasted for about five minutes. By the end of my first session I was already attempting pop shuvits. There’s no getting around it, skating is about moving forward, always and inexorably, from wherever you happen to be at the moment. Like life.
Oh, and I finally began landing the pop shuvits.