Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Chasing Phantoms & The Mythology of Rainbows

There had been a few passing rain showers in the area. The skate park, however, was mostly dry. The sun began to peek-out from behind the clouds.  A few moments later a huge, vibrant, double rainbow appeared in the sky. I thought it would make a cool/funny backdrop for a skate photo (esp. considering the whole gay thing). With the rainbow in the background, Joe took my cell phone and filmed me ollieing over a makeshift picnic table/box. This is a screen grab from that video.

  (Here is a side shot of a different time I ollied it, so you can get a better idea of the size)

A little kid, who was about 12-years-old, came up to me afterwards. He looked up at me with big eyes, and sheepishly asked, “How do you ollie so high?” I laughed to myself when I heard the question. When I was his size and age, I wondered the same thing about older skaters. I responded that my legs were stronger than his, that I was taller than he was, and most of all, I had been skating for a very long time, and had spent years doing ollies. I told him that if he kept skating, he would be able to ollie much higher as he grew up, and got more practice. I gave him a few pointers on ollie technique, and then went to sit in the shade for a bit.

I sat down behind the mini ramp, and looked up at the two giant rainbows that lingered in the sky. I followed their arcs with my eyes, looking to see how far they stretched, and where they ended. Then it really hit me.

The mythology of rainbows is that a pot of gold lies at the rainbow’s end. Of course, no one can ever reach the rainbow’s end. It’s actually quite a stark, and bleak metaphor: there are hopes and goals you can never reach, no matter how hard you try. Worse, while chasing phantoms, you lose sight of the fleeting gift that is right in front of you; the rainbow itself.

“How do you ollie so high?”

As a kid, I chased that pot of gold. I wanted to ollie over a crack in the sidewalk. Then a stick. Then a curb. Then a bench. Then a handrail. Always wanting to go higher and further. Never satisfied with where I was, or what I could already do. Always pushing. Sure, there is merit in that.  But then a 12-year-old kid asks you a simple question, and your world changes.

To that kid, I had the pot of gold at the end of rainbow. The ollie I did was unimaginably high and unattainable, at least to him.  When I was his age, I thought the same way when I saw people do “big” ollies, or pretty much any trick for that matter (well, actually, I still pretty much think that when I ever I see anyone else skating).

Personal progression is always a part of skateboarding, no matter how old you are. We always push for longer, higher, faster, or to learn something entirely new, or relearn something we used to be able to do. We are doomed to forever chase targets that we ourselves are always moving.  

That 12-year-old illuminated something profound. Sometimes it’s better not chase, but to just enjoy what already is. I sat behind the mini ramp for a while, and watched the double rainbow fade away to nothingness. Its existence now just a memory. Another perfect life metaphor. From across the park I heard my friends laugh while skating a curb. I stood-up, looked at the sky that was now nothing but gray clouds, and smiled.  With a profound sense of gratitude, I pushed-off in the direction of my friends, and that simple curb.       

Friday, December 29, 2017

Death of a Shop / Tears of Joy

I am lost. I really don’t even know how, or where, to start writing this post. That is because I am also a bit lost, existentially, at the moment. Today my local skate shop closed. Forever. A number of us hung there this afternoon, drank beer, and said our "goodbyes." It was a fun party, just as it should have been. Now, it’s just a huge swirling maelstrom of emotions.

In the late ‘90s I totally withdrew from skateboard culture (I’ve written about this elsewhere in this blog, I won’t rehash all of it now). While I never quit skating, I no longer had skater friends that I skated with on any regular basis. I avoided the local hot spots. I didn’t go near skate shops. I mostly skated alone. This was a complete 180 from when I worked at Boston’s main skate shop, was a staple “scenester” at Copley Sq. (Boston’s version of EMB at the time), and was sponsored by a shop and a small local board company.

About five years ago a new skate shop opened near where I lived, called Maximum Hesh. I’ve never liked skate shops that appear to be some weird version of clean-cut corporate “retail outlet.” As my friend Jason said, “I like places that look like a dirty living room.” I went by Max Hesh, after-hours, a few times just to look in the window. You can tell a lot about a shop by what it looks like, and what they stock. I wanted some idea of what I might be walking into, IF I was ever going to cross their doorstep. I could tell, within 15 seconds of looking in the darkened windows, that Max Hesh was something altogether different in the modern world of skate retail.

To make a long story short, Max Hesh drew me back into skate culture. Within three years I went from being a random solo skater, removed the skate industry and world, to being featured on the Deluxe web site, getting movie suggestions from Julien Stranger, getting personal mail sent to my house from Jim Theibaud, helping to set-up one of the only Barrier Kult video premiers / skate jams in U.S.A., building numerous DIY spots around Boston (so much so that people started calling me The DIY guy), winning a Deluxe DIY grant, and most shocking of all, at 43-years-old, I became a shop-sponsored skater again. All this happened because of a shop like Max Hesh. 

But most of all, most important, above and beyond anything else…and this is the part where the tears are going to start…I met some amazing people, laughed a lot, and had a tremendous amount of fun along the way. All of this happened when I was at somewhat of a low point in my life, so in the proverbial sense, the shop was a real life-saver. A good skate shop is more than just a store, it is a community center. Max Hesh wasn’t a skate shop. It was a social movement in the Boston scene, which just also happened to sell skate stuff. In my 30+ years of skating, I have never seen a shop that was run the way Max Hesh was, or had the same vibe that it did. Countless others say the same.

While I am beside myself with loss over the shop closing, and I feel as if a giant hole has been ripped in my life, I am filled with nothing but a deep gratitude; gratitude that the entire experience even happened.

A heartfelt thank you goes out to the entire extended Max Hesh family. A thank you for everything that you have given and meant to me, and to the community at-large. As Todd (the owner) always said, "The shop is not just one person; it is everyone who comes in the door and contributes to the scene we are creating." 

Whenever I think about this period of my life, and the people involved, and all that happened, and all that it meant to me and so many others…a few tears will certainly fall from my eyes, but the radiant smile across my face will show they are tears of joy, not sorrow.


(Below are assorted Max Hesh related pics that capture some of my favorite memories and/or show what Max Hesh was all about. I'll post more pics in the coming days.)

When Jim T. came by to hang out.

When the shop donated bunch of boards to at-risk kids.

When Todd and I dressed up as construction workers to paint a curb in a high-visibility commercial area.

Paul Schmitt!

One of the only TWO premieres of Horde II in the United States.
When they broke all molds and announced that some old dude was now one of their team riders (e.g. me).

Orange Abe from Fancy Lad fame and Todd gearing-up for a pop-up skate park / art show.
The day I got to hang out with Mike Vallely. As a 12-year-old I looked up to him because he was a rad skater. As a 43-year-old, I look up to him because he "gets" it. Not often that childhood heroes remain relevant in adult life.

Ben at our epic Wednesday Night Summer Slappy Sessions.

Love this shop sticker.

When Deluxe put us on their web site. Me, with Spitfire shirt. 

This was so rad. Todd was always trying to get more of the non-stereotypical people into skating. He was hugely supportive of all the local female skaters.

Pete Talbot, of the infamous Pete's Pigs, was often by the shop dropping off decks. An internet video of Pete skating recently hit the 1 million viewers mark! A true local legend, and amazing guy. 

Shows at the shop!

Zak, wallie at the HORDE II skate jam.

When REAL put us up on their Instagram account. We raised more $3,000 with the Build Project that Deluxe sponsored, which was among the highest of all the 250 shops involved.

My wall-hanger.

Button Kevin T. made and passed out today at the closing party. All the letters are from famous punk bands / skate brands.


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Clash of the Titans: Thunder v. Indy

Snow in Boston. Temps in the single digits for the next week or so. Not much skating going on. Hence, here comes a bunch of blog posts. Let's dive in with Indy v. Thunders.

Trucks Compared
-Indy 144 8.25” Forged Hollows (53.5mm), with Bones Bushings
-Thunder 148 8.25” Team Hollow Lights (49.78mm*), with stock bushings

Well, despite this post, I am riding Indys again. I had written a much longer review/response, but I’m just stripping it down to the basics. Here are the main points I figured out after riding Thunders for 6 months or so.

(1)  I like Thunders better for transition because they are lower to the ground. They feel much more stable/predictable, and much more “sensual” on lip tricks. I feel like I can lock-in to grinds better on transition with Thunders. I was mostly riding tranny the day I said “Indys, you are dead to me,” so that explains how that came about. Had I been riding more actual street that day, I probably would have had pro-Indy results.

(2)  Thunders have a weird baseplate that does not clear the distance of the wheels. This causes problems for me on nose/tailslides (e.g. my WHEELS lock-up on vertical side of curb/ledge unless there is a turbostupid amount of wax). Look at these two photos below. One is an Indy, another is a Thunder. Both have Spitfire 53mm wheels. On Thunders the WHEELS hit the edge, and the baseplate does not. On Indys (and every other truck on the market), the edge of the baseplates hits, and the wheels don’t. As a result, I can nose/tail slide much better on Indys than I can on Thunders (e.g. because there is no “wheel bite” on Indys).

Indy. Baseplate touches the wall. Wheels do not. No "wheel bite."

Thunder. Baseplate does not touch the wall, but the wheels do. Nothing but "wheel bite."

(3)  Indys are taller than Thunders. Thus, they give me more pop. Watch this video with Prof. Paul Schmitt, as he explains the science of “pop” as it relates to board height. When Prof. Schmitt talks, you should listen. For me ANY ollie/nollie trick on Indys feels like it requires less effort and is more controlled than with Thunders, DESPITE Indys being noticeably heavier than Thunders. Yeah, I could add a riser, but then I’d have trucks as tall as Indys, with weird baseplates, that don’t turn as good as Indys…so, what’s the point? The height difference between Thunders and Indy is small, but combine that with the shorter wheel base of Indys, and I can absolutely notice a difference.

(4)  Nothing turns / feels as good as Indys. Nothing. I missed that while riding Thunders.

I am not some pro who can rip on any skateboard. I need to pick and choose equipment that works best with the skill set I’ve got, and plays to my own strengths and weaknesses. Thunders weaken my nose/tail slides because of their “shorter” baseplate. I don’t seem to have this problem with Indys. Thunders don’t seem to “pop” as good as Indys, due to their lower height. Indys simply turn better. Indys win out on street for me. Thunders, all the way, on transition, because they are lower and feel more stable. My dream would be a Deluxe made truck that has Independent height and geometry, but with reduced metal (like Thunders) to make them lighter. Why Deluxe? Because they are concerned about a lot more than just profit margins. Not sure I can say that about NHS.

Ben Degros does a good Thunder 149 v. Indy 149 review on his YouTube channel. If you watch Ben’s review, you will see he and I agree on some of the exact same points, and differ on a few others (granted, we reviewing slightly different trucks).  

*This Thunder add claims that Team Hollows are 49.78mm high. Tactics claims they are 50.78mm high. When I measured my pair, I found them to be 51mm high. There is no such controversy with Indy forged--they are 53.5mm high, and everyone claims that, even my tape measure (standard Indys are 55mm high).    


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Prelude: Thunder v. Indy

            Lots of product reviews coming up in the next month or so. Well, that’s not really true. I recently bought a bunch of stuff that I don’t normally ride. Different sized decks. Different trucks to fit. Wheel shapes/sizes that I don’t normally ride. Why did I get all of it? I’ve been riding the same set-up (8.25” AntiHero, 8.25 Indys/Thunders, 53mm wheels) for the last 3 or 4 years (well, 8.5” trucks before the 8.25” came out). I think it’s good to occasionally question your basic assumptions, if only to reaffirm them. Hence, I’m trying out some different stuff. I won’t be doing per se “product reviews” of all of it, but I will be writing about the entire process, and what I like/don’t like about a given piece of hardware.  

            First up: Thunder v. Indy, and how/why I ended up on Indy again, esp. after I had posted this! I should have it up in the next week or so.

The Liberation of Daily Life

I wrote this for a ‘zine last year. This is the first time it has been published on-line.

The Liberation of Daily Life

The Liberation of Daily Life. If you can’t find salvation in a cup of coffee, laughing with friends, or a bone crushing skateboard slam, then you won’t be able to find it anywhere.

People find salvation in many places. Jesus. Oprah. Heroin. Nickleback. This weekend, as part of a WWII living history event that was deep in the woods, and friend and I dug a hole in the ground. That night we slept in it. A pick axe. Two hand shovels. All we had to dig it with. The soil was mostly rock. It took hours to make a hole 4’ by 4’, and about 2.5’ deep. Hand blisters. My shoulders, and back, ached. It went down to the low 30s that night. We didn’t have sleeping bags. Just a bit of straw, and some thin wool military blankets (the kind you often see homeless people with). I usually do this about once a month. Even in winter. Where do I find salvation? One of the places is at the bottom of a pit. A hole that more closely resembles a shallow grave.

The problem with salvation is, like a shower, a meal, or the next drug fix, they are temporary. The effects wear off. You get dirty, hungry, and fiending again. You need to do it again. And again. And again. And then one day you’re dead, and the game is over. Salvation is only something you can find in this life. It is only something you can find today. Now.  

Some needs can never be met. Only sustained. Kept at bay. Detoured. We mostly exist in a state between fulfillment and satiation.

Salvation often resides in the dark places. Outside comfort zones. The places where norms start to breakdown and collapse. Salvation is something you bring back from those places, and hold-on to as long as you can. In time, however, you always again find yourself looking for it.  

That one make after countless attempts. The empty, vacant, parking lot at 4am. Next to sewer water in a ditch. The filthy spot under the bridge that only skaters, and the homeless, haunt. The only salvation really worth anything is the one you can find in a gutter. Yes, these bruises, scars, and open wounds are from skateboarding. I am OK with that. These wounds are what I brought back with me. From a place of enlightenment. From salvation. They are reminders. Scraped tokens. Bloody sign posts that show The Way.

Between satiation and fulfilment is a curb. With my blood on it. My altar. My purpose. My deliverance and redemption. Don’t look to the heavens for salvation. Look below your feet, for that is the only place you will ever find it.   

Monday, August 14, 2017

Indy, You're Dead to Me.

I’ve ridden Indys my entire life. I had tried a few others over time. They didn’t compare. For the last 15 years, it’s been Indy, and nothing else. About six months back I decided to give Thunders a shot. Why? Deluxe is an amazing company, and they do so much to give back. I already was only riding Deluxe decks, and Spitfire Formula 4 wheels. I figured why not give Thunders a try to round out the entire thing (I like supporting companies that do more than just produce products for consumption).

I grabbed a pair of the Team Hollow Lights, and set them up on my deck. I liked them. A lot. Way lighter than Indys. A tid-bit lower. Slightly longer wheel base. They didn’t turn as quick as Indys, but they still turned great. NO AXLE SLIP. I’ve ridden Thunders ever since, and been happy with them.

However, I had always intended to do a “long term follow-up.” The door was still open to return to Indys. After I had ridden Thunders for a while, I wanted to try Indys again, to see how things went. Would I suddenly yearn to have quick-turning Indys back on my set-up once I tried them again?

Today was the day. I put my old Indys on, and went over to a favorite spot. I skated for about 90 min, but the verdict was pretty clear right from the start. I hated them. Too heavy. Too high. Wheelbase was weird. Turning felt…unpredictable. AXLE SLIPPAGE. The door was closed. I never thought I’d ever say this, but…

Independents, you are dead to me.    

OCTOBER 28, 2017 UPDATE: I am back on Indys, and loving them. Well, there is one catch. More details coming in a future post. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Roll For Rob, DIYing It, and Some Other Stuff

[I’ve always tried to only post when I have some larger point or message to convey. While this has not always been the case, it mostly holds true. I’m going to end that, at least for the time being. I have long maintained (and written about) that if you can’t find liberation, or meaning, in daily life, then you won’t be able to find it anywhere. Hence, I am going to start including more posts about “mundane” daily life, and the meaningful things, good and bad, that I experience on the day-to-day.]

It’s 12:50am on Tuesday night. I am at work. The bar is empty. Consequently, I don’t have much to do. I broke out the laptop, and started typing away. A few updates from “This American Skate Life” (phrase stolen from David Thornton).

(1)  I’d be a miss if I didn’t mention something about this…There was Roll for Rob event last weekend in Boston. Friday night was an art show / silent auction. Various people donated artwork for it, including the likes of Todd Francis, Mark Gonzales, Jason Jesse, Mark Oblow, Shapard Fairey, etc. Todd Francis is a favorite of mine, and I would have loved to see an original of his in person, but no go. I had to work. Oh, well.

Saturday was the big skate jam at the Lynch Family Skate Park. Despite the park having been open for over a year, I’ve only skated there about three times. I hate dealing with big crowds at skate parks. Always have. Always will. I headed over to Lynch on Saturday because (1) It’s a good cause, and (2) I wanted to meet Jim Theibaud. He and I have been conversing on Instagram for a while, and I’ve been involved with a few of the Deluxe Build Projects (via Max Hesh skates hop, and I won one of the individual grants). I rode my bike over Saturday afternoon. The place was total chaos. Worse than expected. So many skaters. Despite having my board, I decided I wasn’t even going to bother trying to skate. Place was just too hectic. A few promotional booths were set up to one side. I hung out near those, and just watched for a bit. After I had been there about 15 min, Jim T. comes skating up to the booths (he had JUST arrived to the park). After it looked like he was finished making the rounds with everyone, I went over to introduce myself. Before I was even done, he said, “Yeah, I know who you are. I recognize you.” I was floored. I responded with, ‘Well, I just wanted to say hello,” and then I wandered off, not wanting to force some weird manufactured conversation. I had said all I wanted to say. Shortly after I headed home, and went skating for a while in my area of the city, alone. I was still rolling for Rob, however. 

Yesterday, I saw this group photo taken at the event. Skateboarders do amazing things off the board, too. All of it was very inspiring, on many levels.

(2)  We’ve been making a lot of renegade DIY stuff the last month or so. We built up abandoned street in Boston, and it’s really turning into a legit DIY spot. Six builds are there already, with more soon coming. It’s a great feeling when I see clips on Instagram people doing rad shit, and having fun, on something I (and friends) built. It’s a cool way to give back.

(3)  I turned 43 in April. I’ve been feeling physically old. It just takes so much more effort to do the same things that were “effortless” when I was younger. The effort it once took to skate a bench now feels like the same amount of effort it takes to skate a curb. Noah Baxter said it best, “Gravity is stronger now.” It certainly is. Worse, it takes so much longer to get “warmed up.” Age is a real thing. It’s coming for me. I consider myself lucky enough to be acutely aware of that fact. Hence, it makes everything in the moment more meaningful, and for lack of a better word…precious. I certainly won’t be able to “roll forever,” but I’m riding this train till the fuckin’ wheels fall off.