Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Lunatic Fringe: An Open Letter to Anyone Who Sucks at Skateboarding

[Every so often social media bubbles-up with complaints that some skaters post “boring” or “sub-standard” skate footage of themselves (e.g. “Do we really need to see, or cheer for, someone doing a kick turn or footplant?”). Not long ago another of these incidents occurred. It was time to throw down a gauntlet.]

Skateboarding was once a crime. In 2020 it will be an Olympic sport. A lot has changed. Skate parks are often now sandwiched between soccer and little league fields, adjacent to a dog park, and next to some other iconic metaphor of affluent, white, suburban America. Yes, we have “made it.” Skateboarding is no longer a (social) crime. Big corporate money. Video games. VICE TV shows. ESPN. Red Bull. Monster Energy Drink. Target. Nike. The Olympics. This is not necessarily a bad thing. However, with this new normal(ization), aspects of more traditional social structures and attitudes (“sporting” and otherwise) have also emerged within skateboarding (even if they are often unspoken). Fit in. Do what your peers are doing. Don’t stand out (too much). Score more points than your opponent. Go bigger. Go longer/further. Be more tech. Use your skateboard as an extension of your ego. You aren’t “relevant” if you’re not dropping the newest “banger,” or trying your best to mimic (or fawn over) the type of skateboarding shown by modern hype media. Sure, facets of this have always existed in skating, but it now seems amplified. I am not, in anyway, trying to make the “old days” sound utopian. They certainly were not. That said, there is no denying that there are now more “normies” within skateboarding than ever before. Moreover, they are bringing their version of “normal” with them. Today there are some people in skateboarding whom likely would have been the very ones yelling “SKATE FAG!!!” at us in the not-so-distant past. All of this I find very disheartening. It is completely alien to what first drew me to the “outsider” world of skateboarding.

Personally, skateboarding has always been a means to “opt-out.” It was (and still is) my revolt against pop culture, and the standard mores of organized sport and organized society. Granted, I come from an era when skateboarding was nothing more than a cheap form of social suicide. Being a skater once automatically made you an outcast, and a target of contempt and ridicule. Now that skateboarding has become normalized, it has also become its own facet of pop culture—Thrasher apparel is now available at mall kiosks, everyone has a DC Shoes t-shirt, and there is that whole Supreme/Huf/Diamond thing, too. It almost seems as if the “goal” of skateboarding has become to post the most NBDs on Instagram. Fuck that. “Opting out” suddenly also means opting-out, or rebelling against, certain aspects of skateboarding itself. Irony always wins in the end.

As skateboarding becomes more and more of a social norm, and skateboarding’s own social norms become less and less distinguishable from gym class, a trip to the mall, or a large scale sporting event, I find it more important than ever to be a visible, and vocal advocate and representative of a lunatic fringe. A fringe that embraces an outcast status from both popular culture, and popular skateboard culture. A fringe that, as Lance Mountain once said, “Represents that skateboarding is fun to do by being terrible at it.” Why do I embrace this role? Because skateboarding is more than simply outshining others at the park, out-scoring an opponent, buying placed products, or fitting in with the cool kids at the DIY. As I understand and experience it, skating is a direct insurrection against those tired social tropes. That is worth defending and fighting for.

Skateboarding is at its absolute worst when it closes doors to participants because of an ability-based social hierarchy. This is especially true, and atrocious, when it occurs on the local level. Skateboarding is at its best when it opens doors that are substantive and meaningful alternatives to a typical consumer/competitive/jock existence. With more of the latter seeping in, there also needs to be more overt counter-points. It is more important to be a dissident within skateboarding today than it ever was before (well, the mid-1990s certainly could have used some, too).

This is not to say there is, or should be, an “us v. them” dichotomy—we have far, far too much of that in the world right now. What I am saying is there is no “right,” “correct,” or “valid” way to engage with skateboarding, only different ways. Once some things are seen as “good” or “acceptable” (back tail down El Toro) others are seen as “insignificant” or “trivial” (kickturn on a micro ramp). Yet, they both stem from the same Stoke. But all of this is common sense, no? I would think so. Then why does it even need to be stated? Because sometimes there is great force in speaking the unspoken. I simply want to add a voice to an existing chorus. Moreover, if you go back to the first paragraph of this post, there are some that may benefit from hearing differing perspectives.

Skateboarding needs visible counter narratives—ones that show “skateboarding is fun to do by being terrible at it.” Narratives that show skating is not only about ledge NBDs, triple kink rails, 15’ high gaps, and mega ramps. Of course those are all valid pursuits, but they are not the only valid pursuits. The counter-factuals (that’s us) are equally valid (I would argue even more so, but I’ll save that for another post). We tread dangerous waters if NBD/banger-based skating is represented as the only legitimate face of skateboarding. It is important that skating’s other faces also have a seat at the table. What are those “other faces”? I leave that intentionally open and vague, but I will say this much; they certainly include kick-turns.

Some stoked, unknown, skater.

For all the kooks out there—to all the skaters not trying to be the next Jaws, Nyjah, or Shane O’Neil, to all the people who are just beginning (adult or kids), to all the skaters who pad-up just to skate a curb, to all the people who are rolling just because they love it, and are not trying to prove anything, or impress anyone, to all the people who are following their own path, and their own Stoke, I salute you. I will always applaud your efforts no matter how small others may think they are. You are valid. You are the counter-point. You are skateboarding in its best form.

So, get stoked on your kick turns. Skate at the same spots. Do the same simple tricks. Learn nothing. Maybe not even do tricks at all. Just carve and roll. Impress no one. Have fun. I will always cheer for you. Not just because at 8, or 48-years-old, that you just did your first carve, but even more significantly, because you represent the most important thing I know in skateboarding; a place outside a “sporting" norm, without any rules, judges, or point-scale gradation. A place where we follow our own Stoke, on our own terms, with our own meaning and purpose, free of anyone else telling us how anything is supposed to be done.

So, yes, absolutely share that footage with the world, because it will unequivocally inspire others. Moreover, it is the counter-narrative. Every “non-banger” clip and photo is a chink in Olympic armor, and shows that skateboarding isn’t as vapid as Street League, Thrasher, and many others make it out to be. Even better, your clips and photos show that skateboarding still has a place for people who want to opt-out. This version of skateboarding, the one that remains an “outsider,” is the skateboarding that is important to me. It is the skateboarding that I fell in love with. It is the skateboarding that I will always champion and defend, above all else.

Post-Script: To be clear, I am not in anyway knocking tech dogs, stunt men, or their fans. I was once one myself in younger days. Further, there are plenty of skaters with pro-level ability who embody everything written above. I am also not knocking anyone that wants to pursue the dream of Olympic gold, or to be the best competitive skater in the world. If that is your path, I wish you the best of luck in those pursuits. What I am simply saying is that there is far more depth and soul to skateboarding than standing on a podium, real or imagined.

18 comments:

  1. Thanks. Skating at 43 cause I have and always will.

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  2. We have a facebook group called Middle Age Shred. Our motto has always been, 'the best skater at any session is the one with the biggest smile'. Thanks for this. Sharing.

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  3. Thank you for the kind words, and I love that motto!

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  4. The reason that Under Par Skateboarding and Teamgoslow are around. Great article.

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  5. I'm either naive or I have the luck of skating places where an old man at 54 can still skate the parks and spots and do my thing, or what is left of it and feel nothing more than a session with skaters. Even when I travel to skate I can't say I have experienced anything close to negative. Hey, they could all be sneering behind my back I suppose but I never notice. I'll post my clips of my skating that don't amount to much more than you describe, kickturns. It never occurs to me do do otherwise. All skateboarding is valid.

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    1. I agree 100% percent, you rarely see it in person. Occasionally there are show-boaters, or people who throw some attitude around, but it’s not the regular. However, I do see a lot of it on social media, which is where the seed for this entire post first began to grow (as mentioned in the first paragraph), and mostly what the text is directed towards.

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  6. I have been skating for about 42ys, never followed the trend in skating, including the whole skate punk thing, I collect boards dating back to the steel wheels period and ride all kinds of boards (have about 20 different riders), including longboards. I have never been that special (pretty crap to be honest lol), but I get more stoke from knowing that as a 46yo, I am fit enough to skate 30km (even though my legs hate me for it lol), when most my peers are unhealthy and inactive, plus nothing better than helping someone land a trick, even though I have never pulled it off myself. I often go to the skatepark just to sit and kill time, even if nobody else is there.

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  7. My scars are not injuries.They are my Trophies.Because I am,and I always will be a skaterat.
    Jaymie Marriott 7/12/2018.

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  8. Thanks for putting that into words. Keep kickturning micros folks!

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  9. Come to Boise, brother, and we’ll skate for the joy of it.

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  10. "Every “non-banger” clip and photo is a chink in Olympic armor" -- the my videos are on the front line of the war on the Olympics! yaaaaaay!

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  11. Been skating since 1977, dipped in and out over the years and am still rolling at close on 54. Never been particularly good and getting worse as I get older. I do it because I love it, yes I have filmed myself getting 3 out on the coping on a 4 foot bank and my first drop in after 32 years since my last one. Doesn't matter about the hype and the hipsters attracted to our lifestyle, I will still be me the 'skater' middle aged or old aged. I have skated with ex pros from the 70s and 80s and I have skated with kids and old guys and girls doing it for the first time, as Mr Sampson said above it's the smile that makes it worthwhile. Keep on rolling.....

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  12. Fifty five and still rollin'.... Skating for me, and me only - there is absolutely NOTHING left to prove. Your article articulated what I've always felt about our art/sport in a much more coherent manner than I could ever express. Thank you!

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  13. I've always sucked but I've also always had fun. I see a lot of clips around where it seems like folks make a point of not showing the least bit of excitement about the crazy tricks they pull off. I'd rather land my shaky once-in-thirty-tries kickflips with a big smile on my face.

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  14. This is one of the best thing written on the WHOLE internet. I salute you. I was shown this by someone who has been skating since the mid '80's and is ripping and sponsored by more than one company, and this has been shared through many different skateboarders, and EVERYONE agrees, this is the kind of science that should be told to all. Skate and Enjoy. Skate and Relate. Thank You once again for one of the best fucking things written on the whole internet!

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