Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Making of a Skate Punk, Part 7: The Off Years

The Off Years

I just spent 6 posts covering 13 years (1981-1994). I am now about to cover 15 years (1995-2010) in a single post. While a lot of ancillary stuff has been included in the last 6 posts, it has all been directly related to skating in some form or another. While I never completely quit skating, it greatly diminished between 1995 and 2010. As this whole series has been about my relationship to skateboarding and skate culture, there isn’t as much to cover during the “dark” years. In this post I will include some relevant info to contextualize this period, and to set the stage for the latter reemergence of skating as major life force. That said, I will obviously skim over a lot that happened between 1995 and 2010, as it is not related to skating.

In 1994, a year after high school graduation, I started taking a few night courses at Northeastern University, just to get a taste of college. Before jumping in with both feet, I wanted to see if college was even something I was interested in doing. Eventually I ended up as philosophy major, with a main focus on German continental philosophy. I was still working at the skate shop, and skating a lot, but I was starting to withdraw from the skate scene. Oddly, getting sponsored helped drive me out of the skate world (see previous post). Videos were starting to come out every month. Short ones. Long ones. Medium ones. More and more companies were producing them. It was too much to stay on top of everything (and it’s so much worse in 2016!). I had utterly stopped caring about who was doing what. I stopped even trying to stay current with videos. Moreover, I had some larger life issues to be worried about than the most recent schism in Rocco’s empire. I can’t remember when but at some point in the mid/late 90s another skate shop appeared in the Boston area: Coliseum. They eventually put out a video called PJ Ladd’s Wonderful Horrible Life. You may have heard of it (dripping with sarcasm). For over a decade, Beacon Hill Skate had been the skate shop in Boston. Now there was something to really give Beacon Hill a challenge. Since Beacon Hill was not owed by a skater, it would never be as tapped into the skate world as other shops that came later. Moreover, Beacon Hill was not a pure skate shop. It also sold roller skate and ice skate stuff. Beacon Hill would never regain its status as Boston’s premiere skate shop. It is still in business today, and they still sell skate stuff, but it is a mere shadow of what it once was. No one in the Boston skate scene really goes there. Beacon Hill had helped put Boston on the map as a good skate city. It helped get Jahmal Williams and other Boston skaters first noticed. That said, all empires fall. Due to decreased business, and changes in my schedule/priorities, I stopped working there sometime around 1995/1996. For five years I never paid anything but wholesale cost for any skate related goods I needed. It was a good run. I remain friends with the owner to this day.

The time period that my skate crew started to disappear coincided with the period of starting to really come to terms with the whole gay thing. I started going to this group called BAGLY (Boston Alliance of Gay and Lesbian Youth), and my name changed in the process. I was given the birth-name “Christopher.” However, my parents thought I looked like a chipmunk when I ate baby food. Hence, they started calling me “Chip.” They introduced me as “Chip” to everyone when we moved and I switch schools. It was the only name I really knew growing up. I knew my real name was Chris, but no one called me that. I hated the name “Chip,” but it was so ingrained with all my friends, that it would be too weird to just be like, “Ok, so everyone needs to now start calling me Chris.” It had just followed me since I was 2-years-old, and there was no chance of organically shedding it, until all my skate friends were gone, and as I started to form totally new social circles via BAGLY. It was the first chance I ever had to revert to my real name. It also symbolized the death of the old me, who constantly lived in fear and shame about being in the closet and/or being found out. That dude was dead. Good fuckin’ riddance.     

With college, and a totally new group of non-skater friends, the time between skate sessions started to become further and further apart. My first so-called boyfriend was actually a skater. (SIDE NOTE: Skaters make shitty boyfriends. The world would probably be way better off if no one dated skaters, ever. They are all turbo-freaks. Stay away.). Towards the end of college I ended up in my first long-term relationship (4-years). Between that, college, and my post-college job, I had less and less time for skating.

After college, circa 2001, I got a job working at Waltham House, with GLBT kids (14-18 years old) in state custody, who had been removed from their parents due to abuse or neglect. Most of them had been abandoned (in worst cases, even physically tortured) by their parents when it was found out their kids were GLBT (or whatever they identified as). It was pretty grim. They all lived a group home, with 24/7/365 staff supervision. I was one of the staff members. The program was in town that had a skate park. One of the kids in the program wanted to learn how to skate. I would take him over to the skate park help him with some of the basics. This gave me a renewed interest, and I started skating a bit more than I had been.

There are hardly any photos of me skating from the 90s. There was a handrail in my hometown that I wanted to get a photo on. Since all my skate friends were gone, I asked my dad to take it for me one day when I was out visiting them. I always hated skating around my parents. For some reason it always made me feel too self-conscious. From the time I was about 14, and on-ward, my parents had never really seen me skate. After my dad took this handrail photo, he was shocked. He said, “I had absolutely no idea you could do things like that.” The building the background is Norwood High School, the place that had so tormented several years before. By the turn of the century, the town that once banned skating, and hated me because I was a skater…now had a skate park. Irony always wins the end. Skateboarding was cool again, for the moment (park was later town down. Skating is no longer cool in Norwood, even in 2016). I skated the park when I visited my parents. By now I was a much, much, better skater than when I had lived there during high school, and had become more of a small-town local legend than ever before. A number of jock kids were at the high school when this pic was taken. They all crowded around to watch (off camera). There is tremendous personal symbolism in this photo. Namely, victory over the Town of Norwood.    

Circa 2004
Same day as the above handrail photo. Backside 180 over the trash, at the now defunct Norwood skate park.
My relationship ended. I was sad, but about a year later I ended up in another one that one lasted 7.5 years. Skating took a backseat during this period. While I never fully quit, and there was always a board within 20 feet of my bed at night, I was skating far less frequently, and hardly at all during the winters. During those years, I totally withdrew from skate culture, didn’t follow any skate media, and mostly skated alone when I did skate. Oddly, and despite this, whenever asked to describe myself, or whenever I thought about who I was, the answer was always came instantaneously, and with acute conviction: I am a skateboarder. No matter what changes life had brought to me, and how infrequent I was skating, there appeared to be an unshakeable, irreducible, unchanging core to my identity. I am a skateboarder.

There were other skate shops that popped up in Boston [most notably Orchard (in 2006), but it was in its infancy then], they were skater-owned, and had a much better selection than Beacon Hill Skate. Yet, I felt obligated to still get stuff from Beacon Hill. The owner had hooked me up me (and others) up for so long, that I felt loyalty to him. I would occasionally swing by the more “core” shops to give them some business (I also felt bad not giving them all my bid’ness…it was a no-win situation). Part of me also wanted to remain completely underground in the Boston skate scene, and I knew that going to Beacon Hill would certainly keep me off anyone’s radar. In early 2005 I got in a bad motorcycle wreck (been riding them since I was 12-years-old). My arm was sticking out of my shoulder (compound fracture). This knocked me out of both skating and karate until for quite awhile. I had taken Shotokan Karate at JKA Boston for a numbers of years, and was just a few weeks out from my Black Belt test when I got in the wreck.

Day I got my brown belt. Sensi Toryu had just made me laugh. Hence the goofy face. 

My right arm. Metal rod to fix the compound fracture. Rod is still in my arm.
 In the fall of 2005 I started law school. For the next 3 years I barely had time to eat, let along skate. I certainly did take some skating breaks from studying, but I didn’t skate much at all during school. (I just have to say this…I went to law school with the intention of doing public interest law. No chance in HELL that I would have ever practiced anything like corporate tax law, personal injury, divorce, etc. Fuck that shit. Lawyers suck, and I don’t want anyone to think I was/am one of “those” types). I graduated in 2008, took the Bar exam that summer, and was admitted to the Bar on December 12, 2008. Then the bottom fell out of everything.

Everyone knows what happened to the economy in late 2008/early 2009. It became very apparent, very quickly, that there was no chance I was going to get a job practicing law, especially in the public interest field, any time soon. Or for that matter, pretty much any job. To make matters worse, on Dec 31, 2008 my boyfriend pulled the plug on our 7.5 year relationship. I was devastated. We were living in his condo, I didn’t have a job, had no sign of getting one, relationship ended, and now I had to move out. Rock. Fucking. Bottom. I went into major depression, and hadn’t felt that bad since those black years of early high school (No hard feelings towards him. We are good friends today. We had simply grown apart with time, he more so than I.). I was very sad, and felt like a total failure.

I was 35-years-old, and thought I was on the verge of new dawn in life; I had just become an attorney, and had just moved into a new place with my long-term boyfriend (we had lived together for several years, but he had just purchased a condo). Life was going good. Instead of a new dawn on life, I was now faced with total calamity and despair.  My identity, and everything that I had expected/counted on, and almost everything that had given my life meaning, had totally collapsed. I was utterly lost. My hopes and dreams, gone. Ashes. A friend had an extra bedroom in his house. I moved in, and tried to figure out how to put my life back together. When you are shaken to the very core of your being, and everything is taken away, you start to figure out who you really are, and what things really matter the most.

In the corner of my room…was my skateboard.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Making of a Skate Punk, Part 6: "Why Is He Sponsored?"

In this update:
-Getting a board sponsor ruined skateboarding
-The best friends I never met
-The vanishing skate crew

Circa 1994 this little board company started up in Boston called Joint 109. It was one of the first ever Boston-based skateboard companies. They asked me to ride for them. I said yes. Getting sponsored is supposed to be every skater’s dream. It had the opposite effect on me. I felt bad about it. Guilty. Self-conscious. Embarrassed. Even ashamed. I no longer wanted to skate around anyone. The reason? I felt like an imposter. A sham. A fake. There were so many other good skaters in Boston. So many that were much better than me. Who the fuck am I? Why the fuck did I deserve to be a sponsored skater (even if was just by a very small local board company)? I didn’t feel like I was entitled to such a thing. No way. No how. And now that I was, I felt a much more critical eye was on me. “That dude isn’t nearly as good as X, Y, or Z. Why is he sponsored?” I also started feeling compelled to both promote the company, and to make sure I was always progressing (e.g. to justify why I was on the team). Neither of which were my “natural state.” Being in the so-called “spotlight” of other skaters, and the pressure I felt (real or not) from the company, started to turn skateboarding into a job, with responsibilities. This was counter to everything I knew skateboarding to be. I didn’t like it. Not one bit. Looking back on all of it, the least amount of fun I’ve had with skateboarding was the period in which I was sponsored. In addition to this, other people on the team were always talking about girls. I could not relate. At all. By this time I was around 20-years-old. I had never had a single girlfriend. I never talked about girls. Things were just getting…awkward. I eventually just faded away from the team and the company. They went out of business the next year, if I recall.

This period occurred around the same time the Internet was starting to become “a thing.” I was a regular contributor to alt.skate-board, and was always chatting away on #skate late into the night with others from around the U.S. (see end of previous post). It was through a.s-b (alt.skate-board) that I “met” Richard Wang. Richard is now a physician. In the early 1990s he was in pre-med school in NYC. Richard was gay. He was out. He skated. He was happy. My mind was shattered. I had no idea any of these things were possible. I had never spoken to gay person before. Granted, all of this was over the Internet, but he was the first person I ever “came out” to. Eventually that spilled over to the rest of the people who were regulars on #skate. The first people I ever came out to were a group of skaters that I had never met in person. I doubt any of them know the extent of it (they will if they read this post), but they all helped get me through a dark period of my life. The support, and most of all the humor, resounds with me to this day. I owe them all my thanks, and perhaps even my life. The early members of #skate will always hold a very special place in my world. Most of us are still in contact with each other, even in 2016. Skaters form a family like no other. Ryan. Rick. Omae. Nancy. Jean Chan, Jenny K. Morbi. Huph. Rolf. Sue. Etc. And especially Richard, I owe you all the deepest gratitude and thanks. Some of the best fiends I never actually met (over the years I did meet Nancy, Richard, and few others in real life).  

I should take a moment to plug Blair Mag. This was something Richard put together way back in the early 90s. It was legit one of the first “internet magazines.” It was/is a hilarious take on pop culture, skateboarding, and other random shit. There was even the Blair Skate Team (click on each person fora "bio"), which includes a funny photo of me with dyed-black hair throwing devil horns. Go play Lesbian or German Lady and/or Gay of Euro Trash. Both are really funny. Or check out How to be a Blond Asian Freak. Blair Mag fuckin' delivers.

I eventually came out to close skater friends in Boston. Some people were very supportive. I never knowingly lost any friends over it. There are some who drifted away, but I don’t know if that was because we naturally just drifted apart, or they distanced themselves from me because they couldn’t deal with having an actual “skate fag” as friend. I guess I’ll never know.

I had been terrified that all my close friends would abandoned me if the truth came “out,” and they did abandon me, but not because of the gay factor. We were all out of high school at this point. “Real life” was starting to take hold. As often happens after high school, people begin to drift away from their hometowns for college, work, or other personal reasons. We were no different. Within a year, my closest group of skateboard friends were all gone from the area, many to Ohio, which was a stinging irony (see previous post.) My skate crew vanished. I was alone. My world and identity were on the cusp of a stark new direction. Everything was about to change, even my very name. Skateboarding would soon diminish into the background.

-The death of "Chip" Sterling
-Skateboarding fades to black
-The economy collapsed, and so did I 
-Old Ghosts begin to awaken (Yes, that is a Vision reference) 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Making of a Skate Punk, Part V: Almost Getting Sponsored, Almost Working for Alien Workshop, and Almost the Internet

Almost Getting Sponsored, Almost Working for Alien Workshop, and Almost the Internet 

[The last two posts in this series were a bit of doom and gloom. That part of the story is now over, thankfully. As previously stated, this blog is to be mostly focused on the positive and empowering aspects of skateboarding and existence. However, as also said before, I can’t truthfully recount my experiences without shining light into a few dark corners. Skateboarding was a main factor in helping me traverse troubled waters, so even the darker posts retain elements of the main objective (e.g. skating as a positive/empowering force…perhaps those posts illuminate the point even more so). Anyway, with this entry, we are now headed of out the black and back to light.]

After I switch schools to Boston, things were going along pretty well. In the summer of ’92 I went to Woodward Skate Camp (before it was crazy expensive) with two of my best friends from Boston, Vanik Hacobian and Linas Phillips. Vanik later turned pro for Santa Cruz, and Linas became an actor (one of the funniest people I've ever met). While we were at Woodward, Bod Boyle took note of Vanik, and this is what led to him getting hooked-up with SC. There was also this guy there named Sean Andrews (if I recall) who was associated with Acme. He was stoked on me, and wanted me to send in a video. He said I wouldn’t have any problem getting on the team, especially since he had already seen me skate in person. I was floored. Speechless. Oddly, I never sent in a video. Why? I am not sure. I think I balked at the pressure. I think I was too scared about the cover-up game I was playing with the whole gay thing. What I do know is that I had the chance almost ever skater dreams of, and I walked away from it. Linas and I filmed a little bit for it, but it quickly ended. I think what mattered the most was not actually being a sponsored skater, but the offer. In my book, it’s always that thought that counts the most, and the thought had been made. I was happy enough with just the recognition. The rest was superfluous.

In 1991 Blind dropped Video Days. Big, double-kinked handrails. Huge gaps. Technical manual variations. A new era was being ushered in, and Steve Rocco led it. Things hadn’t totally exploded into Rocco Domination yet, but he was nearing the height of his power. Street skating was progressing at break-neck speed, but it also started to get pretty lame. By late 1992, everyone was dressing the same. Huge, oversized clothes, and tiny wheels. Loose clothes have a definite advantage in skating. They make it much easier to move, and jump around. Likewise, smaller wheels are better for street skating than giant ramp wheels. But, of course, everything was taken to an absurd extreme. Not only did everyone look the same, but everyone started skating the same. It was like watching a compulsory run of pressure flips and late-shove it variations. Vert died. Equipment choice was non-existent. There was only technical, slow-rolling, street skating on 7.5” boards, and that was it. Moreover, skate culture became stand-offish with itself. Rocco wanted to push the envelope as far as he possibly could, and he forever changed skateboarding along the way. The big companies couldn’t keep up with how fast things were changing. Everyone started jumping ship to start their own companies. One of them, was this weird-ass little project based out of Dayton, Ohio. It was called Alien Workshop. More on this later.

In 1992, another major video dropped. Plan B. Questionable. I was still transfixed on Danny Way. With Questionable, Danny had become an absurd street skater, almost overnight. I swooned. Awhile after this video came out, me and Marc (the crazy green haired kid from Weymouth Crew, mentioned in previous posts) did this 13-stair handrail.

It was (and still is) the biggest rail I ever did (and only a just board slide). The Plan B video, however, was so insane that it put the final nail in the coffin of any hopes we ever had of becoming pro skaters (yes, I realize the irony of this statement, especially in consideration of the video I never sent in). The Questionable video just made us realize how vast the gap had grown between the average skater’s abilities, and what pros were now doing. Back to the 13 star rail. Marc and I were talking not long after we did that rail. Both us were laughing at the fact that a 13-stair handrail was “no longer a big deal.” If I had seen Natas do a rail that long when I was 12, my head would have exploded. A serious “stuntman factor” was now an element of top level street skating. I had already broken numerous bones. I had a doctor once tell me that a bone in my wrist had been broken for “9-12 months” before I went to get it checked out. I didn’t want (moreover, didn’t have the ability) to play the stuntman game that was now emerging in modern skating (and this over 20 years ago!). This was actually a very liberating moment. From that point forward, I gave up all the dumb, unrealistic, teenage ideals about what skateboarding owed me. I was free from the self-imposed pressure. I was free from trying to impress anyone. It was as if I had just discovered a skateboard for the first time, all over again. Skating was suddenly more fun than it had been in years. This was also a huge paradigm shift, because I had become on the angriest kids in Boston. I was notorious for throwing my board around, breaking it when I got pissed off, and otherwise just not being all that fun to be around. Anyone watching from the outside would have said, “Damn. That kid clearly has some underlying issues that need to get worked out. No one is that angry over just skateboarding.” They would have been 100% right, but it took me a long time realize what all that anger was really about; being “in the closet.”

Alien Workshop. Alien was run by Chris Carter, Mike Hill, Joe Bowers, and Neil Blender. Carter and Hill were the main forces. Me and they Weymouth Crew were HUGE Blender fans. We pounced on Alien from the start. Everything about Alien resonated with the freak-show my crew was to the general Boston skate scene. Alien was an alternative to…Rocco, and a much needed one. The owner of the skate shop I worked at wasn’t a skater. He often asked Jahmal Williams and I for input on what to order. I convinced him to get Alien stuff as soon as it came out. We were one of the first shops on the East Coast to carry Alien because I pushed him so hard on it. I often talked to Joe Bowers on the phone. When I graduated from high school in 1993, I talked to Joe, and that August we went a road trip out to Dayton to visit The Workshop and hang out with Alien crew. The trip was fun. Everyone at Alien was super cool. Blender, unfortunately, wasn’t there that week.

I had no intention of going college right after high school. I had hated school so much, that I needed a break. In 1994, I got the idea that I should move to Ohio, and get a job in Alien’s shipping department. I took another road trip out there, and talked to Chris Carter and Mike Hill about it. They were cool with the idea. They said Alien was growing, and would need more help in the future. I went back to Boston, and started working out move logistics. Mike Hill and I would talk conspiracy theory on the phone, and from time to time they would send me free decks and stuff. My first tattoo was the old round AW logo. Oddly, with time, all my best friends (The Weymouth Crew) moved out to Ohio, and I stayed in Boston. I was the one who had Ohio connections. I was the one who had started all the Alien road trips. I was the one who had a job prospect. I was the first one talking about moving out there. Yet, they went, and I didn’t. Irony always wins in the end. That is another story for another time.

Me, 50/50. Columbus, OH. 4am, on one of our trips to visit Alien Workshop. 1994.

Anyone who is paying close attention to the time line will recognize that during these years a major force in the world was emerging, and I have yet to mention it. The Internet.

Usenet groups were the early forms of web forums. IRC were early forms of chat rooms.
Alt.skate-board was the skateboard usenet group, and #Skate was the IRC channel (that is not a hashtag. All IRC channels started with a # sign). These two mediums provided to be a hot-bed for future socialites, magazine producers, and musicians. We were among the first generation of skaters who were “on-line,” and we formed a pretty close-nit group. A few of the recognizable names that could be found chatting on #skate late into the night; Rick Valenzuela who later started Journal Magazine, Lucas Wisenthal of the Ride Channel, and Nancy Whang (hell, everyone knows who she is).

Next Post
-Actually getting sponsored
-The Internet awakens
-The truth “comes out”
-Boston Exodus, Suburban Wasteland

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Never Should Be Dones: The Tricks No Skateboarder Should Ever Do

EDIT: Well, this post certainly seems to be stirring up a good amount of controversy. If you actually think I am telling people what they should, and should not be doing, then I suggest you reread the first full paragraph, esp. that comment about the color blue. This post is simply about tricks I think are ugly, with some over-the-top rhetoric thrown in for humor. It might as well be post about what is better, Nickelback or One Direction (WRONG! They both suck!). Again, if you actually think I am telling people what they should/shouldn't be doing with a skateboard, then you simply shouldn't be reading this blog (or maybe anything for that matter).

          The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: NSBD (Never Should Be Dones)

We will soon return to updates in The Making of a Skate Punk series, but first, a rant.

Well, not really a rant, more of a no-holds barred skewering of skateboard aesthetics, and tricks that just never should be done (NSBDs) because they are hideous, mortifying, soul-crushing nightmares. Before we dive in, I must first provide a disclaimer. Skateboarding is an individual pursuit of self-expression. There is no “right” way to skate, because there is no “wrong” way to skate. There are only different ways to skate. What follows is only my perspective on given tricks and combinations. Essentially, I am arguing over what color of blue is the best. It is entirely a subjective experience, and not one that can ever be substantively “argued.” If you happen to agree with my assessment of NSBDs, cool. If not, cast these words to flames, as it should have no influence over you at all. If this post gets your panties in a bunch, well, then, good luck getting through the rest of life.

There are a few key elements to explore; flow, absurdity, and natural end points. They are all intertwined, and it can be hard to parse them out from each other. There are some tricks that just naturally flow. Smith grinds. A hand plant on transition. A backside kickflip. A McTwist. There are others, however, that are much more forced, contrived, harsh, and let’s face it, ugly, ratchet, and just fucking stupid. It is hard to definitively say what makes a given trick fall into one category vs. another. It’s more of a know-it-when-you-see-it of situation. Since it seems nearly impossible to create a theorem of what specifically constitutes a NSBD trick, we can just cite examples, and use them as semaphores to the larger skateboard landscape. Get ready. We ‘about to get ugly.

NSBD Examples

F/S Smith Grind, Kickflip Out. What a great way to simulationously ruin a Smith grind, and a kickflip. This trick is just horrible to watch. It burns the eyes. Damsels become distressed. Dragons take flight. Crops fail. Locusts. Compared to many others, this is not an absurdly technical combination, but it just lacks any real sense of flow. There is something too jarring about it. Likewise with kickflip to b/s railslide. Kickflip to f/s rail works, but to b/s? No fuckin’ way.

Melancollie to Pivot to Fakie (mini). No. Just no. Not ever. Chad Vogt did one of these, along with hundreds of other horrifying mini ramp 1-footed ollie variations, in Not the New H-Street Video. A tragedy to make Homer jealous.

Picnic Table Ollie to Nose Wheelie: Matt Hensley did one of these. People were in awe. I wanted to throw up in my own hair. Why would anyone want to do this, ever? It’s just goofy, but not like in that stupid-goofy fun way, but more like in a Sarah Palin type way. There is noting that flows about ollieing a picnic table and landing in a nose-wheelie. Nothing. The only dumber thing I can think of is ollieing a picnic table and landing in a nose wheelie. Awkward. Ugly. Obtuse. A test case in acute deformity.

Almost Any Manual that Deawon Song Has Ever Done. With that bold statement, I am sure some of you just fell off your chair. Manuals are their own special kind of stupid. The problem with manuals is the same problem that existed in the early 90s with small wheels and big pants. Loose pants are very comfortable and easy to move in. They are great for skating. Small wheels are light, and good for technical street skating. However, these were taken to absurd extremes. 70” pants and 7mm wheels. Manuals suffer the same debilitating, crippling plague. Just because we have the technical ability to build a 30 megaton hydrogen bomb, does that mean it’s a good idea, and we should do it? Nope! Just because something can be done, does not justify bringing it into existence. A simpler version of the same absurdity is continuing to ride a manual after you have dropped off of a ledge. It’s like continuing a jaw chewing motion after you have finished eating your entire plate of shrimp. It’s like double and triple kickflips. It’s like an OCD person washing their hands for the 100th time. Just stop. A natural end point was reached. Going further brings the wings of sorrow upon us all. Think of the children. Do you want them to endure such torment, terror, and death? Do you really want to be known as a “baby killer?” It’s just not a pretty word.   

Absurd Tech Variations On Ledges
. These are very similar to Godot-like manuals. Example: Nollie heel hard flip, to k-grind, to 360 nollie flip out (turning with it). Yes, without question, this type of stuff is insane, and are tricks I could only do in my dreams, but those dreams would be the blackest of nightmares. There is just no flow to many of these variations and combinations. They are just awkward, jolting, and soulless (much like Ann Coulter’s public speaking skills). A counter-example would be a b/s kickflip to fakie 5-0, to half cab kickflip out. THAT flows. Everything is turning the same direction. The dismount is almost a mirror of the mount. A super rad trick that does not hurt to watch.   

Double Flips (with the exception of that one Gonz did in the Blind Video), of any kind. These are just stupid, and excessive, like a jumbo size popcorn/soda at the movies. You don’t need that much of anything. What I really wonder, when I see these type of tricks done, is where were the parents when these people we growing up? I mean, didn’t they have any Home Training? Manners? Basic etiquette? Who let these children out of the house!?! 

Pressure Flips. Any type or variation. These tawdry little “tricks” are a calamity to Natural History. A cancer. The claw side of a hammer should instantly be taken to the face of anyone who does these things. 

Varial Flips. I am not sure why these are so nauseating, but they are. Moreover, it seems as if these are hated by almost every known species on Earth, even The Tea Party, and that is saying something. Don’t Varial Flip on Me!

Almost Anything with a Body Varial, where the board does not also spin. Example: Big spin = OK.  Ollie body varial = NSBD.

Underflips. These are worse than pressure flips. When these come out roaches and sewer rats scatter in disgust.

540 Kickflips on flat (and prolly on transition, too). They just ugly, and chaotic, like a little bit of North Korea under your feet.

Hardflips: Why aren't these just called Icky-Spasmo-Flips? They aren't even fun to do. Gross.

Almost Any Tre/360 Flip Variation to Slide/Grind or Manual
. Tre flip to 50/50, manual to tre flip out, backside smith to tre flip out…SHOOT. ME. NOW. This is the kind of shit that would turn Medusa to stone. There is just no flow to these. Tre flips should almost always be left to their own devices. When mixed with other tricks, things just get nasty. Ammonia and bleach. Marie Antoinette and peasants. Republicans and science. Nyjah and style.  

Frontside Bigspins. They are just too awkward, and weird. Just not something any good, white, Christian, woman would ever find herself doing. (Note: I was notorious for doing this trick in the early '90s. My folly.)

As a general rule, anything where your feet stay on the board won’t cross the line into NSBD land, but this is not always the case. NSBD Example: Full cab to backside nose blunt, to 360 revert (Danny Way). Jason Carney does some curb skating in one of the H-Street videos. He does something like a rail slide, to feeble, to rail slide, to feeble, to rail slide, to smith, to rail side, to feeble, to shove-it. No, Jason. Stop, just stop. I mean, what the hell are you trying to do? Are you some aspiring circus freak? I am not sure if you are (1) having a convulsive hissy-fit because there is not enough wax on the curb, or (2) you are trying to “push the envelope” of curb skating into a swirling morass of despair and anguish. In either case, I have grave concern for your judgment and well-being. Go watch Tom Knox skate a curb for a bit, and come back tomorrow. Even basic 50/50s, rail sides, nose slides, etc. can fall into the abyss of NSBD. At some point all these can become so long that it’s just stupid. A 100-yard 50/50? Yeah, cool wax, bro. Great story. Sometimes you just need to know when it’s time to pull out.

I can’t go on much longer with these examples. All this talk, of all these wretched NSBDs, is bringing on one of my “spells” of desperation and distress. It’s just too much for one person to endure for too long. I could go on, but I think I’ve illuminated a sufficient amount of NBSDs so that we can all garner the general essence of these tragic blights on skateboarding.

I leave you with a few other dark thoughts: Airwalk to handrail boardslide. Bluntslide to backside lipslide. 1-footed tail grab nose “bonks.” Rail slide to manual to shove-it. Catastrophe. Fukashima. Hindenburg. Pompeii.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Gratitude For What You Have...

I went grocery shopping with/for my dad this afternoon. Sometimes I get frustrated that I can't skateboard as well as I could when I was 25.

Then I remember I can walk.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Making of a Skate Punk, Part IV: Shot in the Head, Suicide, and the Start of a New Life

The Mid-Years (1989-1994)

Part I: Shot in the Head, Suicide, and the Start of a New Life 

The Danny Way Incident of 1989 took place. That link is a blog post from awhile back. You should read that it before going any further with this one. It provides a setting for the suicide attempt mentioned at the end of my last post, and how D. Way factored in. I’ll provide a bit more context here, but not that much. It was one of the blackest periods of my life, and not one I really want to revisit in great detail. Moreover, I don’t want this to be a doom and gloom blog. I want it to (mostly) be a blog about how awesome, and positive, skateboarding is. That said, I can’t tell my story without shinning some light into few dark corners.    

The late fall of 1989, and moving into winter 1989/1990 was a bleak. My parents were pretty religious. I was pretty sure they would kick me out of the house if they knew I was gay. My friends (at least they presented as such) were really homophobic. The jock kids at school? Forget it. If the truth came out, I was nearly certain that I would ended up abandoned by my family and friends, homeless, and shunned by all society, even skaters. While this may not have been the actual truth, it was my perception. Society was very different back then, and much, much harsher. It was horrifying. I had never met a gay person. I didn’t think it was possible for teenagers to be gay. All I knew about gay people was that they were diseased infested old men who preyed on children. I. Was. Terrified. Moreover, I hated myself. Everything all those jock kids said about me, I now started to believe. I was a horrible person, a super-faggot-freak, who was worthy of only exile, ridicule, and probably death. I went as deep into the closet as I could. My internalized homophobia was crippling. I didn’t believe in God, but I started praying for him to “fix me.” Nothing fails like prayer. Acute depression started to grip me, and there was no one I could talk to about it. I was utterly alone. Skating was my only escape. The only thing I had left that I could believe in. The only thing that could make me smile. Without it, I doubt I would be alive to type these words.

In 1990, I started 10th grade at Norwood High School. It would be my last year at that school. I started the year with my dark secret. I was terrified anything I would do or say would disclose the truth. I withdrew more, and more. There was a kid named Dwayne Harris who lived in the apartment complex near my house. Somehow we had become friends. He had moved to the area the year before. His mom was a Boston Police officer. They had lived in one of the worst section of Boston. His mom wanted him out of the city, and away from the violence. They moved to Norwood. One winter morning on a biblically cold, wet, and windy day, just as my mom was about to give me a ride to school, we saw Dwayne outside, walking to school. He was struggling against the wind just to stand-up, he was drenched, and it was obvious he was freezing. We offered him a ride, and then continued to drive him almost daily for the rest of that winter. One day he did not show up. We though this odd. The next time I saw him, he was in casket. The night before his mother and her boyfriend got into some type of argument. He attacked her. Her service revolver from work somehow went off. The bullet went through the wall, into the next room where Dwayne was doing his homework. It hit him in his temple, went into his skull, and killed him. The irony of this story is nauseating; a single mother who removes her son from the city to shield him from violence, and ends up accidently shooting him in the head with her police issued gun. I was a mess. I stopped skating for about 2 months. The fallout from this case made it all the way to Massachusetts Supreme Court (which I just found out in 2016 while researching this incident). I have always saved this photo of Dwayne from his obituary.

The school year ground on and on. After the Danny Way incident of 1989, I was hyper-sensitive to just how homophobic my school was. Students. Teachers. Everyone. Things got darker, and darker. Fade to Black by Metallica seemed realer, and realer every time I listened to it. 25+ years later, and I still have a hard time hearing that track. I had no idea "self-injurious behavior" was even a "thing," but I started burning myself. Still have the scars on my arm. I have never spoken about that, until writing that last sentence. I don’t remember what the triggering event was, but I eventually attempted suicide…sleeping pills. I didn’t take enough. I eventually woke up. My parents never knew what happened. I just told them was sick. I had become very good at hiding things from them. 

Despite all this negative stuff, something mind-blowingly amazing happened that winter. The guy who owned Beacon Hill Skate, in Boston, offered me a part time job at the shop. This was basically every skater’s dream. It was THE skate shop in Boston, and had been since the early 1980s. The famous ‘zine Contort had come out of Beacon Hill Skate. It was the same shop that future Boston pro Jahmal Williams worked at (and occasionally, Robbie Gangemi worked there, too). At the time, anything that happened in the Boston skate scene, happened through that skate shop, and now **I** worked there. Moreover, I was on the shop’s skate team. Free skate stuff, or stuff at wholesale prices. Talking to sales reps and “famous” people on the phone. Notoriety around the city and suburbs. A real reason to spend my time away from Norwood. Was all of this really happening, to me? I started to think their might be a God. The Rocco Era was ramping up to shake skateboarding to it's very foundation. Huge pants, tiny wheels, total chaos. Big change was coming for all of us, but it wasn't quite there...yet. 

Summer came. I eventually told my parents that I was not going back to Norwood High School. I told them there were two options, (1) either I attend a different high school, or (2) I drop out. They realized I was dead serious. I only told them that I hated the school, and all the people/staff in it. All of which was true, but I didn’t tell them the real reason; I was terrified of how homophobic the school was, and how terrified I was that someone would find out about me. They knew I hated school, knew I was I was targeted because I was a skater, but had no idea about the gay factor. For my last two years of high school, I switched to a very small private prep school in Boston. Even better, my school was now just a few blocks from both the famous Boston skate spot of Copley Sq., and my job at the skate shop. I was living the dream, despite the fact that I was actually living in constant dread that any day, it would all come crashing down if people found out the truth about me. I won’t say whom, because some of them (not all) are nationally known, but there were a number of Boston skaters who were virulently homophobic at time. Worse than I had ever seen before. Over the years I lost contact with those people. My only hope for them is that their life is no longer filled with the hate it once was.

Then came another God-send. They Weymouth Crew. While skating in Copley Sq., one day, I saw these group of kids I hadn’t seen before. They were all from Weymouth, MA. One of them had a giant blonde/green afro. He was wearing these crazy weird green corduroy pants, and a freaky green suit-vest thing. It was hilarious. His name was Marc. He was skating with this other kid named Brett, and this older guy named Steve. Not only were they all killing it, but they were cracking jokes, doing all kinds of crazy antics, and having more straight-up FUN skating than anyone I had ever seen before, or pretty much since (Fancy Lad crew from Boston comes close). It was basically like “Junk Skating” with Lance, O, and Neil was happening right in front on me. I hadn’t laughed that hard in a long, long time. We became the best of friends, and the shenanigans that followed for the next 5 years were unparalleled. Things were starting to look a bit brighter, even if there was a huge, dark, secret hanging over my head. Santa Cruz dropped A Reason for Living that year. The name resonated, for reasons known only to me. Fade to Black began to fade back into light...and skateboarding was what kept me going the entire time.

Next Part: Getting a sponsorship offer while at Woodward, trips to Alien Workshop (and almost working there), and becoming the angriest kid in Boston. 

The Making of a Skate Punk, Part III: Getting Arrested, Getting Ramps, and the Swirling Abyss of Danny Way


Part III: The End of Youth: Getting Arrested, Getting Ramps, and the Swirling Abyss of Danny Way

The first time I was arrested, I was in 6th grade. Felony vandalism. I was no longer just that rebel kid with a skateboard. Now, I was an actual outlaw.

The prior year, I came into school one Monday morning. I saw something I had never seen before: graffiti. Over the weekend three people had “bombed” the school, and put up three “pieces” on the walls facing the playground. They didn’t do random, ugly, throw-up tags. These were honest attempts to do something artistic. I realized later in life just how bad they really were, but to a 12-year-old, they were Picassos. Not only were they priceless works of art, but they also embodied a spirit of creative rebellion, and the ability to reappropriate your environment for alternate purposes. Skateboarding was starting to teach me these lessons, but here, staring me in the face, was another stark version of the same lesson. The writing was, literally, on the wall.

Beat Street came out in 1984. I saw it not long after the school graffiti incident, when we rented it from the local movie/VHS store. I also caught a replay of the 1983 graffiti documentary Style Wars on TV one night. I became fascinated with graffiti, and I was only in 5th grade. Youthful idealism was about to take charge. To make a long story short, about 9 months later an older friend and I spray-painted murals on a local building one night at 4am. The police found us after we were finished. In 2016 I am lawyer (don’t practice, however). Looking back on it, the way the police handled the situation, and coerced information out us, was totally illegal. Yay, police. They did, however, compliment us on how “artistic” the two paintings were. I had to pay restitution, and attend group-counseling sessions for “first time youth offenders.” No jail time. Never even set foot inside a courtroom. It was the first, and last time, I ever painted graffiti on something. I guess the program worked.

Despite the fact that the police were bound to confidentiality, word got out. Parents on my street heard the news. I was placed on a black list. Kids were told not to hang out with me. I was a bad influence. Unsavory. A déclassé crook. Now, I really started to become a social outcast. [NOTE: Every other time I was arrested, it was for skateboarding, and we all know how wonky those “charges” can be. I was lucky. The Magistrate threw it out every time. Once, the arresting police officer was even admonished, and told to “stop wasting the Court’s time with petty concerns.” I never felt more justified.]

As mentioned before, I don’t really remember when I got my first “pro deck,” or even what it was. I just know that by 1986 I was riding a Tony Hawk (1986 issue), and by that time I was fully entrenched in skateboarding. It comprised my entire being. The mid to late 80s were, for the most part, without any real drama, and are quite archetypal for a suburban skater in their early teens during that time period. Personally, things didn’t start getting really interesting until around 1989-1990 (odd, how that coincides with major changes in skating itself). I won’t even attempt an in depth cultural significance analysis of what was going in skating/society during mid-late 80s. Many others have already done that, and done it much better than I ever could (again, see The Parking Block Diaries). I will, however, touch upon things that had lasting influence.

1985 | 5th Grade | Age 11. Built my first ramp. We piecemealed some stolen plywood scraps against a picnic table. I tried to paint a Lester Kasai graphic on it. Horrific kinks.

Since my dad was a cripple, he couldn’t play sports as a kid, but he could meaningfully participate in Boy Scouts. That was his big passion. He got me into Cub Scouts, and then later into Boy Scouts. We had an INSANE Scout leader. At one camping trip, he pulled 357. Magnum out of his pick-up truck. We had never seen it before, and we were freaking out. He walked up to this kid he was pissed at, pointed the gun at the kid’s head, and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. The bore was welded shut. We didn’t know that, until after the fact. Terrifying. I quit not long after. That scout leader later became prison guard. Fitting. Boy Scouts, as cornball as it sounds, provided some of the best friends I ever had. Moreover, there are very few people from that era of my life I am still in contact with today. Of those that I am, 90% were in Scouts with me. Troop 49 provided to be a radical hot bed for Norwood’s budding punks, metal heads, skaters, and freestylers (e.g. old-school BMX). The kid I got arrested with for graffiti, met him at Boy Scouts. I had some quasi-friend in the apartment complex near me. I didn’t grasp this until I was much older, but his mother dealt cocaine out of her house, in front of us. Back to the Future came out. Skateboarding became “cool” in Norwood, for about 2 weeks. 

1986 | 6th Grade | Age 12: We improved the picnic table ramp with 1 sheet of plywood, making it much smoother. Photo is from the summer of 1986, one of the first pics ever take of me skating.

I got my hands on a copy of Future Primitive, and now I knew what skating really was. My dad built me a proper launch ramp. I got arrested for graffiti, and was “black listed.” The flash-in-the-pan popularity that swept Norwood in the wake of Back to the Future was over. Everyone quickly went back to the Big 4 sports (baseball, football, hockey, basketball). The lame trend of skateboarding was over. Yet, I was still doing it. The blacklisted criminal now became a turbo-dork, because he wouldn’t let go of a dumb fad. I might as well have been reliving the hula-hoop trend, or starting my own disco revival. I became an even bigger social target. However, a small door opened. My dad took me to Beacon Hill Skate one weekend. It was in Boston. It was a real skate shop. I saw real skaters. Mind blown. I had discovered punk rock. By the end of 6th grade, I was wearing Sex Pistols, and Black Flag, shirts to grade school (not to mention assorted skate shirts). The way I was starting to dress was further casting me as an outsider. The kids at school could relate to the pictorial language of Red Sox, Bruins, and Celtics logo t-shirts (and, well, Member’s Only jackets). They had no way to understand or contextualize the images they were seeing on my t-shirts. They didn’t know what to do with me. Thrashin’ hit the movie theaters. My crew wanted to be “Daggers” more than anything. 

1987 | 7th Grade | Age 13. The bottom of the world dropped out when Wheels of Fire hit the streets. Natas. I don’t need to say any more. Somehow I convinced my dad to build a mini half pipe in our driveway. This was before the mini ramp rage took place. I legit had one of the first mini ramps in the New England area. It was an engineering disaster. We had no idea what the fuck we were doing. Ramp plans weren’t really available, especially for mini ramps. I was so brainwashed by magazines that I was convinced that the only way the ramp would be remotely skateable was if it had “vert” on it. Even if it only was 4’ tall, and 8’ wide. The end result was death-tight transitions, and way, way, too much flat bottom. It was a ramp only Neil Blender, Barrier Kult members, or a very confused 13-year-old would want to skate.

Photo, Jan 1988. It's not a great pic, but you can see how tight the transitions were, and that it actually went to vertical.
I was almost “over it” before it was done. Natas in Wheels of Fire had shown me all I really needed to know, and it was in the streets. Unfortunately, the town of Norwood outlawed skating per town by-law. I became a common criminal, once again. 1986 was also the year I started Jr. High School. The real social pecking order now started. And I was at the bottom. I lashed back quick, and hard. Within the first two weeks of school I made an “I HATE JOCKS” t-shirt, forever sealing my social doom in the sports-riddled Norwood Public School system. I never took the bus to school because of the abuse that took place on it. School itself wasn’t much better. I failed gym class because I refused to “sufficiently” participate. I actually had to go to summer school for gym class. They gym teacher had seen me skate around town. He both quasi-made fun of me for it, and used it against me (“I know you are athletic, I’ve seen you skate. There is no reason you should be failing gym class. You should be able to play real sports without a problem.”). I also had a Haro freestyle bike, and rode flatland somewhat. I hung out with some freestyle bike kids (that I also met from Boy Scouts). They also skated a bit. We were always using each other’s board and bikes. I also had a Rodney Mullen freestyle deck. All of us street skated, rode flat land on bikes, had limited ability on transition, and dabbled with freestyle skating. It was a well-rounded group.

Erick, hitting a big foot plant in 1988, way before "street" BMX was ever a "thing."

John, with a big wall ride for the late 80s. He was also a good freestyle skater. 

A rare pic of me doing flatland on my bike. Note the Natas shirt! Summer of '88.
Erik’s older brother would get us beer. He also got us a copy of Decline of the Western Civilization, the Punk Years. Seeing that, at age 13, while drunk, may have been the best, or worst, thing that ever happened to me. There is no coming back from that. On weekends a few friends and I started sneaking into Boston to go skating, or to see afternoon all-ages punk shows. Sneaking into the city to see punk shows, at age 13. My classmates had no idea what real fun was. For some unknown reason I joined the golf team at school. I got kicked off after 3 weeks. Some kid called me a “faggot,” when he didn’t have back-up, and no teacher was around. I clocked him with a golf club, and threw him a water feature on the 18th hole. In autumn, a few people tried to burn down my mini half pipe. Fire went out quickly. It was a really bad attempt. To this day, I suspect the kid from the golf team was involved. I was now hated around town, and it showed. Per the golf incident, word also go out that if I was provoked, alone, I would retaliate. They attacked in groups. “SKATE FAG!” was the insult of the decade. I was called this daily at school. Over and over. Jock ‘o’ Rama by the Dead Kennedys perfectly described Norwood. It was our anthem.

1988 | 8th Grade | Age 14: I started spending more parental approved time Boston. They even gave me permission to see punk shows (they never found out about our secret missions the year before). I met skaters from the surrounding towns. We would all met-up in Copley Sq. I skated famous Boston skate spots before they were demolished. Turtles. Metals. Boston City Hospital. The C-Bowl. ZT Maximus. Other parents on my street hated me. I lived on a dead-end road. Almost no traffic. By this point I had several small ¼ pipes, a small platform, and few rail slide bars. We would bring them out at the very end of the street (where I lived), and put them next to the curb, to keep them out of the way. Neighbors would call the police when we did this, claiming that we were “blocking traffic.” No one ever called when kids were playing street hockey with goal nets in the dead-center of the street, or playing baseball, football, etc. My parents were livid, and went to war with a few neighbors over the issue.

Josh, "blocking traffic" in '88.  

Shackle Me Not dropped, and the (skate) world was starting to change. With this video, I became fixated on Danny Way for some reason. Fixated isn’t the right word. Obsessed. This was odd. He wasn’t a street skater. Natas has been my “hero” prior, but this Danny Way thing was so, so different, and so much more…intense. Little did know what would come of it. I watched his video parts every day. I hung up every photo of him I could find in my room.

1989 | 9th Grade | Age 15
: Streets on Fire. Ban This. Speed Freaks. Hokus Pokus. Rubbish Heap. A huge video year for skateboarding. Things were quickly changing. The dawn of the Rocco Era was just peeping over the horizon. Gleaming the Cube came out. My local friends started to fall away for my skater friends in Boston. Every day after school I would hop a train into the city, skate for two hours, and then take a 1-hour subway ride to meet my dad, for another 45 min ride home (we actually lived pretty close to Boston, but the traffic and public transit system in Boston are notoriously bad). High school started, and with it, real horror. Instead of just having kids in two grades (7th and 8th) picking on me (e.g. Jr. High), now I had kids in four grades to deal with (e.g. 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th). I despised school, mostly because of how bad the abuse was. I had copy of the school calendar next to my bed. Every day I would cross a day off, like a prisoner counting down his sentence. My attendance dropped, as I would find any reason I could to avoid going on any given day. I distinctly remember often crying on Sunday nights, as a new week was about to start. Danny Way turned pro. His board came out. I couldn’t wait to get one. My obsession with him exploded. I had pictures of him in my locker at school. In the fall/winter I went to ZT. Maximus several times a week. It was Boston’s only skatepark. They had a 10’ half pipe, and 6” mini. I learned a few tricks on the vert ramp, and few more on the mini. I have never been a good transition skater, but going to the park was a way to get out of Norwood, and hang out with other skaters. There was a guy there named Kevin Day. Vert skater. He was 30. We were all amazed at how old he was, and how good. I hoped that I would still be skating when I was his age. As I am typing this, I am 41 years-old. Mission accomplished.

I don’t remember why, but for some reason that fall Alphonzo Rawls and Danny Way were passing through Boston. Danny Way. We got notice they might come by ZT Maximus the following night. I might get to actually see, and talk to, Danny Way. I trembled. There wasn’t a lot of publicity about it. It was on a week night, it wasn’t a per se demo, and no one was sure if they were even going to show up. However, they did. They skated the mini ramp for about 20-30 minutes. While I wanted to talk to Danny, even if it was just to say “Hi,” I was too terrified to do it. I steered waaaay clear of him, and watched from a distance. In fact, I stayed further away than anyone else there. Soon enough, Danny would wreak havoc on my life, sending me into a catastrophic tailspin that even included a suicide attempt. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Making of a Skate Punk, Part II: Flaming Baseball Cards, The Forgotten Year, and an Imposter that Refused to be Forgotten


Part 2: Flaming Baseball Cards, The Forgotten Year, and an Imposter that Refused to be Forgotten

     Getting our dog shot-up in Tennessee like a Guy Ritchie movie, and being a 7-year-old exiled “Yankee” living south of the Mason-Dixon Line had caused me to start putting up defensive walls. They grew thicker once we landed in Norwood. I quickly learned that the vast majority kids my age were already playing organized team sports. We moved to Norwood in late December. It was good ole hockey season in New England. I had no fucking idea what hockey was. Yet, all my peers were asking how good I was at hockey, and when I would be signing up for both the local floor, and ice, pee-wee youth hockey leagues. I am serious when I say I had no idea what hockey was. None. Zero. Zilch. Empty set. Hockey isn’t really a sport they play in Knoxville. The South taught me about fireworks, the Dukes of Hazard, BB guns, BBQ, grits, Waffle House, and something my dad liked called “Moonshine.” But Hockey? Icing? Face-offs? Power plays? Da’ fuck you talkin’ ‘bout, white boy? How about instead we go violently explode some matchbox cars with an M-80? Sounds like way more fun than falling down on ice. Prior to Knoxville, I was too young to really know much about anything, let alone sports. I had my cool toy trucks, my Big-Wheels, and my sandbox. I was good to go. Moreover, since my dad had Polio, and walked on crutches, he was never able to play any sports himself, let alone play/teach them with/to me. Norwood, MA is quite a sports town. Look at that link. Look how many pro athletes have come from there. It’s uncanny. One of the things that makes it such a good sports town, is that that kids all start sports leagues very, very young. Everything was centered on youth sports. If you didn’t play, you were a nobody. Someone to ridicule. A turbo-power-freak. During the winter, I tried playing street hockey with kids on my street. I had no idea what I was doing. It didn’t even seem remotely enjoyable, sort of like taking the claw side of a hammer to your own face, in the dark winter, outside, in the freezing cold. I forced myself to play street hockey several times over the next few months. The other kids just made fun of me. I never wanted to play that sport again.

     Summer of 1984 came, and with it, baseball/little league season. The same pattern repeated. I had no idea what baseball was. All the local kids were into baseball cards. I couldn’t understand why they even cared. It was just some dumb card. I mean, they were cool to set on fire with a magnifying glass, but that was the only use I could see for them. We played whiffle ball and stickball on our street (a dead end street, with little traffic), but I was never any good. The others had been playing for years at this point. Me, I was just learning what a “ghost man on 1st” meant. I remember asking if I could just play the “ghost man” position. They often had to go to “practice.” It’s not a word I ever associated with “fun.” Practice was for things like penmanship, multiplication tables, or stupid school “musicals” we had to do at Christmas. Moreover, they had to go to “practice” even if they weren’t in the mood to play Sport X at the given moment time. All of this sounded like a horrific, soul-crushing, nightmare. Yet, aside from being the “new Sothern kid from below Mason-Dixon line” (the irony was not lost on me), I felt inadequate because I had no idea what all these team sports were about, or how to play any of them. Moreover, I was too young to really express what impact all of this was having on me. I just new that I didn’t fit in. At all. 

     Autumn came. Football with it. Repeat story line, yet again. However, by this time I had discovered playing “war” in the local woods. A few other obtuse, aspiring social loners were also into playing war. It was something I could get into, and enjoy, and not be viewed as totally inept. I was good at hiding, and I had the patients to wait people out. My “team” always did well in childhood war games. That started a life-long interest in military history (esp. WWII), which continues to this day. Winter returned, and like a scorching case of The Syphilis, so did hockey/basketball with it. I drank the Kool Aid. I actually joined the town’s youth basketball league. I quit not long after. Hated it. And I sucked at it, too. I still think it is one of the dumbest sports. Soccer, for socially awkward tall people.

     In what must have been the summer of 1985, what I vaguely remember, is that at some point (see note below), I rediscovered my old, blue, plastic skateboard. It was something to do that wasn’t “sports.” I started riding it around my street. It was a novelty. No one else on my street had one. The other kids tried it, but they weren’t that good. Suddenly, I had an athletic edge on all these dumb jock kids. Not only was skating fun, but now I had discovered something I was proficient at. It was the first time that had ever happened. And I wasn’t just proficient at it, I was better than all the kids on my street. I think it was the first time in my life I ever felt a sense of “self-worth.” This pushed me further, and increased my drive to skate more, and to become a better skater. It gave me an edge. But more importantly, it even gave me a smidge of respect from my peers. I could do something they could not. Then Joe Carlton skated by my house one afternoon. In the span of 5 minutes, my entire identity forever shifted. It was the “shot that was heard ‘round the world,” or at least, all the way into 2016, even as I am typing this very period.  

     Joe was older. Like 16. A high-schooler. Almost a fuckin’ adult. He looked dodgy. Almost dangerous. Definitely not a jock. A rebel. I had never seen a punk rocker before, so I wasn’t really sure what I was seeing. I just knew he was most badass motherfucker I had ever laid eyes on. He had this really big, wooden, board. Metal trucks. Real wheels and bearings. He did a frontside180 boneless. My world melted. It was a moment of clarity, unlike anything I had ever experienced before, or since. I instantly knew that this was what I was meant to do. Everything clicked. I had found a purpose. I had found an identity.

     I went running over to ask him what his name was, and what the hell the trick was he had just done. My jaw was on floor. Drool cascaded down the side of my mouth. My eyes were burned open. He told me it was a “180 Boneless.” I had no idea what that meant, but it sure as hell sounded way cooler than a “touch down.” I asked if I could see his board. I had never seen anything like it before, but I knew I was looking at a real skateboard. It had this awesome splatter graphic on the bottom. With the word LESTER across the middle. Indy 169s. City Street wheels. German bearings. He did a few more tricks, and then skated away. I went running into my house screaming. My mom though I had broken a bone or something. I told her I needed a new “Lester skateboard” with “City Street Trucks” and “German Independent wheels.” She had no idea what I was talking about. I didn’t either. Exasperated, I explained her what had just happened. What I had seen. And how I now knew just how stupid/sub-standard my little blue plastic skateboard really was. It was now embarrassing to even ride that mere…toy. I wanted a real skateboard more than anything else I had ever wanted before. 

     Joe lived in the apartment complex near the duplex I lived in. I would often sit, and watch, and just wait for him to occasionally skate by. I wanted to see him do more tricks. I wanted to see his board. I wanted to ask him all kinds of dumb questions. He taught me a few things, but I’m sure I annoyed the hell out of him. Then one afternoon, the next major life change happened; He gave me a few back issues of Thrasher Magazine. Total system reload. The Buddha turned the Lotus Flower, and the world was enlightened. I don’t have to explain what this means to fellow skaters. They know. They once all had the same experience of seeing a skate magazine for the very first time. For non-skaters reading this, all I can say is that seeing Thrasher for the first time, would sort of be like both discovering that cars existed, and at the same time, getting your driver’s license. Suddenly the world opens up, and there is more possibility than ever before.    

     I had no idea there were such things as skateboard magazines, let alone everything that was contained within them. Not long after, I also found a copy of Transworld Skateboarding at the local newsstand. The first one I had ever seen. I devoured it. I cut every photo out, and hung them on my bedroom walls. Some kid on my street mentioned that the local bike shop also sold some skate stuff. I had my mom take me to look. On the wall, way in the back, they had about 8-12 decks. They all had mind-bending graphics. Gator. Roskopp. Town & Country. Jeff Phillips. G&S. Trucks. Wheels. Rails. Stickers. I drooled. We quickly found out how expensive a complete was. They did, however, have this one pre-built deck that was their “intro” skateboard. The graphics on the bottom said “IMPOSTER.” I thought it was pretty cool. My mom bought it for me. Not long after, July 1985, Back to the Future hit the movie theaters. Skateboarding started to become popular again. I was slightly ahead of the social curve. For brief stint, I became a “cool kid.” It didn’t last long, and violence was not far off. The backlash was coming. 


(1) The Forgotten. The 1985-1986 timeline is fuzzy. This strikes me as so unbelievable freakish, because this is the period when, as Kyle DuVall stated so perfectly in his own brilliant skate life story, that the “gauntlet was thrown down,” and I, metaphysically, became a skateboarder. It bewilders me that I remember so much about everything else, aside from this one period, this one, critical, life-defining period, where it all came crashing together. Without a doubt, it was one of the most transformative periods of my life, and I don’t remember much of it. The truth is I don’t recall when I first again started riding that blue plastic board, or when I got my first “real” set-up. I know the Imposter deck was my first “wide” deck. I know it came from the local bike shop. I honestly don’t remember getting it, or when. I don’t remember what my first “pro” deck was. How is that possible? Everyone remembers that. What I do know, for fact, is that by 1986, I was totally entrench in skateboarding, and I was riding the “new” Tony Hawk. This 1986 dated photo is a keystone in the time line. It is one of the first photos ever taken of me on a skateboard.

I’m not sure if this was my first pro board or not. I think I had a Sims Lester before the Hawk, but I am not 100% certain. Maybe I just wanted one so badly (because of Joe’s), that I think I must have had one? I really don’t know. I assume the Imposter arrived in the summer of 1985, but it might have been early 1986. I might have had a Lester between the Imposter and the Hawk. I really just don’t know. I am shocked that don’t vividly remember my first pro deck, or the sequence of a few other iconic decks I had thereafter (1986 Cab dragon issue, 1986 Tommy G. flame/dagger, Mullen, and a Brand-X Dogma III. I had all of these over a pretty short period of time, but I don’t know what happened to them, or the sequence that I had them in. Why, and how, I don’t remember these details is among my life’s biggest mysteries.). 

(2) The Imposter. I have tried, for years, to research more information about the “IMPOSTER” board I had. It is an enigma. A true ghost of my childhood. There is nothing on the Art of Skateboarding about it. I have asked around, on forums and in person, and no one remembers ever even seeing one. It was about the equivalent of a Nash quality deck. I never saw one at any other shop. I never saw anyone else who ever had one. I have never seen any reference, or photo, of one anywhere on the Internet. eBay. Collectors’ pages. Nothing. No sign. In adult life, I actually started to doubt my own memory. Did this board ever even exist? Did I just make it up in my head? In early 2015 I was going through very old Thrasher back issues. I realized I still had the few issues that Joe Carlton had given me. While flipping through one of them, I stopped dead in my tracks. There it was. The Imposter. In an Orange Cycles add. Sold as complete for $55.00. I just recently (Jan 2016) looked through all the scanned back issues of Thrasher on their web site. The Imposter deck first appears in Orange Cycle as in September 1985. It last appears in one of their ads in 1986. Orange was the only place that ever advertised that deck. Here is a photo of the ad. The Imposter actually existed.

     When the Imposter was dead (or so I thought), and I eventually got my first “pro” deck, I gave the Imposter away to some local kid who wanted to start skating. About 10 years later I was skating somewhere around town. I had gone back to visit my parents, and went skating for a bit. I must have been about 21 or 22 years old. This kid skated up to me with a tattered, very old board. He must have been about 11 or 12 years old. I had never seen him before. He said to me, “You are Chip, aren’t you?” I laughed, and said that I was (I was known as “Chip” when I was younger. More on that later.).

     By this time I was somewhat of a “small town star” in Norwood. Everyone knew who I was, even if they hated me (and plenty did). People whom I had never met me knew my name. My mom would often stop and talk to/encourage younger kids she saw skating (she is rad like that). She frequently said that kids said to her, in disbelief, “YOU are Chip Sterling’s mother!?! I’ve only heard stories about him. Did he really do the big handrail at the Civic Center???”

     So this little kid, who asked if I was indeed “Chip,” then asks me, “Did this used to be your board? It was given to me by someone, and someone had given it to them. They said it used to belong to Chip Sterling.” I looked at his board. The graphics were almost gone. The wood was horrifically delaminated. Chunks were missing from the sides. There was almost no grip tape. Both trucks were cracked. The wheels were mismatched in brand, and size. Two wheels were worn down almost to the bearings. The tail was GONE. It was the worst condition skateboard that I have ever seen, in use, to this day. That said, it was blatantly obvious what I was looking at. I could not believe my eyes. This kid was riding my Imposter. I was speechless.                   




Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Concrete Existence: The Personal Archeo-Ontological Development of a Skate Punk

     What does it mean to be a skateboarder, and why does it matter? As to the first half of that question, ask a hundred skaters, and you will get a hundred different nuanced answers. I don’t think there is one, single, set, correct answer to the question, nor would I hope there ever to be one. Like almost anything else in life, what it means to be a skater is something you have to figure out, and live, for yourself. The question itself is one which individualizes (like skating itself) all of us. The only response to that question that really means anything, or has any real value, is our own individual answers. We all have to forge our own way. As to the second half of the question, why does it matter, it matters because, as any skater will tell you, being a skater changes your life, forever. 

     I abandoned mainstream skate media a long, long, time ago. Skate ‘zines and blogs are where it’s at. Reading underground sources exposed me to something I’d never otherwise encounter in the more profit-driven publications; the autobiographical life stories of average, every day, life-long skaters. In these accounts I found people who, in their own way, were answering the question, “What does it mean to be a skater?” And they weren’t just answering the question, they were knocking it out of the fucking park. What it means to be a pro skater is very different thing than what it means to be an average-everyday skater. Personally, I’d much rather read personal stories from The Common Man, as that is where real life dwells for the vast majority of us. Hype about the most recent Street League contest, Team X’s tour of County Y, or coverage of some skatepark I’m never going to visit…that stuff just has little value to me, as it is nothing I can relate to in daily life (Skateline NBD with Gary Rogers is hilarious, however, and is never to be missed). The personal stories of the average skater, and their take on the world, and themselves…it just resonates on a much deeper level. With alternate media, the passion is evident in every sentence; it’s just not something that you can find in big-fanfare-mainstream skate publications. I don’t really care about generals. The plight of the common foot soldier is far, far, more interesting.

     It now appears as if I am on the cusp of adding my own story to the growing list average, everyday skate autobiographies. When I first started this blog, I vowed to never undertake such a project. It seemed too self-important and self-absorbed. Besides, who the fuck am I? Some nobody from Boston, MA. Some washed-up old skater, who is way past his prime. There is nothing special about me (well, maybe the gay/queer factor make things a bit out of the ordinary). What value could a recount of my experiences possibly provide to anyone? I had assumed the answer was, “None. No one would care.” Two things changed my mind.  
     First, I realized the impact these types of stories have. Or rather, I realized the type of impact these stories had on me. Part of the reason for that impact, I’m sure, is simply the brilliant writing skills the authors I’ve been reading. Yet, another aspect is that the stories are just so compelling. They are things many of us can relate to. They are shared experiences; reading theirs illuminated my own. Most of all, they got me to think, and helped me understand my own life with more clarity. This made me realize that my own experiences may not be as boring and insignificant to others as I had surmised. They may find resonance in mine, just as I had found in theirs.
     Second, none of this is really for other people. Recounting my experiences is tracking my own existence. My own sense of identity and purpose. Doing so helps me understand my “now,” and how I came to be the person that I am. Moreover, it helps with another, darker, project that I’ve had in mind for awhile; documenting my own demise.

     The reality: I am no longer 18-years-old. I am 41, almost 42. There is no question that age will eventually take skateboarding away from me, as it will to all of us. The only question is when, and how gruesome will it be. What does it mean to be a skater, who is in the last quarter of the game? What happens to identity, to personhood, and life when something that engrained in your life is stripped away from all sense of self-understanding? What lies beyond that point? I have no idea, and to be honest, I am a bit scared to find out.

     One thing I did intend to suss out in this blog; a record of how my identity, as a skateboarder, changes, and how my thoughts, existence, and sense of personhood evolve as my body decays, and skateboarding becomes more and more of a shadow of something I once was. I want to that document process. That may sound bleak, and nihilistic, but I am also a realist. “On a long enough time line, the survival rate of everything drops to zero.” –Tyler Durden

     The progression, erosion, evolution, and collapse of identity always fascinates. “Character development” is the term Hollywood uses. If my character is to be fully developed on these pages, then the whole story of that character must be told.

     With those two considerations, I break my vow to never publishing my own version “This American Skatelife.” (A term stolen from the brilliant skate mind of David Thornton over at Definitely go check his stuff out.).

     This project will be posted in sections, corresponding with the major periods of my 30 year relationship with skateboarding. And with that, we’ll jump right in.


Part 1: A Pet Assassin, a Nuclear Power Plant, and a Toy that Changed Everything

     The second week we were in Knoxville, our neighbor shot out dog with a .22 rifle. The reason? Our dog went on his property, and, well, we were, “From the north, and we don’t like carpet-bagging Yankees, or cripples, around these parts.” (direct quote). My dad contracted Polio when he was 6 months old. It ruined his legs, and he walked with crutches his entire life. It was 1981. And apparently, The Civil War hadn’t ended yet. I was 7-years-old. My family had just moved to Knoxville, TN from Boston, MA. We relocated there because of my dad’s job. He was an (early) computer engineer, working on the Clinch River Breeder Reactor Project. It was nuclear power plant that was never finished. The project was cancelled because of political fallout in Washington D.C. Needless to say, once in Knoxville, I felt like an outsider from the very start. The kids at school thought I talked funny. I was scared to go out of our yard because of the guy who shot our dog, and the local neighborhood bullies (of course, the son of the pooch-sniper was the worst of the them). In October of 1983, Congress voted to defund the project. My dad was laid-off from work. First order of bid’ness: get the fuck out of Tennessee. We moved back to Boston within two weeks, sort of. We first spent 3 months in Connecticut. That was where it all started. 

    My mother’s parents lived in West Hartford, CT. My dad landed a job in Boston, but we hadn’t found a place to live yet in the Boston area. We moved in with my grandparents for about 3 months. For his new job, my dad commuted from Hartford to Boston, every day, for 3 months. That is a 200 mile round trip. Pretty gnarly. My parents didn’t put me in school while in CT, because they knew we would soon be leaving the area. They thought it would be too stressful for me to be placed in a new school, and then rip me out that school after only a few weeks, to then place me in yet another new school. I was 9-years-old at the time. My mom stayed home and kept me occupied while my dad was at work. One day she took me to the local Toys ‘R’ Us. I don’t remember if it was her idea, or mine, but that afternoon we came home with a small, blue, plastic skateboard. Things would never be the same. My life changed, forever.

    We lived in West Hartford in 1983 from October to December. Days before Christmas, we moved to Norwood, Massachusetts. We didn’t even have a Christmas Tree that year. Every thing was still in boxes. As a 9-year-old, I remember being pretty stressed about no Christmas Tree. The autumn in Hartford had been cold, and wet. I didn’t get to ride my new skateboard all that much. I learned to ride it back and forth in the driveway, and do a few kick turns. It was fun. One weekend my dad asked if I could ride it down the hill that my Grandparent’s house was situated on. I had never tried it before. It wasn't a big hill, but it was big enough for an 9-year-old who had been skating for about 3 weeks. I gave it a shot. I crashed hard near the bottom because of speed wobbles. I was pissed at my dad for “making” me get hurt. It was my first real skateboard wreck, and a gnarly one at that. I remember a good amount of blood and road rash. I also distinctly remember how amazing it felt to roll down that hill. Despite the blood, I wanted to try it again. My dad said that was enough for today. First, I was pissed he “made” me get hurt, and now, I was livid that he wouldn’t let me try it again. What is remarkable about this, is that this was only time, the ONLY time in my entire life, that (one of) my parents were NOT supportive of me skateboarding, and it was only on that one, single, afternoon. From that point forward, up to the time of writing this post, they have been 110% supportive of me skateboarding. So many were not that lucky. I am very fortunate that I was, and still am.

    The winter of 1983/1984 in Norwood, MA had a lot snow. My new skateboard was buried in a box somewhere in the basement, mostly forgotten. I began a new school, Oldham Elementary, right after the winter break. I started to meet all the new kids at school, and in my neighborhood. It was evident right from the start that we were all in for a quite a bumpy ride.