Monday, March 14, 2016

Wisdom From the Acient Masters of Alt.Skate-Board (Part 10)

Thoai Tran wrote 14 installments of Zen and Skateboarding. Here is Part 10. See introductory comments I wrote on this post for full context of the entire series.

Part Ten: Four Elements
Shi, who has just started skating several months ago, came up to the Ch'an master and said:

" I am only a beginner. I love skating because there is so much to do on this simple board. There are so many styles, so many people who can work magic with their board. But my question to you, oh venerable one, is how I can tell who are the good skaters? What tricks must I do to be considered good? What advice can you give me, oh venerable one?

The Ch'an master pointed to the distant sea and answered:

" My young friend, you want to know how you can tell good skating? It is very simple....go to that distant sea, and count the number of grains found on that beach. Then you will truly grasp what is good in skateboarding..."

Shi bowed his head and continued:

" Do you mean to say that a tailslide is just as beautiful as an intricate flip trick? That cannot be! Something as intricate and complex must be better...I have spent days practicing on this particular one, and minutes landing a tailslide! How can that be?"

The Ch'an master pointed to the skies above and answered:

" My young friend, the universe that we find ourselves under is infinite and all-encompassing. All the things we see are manifestations of one energy, being converted from one form to another, but never created or destroyed. Both a tail slide and a more complicated flip trick are part of this infinite energy flow; each is a variation of that which is already perfect and complete...You add or remove energy; just as you cannot add or subtract beauty to that which is already perfect and constant..."

Shi bowed his head once more. So he continued..

" Oh venerable one, so what is the purpose of skating then, if beauty doesn't exist? If everything is relative, then aren't skaters just subjecting themselves to a trivial activity that has no meaning or relevance? I think that skaters must have a goal! Without one, it is illegitimate...meaningless! My goal is to become professional before I turn 20! It gives my skating meaning..."

The Ch'an master pointed to the burning sun and remarked:
" In the relentless heat of the tundra,
a lion lies on the crusted and burning dirt.
Under a shriveled tree that has lost its life
to the flames of its stark reality,
it exists where no other beasts have dared to venture
or embark through the burning desolation...

The lion has no reason to stay or not to stay. It is perfectly content with its own nature..."

Shi reflected for a moment. He continued...

" Oh venerable one, then what are the important things in skating then? How should I approach my skating then? What should I look for? "

The Ch'an master scooped a handful of dirt with his hand and answered:

" All the minerals and elements necessary for life are found in this moist soil that I have in my hand..."

 He handed Shi a shovel and told him to plant a young sapling on top of the distant hill..

Wisdom From the Acient Masters of Alt.Skate-Board (Part 9)

Thoai Tran wrote 14 installments of Zen and Skateboarding. Here is Part 9. See introductory comments I wrote on this post for full context of the entire series.

Part Nine: Clean Karma
The Ch'an master was once approached by a group of skaters. They all exclaimed: " Master, we have heard of your wisdom and have traveled long to ask you to tell us the secrets to skating well. We will wait here patiently for you. We do not mind staying here for hours listening to your infinite wisdom. Teach us..."

The Ch'an master looked at them keenly, pointed his finger at their boards, and replied: "Secret to skating well: if it rolls, then push it."

The Ch'an master was once approached by an older skater who wanted to learn about harmony. He implored: "You, oh great Master Ch'an, know the secrets of being in a peaceful state with oneself and the universe. How do I know if I am at peace with my skating? Is there something special I should feel? Is there a criterion that must be met to be in complete harmony with my skating? What are the rules that I must follow to be like you, oh great venerable master? "

The Ch'an master looked at the old skater, but did not answer. The skater was suddenly enlightened.

The Ch'an master was visited by an angry skater who cried out agitatedly: " I have this board! I can land tricks so easily one day. But now, I can't land anything! " He threw his board twenty feet away. It landed with a thump.

The Ch'an master answered: " Light too consists of both particles and waves. When one takes either away, one ceases to see. " The blind skater suddenly saw.

The Ch'an master visited a skatespot where a girl was skating by herself. She told Master Ch'an her problem: " I don't know of too many girls that pursue this art as fervently as I have. But I find myself alone. The guys look at me differently, as though my art is a joke to them. I am so frustrated!"

The Ch'an master calmly taught: " A single ripple that emanates from a point in the middle of a pond always start small. But with time, it becomes bigger and bigger, as it reaches for the edge of the pond; and ultimately, it will encompass everything along its path. You who find yourself alone at skatespots, reflect on this..."

An angry skate items distributor accosted the Ch'an master and shouted: "Who the hell you think you are telling all the kids not to worry about the clothes? Fashion gives the kids a sense of identity, of belonging, of being accepted by their peers. It is impossible for a kid to be a complete skater if he isn't sporting the latest wear!"

The Ch'an master thus spoke: "Your shoelace is untied. An untied shoelace prevents you from walking properly and speedily. One trips over one's ignorance, so it is better to take it off and walk barefooted. " The Ch'an master walked away...the owner tripped.

Two skaters approached the Ch'an master and asked him to judge which of the two is better. The first skater ollied a garbage can. The second fronside 180 the same garbage can. The first 360 flip it. The second switch 360 flip it. so on and so on and so on. The skaters nervously asked: "Master Ch'an, which of us is the better skater."

The Ch'an master threw some wrappings in the garbage and said: "Winners always put unnecessary trash in the garbage. " Both skaters were losers.

So said the Ch'an Master...

One day, the Ch'an master came to the town...

The first skater, a weary veteran of many years, approached him and said: " Oh venerable sage, I have skated for many years, and have exhausted all the tricks found in magazines and videos. I did all the styles: vert, street, free. I have gone through the cycle of sponsorship and traveled around the workd to give demos. I don't know what to do now..."

So the Ch'an master advised: "Now it is time to go skating."

The next skater, dressed in the latest style, came up to the master and asked: " Oh enlightened one, what kind of shoes do you recommend for skating? When I go to the skateshop, what kind of things should I look for in a skateshoe?"

So the Ch'an master answered: "When looking for skate shoes, ask yourself the following question: what kind of shoes does the hawk wear while it is soaring gracefully in the air? Then the perfect shoe shall be manifested immediately."

Another skater spoke about girls. He said: "I notice that a lot of girls have been interested in me ever since I started skating, which is cool and all, but sometimes it's kinda annoying. What advice can you give me about this?"

The Ch'an master replied: " My young friend, it has always been known that crossing a horse with a donkey gives a mule - an animal that is not capable of being productive."

Next, a woman came up and shouted: " I think skaters are a bunch of degenerates! All they do is skate, skate, and skate! Those baggy clothes they wear are disgusting! Tell your friends they are all losers and I hope they break their bones!"

The compassionate one directed to the audience of skaters: " My skating friend, a great boulder on top of that mountain cannot be moved by powerful earthly winds. Likewise, a mind in complete harmony with one's skating is unmoved by words that blow out of other's mouths. Indeed, you are all losers." Nobody argued...

A young skater spoke rather sincerely: " I know this old guy who skates by me. Often, he tried to give me advices about skating, which is kinda lame because his old school style is completely different from mine. I just laugh and skate away because it's like comparing apples to oranges, am I right oh venerable sage?"

The Ch'an master answered with patience: " An elderly man who uses medicinal practices to help others is often called "doctor." A sick man who refuses his prescribed medicine is often called "stupid.""

So taught the Ch'an master.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Revisted: Soft Wheels & Big Pants

In this post:

(1) Product Reviews
-Spitfire 80HD (80a) 56mm, Cored, Conical Shape
-Spitfire Soft D’s 92a, 56mm, Classic Shape (EDIT: Soft D's wheels are no longer in production)

(2) Big Pants Revisited


     Product reviews are not a regular feature of this blog. When I do post a review, it is because either (1) the item is not widely known (e.g. the Scumbag), or (2) it is an item people might be curious about, but may not want to spend money on without more info. Following the latter, I am now reviewing some quasi “oddball” wheels. The Big Pants Revisited was going to be a separate post, as it isn’t really a “product review.” However, with a hammer, and the ability to ignore the shaving, a square peg fit will fit into a round hole. 


     First, I should provide detail about my set-up, as to establish a “baseline” of what I am used to riding, as this becomes a factor later on in the review.

Deck: Modern popsicle shape. 8.25-8.4 width. 6.25/6.5 tail. 6.75 nose. 14.25 wheels base. 32 length. All this is give or take a bit, but these are the general numbers of my ideal deck. Usually, I only ride decks from Anti Hero or Fancy Lad.  

Trucks: Independent 149 Hollow. 53.5mm height.

Risers: None, but I do ride those paper-thin vibration eliminator thingy-do-hickys.

Wheels: 54mm Spitfire Bigheads, 99a. These are almost exact same shape as the “Classic” wheel.  

    I live in Boston. New England is notorious for crusty terrain. There are places in the region where the standard size and durometer wheels are problematic. Something a little softer, and bigger, can open up a lot of doors. With this in mind, a few months back I purchased a set of the Spitfire Soft D’s 95a 54mm wheels. I got these because I didn’t want to get too crazy, too fast. There were other options for soft wheels, but this was only a slight drop in durometer, and they were essentially the same wheel shape I always ride. I loved the 95a’s. They didn’t slide as good as the 99a, were a tad slower, but the ride was a bit smoother on rougher terrain. Would absolutely recommend those wheels to anyone. With time, I decided to get even more extreme. I was curious what the 92 Soft D’s would be like, and the 80HDs just seemed, well, let’s just say I was really curious about them.

     80HD: When I first laid on eyes these, my though was “OMFG. These things are huge. Monster truck tires. Elephantiasis. Dirigible, Hindenburg, size of. Yet, they were only TWO mm bigger than my usual size wheels. I quickly realized the reason they looked so big was the shape of the wheel. The “conical” shape has a lot more riding surface than the “classic” Spitfire wheel, and this is what I was reacting to. An overview of Spitfire wheel shapes can seen here. The 80HD’s are also “cored,” meaning that the center of the wheel is harder than riding surface area, so this creates a different feel than riding a pure 80a wheel. I was eager to try them out.

     Last night I took all my wheels sets and went out to a local parking lot/curb zone. I put the HDs on, and dropped my board the ground. The sound alone let me know I was in for a HUGE difference. Gone was the “rattle” of hard wheels. When my board hit the ground, it sounded more like a large rock hitting water. With the first push, I immediately noticed a height difference in my deck. My “regular” wheels started out 54mm, but I am sure are closer to 52mm at this point (natural wear). So, throwing on the brand new HDs definitely jacked up the height of the board a bit. For some reason, the board also felt wider. I couldn’t figure out the reason for the, until I put the 92a Soft D’s on. The reason was the shape of the wheels. The HDs have a much wider riding surface. This made the board feel more grounded, and “stable.” I think is why I was experiencing the board as if it was “wider.” The HDs certainly gripped the ground more than my regular wheels. It was a little unsettling. I skated around for a bit, hit some curb tricks (50/50s, etc.). The add height of the deck made my ollies feel really off for a while. The timing was just different. I had a few problems with the HDs “grabbing” the curb when doing tailslides/noseslides. They just don’t slide the same as harder wheels. Kickflips, nollie flips, and other flip tricks felt slower and more sluggish. I got wheel bite a few times from the larger size. The ride of the wheels, however, was amazing. It felt like I was driving a sofa. The pavement felt so cushy. Softer wheels have this bazaar feeling of being both fast, and slow, at the same time. I skated these around for about another 15 min, and then put the 92a Soft D’s on.

     92a Soft D’s: With the first push on these, I noticed the difference wheel shape makes. With a smaller riding surface than the HDs, these felt much more “normal” to me. The board didn’t feel as “wide.” The height issue was still there, but it didn’t seem to be as acute (prolly just because I was getting used to by now). These wheels were a lot of fun. I could make them slide on curbs (certainly more so than then HDs), and they felt a bit faster, but also smoothed things out a bit. The classic shape made popping out of grinds seem easier (esp. 50-50s). Flip tricks felt less sluggish. Overall, I liked these better than the 80HDs. I then put the 99a Bigheads back on. I immediately noticed how “rough” the ground felt, how much faster they were, and how my board felt like it was at a “normal” height again. Nose/tailsides on curbs were met with almost no resistance.  

     A few Things To Note: I tried all of these wheels on smooth asphalt, where “all other things were equal.” These wheels are not designed or intended for “all things to be equal.” Or rather, I have no intention of using them that way. Examples: There is a 1.5 mile hill in my hometown that was really fun to bomb as a kid. Shit to ollie over. Metal edges curbs, etc. Over the years, the pavement has deteriorated a great deal. 99a wheels on the hill kind of suck. I am sure the 92a Soft D’s or the HD’s will once again unlock real fun on the hill. There are few banks I know of that are crusty as hell. The HDs will most likely allow me to skate them. There is 4’ metal mini ramp near me. My 99a wheels slide out like all hell on it. The 92s are prolly going to kick ass on that thing. My point here is that essentially a comparison of these wheels is apples and oranges, as they are going to be used in very different situations. What this initial review was intended to do was provide a First Impressions look at them in “neutral” terrain. I will post follow-up reviews on both of these as I use them in different contexts, and also note how they hold up over time. A long-term review will be forthcoming.

     I should also note that the 80HDs come in both the “classic” and "conical shape, and in 54mm, 56mm, and 58mm. I was going to get 56mm classic shaped, but I went with the conical for the sole purpose of trying something different (I always ride the classic shape). I’m pretty curious as to the classic shape would ride. Likewise, the Soft D's come in 92a/95a, and in 54mm/56mm. The Soft D's only come in the "classic" shape.  I went with 56mm, to try something a bit larger, for experimentation sake. Gut reaction: I’d prolly buy the 54mm size next time around. 


     The early 90s. I was there. I bore witness to horror (note, those are shorts, not pants). 25mm wheels, and 125” pants. A tragedy to make Homer jealous. Worse, I even took part in the war crimes. I worked at a skate shop then. Blind, Fuct, 40s, and Droors jeans were all available to me, for cheap. I had many pairs. The SMBP-era (small wheels/big pants) started with reasonable assumptions. Small wheels were better for street skating. Loose clothes are easier to move in. Then shit just went turbo-clown-crazy.

     At some point when I was 12 or 13 I went into my first Army/Navy store. It started a life-long obsession with both anything olive drab, and WWII/cold-war history. When I went into the store, I also discovered “army pants” (otherwise known as BDUs, or “field pants”). From the age of 13, up to today, almost any photo me skating depicts me wearing olive drab or black BDUs, and a black skate shirt. My “style” has never changed (aside from that one spell in the early 90s, when I was known to wear excessively large denim pants). During the big pants era, I discovered WWII, Korean, and Vietnam-era field pants. By normal people standards, they were huge. By early 90s skate standards, they were big, but not quite cool enough. These became my go-tos.

     As the SMPB-era started to wane, and I withdrew from direct involvement with mainstream skate culture, I went back to wearing modern day BDUs. The Korean/Vietnam era pants I had went into storage, I never tossed them, because I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of military history. In December 2015 I was at my parent’s house. I stumbled across the old pants in their attic. I decided I had to try skating in them again, just for comedy sake.

     I brought them back to the city with me, where they remained in my closet until last night. When I went out to test ride the wheels above, I broke out the old army pants. I skated around for about 30 min in my regular BDUs, and then switched over to the WWII pair. The second I put them on, before I had even buttoned up the fly, or put my belt on, I knew. These were still the most comfortable pants I had ever skated in. I couldn’t exactly figure out why. I skated in them for about 30 min, and loved every second. They were just so catastrophically more comfortable than anything I had skated in for the last 10-15 years. After a bit, I put my regular BDUs back on. It took just one push to realize why the bigger WWII versions were so much better. The regular BDUs, which remain loose pants by any normal standards, still cinch a bit in the thigh/knee/rear area when skating [pushing, jumping (ollie or boneless), etc.]. The WWII version had NO resistance in those areas. At all. None. Zero. Not. Even. A. Hint. The result: Everything felt so much more effortless, flowing, and, well, straight-up cozy-time-awesome. Again, these pants are nowhere near the size of proper 90s skate pants, but they are substantially larger than most “slacks” you will run across today, including modern BDUs. 

For comparison:

My regular BDUs. 32-35” waist.

M-43 (1943) WWII Rigger Modified U.S. Paratrooper field pants. 33” waist.

M-51 (1951) Korean War U.S. Army Field Pants. 32-35” waist. As can be seen, these are bigger than the WWII version.

Not pictured are M-65 (1965) Field Pants from the Vietnam Era, which are essentially the same as the M-51 versions.
Here are two pics of me skating, circa 2003-2004, in the exact M-51 pants pictured above.

Conclusion: While I’m certainly not going back to 90s SWBP-era absurdity, I might start rocking WWII and Korean-era apocalypse “fashion” all over again; It's just too damn comfortable. The future is the past. There is no chance in hell, however, that I will ever revisit 25mm wheels. :)