Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Ankle Update, Feb 2021

This below clip is a little outtake from last night's session. The angle iron was a tad sticky. Didn’t go fast enough/lean back far enough to compensate. Front end dipped down. I stepped-off onto the bad ankle...and down I go.

Almost two years after the initial broken bone, after two surgeries, after almost a year back on the board, and after significant recovery, my front ankle STILL betrays me on occasions...and sometimes even on very simple/low impact things such as this little 5-0 grind. I never know when it’s going to happen. 

Fortunately, this doesn’t occur nearly as often as before, and when it does, my ankle doesn’t hurt nearly as bad. Things like this used to be a session-ender. Now I just get up and keep going. That’s awesome. The pads continue to be a real life-saver when it does happen, because I usually go down straight to my knee (sound on to hear the plastic scrape). I don’t foresee loosing those anytime in the near future—it’s just not a game of Russian roulette I want to play with my kneecaps, because eventually I will loose in a serious way. It's just not worth it. 


The other major improvement is that I can now control my falls much better than before—I don’t go down nearly as hard. That’s also great news. So, despite occasional floundering, my ankle doing pretty good. 

Keep pushing...I certainly am. 

Monday, February 15, 2021

Thunder Hollow Lights & Team Hollows Review (Part II: Performance)

This is Part Two of my Thunder truck review. In Part One I covered a lot of factual, nerdy, tech stuff. Weight. Height. Length. Board fit/truck size(s). Etc. Here, in Part Two, we cover something much more subjective: truck performance. 


PART II: Performance

For starters, let me clarify that I am almost 47-years-old, and I have lingering injures from a broken leg. If you want a review on how Thunders perform on f/s feebles down kinked rails, switch backside flips into f/s krooked grinds on ledges, or heavy pool skating—you ain’t going to get that here. What you will get is an honest review from average old-guy skater who isn’t trying to sell you something, isn’t making money off reviews, or isn’t trying to use the review to flaunt my own skate “ability” (which is a aughable concept). That said, on we go…  

The first thing I did on the Thunders was to just carve around an empty parking lot and on some banks. This was to get an idea how the trucks turn, to get the bushing breaking in, and to tighten/loosen trucks to my liking. I ride my trucks on the tight end of “loose,” or on the loose end of “tight.” I am an “extra medium” kind of person. How did they perform?

Yeah. My initial reaction to carving around on Thunders was…bad. Real bad. They just didn’t turn. Like, at all. It felt like my trucks were super tighten-downed. I had the kingpin nut all the way to nylon (e.g. loose as you can get without fear of it falling off), and they still felt too tight. I decided to try switching out the stock bushings. I used to ride 96a Bones hard bushing in my Indys, which ride "softer" than most other 96a bushing. I tired Bones 91a bushing in my Indys, and those were way too soft for me (they also ride much "softer" than most other 91a bushings). Well, the 91a Bones bushing are what I put in the Thunders…and they still didn’t have a decent turn. This blew my mind. A bushing that was too soft in my Indys, was still too hard in Thunders? What the hell is that about??? How is that even possible? Is Thunder geometry THAT fucked up???? Again, I ride my trucks are on the tight end of loose, or the loose end of tight. This is to say that I do not ride really loose trucks...and Thunders were too tight, even for me. The Thunder stock bushings are horrible. I would never consider riding Thunders with stock bushings. NEVER. Horrible, horrible performance. I would probably quit skating if my only choice of truck was Thunders with stock bushings. Yes, I thought that were that bad. The 91a Bones did make them ride a bit better, but not by much. They still felt super tight, stiff, and gross. After carving around for awhile I skated a bit of flatland, and some curbs. Things didn't get any better. In fact, they got worse. I couldn't carve/turn into any tricks. If I didn't land perfectly, I had to step off my board or compensate with an immediate tick-tack. It felt so...rigid, and soulless. There was no joy. Fun had abandoned me, and left only a deep sorrow of carves that once were. Despair, destitution, and spiritual calamity. No children laugh here, and tears rain down to melt black snow. Ok, maybe I am being a little bit dramatic here. Just a little. But, yeah, these things were just soul-sucking.

They also had this other really weird characteristic, which is kind of hard to explain. Simply put, it didn’t feel like the front and the back truck ever acted in unison or harmony to produce a good feeling turn.  While my front or back truck might have felt a bit “loose” the board turn as a whole, always felt tight and stiff. It was like there was this weird discord going on...sort of like two musicians trying to play the same song, but the sheet music each had was in a different key. 

I should mention that while I could notice the Hollow Teams made my board feel a tad higher, I could not otherwise notice any real difference in performance between the Hollow Lights and Team Hollows. None. That 1mm height difference between them might cause real or imagined differences to some, but it didn’t even have placebo effect on me.  

I intended to skate these trucks for about a week on different types of terrain. That did not, and is not going to happen. I called it quits on this entire project after the second night of skating. Why? Because these trucks are not fun to ride. At all. In anyway. There was simply no point forcing myself to go any further with this review. The writing was on the wall in huge, bold, letters. At my age, if I’m not feeling something with my set-up, game over. Time is too precious to be wasting it on things that I’m not Stoked about. I was not Stoked on these trucks. Rather, they made me want to vomit in my own hair. I know there are some who feel that Thunders turn better than Indys. I also know that there are some in New York City who think they have a good view of the night stars and sky. Not only do those people have no idea what they are missing, they also have no idea what they are talking about.

Bottom Line: If you like trucks on the tighter side, Thunders are worth a look at. I, however, will never look at them again…and I didn’t even get into this problem with them! As much as I love DLX decks/wheels, and everything they do for skateboarding, Thunders are just not the truck for me. If they work for you, great. I dwell elsewhere. 

I am firm believer in the concept of, " One should revisit their assumptions from time to time, if only to prove that they still hold true." However, after enough tests with the same variable, one can safely say the assumptions ARE TRUE, at least in regard to that specific variable. I've given Thunders a number of tries over the years. I have now tested the "Indys > Thunder" assumption enough times to establish its unquestionable veracity, at least for me. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Thunder Hollow Lights & Team Hollows Review (Part I: Techy, Nerdy, Stuff)

I hate NHS. I expressly state my bias up front. I would love to be rid of everything associated with that company, including Independent trucks. Despite that, I have ridden Indys for a very, very long time. Why? Because I have always found them to be a superior product (and I say that as someone who WANTS to be riding a different truck). So, that should say something about Indys. I mean they are the industry standard for a reason. I also believe that one should challenge their assumptions from time to time, if only to prove those assumptions still hold true.

So, with this background, and with hopes of riding myself of all NHS products, I decided to give Thunders another chance. This is my review of them. Since Indys are the “gold standard” (and what I normally ride), I will be making many comparisons to (my) Indys during this review. For reference, I ride Indy 144 titaniums on an 8.25” deck with a 14.38” wheelbase. And yes, I have tried Aces (an extensive review of them can be found here).

So, for this review I will be covering two different Thunder trucks at once.

-148 Polished Team Hollows (8.25”) (“TH”)
-148 Polished Hollow Lights (8.25”) (“HL”)

There is not much difference between these two trucks: minor differences in height and weight. Part II of this review (which coves actual performance), will suss out if the difference between them is substantive...or just good old-fashioned marketing. 

I have not ridden Thunders in a few years. I tried the Team versions when they first came out, and I was not a fan. However, it appears as if Thunder has made a few tweaks since then. Or have they? It’s actually kind of hard to know. Both trucks I am testing are purported to now be a bit taller than earlier generations…or maybe that is just due to Thunder’s weird truck designs and inconsistent messaging? Again, it’s still hard to actually know. Why? Well, are you ready to go down a maddening array of Thunder’s claimed truck specs that are all-over-the-map? Buckle up. We are about to descend in insanity.    

Let’s start here. This old ad stated that regular Thunders were 48.58mm tall, and that the Teams “were slightly 1mm taller,” coming in at 49.78mm (note the blue circle at the bottom of the image).

Today, things are bit different. The current Thunder web site states that Thunder 148 (8.25”) Lights trucks are 51mm, and the Teams are 52mm (see below).

Things then get even more confusing, because the height of Thunder trucks changes with their width. For instance, the 147 (8.0”) Lights are listed at 49mm Tall. The same trucks, only wider (e.g. the 161s),  are listed at 52mm. But, it’s about to get even worse. If you watch the little promo videos on Thunder’s web site for each respective truck style, they only list ONE height for each model. Nowhere on the current web site do the numbers “48.58” and “49.78” appear (as they did in that old Team ad above). Maybe I missed it, but I never recall seeing anything from Thunder that they had made their trucks taller. Maybe Thunders have always had a varied height-to-length-ratio, which was just poorly advertised/document by Thunder in the past. Whatever the case, it would be nice if Thunder put out some clear, and consistent information about their truck specs. And good luck looking for height guidance/specs at any on-line skate shop, because you will also find truck heights listed that I didn’t even mention above. It’s just total bedlam.
What about Indys? Independent trucks have no such confusion. Their standards are 55mm tall. Everyone agrees on that. Their forged trucks are 53.5mm tall. Everyone also agrees on that, too. Indy height does not change with width. Their new mids are 52mm tall (but those also appear to have a horrible design, and should be avoided at all costs. Nice job, Indy. You managed to make a heavier truck, with less kingpin clearance, a stickier kingpin for smith/feeble grinds, and with more initial slip-out. Sounds like the worst Indy ever made. I'm not going near them.).  

So, before I even get to Thunder’s performance aspects, I am going to cover a lot of nuanced, nerdy, spec-tech stuff. You've been warned. I am sure some people think this level of scrutiny is absolutely inane and absurd. Others thrive on it. If you want to just skip straight to the performance aspects, head over to Part II (which can be found here). All of the measurements below are my own. If there is a reason to cite a manufacture claimed measurement, I will expressly state that. Just for comparison, I threw in specs on my Indys (144 titaniums), and Ace 44s, too.

Weight (individual truck):
HL: 322g (11.36oz)
TH: 335g (11.75oz)
Indy Titanium: 333g (11.81oz)*
Ace: 395g (13.86oz)

*Manufacture claim is 335g. When I weighed a new set, they came in at 333g. My scale is probably a bit off. That said, I weighed all of these trucks on the same scale (so there was a consistent point of reference between/among all of them).

Height (measured to center of axle):
HL: 51mm
TH: 52mm
Indy: 53.5mm
Ace: 52mm

Measured center-of-axle to center-of-axle. This is will never an EXACT measurement because bushings, pivot cup, etc. will never allow the axles to sit perfectly flat/balanced.

HL: 17.62”
TH: 17.62”

*My deck wheelbase is 14.38”. So 17.62” minus 14.39” equals 3.24” (rounded to 3.25”). Thus, Thunders will lengthen any deck’s wheelbase by +3.25”. Knowing this number helps with compare wheelbases among truck brands.

17.5” (axle to axle on a 14.38” deck)

17.25” (axle to axle on a 14.38” deck)

Kingpin Clearance:
for this I just eyeballed it from top of kingpin to top of the hanger.
HL: 10mm
TH: 10mm
Indy: 9mm
Ace: 8mm

Axle Length (total):
HL, TH, and Indy: 8.25”
Ace: 8.38”

Axle Length (individual)
For this, I measured the length of the axle that sticks out from the hanger.

HL: 32mm
TH: 32mm
Indy: 32mm
Ace: 35mm

Hanger Length:
HL: 5.62”
TH: 5.62”
Indy: 5.62”
Ace: 5.56”


Comment on Durometer: While the Thunder web site does not state what durometer the polished Thunders come stock with, everywhere else that stock bushing durometer is listed, it is listed as 90a. So, I will assume my Thunders also came stock with 90s bushings. If you want to use aftermarket Thunder bushings, they come in 90a, 94a, 97a, and 100a. All of these come only in a conical shape. By comparison, Independent aftermarket bushings are available in 78a, 88a, 90a, 92a, 94a, and 96a. These are all available in both conical and standard cylinder shapes. The height of bushing is important for compatibility with non-manufacture after-market bushings

Bushing Height, Hardness, & Shape:

Top: 10mm
Bottom: 14mm
Stacked with washers: 27mm
Hardness: 90a
Shape: Conical/tapered

Top: 10mm
Bottom: 13mm
Stacked with washers: 27mm
Hardness: 90a
Shape: Cylindrical/straight  

Top: 12mm (91a)
Bottom: 14mm (86a)
Stacked with washers: 27mm
Shape: Cylindrical/straight  

Baseplate Design: Thunders are notorious for this “problem.” No other truck has this issue, only Thunder does. I’ll cover this more in Part II on truck performance. 

Appearance: Everything above is factual information. Weight. Height. Lengths. Etc. Now we move to something more subjecting, appearance. I have mixed feelings about the way Thunders look. I don’t hate them (I despise how Aces look). I don’t love them (I love the way Indys look). They definitely look more svelte than Indy. Thunders almost, almost, start to look like “Wal-Mart” trucks, but don’t totally cross over into Toy Store Land appearance (many have made that claim about Thunders). I love the way Thunders with a black baseplate and silver/gunmetal hangers look. Thunder is constantly putting out different truck color combinations. Some of them look really cheesy, IMHO.

Mall Grab: I saved the most important for last. I know everyone is dying to know…but how are Thunders for Mall Grabs? I’m sorry, kids. Simply put, Thunders are just a lesser Mall Grab. Due to Thunder’s stripped down, svelte design, they just don’t give your hand that much to hold on to. Grabbing your Thunders as you waltz into the Food Court, or Zummies…it just feels as if you are daintily holding a fragile bouquet of small, weak, undernourished aluminum flowers. If the jocks by the Burger King kiosk start frontin’ on you, it just doesn’t seem like you have any real heft to fight them off with. Without question, Indys are the best truck for a good, satisfying Mall Grab. “Grab the Best, Fuck the Rest”…or something macho tough-guy like that.   


So, there you have it. A pretty lengthy review of Thunder trucks, before I have even put them on my board and skated them! On paper, four things stand out to me. First, is the longer wheelbase. Second, is the lowered height (esp. with the Hollow Lights). Third, is the notorious baseplate issue with nose/tail slides. Last, the Team Hollows weigh the same as my Indys (surprising), and the Hollow Lights are a tad lighter.  I am eager to see how all this actually plays out when I start skating them. How much of these differences is marketing, and how much will I actually notice? Time will tell. Part II of this review will adress actual performance vs. marketing gimmick. Note however, that Part II has not been posted yet. I will link it here as soon as it is goes live. Until then, happy skating.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Diminish, Fade, and Wither: The Inspiring Delcline of Tony Hawk

I am an old, broken, skateboarder. My balance is not what it once was. I don’t react as fast as I used to. I don’t heal as quickly as before. Every year skateboarding becomes harder. Every year I become more susceptible to injury. I like my pads a hell of a lot more than I used to. These are hard facts of biology, time, age, and life.

Recently Tony Hawk posted about his recent struggles doing a 720. A trick he invented long ago. He said he could not spin them as fast anymore. He said previous attempts ended badly and did not inspire confidence. He said they were much harder now. He battled it for awhile, pulled one, and said he may never do it again. Albeit vastly different scales, these battles are ones many of us already know quite well. I certainly do. They are also battles EVERY skateboarder WILL know, provided they stick with it long enough. There is no escape.

It’s not often someone in skateboarding, especially someone at Hawk’s level, openly talks about (and shows) the impact of aging. It’s almost unimaginable to hear TONY HAWK talk about battles with CONFIDENCE. Hearing and seeing his own battles with declining skill and ability certainly make our own battles with the same that much more universal and...humanizing.

Much respect for making that 720, Tony. But even more respect for the honest vulnerability. Every session is a gift. It won’t last forever...and even Tony Hawk knows that.

We diminish. We fade. We wither. And that, at least to me, is a gift. The impermanence of it all is what makes it so special. It’s what makes it so hard to take anything for granted, and what reveals how profound the simple really is (and I’m not talking about just skateboarding here). As I knowingly roll into my own twilight, I do so with a gratitude brighter than a thousand Suns.

Hawk, battling to land a 720, one last time.