Waxing the Curb

The Psychoanalytic Skatepark 
     Dan Graham, Skateboard Pavilion, 1989. 

Ishod the Great


Just remember all caps when you spell the man name.
-MF DOOM, “All Caps”

There’s something different about Ishod Wair these days. Lately, he reminds me of the nerdy kid in high school who gets their braces off during summer break. They come back to school in the fall totally transformed. They’re hot. They’ve got a newfound confidence. Even if their style is the same, it somehow looks better on them than it ever did before. They’ve got it now. They’re magnetic.

In Ishod’s case, summer break was the pandemic. Or perhaps it was his Saturn Return, a period during which many young people begin to question the trajectory their life is taking. Or both. In any case, the 31 year-old skater underwent a pretty holistic transformation, one not just in his skating or fashion, though those things changed. Rather, his outlook changed. His perception of the skate world, and how he fits into it has broadened. He has become more self-aware about what he puts out there. He seems to have gotten himself a decent agent, and has begun to cultivate his public image more seriously. Along with a constant output of skate content, he partners with luxury car companies. He models. He is the face of non-skate brands. He has sponsors, but in many ways, he is a brand of one.

How do we measure greatness in skateboarding? It’s a discomfiting question for a culture that has staged itself in contrast to traditional competitive sports. And these days, what counts in the evaluation of a skater’s greatness has changed. Volume matters more, but so do extracurriculars—you always have to be at the intersection of one thing and another. Getting your name on a shoe is important, but so is access to cultural institutions outside the subculture. Sure, you can kickflip a 12-stair, but is your rap career taking off? How many businesses do you own? Did your clip go viral or are you focusing on yourself these days? Are you sponsored by the clothing company or the secondary market resale platform? Are you fluent in any foreign languages?

If you look at the majority of Ishod’s career, it would seem that he believed a well-rounded approach to skateboarding was enough to earn himself a legacy. His output is nothing short of prolific: Real’s Since Day One (2011), Sabotage 3 (2012), the ender in Nike’s SB Chronicles vol. 2 (2013), Wair N Tear (2013), ECVX (2014), Sabotage 4 (2015), Told Ya (2015), Push Part (2015), Dunk Pro Low (2016), Back on My SB (2018), Be Free (2020), GODSPEED (2020), Real Presents Ishod (2022), plus 2023’s Spitfire part. As if an average of 6 minutes of top-tier footage per year wasn’t enough, he is also a social media manager’s dream, with every tour, filming trip, or even afternoon at the skatepark producing enough b-sides and auxiliary footage to support an entire cottage industry of content (see: Real’s Ishod’s Very Wair-y Christmas (2015), Double Rock: Ishod Wair (2016), Ishod’s Hits: Get it Strait, Roll Forever (2016), Fourstar’s Ishod Wair’s Obtuse Moments (2014), Spitfire’s Keep the Fire Burning Extra Rips: Ishod Wair (2019), 5 Days in the Bay with Ishod (2021), and more). And, as if to prove that he can truly do it all, the guy even includes his 2-minute cameo in Johnny Wilson’s 2014 New York-based video, Paych, on his personal website, alongside his other, more high-budget accomplishments. Back then, such underground productions didn’t get as much traction as they do today, which is to say, Ishod not only appeals to the mainstream, he also gets the respect of the skater’s skaters, as well.

And yet, even though pure skate footage has been Ishod’s primary way of standing out over the years, his latest part for Spitfire suggests a change. Perhaps it’s the choice of MF DOOM for the soundtrack. Or the skating itself. He does the Platonic ideal of a kickflip backtail bigspin, a clip so perfectly paced and hypnotic I could lose hours, days, years of my life watching it on loop. It’s basically my ASMR. In any case, DOOM’s leisurely track slows the part down to a walking pace, giving us a little extra time to linger on what we’re seeing, with every little adjustment, every grandiose moment, coming across with the satisfying, analog pleasure of a well-loved vinyl record. Unlike most of Ishod’s other parts, this whole production just has a kind of atmosphere to it. A sly confidence. A seductive exuberance. I don’t quite know what it is. All I can say is, there is just something different about Ishod these days.

It can be tough to remember back to 2013, when Ishod was named Thrasher’s Skater of the Year. Back then, the first Black skater to win the award was still a scrawny kid from New Jersey who wore cut off shorts with a tye dye shirt and a saggy winter beanie. The skate rat uniform accompanied a certain goofy charm, a carefree mindset that suggested a single-minded pursuit of skateboarding. In the Push documentary series, Ishod’s mom intimates that her son never held a job, which I take as part apology for Ishod’s narrow worldview, and part pride in his all-consuming passion and incredible intelligence on the board. Still, his remarkable talent aside, there was just something endearing about his gap-toothed smile and raspy laugh. His energy was seemingly bottomless, and his habit of skating long after the session had moved onto other, more adult extra-curriculars earned him as much respect as it did teasing. Even as a spectator you wanted to tell him to quit it, that he was good enough already, a feeling echoed by his teammates on Real, and their loving, persistent ridicule.

Ishod’s output during this time was, unsurprisingly, remarkable. As a child, ADD made it hard for him to sit still and focus, but skateboarding’s haptic, sensorial ballet presented the perfect outlet for a kid who, as his mom says, is “moving while he takes in information,” and who would sometimes spin in circles as a means of thoughtful reflection. Indeed, his style at this time was as energetic as it was tactical, his 360 flips in particular trained at a low-rise consistency, rather than the explosive spectacle you might expect from a young skater looking to stand out. Across a pair of parts that came out during 2013, one for Nike and the other for the nascent Philadelphia-based video series, Sabotage, we see a dizzying array of frenetic ledge combos, run-on lines, and plenty of other bangers, every moment a chance to prove the full breadth of his potential. His final line in Sabotage 3 offers perhaps the best example. Every trick in the four-piece clip has the special meter on, even a high-speed wallie he adds right before hucking himself down the Love Park fountain gap. As he rolls away from this final kickflip, you can’t help but marvel at the technicality of his skill, and the breadth of his ambition. It’s one thing to go that hard, skate that long, charge that fast, and do the hardest version of each trick. It’s another thing to do it all at night.
Fast forward a few years, and you really have to ask yourself whether Ishod’s accomplishments were truly recognized at that time. For one, Ishod was only 21 years old, and there’s little to indicate that there was much on his mind beyond skating, cars, and hip-hop. Based on what would follow, we might even characterize his SOTY win more as a Rookie of The Year award than his career’s crowning achievement. And, later in the text, we will see just what a scholar of the board he will become. In any case, the prevailing attitude at the time is best summed up by former SOTYs Andrew Reynolds and Silas Baxter-Neal, both of whom chimed in about the 2013 candidates. “I think Ishod should get it because the amount of skateboarding he does—he has three video parts: Sabotage 3, Wair and Tear [sic], and the Chronicles video. I think he won a contest, too,” said Reynolds. “And he did it all without trying to get Skater of the Year.” “Ishod—skate rat ripping for himself not for a trophy,” added Baxter-Neal. “Skates EVERYTHING [sic], and looks sick doing it. Still puts out video parts for the homies while filming for corpo vids. If Thrasher stands for real skateboarding then Ishod should be the SOTY.”

While both of these comments represent high praise for the young skater, one has to wonder: what exactly do Reynolds and Baxter-Neal mean by “real skateboarding”? Or to have achieved something without trying to? Skate culture is obsessed with an ineffable authenticity, which is typically defined by a certain effortless on and off the board. The subtext is that you don’t need anyone’s permission to pursue your desire, you skate for yourself; it’s about a kind of freedom, not who’s best. While this self-deprecating attitude is partly what keeps skateboarding cool, and cultivates a cult-like allure, the same belief in the “quiet achiever” makes it more difficult for skate culture to acknowledge the efforts of Black skaters, and other skaters of color. The issue creates a double bind where matters of success are concerned: to make up for an absolute scarcity of visibility and support, Black skaters must try twice as hard to be seen. Yet, to succeed in skateboarding requires a level of ambivalence toward your own talents, thereby negating those efforts. For his part, Ishod has historically dismissed the roadblocks that have been put in his way. In a 2017 Thrasher interview, Michael Burnett asks him whether he has experienced racism in skateboarding, and I suspect that Ishod’s non-committal, and somewhat ambivalent answer—“Not really. I feel like skateboarding is pretty universal.”—was the result of having been put on the spot. It’s not his responsibility to say, or explain this to a white audience.

Ishod’s family and friends, however, have been more outspoken about the momentousness of his accomplishments. Echoing remarks made by numerous Black pros over the years, they recount numerous incidents when Ishod would be pressured from both sides of the racial divide: white skaters discriminating against him, and Black peers chastising him for his pursuit of what they considered to be a white sport. And while we can see a certain imperturbable confidence in Ishod’s current part, there still loomed (then as now) the unfortunate experiences of other Black skaters before him, in particular someone like Bastien Salabanzi. Following the release of his part in Flip’s Really Sorry, the publication of an historically unheard-of 18-page interview in Thrasher, and a slew of contest wins, Salabanzi was at the top of the skate world, yet rather than a SOTY title, skaters, ordinarily forgiving to flamboyant egos, seemed to have more to say about his personality than his abilities. After Salabanzi’s infamous boasting at the 2004 Tampa Pro contest, a contest that he won, he drew accusations of cockiness and arrogance, historically the type of language that white audiences level at Black men to diminish their abilities, and cast doubt upon their accomplishments. To simply acknowledge his own talents, even celebrate himself, earned Salabanzi widespread censure. Though it would be a mix of personal and professional reasons that would soon force him to move back to Europe, I often wonder if Salabanzi might have enjoyed a longer career in the States had skate culture proved more hospitable to Black skaters.

In a way, Ishod’s response to these challenges was to crunch the numbers. He has an elemental approach to skateboarding and has long immersed himself in the technical minutiae, the hard physics that underlie the act of skateboarding. It’s not such an uncommon route to take, in a way. As design thinker Prem Krishnamurthy describes in his book, On Letters, to pursue math or science offered a way to contend with systemic racism. “[A]s Black people in America,” he writes, describing the parents of artist Leslie Hewitt, “studying or teaching math meant that there was a correct answer that could not be denied based on race.” In Ishod’s case, he has proofed everything out, with hard math giving him ammunition against subjective judgments. And if that deep study were not enough, he pursued skateboarding with an obsessive zeal, directing himself toward practical mastery. The result is truly wild sometimes. The way Ishod approaches spots, thinking through them with a critical, nearly scientific objectivity, can sometimes seem absurd, as when he compares the angle of a kinked rail to a wedge ramp. “Go down that shit no beef,” he says, as if everyone approached skating with the same lucid analysis, rather than the fear of sacking yourself a kinked rail ordinarily brings to mind.

Such observational capacities have made these experiments easy for him to replicate, but as the ensuing years prove, he never repeated himself. And, rather than simply sit on his laurels, and harden into an easily definable shape, he would become one of the most well-rounded skateboarders in the world—a hard thing to achieve, and an even harder thing to pull off. Almost immediately, we start to see how Ishod refuses to limit himself to just one genre or style. Rather than capitalize on his widespread notoriety, he once again steeps himself in his local scene, putting out a part for Sabotage 4 and recording another Philly-heavy part in ECVX. His approach to local haunts advances, as well, as he veers between lackadaisical bangers, effortless bump to bars, and more cerebral use of Daniel Martinez, Renee Petropoulis, and Roger White’s public art tribute to boardgames, Your Move (1996) at Muni. As if playing a game of chess with himself, he approaches the spot with disarming confidence and improvisation, literally toying with the various game pieces in a strategic mix of stately ledge tricks and more off-the-cuff wallies and slappies—a wild, rangy combination of styles that both pays tribute to his East Coast roots, and proves a deft balance of high tastes and low forms. In general, he just seems to be as excited to skateboard and learn new things as he ever was, as in his unusual SOTY cover. Rather than some jaw-dropping banger, he offers us an image of a Black man of leisure, articulating a no-comply over a barrier on some Floridian boardwalk. The board? A reissue of Jim Thiebaud’s famous graphic, the “hanging Klansman”.

“People like to think that skateboarding is just random,” Ishod says in a 2018 Thrasher article titled “Ishod Wair Trick Detective”. “You throw your board at this thing and then things just happen. In actuality, everything happens for a reason. The smallest measurements mean something.” Ishod seems to have always possessed a probing mindset, and to have sought out opportunities for self-improvement, particularly on a skateboard. Following his SOTY victory, we have already seen that he refused to just soak in the limelight. But he not only puts out a handful of street parts, he also hunkers down and teaches himself something new. And, as a regular at FDR, it does not take long for him to become a proper bowl troll just like all the other hessians of Western, PA, though he brings to the genre something smoother and more urbane.
Historically, transitions and concrete skateparks are not friendly contexts to Black skaters, but in his Back on My SB part for Nike, Ishod has a commanding, irrefutable ease on the rough-hewn bowls under the bridge. In one, he nose picks the deep end of one secluded pocket, plunging himself back into the pool with the practiced tempo of a swimmer who had just come up for air. When he steps a backside boneless off of the highway supports he lets himself back into the bowl with the practiced confidence of a no-look pass—everything, including Ishod, is where they belong. His music choice is also inspired, electing to skate to Mark Morrison’s 1996 R&B masterwork, “Return of the Mack,” a song that brings to the part a party-like atmosphere. Alongside the track’s easy rhythm, and Morrison’s smooth vocals, Ishod appears entirely self-possessed. In every clip, he’s completely at ease with himself and his abilities. I rewatch this part every few months not only for the impressiveness of the skating, but also for the mood it puts me in. From the no comply he casually steps onto the coping in the deep end of some immense pool to the technical discipline of a switch crooked grind he takes back to fakie (adding a kickflip), we see Ishod relishing in his craft, each trick testifying to someone who has found his rhythm.

A lot has changed since Ishod first won SOTY, particularly in what we expect from a pro skater. Today, we expect pro skaters to be more image-conscious. We want them to possess a certain savvy, a certain awareness of trends. Whether perverse or profound, we want something that can stick out from the morass of never-ending content, and the algorithm’s all-powerful tendency toward middlebrow conformity. The situation puts extra pressure on a skater like Ishod, who has dedicated himself to a more classical image of skating, one which is more easily absorbed into the algorithm, and reduced to fodder. Basically, we want a content creator, who is also a skater.

Indeed, while there is something magical about his output of the last three years, you have to wonder if Ishod doesn’t feel a little left behind. His 10-minute part for Real was beyond masterful, but since it didn’t come out during #SOTYszn, his part was swallowed up by the flood of skate content. And not only that, but there is the question of art direction. Compared to the more cinematic atmospherics of someone like Bill Strobeck, who eschews a documentary style for something more impressionistic, Ishod’s recent video offerings seem a little staid and straightforward. Tyshawn Jones has also presented some competition for the throne—in a way, he looks like Ishod’s successor. The two-time SOTY winner has, over the last several years, wrestled the skate world into submission with his irrefutable athleticism and outspoken ambitiousness, resetting the bar at numerous historic spots. The model of a pro skater he represents also sees skating less as a milestone than a stepping stone. Having opened multiple businesses, including his mother’s restaurant, he has added business mogul to his string of titles. Within this competitive milieu, Ishod’s part failed to stir up the same sense of urgency as Tyshawn’s productions, which are more attuned to the current media landscape, and instead landed with the tepid greeting of a greatest hits album—satisfying, fun, but hardly new.

Lately, though, Ishod seems to be making up for lost time. Swapping pro-skater for content creator, he has sought to rebrand himself as a multi-hyphenate, adding model and photographer to his original distinction. Like many other young Black skaters, such as Lil Dre, Na-Kel Smith, and Lucien Clark, Ishod was tapped for modeling gigs by creative director Virgil Abloh, who wanted to foreground the influence these young Black skaters have had on style and culture without deracinating skateboarding like his fashion contemporaries. Now, Ishod is the face of the SS23 campaign for Acne Studios, which photographed him in and around his home, and a spokesperson for BMW, both of which foreground his skateboarding career as a sign of authentic individuality—“You need to do it in the way that it’s you, or it just becomes unauthentic [sic],” Ishod opines at the end of his BMW IG spot. Whether it’s true of Ishod or not, he nonetheless has the savvy to recognize the thirst these non-skate companies have for skateboarders, who many young people and brands alike see as cultural connoisseurs endowed with the coolness they hope to siphon into their own cultural engines.

Some aspects of Ishod’s new influencer identity are more convincing than others, with his own earnestness occasionally shining through the more thoughtful facade. The Acne campaign photographs Ishod at the LA River, and claims it is his favorite spot, but I’ve never seen a clip of him skating there. And a recent IG post from the Super Bowl seems to show the ambivalence at the heart of Ishod’s new medium—a sort of influencer paradox. At first I cringed when he demanded a new Telfar bag after security made him throw his out. He seemed to miss the point about the high-concept bag’s subversion of luxury, and how its accessible price point, affordable materials, and made-to-order “secure the bag” campaigns overturn the exclusivity that undergirds high fashion. Not to mention the space Telfar, a queer Black designer has carved out for himself in the fashion world—let’s just say, Beyoncé shouts him out. Yet, at the same time, what was Ishod going to do, not attend the Super Bowl, and give up on a once in a lifetime event to defend the somewhat easily replaced status bag?

While it’s unclear how far skate cachet will carry Ishod into the influencer space, we are nonetheless witness to someone who is trying to build some additional equity for himself. In “Architecture,” a recent episode of filmer Davonte Jolly’s YouTube series, A Day With The Homies, we follow Ishod and friends for an afternoon of skating and shopping, which they cap with a little photo shoot at the golden hour. Gripping what looks like an 35mm Olympus Stylus, Ishod coaxes fellow pro Robert Neal into a pine tree, poking fun at Neal’s initial awkwardness. As the latter struggles to look effortlessly cool without falling out of the tree, a sort of tenderness passes between the two pro skaters. With their skate talent aside, we witness a beautiful feedback loop of self-identification—cameras on cameras on cameras—as Jolly captures a moment when two (and really three) Black men negotiate their own public images for themselves—and unlike his early days in the industry, Ishod is in on the teasing this time.
It’s perhaps in this twilight moment, this lush light at the end of day, that we might view Ishod’s more sophisticated and lyrical Spitfire part, which itself reflects a kind of awakening. He’s finally fessed up to the pro ambitions, gone to where skate dreams are made of, and his style is unabashed, unrushed, finding new ways to skate familiar avenues. There’s just a certain satisfaction in every clip. When he hits us with stairs and drops, he always stands up slowly, deliberately, as if to savor the impact. Twice, he celebrates landing a hammer with a kickflip so compact and beautiful it nearly steals the entire clip, its precision velocity sucking the wind right out of your chest. And when he sticks out his tongue in a Michael Jordan-like expression, I see it as not only a gesture of concentration, but also of someone unafraid to be fun-loving. His style has also matured from the sweaty five-panel hat of the skate rat into the more chic look of the professional, which, ironically, involves jorts (it looks good). Pacing, too, seems much more important, giving the feeling of a much larger project at play—of someone who knows the importance of taking his time, because no one will take it for him. No longer needing to prove the extent of his abilities, he talks about “experience points” in interviews like someone who has finally broadened their purview beyond the skateboard industry.

One wonders how much to read into the choice of song, too. “One Beer” was, in part, a response to the crunk era of rap, the bombastic style of which DOOM lampoons throughout the track. To him, these rappers are ostentatious and course. They look like goofs as they yell (rather than rap) about chasing money and women. It’s not like DOOM doesn’t want these things. A self-fashioned heel, he too takes part in hijinks and capers, but he has a particular code, which comes across when he challenges his fellow rappers to a drinking contest, before offering to pick up the tab. “Tempt me, do a number on the label,” DOOM challenges, soon suggesting that he will easily keep himself together when others succumb to the intoxication of success. We might read something similar in Ishod’s part, that he wades back into the industry periodically not because he has something to prove, but as a regulatory force, as someone who needs to set the record straight, and make sure that kooks don’t find their way in. After any clip, you could easily imagine Ishod muttering to himself DOOM’s rejoinder, “Like, ‘It's on me—put it on my tab, kid”. These little flourishes and flaunts are not many, but they do punctuate his part, a sort of chest-out counterpoint to his general skate-centric focus. Back in 2017, when Michael Burnett leveled the claim that Ishod was the best skater out, the latter countered, “I’ve just been trying to have fun and learn.” When he skates, he does let himself show off here and here, mostly with a big smile.

Historically, the truest sign of self-confidence is to not take yourself too seriously. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t celebrate your successes, nor does it mean you are off the hook when you do something dumb. The point is, for all of his success, Ishod has never been afraid to flaunt his own foibles and missteps either, even if he sometimes gets in his head about it, and tries to over explain. In any case, here, he’s poised, and puts his incredible talent once again toward reestablishing himself within the skate world zeitgeist, taking his seat back on some throne. As he says in a recent interview, he approached this part with a clear sense of purpose. As he lacks the time to just go out and skate, pulled in other directions by other interests, other forums, other ways of speaking, he knows what he wants and goes to get it—no wasted time. And he goes about the process organically, adjusting to circumstances when an idea does not prove fruitful. In short, he’s gone back to basics, basics he knows better than virtually anyone else.

Such an inside-out grasp of skateboarding certainly plays out in his ability to inject stylish nuance into countless hammers. He finesses a fakie hardflip down some stairs, drawing out the explosive power and impressive engineering of its trebuchet-like motion. On a fakie flip at a famous SF triple set, he keeps the movement kind of low, sweeping across the long distance like a low-flying jet plane—were there no music, we would hear a deafening woosh as the board sucks up to his feet. In both clips, he ekes out a distinct poetry from the trick, stretching out certain flourishes, and recalibrating our attention to subtle nuance on a grand scale, as if he could only draw these tricks to their appropriate emotional tension by leaping from these enormous stages. Really, there’s a magisterial presence to these gestures that approaches the epic, as if he were a painter, who, having reached maturity, finally feels confident enough to approach a larger canvas, expanding his intricate vision to fill this new breadth.

To stay at the top, one will always need to adapt. Old hardships don’t go away, while new ones present themselves. And sadly, for a Black skater at the top of his game, those challenges are far from gone, having to deal with everything from ignorance to microaggressions, undermining to outright bigotry, even in the skate world. As Ishod describes in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd for the September 2020 issue of Thrasher, a short walk by himself in small town Idaho presents a mortal danger. Yet, as Ishod adapts and grows over the years, it is not just his talents that have kept him at the top, but rather, his perennial dedication to the details. He’s a master, a skater just as comfortable on a podium as at the random ledge spot. A decade of fame has, paradoxically, also reinforced his position as a skater’s skater, two conditions that, in most people’s minds, seem contradictory.

Ultimately, Ishod is a classicist, breathing new life into old forms, and not afraid to occasionally be goofy with the fundamentals. He knows himself, in short, and is not afraid to embrace his internal contradictions and imperfections. And somehow, as he discussed with Tim Fulton in the February 2023 issue of Thrasher, even on the rare occasion that he slams, skateboarding remains the most natural thing in the world to him, the language by which he understands it all. “I’ll never forget that time you ate shit on that big hubba in LA,” says Fulton. “We thought you were going to be out for awhile but after the session you skated a skatepark.”

“Yeah, that sucked,” Ishod replies unperturbed. “I just be skating, though.” •••

Special thanks to Dena Yago and Max Harrison-Caldwell for the thoughtful edits and support. 

Dime Piece


Day 1: Smoked Meat

The plan was to meet everyone in Montreal. My publisher, Have-you-heard-that-podcast and I would drive a comically long Toyota Pathfinder. Our friends, the filmer, Padfinder, Twitter star, Young Mathi, and my other publisher, At-home-by-twelve had driven up the day before. Two more, filmmaker, Kid Criterion and industry insider, Back-home-in-Arizona, would follow that afternoon. We would share an Airbnb. The writer, At-work-on-my-novel and his colleague, Tiny Dancer had booked plane tickets. The placemaking at our minimally appointed loft included inspirational quotes. “Be awesome today,” read the one by the door.

The ride up was miraculously smooth (we left before weekend traffic), and, perhaps owing to pleasant driving conditions, my new friend, Have-you-heard-that-podcast and I were already divulging our family histories before we had even left Queens. We talked about our parents. About the Rust Belt. He had just had a kid. “I love her, and for me, it’s really interesting to think what horrible, unethical corner of the Internet she would need to find to disappoint me. Doesn’t seem possible.” Have-you-heard-that-podcast’s mindset marries a skater’s curiosity with design logic, and it’s fascinating to hear him apply his talent for user flows to the vicissitudes of life. It wasn’t long, though, before our conversation turned to skate gossip. Relatively green to the skate media landscape, I naively asked about this and that recent controversy. Why did ———— go out of business? How is ———— unsponsored? As I might have guessed from our conversations, Have-you-heard-that-podcast had answers, and we chatted about the latest beefs all the way to Montreal.

When we arrived, we regrouped with everyone else and headed out for food. It was Have-you-heard-that-podcast’s birthday, and we tracked down one of Montreal’s gifts to the world: a Jewish delicacy simply called smoked meat. It was, in many ways, how our weekend began. Not with hitting the road. Not with skating. Not with the first sight of a pro skater. Not even with my first White Claw. Nor my second. Nor my third. No, it was with a smoked meat sandwich from Schwartz’s Deli that we marked our arrival.

At first, we sat around a picnic table, silently wolfing down our sandwiches. The meat was succulent, the portion sensible. A would-be great sandwich had it not been for the mustard. The meat cutters had categorically refused to provide more. At first, I worried, because I had suggested the place, and the first night often sets the tone for the trip. But then I remembered that skaters are naturally contrarian. “Hey, sorry, I’m going to go out of my way to help you figure out where that spot is,” Padfinder had said earlier that night, mocking Canadian hospitality in what I called “kindness burns”. “Also, here’s the keys to my car, the code to my apartment, and 20 bucks. You can borrow them for the weekend, eh.” And so, it was with this circle of beautifully inconsequential trash talk that my weekend truly began.

Day 2: Sufganiyot

By the second day, I began to feel as if my life had come full circle. Skate writing was new to me. At the onset of lockdown, I had abandoned a career as an art critic, and decided to try my hand in an even less remunerative role as a skate writer (ok, skate blogger). Starting something new, writing about something so central to my identity, but which I had not yet put to words was both thrilling and painful. I felt exposed—as in youth, a poser once more. But I also felt unified for the first time in ages. Perhaps testifying to the fit of my new path, or, perhaps, the onerous nature of art criticism, people stopped crossing the street when they saw me (true story), and I was able, as a straight white guy in my mid-30s, to escape the tendency to withdraw (see SNL skit “Man Park”), coming out of the pandemic with more friends, not less. (As a Buffalonian, a skate trip to Canada also caused deja vu).

In any case, my high expectations soon caved in. We were there as spectators, but also to skate, electing to hit a ledge spot before the Dime Glory Challenge that afternoon. But having forgone breakfast, I grumpily admonished myself as everyone else got clips. Young Mathi contorted himself into a backside noseblunt. Padfinder steered himself uphill and down curbs for a circuitous, multi-tiered manual. At-home-by-twelve, having lived up to his name the night before, energetically pounced onto the ledge for a backtail shove-it (a weekly ritual for him). And then there was Back-home-in-Arizona. He was truly in his element when surrounded by skaters, the presence of old friends acting on him like some kind of rejuvenating, beatific drug. Skating with incredible fluidity and a sense of wholeness, he racked up an astronomical trick count, accenting each one with all manner of spontaneous flourish, dervish-like rotations, whirlybirds, and 270 shove-its. He also does this unusual thing, and critiques his own skating, sometimes mid-trick, though in the midst of peers, his criticisms sound more like funny homilies to the saints. “Wouldn’t count in Fisheye’s book, would it?” He might say to himself, referring to an old photographer friend. By the time his display came to a close, Back-home-in-Arizona regarded the rest of us with an imperturbable expression, his eyes narrowed as if basking in the sun.

And there I was, unable to grasp how anyone could turn their shoulders before lunch. I was saved, however, by a nearby Polish deli, where I bought a dozen sufganiyot for the crew—what a local we skated with referred to as “blesséd donuts.” One bite of the delicately fried pastry yielded a black hole of prune paste that pulled your tastebuds into the depth of its flavor. Two bites later, I wedged myself into a tailslide, and we were back in Kid Criterion’s car, on our way to the Dime Glory Challenge.

Contest, nontest, mock Olympics—the Dime Glory Challenge does not fall easily into a single category. It resembles a WWE wrestling event more than anything, and even that’s not quite right. Framed as a series of challenges, the event satirizes institutional attempts to frame skateboarding as a sport. The Speed Challenge shirks style points, and clocks flatground tricks with a speedometer. The Rainbow Challenge, which stacks a series of arch-shaped rails to higher and longer proportions, seems more like a track and field event. And the Art Show Challenge parodied a self-serious art auction. Of course, this year would once again name the World Champion of Skate, mounting a grudge match between Alexis Sablone and Breanna Geering. And finally, there was the Volcano Challenge, the DGC’s flame throwing, foam spitting, finale.

But in ways I had not realized before attending the event myself, the DGC is also deeply local, representing a sort of regional circus sideshow, complete with all sorts of unusual characters. Dime was one of the first digital native skate brands to excel in the social media landscape (remember, Instagram only came out in 2010). Taking to these platforms, they spoke the lingua franca of the internet—irony. And they spoke it loud, parodying the bro-y-ness of contemporary skate culture, while also building an idiosyncratic mythology for themselves. The jokes, too, were hilariously culty and insular, combing skateboarding’s awkward past with an unabashedly French Canadian perspective. Their heroes weren’t Mike Carroll or Gino Iannuci, they were unglamourous outsiders like meathead Rob “Sluggo” Boyce, local lionheart, Alexis Lacroix, and lumberjack Ryan Decenzo, for whom the DJ had a special button that echoed his name throughout the stadium anytime he landed a trick. The Dime Glory Challenge itself seems designed to insert Montreal locals into a line up of biggest legends and pros.

Sipping a Black Cherry Bud Light Seltzer (yeah, it was going to be a hard seltzer weekend) I took in the event from the VIP section. We were late, and the skating had already begun, but the first thing to catch my attention was not Crazy Frankie’s high speed hippie jump or Felipe Nunes’ kickflip into the Euro gap. Rather, I was struck with the presence of social media managers on their phones. The most privileged access went to people dressed like catalog models for the brands they represent, and who could be distinguished by the leash that led from their phone to the power bank in their backpack. Lui Elliot, Thrasher’s social guy, made a spectacle of himself, as he trailed the skaters down the ramps, but mostly, these digital field mice scampered along the edges, scurrying this way and that with each passing run. Of course, this was a nontest. It would have no definitive, climactic moment. No comically large checks would be handed out, either. But this, to me, seemed prime to generate content. Pratfalls and slapstick, goofiness and conflict were as relevant as tricks in this context, which refused the decisive hierarchies of a winning run or best trick. Indeed, the quid quo pro was that VIPs might get a little extra breathing room to get a better angle, and post their contribution. Because, aren’t we all friends?

No cynicism lasts for long, though, as the announcers summarily stirred me from my initial apprehensions. They were some of my favorite participants in the Dime Glory Challenge. More merry prankster than hypemen, they bellowed into the mic, riling up the crowd with calls of “Montreal!” Their voices breathed excitement, with one raspy-throated announcer adding some jolly mayhem. “I sound like if Oscar the Grouch and Hulk Hogan had a baby,” he said. “And it was raised by Macho Man Randy Savage.”

Indeed, the underlying parody of the whole affair created a permissive atmosphere, which different pros interpreted in different ways. Faded legend, Eric Koston could always be seen with a beer, and seemed as relevant alongside the younger crowd as Youppi, the Montreal Canadian’s goofy mascot, who was also in attendance. At the same time, Evan Smith stood in the middle of the course for a full two minutes, showing something on his phone to no one in particular (it was weird). Obviously, there was no code of conduct, but recently-minted pro, Nicole Hause seemed to take up the party spirit better than most. Behind a silver pair of raver shades, she copped a stoney, laissez-faire attitude, playing comic foil to the seriousness of other skaters. Smacking her head, before tackling the fourth tier of the rainbow rail, minor head trauma was but one sign that she had committed to the bit, and was serious about having fun.

Mason Silva’s contest appearance, though, was perhaps the best example of a skater embracing the Dime Glory Challenge’s minor ego death. After a groin injury waylaid his afternoon, I watched the 2020 Skater of the Year high five a young fan as if the kid were his peer. Sparks flew the from latter’s braces, and, speaking to the Quebecer afterwards, I heard about a new skater enthralled by pros whose names he did not yet know. What made the moment extra special, however, was that Silva wore the same palpable excitement on his face, too. The DGC is a parody of a contest. But it is also a parody of skateboarding as a form of labor. With their faces locked behind a stoic expression, men dressed in matching, Minions-like uniforms (Dime + Minions = Dimions?) make light of hard work, holding up stop signs and clearing debris with a leaf blower. Against this quasi-satirical backdrop (afterall, the Dimions did actually build the ramps), Silva’s efforts could frame him like an A-student who always wants to get it right (as they sometimes do). But rather than be a try-hard, he charmingly redirected his nervous energy into a supporting role during the game of skate, becoming Breezy’s grimacing bodyguard.

My friends were scattered throughout the arena. Some were in the normal seating area. My publishers were with me in VIP, assiduously documenting the event. The crowd bounced on the wooden bleachers to a hyperpop version of Cher’s “Believe”. With one challenge remaining, I decided to speak to the crowd (afterall, I was a foreign correspondent), mounting the stands as massive fireballs exploded from the top of a Volcano-shaped quarterpipe. “It’s like the WWE,” a young couple from the UK told me. Not skaters themselves, these vacationers had simply wandered into the Dime Glory Challenge. Another skater I spoke to had made the 12-hour drive from Halifax to be here. Clearly enthusiastic, his highlights from the day surprised me. “The DJs,” he said, bobbing his head. Silently, he scratched himself under his mesh top until he looked at me suspiciously and walked away.

My most meaningful conversation would prove to be with a group of 19 year-old women. In the past, the DGC could not be accused of gender diversity, but this year’s edition included a significantly more diverse group of pros, many of whom these women had come to see. “I cried when I saw Nora Vasconcellos,” one of them told me, clutching her skateboard to her chest. “It’s true,” seconded her friend. “Her hotel is next to my flat, and I couldn’t even speak when I asked for an autograph,” the first skater continued. As she told me this story, she choked up. “Before I saw Nora,” she added, “I didn’t know it was possible to do this.”

When day one of the Dime Glory Challenge ended, I hung around with my friends near the exit. “I’m still buzzing,” said Kid Criterion with excitement. “There is just so much to process.” I insinuated myself into a circle that included the friendliest (but also most opinionated) guy in skateboarding, Back-home-in-Arizona. He’s the most social person I know, and once more, I found him in his element, wearing that beatific smile as he greeted this and that friend. Everything is framed as a hypothetical when he talks, as if the excitement he feels is so great, he can only grasp it rhetorically. “Oh, was that the absolute most fun thing you have ever seen since you first learned how to kickflip?” He might ask. “Um, would you happen to be referring to none other than the people’s champ, Nicole Hause?” Even spicy opinions—like, say, who has fake style—which he shares liberally, betray a sense of obsessive care, and are frequently accompanied with some self-deprecation. “As someone who has dished it for years,” he has said. “I know I am on the chopping block. I am prepared to take it.” Yet, while he is an industry insider, all pros are met with the same reverence he has for his friends back home, a personal ethic that cultivates immediate familiarity, and which gets even the shyest or more hardened skaters to let their guard down. A circle had formed around him, and it was there that I met my social media idol, Arin, who looked out from behind her curls, and gave me an uncannily delicate fistbump.

Obviously, no winner was named that day. Though as we swirled about in a kind of professional vortex, the skaters being herded onto a shuttle bus, and the rest of us trying to figure out what to do for dinner, I wondered what the stakes had been for the pros in coming here. It wasn’t simply to skate, was it? Careers also depended on a certain number of public appearances and reposts, no? Right then, as if to answer my question, Chandler Burton passed me. They had skated (and did the gnarliest tricks of the Dime Glory Challenge) in their drag persona, Bottom Feeder, a moth-like nymph with iridescent features; baroque, symmetrical facial patterning; a bushy beard; and pointy ear prosthetics. Their trick selection was captivating, too, inserting campiness into the contest with a garish dolphin flip that splayed their body wide open and a nollie 360 that turned ever-so-satisfyingly the wrong way. Contributing banger after banger, and even breaking their board on a nollie backside 180 off the two-story bump to bar, their presence all weekend had a hypnotic effect, reminding me that skateboarding, at bottom, turns the whole world into a stage. 

Day 3: Matzoh Ball Soup

Sometimes on a trip, you need to take a little space for yourself. And on Sunday, as I recovered from White Claws and a few misguided tequila shots, I took it slow. The rest of the crew skated the old part of town before the afternoon rain. I took a walk with At-work-on-my-novel, and we talked about skate writing (er, blogging). We walked through Chinatown and passed Peace Park where one of that afternoon’s events would be held, though Dime eventually canceled it.

As we walked, we caught up about recent projects, and speculated about skate culture’s reach beyond its insular world. Taking a wistful tone, At-work-on-my-novel described to me an upcoming performance he is developing with one of our favorite pros, and his collaborator, Tiny Dancer. His description reminded me of the Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers in that moment, another writer turned artist who questioned systems of value. “Finally the idea of inventing something insincere crossed my mind and I set to work straightaway,” Broodthaers had once said. Speaking with At-work-on-my-novel, I wondered if he was about to embark on a similar project in the skate world, and I could see how the buffoonery of the DGC fit into it. “I’ve decided not to write about skate-related events I’m attending,” he confessed. “I am just not interested in that kind of writing anymore.” The weather, no longer an intermittent drizzle, had begun to pour. And so, I made a solo pilgrimage to Deli Snowdon for matzoh ball soup (poutine and a Diet Coke).

By the time I arrived at the Hill Challenge, the steady downpour threatened a washout. The Hill Challenge’s centerpiece was a modular flat bar, which was meant to extend down the hill, but few skaters felt called to skate it, even in its truncated form. Adding to the somber mood was a lack of commentary. On my way in, I had seen the announcers fumbling with a megaphone, but they apparently never got it to work. In their absence, the long pauses to squeegee the takeoff ramp not only slowed down the action, but left the crowd awash in silence. Ollies were soggy. And even the sound of skate wheels on the wet pavement, ordinarily a head-turner, were muted. Watching the pros trek back up the hill also felt particularly unfair. Alongside long rows of attendees, cozy under their rain jackets and umbrellas, Crazy Frankie cut a sad image, resembling a wet cat whose ordinarily fluffy fur now revealed the scrawny frame beneath. Determined to put on a show, though, he smiled, as he had the entire weekend (honestly, I just love him).

Still, skating has a long history with rain, and that afternoon, I was reminded how some of its most mythical tricks were done when the sky came down. Pedro Delfino 50-50’d the flat bar first try, a trick that barely registered against the collective struggle everyone else seemed to have. Mostly, competitors eschewed the flat bar, and chucked flip tricks off the platform at the top instead. Hill bombs ensued. Hometown hero Léon Chapdelaine even added some theatrics by turning switch half way down Avenue Hotel-de-Ville. Generally, though, caution prevailed, as everyone who made it to the bottom of the hill faced the same danger: the following intersection lacked a spotter.

For my part, I wasn’t sure how long I would last in the rain. The other members of the skate media cut more diehard images. Ponchos cloaked the numerous photographers as if they had just stepped off the Maid of the Mist (Buffalo reference). Plastic deli bags were tied around video cameras. Never one to miss a session, Back-home-in-Arizona weathered both a hangover and the rain beneath a one-man tent. He’s not a drinker, but the night before, he had joined in, downing many White Claws (and, betraying his inexperience with drinking by closing the night with a few sugary aperol spritzes). Still, I saw the same smile I had seen the night before, though it appeared a little sleepier. Comparatively, I snapped a few shots with my Kodak disposable from the bottom of the hill before the lens fogged up. Sunday’s event simply lacked the trappings of the day before, but fortified by my friends’ resolve, we stuck it out, and witnessed a long pair of struggles two other skaters put in with their tricks. As he so often does, Alexis Lacroix bucked convention, and slid the rail with his shoes, before acid dropping onto his board. Rowan Zorilla, though, would make something more sincere out of conditions that had come to seem like an outlandish joke.

If you’re reading this, you have by now seen the trick already. Perhaps you saw Chromeball’s video angle. Or Closer Magazine’s. Or Thrasher’s. Mike Heikkila’s photo was perhaps the best, the crowd closing in behind Rowan as he crouched into a z-like position toward the end of the flat bar, the long, steep hill stretching out before him. The result of more than 20 tries, even bailing had been treacherous, each time forcing him to slide several meters on the soles of his shoes. One time, he sacked himself.

To be honest, in person, I did not know if Rowan would land it. Watching from the bottom of the hill, I had grown distracted. Young Mathi took a Facetime call from a pair of girlfriends in New York who wanted to hang out. “What is up my queens?” He greeted them, before letting them down easy. The call was so posi, tender. He really was not one to carouse, as when, later that night, twitter betrayed his disinterest in a group of young women that were at his side. Instead, he had tweeted a pun: “Damn crazy I’m just realizing that Santa sleighs”. It was when he hung up, though, that we both saw Rowan lean himself onto the long yellow rail for what would prove to be the one, watching as he barely held on, hydroplaning a full 30 feet upon landing. “I’m so glad I hung up when I did,” declared Young Mathi, clearly pleased with himself for catching the trick without having to impolitely drop the call. We milled about for a few more moments, before the relentless rain finally drove us home.

Epilogue: A Weird Wrap in Vermont

Montreal had been fun. The drive back to New York, less so. The rain would not abate until we were an hour outside of New York, and so, Have-you-heard-that-podcast and I white-knuckled it through a downpour. We hydroplaned like Rowan, but it was not as fun.

Detoured via Vermont, Have-you-heard-that-podcast kept a steady hand on our rental car. Conditions worsened. Needing something to dispel my anxiety (and to get my mind off the weird chicken caesar wrap I ate for lunch), I proposed a game, the premise of which was to envision a skate-adjacent brand—name, product, sponsored skaters, etc. To my surprise, my publisher clearly had a few in the chamber. A y———— company. A s————— company. He had the strategy laid out. D———, J————, and J———— would skate for him. It would have a lot of New York clout. My answer: “Elf hats?”

The rain ensured a steady buzz of emotion the whole way back. At one point, I saw a video of Back-home-in-Arizona crowd surfing on Instagram. The closing festivities had included a few hardcore bands, and, clearly, he went for it one last night. The video showed him stage dive, and I laughed, watching him float across a sea of friends (and friends of friends). He was elated (in that punk sort of way). My mind drifted elsewhere, distracted by a slip of the tires. As we got closer to New York, and the weekend was approaching its end, I thought back to a conversation I had had with Kid Criterion on the first night. “I just needed to be a skater again,” he confided on our way back to the Airbnb. Some early success in the f———— industry had led to burnout. But even in adulthood, skating offered an alternative to the pressure to perform, and the precarity of creative careers. I sympathized. Skateboarding had also drawn me back in with its open endedness (and friends). I took an Uber home from the rental car company. I was grateful to be a skater again. •••

“Dime Piece” originally appeared on The Village Psychic. Special thanks to Mike and Spencer for the support. 

Waxing the Curb

To See a Ledge in a Grain of Sand / And a Stair Set in a Wild Flower

Barry Flanagan, Camdonian, 1980. London. 

How To Go Pro | Part I: “Hyperreal”


To most members of the skateboard cognoscenti, Torey Pudwill would be an unlikely subject for a profile of this kind. Goofy, charming, and talented, he nonetheless lacks the typical niche appeal that marks one as an authentic member of the skateboard subculture, his brand of skating wearing the albatross of effort and mass appeal around its neck. In many ways, as skating changed over the last decade, he seemed more and more to represent an outdated version of skate culture, as well. Other skaters became models, artists, rappers, fashion designers, filmmakers, and podcasters, all transforming themselves into arbiters of taste, and the embodiment of the creative lifestyle. They never wait on line, so to speak. Pudwill, however, foregrounded skating in virtually all aspects of his life. It was not only his personality, it was his business.

And yet, over the course of the last year, I came to believe that TPud was perhaps the most important skater of the post-digital era, embodying the ambiguities of the 2010s better than any other skater. Indeed, it was an incredibly tumultuous time, a period during which skateboarding’s most trenchant institutions were called into question. During this decade, skate culture’s long standing talent for self-produced video content, and its dedication to stylish bad boys, made it almost readymade for social media, and, as such, it proliferated into all corners of the internet, to some extent, losing the control of its loosely defined historical arch. Its awkward growing pains made for an interesting saga, and I relished in the many ways skate culture adapted, or resisted the changes that were thrust upon it. Rather than sending a VHS tape to a skate company’s office in Torrance, CA, sponsor-me tapes were immediately posted to YouTube. Skaters were discovered on Instagram and immediately turned pro. Almost every skate magazine went out of business. Punditry expanded, first on IG, then jumping the shark to TikTok, talk shows, and podcasts. The Berrics happened. And the Tokyo Olympics.

Within the industry, major shoe brands finally penetrated the fickle skate world, injecting new money that widened the gap between the haves and the have nots. Direct-to-consumer (DTC) commerce also reshaped the industry, both giving rise to a long-tail of bedroom brands, and adding to the culture’s increasing decentralization and precarity. In the midst of this tumult, other bright spots emerged, as well. Skateboarding was, in part, democratized by these new technologies, opening the door to new, diverse communities, and upending the typically white-male dominated culture. New voices could guide the narrative, both in the United States and, increasingly, abroad.

In any case, as I sifted through these many subjects, looking for a way to tie them together, I uncovered some unexpected details, details that challenged my assumptions about a period I thought I knew well. As large writing projects tend to do, these new revelations truly shifted my perspective, and I soon felt that one of the most interesting themes to emerge from this decade was not the long tail of skate content that flowed from niche communities around the world, or how old pros reconciled with sobriety, or the new diversity within the scene, all important issues based around maturity and accountability that would be the typical provenance of the intellectual skater. Rather, it was an exception to this condition of dispersion, one of skateboarding’s biggest stars, that caught my attention: Torey Pudwill.

My research quickly revealed an irrefutable impact on skateboarding dating from the release of his Big Bang part in 2010 to the present: three Thrasher covers, Transworld Skater of The Year, owner of two companies, and several successful pro model shoes for DVS. He even skated with Lil’ Wayne more than once. The list goes on, but what makes his appeal so hard to pin down is not how much he changed how we think about skateboarding, but rather, how much he deviates from the image the skate industry put forth. Among the cognoscenti, skaters like Dylan, Jake Johnson, Tyshawn Jones, or even Max Palmer drove the narrative. But more people looked like Pudwill, their appearance a startling collage of de-contextualized references they encountered online (i.e. a Monster Energy tattoo, weed socks, tie-dyed griptape, a lip ring, an “I ♥️  Haters” shirt, and maybe an errant dreadlock or man bun).  

Sometimes, I think the world of skateboarding can be divided into two camps: people for whom skateboarding is the most interesting thing about them, and interesting people who skate. A similar tension is at the heart of Pudwill’s career as well, as he seems to have a foot in each camp, an unlikely position that calls into question skateboarding’s most prized value: authenticity. And it was this question that drove my inquiry, because I, like so many of my friends, had written Pudwill off, this in spite of those monstrous kickflips, the uncanny valley of his video game-like combos, the hyperrealism of his gargantuan pop. I was particularly obsessed with the numerous day-in-the-life videos he stars in, all of which follow virtually the same routine, even though they were filmed years apart. These seemed somehow to hold the key to his ongoing stability during such a fickle era, to appear relatable, even if his life matured from a typical skate rat into the banality of entrepreneurship. Sadly, however, after completing the essay on Pudwill, the project went silent. Like an old skateboard abandoned in the garage, the document remained tucked away on my google drive, the wheels yellowing over time.

 Well, it seems that with the release of Pudwill’s latest part, Bigger Bang, as well as This is GOOD WORK, another day in the life video that preceded it by a few months, it’s time. To be clear, the following text does not address the latest videos. It focuses on all the material I could gather by Winter 2021-22. Yet, in a testament to Pudwill’s enduring consistency, all the same subjects still apply to the new footage. Like the Dude, or other historical figures, he embodies his time and place, both a product of his environment, as well as someone that seems to recognize his own destiny—uh, at least maybe, from a skating perspective, anyway. It is perhaps safer to say that Pudwill is the unlikely hero of this story about how skateboarders mythologize themselves in the post-digital era, an exception that seems to prove those ever-unspoken rules at the heart of skate culture. We might even say that, like the hero of any coming-of-age story, he, to some extent, learns to speak on his own terms—at least within the space that is available to him. Clearly, nothing is going to stop him from achieving a dream he’s had since he was a child: to become a pro skater, no matter what it takes in the modern era to do that. It’s for this reason, I would argue that Pudwill is perhaps the most influential skater of the last decade, something he proves again and again, no matter the ambiguity surrounding the results. >>> Part II


Waxing the Curb is ︎ by Sam Korman. 

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