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Waxing the Curb

The Psychoanalytic Skatepark 
     Dan Graham, Skateboard Pavilion, 1989. 

The Hard Way: Notes on Ben Kadow


   

When Ben Kadow does a trick, he does it the hard way. His latest part for Hockey, Triple Backflip (2021), is exemplary of his hardcore aesthetic. If he skates a handrail, he ollies up and over the back of it, before plunging down its steep descent. If he grinds a flat bar, he has to grind a long one, and all of it. If he skates a little planter fence, a decorative element so common around New York City, it must be one that a delivery truck mangled into an impossibly steep, and jagged precipice. Bike racks are the cause of great contortions, skated in a way that requires him to wrench himself out of the trick. Riding onto a rail or slappying a curb, quick and dirty representations of grace, take the form of a carcass toss down a 2-story handrail, or are pummeled across a two-tiered arrangement of curbs. Even his ollies are bludgeoned.

Most skaters follow Ted-talker and corporate inspirational speaker Rodney Mullen’s dictum that form follows function, but not so with Kadow. Even when a trick seems like it might be more straightforward, he jerks himself out of it. Form, for him, is always on a direct collision course with function. Yet, to say that Kadow’s skating bucks convention is not quite the right way to put it, either. Throughout Triple Backflip, we get the sense that he’s more like Travis Bickle, Robert De Niro's character in Taxi Driver (1976): deranged, mocked, scorned, abandoned by god, country, society. A nut. Basically, a test case as to whether a pitiful working class guy like him can find some amount of grace after being made the fool, except, rather than De Niro shooting a pimp to save a teen sex worker played by Jodie Foster, Kadow’s baptism by violence happens between the city and his skateboard, achieving redemption through an onslaught of aggression waged directly upon New York City streets. He’s angry, out of patience, upset, feeling like his only option is to take action, to take things into his own hands.

This kind of white rage should be familiar to many of us, as it increasingly makes incursions into the wider culture, be it in the deranged vision of the Joker (both in Dark Knight (2008) and in the eponymous 2019 film), or in the actual violence of lone wolf actions since Pizzagate. But keeping it within the enclaves of skating’s subculture, Kadow offers a nuanced dissection of this character-type, harkening on our culture’s historically outsider/alternative identity, and drawing out and exaggerating its relationship to punk, as well as the fool. The results are captivating. There’s an expression of something angrier, more pent up, a kind of rage, a clear intent to do harm. It can be somewhat wantonly applied, flinging his board at some post-industrial dockwork with the crazed energy of a cornered criminal, swinging a baseball bat willy-nilly, and happy to take everyone down with him. The same nihilism is everywhere in the part, crashing into rails, attacking ledges, stamping out a 5-0 on a flower pot as if putting a cockroach out of its misery. Crash, boom, bang goes a lot of it, accompanied by a doomy, and deeply anxious drone that constitutes the video’s score.  

It’s easy to identify with the violence sometimes. Like De Niro’s Travis Bickle, Kadow seems to be experiencing a kind of emotional, spiritual, and moral crisis at city life, a very specific type of white rage, with his job—skating—asking him to wade through all of the grime and filth and broken people in order to get a clip. Frankly, it would be hard not to bring your work home with you, with all its attendant anger, grief, and righteous indignation—though, from another perspective, we might simply interpret it as a masculinity at odds with an underlying helplessness, a misguided sense that anger can cleanse the world, or that it needs to be cleansed at all. But the part doesn’t just explore the punk aggressiveness of finding an outlet for your rage. It is after something complimentary, if a bit more complex, which is an exploration of the role of the fool. Indeed, this image of Kadow as the hapless loser introduces the part. We see a still photograph in which many of his Hockey/FA teammates are pictured laughing in the background. You feel bad for Kadow, as if he was the butt of a joke, his supposed friends having tacked a “Kick Me” sign to his back, masking it as an encouraging pat on the back.

What follows are scenes of patheticness and cruelty, expanding the possible emotional range of skateboarding to include much more base feelings, such as pity, fear, disgust, feelings more commonly associated with clowns than with skaters. Kadow is sponsored by Supreme, but the way he wears the company’s high-end sportswear is unconventional, donning one of the company’s pink beanies like a dunces cap, as if he were banished to the corner to think about what he’s done. A similar perversion of the skater’s semi-heroic status can be experienced in the sense of gloom and hopelessness brought on by the weather. Ordinarily you take this for granted in a skate video—it has to be relatively nice out to skate—but instead the wintry undertones of Triple Backflip bring to mind the world-weary Ishmael in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick: “Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet...I quietly take to the ship.”

Indeed, for Kadow, it’s always a drizzly November on his skateboard. Yet, in spite of its underlying sense of melancholy and bewilderment, or perhaps because of it, Triple Backflip can also be kind of funny, even if it’s more the smiling-to-oneself kind, than laughing out loud. He’s a master of irony. When Kadow stares straight at the camera, we might laugh at a frown, whereas we might cower at a smile. The latter expression is often quite creepy: a pour imitation of sincerity, it exposes his awareness of the camera, making us discomfitingly aware that he knows our laughs—say, when he tumbles over a rail and is tossed on his butt—come at his expense. It’s a kind of outsider comedy, as Kadow plays into the discomfort with self-flagellating glee: for his ender, he 5050s a long flat bar, clearly setting up for a kickflip out, but rather than deliver the heroic gesture, he makes a mess of our expectations, instead dangling a half flip off the very tip of his toe. Gotcha, it seems to say, before closing out the video.  
In many ways, what one experiences from Kadow’s skating is the feeling of laughing and crying at the same time, a tragicomic conflation of anger, trauma, pleasure, sadness, release. This combination of pleasure and pain complements Kadow’s appreciation for discipline. The way he does a 360 flip, you’d think the board had done something to deserve a spanking. When he tail drops from one handrail onto another, he commands the board to bend over. But much in the same way that skating had brought him into contact with the city’s underbelly, his sense of discipline and rigor has also instilled in him a kind of perverted sense of craft. Perhaps it’s because he used to work at Superiority Burger, a restaurant owned by former punk legend, and all around evil culinary genius, Brooks Headley, which presents fine dining at the price of a hot dog, and believes that good food can speak for itself. It’s an experience that would instill a kind of humility, a sense of service and duty to others that plays out in Kadow’s skating, and underpins his clownish procedures, giving them an element of respectability, and earning our sympathy. I find it in the lumberjack outfit Kadow wears when he hurtles himself across a bike lane for a gap to manual somewhere in Chelsea. Maybe it’s because Kadow has had to work a job that informs his vision of skateboarding, or the fact that he worked with Headley, but his handsome vision of a mountain man, flannel shirt tucked into straight-legged jeans, leaping over such a commonplace spot, and elevating such an ordinary trick, hits me at a gut level. It conveys the same pride (and sinister sense of humor) that Headley has in serving his high end cuisine, made from the best produce imaginable, out of a clumsy paper boat.

Still, regardless of whatever altruism and inherent goodness we might read into his skating, he’s not looking for a pat on the back, with the presiding feeling in Triple Backflip remaining one of disaffection. It’s is a hard thing to pull off on a skateboard. Generally, skating requires a pretty extreme level of commitment from its participants, and even when its most talented adherents want to demonstrate their proficiency, their pantomimes comes off as practiced nonchalance (see every other skate clip filmed at a skatepark on TikTok). But disaffection on the other hand suggests a lack of interest. He expends his efforts frivolously by simply tapping a silver metal stanchion with his board, hardly performing for the camera. We see it in the way that he absentmindedly tips himself off a long flat bar, as if he grew bored by the end of the grind. Many of his fashion choices, too, make sure we know that he doesn’t take any of this too seriously: a shirt that reads “STRESSED, DEPRESSED & BAND OBSESSED” or a sporty pair of sunglasses that bring out his inner country bumpkin.  
Overall, his ambivalent attitude contributes a masturbatory quality to a lot of the footage, with a sluggishly rotated back 360 down a four stair demonstrating that he’s just doing it to get it out of his system. But how should Kadow’s indifference make us feel? Should we really be so bothered when he flaunts skating’s unspoken etiquette and conventions? Does it really offend us so much? It makes me think of his part in Blessed (2018), when, at the end, he ironically sneers, “Skateboarding is the ultimate challenge.” Back then, I took his statement as a joke on skateboard marketing, how the rest of the world understands the activity as an extreme sport not unlike the no holds barred world of UFC, or any other form of neoliberal toxic masculinity. But I wonder if there isn’t another way to interpret the remark in light of his more recent skating. Perhaps what he means by “ultimate challenge” isn’t jumping down giant drops or flipping in and out of every trick, but something else, a statement of exasperation. You can see it in his predilection for hazard, when he 5050s a wooden bench, before ollying a cobble stone flat gap right after. I know these benches, the enamel paint on their surface is so thick and tacky your butt leaves an impression on them when you sit down. As a result, he’s forced to seek out the spot during the inhospitable depths of winter, when the bench, along with the rest of the world, is frozen stiff, and, though you are numb from the cold, it hurts more than ever when you hit the ground.

Once again, all roads lead back to the anti-hero of Taxi Driver, with Kadow’s misplaced hopes and emotional numbness recalling the scene when De Niro attempts to take Cybil Shepherd, who plays a wholesome political campaign volunteer, to dinner and a movie, but instead treats her to a skin flick. The scene is equally heartbreaking and terrorizing, with De Niros’s desire to share some kind of intimacy with a person, to express care, only able to come out, to be vocalized as something perverse, equally representative of a problematic relationship to desire, a limited amount of outlets in which to express it, and of honest misapprehension. As with much of Kadow’s skating, the scene draws out the various complexities in how the skater plays the fool—clueless but hopeful, deranged but romantic, pent up but trying, alone but together, self-aware as an outcast, but still desperately trying to make his way in the world, at the whims of power, but still believing he has free will. All together, it boils down to the emotional dissonance of holding fast to a lonerish childhood passion as a way to find contact with the physical world, no matter how painful or profane it has to be to finally feel like you’ve touched something, or someone. In the end, Triple Backflip offers us a punk poetry, a cruel optimism about anyone’s ability to wrest beauty from the grips of squalor. The four minutes it takes to watch the part very much burns with the intensity of De Niro famously holding his fist over a flame, both showing the lengths his character will go just to feel something, just for a sense of meaning and purpose, as well as setting the scene for the violent self-sacrifice that follows.
•••

Waxing the Curb

 A good skateboarder is hard to find. 

Daniel Martinez, Renee Petropoulis, & Roger White, Your Move, 1996. Municipal Services Building Plaza, Philadelphia. 

The Magical Realism of Foundation's Star & Moon


   

Watching Foundation’s latest video Star & Moon is a good reminder that skateboarding is a form of magical realism. The skaters are not the superstars we expect from the culture’s recently elevated status as Olympic Sport, but rather, represent more relatable figures, guys you’d skate with in your hometown. The spots, too, exhibit the same mundane qualities that should be familiar to anyone who had to make the most out of a church parking lot, or who scoured the alleyways behind strip malls for a glimpse at a scuzzy loading dock, with the video stringing together various locations throughout the United State that have not, and probably will never receive a spotlight from the skate industry. Even the SoCal locations are not the most famous, but rather, remind us how the sprawl of Southern California often has more in common with middle America than it does with the beaches of Santa Monica. And yet, these utterly mundane locations are somehow transformed by the act of skateboarding, be it in the simplest gesture of leaping from the top of some stairs, or the more complex perspective required to reenvision something as a skate spot. It’s a threadbare cliché to say that skaters see the world differently from other folks, finding value in overlooked and disused spaces. But when skating gets it right, as it does in Star & Moon, it’s totally transformative, endowing our most tiresome public spaces with the absurdist potential of Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland.

Part of the way Star & Moon achieves this effect is by drawing its aesthetic from a time before skateboard videos were the star-studded highlight reel of athletic achievements, or a globetrotting, cinematic escapade. Instead, Foundation’s more informal style relies on the 90s and 00s-era skate video, which combines influences from documentary, music video, video art, and home movies, resulting in a non-linear, and often improvised composition that reflects the adolescent experimentation at the heart of skating itself. As it did for Toy Machine’s Welcome to Hell (1996) and Jump Off A Building (1998), Alien Workshop’s Timecode (1997) and Photosynthesis (2000), Krooked’s Gnar Gnar (2007) and Naughty (2008), or even some of Foundation’s own historical releases, Star & Moon’s reliance on consumer-grade video technologies lends the footage an uncanny familiarity. B-roll is filmed on handheld digicams, as are a handful of bangers, and even though most of the skate footage was recorded on HD, the prevalence of these aesthetic experimentations, as well as other bedroom-based special effects (i.e. claymation), give the video a seductive moodiness that veers in the direction of art—at least insofar as this stylization cue us to more abstract, nuanced, and gestural aspects of skating, and just generally put you in a different kind of headspace.

 The title, Star & Moon also underscores the video’s symbolic economy, repurposing the company’s 32 year-old insignia to lend a subtle, and even jokey mysticism, evoking the inscrutable quality of an enticingly-named video file mixed with the title of an astrology book. The result is that even the gnarliest clip is softened by an underlying sense of fantasy. In Julian Lewis’s part, that’s because the tricks are far beyond any reasonable scale of gnarliness, as when he bails off the midsection of a gargantuan kinked rail, plummeting feet first down a veritable abyss—no body should fall that far, at least unaccompanied by a parachute or zip line, or, in-keeping with the sense of absurdity, an umbrella. The same disorienting bewilderment accompanies other clips, including his nosedive down an 18-stair rail, or in a similarly harrowing gap to 5-0, the latter of which is so crazy, so ghastly, it actually took my fucking breath away. But it’s not all just questions of scale, as Lewis takes us through the looking glass on an unusual line comprised of a hippy hop and a ride-on nosegrind revert, or when his board breaks in half on a kinked rail, and he simply lands on his feet and walks away. The latter event had a strong effect on me, not because the board comically splits down the middle—or that he avoids getting sacked—but rather, because of the anticlimactic nature of the scene. His casual exit gave me a strong dose of schadenfreude—a not unwelcome feeling in the context of a skate video.

For all Lewis’s spectacular abilities, and harrowing misfortunes, his ender, a front feeble down a 19-stair rail paradoxically brings us back to reality, the clip’s ambient guitar strumming further emphasizing the saggy dailiness in Lewis’s appearance. Clearly, he filmed his ender, the most important trick in his part, while still wearing yesterday’s blue jeans. In spite of the fact that many of the team riders have ridden for Foundation for years, and this is not their first video for the company, I cannot say that I experience the same name recognition with this crew as I enjoy with so many other pros. I don’t necessarily mean this to say that Foundation is fringe, nor do I intend that observation to suggest an opposition to the ego-laden excess you find elsewhere in the sport—I actually enjoy both, and love that skating has grown complex enough to embrace these contradictions. But the special joy of watching Star & Moon is in the video’s ability to return the viewer to a time of more limited scope, when an economy of means forced you to squeeze every last drop of significance out of the artefacts of skate culture that managed to find their way into your life. There was something special in thrifty resilience, and the leaps of imagination required to fill the gaps of your knowledge, and to supplement your experience with a bit of fantasy, much in the the way a skater bondos a crack.
(In this respect, it’s interesting to contrast Dakota Servold’s footage in this video, with his accidental cameo in the recent Quasi release, Grand Prairie. The latter team stalked their peers to some post-industrial spot, where they joke about team manager Mike Sinclair’s ever-fluctuating, and oft-remarked upon weight, and jeer Servold for tossing his board from a balcony after having landed a trick—all as they crouch behind a bush. Bonhomie teasing aside, I wonder why Quasi elects for such a lateral move. Even in good fun, the gesture marks West Coast-based Foundation as interlopers in the Midwest, territory to which Quasi has laid claim. By comparison, Servold’s footage in Star & Moon has a more celebratory nature. The guy still takes huge drops, and even 360 flipped into the same bank as Quasi rider, Dane Barker, suggesting these teams have more in common than one would take at first glance. The similarity also makes Quasi’s laughter appear cynical, though if there is anything to say in their defence, it would be that the Ohio-based company, too, is after a sense of mystery, its means of achieving it having more to do with scarcity, and putting forth an obvious, and antagonistic indifference toward a skate industry that it views as having lost its way).

While there is a material basis for a young skater’s projections, for their modest idol worship, which arises from the alienation of a particular class of suburnite, I still think there’s a fundamental attraction to the surreal and the sublime at its heart—or, if not these, then at least a kind of optimism. I find it in Aiden Campbell’s clip at Slab City. He frontside big heels up a crusty, graffitied Euro gap located in a bizarre semi-autonomous zone that has popped up in the desert outside of Los Angeles—in proximity to this stateless place, skateboarding comes across as another model for living. It’s the perfect setup for the next clip, which spins that same outsider, searching, and self-reliant mentality on its head, making grainy footage of a frisbee look like a UFO against a backlit sky. The role slams play throughout the video also ropes surrealism into the Star & Moon’s overall conceit, with a rib-cage rattling slam from Dylan Witkin and Lewis’ opening leap into the void giving us a dose of body horror, whereas a skittering little slip up from Cory Glick reminds us of the slapstick that is at the heart of a good bail. Freud wrote about the uncanniness of taking a spill. If there’s a good definition of magical realism in skating, it’s in our ability to make an art of falling down.

Perhaps the best example of how Star & Moon elevates the everyday—in both skating and normal life shit—is represented by Corey Glick, a skater who I would never expect to be as cool and strangely captivating as he is—and he is. Like the rest of the Foundation team, the guy does not fit the mold of a contemporary pro skater. He’s kind of short. He hails from Chicago. He’s Jewish. According to an interview in Thrasher, his parents still expect him to go to college. He sports a mustache, and wears thrifted clothes. He has no obvious tattoos. And, though the guy has some serious inborn style, his bag of tricks does not map well onto the more heroic (or dumbfounding) preference for hammers that undergirds the sport. And yet, what he does with his circumscribed (and, presumably, circumcised) talents is captivating, suspending disbelief through a balance of outright bangers, and an attraction to hokey tricks, kitsch spots, and a penchant for oblique angles.
His part, then, comes across like an exquisite corpse, piecing together a variety of influences and approaches that one would not expect to go together, but nonetheless find a curious resonance once they share the same space. In many cases, he skates spots that look fun, stuff most of us could skate, even if his trick exceeds our abilities. If he elects to pluck something out of the grabbag of camp, he fully commits to the bit, so that a frontside salad grind on a curved ledge conveys the full effect of the contorted trick’s louche contrapposto. And if a spot is famous, his approach has a sense of novelty. Delivering a back 180 switch nose grind revert before twisting a frontside 360 down a set of stairs at DC’s Pulaski Plaza, Glick seems to abide some kind of dream logic, in which things move forwards and backwards at the same time. By its conclusion, its effect on me was so strong, I experienced it as wish fulfilment—for what, I do not know—making me wonder once again what Freud has to say about 360s.

And I could go on—like his ability to make frontside noseslides on banks look cool, or how truly miraculous his wallie Barlie grind was. But the point is that Star & Moon is a practical education in skateboarding’s inherent magic, with the sport’s ability to find meaning in mundane reality represented equally by the skaters’ material thriftiness, as by their penchant for ritual. Because, in many ways, that is what skateboarding is: a bizarre set of rites and procedures, mysterious incantations and unusual physical feats, costumes and iconographies, etiquette and idiosyncrasies, all of which somehow bring its members closer to some spiritual understanding of the physical environment. From an anthropological perspective, its purposes are practical—how deep does the cartographical imagination run in a skateboarder, who can identify the exact point on a map via its most generic characteristics, such as a curb, a bench, or even a nice section of flatground? But to its practitioners, these performances animate the world, bringing it to life with a few well placed gestures on a skateboard. Though it’s important to keep these things in perspective—I’m guessing most of these skater’s have day jobs—the meaning gleaned from skateboarding’s underlying rituals nonetheless suggest a complex matrix of associations. This is what we mean when we say skaters see the world differently: the borderline metaphysical ability to lurk beneath the banal details of the real world. 
•••

A New Jersey Spiritual: On John Gardner’s Shoutout Earth


   

“That’s sort of the last stop for them,” jokes Marc Maron in his 2020 stand up special End Times Fun. He’s referring to yoga instructors, though the joke could easily apply to skateboarders. Both vocations are more of a calling or a practice than a traditional profession. Both are accepting of hard lives and traumatic backgrounds. And both reward people who foreground their passions, in spite of, or rather, because of their unconventional life experiences. “You’re kind of grateful they made it to wherever they are,” Maron continues. “You know that you being in their class is as important to them as they are to you.”

The bit came to mind while watching John Gardner’s Shoutout Earth part for DC Shoes, which exudes the same magnetic, just-happy-to-be-here sensibility. Released on Earth Day, the video is hard to talk about without resorting to New Age spiritualism and the language of self-actualization that accompanies most yoga studios, though that’s not exactly a fault. The guy’s from New Jersey, a world that celebrates men with a hardened, and somewhat emotionless exterior. But what we get from Gardner’s video part is the same spirit of gratitude underlying your favorite yoga class, his skating teaching us the lessons of flexibility and strength, style and power, and, with a wallie front board he shovels onto an iconic New York bank to wall, the downhome comfort and freedom of wearing overalls.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of Gardner’s skateboarding is the deliberateness with which he approaches every gesture. You get it in the way he ollies up a curb in an early line, leaning into the quick turn required to stay on the sidewalk, as if the entire clip depended on the way his hands flair upward, and his butt nearly touches the ground. Or how he uses the boneless one: rather than ollie onto certain things—a tree, a handrail—he puts one foot down and smoothly places his board where he wants it to go, even if that is a 12 stair handrail with a kink at the end, which he clearly does twice. It even applies to some of the squirlier, more improvised movements: after back smithing a ledge in one New York-based line, he appears to lose control, powersliding into an alley-oop 270, though all he meant to do was make a simple right hand turn. The entire move is totally unexpected—not short for the calmness of his expression—but for students of the form, there’s a kind of genius in the way that such a minor component of the line suddenly becomes its most memorable, and inspiring choreography.

That same capacious spirit extends to other aspects of the video. He’s introduced by his buddy, and DC teammate, Evan Smith, with whom Gardner collaborates on a bizarre varial out of a ditch that, thanks to Smith’s assistance, threads the needle between two lengths of chain. Elsewhere, a handshake with one bearded friend turns into a tutorial on trust falls and balance. And overall, Gardner bridges the ancient divide between skaters and bikers, first, by leaping onto a handrail alongside two BMXers, and then by mounting a mountain bike himself, and launching over a downhill driveway (which he later ollies, too). Of course, this is primarily b-roll, often meant to show how “the fun never stops,” but within the context of Gardner’s skating, these gestures illuminate his unconventional perspective as part of a more expansively curious mindset. For example, he unlocks otherwise obstructed spots by borrowing the filmer board, the larger, softer wheels of which allow him to surf a concrete hillside blanketed with astroturf, and to kickflip a street gap similarly paved with the artificial grass, the deck’s cumbersome dimensions exaggerating his tenacious flick. 
Gardner’s penchant for the unusual and informal aspects of skating borrows a lot from forebears like Quim and Mike Cardona—and I don’t just say that because all three skaters are from New Jersey. Their version of skateboarding balances power and exuberance, and like other citizens of the Garden State who celebrate the area’s defining, post-industrial crust, the trio, as if belonging to some obscure monastic order, have dedicated themselves to a spiritual quest for beauty in virtually any scenario, reaching higher levels of enlightenment the more polluted, toxic, or fucked up it is. For the Cardonas, that meant becoming wall creepers, cultivating quick feet and wallrides that transcended any vertical surface. For Gardner, the same preternatural ability to go where others can’t or don’t have the vision to go manifests as an economy of gesture, particularly in his appreciation of ride-ons. Rather than exert more force than necessary, he cascades up two levels of a guardrail; rides onto a jersey barrier switch, and flicks back into the transition with a lipslide; and at the beginning of his video part, drops a half-story off a roof onto an electrical box, all without popping his board. Even when he slams, it’s elegant and contained: tumbling head over heals down a six-foot high drop, Gardner channels all that harmful force into a front tumble, as if flipping an aggressor by redirecting the momentum of their attack.
There’s so much more in this part to go over—his fearlessness about heights, his third-eye ability to identify spots, his rare talent to produce street and transition clips of equal quality—but it would be most true to Gardner’s skating to conclude on how he uses his hands. I’ve already mentioned the deliberateness with which he plies the boneless one, stepping himself onto a handrail as if transitioning from tree pose to archer. And he does a truly unique switch bertlemann on some rusty discarded scrap metal halfpipe. But these are not the only instances that show why we should consider skateboarding a full-body affair. He 5-0s a Portland-based handrail and quizzically grabs melon, making the trick look like a flying kick. He trellises a handplant on some ditch-bound DIY quarterpipe. He arches an enormous frontside wallride by leveraging a pullup on some scaffolding. And for his ender, he bomb drops onto a double-wide handicap access rail and miraculously, with all the focus of a yogi, does a handstand mid-5050.

His most elucidating hand use for me, however, takes place at the beginning. On that long, curved, downhill ledge in LA that everyone skates, Gardner starts off with a boardslide before he squats down, grabs cannonball, and seats himself on his board, one leg on either side of the ledge. Filmed in Super 8, he looks like he’s goofing off, but rather than run out of the trick, as I would have expected him to do, he doubles down and commits, risking his fingertips and coccyx to land it on his bum. And, were it not for the nearby curb, he would have done it, too. The clip’s significance might not be immediately clear the first time you see it, but after repeat viewings, it comes to introduce Gardner’s unorthodox vision: that skateboarding is a repository for life and experience, particularly in all its New Jersey weirdness; that if you dedicate yourself to skateboarding, there can be no misplaced gesture, no energy lost. The part makes me grateful for whatever route brought John Gardner to skateboarding. Now, and in the future, I’d be happy to roll out my mat for any class that he’s teaching.
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Waxing the Curb is ︎ by Sam Korman. 


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