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Waxing the Curb

The Psychoanalytic Skatepark 
     Dan Graham, Skateboard Pavilion, 1989. 

Keepers of The Faith: On Alv's Angels


   

Sometimes skate crews are so much more than that. These self-selecting groups of friends and like-minded skaters don’t just put out fun videos. Shrewd, diligent, dedicated, spontaneous, and well-read (skaters know their history), their internal conversation represents a new matrix by which to understand skateboarding. They are often stateless, not only moving seamlessly through the city, but also across boarders. They represent a diasporic imagination, spread across the world, and yet work toward a shared end. Together, they redefine the terms of a trick, and break the fourth wall, so to speak, widening the scope of where a skate trick takes place, and by whom. They expose the politics behind our most common assumptions (i.e. pants), and reexamine some of our most cherished tropes (i.e. shoes). Even when the outcome tends toward reduction and simplicity, it is motivated by the discovery of new potentials, as the elegance of the proof is quite often as significant as its conclusion. They skate, but they also skate about skating. For what, then, has skating ever concerned itself with if not the production of a unique ideology? The skate crew comprises a vast school of thought.

Many skate crews fall under this criteria, usually providing the basis upon which a brand bases its identity, but one of the nerdiest and most interesting is the group of skaters  shoe brand Last Resort has collected under its aegis. For proof, we can turn to filmer Daniel Dent’s latest video, Alv’s Angels, where we are treated to this heady style of skating. Overall, the video presents a fairly unified style, distilling the skater’s approach into a concise and exciting vision. These skaters, many of whom have achieved a cult following over the last decade or so, share a sensibility that have caused other media outlets, such as The Mostly Skateboarding Podcast, to accuse them of looking the same, but for me, this shared sensibility gives their skating thrust, framing the video as a tight, beautiful conversation among collaborators, so intertwined are the ideas of one skater with all the others. And what a school of thought it is. With Alv’s Angels, it’s not skateboarding that necessarily gets you excited to go skate, but spend enough time with it, and it will get you thinking about skateboarding in a more sophisticated and exciting way, able to locate new pleasures out from under the shadow of immediacy and the blunt aggression of athleticism and recklessness. It’s didactic, almost. But didactic in the best way possible, folding skateboarding back upon itself so as to reveal something about the esoteric nature of intention, and unleashing a new stylistic grammar. It’s skating that makes you appreciate skating more.  

Often, skateboarding of this type is ironically referred to as “creative skateboarding”, a term that suggests the skaters go out of their way to embellish their style with superfluous details—the purple prose of skating. It can mean that someone’s gestures are stiff and mannered, suggesting an unnatural posturing. They exaggerate the fit of their pants, or seek out obscure film references. Extra dangly bits adorn their wrists or they part their hair down the middle. Music direction can include house music or emo, or some long lost b-side that’s been re-recorded off a cassette tape. Usually, they substitute mood for skate culture’s lamest value, progression. The way they approach the spot is perhaps most telling: skating it backwards, the long way, or in some other oblique fashion, creative skating calls for the supremacy of intention over straightforward athleticism. In short, it’s a finicky matter of taste. But while “creative skating” often represents a learned trait, the through-line is the suburban surrealism that has, to some extent, always lived at the heart of skating, emerging and retreating at different periods over skating’s short history. Indeed, owing to a recent revival of 90s styles, and a kind of overall decentering of the skate industry, such creative skating has flourished into a veritable renaissance over the last few years, framing Alv’s acolytes as its own kind of sect, scattered about the globe (well, mostly just the white, Western World, anyway). Even company founder, Pontus Alv’s image itself sets the stage for this apostolic vision: in the video’s opening clip, he enrobes himself in a gray hoodie, pulling the draw string taught, as if to transform it into a kind of religious head covering. While his skating (and company) culminate a long and visionary career within skating, his fashion has managed to become even more austere, his skating, too, representing its sophistication through an incredible simplicity, as if to staple his theses onto the door of skateboarding’s commercialized spectacle, declaring a simpler way to do things, based on an individual’s right to translate the text according to their own terms.  

Ok, maybe this Lutheran vision of Alv is a little over the top, but what I’m getting at is that skateboarding, no matter how we seek to personalize it, extrapolate it into a community, or pitch it as discourse (as I’m doing here), is driven entirely by brands, and therefore represents a marketplace, the hope being that certain skaters will come along like some keepers of the faith, and enshrine style over all. In recent years, monasteries for this monkish appreciation of style have been located in Malmo, Portland, and Brooklyn, fringe cities (or boroughs) where a small, but dedicated coterie of skaters eschewed the drive toward bigger, more technical spectacles, and instead focused their intelligence on figuring out the internal physics of the skateboard, emphasizing tricks that remained low to the ground, but which were no less profound. This version of skateboarding often felt like a use-case about momentum, changing the relationship between the trucks and a given substrate. It convincingly argued for alternatives to the ollie. The way skaters like Dane Brady and Alv deconstructed skateboarding’s essential geometry was downright subatomic, even bordering on maddening. Their slappies, wallies, and no complies dispatched the traditional relationship between skater and board, and reconfigured this orbit according to new principles of gravity and speed. For the last ten years, their ascetic skating rethought the sport’s underlying mathematics according to a new, almost spiritual vision, refining the numbers so that suddenly the field in which skateboarding took place (i.e. the built environment), was expansively illuminated with myriad new possibilities.

The fundamental architecture of this skate theorem combined two antiquated calculus: the geometry of the slappy and the quantum mechanics of the wally. The combined result is a kind of contradictory form of skateboarding: it is blunt, aggressive. It eschews linearity for something more digressive. It thrashes through rough terrain. Yet, at the same time, there is an aura of weightlessness accorded to these skaters’ styles, as if, in confronting the material truth of their surroundings at such high speed, they are able to dematerialize, and become as light and fungible as any image of their surroundings. And Alv’s Angels is filled with prime examples: Nick Rios carves space where there had been none before, cutting a frontside slappy out of a meaty curb, before he gouges his board up a steep pole jam at the spot’s terminus. Dane Brady, perhaps the progenitor of this fickle style in the United States, cascades over a mountain of upturned sidewalk blocks, before settling into the narrow valley formed by a walking path and the privacy fence that guards someone’s backyard, effortlessly slipping between public and private space. These are fundamental examples of what can be achieved with this type of movement, reliant more on the fluid shifting of ones weight than on the brute force of an ollie, but other skaters in the crew have even elaborated on these theorems. Aaron Loreth is a prime example: he skirts shuvits and other flip tricks against the steep side of a jersey barrier, a kind of zero gravity orbit that invokes the multiverse. He spouts a switch pole jam off a slightly bent steel pole so perfectly it seems preordained, its benevolent geometry written in the cosmos eons ago.

How did it happen? And why those places? Perhaps certain quirks in the landscape, and a poverty of influence. Alv had the TGV train station, a narrow, overlooked footpath alongside a Swedish high speed rail line, which offered him a blank canvas in the form of a tall, perforated steel barrier. There, a concrete reef of subtle transitions, ledge shelves, and speed-generating channels slowly overtook the native ecosystem, allowing a quizzical type of skating to evolve within this isolated valley, unique from anything on either side of it. It is also worth noting that Alv had retreated from San Francisco, from the industry, and from a professional career in general, deciding instead to build out an ecosystem, to channel those resources into the overlooked borderland of Malmo. Clearly, he was looking for an alternative to the system, his first solo video, In Search of The Miraculous (2010), borrowing its title from the late Bas Jan Ader’s final art work in which he attempted the wondrous, and somewhat foolhardy task to sail across the Atlantic in a homemade sailboat, never to be heard from again.

In Portland, one wonders if the rest of the city felt invisible in the shadow cast by Burnside and the skatepark scene. It would not be the first time an artistic mind headed to this city for a little extra space and time and solace to work on something exempt from the typical market value—at least at the time. Much like the outfits Brady and his cohort wear, their spots and tricks seemed thrifted from previous generations, as if tricks were a finite resource. In both cases, these promethean landscapes caused a dramatic mutation within the language of skateboarding that quickly became the dominant strain, a new grammar that would be imitated by other out-of-the-way skate scenes in depopulated, post-industrial places, a key that reopened the door to skateboarding's collective imagination.

Make do with less. That’s the mantra overall. But more, it elevates this mantra to something beautiful. More will come from less. It motivates street skating, as when Jesse Alba garbage picks his spots, but it also drives these skaters to reevaluate what they consider a viable context, finding the familiarity of home in terribly designed skateparks. By now, in an age of widespread social support for skateparks, where they are replacing other recreational facilities, and further normalizing skateboarding as a sport, there nonetheless remains a generation of skateparks built by local general contractors that simple won the cheapest bid. Little input was ever gathered from local skaters when they were constructed, and at the time, these Certified Pieces of Suck, as Thrasher Magazine dubbed them, represented massive disappointments. But in 2022, against a backdrop of state support for skating, these monstrosities have been recovered by the likes of Loreth and others, in particular the Avenue Skatepark in Ventura. There, Loreth tucks a switch varial into the impossibly steep vert wall—at least that’s what I think it is, based on my cursory knowledge of old vert tricks. And David Svenstrom invokes Plan B-era Colin McKay with a 180 fakie 5-0, his knees buckling as if he had just done the trick on the tight angles of a jersey barrier. Amidst the impossibly steep transitions, ill-proportioned hips, coping-less quarterpipes, and generally awkward, pit-like layout, the clips advance the emotional thrust of a crusty street spot into an Ozymandias-like lyric about the ruins of misguided intentions, a bitter romance with such pointless community engagement. The same willful boneheadedness speaks to Billy Trick’s explosive style, as well. Attired in a collage of styles drawn from early 20th century American labor movements, he caterwauls through the streets like a one-man protest, armored in his dungarees and trucker cap. There is an utterly blunt stupidity to Trick’s style that stirs my deepest fondness and affection. And there is a class consciousness about it, too, demonstrating the value he can generate with a single brute gesture, plummeting off the roof of an octagonal news kiosk onto a curb, or barreling through the corridors of London with a liberatory mix of rage and jubilation.

Obviously this type of skating would have widespread impacts on the culture. Franchises sprouted up in other locations. But then, other conditions of life prevailed, and like most young people around the country, economic realities cordoned them off in major American cities where the creative jobs and media are more concentrated. Hence, much of the video primarily takes place in LA, condensing the diasporic imagination to its sunbleached environs (to me, it recalls the historical irony of Frankfurt School members, Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer, author’s of such seminal texts as “The Culture Industry”, who fled Nazi persecution in the 1930s, only to land in Santa Monica, on the doorstep of their own worst nightmare, the dark heart of American spectacle—i.e. Hollywood). The same industriousness is there, with the skaters rifling through the world’s 19th largest economy for some strange places, but the isolation also makes one very aware of the gender and racial make up of the team. Indie-inflected skate scenes have long tended to be exclusively white guys, and like their musical counterparts, were given a pass based on economic limitations, their inherent awkwardness, and the humbleness of their overall ambitions. They are not trying to speak to everyone, even if that modesty has historically masked a lot of bad behavior in certain pockets of the skate scene and elsewhere. The reality is, it’s 2022, and while Last Resort clearly has modest goals, I still wonder what changes when it’s some one other than a white guy wearing these shoes? Where would someone else steer this discourse? Would it suddenly feel less flimsy, even if preciousness, silliness, and wit are the point?

In any case, other parts of Alv’s Angles are nothing if not fascinating and heady, informed as they are by skating’s ability to fold back upon itself. In some cases, that means a turn toward the esoteric and synthetic. Take Ludwig Haakenson: his skating, which partners stylish street dancing with a kind of lounge act, tends toward an art for arts sake argument—or skating for skating’s sake. His deliberateness plots an impressive, almost rhetorical style, as if to position skating as something lackadaisical, leisurely, a dandy-like critique of all this striving and effort that skateboarding has become post-Olympics. But with a frontside 5050 to frontside bigspin, the tone shifts. It has a formal allure, and even an geometric logic to it. A straight line paired with a sweeping gesture, it echoes the geometric reductionism of the Bauhaus, recalling Oskar Schlemmer’s beautiful Triadisches Ballett (1921-29). There’s also a potential reference to Ed Templeton’s version in Welcome To Hell (1996). But then as now, its gestural rigidity feels unnatural to the organic relations of everyday street life. What I mean is, it favors the concept over the act entirely. Skating as an idea, a game played for its own sake.


Elsewhere, personal lives and a welcome sense of cynicism also punctuate the conversation, bringing a biting bit of humor. For Alba, his skating borders on the sarcastic. It’s playful, but perhaps because his father is an ex-pro skater, the younger Alba always appears to be wrestling himself out from under something. In certain ways, he is quite similar to his dad: where the elder Salba offers a caricature of a macho 80s skater by famously doing push ups on the edge of the drained swimming pools he still, in his 50s, seeks out, young Alba wags his dingdong in ironic cellphone edits. The latter also indirectly borrows his father’s punk mindset, insofar as he prefers to remind us that skating ought to be useless and, to some extent, deliberately sabotaging its profitability. Sometimes its hard to take him seriously: manual combos pulled from the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater score a lot of points, though they exist at the low end of the low-impact spectrum. Still, with sweeping slappy grinds, and a quizzical nose wallie, the charm is there of someone who lives and dies by the joke, a position that belies the world-weary self-awareness of a skater who grew up too close to the limelight, and for whom success seems entirely besides the point.
Sometimes a school of thought can put forth an archetypal character. For earlier movements, like the Frankfurt School, we might find it in Walter Benjamin’s fascination with the flaneur, a figure he in many ways embodied, traipsing around the streets of Paris for more than a decade, wandering with a kind of idle attention, and lavishing in the many associations and contradictions invoked by this public marketplace. It’s a figure I have long thought of as a historical precedent for the skater, someone who embodies their time and place, but who also has one foot in and one foot out, both an active participant and an observer, fashionable and yet out of step, anonymous and yet utterly themself, a lover and critic in one.

In any case, if there is any kind of thought leader to this otherwise complementary crew, it would likely be Chris Milic. A skate world guru of sorts, this child of the Arizona suburbs gained a cult following for the charismatic nonsense he brought to skating. His is an ecstatic vision, in which the lamest, worst- planned aspects of suburbia are given a kind of purpose, a bit of sense. He uses absurdity and inversions to take an ordinary suburban street and animate it with something more, as if it were a stage for some kind of mythical drama. Ethereal music often lends his footage a kind of 8-bit effervescence, a sense of calm and forbearance. He attires himself in a saintly mix of working clothes, and drapes himself with the faded dress shirts of a suburban father. When he shaves his head, he looks downright monkish. He speaks with comical intonation of a Pokémon. For a time, he went by the name Mango. And, as if these details did not already paint enough of a picture of the innocent vision with which he sees the world, elevating the skate world’s general state of arrested development to a kind of saintly disposition, he worships the oddest of god’s creatures: the green eminem, a child in a cow’s costume, the frog. For him, these latter figures seem to be proof of some discarded divinity, though the constellation of how they relate might only be in his possession. In It’s A Secret (2014), he convinced us all (and by all, I mean Hjalte Halberg) that he kicked a soccer ball that wasn’t there. Watching Milic skate can often feel like skateboarding’s answer to the best parts of New Age spiritualism: a kind of secular revival that finds god’s grace in the banality of commodified existence, a soothing vision that reframes all this shuffling about as a dance.

So much of this style of skating is about reigniting the spark after all these years: on the one hand, to return us to a childlike perspective vis a vis the curb, but also to dig into that sense of alienation and estrangement, with much of the emo music driving the video toward the inaccessible familiar. Such is part of the mystery in Milic’s part in particular. In one line, he captures the revivalist tenor of the Talking Heads’ track, “Once in a Lifetime”, with a pair of varial flips repeating across both ends of a line like the song’s bewilderingly ambiguous refrain—same as it ever was, same as it ever was. He makes elegant use of the quadratic on a front board up an immovable pole jam, invoking the flummoxing humor and bespectacled joy of your favorite high school math teacher. And it’s nice to see him skate handrails again: a frontside noseslide or a hurricane beef up the stakes of his charming style, as if he sometimes feels called by some internal force to test his knowledge, and prove his devotion. This time, though, he braces himself on the handrail with both feet for a two-footed bean plant, a cringe-worthy bit of clowning that will catch even the headiest, most serious aesthete off guard. The same goes for his two enders, both of which starts with him boardsliding a chain, popping out of the other side with all the disarming flair of an amateur magician who just pulled a coin from behind the your ear.

To quote the poet Keats: Skating is beauty, beauty truth. That is all ye in the skate scene, and all ye need to know. Or something like that. What I mean is, skating represents its own body of knowledge, and the crew presented in Alv’s Angel’s are the true keepers of the faith. Their aesthetic is thorny, irreducible, scrounging, and thrifty. A diasporic imagination that looks at the vast horizontality of the map, and the harshness of the contemporary marketplace, adn still manages to carve out little spaces that feel like home, be it a curb or a skate park. They skate bad spots at high speed, and loaf around crappy spots because they won’t be bothered, allowing them a little extra time to think. Wherever they can, they embrace outcomes that make you laugh, and at the same time, they take their subversive humor seriously. Their landings can often be harsh, and occasionally sloppy, and yet, there remains an ethereal quality to most of it, one that sublimates the aggression with which some much of the skating is undertaken. To this crew, hammers are fascist. Instead, they put forth something that is far more knotted and contingent, more approachable and democratic. In the end, pried from all the pressures, economics, and trends of the world. On the fringes of social media and the general public perception. Out of reach of fame. Tucked away for initiates who are themselves seeking something more. Birthed from a very contemporary ennui. And sometimes difficult to understand. Here, is a unique glimpse of skating. Call it whatever you want, be it “creative skateboarding” or pretentious or beautiful, what is certain is that this crew puts forth a gorgeous, contradictory politic, and seem to abide by another of Alv’s video titles: I like it here inside my mind. Don’t wake me this time. •••


Glue 3000: On wick & spit 


   

Skater boys discovering empathy the first time they take shrooms. - Nelly Morville

If you were looking for an official statement of skateboarding’s code of conduct, a clear description of an authentic skater’s sensibility, then you would do well to watch Bootleg Skateboard’s 2003 video, Bootleg 3000: Steady Crushin’ (dir. Jay Strickland). A paean to raw street skating, the video opens with a vertically scrolling disclaimer, parodying the types of legal text that typically accompanied representations of extreme sports at the time, though it reads more like a manifesto. “Warning!” it says, “This video contains:” originality, bad attitudes, and “style galore”. But that’s not all. Included in this skater’s bill of rights are also: cursing, smoking, and drinking; semi-automatic rifles, starving ams, rappers, and middle fingers; “lots of slow motional ghetto special efx”, long ass parts, shitty filming, the longest friend section, and, hilariously, 1 vert trick. Not to leave anything to question, the manifesto also warns that certain details have been deliberately left out, such as barcelona footy, recovering junkies, variable slo-mos, paint on pants, male models, super 8, 16mm, 35mm, slam sections, signature shoes, actors slash skaters, and Knox Godoy. In sum: “real skaters doing real things”.

While it would be a fun exercise to annotate each reference within the manifesto—like how “actors slash skaters” likely refers to Jason Lee’s film appearances and Steve Berra’s failed acting career, and Knox Godoy is an obvious allustion to Bootleg’s beef with Baker Skateboards—the point of the text was to express certain grievances Bootleg had with the skateboard industry, as well as to counter the way skateboarding had come to be defined by the early 2000s—a version of skating that Bootleg believed took itself too seriously. And we can see why. With Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater already on its third or fourth edition, Viva La Bam rising in popularity, Jason Dill insinuating himself as a regular walk-on on The Osbournes, and global shoe brands knocking at the door with enormous contracts, skateboarding was beginning to demonstrate broader, and longer lasting mainstream appeal, a newfound relatability with a larger demographic outside of its typically closed-off subculture. Sure Tony Hawk had appeared in Police Academy 4Gleaming the Cube framed Christian Slater as a heroic outsider, and the X Games were already 10 years old, but never before had skaters had the door swung open on the childhood bedroom of their subculture, positioning skaters as the headliners, and cleaning up their image for a broader spotlight, albeit that of reality TV, and not the A-list. Echoing the grievances of contemporary debates surrounding skating’s inclusion in the Olympics, as well as the ongoing questions surrounding identity and representation, Bootleg, for better and worse, felt skateboarding had largely lost its way, and decided to plant its flag in the name of its own vision, one defined equally by grievance and disenfranchisement, as well as the inalienable right of skaters to be a little reckless and stupid. To them, skateboarding should never be taken so seriously, though such a Joker-like attitude can easily boomerang when it is not ground in a more positive assertion of values, or encompass some kind of moral universe. Still, they felt like the world was laughing at them, and that authenticity existed in inverse proportion to material success. As such, the video’s disclaimer represents a self-fulfilling prophecy, advertising “no let downs!!!!!”

Glue’s incredible new video, wick & spit (dir. Stephen Ostrowski) recalls Bootleg 3000 in a lot of ways. For one, the title sequence belongs to the same low-budget, direct-to-consumer VHS technology, and late-night infomercials that inspired Bootleg’s aesthetic, and charged many of its reference points. Indeed, when the opening menu appears on the screen, its boxy appearance, desaturated color treatment, and drop-shadowed typeface makes me think I’m about to be sold a set of knives, tire polish, encyclopedias, or a tub of powerful, universal solvent like OxiClean—all for just seven easy payments of $29.99. As a child of television, who spent many late nights entranced by such commercial content, I find the nostalgic style extremely seductive and comforting. But more, Glue is awash in the low class campiness that is at the heart of Bootleg’s aesthetic, and its privileging of, to borrow expressions from Susan Sontag’s 1964 text “Notes On Camp”, style above all, and a certain failed seriousness. Let’s not forget, America in the 2000s was at peak exceptionalism: Hummers and other forms of conspicuous consumption distracted us from two foreign wars, hyper masculinity was the collective response to the trauma of 9/11, and even the left thought you were a pussy for not getting in on the propped-up exuberance of an inflated market. As far as skater’s were concerned, they were becoming the era’s merry pranksters, given a spotlight largely to fall on their face. While white, straight, and angry, Bootleg’s statement of purpose at least channels their angst into a creative expression of working class taste, one which is democratic and sketchy, but by no means unsophisticated.

Glue offers a similar counterpoint to today’s vision of skateboarding, which has only increased its scope in the almost 20 years since Bootleg 3000 came out. A response to the moment that is also entirely of it. They put out products that veer from simple genius (i.e. the neon green fly board) to just kind of weird, unwearable, and shitty (i.e. their hoodies). Profoundly alluring, their output nonetheless seems governed by an in-joke I don’t always get, or that sometimes gets deliberately repetitive and arduous, as if to stir discomfort. And like Bootleg, the allure comes from a place that’s a bit crusty, dirty, gritty—a smoothie of libido, ketamine, reality TV, and bong water. There’s all sorts of bromides about queering something. Often it means to appropriate a harmful or derogatory symbol of the patriarchy and subvert it, usually by softening the image’s edges (literally or figuratively), imbuing it with desire, and generally bringing it down to the scale of the body. But Glue remains true to its fundamentals, producing less than comfortable outcomes, and asking skaters to contend with all the underlying desire, divergence, discomfort, and contradiction wrapped up in their cultural appeal. To contend with the relationship between power and libido. Or, as photographer Buck Ellison has described it, the camera is a means to create desire with a subject, and so is fashion. That’s, in many ways, what these two mediums do best: bring us into intimate contact with the body, allowing us to project our desires onto it. In Glue’s hands, so is skateboarding. And so, amidst a swirl of nostalgia, camp, and irony, wick & spit asks us, once again, what happens when skaters stop being polite and start being real.

One could look for no better introduction to Glue’s vision than Leo Baker’s decision to skate shirtless for almost his entire part—or, at least what feels like most of it anyway. Having undergone top surgery during the pandemic, his bare chest, and stacked delts evoke the hypermasculinity of the early 2000s, a period in which no straight guy ever seemed to wear a t-shirt—a fact demonstrated equally by the gleaming pecks of Jersey Shore, as the scrawny, sinewy torsos of Josh Kalis, AVE, Kerry Getz, and Anthony Pappalardo, bodies to which an entire generation of skaters tenderly, obsessively endeared themselves. While there is a politic to his costuming that reenvisions these bygone boys clubs, Baker’s pop makes its own statement, his tectonic flatground, as commanding as any of these topless icons, wakes us up from our reverie with the startling awareness of an earthquake waking you up from a nap. Elsewhere in the part, Baker holds his back tails and noseslides with strength and poise, almost posing them like a bodybuilder showing off their lats, before exiting the stage with a casual, if no less disciplined shuvit. On manual tricks, too, his flick is crisp and precise, much like Getz and Pops’ were in their prime. To look back now, these two skaters always seemed pulled taught over their boards, earning the former the nickname, The Hockey Tempered Kerry Getz. But witnessing Baker nollie heel into a nose manual, exactingly balanced before he pops off of a hulking, head-high drop, one experiences a greater sense of relief than Getz’s rage-driven skating ever provided. He’s still a master of manuals, but the added dimension proofs out not only a physical kineticism, but also a true skate rat’s commitment of purpose (i.e. to fuck shit up). That, and Baker smiles when he skates, unlike the rest of you schmucks.

“Other pro’s [sic] whose sponsors are going to cry about them being in the video,” reads perhaps my favorite line in the Bootleg manifesto, rejecting the sports-minded division of skaters into specific teams, for images and skateboarding that reflect deeper social ties. wick & spit similarly disregards the boundaries set by sponsorships and a simple-minded relationship to IP. There’re skaters from the Unity crew, from There, from Fucking Awesome, from Limosine, and Frog. But ignoring Bootleg’s maxims that would separate skating from fashion and pop culture—from seemingly “soft” representations—the video also reflects a scene steeped with models, artists, musicians (two of Glue’s skaters double as models for the likes of Telfar, Vaquera, Marni, Eckhaus Latta, Margiela, and even Gap). It feels very much like the bad boy interdisciplinary mixing that surrounded the early 2000s downtown scene at Max Fish and Alleged Gallery, in which artists, actors, skaters, photographers, graffiti kids, fashion designers, musicians, filmmakers, and other drunks and weirdos all hung out together, people like Dill, Leo Fitzpatrick, Chloe Sevigny, Ben Cho, Dash Snow, etc. Here, artist Ned Vena gets some BGPs amidst skaters like Ed Fisher and emo aficionado, Cooper Winterson (Vena also knocks out a 5050 kickflip earlier in the video). Fresh off his appearance on HBO’s Hacks, where he plays a gay club kid who doesn’t vote, and co-host of Montez Press Radio’s “The Dating Game,” actor Joe Appolonio fakie 360 flips the grate at Borough Hall. Performance artist Matthew Hilvers taps a slappy (on a competing company’s board no less). And though he is absent this time, I often see the “homespun conceptualist” SoiL Thornton hanging with this crew at Fanelli’s (iykyk).  

Within Glue’s universe, it is no exaggeration to say that skateboarding has become a pipeline to fame. Yet, even this proximity feels like more of a symptom of a larger problem. What had seemed like a bit of fame-whoring in the 2000s seems quaint compared to the ubiquitous pressures presented by a life that is divided between IRL needs, and online exigencies. Everyone’s life has become a reality show, and the maintenance of one's image is not simply a means of socializing, but also a matter of economic health, as one’s persona and online social networks increasingly determine not only your identity, but how you make a living. Rents are also high in America’s big cities, and wages for small-scale skate companies are comparatively low, marking skating as yet another creative endeavor that requires one to diversify one’s income, and to put a price tag on ones image.

Yet, though such conditions are understandable, there are ways that skateboarding (and, just, like the whole fucking world) loses from the conversion of all life’s efforts into labor, a condition that seems so at odds with the creative loitering, improvisation, and flaneur-like idleness that has defined skateboarding for long. To that end, Trish McGowan’s presence could not be more refreshing. Too sexy to care, too goofy to notice, Trish picks her bellybutton and makes vagaries of the fashion cycle with outfits that combine spaghetti strap tank tops from Delia’s with ratty pajama pants—like Toy Machine-era Nick Trepasso with pigtails. Her trick selection, too, puts forth a defiant laziness: with her adorable belly sticking out of a crop top, she plunges a saggy pressure flip over the hip at Fort Miley. Elsewhere, she lackadaisically seesaws onto a long, slow slappy, drawing it out the full length of the curb, less motivated by grandiosity, and more because staying put requires less effort. For one last gag, she takes a draw on a cigarette before slipping into a slightly aloof, Maralyn-esque pout. 

Admittedly, some of wick & spit’s more nostalgic elements triggered an out of body experience for me. The mix of shoegaze and post-punk lends a certain historical authenticity to the video, as does the use of antiquated video technologies, but remembering the videos that actually came out at the time reminds me that this music didn’t have much play within skating. The fashion, too, with its distressed skinny jeans and reminder that skinny’s back, also brought me back to my own teenage body dysphoria, transporting me with all the force of a bad dream to Xtreme Wheels, a former indoor skatepark in Buffalo, NY where I would be found awkwardly tugging at a pair of girls jeans my chubby body didn’t fit into, as I alternated between the crowd at a screamo show and the wooden skatepark (yes, under this post-industrial roof, you could find both). Out of fear of ever being considered a poser, it was simply easier to write-off my own experience as trivial, and to seek more serious cultural endeavors like art, though, as Sontag writes, that would have priced me out of the joy’s of camp. The price tag for self-acceptance being the weekly therapy bills I’ve been paying for years.

In any case, it was a messy era, and when you dip your toe into the past, you never know what’s going to bite. And no matter how disjunctive these historical references are, the video offers a visceral reminder that the 2000s were also the heyday of hucking, a formula that eschewed the finesse of urban plaza skating for one that arose from the angst-ridden, braindead suburbs (i.e. Walnut Creek or Long Beach). The style boiled skating’s balletic footwork, and style-driven representations into one macho, eye-catching phenomena. Some call it hammers, but it registers more as a gut punch to the stomach, perhaps because slams and makes are considered equal outcomes. Reared on this era of videos, Glue has always been attracted to the high-risk, and here, Elias Kitt and Akobi Williams grant us museum-quality stunts. But it’s the company’s latest addition, model slash musician slash skater, Donovon Wildfong who does for this genre what Roger Federer did for the power baseline game in tennis: he brings some finesse, and a bratty kind of class to an endeavor defined by physical brutality. His part stuns with a gangly fluency on a skateboard, and has all the allure of an oral fixation. Amongst other tricks, a kickflip down a Miami-based double set stops the show, both for its outsize dimension, as well as the peculiarly grand, and sweeping gesture that only a young person could seem to make, a trick so loud it seems to speak for a new generation. It’s a return to basics: against the suave, effortless technicality of the present moment, in which combos take on ever-more clever configurations, Wildfond sounds off one gigantic gesture that gives him the unearthly allure of a rockstar. And it makes us believe again that the true skater’s spirit—whatever that is—will never die.

 Indeed, Wildfong is a perfect match for Glue, because he grasps the full power of the spectacle, teasing us into a newfound appreciation for hammers. It’s provocative, the way he taps a hardflip over (and off of) Blubba not only teasing us with a light, stylistic misdemeanor, but seeming to hit at the historic meaning of the word brat: 16th century french brachet, for “hound, bitch”. Or there’s the context collapse of his impossible up the Columbus Park gap in Chinatown—a true conjoncture of various timelines into one spiraling moment. In a recent interview with Jonathan Mehring on The Chromeball Incident, the photographer discusses the famous clip of Dylan Reider doing an impossible over a metal bench alongside the East River in 2009. Mehring mentions that you cannot shoot a still of this trick, there is no individual frame that could possibly distill the motion overall—it would either look mob, or simply like an ollie. And here, it clicked. The impossible has been the trick-du-jour—really, the trick of the 2010s—and it makes sense, given that it dates from a moment in which video gained supremacy over the static image in the world of information and social media. It is the perfect trick for time-based media, its name, too, dovetailing with the gamified language that generates clicks on YouTube, and which has spilled over into more traditional forms of media, including the New York Times. You’ve definitely clicked a video titled “IMPOSSIBLE skateboard tricks”. To divide the trick into two separate angles, as the editing does, and give it three playbacks seems, in part, to complete the circle—perhaps, pardon the pun, to wrap an impossible, conceptually speaking. In layering on the sequential trope of photography, the clip only seems to crystalize the moment, refracting the impossible across multiple timelines to pitch us into a multiverse that captures the present so well. On the one hand, the editing’s Matrix-level gamification permits something that verges on what Sontag describes as camp’s insistence on pure artifice. But more, the scene offers a beautifully fragmented image of our post-historical present, translating the youthful verve of experimentation through something as baroque and replete with recursive folds as any scarf Prince ever wore around his neck.

And then there’s the kickflip body varial, which gets at the beautifully camp and twisted vision of the video on the whole, capturing its sensibility in one stunning clip. The trick transforms the video’s ethos into one calamitous gesture, which reinvigorates the sense of rebellion that always stirred at the heart of skateboarding (at least within this era). I mean, a kickflip body varial, is that even a trick we can do anymore? Muska did one a long time ago. It was a trick all my friends learned after the kickflip, but before the varial flip. In any case, its original name—the sex change—sits uncomfortably in the mouth, a condition that Wildfong exploits, doing it with all the punk potency of Hedwig and The Angry Inch (2001): crass, beautiful, campy, lyrical, he dares us to say the words, to trespass over the line of acceptability. To say that the trick is poetic is to sell it short, though. It’s so gorgeous, the way he catches it, flaunting the poverty of our language to describe it, much the same way Jake Johnson’s nollie backside flip over the same gap left us speechless 15 years ago. Except, Wildfong’s clip elicits a bodily feeling as much as an emotional one, a trick that has seemed illegal for reasons not only of good taste, but for lack of understanding. Breathing new life into dead and outdated expressions, while also asking the culture to relinquish its own dogmas. To stop taking itself so seriously. With this gesture, Wildfong antagonizes us with a trick skate culture willfully stowed away, unaddressed, though clearly the motion required to do it the body never entirely forgot.•••


Waxing the Curb

Les Skateurs Du Mal


Yu Yu Yang, East West Gate, 1973.

Rassvet in Exile: On I Missed You 


   

Russians in exile. Russians in Mexico. The conceit for Rassvet’s most recent video, I Missed You, invariably calls to mind Frida, the 2002 biopic starring Salma Hayek as the eponymous artist, Frida Kahlo. Kahlo was part of a group of socialist artists in Mexico City who were partly responsible for helping Communist revolutionary, Leon Trotsky find asylum in their city in 1937. In the film, Trotsky and his wife take refuge with Kahlo and her estranged husband, the muralist Diego Rivera at Kahlo’s family home, and their conversations pose the film’s most salient questions about the artist’s role in society. Can art be political? Is emotion or ideology more persuasive? Are people rational beings? How can the personal become political? Should the artist subsume her intentions to the project of the nation, the revolution, the worker? Trotsky and Kahlo have an affair, a romance Trotsky soon sacrifices to protect his own marriage. As the couple departs for less secure accommodations, the notoriously unfaithful Rivera confronts Kahlo, asking her why she would put the worker’s revolution at risk. She spits back: “Because we wanted to.”

I Missed You takes place within a similarly exiled state, in which national identities are brokered under foreign circumstances. Here, though, an opening animation reminds us that the quest is as much a matter of asylum as of finding like-minded people, when it longingly asks, “Where my friends at / Where has 2020 been?” Rassvet is a Russian company and its founder, Tolya Titaev has stated that “[o]ne of my main goals was to make sure that if someone thinks about skateboarding in Russia, they immediately think about us.” He is also the proprietor of Moscow’s Oktyabr Skateshop. Many of the company’s recent videos have granted outsiders a canny perspective on the Russian scene. To say that it feels Russian is a bit weak. More, amidst the cutty spots and granite plazas of Moscow, and the Soviet-era post-industrial ruins that still haunt the country’s urban fringes, a strong sensibility comes through. It’s cocky, declarative, prone to grand gestures, and yet, everything comes across with the elegant strategy of a grand plan. Watching the company’s videos has the same vibe as discovering that one of your smartest, most artistic friends spent a year in jail for beating someone up (as once happened with me and my brilliant painter friend, when he whipped out his old prison ID card at the bar). The experience is thrilling at first, the shock giving way to a more conspiratorial conversation. But, as with Rassvet’s output, the confession leaves you wondering who this person really is, and what kind of past lurks behind a person’s persona.


The same sense of gritty suspicion, of constantly having to prove your bona fides comes through in Rassvet’s video travelogue. Filmed primarily in Mexico City, Paris, and Los Angeles, the video positions each of these international capitals as the locus of operations for the company’s international team—places where, owing to various border disputes and dislocations, it became possible for a creative community to form, however ad hoc the circumstances. Mexico City held a special place as a wayfaring station for many during the pandemic. It was the backdoor for Europeans and other world travelers to reenter the United States, so long as they holed up in the Mexican capital long enough to pass quarantine, and thereby cross a more neutral border.
Hence, lots of skaters found themselves in a not unwelcome state of limbo, and the city became a meeting point for Rassvet’s internationally diverse team, gathering skaters based in the US and elsewhere. In many ways, the opening segment in particular recalls Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (1926): against the beautiful, beaux-arts architecture of the Mexican capital, characters with nowhere else to go tread the line between beauty and self-destruction, much the same way Hemingway depicts in his novel about the vagaries of the Lost Generation. Zurich’s anarchic Dada scene and the debaucherous years of Weimar Berlin also come to mind. A decadent setting that lends itself to the romanticization of an invisible pain, and a certain nihilism about the past in general.

“Bored as fuck,” reads a super that introduces the section, and indeed, there is a listlessness about this prologue, which underlies the entire video, but which is tempered by individual video parts later on. Here, however, is a group of skaters stretching their legs for the first time on foreign soil—no one on this team is actually Mexican. The spots all have an overgrown beauty about them, as if the city were lost to time. The moldering tilework and artisanal basin of an empty fountain offer the groundwork for Val Bauer’s noseslide popover, the skater folding effortlessly across the threshold as if to suggest the arch-like trajectory of water jet in this otherwise dried-out water feature. Void of people, as quarantines were still in effect, and filmed in some of the quieter areas of the city, the empty streets, with their gorgeous time-worn cobblestones make Mexico City look like the European capital time forgot. Much like the novels of the Lost Generation, the peaceful timelessness of such urban limbo has its stakes, even if they lie on the fringes of ones memory, or the events they refer to are presently taking place abroad. Indeed, from the start, the video reminds us about the war going on elsewhere, its very first image offering solidarity with the afflicted: “NO TO THE RUSSIAN INVASION / WE STAND WITH UKRAINE”.


By the time Rassvet reaches Los Angeles, angst has percolated to the surface. This crew bares all the telltales of the creative set: the heavy denim and the thick cotton duck of workwear, Chuck Taylors, and really baggy pants. Differentiating themselves is a more collaged sensibility, a whiff of Balenciagia’s recent end-times aesthetic. I may not know all the reference points, but I do know that religious icons and Bauhaus t-shirts are as prevalent as wallies and pole jams. The soundtrack, too, shifts to the enveloping fuzz of Shoegaze and Sonic Youth tracks that feature Kim Gordon’s moaning vocals. A doleful mood. Glancing. Discordant. Skating seems more burdensome, now. Bauer takes these scrappy, economical tricks to gas station parking lots, cast in a stark neon light. Cambryan Sedlick, as if hallucinating a better spot, does a backside ollie on a grass covered hillside.
Though skaters gravitate to society’s edges, and tend to drift unmoored from a specific place, existing on the fringes can destabilize your sense of self, and engender reactionary ideals. Sedlick skates someone’s home, a gesture that comes across as somewhat hostile, throwing into question whether skating is a coherent ideology, or simply entitled and reactive to circumstances. Is skating just a kind of nihilism that admits too well to the world’s corruption, and holds up self-indulgence as the last meaningful ideal? It’s a tragic scene, and after the homeowners hastily dispose of the plywood Sedlick used to reinforce the grippy surface of the roof, mother, father, and child dispatch the crew with a pair of middle fingers. (Perhaps because Paris has a longer history of welcoming artist exiles, a friendlier passerby later wags her tongue at the camera, her lips pursed into a smile).

Cameos abound, collecting these lost souls under the shadow of internationalism. We get a few clips from the Portuguese native Remy Taveira, a skater who, like so many of his countrymen, came of age in Paris, seeking better opportunities in the French capital. Accolades and overheards come to us in a variety of languages: Spanish, French, Russian, Portuguese, English, the international language of skater gibberish, and the expression “Let’s go!” In spite of this eclectic vision of skateboarding, one of the narratives that I personally enjoyed in the video is that of the Midwestern idler making inroads with such an international crew. Patrick Franklin is from Illinois, and was, for a time, synonymous with the Midwestern scene centered around Chicago. But his beautifully stylized skating, which he honed in weed-ridden parking lots, abandoned malls, and other post-industrial wastelands now finds resonance in the streets of Paris, as if, like a character out of Hemingway, his cornfed ennui has made intimate bedfellows with a broader, more urbane malaise. His tricks do belong to these stone-lined streets. His slappies and various combos recall the innovations made by Kevin Rodrigues and the Blobys in the decade past, a romantic version of skating that found bravura in the gutters of Paris, content with a curb so long as it was surrounded by a beautiful setting. Everyone seems to shave themselves bald, and have snake tattoos on the backs of their heads.


Sometimes, as I often wonder about my American friends in Berlin, the exile is not to be trusted. What are they running from? Why haven’t they learned the language yet? If it was so bad at home, why didn’t they stick around to fight, to work to make it better? Is the exile actually extremely bourgeois, self-interested, privileged to leave? The unplaceable mid-Atlantic accent—a combination of American and British intonations, garnished with ESL expressions—that issues from the throats of those expats on a permanent semester abroad would suggest some kind of pretentious put-on. Franklin, however, does not suffer fools about his position on the team. With his giant nerd glasses, complete with adjustable tether fastened tight to his head, he could not look more American. His choice of Chuck Taylors not only positions him as part of the avant-garde, but also within the Sandlot-like image of youthful Americana. In taking his skateboarding abroad, practicing his work in a context that does not make the same assumptions about who he is or where he is from, he is able to speak more generally about his American perspective. In the US, he’s just another suburbanite from nowheresville. In Paris, he speaks the international language of skateboarding. There is a sense of liberation about his skating, too. He’s more able to dedicate himself to his craft, proferring backside flips that are as crisp and taught as any of Hemingway’s finest sentences. And while he partakes of the image of the guileless, innocent American, he pairs it with something more ruminative and oblique. He approaches curb cuts not simply as kicker ramps, but rather as lyrical rejoinders. Childlike tricks such as the fingerflip stage a thoroughly adult psychodrama when Franklin turns one off a curb. And though he might huck his ender like a true American, the sidelong gesture of the frontside shuvit dangles with the leering, surreal, Lynchian clarity of a knife.
Born too late, millennials will always feel as though they missed a city’s boom years of artistic creativity and international cultural melding. Berlin was gone by the late 2000s, when they would have been graduating from college. Cheep rent in London or Paris is gone. Even second cities like Portland felt more like a Gen X paradise, than a millennial mecca. And don’t even get me started on New York, though I hear Tblisi is the next Bushwick. Or maybe Lisbon….It’s almost a defining characteristic of this generation that they missed the boat. But much like Trotsky and Kahlo’s interactions, I Missed You speaks to more universal human conditions. Exiled at home and abroad, the experience of Russian millennials mirrors that of American millennials, hence a certain uncanny echo between Rassvet and the scrappy, unmonumental ethos of New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Miami, Detroit, and even aspects of Los Angeles. They, too, inherited a country in decline, with money and resources greedily hoarded by older generations, labor protections gutted, and incomes, on average, less than what their parents enjoyed. Gone is governmental support in general, be it subsidized education and affordable rent in the United States, or the more pervasive assistance provided by Soviet state.

Overall, the ornate symbolism of Sedlick’s skating steals the show. Grabbing melon on the blind rotation of a frontside half cab, he clears a massive gap in one grand flap of his limbs, a menacing gesture that bares strong resemblance to a vampire draping open his cape. But it’s his video-ending clip that sums up the situation of the Rassvet team best. Thrusting himself out of a curb cut, Sedlick clears an impossibly high barrier, tweaking himself into a backside shifty. In this awkward position, he crashes into place on the curb, his wheels squeal against the time-worn pavement and flagstones, before he exits the trick fakie. With the camera continuing to move away from him, filming backwards but moving forwards, all movement appears to reverse direction. Time seems to stop, or lose any sense of momentum all together. Nearly impossible to reconcile, it’s as if the frame is moving, and the material world has crystalized into a standstill. Similarly, that Titaev has seen to an entrepreneurial self-sufficiency, building out his own commercial infrastructure that supports a growing skate scene is not only impressive, laudable, and the epitome of service in the skate world, it also suggests the underlying ambivalence required to exist amidst the global cultural stasis of the neoliberal world. Strangers at home and abroad, I Missed You presents history’s orphans who have been forced to figure things out on their own. •••




INFO

Waxing the Curb is ︎ by Sam Korman. 


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