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Kinderskate: Vans Skateboarding by Frog Skateboards


     

Safety is not an easy thing to associate with skateboarding. For obvious reasons, the notions of protection, shelter, care, and an existence free from harm is diametrically opposed to an activity that fundamentally risks danger, property damage, and bodily injury. Yet, that is precisely the feeling I get from watching the latest Frog promo in support of their recent collaboration with Vans. To see Chris Milic don a helmet and skate the vert wall of some SoCal skatepark inundated me with strong feelings of sanctity, comfort, coziness, simplicity, and acceptance—or, perhaps, just the feels.

Over the last several years, Frog has split the difference between the group think most commonly associated with affect theory—the sort of pulsating flow of emotional capital that rises and falls throughout our overly networked lives, largely aimed at producing a heaving emotional reaction, much like an internal, emotive high tide—and the auteurship of previous generations of skate companies, embodying the singular vision of its founder, Milic as a fully-fledged brand universe. Its ethos is well represented in the Frog name, which itself conjures a small, handheld creature, whose patterned camouflage and gooey exterior sends a satisfying, ASMR-like chill down ones spine. Effectively, Frog represents something utterly approachable, but which can also withstand our touch.

What Frog is so adept at is to present a worry-free image of skateboarding. Forget gnarliness, forget effort, forget fashion, forget one-of-a-kind spot selection, forget meaning all together—just consider the robotic cat toy that introduces the promo. It prances along the coping as Luis Ouida (aka Turtle Tom) and Allen Bell arch enormous frontside and backside ollies well above the little kitty’s head, or crunch the pool coping, sending kitty flying. It’s pretty easy to get lost here—does the cat-bot bring a level of childlike, and somewhat corny wonderment to the skating, or does the skating produce a little bit of terror that endears us to, and makes us want to protect the cat? Indeed, everything registers through these G-rated signifiers, not so much in the production of narrative, or signification, but rather to translate how fast the skaters are going, and the fluidity with which they do it through a sophisticated emoji keyboard of affective expression.

And for a brief 4:48-minute long promo, the video is pretty laden with warm feelings, offering the same all-encompassing world as a full-length. Part of this immersive effect is due to the edit: only the skaters’ best, most stylish stuff is on view, though for this team it generally means an emphasis on tweaking and repetition, as when Ouida floats the same backside air over and over again, Brighton Zeuner torques a lipslide, or in the multiple instances of doubles skating, as when Ouida and Bell mount duelling handplants on opposite sides of a spine. The aesthetic also relies on the wonky, as with Nick Michel’s amazing gap to bluntslide on the impossibly-steep transitions of a poorly designed skatepark fun box.
But the main reason the video feels like an entire universe is a high dose of nostalgia. Often, the promo is reminiscent of old Transworld videos. The scene at Mount Baldy, in which everyone does fly-outs from the full-pipe to the steeper section of wall, in particular reproduces the effect of the foundational series, bringing to mind the desert montage in Free Your Mind, or any number of 16mm sun flares that were an emotive and melodramatic hallmark of the franchise.

The trap for virtually any this-by-that collab is commodification: the belief that unboxing a pair of these Vans x Frog shoes will offer the same goosebump inducing, nerve-tingling thrum of sensation. Not so—they’re just skate shoes, and unless you plan to lick them, or rake a long set of manicured nails against Vans patented waffle sole, or eat them like Werner Herzog did, such feelings are not likely to issue from the shoes themselves, or from your skating in them. Yet, I am not entirely saying you should give up on props, either. Not only do crummy public skateparks host half the video’s content, but even when the Froggers skate normal spots, like the banks at LA High, they are accompanied by jump ramps (which also recall the jump ramp section in Girl’s 1994 video, Goldfish). It permits Milic and Michel to do wild combinations on a handicap rail with relative ease, the latter spinning a frontside 270 to lipslide, and the former boardsliding nearly the whole thing. Or it crops up at JKwon, where they heave giant backside transfers into the building’s steep, vert-wall-like buttresses.  

Bringing the ramp to spots seemingly readymade for skateboarding seamlessly transitions with other scenes geared toward accessibility and fun. Zeuner straps on knee pads, Milic sports a helmet, Michel swings on a swingset, and Ouida bomb drops into a vert ramp off a trampoline, each scene representing a different, but complementary aspect of Frog’s model for a user friendly and ergonomic version of skateboarding. Yes, the extent to which a skateboard company models a lifestyle in 2021 is debatable—often they come on strong, and sputter out. But Frog’s propensity for New Agey clip art, kindergarten handicraft, and 8-bit ambient music brings a welcome level of serenity to a culture that favors speed, the brand’s hope to connect less on the basis of meaning, and more on the biological, hormonal, or instinctual plains (diagnostic of capitalist realism, yes, but not an unpleasant instance of it either, and more of a discussion for another time).

Perhaps this is the reason for the video’s audio, the mix of which is somewhat muted and distant, softening the pop of the board, and reducing it either to a satisfyingly soggy thump, or a far-off thrush that makes the hairs on your neck stand on end. It’s a funny choice to make for a board company: similar to the issue of safety, dumpy folly work does not suggest stellar products, or the high-volume brashness of individualistic rebellion. But that’s Frog’s overall gambit, the audio piggybacking on the company’s propensity for thrifted props, discarded toys, opposite-handed doodles, and the lovably-hard-to-love; as well as their overall trick aesthetics, which welcome the oft-maligned use of hands-based maneuvering (see: Michel’s nose grabs, and Ouida’s mind boggling handplant-cum-fastplant) and one-footers. In short, their aim is holistic. Frog just wants the skaters of this world to feel safe.
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