Escapists

July 21, 2022

In the 1994 Rick Ross blockbuster ‘Speed,’ main character (also named Rick Ross) is a man who refuses to be pinned down. Haunted by a past he cannot put behind him, chronically unable to drive 55 and enveloped in weed smoke, he is in each moment running from the last. On an empty by-way near Miami — a sweltering port metropolis where people go to cast off their pasts and sometimes, themselves — Rick ‘Rick Ross’ Ross escalates a routine radar trap into a manic flight from Johnny Law, scrambling past the leather-gloved grip of justice and hurling himself over a guardrail, entrusting his fate to the the Atlantic’s chilly bosom. The stakes are his life.

Are the rest of us any different? The seven pressed maple plys, the circular urethane and the shiny metal trucks, properly nutted and bolted together, function variously as a mental off ramp, a time machine, an escape hatch of the soul. The physical transport element is window dressing for the transportative powers of simply rolling down the street, capable of teleporting a person into a different mood, an earlier age, a livelier body less beaten down by time, injury and much toil. Skateboarding has long been a refuge for the kid with the shitty home life, lonely at school. All-consuming battles for tricks can carry a sense of obsession and even futility, but carry the side benefit of blotting out the stress and hurry and noise that can consume the remainder of the day’s waking hours. Pros and others speak of ‘blacking out’ moments or more in the final pursuit of landing some long-fought trick; the ensuing euphoria is often cited as one of the things about skating that draws and hooks people, and the forced mental tunnel-visioning required to get there is probably a main factor behind skating’s Venn diagram overlap with addiction.

Videos can be similarly transportative. Whereas a single-trick clip shows a moment in time, footage of lines thrills with possibility — the far corners of some spot hinted at the edge of the fisheye lens, the uncertainty of where the run will go or what trick will come next, how long it can be pushed. Pontus Alv, a master of the form, grasps this: “What I always try to do is to hide the future for the viewer,” he said in Solo in 2016. “When you film from behind you see where he goes and watch his foot position and figure out what he’s gonna do. I always start filming a line from the front, cause the viewer has no clue then. The more you can hide, the more dramatic it gets, the more energy you add to it.”

Locales work the same way, with the vast and seemingly untapped plazas showcased in Lordz ‘They Don’t Give a Fuck About Us’ as important a part of the video as Bastien Salabanzi, William Phan, Alex Carolino and Florentin Marfain, vicarious spot tourism for US heads that went levels deeper than what Flip and Es and 411VM had brought. Michael Mackrodt built his one-man ‘Fishing Lines’ franchise around exotic spot-seeking in places like west Africa and Siberia. One of the most engrossing videos of the 2010s, ‘Ordos’, included no big-name pros of the day, mainly starring a near-empty city in Inner Mongolia and all the boundless, otherworldly potential it held.

Next in this lineage comes the Nocturnup Taipei video published earlier this month on Free, part of an ongoing project from Daryl Dominguez and Nick Richards that centers on skating some of the world’s most congested cities at night. The practical result is to film tricks that’d be impossible during the daytime crush of pedestrians and traffic, but the sum is much more than the excellent clips — plunging the viewer into a twilight maze of grimy loading docks and indoor malls that never close, a haze of smeary streetlights and crowds of idle scooters. The half-dozen skaters in the crew pop up grates to jump street gaps and do Miles Silvas tricks on tile ledges, threading among midnight street festivals and lone sidewalk sweepers. All around the city reaches into blackness, until the sun starts to rise as Daryl Dominguez battles a 360 flip bomb drop.

Will escalating jet fuel prices and the threat of global recession further throttle wanderlusting pros, and keep the world’s remaining untapped skate spots the domain of their locals for a few more years? Has Michael Mackrodt assumed Kenny Reed’s historical role as the plug for handrails not yet frontside crooked grinded by Jamie Foy, or stonework plazas not yet worked over by Mark Suciu? What was Rick Ross’ plan after jumping into the channel?

Summertime Mixtape Vol. 10 – Devine Calloway, ‘Let’s Do This!!1’

July 5, 2022


A shining example of classically cornball TWS editing and a ‘big’ song in the post-Ty Evans/Jon Holland era, Devine Calloway launched the second act of his career via Chocolate and DC after previously popping up as a braided City Stars shorty. It was a time when you could kick off a video part with a nollie backside bigspin and pack a suitcase full of New Eras for an international flight, and Devine Calloway was peaking, one of the first dudes to take the recently reclaimed backside bigspin down sizable gaps and making rarely recommended stuff like the nollie varial flip and 360 frontside pop shove-it look kinda incredible. He’s in the breeze, flannels flapping, floating over that SF street gap, board always spinning back to his feet with plenty of time to spare. 

Summertime Mixtape Vol. 10 – Ray Barbee, ‘Can’t Stop’

July 4, 2022


In between getting ripped off by multiple generations of Chocolate team members, Ray Barbee played a cigar-chomping card sharp in the Firm’s big 2003 video that turned into a swan song for the ex-Bones Brigadier brand that brought up Rodrigo TX and Frank Gerwer, among others. Ray Barbee was a vet a few times over at this point but there he was, hitting the Barcelona spots like Sants that were starting to bubble and running through the current LA schoolyards, parking lot gaps and sidewalk bumps with that impossible-to-replicate smoothness, fully decking tricks in the deep end and plunging down big banks. 

Summertime Mixtape Vol. 10 – Adidas, ‘Greece’

July 3, 2022


Before ‘big shoe’ consolidated its power and sorted pro skateboarding into three major camps, the sportswear conglomerates’ contracting activities produced teams with a certain eclecticism of lineup that went a long way toward establishing the programs’ credibility and capacity to add something to ‘the conversation.’ They resulted in vids like this 2012 Adidas one, a high point of the Juice Design-steered, geographically organized period, which caught a good deal of the early triple-striped squadron in top form. There’s Pete Eldridge blasting monster switch tricks with the ‘Bootlet 3000’ shotgun blasts echoing somewhere, Lucas Puig still in the early innings of a peerless twodecade run, Silas Baxter-Neal doing a load of tricks he probably still could do, and a pre-thickening Jake Donnelly, massively tweaking switch flips between sun-bleached boat rides, rubbery synthesizers and umbrella drinks. You assume there is a Tim O’Connor clip in there somewhere. 

Summertime Mixtape Vol. 10 – Steve Durante, ‘Inhabitants’

July 2, 2022


For a minute or two in the waning days of the Dubya Bush administration, Steve Durante looked about ready to form Habitat’s new core. A Jerseyite rocking a Fred Gall bun, Steve Durante translated the Wenning hunch and ledge tech to the pivot fakie/brown cords era, ratcheting up the difficulty quotient a notch or several with tricks here like the switch frontside shove-it 5-0, the switch backside lipslide variations and the nollie noseblunt pop-out in the middle of Cincinnati’s most knowed loading dock ledge. This dude was one of the few on the national scene putting in time in Philadelphia during the lull between the Stevie/Kalis era and the Sabotage resurgence; the line here through the Muni plaza still could slot seamlessly into any of the latter crew’s vids. 

Summertime Mixtape Vol. 10 – Spencer Fujimoto, ‘Peep This’

July 1, 2022

There is a looseness to this part that kicked off Zoo York’s 1999 comp vid that now looks like some product of a less-calculated age, when people would do their thing in the sessions over the course of the season and when the filmer put it together you’d maybe wind up with a tight couple minutes, multiples of the same trick and a ratio of orange t-shirts to overall footage that’s probably yet to be surpassed. Both Spencer Fujimoto’s nollie backside flip off the Keenan Milton bump and the one over the Brooklyn Banks wall are gems, and rather than making it the ender, the section starts off with the heaviest clip, the frontside shove-it into the courthouse bank. It clicked though in a vid that was more about the mix of heads, the lines and the crowded streets, versus the still-nascent arms race for enders.

Primitive Skateboarding Proudly Presents: Achievers

June 12, 2022

Time was, in that loose fit coming-of-age movie set knowed to some as the mid-90s, it was ‘cool’ not to skate. Long before the ‘no days off,’ on-my-grind 24-hour hustle culture, before pros were contractually obligated to help sponsoring companies stake their claims to the eye-glazing forever scroll, there were times when a year or two might pass between photos or video footage of skaters such as Guy Mariano, Rudy Johnson, Joey Suriel, Fabian Alomar, Gino Iannucci. Part of it was a slower media cycle, and the physical limitations of the day’s rickety imaging technology, but for some holding down pro boards on the era’s top companies, it seemed also something of a ‘flex’ — sitting in the back of the pro skater classroom, blowing rolling blunts and chopping it up about cars and girls, while the try-hards busted their asses to catch up. Menace, one of the 1990s’ most celebrated and influential board companies, never put out a video.

That harshest of mistresses, reality, eventually caught up with that approach — and, in a different way, with Menace, which went through several copyright-forced name changes and a team revamp that resulted in the eventual City Stars video opening with onetime Prime pro Caine Gayle and leaning heavily on newly signed kids Mikey Taylor, Ryan Denman, Justin Case, Devine Calloway and most of all Paul Rodriguez, who ended the thing with a two-song section. Since that time, the influx of ‘real money,’ competition and the bottomless thirst of social media has brought skateboard companies to a point where they can’t go a few months without putting out a video before being called out for low productivity. Pros can expect the big sportswear and beverage checks to come with what-have-you-done-for-me-lately strings attached or to turn serious injuries into their own their own media cycles. Meanwhile the divide deepens between the pro skating careerists and back-of-the-classroom types, the top 40 single-crafters and the indie artists.

When P-Rod expanded Primitive into a board and clothing concern around eight years ago, he’d already cemented himself as a senior member of the former camp. He was rumored to be the first skater to land a seven-figure shoe deal with Nike, a gamble that paid off for both parties, Nike taking a decisive step away from the ‘90s vets who gave the company’s third shot the credibility it needed to hit, and a step toward the Olympian platform it was always destined to become. Paul Rodriguez backed up his jumping ship from Es, which had given his early career a ‘Menikmati’ sheen, by reliably turning in top-shelf video parts that were undeniable in their gnarliness, if not always inspired.

Primitive has maintained this approach as it has come to rival team-wise any of the Girl or Es or Plan B lineups in ‘stackedness.’ ‘Define,’ the full-length released last week that carries a statement of purpose via its 68 minute runtime alone, is heavily shock-and-awe in its execution, with zero filler from a team built squarely upon capital-P professionals. No sketch and special meter always flashing, ridiculous lines are the norm — Wade Desarmo, early on in the vid, shows the commitment to quality in real time after doing a picture-perfect nollie flip backside nosegrind revert on one of the Muni benches, less than a second later calling to the filmer — “yes or no?” (Response: “Go.”) In an age where ‘everybody’s good’ and the explore page on IG coughs up middle America skatepark clips to rival one’s favorite pros, this is how you stand apart: Miles Silvas and Carlos Ribiero doing line-ender ledge tricks before hucking switchstance down the 14-stair Muirlands handrail, Spencer Hamilton alleyooping flip tricks over rail after rail, the general absurdity of the things that Tiago Lemos does, and the proprietor, Paul Rodriguez, tapping in from injury and business-handling to switch backside smith grind lengthily curving ledges, flipping out.

The steadily expanding team’s commitment to high productivity is more remarkable still when considering they aren’t even expected to do this stuff. “Don’t hold your breath,” commented Primitive EVP Heath Brinkley during his 2018 ‘9 Club’ podcast appearance, regarding the prospect of full team vids. Whereas video was generally regarded by Heath Brinkley as “the most important platform,” the timescale involved with the longform skate video made them a bad bet versus three or four smaller projects spaced out over the course of a year: “Do I want the guys to go out for two years and kind of go dark and really hammer down on a full length, or do I showcase them multiple times throughout the year?” Since then Primitive’s put out the smaller projects and cranked out four full-length vids in five years. 

Primitive could be called a factory, pumping out its highly rated ‘Testing’ clips and full-lengths at a more regular pace than any other board maker recently, but it may be better regarded as a startup, staffed by intensely driven cream-of-the-croppers with a stake in the outcome — part of P-Rod’s plan when starting Primitive was to give its pros a bigger stake in their board sales than the company received, a potential motivator, not that they seem to need it. The result has been a team that easily appears to be the multinational athletic sportswear manufacturer’s vision of what skateboarding can be, but maybe really is a product of it — training in gyms, eating right, group dinners and drinks at the bar, sure, but probably not greeting dawn by getting kicked out of the bordello, and heavy helpings of drive and focus.

How might Primitive’s top-of-its-class achievers fare faced with a list of fearsome and grotesque King of the Road challenges? Are the company’s Trapper Keeper style graphics on the low some of the best out right now? Is the ‘Primitive Fade’ destined to become the chosen hairstyle of summer ‘22, and is this the most Canadian Spencer Hamilton ever has looked? Do Primitive’s various and sundry collab partners, recently including Kikkoman and Megadeth, aim for Palace and Supreme but land closer to Ralph’s? Would a collab with Trapper Keeper maker Mead Schoolgoods Inc. complete the circle?

Chad Muska Pulls Ahead of Mike V In Race To Live Out 1989 ‘Barnyard’ Board Graphic

May 28, 2022

One of the biggest stories in pro sporting over the past couple years has been street poet Mike Vallely pulling up stakes and transplanting himself to Des Moines, Iowa, the heart of American ‘flyover country,’ knowed as a farming super-power, but a long ways from SoCal’s sun-bleached big boxes and the Superfund-glazed sludges of New Jersey’s industrial bayous. In this state, heavily regarded as one of the USA’s flattest, Mike Vallely has occupied himself with power vlogging, earnest nature runs, and operating his family businesses. This bucolic dimension represents a late-career oasis of peace for one of skating’s most enthusiastic reluctant warriors, a becalmed cul-de-sac along a winding road that has led Mike V through professional hockey rinks, wrestling wings, slam poetry exhibitions, Hollywood movie sets and certain other instances.

And yet, pinch-zooming out, Mike V’s long and winding road begins to look more akin to a wobbly circle when one considers how his newfound life in Iowa, a state that is home to more hogs than humans and produces more corn than any other, was foreshadowed more than three decades earlier. In those days, boards were shaped with stone axes and chieftans draped themselves in the the skins of their most hazardous kills. On the ‘9 Club’ podcast, Mike V tells the story of how he came to World Industries, nurtured the switchstance discipline under the dictats of Steve Rocco, and ultimately came out with the revolutionizing ‘Barnyard’ board. “At the time, I was a skater of consequence,” Mike V related on the pod cast. “So many energies came together for that board to be created,” he remarked.

Among these was the pen hand of Marc McKee, whose day-glo farm scene would reverberate across the ages like so many cattle stampeding through an outdoor rave. Flipping the notion of a farm as an aromatic manufacturing plant for bacon, eggs, honey-basted chicken strips and artisanal breads, McKee channeled Mike V’s newfound vegetarianism to present an ‘Animal Farm’ of livestock and poultry rebelling, sporting T-shirts and brazenly hanging out — not so different from the skaters of the day.

MV: It definitely looked different than anything I’d ever seen before, and I slowly came around, but I had two demands. One was that the top graphic be a continuation of the bottom scene with the quote worked into it, and the second was what I determined to be a vulgar and pointless image of a horse mounting another horse – the horse that was getting mounted is still on the board, you can see her smiling face peeking out from behind the barn. I wouldn’t approve the graphic otherwise.

Upon its mass production, Mike V collected months’ worth of $10K to $15K checks, as per various interviews, and inspired some fellow skaters to rethink their own guzzling of hogflesh, ground-up cattle pieces and processed chicken muscle tissue. Across the skating sphere, Marc McKee’s graphic inspired legions of parodies and tributes and reissues, and opened doors for a ‘rural’ skater archetype inhabited at various points by talents such as Chet Childress, Daniel Haney, Justin Brock and Jon Dickson.

But even among the tidelands of Iowa’s grainfields, no man is an island. As his personal orbit grows closer to the lifestyle portrayed in the ‘Barnyard’ graphic, Mike V finds himself locked in a race with an unlikely competitor: Chad ‘The Muska’ Muska. Around the turn of the century, Mike V and Chad Muska occupied opposite ends of pro skatingdom, the latter a handrail champ chased by throngs of chanting kids on some ‘Hard Day’s Night’ type Beatlemania, the former an 80s-bred purist who filmed himself driving cross-country, doing one-man demos in towns a few stoplights away from qualifying as backwaters. As their beards gray, both appear to respond to gravel’s crunch beneath their boots, and the low-tax environment offered by red state legislatures as they produce limited-run, hand-numbered deck drops.

This week, though, Chad Muska claimed the clear edge in the longtime street pros’ quest to immerse themselves in country livin, posting videographic content to Instagram that showcased his expanding poultry brood and elsewhere doing a 360 in a John Deere tractor. In recent weeks, Chad Muska has built chicken coops, battled destructive subterranean rodents, inhaled mass amounts of pesticides and weighed the merits of various types of agricultural equipment. “Although I love my @johndeere I’m also looking into @kubotausa right now because they have some good deals at a local dealership,” he mused at one point, on Insta Gram.com.

Is Chad Muska’s rural turn made even more counterintuitive by the fact that his fits of late have skewed more heavily toward the ‘Fulfill the Dream’ era, or does this all represent a vision seeded during the Shorty’s team adventures on horseback and pilgrimage to the Tea Bowls? Can Mike V reclaim the lead in this barnyard battle royale by expanding his Street Plant brand into an organic farm and tapping the market for agritourism? Is a MuskaStrumz album of front-porch finger-picking in the works, supported by an all-star cast of fiddlers and pedal steel players similar to how Ween did their country CD?

Josh Kalis Throws Himself Upon The Mercy Of The Camo Court

May 22, 2022

The great grit pendulum creaked further toward the Jersey industrial swamps this week, as Mark Suciu, he of the coffee cup and the dog-eared classic, was spotted on IG skating shirtless in a tropical ditch wearing camo pants. The digital video footage was notable, as even cynics no longer can cast such moves as so much Thrasher-pandering given Mark Suciu in 2022 is at last a SOTY laureate, suggesting something bigger is going on here. Do we head into this bold and burblesome summer of 2022, knowed to some as the dos-oh-deus-deus, with Mark Suciu a convert to the camo pants set? Only the mountains know, and some secrets they hold deep in their chilly, immobile embrace, like the legend of Shock G’s gold.

There can be little argument that this current epoch ranks as a kind of camouflage golden age. Freely available and often correctly spelled, the Rothco-or-white-labeled-equivalent camouflage cargo at once both a rank-and-file staple a la Dickies and Levis, and a reliably bankable premium product, regularly surfacing via collabo activities including but not limited to the likes of Huf, RealTree, MossyOak and Vans. Supreme has developed its own realistic camo prints, and Palace too.

The path of ‘the culture’ toward this place of diverse and varied camo patterns n’ prints has been a long and winding one since Matt Hensley podiumed the cargo short varietal in the late 1980s. Despite making appearances across the Brooklyn Banks, EMB, Love Park and Lockwood over the course of the 1990s, the camo pant frequently was sidelined at various points in favour of designer jeans, swishies, cords, and on certain feverish after-hours road trip stops, nothing at all. The road has also been potholed with wrongheaded choices, most notoriously Stephen Lawyer’s day-glo mash-ups that looked like something vomited up by a blotter-addled army surplus store.

All of these different things lead us to the unlikely scene of Josh Kalis, longtime endorser of DGK’s enlarged woodland print and one whose camo bonafides have been the subject of little question since at least ‘Time Code,’ preemptively asking his Instagram following this month to absolve him of what, in 2022, may nevertheless remain a camo faux pas to a decades-deep camo classicist. Donning a snow camo jacket, designed to help soldiers launch surprise attacks in frozen tundra environments, with traditional woodland printed pants, best suited to temperate deciduous forest combat or stylish hiking, Josh Kalis acknowledged the unconventional combo in the IG caption: “and yea.. I have woodland Camo pants and white urban Camo jacket on. Who cares.” The apparent transgression cannot outweigh the camouflage cred that Josh Kalis has banked since being among the few to successfully pull off snow camo shorts in the 1990s, though the textual shrug belies his (accurate) view that such a duo wouldn’t have flown back then.

Was Josh Kalis, seemingly throwing together whatever was around to turn wrenches on his beloved sports cars, in fact quietly testing the waters for a late-career bucking of long-held camo norms? Who’s gonna be the first to skate in ghillie pants? Has Stephen Lawyer, bored with pushing the dimensions and possibilities of camo combos, moved on to fashion prints and cartoon dinosaur scenes?

Of Denim, Dynasties and Destiny

May 1, 2022

Like the krill-scented belch of some deep-dwelling leviathan, a discordant breeze this week did blow. It was the ‘wind of change’: Tyshawn Jones announced on the Internet that he would depart the FuckingAwesome team, for a destination yet untold. Na-Kel Smith would be joining him, and for the first time since ‘Cherry’ it felt as though the expletiveamania juggernaut Jason Dill had built via junior high class photos around this generation’s ‘LA Boys’ was beginning to sputter — sort of like if in ‘Tha Last Dance’ Jordan and Rodman had quit the Bulls after a few championships to start their own expansion team that will also sell ‘pre curve’ trucker hats and airbrushed towels.

Jason Dill long has said FA was ‘for the kids.’ But strictly speaking is was not by them; perhaps it was inevitable that the tweens Dill and Anthony Van Engelen plucked and provided the platform to achieve big-fish status at one point would strike out on their own, but it leaves to burble the question of what might have kept them within the FA fold?

The answer plainly is jeans. It is a knowed truism that in 2022, year of the grub, if you cannot command a $35 pricepoint for a cotton t-shirt, you have no business being a skateboard company. And yet, with the price of a cup of gas thundering higher and supply-chain snarls and snurls reducing the product-slinging pro to a beggar for mismatched trucks, forward-thinking companies have staked their future on a more lucrative and precarious sphere — designer jeans, that fibrous endeavour that immortalized Antoine Boy’s horn and made Marithé and François Girbaud into 13th Ward icons.

Forced into the wilderness for years first by cords, then by Dickies, Carharts and assorted chinos, jeans now are the stuff of kingdom-making and eternal glory. Polar, once a Nordic upstart consumed with frontside shove its and male nudity, is now a de facto jeans company, made into an international dynamo by its zeitgeist-anticipating Big Boy line, which has been projected to occupy significant capacity levels on Maersk Line ocean freighters. Supreme remade the much sought-after Blind jeans of peak World years, putting the company’s current zombiefied incarnation, when they brought out their own version, in the unique position of aping an homage. Primitive is not so far off, marketing Tiago jeans endorsed by a noted Big Boy client. On the other hand, the strength of the Palace Jeans franchise doubtless played a role in forging its partnership with Stevie Williams manual accessory maker Evisu and more recently the Calvin Klein alliance, one of the more powerful collabos of recent vintage*. Bronze, Quasi, Theories of Atlantis and others all offer customized jeans with branded trademarks.

And what of FA? It is impossible to deny that as a company, in utter reality, they sell jeans. And yet the relatively few models proffered upon the open market of their digital storefront are outnumbered by neon-coloured corduroys, polar fleece sweats with stylized eyeballs on them and surf shorts adorned with graphical representations of babies fistfighting in the nude. To be sure, FuckingAwesome is a power in board sales, but with a fortune to be made hawking jeans to the parched and crypto-rich masses of our day, can FA truly be said to be a jean dynasty worthy of wanton worship and a $150 MSRP?

If FA had committed earlier and more fully to dominating the jeans game, would its pants-related earnings have made Tyshawn Jones and Na-Kel Smith think thrice before leaving a company drenched in denim riches? Or to adopt a ‘Kriss Kross’ position, is it rather that FA ought to instead lean even further into developing and selling graphical boardshorts? Is it time for the forward-thinking pants mogul to make a countercyclical bet on brown cords and boot-cut pants ahead of an inevitable ‘04 nostalgia wave?

*Are those Shaun Powers jeans u are wearing?