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?

The Thick Of It

April 24, 2022

The global battle against misinformation flared last week in the studio of the Nine Club, where host Chris Roberts put the ‘View’ for the switch heelflip set on pause for a few minutes to share his personal turmoil, bouts of gut-wrenching stress that verged on nausea: “The last couple of days have been really tough.”

This all was brought on by the pod-cast’s previous longform interview with Mark Oblow, longtime industry head of Prime, Gravis and other team/brand management positions over the course of several decades, who opted about 20 minutes into his nearly three-hour interview to veer abruptly into one of the darkest chapters in skateboarding’s history — Mark ‘Gator’ Rogowski’s 1991 murder of Jessica Bergsten — relating a version of the story he said he had “pieced together.” Preserved here, he characterized her death as an accident chalked up to drugs and “rough sex,” that Mark Rogowski, who “wasn’t that type of person,” later turned himself in and helped authorities locate the body. He then went on to chuckle over how he ever since avoids getting rough in bed; the Nine Club hosts offered “wow” and “really” as Mark Oblow segued to a related story about later trying to work prison connections to protect Mark Rogowski from other inmates.

Articles from the LA Times and Village Voice covering the murder and trial are archived here, citing trial documents and Mark Rogowski’s own words to contradict in graphic terms this version of the story, including that Mark Rogowski confessed to initially bludgeoning Jessica Bergsten with a Club, that he had hated and resented her, and that her decomposed body was found by campers.

On IG, Youtube, the Slap Boards and elsewhere people reacted with shock and revulsion. The rape and murder Mark Rogowski committed was the subject of the 2003 ‘Stoked’ documentary and occasional message board threads since. Whereas much of the unwritten code that guides, binds, strengthens and constrains what remains of skateboarding’s tribalism is wrapped up a kind of living oral history, handed down over shop counters and traded whilst sitting on curbs, the digital age has set down half-remembered stories and rumors in pixels and binary machine languages, sharpening them, memorializing them for posterity and permanent scrutiny. In this case, the ‘receipts’ were not hard to find. Mark Oblow soon apologized for what he called “ignorant and insensitive comments,” saying that for the past 30-plus years he had believed a version of the story told to him by Mark Rogowski.

Chris Roberts apologized as well, and vowed to do a better job of policing content on what’s become one of skateboarding’s biggest platforms. “We want to be able to question a guest, challenge a guest, on what they’re saying, if it’s inaccurate, we want to be able to have that discussion and feel like we can get in there,” he said on the Nine-Club ‘Experience’ episode several days after the interview aired. “At the end of the day we don’t want anything to come out of our show that’s inaccurate, misinformation, disinformation.”

It’s a noble sentiment, if a dauntingly lofty one. Setting aside whether the Nine Club itself is equipped to identify and push back on improbable takes or wrong-seeming recollections, given the hosts’ seeming preference for going into interviews cold, there are limits that would challenge even skilled interviewers like Eric Swisher, Tim Anderson, Mike Burnett and Willy Staley, possessed of historical knowledge, the inclination to research and the tact to wade in deeper. Time’s passage, the frequent involvement of intoxicants and general human subjectivity are always gonna cast a certain gauze over the specifics of tales like Tom Penny shutting down a session in hiking boots, or the particulars of those World wheel invoices.

A bigger hurdle though is that more than ever, a given pro or industry bro has no particular need to subject themselves to potential tough questioning. Ascendant talents and established luminaries alike have their own social media platforms to post photos and clips, vids can go straight to Youtube, limited edition hand-numbered whatzits and premiumly priced apparels can be marketed directly to the fanbase. The longform podcast or published textual interview can be trimmed of controversial or uncomfortable subject matter, by appealing to friendship with the interviewer or the potential discomfort of a mutual sponsor.

It’s also unclear whether the skateboard media consumer, by and large a population intensely invested in the logos on their and others’ t-shirts, care deeply about how high up a given anecdote or tidbit lands in the great coordinate plane of narrative content, with truthfulness as the Y axis and entertainment value the X; an ‘Athletic’ or ‘Sports Illustrated’ for skateboarding has yet existed in part because there’s no significant, sustaining demand. Thrasher’s expanding space in recent years for exploring mental health and addiction, and making room on its platform for women, gay, lesbian, trans and other participants raise an interesting question as to whether that’s changing.

Should that grotesque take on a still-horrific crime have been edited out of the Nine Club episode to begin with, or was it preferable for it to be posted and to have had the whole ensuing discussion? With CNN+’s sudden plug-pulling, is there a guest pod-cast hosting spot for new free agent Chris Wallace? Who’s going to host an affordable housing debate with Mikey Taylor, or a digital asset bubble assessment with Stevie Williams and Justin Eldridge?

Sus Among Us

April 3, 2022

Neil Gaiman’s 2001 romcom novellina ‘American Gods’ followed the doings of a ragtag band of faded deities, whose powers and even basic existence waxed but mostly waned as fewer and fewer people believed in and worshipped them, setting up an eventual WWF-style slugfest with newer, flashier ‘gods’ cribbed from an Alien Workshop t-shirt — television, the internet, online securities trading, et cetera. As a historical artifact of the early ’00s, the tome can be alternately regarded as a blueprint for the current day’s ‘clout culture’, a case study in hackneyed character naming, and a cautionary answer to that age-old question: If a tree falls in the woods and it has no followers, does it make a sound?

For those skilled, inspired and fortunate enough to have achieved a form of immortality via trick names, the tale is much the same. Tricks such as Mike McGill’s McTwist retain gravitas among 1980s documentary makers and the several vert contests that continue to be held each decade, while Mike Smith’s grind and Alan ‘Ollie’ Gelfand’s breakthroughs remain in daily, trap music-soundtracked circulation. Alchemical creations such as the Barley and Bennett make occasional, respectable appearances, while others like Eric Dressen’s salad grind over time seem to consistently land outside the stylistic guardrails that separate the ‘Guiltys’ from the ‘Fulfill Tha Dreams,’ or the Guy Mariano of ‘Mouse’ from that of ‘Pretty Sweet.’ Some, like the k-grind, are genericised into ‘crooked grinds,’ leaving cultural residuals uncollected somewhere offstage, piling up like so much interest in an unattended offshore bank account, held in the name of some absentee hadropod.

It’s difficult to tell via IG whether Aaron Suski has grown more solid or powerful over the past couple of weeks, as his namesake backside tweaked, backside 5-0 grind has been plucked from somewhere in the vicinity of those trick-selection guardrails and freshly deployed by a number of young hot shoes: Deathwish’s Brian O’Dwyer dished one out at Muni last week in a vid for OJ Wheels with his Philly entourage; Colombian Creature fiend Jhancarlos Gonzalez scraped one down a serious handrail in Thrasher’s recent ‘Am Scramble’ vid. Sean Pablo, a longtime practitioner, kickflipped into one on IG on the cusp of springtime.

Is the Suski grind an underutilized gem or detritus better carted away as more profitable seams are mined? Plenty worse tricks, not limited to misadapted ramp moves such as the Losi grind and objectively bad ones like the Willy, have managed to not only periodically resurface but occasionally get elevated in big vids, or argue for erasing the concept of ‘illegal tricks’ altogether. Probably the strongest argument in favor of rescuing the Suski grind from the pioneered-and-put-away-again pile is its rarified alumni of backers over the years — Aaron Suski may have gotten his name hitched to it, but Kevin Taylor still owns the most iconic version, down the CA hubba in Transworld’s ‘Sight Unseen’; Antwuan Dixon and Pete Eldridge, those still-hallowed potentates of grace and power, also have used it to lasting effect.

If the Suski grind’s recent usage helps to refill some mystical power meter for Aaron Suski, should some of those supernormal protons also rightfully flow to Kevin Taylor, legendary in his own right as among the very few to never have ever taken a bad photo? How much of the Suski grind’s lack of relative staying power can be attributed to its possible labeling as ‘too easy’? If the backside ‘overcrook’ has been quietly acknowledged as the lone ledge trick in which the non-grinding back truck can acceptably be tweaked over top of the ledge*, should room be made for the Suski grind to live, given the longstanding acceptance of frontside and standard crooked grinds’ angling of the non-grinding truck away from the ledge?

*As applied to versions done on ledges

A War Outside Your Window

March 12, 2022

Nike Inc. at last grants Ishod Wait a pro shoe, VF Corp.’s Vans same with Lizzie Armanto, Kader Sylla provides more of his pinnacle flick and laughs off Bill Strobeck’s filming foibles, but there’s no comfort. Too much fear and darkness, a planet casting for its footing grabbed and wrenched backward into what seems like a harsher and more brutal age, somewhere that seemed relegated to stale movie plots and militarized video game series. In an age that seemed sometimes to drown itself in shades of blurry and bleeding grays, the rapid reveal of a deep jet-black streak is a cold reminder of an old order that hasn’t gone away.

A year ago spring neared and a path out of a strange, lost year seemed close. Optimistic vibes emanated from Kyle Wilson’s fuzzy-hooded switch backside tailslide, and these mostly held through the variants and waves that obscured and fatigued the winding way back. The most bracing vid for this unsteady new year, though, comes out of embattled Kyiv, ‘Revolutions on Granite,’ a deeply felt documentary on the Ukrainian skate scene via Brendan Gilliam and Peter Dayton Conopask, which screened disorientingly prescient when Thrasher posted it this week.

The vid opens with talk of stone blocks embedded with hunger, blood and tears, and after the past few weeks of neighborhood bombardments, destroyed homes and fleeing families, certain phrases from the interviews seem to hang in the air an extra second or so: “We fought for our territory,” “on the world scene, we were no one,” “we always have troubles with our neighbor.” Some of this relates to the nascent Ukrainian skate scene, as isolated a backwater as there was amid skating’s worldwide nadir in the early 1990s. But the documentary’s power lies in the way it threads together the building — literally in some cases — of a scene centered on Kyiv’s Maidan plaza with the newly freed country’s furtive path out of the Soviet era and toward a freer state of being.

It’s easy for a western-world skater to see his or herself in the beanies, bleached hair and baggy denim that follows as the Kyiv skaters push the potential of their granite playground, and visiting pros like Fred Gall and (of course) Kenny Reed briefly suggest a future for the city as a vibrant satellite of the burgeoning Europe sphere — until 2014, when the plaza devolves into a literal battleground as pro-democracy protesters clash with corruption-tinged figures hailing from the country’s Russia-aligned east. The plaza falls into disrepair, stone tiles broken with hammers to make projectiles for throwing, the memories of dead bodies strewn across the blocks too heavy for at least some of the locals to think of it as anything beyond hallowed ground.

There is a line late in the vid — “Whenever it feels like finally it’s starting, we’re gonna live great lives… there’s always something that gets in the way” — that now can be heard freighted with the awful calm of a hurricane’s eye, or reading yet again a throwaway text exchange with a friend just before they suddenly were gone. You hear the way some of these people talk and feel fairly certain that they are today themselves in a very real fight that perhaps the rest of the world thought was a thing of the past, but they very clearly knew as a present threat. The open question is whether the documentary will prove to be an epitaph or a prequel, and it’s hard not to now come away with the feeling that question weighed on the minds of those who made it.

Thrasher posted a link to donate to Ukrainian refugees; it would be something if gift certificates were available to purchase from Ukrainian skate shops/parks/companies similar to how people have booked Airbnbs to funnel funds to displaced and besieged locals.

Switch Frontside 180 Watch: Rowan Zorilla And The Case For The Fixer-Upper Trick

February 21, 2022

Little loved, often for cause, the switchstance frontside 180 nevertheless remains one of the more exacting barometers for skill, form and trick deployment available across nearly the entire spectrum of pros, ams and bros of any persuasion. Whereas it’s a daily affair to observe and commentate upon a particularly commanding 360 flip, and a rainbow of flavours and fillings of backside tailslides has long been available, a well executed, strategically positioned and pleasurable-to-observe switch frontside 180 remains a rarity indeed, even in this jiggling and footage-drenched age.

Apex specimens can be cracked high and spun late, or floated and slowly turned; like a melonchollie or certain other moves it is a trick that often must be grabbed by the face and ripped to pieces in a primal, commanding display. Those not hip to the teachings risk offering up lazy-scraping crop dusters that have come, sometimes rightly, to render the switch frontside 180 unto the realm of skatepark QP deck jumpers, and aging tween crooner Justin Bieber. Most these days opt to dispense with the whole thing and incorporate a switch heelflip, or kickflip, or make it into a bigspin, and can they be blamed? Even brawny editions such as yung TJ Rogers’ El Toro fling can come off like settling after better ‘basic’ tricks already have been chiseled into the stone tablets of the landmark gaps.

In a heady and histrionic time, there is a whiff of renaissance around the switch frontside 180, and rumours of things yet to pass. Quartersnacks recently observed in its year-end video part rodeo how Kyle Wilson’s booming version, which holds a firm position in his regular rotation, looks like he could take it over a house. His ‘Portions’ and ‘Beyond Tha 3rd Wave’ switch frontside 180s, paired with Kyle Wilson’s globally and correctly recognized ‘boss status,’ have in turn helped elevate the trick to a ‘cultural relevancy’ reminiscent of the late 1990s, when Tim O’Connor flexed a serrated, tweaked-out take in the Element World Tour video that solidified his status as the best to ever spin it.

The excitements continued this week with an abruptly uploaded Baker video, wherein after an inspiring and invigorating part from fortysomething Andrew Reynolds (who his own self once sailed a slow-mo-ish switch frontside 180 over a handrail whilst wearing a bucket hat in Birdhouse’s ‘The End’, released on the cusp of the Lewinsky affair), many astute switch frontside 180 watchers likely slumped back into the couch cushions, drowsy and sated by Kader Sylla’s textbook entry during the line that made up the bulk of his footage — the type that cemented this trick as a reliable line-linker in the mid-90s SoCal schoolyards wave.

This turned out tho to be a warm-up for Rowan Zorilla’s spin on the trick halfway through his blazing and ramshackle closer, flying one over a rail and into a bank that synthesized most of the premium versions available for this trick — high and lofty, a little bit of tweak and late rotation, over a handrail — to push up the switch frontside 180’s power rankings on the west side. The jazzy intonations and kink count make it an easy mirrorable of Danny Renaud’s CA sweep in ‘Mosaic’, and given Rowan Zorilla’s assortment of lesser-seen switchstance tricks and loose-fitting executions it is not surprising he’d have a good one, generating tingles as to what may come next in the still-building 2020s switch frontside 180 wave.

Did Rowan Zorilla opt not to bother to tighten his trucks on that rocky hubba ride or did his fuzzy, vaguely animalistic Supreme sweater bestow some poorly understood, primal powers? Do Supreme dudes really need to go that hard on the handrails? With Kader Sylla now of an age to lease luxury autos, does onetime Shep Dawg hot shoe Rowan Zorilla register as a Baker old head? What does that make Andrew Reynolds, here with footage that suggests no measurable decline since ‘Made 2’? Who is gonna be the next one on the switch frontside 180 Summer Jam screen?

Metaverse Metachorus Metaverse

January 1, 2022

Ten more
Javi De Pedro, ‘Heritage’ — wallie backside tailslide with no bump and some of the year’s most heavily boned landings
Dick Rizzo, ‘The Reuben’ — It was a wrap when Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz came in.
Ronnie Sandoval, ‘Appreciate U Bro’ — Heavy drama, but among our best in the bowls and embankments
Josh Arnott, ‘Impressions’ — Kind of off-putting to see DC retros pushing across U.K. cobblestone but maybe all you need is a killer backside tailslide and 360 flip?
Jordan Trahan, ‘Bunny Hop’ — The kickflip over the garbage bin immediately gets noticed to the all-time listmakers, along with Danny Garcia’s ‘Mosaic’ one and Tom Penny’s in ‘Welcome to Hell’
Mark Humenik, ‘Bert’s Vid 2’ — This dude sometimes seems like he is dealing with some form of lower-body ADHD where his feet get agitated if they aren’t doing a trick every few seconds
Grant Taylor, ‘Constant’ — Over the next few years, a handful of residents will have GT and Thrasher to blame for crowding up their downhill alleyway
John Shanahan, ‘SabotageXDC’ — Jimmy Gorecki deemed the nollie backside flip over the can the trick of the year and was he maybe right?
Tyler Surrey, ‘Vagando’ — Top-shelf filming and out-of-the-way spots combine for one of the more enjoyably disorienting and surprising vids from the always-reliable Tyler Surrey
Jacopo Carozzi, ‘Baker Video With Jacopo’ — The master of Milan’s Love Park with the endlessly bubbling pot of ledge tricks

1. Joey O’Brien – ‘[untitled] 005’

December 31, 2021


Marathon man Joey O’Brien has been the torch-bearer for long-distance Oyola lines through downtown Philadelphia since he linked the Love Park ledges with the underground parking ramp in ‘Sabotage4,’ and deep thinkers could probably draw some similarities to what has seemed like years of toil through flow arrangements that up to this year hadn’t elevated him the same as Love/Muni alumni like Kevin Bilyeu, Jahmir Brown and the incomparable Jamal Smith. Joey O’Brien came into 2021 with a presumed Adidas hookup and no discernible/official deck deal, served notice with an Alien 2.0 vid and then proceeded to blow the doors off last summer with a nearly 10-minute footage barrage supervised by the impeccable Chris Mulhern. It was pretty much relentless — whereas other dudes may get a clip on a given rail or ledge, Joey O’Brien does three or four, skating construction sides and dodging snow piles, seeming able to backside flip out of anything. At Philadelphia’s Municipal Services Building, one of the single most heavily mined spots over the past five years or so, he finds eye-popping new stuff to do, bigspinning on the angled bannister and popping a tile to jump over the back of the big handrail, with nigh-incomprehensible twists on the benches, like the backside 180 to frontside nosegrind. Beyond the Muni orbit he covers all bases — on the bumps to bars, flying a backside 180 onto a black-diamond cellar door; he’s got shove-it nosegrinds both ways on the rails, a frontside version of the ‘Suciu grind’ and a leap of faith gap to nosegrind. The year’s work for Joey O’Brien winds down with a richly deserved pro board and a Skater of the Year ‘contender’ nod from Thrasher, and he seems on the cusp of putting out another video.

2. Carlisle Aikens – ‘Bunny Hop’

December 30, 2021


There’s maybe other people who can make tricks look as smooth and powerful as Carl Aikens, but not so many whose skating can communicate the freedom and infectious fun the way that this dude and his XXL jeans can, melon grabbing down big sets, surfing through the plazas, switch bigspin kickflipping a double set and snapping nollies straight over poles. In Chocolate’s ‘Bunny Hop’ he rolls in all the elements from his prodigious output the past few years via N. Rollings, Melodi and Huf, and then some, unflappable in his roomy pants and rippling flannels, at ease floating kickflips on the sidewalk or hucking nollie backside 180s from roof to roof. He’s got a solid look-back landing on stuff like the switch backside tailslide and switch frontside bluntslide, and seeing his name in the chunk font this month gives that rare assurance of everything being in its right place.

3. Kaue Cossa – ‘Concourse’

December 29, 2021


After ye these many years, 2021 demonstrated that it still is possible to shock at the famed NY courthouse, between Mark Suciu’s crosswalk link to the Blubba and here, Kaue Cossa hitting the ledge, flipping out and taking the drop all switchstance, which seems like it’s gotta be some type of milestone. One of the best-sounding parts this year, this vid was packaged as a transmission from the ‘Photosynthesis’ era, complete with a Mr. Dibbs soundtrack and Appleyard/Wenning type ledges — here, Kaue Cossa slices through Brazilian spots’ day-glo grime with a razory flick (the line with the half-cab kickflip, you know the one) and glides over New York crust, like the wallie frontside 180 5-0 revert in the Bronx. Pop shove-it backside nosegrind revert at Staten Island’s ABC ledges must be in the running for 2021’s craziest ledge trick.