Down And Out In Dunktown

February 28, 2021

“It was one of the oldest neighborhoods around, but back then, nobody was really trying to live there. Nothing going on, every once in a while somebody would try and hype it up again like, hey, remember this place? Some cool stuff would pop up here and there but it was close to a notorious part of town. Nothing really wrong with the neighborhood itself, but it was more like, outta sight, outta mind.

“Other parts of town got crowded up and too busy, and here and there, people started moving back in. At first it was your typical mix, like young hipsters and sophisticated thirtysomethings. And you could see why, it had that a little bit of a more classic neighborhood vibe, kinda old school feel, for sure simpler than everything going on downtown. So people started moving back, they’d talk about how they’d loved the area all along and all that, and sure enough after a couple years you started to see some high rollers and upper crust types coming in. The vibe was changing no doubt, but you could find a reasonable place if you looked.

“It was still a nice place to be, nothing about the neighborhood itself fundamentally changed, but as the years went by it just started to get really crowded. And the free market did its thing. Rents went up. Bidding wars for coveted spots turned really intense. Different types of rent control programs were tried, some got pretty creative, but people were just getting so crazy with it — hiring programmers to build bots to help them land a spot, offering bribes, assaults, death threats. Kinda funny, since it was the old residents that were supposed to be the riffraff. Some landlords wouldn’t even give out their places’ address, the heat got so intense. But at the end of the day the developers and landlords didn’t turn anybody down, and you know, a lotta business and investment was coming in. Developers would sometimes try and set aside space for the longtime residents, but the same thing would always happen. And it’s starting to happen in other parts of town too.

“People say the bubble’s gonna burst soon, but they’ve said that before, and either way, most of the old locals who made the neighborhood what it was, by now they’re pretty much gone. All the streets, lines and angles are still the same, more or less, and it’s still possible on paper to live there without deep pockets and connects. But hardly anybody sees the point in trying, especially with the kind of money you can get for it if you do somehow land a spot. And there’s plenty of other neighborhoods around, some just as nice, some probably better, some whose roots in the city go even deeper. So this neighborhood’s theirs now, I guess, as long as they can afford it.”

The Snowblower Is The New Bolt Cutter

February 14, 2021

The story of ‘earth’ (the planet) is defined by the eternal tug of war between man and his environment. Viewed from above, land is carved into multicoloured squares and circles, crops to feed man’s teeming billions. Below ground, humans tunnel into soil and rock to extract minerals and gemstones that power cities and festoon foreheads. While tropical islands are constructed from trash or military equipment, each day people display their own minor triumphs over nature, driving heavily laden trucks up hills, relaxing in aeroplanes, boldly growing plants in Antarctica.

Erik Herrera, young fleet-foot now riding officially for Chocolate, this week put up another W for humankind, melding numerous pushes and an anti-ableist cement slope to fling a backside flip over a sidewalk and up a five-step, stoking out Tyler Pacheco and mankind generally. Despite the lack of a slow-mo angle, this backside kickflip more narrowly represented another ripple in the decadeslong environmental push and pull that birthed, developed and continues to define skateboarding. Asphalt embankments provided the friction and gravity for Z-boys of old to approximate surfing sans water; the pools later barged helped ferment the outlaw raiderisms that would be required to persist through the skatepark closures and vert ramp scrappings that would follow. Forced adaptation to office plazas, loading docks and schoolyards required fashioning tricks and entire disciplines around the street biome, working within the terrain’s natural limits and sometimes toppling them. The ingenuity required to translate picnic tables and staircase aids into platforms for innovation and progression allows a new form of vision, like slipping on the enchanted sunglasses from ‘They Live’ and seeing the Sistine Chapel in a New Jersey backyard.

Watching backside kickflips like Erik Herrera’s, on screens powered by rare earth minerals and housed within temperature-controlled rumpus rooms made out of dead trees, it’s easy to feel victorious. Science and technology have provided bondo and sawzalls and the power to make nigh any spot skateable; Thrasher’s March 2021 issue featured a how-to interview with a masked superhero knowed only as ‘Knob Buster.’ Those with mall shop and video game money, properly funneled into the pockets of laid-back warehouse landlords, have unlocked private TFs capable of sidestepping both security and inclement weather.

Yet all of this is a feint, dodging the real and ultimate authority: weather. No less a visionary than Mike Carroll recognized the climate’s paramount rule when, in the ‘Modus’ credits, he mutters his capitulation to the wind, seeking solace in the embrace of a video game controller when persistent breezes made all flip trick attempts pointless. Pat Duffy and Ronnie Creager and Marc Johnson wowed generations by taking on handrails and pic-a-nic tables in the rain, but these remain novelties, with malevolent nimbostrati continuing to reroute domestic and international filming trips to local bars. Even in these pandemic times, the only surefire cure for winter is southbound airfare.

Or is it? The same combination of ingenuity, courage and hardheaded masochism that hurls bodies repeatedly down stairs in pursuit of the clip, and that certain euphoric zen, are now pushing the meteorological envelope further than ever before. John Shanahan’s uncanny ability on the slippery snow-skate is one thing, but as blizzards rake the U.S.A. over past weeks, ways are being found to best even the uncooperative climate itself. The Philadelphia contingent again curls their collective lip toward any barriers before their ledges and cans — deploying a damn snowblower to cut paths between Municipal Plaza’s benches, leaving gaps for young Chris Falo to push and pop over as needed. Further west, Josh Kalis’ Grand Rapids group took the same approach to liberate an even more minimal spot from old man winter’s icicle-fingered clutches, in Boston and Cincinnati they’re skating snowbanks. Kevin Bilyeu’s bubblegoosed nose manual and trash can kickflip aren’t even the point, it’s the principle involved.

Is the snowblower the new bolt cutter? Could an iced-over parking lot or frozen Canadian pond, properly Zamboni’d, host a powerslide event worthy of a wintertime Dime Glory Challenge? Will the future bring affordable and localized weather-controlling machines to skateparks and leave yet-to-come generations that much more confused over why anyone bothers with street spots at all, or will varied temperatures, locales and other environmental trappings be required to properly model the premiumly priced softgood pieces that will support the pros of the day?

Death, Taxes And 10,000 Pounds Of Rolling Steel: Wade Speyer’s Dump Truck And The Quest For Immortality

January 31, 2021

In the smash Broadway politicopera ‘Hamilton,’ the closing number ponders man’s quest for immortality through government. After the gunshot death of major figure Alex Hamilton, lover of women and bayonettor of British, the refrainers mourn: “U lived, u died, bro we’ll tell ur story.” It is true, but only to a point: Andrew Jackson remains a day to day sight, but only until US currencies move fully digital. The system of government designed by aged brewmaster Benjamin Franklin has proven vulnerable to shirtless men in buffalo hats. Even Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln and Roosevelt, their visages carved 60 feet high in solid stone, exist only at the pleasure of phaser-equipped alien spaceships that one day may decide they have grown bored with the entire affair.

Approximately 70 years into its history, the skateboard realm mutters to itself the same lyrics as it flits about its day-to-day. Some things, like kickflips, the ‘Sick Boys’ video and the popsicle shape, persist through time. Others — the shoelace belt, Shorty’s boards, the lapper, Pat Corcoran, Justin Roy, Bridgebolts — rise and fade. And some prove truly immortal, such as Half Cabs, Brandon Turner’s switch hardflip, Fred Gall obviously, and as we shall come to understand, Wade Speyer’s dump truck.

Featured in 2001’s black denim document ‘Label Kills,’ and again in ‘Weekend at Wade’s’ alongside certain other heavy machineries, Wade Speyer’s dump truck has outlasted companies such as Bootleg, Seek and 3D; it has posed for the cover of Big Brother, which is also outlasted, and rolled like a timeless wave as decks and pants have widened and slimmed like the shifting of the tides. Footwear labels such as C1RCA, Ipath and Es have amassed great power only to fade again, but the dump truck persists. Photo/videographer John Bradford in North magazine rightly named it among the seminal moments captured in his photography career:

…I was lucky enough to be asked to help with what I think was one of the best things going on in skateboarding at that moment. It was so sick to be a fly on the wall as those guys put together some of those stories. Like listening to Natas [Kaupas] recount in his own words about his career. We went and filmed Wade Speyer drive his dump truck. We filmed an interview with Clyde Singleton where he refused to take off his Mexican wrestling mask.

Now, in this year of our lord 2021, it rises again, as Darren Navarrette in the February 2021 Thrasher pens another chapter of the legend:

I was always a bit starstruck by Wade. Before one contest, I decided to get a little liquid courage and dipped into a bar. The only other customer in the place was Wade. I was scared. What do I do? Do I pretend like I don’t see him? I decided to pull a stool up next to him. He looked over at me and said, “Darren, you wanna see a picture of my pride and joy?” He pulled out a photo of his brand new dump truck. I was like, What? A dump truck? The funny thing is, I had a picture of my pride and joy in my wallet, too, so I took it out and showed it to him. It was literally a photo of Pride dishwasher soap and Joy hand soap. Turned out neither of us were exactly rock stars.

Has Wade Speyer ever been documented doing the trick called the ‘dump truck’? Should Fred Gall, easily the most widely revered doer of the dump truck trick, buy a real one as he contemplates life paths beyond pro skating? When FA inevitably awards a ‘class photo’ board to the dump truck should it feature a pic of the truck fresh out the assembly line, some Tonka model, or heaps of unrefined iron ore bound for the blast furnace?

Is The Gap Being Properly Minded?

January 18, 2021

Jim Greco is in the news again, winding down 2020 with a display of his remove from skateboarding’s professional rat race, putting forward his most recent Film ‘Glass Carousel’ just as the inevitability of Mason Silva’s SOTY campaign wound to its undeniable conclusion. Ironically, or not, ‘Glass’ represents the closest thing to a conventional video part from the mercurial Greco since 2013’s ‘The Deathwish Video,’ vid; he surfaced not in November’s ‘Uncrossed’ full length. And he rips, rattling long bluntslides across bricked planters, backside 270 tailsliding a serious tall ledge, backside flipping on an impossibly tight bank, a disheveled meditation on a few square blocks in Los Angeles’ hot, disease-wracked core.

Absent this go-round are the attendant pork products, the silent rootbeer sipping, the inch by inch scraping of metal furniture across bleached concrete. ‘Glass Carousel’ gazes instead upon downtown Los Angeles’ tired and drug-hooked vagrants, Joey Sinko’s jittery lens provoking one to give angry chase and taking a long look as another sucks in chemical vapors. Greco himself of course has been in and of this world, and part of the off-putting allure of him and Joey Sinko’s prior Films has been the way they steep watchers in Greco’s urban ghost towns and drab routines, but the unblinking stare on the downtrodden struggling here rapidly feels discomforting, and a shade invasive.

Maybe that sentiment’s another symptom of skateboarding’s long and halting maturation into its current and more ‘grown’ mindset, the one that eats healthy, draws ice baths and makes more room for those outside the cultural mainstream for whom it always was supposed to be a refuge. Maybe Jim Greco and Joey Sinko let these clips run a few too many seconds beyond the snapshot blinks used for city-grit seasoning in other vids. The surplus of suffering and anguish generally over the past year may have everybody at this point hitting a certain collective limit. Maybe that’s the point?

‘Glass Carousel’ is the most recent in decades’ worth of skate videos to stitch in homeless people and assorted other streetbound characters in between tricks and lines and whatever else. When Ricky Oyola threw hands with the dude at Love Park in the credits of the Sub Zero video around 1994, it was two people who both spent their days in disused pockets of the city, harassed by cops, avoided or castigated by most everybody else. Contemporaries have described the vibe then and there as general coexistence and occasional turf battles between groups who may not have been seen as very many rungs apart on society’s grand ladder, though one set probably much more likely to have a roof over their heads.

In the quarter-century hence, skateboarding’s capacity to generate ad revenue for sport organizations, television networks and bagel merchants have widened that gap, by some measure. In 2003, with the THPS/X-Games era in full swing, California lurkers nicknamed ‘Da Clown’ and ‘Ghostrider’ were providing comic relief and occasional pearls of wisdom between parts and montages in Transworld’s ‘Free Yr Mind.’ Another decade on and the Supreme kids shared airtime in ‘Cherry’ with a Misfits-hating corner growler and the illicit smoker ‘Spark Plug,’ in service of a multi-billion dollar clothing supplier.

In our current epoch, skateboarders of various stripes grace billboards and Superbowl ads, show off their mansions and command what remain of MTV’s airwaves nearly around the clock. Police can kickflip and may give you a couple more tries, a presidential candidate is a ’skateboard philosopher,’ and one of these years the much-ballyhooed 2020 Olympic debut will occur. Meanwhile, after years of moderate declines, the number of US homeless has increased by 20,000 over the past four years, and the coronavirus has spread through shelters and threatens them on the streets.

Ought this increasingly glaring gulf be more recognized/respected by camera-toting inner city spot hunters? Does there exist a sliding scale between the New York summer-vacationing pro squads and the likes of Philadelphia’s Sabotage group, who may spend as many hours in a given day at Love Park or Municipal Plaza as any of the city’s unsheltered, and probably aren’t much banking off it either? Has the dude set up on the Santa Monica Courthouse stage appeared in any videos yet?

Covid Beards, Flame Beanies, Cargo Sneakers And Other Detritus From This Pandemic Year

January 1, 2021

Ten further
-Josh Wilson, ’Hardware For The Masses’ — lighting up Michigan City, pre-Covid beard
-Jahmir Brown, ’DC’ — near-knockout blow for the famed Pyramid ledges
-Nik Stain, ‘John’s Vid’ — dude needs a pro model flame beanie
-Patrick Zentgraf, ‘Kiosq’ — no matter the country, strong switch backside tailslides and track pants will eventually draw Primitive’s attention
-Jake Anderson, ’Cheap Perfume’ — to go with the helicopter heelflip frontside 360, there’s a great clip of a lady holding a tropical fruit and gasping in disbelief
-Javier Sarmiento, ’Jarana’ — the don of the Basque country can still do switch smith grinds, frontside and backside, in lines
-Chris Colburn, ’Heatwave’ — if Element’s weird arms’-length management of this dude and his backside 180 to switch frontside feeble grinds on handrails leads to yacht rock music vids like this, maybe it’s all fine
-John Shanahan, ’Cargo Sneaker’ — noseblunt to fakie on a handrail is rare, but pop shove-it to noseblunt on a ledge may be rarer
-Amelien Foures, ‘Introducing’ — Orlando Blooming tech on tree stumps
-Griffin Gass, ’Nervous Circus’ — flips-out that may be unrivaled right now

1. Tom Knox — ‘Atlantic Drift’

December 31, 2020


Is there such thing as a perfect video part? Determining an answer may require intensive quantitative computing, enchanted armor, and forensic analysis of Mark Gonzales in ‘Video Days,’ Guy Mariano in ‘Mouse,’ Jason Dill in ‘Photosynthesis,’ Dylan Rieder for Gravis, et cetera — all of which lay beyond the operational and budgetary constraints of modern weblog technology. Doesn’t watching the inevitable-feeling Tom Knox/Jacob Harris brick-and-bubblegoose masterpiece press the question though? It is a rapper-producer partnership as strong as any there were, probing and working many threads across ten engrossing minutes that mine London’s vacant schoolyards and blocks of flats — smirking humor, heartache, family, memories of spots and days past. It is tempting to sift for the nods and references, or ponder how many tries the street gap nollie out of the kickflip nose manual took, and whether the frontside boardslide to fakie after the backside 360 was spur of the moment. But the real reward is getting lost watching Tom Knox and Jacob Harris wind on and on through these claustrophobic brick and stone labyrinths, soaking in flourishes like the backside powerslide after the 360 flip to make it around the corner and cannon blasts like the monstrous curb cut ollie over the can to backside lipslide, set against incongruously beautiful summer days in an accursed year. Just cuz it’s obvious don’t make it wrong.

2. Nick Matthews – ‘HUF Welcomes Nick Matthews To The Team’

December 30, 2020


Imagine having committed to longterm body memory the exact combination of torso contortion, forefoot balance, ankle flick and split-second timing such that you now possess Pupecki grind kickflips out on command, the way Chicagoland’s Nick Matthews seems to have done. No longer the most feared flow dude in circulation, Huf became the first big operation to take the increasingly obvious step of elevating Nick Matthews to its formal team and presumably mailing out the first of what ought to be years and years of cheques. These and other payments are required to formally recognize the sheer difficulty of the things he repeatedly has done over the past couple years and continued to do here — ranging from a gargantuan street gap, the incredible block-to-block backside lipslide, to a fakie blunt to fakie and switch heelflip frontside blunt, in a line — Steve Durante level. Nick Matthews’ laser-eyed gaze is a smart match for any of the companies supplying him with equipment, but especially Huf, which consistently has delivered some of the best-constructed* videos in recent memory.

*if lazily titled

3. Lil Dre — ‘Manifest Destiny’

December 29, 2020


For all the ‘future’ trappings around this Karl Watson-blessed kid and how he closed out the Maxallure video, from the high fashions to the ‘2070’ dateline on the into, he put something together that hits strong notes across a bunch of different eras from the last few decades. There is East Coast ledge technicality in his kickflip backside noseblunt pop-out on the wooden block, hill jumping in the Bay, some ride-on no-comply shit, and hammer-swinging flips down big gaps, like the fakie frontside flip that he crazily hang onto. There is a chain wallet. Lil Dre generally though is just fun to watch, with his strange and mesmerizing switchstance flick delay, the back-and-forth windmill on the halfcab to backside tailslide, and his raspberry after that fakie ollie to switch frontside crooked grind (or whatever this fairly heavy trick must technically be termed).

4. Shin Sanbongi — ‘Shin’

December 28, 2020


As Polar’s scattering tribe seeds Pontus Alv’s parables of no complies, wallrides and shove-its across teams based in Los Angeles, New York and elsewhere, pickups such as Chigasaki’s Shin Sanbongi show he can still bring new proselytizers into his Nordic-by-way-of-Portugal-by-way-of-the-late-80s fold. Commemorating his choice in colors for an Adidas shoe as the pandemic loomed, Shin Sanbongi deployed all the elements that propelled Polar to the zeitgeist’s forefront — see the crazy pole jam backside tailslide with arms on point, the backside smith grind pop way out, the line that starts with the ollie up to scorching backside powerslide and ends with a metal pole wallie, one for the books. He’s also got a way of fusing surf fluidity with East Coast grit material like his setup 360 flip, a pronounced point of view that sits him well alongside people like Dane Brady and Nick Boserio and Pontus Alv his own self. This part also features the perennially underrated Silas Baxter Neal and a great sideways glance from Dennis Busenitz as he heads into traffic.

5. Alexis Sablone — ‘Seize The Seconds’

December 27, 2020

Presented with a multiple choice questionnaire 18 years ago, would you have been able to accurately predict which ‘Wonderful, Horrible Life’ alum would embrace the Sikh religion, which would abandon the pro ranks for a rap career, and which would be in the SOTY running two decades hence? Alexis Sablone’s been around for a minute but her impassioned, cathartic, context-free board smashing at the start of her ‘Seize the Seconds’ section captures much of the 2020 moment. The ever-crisp flips and confident charges that follow are the release, and for sure among the most polished and best-captured stuff from her singular skating career. Ben Chadbourne and company catch all the angles, the toe poise on the smith grind dismount and barrier backside 180, the street-gap power heelflip. The left and right-footed kickflips in Florida speak for themselves, the subtext is gravy.