Quantum theory teaches us that the act of observing a process can affect the result. A recent interview with Josh Kalis reminded readers that in the 1990s Scott Conklin was not to be trifled with. Now, another reconnoitering looms, as we determine what to make of a sober-minded treatise on our cultural forebears from the New Yorker of all places.
The early to mid-nineties are mostly recalled by skaters as a time of funny tricks and super-baggy pants, of random mockery by the public. Gone were the days when everybody knew about Powell, when Cab won high-air contests and pretty girls mewled around Hosoi. Many skaters now did hard, often ugly-looking moves; ridiculously, transition skating was even derided, for a time making it impossible for such pros to make a living. And yet, at the same time, the innovation begun in the eighties marched on. Gradually, people could land flip tricks (where the board flips in different ways under your feet while you remain in the air) cleaner, faster, and more consistently. And in a stroke, the full realization of the concept of switch-stance—doing tricks going the other way, like someone deliberately pitching with their non-preferred arm—effectively doubled what could be done. To top it all off, the best ramp skaters learned what nobody would have dreamed of, which was to make the new, ultra-precise street tricks compatible with twelve-foot-tall half-pipes. These skaters were indeed obscure and comically dressed. But most skaters in 1992, viewing Plan B’s “Questionable Video”—in which Pat Duffy faced terrifying handrails with a matador’s nerve and in the rain, and Mike Carroll reminded us that San Francisco’s Embarcadero Plaza was a brilliant laboratory, a sort of Silicon Valley of skating—understood that they were witnessing something extraordinary. There was no telling what each new video would prove possible.
True, true. Web places like this one, constructed around the practice of picking nits, could give it a shot here but it’s not easy sledding in that regard since the bro James Guida has a grip* on history, isn’t much contesting a generous number of consensus-backed pro picks, and obviously shares a soft spot for the 1990s and in particular the outsidery attitude fermented in that rich, bubbly stew of small wheels, big pants and occasional rave music. This is where the whole pursuit veers into paradox territory though. Looka here:
The popular notion of skaters tends to be as adolescent (often true, speaking purely demographically), male (ditto), unruly and anti-social (there are shades to that). So, yes, there’s some fact there. “Skateboarding is not a crime,” a famous sticker from the eighties, was so popular in part because skaters knew and liked that it was a crime. Skaters do grind and mark things and take chances in people’s empty pools; the constant dodge and chase of security guards has always been an occupational hazard. (A regular feature in skateboard videos, much like skits in rap records, is clips of encounters with authority or otherwise humorous pedestrians.) But skaters are a far more diverse and accepting bunch than most people tend to recognize. It makes sense: their obsession has tricks, not rules, and nobody’s there to tell you which ones to do. Style is valued above all, and both tricks and terrain expand with people’s imaginings. With reason, some like to say that skating is an art.
Guida rightly credits the anti-social aspects of skating as a defining trait. But what’s it say re: general positioning in the societal food chain if you’re getting a well-reasoned thumbs-up from the New Yorker?
*Rip Grip? Lawl
Tags: Activision, board flips, dollar amounts, interviews that reference Bo Turner and/or his aggression, James Guida, Mr. White, out on parole, Ponce De Leon, Rosebud, Stephen Hawking, street life, Suga Free, the acronym LAWL, the Gonz, the New Yorker, Transworld, violence