Archive for May, 2018

Rogue Wave

May 25, 2018

Here’s the sequence of events: Just as Jason Jessee’s after-credits part in Converse Shoes’ debut full-length ‘Purple’ rolled on Thrasher and various other internet video portals, links, photos and Instagram posts began to be traded among skateboarders who’d begun connecting a few decades’ worth of dots: A biker magazine interview from 20-some years ago, in which Jason Jessee throws around racial epithets, photos before and since then of him rocking swastikas, and some signature products with the same, some of this seemingly recent. The Slap Magazine message board thread quickly burned into double-digits and accusatory comments popped onto Jason Jessee’s Instagram account, along with Converse’s and those of his various other sponsors. Jason Jessee soon issued a brief video and handwritten apology in the event anyone took offense, non-specific in its nature aside from an apparent reference to the biker mag interview from way back when.

At that point, the matter seemed settled in the minds of many fans, photographers, and other pros — whatever was in Jason Jessee’s past was atoned for and indeed, an outpouring of praise and loving emoticons followed upon his social-media channel. Santa Cruz reposted his video, and backed him. Those who responded with lingering questions — why pull on swastika gloves for a video clip? Why sew a swastika patch onto a jacket? Did anybody ever question all this? Is that it, and everything’s supposed to be good now? — were left to wonder. Some who pressed the issue on Instagram were branded haters fixated upon the past by others who deemed it water under the bridge, or no big deal in the first place.

After nearly a week, NHS/Independent/Santa Cruz/OJ posted an anti-racism graphic and disavowed hatred — and a day later, Andrew Murrell laid out the whole episode at Vice. In that article, Jason Jessee apologized further and said in the past he’d used Nazi imagery to provoke reactions, and because of drugs; NHS and Converse said they had no knowledge of any of it, and both ‘indefinitely suspended’ him from their teams. Gentle Jones, the author of the Slap board thread, claimed vindication.

Jason Jessee, whose frontside ollies up to this point had formed a foundation for his recent revival as a sort of crazy-uncle persona built around vintage motorcycles and wacky quotables, now can show whether or not he’ll continue to use these images, or sell them. He said in his initial statement that he has evolved, though the Slap message board dates some of this to the recent past. Some of his teammates have professed faith in his character, and publicly rallied around him. There’s some incongruity. It’s been noted elsewhere that Jason Jessee has been the only white member of a Latino lowrider car club and recently recommended listening to Kendrick Lamar. Going forward, he will be under a microscope.

Elsewhere, there have been attempts to defend the swastika as a derivation of the ‘Surf Nazi’ era, geared toward freaking out the squares. It seems a fairly safe bet that there are creative juices enough within skating to figure some method for achieving this without symbols that directly link back to a state-orchestrated campaign that murdered millions of children, moms, dads, and grandparents. And remain tied to violence that’s on the rise again.

A bigger question remains for the skateboard industry generally, which up until the past 36 hours mostly looked as though it would move along and bury the matter beneath a pile of fresh Instagram clips, capsule collections and good times with the homies. The skateboard magazines by and large have had nothing to say, neither have the loquacious podcasts. Between Dave Mayhew’s post-retirement video part and a boardslide to darkslide to boardslide driveway clip, Skateline NBD — which one could imagine going in on a topic like this — skipped it.

Ryan Lay, fresh off an Etnies part and knee-deep in charity work, addressed it early on. A few days later, Deluxe impresario and industry leader Jim Thiebaud came with an introspective post over the weekend: “Any form of racism doesn’t belong in our community of skating and I have long worked to support that belief. …I should have been more responsible to my convictions, my core beliefs and acted on those. I regret that.” Mackenzie Eisenhouer and Josh Kalis posted messages.

As skateboarding tries to hold to a rebellious stance and outlaw bearing, there’s perhaps some tribal instinct to circle wagons when a longstanding and celebrated member comes under any type of fire, and a reflex to thumb noses at authority. Nobly intentioned maybe, if increasingly quixotic, as sanctioned skateparks take market share from street spots in Instagram clips, and skaters begin jockeying to enlist for national Olympic rosters. But what is it that’s being protected? The bottle-lightning Teddy Barrow captured via @Feedback_TS is skateboarding’s schizophrenic relationship with criticism. Everyone’s got opinions, and nobody wants to put the homies on blast. It’s always easier to focus on the positive. Did Jason Jessee’s sponsors or teammates pick up on any of this over the years? Did anybody speak up? Would others back someone who did? Would a weblog site larded with run-on sentences have done a post? Would you?

Those questions will be relevant beyond this week. In two years’ time, the Olympics promises international media attention and scrutiny for the contest’s newest broadcast event, the likes of which the skateboard business hasn’t seen before. If some skeleton rattled out of an Olympian’s closet just ahead of the torchlighting, would the organizers, secular media and international public look for accountability among sponsors, teammates, and skateboarders generally? And would they find it? For better or worse, skateboarding’s reliance on the qualitative versus quantitative has deeply entwined pros with companies, particularly given the commoditization of decks, wheels, the vulcanized suede shoe. Pros are the brand and the brand is its pros. The brands and the pros and the skateboarders are the culture.

There is another audience. Kids who’ve been intimidated or bummed by sideways racial comments, prejudice, or outright violence, and who maybe responded to the idea of a more open-minded, self-reliant pasttime free of rules and teammates and coaches and winners and losers, anytime, anywhere. They have been watching a lot of other skateboarders, companies, pros, magazines and maybe their friends for the past week, apparently carrying on business as usual. Kids have long memories. Ask Corey Duffel, whose own youthful off-color remarks still get brought up 15 years later, despite having not been quoted saying anything remotely similar since. In another 15 years it’s going to be these kids doing the interviews, hosting the podcasts and writing the stories. What will they remember?

The Best Night of Sleep Sanger Rainsford Ever Had

May 13, 2018

In Richard Connell’s 1924 classic ‘The Most Dangerous Game,’ a big-city trophy hunter washes up on a remote island, soon revealed to be inhabited by a philosophizing fellow hunter. Over a stately dinner, the host identifies himself to be a prize hunter too, as well as something of a freethinking homicidal. Stalking elephants and leopards had grown tiresome, he explained — hence the island equipped with treacherous waters, occasionally delivering via shipwreck to its proprietor the only remaining worthwhile quarry: Men. Soon, a new hunt is on.

Among the improbably growing ranks of skateboard filmers, the thrill of the hunt tends to scale alongside duration. Instagram-ready clips are single-digit ‘Duck Hunt’ level potshots; the one-off/solo part barely Bambi. There is a worthy challenge in nailing and transcending the attention-span sweet spot that is the 15 to 20-minute promo, with a couple full parts and a couple montages, or the footage-dumping ‘mixtape’ project of similar length. But in this woolly realm, the most dangerous game is the full-length video —- its gaping maw of hubris, its difficult-to-wrangle girth, its often unbearable weight, threatening to trample less-seasoned filmers under viewers’ colossal expectations.

Having conquered skateboard professionals, shops and the upper-shredding masses, what prey remains for those moneyed alphas of the industry, the industrial shoe merchants? Mastering the full-length video, that great unquantifiable, that tantalizing money pit, that great ‘Branding Statement,’ continues to beckon and tempt international sporting goods manufacturers like some VX1000-mic’d siren song. For Nike Inc., this has been a slow process. The Oregonian sportswear conglomerate dipped in its toe-piece with 2004’s ‘On Tap,’ flexing some plotting and production and a little bit of those Rodriguez acting chops, but never fully committing. Nike saved that for 2007’s bloated misfire ‘Nuttin’ But the Truth,’ which saddled some truly great skating, a still-corralable team and perhaps the all-time greatest Danny Supa part with an insistent storyline that, while intriguingly bizarre, asked far too much of a skate video viewer base freshly armed with DVD ‘skip’ buttons. Jason Hernandez’s excellent ‘Debacle’ project from 2009 hit all the marks for length, range and focus, but led into the increasingly rote ‘Chronicles’ series, which by the third installment had devolved into a transactional, paint-by-numbers affair.

Adidas, which for a while mastered the five-to-six minute road trip video with rotating picks from its more diverse roster, also veered into a predictable pattern to where it eventually seemed obligatory to attempt something bigger — and they wound up with 2016’s ‘Away Days,’ overlong and too top-heavy with too many good parts that wound up buried. The Juice crew seemed to struggle to construct a project greater than the sum of its parts, linked by something more than Gonz vignettes and blurred shots of streetlights and moving cars.

Now comes Cons, Nike’s subsidiary for the thrift-shop set, which moves without the weight of the world’s biggest sporting goods franchise stuffed into its canvas and rubber. For this reason Cons maybe squares a bit easier with skateboarding’s historic resume of scruffiness, artsiness and a general low-fi bearing, and ‘Purple’ headmaster Ben Chadbourne plays up this angle from the opening frames, typing out an introductory monologue on mid-century equipment (though not without some mobile-phone shorthand).

‘Purple’ justifies a good chunk of its 45-minute runtime in a way that, say, a Primitive full-length might struggle with, that is, diversity in style and approach. Straightaway Bobby De Keyzer pops out of all the backside noseblunts, sets his wide-bottoms whipping with a switch backside 360 in a line, and displays a mean halfway half-cab flip — but then you veer into Sage Elsesser, languid over tall bars, and what seems like whole-body lipslides. Kevin Rodriguez brings his abrasive wallrides and grabs in a Neubauten shirt, though Pontus Alv’s more-frenetic framing maybe was a better look for him, while Aaron Herrington stays on his ‘Welcome to Hell’ shit and there’s a weirdly endearing amount of Corey Duffel clips throughout. Underground style soldier Eli Reed swerves switch over a China Bank long bench, Frank Gerwer briefly reprises his star-making Transworld turn and Brian Delatorre somewhere in the middle dishes out maybe his best part ever, a half-switch scorcher that incorporates some brawny Al Davis moves and a wild new branch line from Black Rock. There’s some curated roll-ups courtesy of Sean Pablo, a mind-numbing Sean Greene ollie and then Louie Lopez, offering another few minutes of heaters with the occasional curveball — the rarely seen fakie frontside shove-it, a night line at Third and Army.

But it is Ben Chadbourne’s choice to close not with the obvious enders from a SOTY coulda/shoulda-been, but rather a comparatively skimpy contribution from the mercurial Jake Johnson, that argues strongest for Cons pulling off the full-length better than its larger-revenued predecessors. It’s easy to make the ‘quality over quantity’ argument justifying Jake Johnson’s solemn two minute wind-down to ‘Purple,’ even if it’s also a little disappointing, given prodigious recent output elsewhere. This though is the same logic that placed Guy Mariano’s ledge-heavy part last in ‘Mouse,’ not Eric Koston’s handrail-heavier section with its NBDs; or when Birdhouse’s blockbuster ‘The End’ stuck by its winking sketch to close on a shorter Bucky Lasek section rather than the stadium-touring Tony Hawk; or how Bill Strobeck’s ‘Cherry,’ among the strongest full-lengths of this aging decade, came with hardly any conventional ‘parts’ at all.

Does humankind’s hope for deeper Jake Johnson satisfaction now hinge upon the coming Quasi video? How many angles did Sean Greene’s ollie need for real? Was Adidas putting Dennis Busenitz last in ‘Away Days’ a left turn or playing it safe? Were people allowed to smoke in prior big shoe company videos? How come there were no Game Genie codes that let you shoot the dog in Duck Hunt?

Instagram’s Never-Ending Demo

May 6, 2018

“It’s annoying. There are people who know where you are when you don’t want them to know where you are. Add to that the fact that I’m being told by people that I’m blowing it and losing out on board royalties and shoe royalties because of not being on the stuff? That makes me sick. That, in skateboarding, you’re hurting yourself by choosing not to spend more time stuck behind a computer. That doesn’t make sense. Just talk to a kid when you’re out skating, and they buy your board, you know?”

What if two-trucked handrailing Luddite David Gravette got it wrong? What if all other pros who’ve half-heartedly wished away Instagram’s round-the-clock, feed-the-beast Antlion death trap for skate content of all stripes and quality levels were looking at it totally cockeyed? What if nobility and honour lay not in turning away from the doubletapping throng, their fickle tags and fleeting tastes, and instead throwing oneself completely into it?

Just as remote email access and space mission-worthy computers in every Dockers pocket has turned white-collar jobs into 24-hour affairs, clocking in at desperate, late-night hours or out of sheer boredom on the john, so too has Instagram’s advent extended outward the dimension of the skate demo. Now, fossil fuel-guzzling, sweaty summertime tour stops stand as an anachronism beside an infinity-scrolling, pro-packed skate session beneath fingers that may or may not pick up your board the next time they stop by the shop, but may also click over to your bro-brand’s BigCartel to scoop a $32 t-shirt before they all wind up on Ebay.

In the never-ending Instagram demo, perhaps the pro daily dribbling out indifferently phone-filmed park clips is not some navel-gazing lazy, tossing half-baked bones to his or her followers while too hungover to step to street spots. He or she is our 21st century demo king, rifling off tricks and stoking out touchscreen-hypnosis kids who faithfully scroll their way to a front-row seat for the round-the-clock session stretching across time zones, continents and hemispheres, right now, go look. Like when a real demo is popping it’s hard to catch everything if your eyes aren’t peeled and pivoting.

In the never-ending Instagram demo, perhaps the pro following you back and now and then ‘liking’ one of your jiggly park clips is not grimly cycling through his or her followers to pick a predetermined handful to hype up and pump devotion into an overinflated personal brand, while awaiting an Uber to Tuesday night’s first bar. Perhaps they are those who, in the days when gas prices, hotel rates and deck company saturation levels were comparatively lower, would follow your post-demo trick on the medium-sized park ledge with one they had in a six-month-old 411, or turn to holler “yeah!” from the ramp deck while signing autographs.

In the never-ending Instagram demo, perhaps the pro posting inane ‘what’s-your-favorite’ queries to rack up responses and assert onesself into followers’ feeds isn’t fulfilling some soul-eroding contractual obligation to accumulate aspirational ‘like’ totals, while tagging the intricately curated accounts of private equity-backed sponsors. Perhaps they are the ones who, when bumper tag-scarred vans ferried teams across American hinterlands — between ramp-stuffed hockey rinks and mostly cleared-out parking lots — would jawbone idly with kids from the open sliding door, or while presumptuously perched behind the counters of skate shops where they’d clocked in briefly on the previous summer’s tour.

In the never-ending Instagram demo, perhaps the pro who trumpets the selection of one lucky commenter or nth new follower to receive a fat box is not cynically tapping internet-raised youngsters’ thirst for free shit, and frequent profile checks. Perhaps he or she is ascending his or her own digital ramp deck to perform a 4G-enabled product toss, tapping every kid’s thirst for free shit and endearing his or her sponsors to them by heaving product across the country via the internet-subsidizing postal service. Widely distributed mobile video capabilities ensure the continued capacity for kids to debase themselves in return, whether crawling through drainage ditches or taming irate and multi-ton wild animals.

Did David Gravette capitulate in 2014, or finally decide to get off the great and tactile sideline that is the offline life? What’s the Instagram equivalent of a board shooting out at a demo and cracking somebody in the face? What about the autographed car? Are all pro skater Instagram accounts actually controlled by bots, the internet largely calibrated by self-teaching algorithms, and none of this real anyway because you are dreaming right now?