Rogue Wave

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?

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4 Responses to “Rogue Wave”

  1. asd ajsfhh Says:

    Skateline NBD is hosted by Thrasher

  2. Jo El Says:

    Lot of good points. Re: duffel I hear he’s still liable to drop racial slurs etc. This shit def needs to be completely removed from skateboarding. I wonder why nobody has brought up the Thunder trucks SSish logo too. I wonder what it’ll be like to start riding Tensors…

  3. scottwgray Says:

    Yeah, great points. I’m asking some of the same questions. As a Canadian, I never really related to the Venice / gang images in stuff, either, and didn’t have any way to know what any of it meant. Felt weird. One point I want to make is that skateboarding is ours – literally OURS – as much as it is JJ’s or any of the brands. We drive it by the choices we make, and not buying skate related shit with crossed hammers is a pretty good start.

  4. Gentle Jones Says:

    well done

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