Archive for April, 2022

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