Justin Brock’s part in Nike’s 2009 all-am ‘Debacle’ six years later remains rightly heralded as a triumph of chunky wallrides and massive frontside bigspins, yet its underlying theme of hard labor as a unifying force, if not a humanizing one, remains dusty and obscured like a dust-covered, obscure book somewhere. Bankrolled by the biggest employer in skating and soundtracked not coincidentally to blue-collar bards Skid Row’s number one platinum single ‘Slave to the Grind,’ Justin Brock meditated upon themes of toil and control, driving home the point by sporting spectacles that reflected the drudgery of the assembly-line worker, whose dreams of becoming Montana’s poet laureate or a champ bass angler are rendered wholly unrecognizable by smeary, sweat-fogged safety goggles.
Now it is nearly 2016*, the fall breeze bears whiffs of a fresh Nike video release, and pros are considering their futures. Haves increasingly are separated out from have-nots: Witness the footage largesse of Nyjah Huston, allegedly on the cusp of his own Nike payday, releasing a video section in accordance with various contractual niceties rather than any particular team effort, only to slide off the Thrasher front page in a matter of days. Chris Joslin, whose skills on the gaps left him somehow overdue for a professional nod only about a year after manifesting on mobile screens, achieved his own signature board after heading to the Eastern Hemisphere to film a part in under two weeks, a future seemingly assured so long as his ligaments stay game. Elsewhere the industry’s economic contraction ensures that the rich tradition of pros and would-be pros with day jobs continues, nodded to recently by Aaron Herrington and, in the TWS issue sporting his skyscraper backside tailslide on the cover, Jon Nguyen:
TWS: Do you drive Uber cars to supplement your income too? How is that?
JN: Yeah, I do. It’s fine. It’s work. It’s relatively easy. If you don’t mind driving, it’s not a big deal. It’s kind of cool because I can just do it whenever I need to. If I’m really hurting for money, I can just push it and work like a week straight too.
How does it work? You’re just in the system and if you want to give rides, you clock in?
You sign up to be a driver and then you just turn the app on and set it to driver mode when you want to work and you’re ready to go. You get paid weekly; it goes straight to your bank account. They take like 25 percent or something, but it’s so convenient. You don’t have a boss and then if I’m going on a trip, I can just not work for a couple of weeks. They’re just trying to make money, so they don’t give a shit about you. But I’m just trying to make money too, so I don’t give a shit about them.
Are those would-be careerists that lack any fiscal lifelines dangled by a diversified sporting goods merchant, soda company or televised competition circuit boxing themselves out of any path toward a secure and comfortable life beyond the world’s urine-soaked hubbas, bondo’d handrail approaches and urethane-scarred walls? According to 360 flip smith grind popularizer and onetime beanie magnate Josiah Gatlyn the answer is a tantalizing ‘maybe,’ as per a widely-circulated YouToob comment that dared to call into question skating’s long-held subcultural maxim which positions the ‘office job’ somewhere toward the bottom of Dante’s flamey underworldly rings, probably around ‘anger’ and ‘heresy.’ Josiah Gatlyn goes on to suggest such verboten concepts as pursuing education and recommends cutting any street dreams with a healthy splash of pragmatism:
The average career only lasts around 5-10 years tops, and I’m pretty sure there’s only been about 10-20 professionals (at the very most, I feel like there are way less) out of thousands who have even gotten close to making enough money that they wouldn’t have to worry about getting a career job after their career was over. I have no idea why people assume that professional skateboarders make so much money. That’s absolutely not true. Basically, every pro will eventually be spit out into the real world. That process only gets harder and harder the older you get. From age 20 – 25 are the most important years of your entire life and regardless if you’re a skateboarder or not, if you do not figure out what career path you’re going to take, you’re going to struggle pretty hard.
The skateboard business, awash with young souls eager to quit high school and skate for boards, beers, airfare, hotel rooms and per diem, seemed in no mood for Josiah Gatlyn’s broadsides, and an unlikely figure emerged to rebut them — Sierra Fellers, whose own career seemed on the wane after Foundation dropped him, but who maintains with the Ramshakle company. Sierra Fellers’ response Ride Channel article wonders whether Josiah Gatlyn is making excuses for not wanting a pro career badly enough to make whatever steep sacrifices may be required, and taking the ‘easy way out’ by returning to the ‘real world.’
Recently I’ve asked a lot of people about what happened to him and what he was doing, and everyone I’ve talked to said that he was bitter at the skate industry and gave up to be a designer. Which, sadly, after reading the YouTube comment that’s been circulating, seems to be true.
When you do what you’re truly passionate about, it’s usually so much harder and more work than anything else. It would have been a lot easier for me to get a “normal job” and start working on my promotions. If anything, skateboarding has been the main source of education for me. All the traveling, skating, having a good time, and even the partying have taught me way more than I could have ever imagined to prepare me for the “real world.”
Could Sierra Fellers be correct? Speaking from experience, former Foundation 360 flipper and first-wave PissDrunxist Tony DaSilva recently described to Jenkem his own leisurely and mellow path back to the real world as being lined with plush comforts such as indoor pollution clouds, general societal disconnect and close proximity to hot, hot truckstop fellatio:
Many of us that step out of the skate industry after making a living at it are left over as society’s bottom feeders. We don’t have anything to offer. We don’t have a degree. We don’t write with proper grammar. We speak our own language.
I started realizing we’re all a part of the same day-to-day struggle. We’re all scrambling to figure out where the hell we’re going. And that through skateboarding, I had retained and gained a hell of a lot more life experience than most of the people I was getting to know. This was the factor that separated me from all of them, but it was becoming one of the pieces that now gave me more confidence.
It was skateboarding that gave me the tools that enabled me to transition into the “real world.” I couldn’t see it at the time though. The thing that I thought had kept me so sheltered and embedded in a niche culture, was ultimately what prepared me for what was next.
Is Sierra Fellers’ plight for street-dreaming dreamers to keep chasing those nocturnal transmissions a pure-hearted effort to talk the next generation’s Jake Johnsons and Paul Rodriguezes from tossing their skills and promises of video parts yet to come into that fetid toilet bowl that is the 9-5 lifestyle? Or is he carrying water for a secretive cabal of vampyric industry heads who require a steady supply of youthful aspiration and low-cost human tissue to power their mechanized operations, similar to the global baller robots profiled in the ‘Matrix’ movies? It’s often hard to tell with baller robots, and so these questions must be asked.
Sierra Fellers’ response to Josiah Gatlyn does regurgitate one of skating’s more timeworn tropes, which is that despite all the various injuries and indignities, skating as a career is a rich, fulfilling wonderland versus the vacuous, soul-corroding netherworld represented by the dreaded ‘office job.’ It can come off rather rich coming from the genetically and geographically gifted who are lucky enough to entertain the choice, and whereas skating’s far from the first sphere to hum the semi-sensical ‘do what you love’ mantra, it seems fair to wonder whether nurturing personal wish-fulfillment scenarios and squinting at longterm security through meager monthly minimums and ready-to-flip flow packages can persist as one’s third decade approaches.
Among the world’s ditchdiggers, insurance claim adjustors and adult cinema custodians are there solely embittered quitters to be found, who otherwise might have blessed the planet and achieved their dreams as opera singers, socialite-philosophers or addled weblog authors? What then of our ditches, insurance claims and adult cinema floors? As the skate biz constricts and veteran pros bat eyes at high-toned corporate sponsors in hopes of stretching their own careers a few more years, do the web mavens, graphic artists, logistics staff and talent managers ponder their own monetary sacrifices to continue under the industry’s independent division, versus buddying up to more corporate concerns? For their own good, should pros consider the maxim of Pontus Alv, who figured the optimum lifespan of a board company at about ten years, with regard to professional careers?
*Partially because the Mayan calendar flubbed the alleged 2012 apocalypse