Tag Archives: A Skater’s Story

A Skater’s Story: Part 2

Embarrassing Beginnings

Continued from Part 1: Pure Beginnings

I grew up in a time when skateboarding started getting bigger than ever and was being shown all over the place, especially on television.  I was watching the X-Games live in our living room in 1999 when Tony Hawk landed the never-been-done 900.  When I asked my Dad about that moment he admitted he actually cried when he saw it.  My Dad had been a fan of  Hawk since Animal Chin and seeing the 900 finally landed on live-TV was mind blowing.  I didn’t get it nearly as much as he did when I was nine, but X-Games made me know it was important by smashing me over the head with it.

I hate admitting that X-Games was one of my first skating influences knowing what I know now.  X-Games has cleaned up their act, but they have obviously done a poor job representing skateboarding in the past.  The beautiful thing about Tony Hawk’s 900 though is that it transcended all the commercialized faults.  When I was that little I didn’t understand the stupid politics of X-Games.  All I saw was someone flying in a way that has never been done, and that was important to me because it rises beyond the ordinary human experience.  Who doesn’t want to do the impossible?

Tony Hawk was already one of the most known skateboarders of all time, but that moment launched Hawk’s popularity higher than his 900.  Soon he had books written about him, a deal with McDonalds, and even a cheesy remote control version of himself.  A lot of skaters criticized Hawk for “selling out” to companies that had nothing to do with skateboarding.  There are lots of points to this opinion, and I agree that skating is not about McDonalds or remote control toys.  Yes, skateboarders are being used so that companies can look “cool” and make more money, and almost always these portrayals of skaters are skin deep or just plain embarrassing.  However, a Hawk has to eat, and if Mcdonalds is his prey then he better dig in with his talons and kill it.  Those companies outside of skateboarding would have used skaters anyways, so real skaters might as well use them.  Compared to other skateboarders who have more recently gotten attention, namely on MTV, the Birdman handles his corporate business with grace.

In my opinion Hawk’s best and most influential business deal was the creation of the video game Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (THPS).  There had been skateboarding games before, but THPS had better graphics, a better system of control, and legitimate skateboarders as playable characters.  When my friend Bo got a Playstation we would stay up as late as we could in the basement staring at the TV completely immersed in the game.  I was blown away and immediately fascinated by the minute long montage of real skateboarding footage in the intro.  It was sure to hook kids with classic slow motion effects and loud punk rock (“Police Truck” by Dead Kennedys) repeating “…ride, ride how we ride.”

The actual game play itself was terribly unreal to true physics, but the true physics of skating are too hard for a fun game.  They upped the speed, height, and hang time to make tricks and combos easy to execute.  People who knew nothing about skateboarding could grasp the concepts of what could be done on a board.  I began to understand the nature of skating and learned the difference between a huge variety of tricks.  Kickflips, heelflips, shuvits, 360 flips, hardflips, smith grinds, 5-0s, lipslides, crooked grinds, and the list goes on, not to mention the endless trick combinations and rotational variations.  It was addictive and it didn’t take long for me to get hooked to the details of the seemingly infinite possibilities.

Unfortunately I was hooked to a video game about skateboarding, not quite skateboarding.  There were other video games I wanted on top of THPS so I asked my parents for a Playstation on Christmas instead of a skateboard.  Within half a year though I knew I had to try skateboarding out for real and begged my parents for a board.  It’s embarrassing to say that I got into skateboarding because of X-Games and THPS.  I’d like to say I was sparked by my Dad’s board or my friend’s older brother, but that isn’t how it happened.  I guess it is appropriate though because I am sure a lot of skaters in my generation started skating for the same reasons.  There were lots of posers as a result, but in my case I was introduced to a new world that I could never leave.  I like to think of being inspired to skate through TV and video games as an ironic blessing that saved me from becoming a lazy couch potato.

Continued in A Skater’s Story: Part 3



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A Skater’s Story: Part 1

Pure Beginnings

Continued from Introduction

Skateboarding is unique in one way because it lacks the mainstream acceptance that other activities have.  Almost every other physical activity is more common than skateboarding.  You don’t learn how to skateboard in schools like you learn other sports and games, and there aren’t skateboard rinks like roller rinks where you can rent out your equipment.  Everyone knows the cliche of the little kid getting a tricycle, and then a bike with training wheels, maybe a bmx, and then it’s cool to ride a mountain bike all the way into old age.

Most physical activities using an outside object, are first discovered by understanding the mechanics, learning the rules, and then participating in an organized activity.  Skateboarding is odd because in most cases there are no rules to learn; no winning, losing, teams, or even “goals.”  The mechanics seem straightforward at first just rolling around, but when you see someone fly in the air flipping the board around and catching it with their feet just right so that they roll away gracefully (as seen below by Ryan Cedro), you understand it is not as easy as learning how to throw a ball.

Since skating isn’t as overexposed to us as other activities when we are younger, most skateboarders remember those first moments discovering the board vividly.  The first memories are usually the simple things like seeing a friend or brother skating, rolling down the driveway, learning ollies, or just falling off the board.  Those moments may seem random and stupid, but when looked at closer they show appreciation for awe, perseverance, accomplishment, and most importantly, fun!

I guess my story started in ’87 when my Mom, Dad, and their friends were hanging out skating a couple ramps in Iowa City.  One of them was a trashy scrap-wood mini-ramp run by some hippies, and the other was a big backyard vert ramp – a metal monstrosity twenty feet wide and ten feet tall with twelve foot extensions.  Between each lip it made the unique loud noise that only metal makes. 

My Dad was pumping around, doing some rocks, getting his grind on, and even pulling some early-grab airs.  I was at the side of the ramp hanging out inside my Mom’s womb, absorbing the deep thunder of the speeding skateboard followed by the grind or weightless pause at the top of the lip.  My Mom got sick on the drive back home and had to lay down in the back of the truck.  I like to imagine I was practicing my frontside air style while floating in the amniotic fluid and that made her nauseous.

It was many years until I experienced skateboarding again, and when I did it was with the same board my Dad was riding before I was born.  Amazingly it is still alive today and I can skate it after nearly 25 years with only one replaced part.  It’s a wonderful 80’s setup before the nose of the board turned up, a ten inch wide Tony Hawk Skull deck equipped with Independent trucks, Bullet wheels, half-inch thick risers, and of course no 80’s deck would be complete without rails on the side.  It has lasted so long because there is some sort of composite or fiberglass ply layers in between the soggy wood.  It is a heavy boat of a board, but it is a beast that won’t die.

My first memories on that board were as a child before I knew anything about the possibility of tricks.  I remember having fun sitting down pushing with my arms to roll.  I also used it as a vehicle for my action figures, pretending it was all sorts of stuff like a tank and a spaceship.

Around the age of five and six, before I ever learned how to ride the board on two legs, I would imagine I was a half-robot superhero, and one of my devices was a hoverboard.  I imagined it was the same shape and size as my Dad’s board and it would fold up telescopically (like all good futuristic gear) so it could easily fit in a harness on my back.  I probably did my best boarding in my imagination flying around in epic battles, saving people, and escaping from super villains.  All before I knew what an ollie was.

It’s weird that the hoverboard became essential to my character because I was into riding my bicycle at the time and didn’t skateboard yet.  Somewhere deep within I already knew I wanted to move in the way skateboarding provided.  I kept flying on my hoverboard in my imagination, but the real board didn’t catch my attention for years and sat around as a rarely used toy.

When I was nine we lived in a neighborhood with a long and tall black gravelly hillMy friends and I would race down it on our bikes and try to go as fast as we could without using the breaks or freaking out.  One summer day my friend Ian and I pulled the skateboard out to goof around on, and my Dad must have caught the fun bug.  He threw down his old tank of a deck after not riding it for years and amazingly it still rolled good enough for him to feel it.  After a little warm up he looked at the hill and was ready to give it a shot. 

My Dad went straight to the top and Ian and I were shocked because the most we had ever done was butt-board down the hill, and even then we never went to the top.   We waited at the bottom and watched anxiously as he bombed down the middle of the road without hesitation.   He blasted down it but as he got to the end of the hill something didn’t look right.  The board suddenly wobbled and he ran out barely catching himself while the board shot out off the side of the road.  Ian and I were stoked, but my Dad knew something was wrong with the board.  It was obvious when he picked it up and the truck fell off.  My first setup died by broken kingpin before I ever truly got to skate it, and for some reason we didn’t resurrect it for years so it sat and gathered more dust.  After that, I didn’t touch a board for around four years.

Continued in Part 2: Embarrassing  Beginnings


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A Skater’s Story: Introduction

I’m a skateboarder.  I say that like other people say they are a musician, a basketball player, or a hiker.  All one really has to do is participate in an activity to say that they are that.  So, what is skateboarding?  The simplest answer is riding on a piece of wood with wheels attached to it, and while this is true in its purest form, the answer is not so clear cut.

Just as music varies from the sweet child hitting a toy xylophone to the complex brilliance of a classical composer, the skateboard is a simple toy, yet also contains immense depth and difficulty.  There are also great differences in how and why people skate, like how kids playing basketball as a team differ from the loner who goes out and shoots hoops for themselves.  Even further, there is the pro baller getting paid thousands to millions of dollars for wearing a clothing brand.  Yet through all these differences they all still say “I play basketball” in the end, and skateboarding is like that.  To some, skateboarding is just a fun hobby that is good for the body and they enjoy it in the same way a hiker enjoys walking trails.  To others though, skating becomes a way of life that holds limitless potential, and that potential must be realized.  This is analogous to a hiker walking off trail and climbing the most difficult terrain that they can.  Sometimes these kinds of people don’t just enjoy their surrounding passively, but rather immerse themselves and thrive off of the new and often dangerous potential.

My passion for skateboarding has been a light of inspiration since the beginning.  After ten years of obsession and contemplation I still want to investigate further.  Skateboarding is a wildly individualistic thing, yet it brings opposites together, so I knew I couldn’t answer the question alone. 

In preparation for So What is Skateboarding, I came up with twenty-nine questions about the personal experience of skateboarding.  Over fifty skaters filled out the questionnaire.  While it would have been better for statistics sake to make it multiple choice, that kind of format is like a school test, and no skateboarder likes tests.   What I was looking for was the wide-eyed never-defined collective opinion that all different skaters had for the board.

So our story takes place in the little mountain town of Prescott Arizona, nestled in between Phoenix and Flagstaff.  It’s big enough to have a well made skatepark, a scene of progressive skateboarders, a skate shop that has sponsored skaters and kept the community active, and good quality skater-made videos.  Even more importantly, Prescott is small enough that the scene is fairly friendly and tight knit.  It isn’t a huge scene like California where there are pros and opportunities with spots and sponsors all over the place.  The spots are rough and sponsorship is barely existent, so the skaters that progress do it for the right reasons.  With these qualifications, I was sure Prescott was a good slice of skateboarders to talk about, ranging from the beginners to the skaters that have gotten sponsored by big name companies.

What I intend to accomplish with So What is Skateboarding (SWIS) is an insightful exploration into all the aspects of skateboarding in this new millennium.  I choose this decade because I began really skating in 2001 and have lived with skateboarding intimately ever since.  There are a ton of terrible books and web pages about skating out there that all give the same historical and technical information with no heart or real truth.  I realized there needed to be more resources about real skateboarders today written by a real skater of these times.  I believe the deep nature of skateboarding can be of value to anyone, skater or non-skater.  I want to go beyond the skin deep impressions.  I want to look at all the diverse aspects of skateboarding that make it so vastly unique.  Most importantly though, I want to find the divine qualities of skating that are universal.  I say skateboarding is the most powerful creative activity to develop in the last fifty years, yet somehow it lacks the respect it deserves.  I aim to change that.

Continued in Part 1: Pure Beginnings


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