Shredding gets its due
My daughter was almost a year old and I was taking her for a walk around the block when we passed two of the local youth skating a curb. Nothing fancy. The ground was all chopped up and the curb had been swept via tennis shoe and previous attempts at grinding the length of it but was chunky, broken concrete at best. Before lingering too long and drawing the attention of the kids’ mother to the fact that some guy pushing a stroller with a beer in the holder (why do they put it there if you aren’t supposed to use it?) was staring at her kids longingly, I was reminded of Mike McGill. One whole summer the neighborhood had manicured lawnsat the sweat of “the notes” for the $110 needed for a complete skate set-up. Not just any old skate. No, this was to be a first foray into a much larger world. This was the Powell Peralta Mike McGill set-up with Tracker trucks and blue Hosoi Rocket wheels, Swiss bearings. As soon as it arrived from Eastern Skate Supply, courtesy the back of Thrasher Magazine, I ripped it open, cut the grip tape into some hideously ugly design and hit the neighborhood. Several others followed. Powell fell out of style, World Industries began its rise and Rodney Mullen blew minds with what was possible. Commercial appeal stepped down a notch and companies went back to targeting an edgier notion of skating. Still, it was the kid out there leaving skin on pavement at the heart of it. Like the two in front of me. Just skating. Perhaps the classic exchange from the 80’s cult classic Thrashin’ (click anything in blue to check clips and pics in this post) sums it up the best:
Christy: “What do you thrash?”
Corey: “What do you got?”
Nothing was safe. “See that stump over there? I could throw a boneless off that for sure.” Then came the ollie and things got slightly more complicated. All new combinations became possible. For us it was all about the ramp. We skated ramps we had a hand in building, others we snuck onto by way of white lies to property-owning grandmothers (“Sure, I know Jerry. Yes, Ma’am, he said anytime.”), there were the ones at the local YMCA tennis courts (if we had the $3 and a ride), there were half-built houses that mysteriously saw their leftovers disappear in the night and ramps appeared in rarely trodden woods, or the mega ramp that “the notes Sr” built and we added additions till it occupied 1/3 of the driveway (much to the chagrin of our neighbors I am sure). All of these were far from perfect. Very few of us understood classic carpentry rules like the rule of three-four-five for squaring or how to draw a radial line. Mostly we tried to find scraps of wood that seemed equal in length-“yea man, looks the same to me…”- and relatively free of rot. Then we skated them till they fell apart.
When my neighbor’s kid started up the saw one Saturday, I strolled over just to see what was up and be available should any appendages need to be placed on ice. What I found was three or four kids slapping together a shifty quarter pipe out of particle board, random squares of plywood and odd bits of 2×4. I was in. Since then we have recovered it once (though the particle board sides are threatening more and more with every rain and I think the kid’s dad wishes I would stop rebuilding the thing) and added some metal at the bottom to prevent “the lift”, when the lip separates from the driveway just enough that it is still skateable for a while. How do you know when it’s not? You won’t really. It’ll be made clear when you try to rolling up but find yourself hurtled through the air and slammed into the wall of the ramp. That’s “the lift”. A small price to pay to shred that new skate. In fact, that is shredding. It means falling. Probably hard. Usually due to the fact that your chosen spot is far from stable and less than imperfect. People that ride motorcycles know that it’s not a question of “if” they will lay the bike down, only “when”.
Same thing if you’re gonna shred. Not “if” you’ll lose the skin from your palms, elbows, and knees but “when”. Not “if” your brother visiting in town on break from football scholarship will sprain his ankle, but when and how badly. Pretty bad. To be fair it was a tight space for a kick flip.
Recently we used to gather for “skate night” at a friend’s ramp to work off a little stress. The ramp is tight and a bit bumpy in the transition but it’s a small price to pay. Now it’s been broken down and rebuilt by other enterprising youth eager to shred (the owner said the whole thing was gone in a morning, probably nice to remove the wood for a ramp and not need a lookout). So it’s back to the neighbors. Yeah, there are weird looks from folks as they drive by and see a 30-something grown man sweating and shredding but there is nothing like throwin’ on the shoes after mowing the lawn, popping a cold beer and gettin’ to it.
Where is all this going? Well, as an explanation to my neighbors for why that guy is out there when their son isn’t even home and, simply, this…
Skating for 99% of us means dealing with sketchy conditions at best. Broken chunks of concrete, rotting ramps, poorly constructed design, shifty support beams, and midnight “supply” runs. For most of us it was never the Animal Chin Ramp or the perfect parks we saw in the mags. Occasionally you could find some but mostly you made due. The XGames changed all that. Kinda like the ollie. Now there are pre-formed ramps and ready-made skate parks that can be placed anywhere. The sport as sold by ESPN is not just a far cry from what is available to most, it’s a scream from the other side of the known universe. That’s not to say big market media hadn’t tried to sell it already. Thrashin’ was out and partnered with Rad-same movie, switch the skate for a bike-or even The North Shore–surfing’s chance in the limelight, all the fringe means of fun that might earn a corporate buck or bring in sponsor dollars were covered. Even these were still so bad they were cool. It was like Hollywood gave directorial control and a six pack to some kid and said, “go ahead. Go shred.” I mean Thrashin’ had the Chili Peppers before they went all pretentious and “Under the Bridge”.
Then they copied it repetitively without letting it develop. Ala all three versions.
Recently pro skating has been more receptive to matching the experience we know as skating. There is the Maloof Money Cup and the Vans Downtown Showdown where the obstacles are built to resemble actual conditions. Sometimes even modeling a famous set of stairs or bank. Still, it’s not really it. No “lift” or random square of rotting plywood. This year the XGames has done itself a favor. It has embraced the video and web savvy target audience and acknowledged real skating. It’s started a $50,000 1st prize to the winning film clip of real skaters in real conditions as voted by the same savvy shredders. That’s not to say Chaz Ortiz isn’t real because the contest site is like the body parts of the Real Housewives of the OC. He is for real. Kid’s a freak. Pretty sure he knows sorcery to be so consistent and smooth but the obstacles he’s riding on have been genetically altered. Like Ryan Sheckler’s teeth. This new thing is different. Not that it’s never been done, but not on this stage by such a media power notorious for over-hyping and flooding the mass market with the “sure bet”. This is just a tad bit off their normal mainstream approach. How better to judge a street contest then out on the street? The possibilities for obstacles just became endless. The contest area has no bounds. “What do you got” indeed. Hopefully this is a format that gets a fair run. If the media machine can give us the same movie three times and really only change the equipment, certainly they can let this play out and see where it goes. You get to see great skating and have a say in the result. Check out the contest and see what you think. Then go check out the curb around the corner. I bet with a little wax you could easily grind the whole thing.
Never stop rolling.