Every time I head out on an ambitious, regional tour, I always end up learning a lot about skateboarding. You’d think that having been a skateboarder for, oh, maybe 35 years or so now, I might be in a position where I “know everything” about it already. But just like everything else in life, skateboarding constantly changes and evolves. To the point that it becomes a markedly different pastime, recreation, culture, and business every eight years or so. Considering that it’s been about eight years since my last ambitious tour, I’d say that’s pretty accurate. Already, I’m seeing a few things that are a little “questionable”, at the very best. And frankly disconcerting, at the very worst. I’d like to address a few of those concerns directly, with their own essay. So as to not “bring down” the rest of my generally-fun tour coverage.
Let’s begin here: Skateboarding is in an economic slump. There’s definitely a consensus that things are a bit off track. But the question is, why…?
Well, of course, there are external forces that unfortunately lie well beyond our control. The economy, politics, et cetera. So, I’m not going to spend any time on those things. Because, they are entirely outside of our control. Instead, I want to focus on things that are well within our control.
I saw Away Days today for the first time. The Adidas video. That’s significant. I had the pleasure of watching it at Cowtown (a great shop in Goodyear, AZ) with Brian, one of the assistant managers over there. About halfway through, he asked me what I thought of it?
“I don’t like it much, to be honest”, I said.
“Why not?”, he asked.
“I can’t relate to it at all. And something’s missing”.
Well of course, the first thing that was missing was a Mark Gonzales part. Which is why I was watching it in the first place: to see a Mark Gonzales part. A part that I never saw, because it’s not in the video. There’s random footage of Mark here and there, doing the typical Mark stuff (namely, being funny and doing creative stuff), and he sort of narrates big chunks of the video. But, he has no part. Which is basically criminal, as far as I’m concerned. Because it’s the one thing that I really wanted to see.
“Why doesn’t Mark have a part, Brian? Have you heard…?”
“I heard it was because he didn’t feel like he could keep up with the new generation of guys, and didn’t feel good enough to have a part.”
Hmm, how odd. Mark Gonzales. Not being “good enough” to have a video part. Never thought I’d hear the day that would ever happen. But, y’know, times change I guess. And not always for the better.
I’ve been saying this for years: there is entirely too much pressure on kids these days to be “good at” skateboarding. Waaaaaaayyyy too much pressure. Absolutely too much pressure. And that’s bad. Very, very bad. Because it sucks the “fun” right out of skateboarding. And we’re supposed to be doing this for “fun”, right…? But, it’s not fun anymore. It’s work, it’s effort. There are Joneses to keep up with, tricks to master, footage to grab, names to be made, sponsors to garner and impress. Mark may not be “The Best” skater anymore, but I’ll tell you this: he should have had a part. Because it would have been fun as hell to watch. Because Mark is always fun to watch. It’s what makes Mark, Mark. The fact that somebody… anybody… perceives that Mark is not “good enough to have a part anymore” says an awful lot of bad stuff about skateboarding right now. And it is a damn shame.
That’s the only reason I’ve stuck with skating for 35 years now. Because I never gave a damn about being “good at it”. I didn’t do it to “be good at it”. I did it to get my kicks, and to have a good time. And I still do. But if you compare and contrast me with 99.999% of all skateboarders today, you’ll find that I’m the exception… not the rule. And that’s exactly the problem. I should be the norm. Not, the exception.
Scootering is easier. That’s unfortunate. I was at Kids That Rip last weekend, talking to Tiffany in the pro shop. I was surprised to find that they rent skateboards and scooters there for kids to try out in the park. This is a pretty neat idea, I thought. This should surely cultivate new skateboarders, right…? Let them try it before they buy it? And this is why I go on tour alone: to talk to people about these things, these neat and novel new ideas that shops and parks sometimes come up with, in depth.
One of the questions I asked Tiffany is which one gets rented more often: scooters, or skateboards?
“Unfortunately, it’s scooters.” You could almost hear the pain in her voice, having to admit that. Clearly, she’s rooting for skateboarding. But the kids want what they want. And at KTR, more often than not, it’s scooters that they want.
“Because, they’re easier to ride. Kids like them more. There’s less pressure.”
Ahhh. Theory, confirmed. Sadly. But, it’s the truth.
In making these huge, impressive, high-budget videos (like Away Days) that focus so hard on the newest, hottest, up-and-coming skaters doing the hardest, most technically innovative (read: impossible) tricks… we, as an industry, are actually contributing very significantly to our own demise. Most kids will never, ever do a fraction of the tricks that the Away Days guys are doing. It is causing a severe disconnect between the average customer, and the industry that is supposed to be serving them. We are not serving them well at all. We are actually contributing to a mighty huge disservice. And doing so, I might add, quite consciously.
When’s the last time you saw a scootering version of Away Days…? Ever…? No…? Well, neither have I. I think the scooter manufacturers might be a lot smarter than we give them credit for. They’re not out there making scootering look f’n impossible to do. Maybe we should take a hint from that, huh…?
When I go on tour, I do not promote “good skateboarding” at all. I can’t promote “good skateboarding”, because frankly speaking, I totally suck ass at skating. And the older I get, the worse I skate. Life sucks pretty hard right now. But…! I still love skating. And I still enjoy it immensely. And I still have fun with it, even while I’m sucking at it. And, I still do it! And kids connect with that, oddly enough. Because I give them stuff that most of “The Industry” either can’t, or won’t. Namely: hope. A very different interpretation of what skateboarding is, and what it’s all about (again: “fun”). And, encouragement.
It’s a bit like The Ramones. I’m sort of like the sucky skating version of them. The Ramones couldn’t play music. They made great noise, though. And they were fun. They were doing something very new, and very different, that captured the imagination and made the dullness of life seem really exciting.
I suppose that when I roll up to a park… give everybody stickers, high fives, and smiles… and shoot photos, kids probably do say to themselves, “Wow. This guy is fat and old! He can barely skate! Yet, look at him! He has a camera, he writes stuff, and he works for a (kind of) major skateboard magazine…! He is living the life… and look at him! He is a total idiot, a complete loser…! Holy crap… I could do that, too…! Right…?!” And, of course, the answer is always “yes”. Yes, you surely can do whatever it is that I’m doing. You, the average kid, could probably do everything that I do, and probably a lot better than even I can. Because I am the old, fat loser that doesn’t skate good. And it gives them hope. Because they don’t have to be Jamie Thomas or Geoff Rowley to “make it” in life. They can be me. They can be punks. They can be The Ramones. They can have a voice. And they can make a difference.
Lastly, there’s one more gripe that I want to address. This one’s important, too. And it’s another place where the industry could make a real difference. Every skatepark that I visit… whether they are public or private, it never seems to matter… is ridiculously humongous. Not in terms of sheer acreage… although they’re happily huge in that regard, too… but in terms of, vertically challenging.
I went to Litchfield today… “Goodyear Community Skatepark” officially, but commonly referred to as “Litchfield Park”… and Ohmygawd, it was f’n scary. Like, “I didn’t even want to skate it” kind of scary. It looked like the ultimate bone-breaker… and the last thing I want in this crazy Obamacare world of high premiums and high deductibles is a broken bone at 44 years old. I really don’t want to die, or go bankrupt, skateboarding. I just want to scooter around and have some fearless fun with it. But that ain’t gonna happen at Litchfield, nuh-uh. No way in hell.
The best parks I’ve seen yet, in terms of being kid-and-old-fat-guy-friendly, were both private: Kids That Rip in Chandler, and 91 West over in Peoria. Simply because, I could skate them. And have fun doing so. With confidence, even. Because they both had smaller mini-ramps… like, in the 2′-3′ range… that I could goof off on, and have fun learning new tricks on, without the fear of killing myself in the process. So, I skated them both for hours. And hours and hours and hours. But I barely even took a run at Litchfield. I did my one backside grind “just to say that I skated it”, and bugged out. I skated a brand-new ditch out in the boonies instead. That was a whole lotta fun. Litchfield wasn’t.
If we want to get little kids interested in skating… and much more importantly, keep little kids interested in skating… we need to get well away from the mega-sized terrain featured in the Away Days of the world, or constructed in the Litchfield Public Parks of the planet, and give newbies, little kids, old guys… girls, even?… terrain that they can functionally and fearlessly skate. Terrain that is “not particularly challenging” would actually be kind of refreshing right now. Because for the most part, it does not really exist. There is no real middle ground between the curb in front of your house, which is probably the easiest thing in the world to skate… and the mega-ramp-sized concrete park across town, which is more than likely the hardest thing in the world to skate. At least, it is if you happen to live in Goodyear, Arizona. It’s also true if you live almost anywhere in Arizona. I suspect this may be true elsewhere, too.
You can always make “less than challenging terrain” a hell of a lot harder, by learning harder tricks on it. That’s fun. It’s pretty hard to make Litchfield Park “less huge”. That’s the difference. Mark my words on this: Micro-to-mid-sized, easy-to-skate terrain is going to be the hot new direction in skateboarding. If you build it, you will empower and engage millions of new, enthusiastic, life-long skateboarders. Take note, industry, and make that happen…!
There are many more points to be made here, of course. Contests are out (because they’re not fun); jams and other “community events” are in. There aren’t enough “everybody, everyday” skateboarding events. There’s a lack of cohesive community everywhere. Industry is typically disengaged from the consumer experience; I’ll invite any industry head to come out with me for a weekend and see the world through my eyes… and trust me on this, you’ll be glad you did, because I’m f’n good times. But I think that engaging kids on their own terms… within their own limitations, goals, and desires… and on skate terrain that they can realistically skate, and skate well, would be a damn good beginning.
But how long do I have to wait until the industry realizes the wisdom, and responds…? Can it be sooner than later this time, guys? Please…?
This piece was originally published online at Concrete wave Magazine on October 9th, 2016. Thanks for everything, Michael. -B.