Some More Writing by Skaters

Two more new books by skateboarders: a short work of fiction by Anthony Pappalardo and a travelogue by Jono Coote.

Heaven or Las Vegas by Anthony Pappalardo

“Last year I decided to look back into an old work of fiction I wrote because I knew something was there, “ Anthony Pappalardo posted on his Instagram. I imagine a lot of autobiographical fiction (a genre I am just assuming, here) gets completed this way. I’m happy he did, because I quite enjoyed this lean take on a coming-of-age-as-social-misfit-in-a-dead-end-town story. The standard punk milieu is given the New England treatment of grey parking lots, winter jackets, and frosty air. There is cross-town travel, dead-end jobs, casual hard drug use, run-down apartments, and the beautiful absolution of music. When the small story opens up to a poignant graduation-era romance whose effects can be felt echoing years after and the main character starts responding to letters he receives, I felt energy born outside the pages of the story – was this character Pappalardo himself? Whether from his own experience or not, Heaven or Las Vegas presents a palpably believable inspiration to become a writer and resonates with the heavy sense of deep personal influence and the knowledge that it may take a lifetime for us to fully realize the values of our pasts.

No Beer on a Dead Planet by Jono Coote

Brit Jono Coote plays the passenger in this travelogue/memoir chronicling a move to Australia in the wake of Ben Raemer’s suicide. There is nothing fictional here, and as the miles add up the repetitive hallmarks of life on the road build into a nuanced observer’s take on how the experience of travel helps us to experience, grow, and learn. In good form, the book reads as if a road, leading us directionally through anecdotal incidents of skate trip hallmarks – local concrete, lurkers, and booze – through anti-colonial histories, natural wonders, and personal reflections. Coote’s highway, like a coiled snake, wriggles its way out of the city into the hinterlands of his mind before finding its way back to the coast and into New Zealand, drawing special attention to the land and water that connects us to each other as well as the inherent struggle between personal freedoms and a capitalist society. It was good reading.

Book Review: “Top of Mason” by Walker Ryan

Years ago, in New York, I knew someone who wanted to write the first skateboard novel. If that story’s been written, it remains unpublished. There may very well have been an “authentic” skateboard novel written at the time, though this person certainly didn’t consider Nick Hornby’s Slam to be it. Point is, the list of novels about skateboarding is small. The list of novels written by skateboarders is even smaller. 

So my interest was piqued when I saw Walker Ryan had published Top of Mason, a narrative informed by his own experience in professional skateboarding. Ryan is the most recognizable pro skateboarder to have written a novel, and as soon as I found out about it, I went to his website to buy a copy. I saw there was a sample of the first page, so I read it. Big mistake. Any intent I had of purchasing the book immediately dissipated after reading the opening’s description of a “crazy man yelling at an inanimate object” who was “best ignored.” Now, it’s hard to write a book, let alone a fictional one, but to dive headfirst into your first one with a privileged outsider’s limited perspective on mental health and homelessness didn’t exactly make me want to read more. It made me question the amount of fanfare from skate publications that was given to his book that wasn’t for, say, Michael Christie’s If I Fall, If I Die or Tara Jepsen’s Like a Dog. After the third interview I saw with Ryan about the book, I decided I should hold back my initial impressions and give it a fair shake in the small field of novels by skaters.

Top of Mason is about failing skateboarder Henry, just barely 30 and already past his prime. You learn, after another 10 pages of the “crazy man yelling” scene, that skateboarding doesn’t pan out for Henry and his bartending job and increasingly disgruntled state aren’t impressive enough for his girlfriend, who breaks up with him. He finds himself living and working as a maid in the Shang Inn, just up the hill from San Francisco’s infamous Tenderloin neighborhood, doing shady errands for his boss. The setup to the story is deft, and Ryan succeeds in establishing characters, setting up locations, and generally building an environment. It moves nicely, as well. The first act ends when Henry, at the end of his rope, bombs the entirety of Mason Street, concussing himself into a new chapter of life. This involves hustling, drug use, high-class hotels, live streaming, skateboard hammers, the ups and downs of the professional skateboarding lifestyle, and honestly a few too many uses of the words “shriveled” and “penis.” It’s a competent book, and that’s the most I’ll say for the general plot.

Ryan’s true skill is in establishing the environment, especially when it comes to describing skate spots. Skateboarding readers will quickly call to mind real spots, like the Gerwer rail at the top of the titular Mason Street or the gnarly rail that Cardiel got a Thrasher cover for not landing a trick on. If you’re not as familiar with skateboarding culture, this technique cleverly doubles as a lens into the world, and Ryan builds a strong sense of the importance of place in skating. He also peppers in explanations for other skate parlance, like when he casually explains how professional skateboarders demonstrate their tricks for onlookers before using the word “demo.”

As much detail as is given to the skateboarding aspects of the story, however, is unfortunately left out in others. Mr. Shin, Henry’s boss at the Shang Inn, and Sherry, Henry’s co-worker, appear only as shades of characters: a sketchy Chinese mob boss, a curmudgeonly but jovial auntie. They stand in stark contrast to the world of Henry which, apart from skateboarding, is white and San Franciscan, and exist seemingly only to highlight the downtrodden, low-class lifestyle that he has sunk to. Two characters are introduced that attempt to complicate this dichotomy, but I’m not quite sure they hit the mark.

The first is Gary, Henry’s oldest friend in San Francisco who, after failing to establish his skateboarding career, has fallen into a life of homelessness and drug use. Ryan uses the character of Gary to represent the seedy underbelly of San Francisco’s heaven-reaching tech sheen and, symbolically, how that similar sheen of the perceived glamour in professional skateboarding covers up a lot of what really happens. Gary is a conduit for Ryan to talk about the behavior of people experiencing addiction and homelessness in the city, a topic that the book does not necessarily demand nor empower discussion of. When Henry smokes crack with Gary, it is for the shock value — Ryan is quick to point out that Henry has never done this before. It is notable that Gary is white, for like the intro scene with the crazy man, Gary’s world seems meant to show how far a white person can fall. Ryan goes as far as to ask, through Henry, why “the city doesn’t do anything about the homelessness?” He later explains a deep, dark secret that Gary has been keeping, which seems to handle a lot of the explanation for his state of being. Ryan never explores the systemic issues that surround homelessness in San Francisco even though he shows how physically close skateboarding puts you in contact with those issues and the people who experience them.

The other character is Dizzy Dev, another skateboarder from Henry’s past. The name fits, as he’s a dizzying amalgamation of some of the most successful and outspoken personalities in skateboarding. Dev is shades of P-Rod, Nyjah, Rob Dyrdek, Bam, Chaz Ortiz, and Na-Kel Smith all in one. Unlike Gary, Dev is younger and extremely successful. He’s a millionaire. He’s also Black. He is used to channel all of Henry’s ideas of what success, especially in skateboarding, can be. Dev represents a skater who honors where he’s from, stays true to the craft and art, is stable enough to branch out into other arts, and doesn’t get too big-headed about it to leave his family behind. He’s a more interesting character than Gary, at once a conduit for corporate trendiness and a symbol of being true to oneself. But instead of using Dev to reveal vulnerabilities in Henry’s white worldview, Ryan uses him to show how good of a guy Henry really is and that, hey, racial differences don’t matter if your heart is in the right place.

There are many missed opportunities with these characters that seem to come from an uneasiness with analysis on Ryan’s part. Dev’s mansion home in an affluent neighborhood (a luxury most Black skateboarders from San Francisco could never own) is presented to widen the gulf between where Henry is and where he wants to go, rather than to examine the racial and economic divides so apparent in the city. He has the tools to begin answering his question about the city’s inability to tackle homelessness right there within his story, but keeps the world small and within Henry’s perspective. With a more compelling main character, this maybe would have worked, but I couldn’t find myself being too attached to Henry’s wants and goals in the face of everything else happening in the world around him. In the end, it is Dev who supports Henry – monetarily and with familial support and belief in him – after Henry attempts to aid him through a personal issue, but I’m not sure it probes as far as I would have liked.

Top of Mason was a fast and enjoyable read and Ryan does handle language quite effectively. In addition to the spot descriptions and flavorful San Francisco urban settings peppered throughout the book, there are many vivid images, such as the description of a deadly infection squiggling around in one of Gary’s skateboarding injuries that I found myself unintentionally recalling. There are moments when I wanted this kind of attention to be paid to some of the larger themes in the book. While it’s serious in its treatment of heavy drug use and addiction, the book is casual in its representation of the racial, regional, and class factors that create the environment for such addictions to thrive in. Even as a well plotted romp through a familiar San Francisco and an enjoyable read, so much of the story’s environment was painted in broad strokes. We don’t get any depictions of the Tenderloin beyond the typical drug-infested imagery and, even when the characters of the Shang Inn come back around at the end of the book, there is nothing that elevates them from their ethnic stereotypes or that even hints at the rich, textured history of Chinese people in San Francisco. A more critical eye could have been focused towards the cultural exchange taking place beyond the backdrop employed to tell the story. Ryan betrays his skater’s skill for a street-level perspective on some of the “unsavory” parts of urban life but never brings those observations to a place of further understanding.

You might say I’m asking a lot from this book. You might say this story isn’t even designed to address what I’m asking for. In a Jenkem interview, Ryan himself has stated that he’s “not trying to win any literary awards with this…It’s just supposed to be a story that is really fun and easy to get into and is true to skateboarding.” He’s certainly accomplished that. With Top of Mason,  Walker Ryan is writing books and encouraging skaters to write them. I like that. I don’t know if his book is better than Slam, though. I’ve never read that.

Greco’s Noir Peak

The skateboarding in Jim Greco’s new part/film, Glass Carousel, was masterful. Conspicuously left out of the new Deathwish video, his short film makes up for it. Taking place entirely in the Los Angeles Mall, a multi-block complex of retail and federal plazas in the Civic Center area of Downtown Los Angeles, Greco concocts his version of a plaza part. He squeezes every last piece of juice out of his favorite obstacles – the brick quarter pipes – actualizing the potential dream lines the spot teases with level-headed expertise. Backside airs out of the tight transitions with power and grace, a kickflip pivot fakie, a few stand-up 5-0s in a row for the hell of it – he’s presenting a deep dive in spot literacy. Pushing it further, he crosses the street to Fletcher Bowron Square and transforms the ledges – chunky yet oddly satisfying – around the Triforium sculpture into a makeshift LOVE in a way the ground does not lend itself to. More shockingly, he does the same to the brick tops of the lesser quarter pipes lining the sidewalk of the City Hall complex, incorporating them into block long lines that end in baffling backside flips on the pillar or impossible back tails on long-slumbering ledges. I don’t even mind his uniform, which I can only imagine he had one of, despite what must be multiple days of filming. If typical skateboard lines follow the current of a river’s flow from point A to B, here Greco seems to be influenced by the deposition of a stream – spreading out across its floodplain in unexpected ways. That he presents all of this as a film makes sense – there’s a lot of thought and planned execution here.

Why then, is the same thought not applied to the presentation of the unhoused population in the Civic Center area? Skateboarders are no doubt among those expressing the full potential of these public plazas but then why do they routinely ignore the others who do so in different ways? The camera zooms in across plazas to show unknowing yet identifiable strangers appear to use drugs or get in fights. When they look up, the camera quickly pans left, blurring the image in shame yet conveniently giving Greco an edit point to a b-roll shot of him skating. These shots betray a candidness in filming that speaks to stealing images with strangers rather than interacting with them. Greco uses nearly century-old noir techniques and imagery to tell his skateboarding story that, despite the entertainment and pleasure of the filmmaking and skateboarding, makes it feels as if only he and his cinematographer, Joey Sinko, are the only ones who get the privilege of personification. The vertical lines in the art-deco Los Angeles City Hall lead our eyes to the helicopters that hover above, hinting at the municipal disparity and quiet doom that hovers over the area but treats the actual people who share the plazas and mall with skaters as just a part of that atmosphere. The one time a third party addresses the camera is to express their displeasure with being filmed, chasing the camera down haphazardly. While this footage was surely a spontaneous moment that captures a real interaction, it was used in the edit as a light reprieve to the skating. In the film and then, presumably, in real life, Greco finishes his line and moves on. If Sinko captured any other interaction between the two that seems to acknowledges that man’s right to the space, it remained out of the edit.

In a month where footage offerings just keep piling on top of one another (I’d barely fully digested John’s Vid and I haven’t yet watched Third Shift when I watched this) I would have finally and safely locked this in as my favorite part of the year. While the skating may still warrant that, the same irreverence that gives Greco the ability to nosegrind brick ledges allows him to treat people with that same indifference. Like his noir influences, Greco is more interested in using imagery and mood to create black and white depictions of social class structures in skateboarding than addressing those structures. People need to stop being treated as authenticity, grit, b-roll, or atmosphere in skate videos.

RELATED: As a counterpoint, the first post of this blog is about a wonderful Brian Panebianco piece about a man he met living at LOVE park and is a great example of how to connect.

SOTW #90 – Slappy Days Las Vegas

I’m bringing Stoke of the Week’s back, not necessarily weekly and not necessarily on the same day. This is the 90th Stoke of the Week.

I came upon this one after spending five minutes on a Bevup trick that cruised through my Explore Page. It’s made by Joey Brezinski, who I recall learning has some kind of TM/marketing role for, well, I guess freakin Andale Bearings.

If this was really all filmed in one day – that’s impressive. Tricks all blend into one but that’s kind of the point. Instead of an itemized narrative retelling of achievements, the day is presented chronologically like a thought catalog. You feel the loosely scheduled and loose-ankled vibe of the road trip as spot after spot pile up to represent the best cruise you’ve had in months – “Can you believe we were at that abandoned water park earlier today?!?” When the lures of the Strip are teased before landing us in a private pool for a fucking invert (this seems to be a thing with slappy-forward videos these days) you think that’s it for the night but – surprise – more skating. Downtown offers an actual spot and – yes – the freakin Strip seems more charming and delightful than it ever has in real life. At the very least, that’s a victory for an 11 minute slappy clip from Andale Bearings.

The YouTube Work of Abe Dubin aka Orange Man

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Photo by Jason Magid @jmagmedia 

This one was a doozy. It’s been on the shelf for a while. I had three separate discussions with Abraham Dubin, aka Orange Man or Abe, and spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to compile it all together. Many skaters are worth examining as an artist, and Abe has helped me parse through some of the ways that presents itself. What I have here is a longer interview with him about his work presented alongside some of his video pieces, sculptures, and collages. We didn’t get into his non-video stuff, but I think they offer a nice emphasis to his process and philosophies.

When it comes to releasing work, you could practically set your clock to Abe. His weekly uploads have made it nearly impossible to keep this piece current, as he outpaces anything I’m thinking about by a mile with new uploads. In the end, I realized that’s fine – I believe this stuff will be worth accessing for a while. I see Abe as a skater who is truly building a lifetime’s body of work that will contain more and more layers as time goes on. Casual followers may be familiar with his colorful getups or his delightful and convoluted board contraptions – the making and skating of which is a trait he shares with fellow Fancy Lad team rider Matt Tomasello. A slightly deeper dive may have led to his YouTube channel where he meticulously chronicles his skateboard life to a point of near obsession. It’s skateboarding that approaches performance and video art. This characteristic is what drew me deeper into his world, past the normal perspectives of skate culture, to learn about him as an artist.

He comes from the South Shore of Massachusetts – Plymouth, of the Pilgrim fame – and started skating around the middle school years when many people do. He’s almost two decades into it now. So, if you’re sick of Orange Man or think he’s got a shtick, maybe keep reading and see if we can’t change your mind.

What type of skating were you first into?

I remember going to a used sports store with my dad and getting one of those flexy translucent yellow banana boards. I wasn’t really trying to do tricks, I thought they weren’t for me. I kind of thought you just make up your own tricks – which is sort of the case. I didn’t know there was this whole rule book – that came later. 

How’d you progress? What kept you skating and moving into learning tricks?

By the time I was a teenager I was skating with a solid crew of neighborhood guys. One of my buddies – Mike Decker – was the best around so skating with him helped me because we kind of used each other to measure ourselves. I guess that’s kind of how it goes. You need people there who are at a similar level to keep pushing you and keep you interested. Of course we were also obsessed with all the videos. That was a huge inspiration. If you don’t watch skate videos I don’t even know how you come up with what tricks you want to learn. You can’t make all of those up on your own! No skating exists in a vacuum. 

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When did you start turning towards “Orange Man” in your skating career?

I didn’t really have a “career” before Orange Man. We would film but it wasn’t for anything more than a homie video. But then my buddy Nick AKA Big started Fancylad – I was living in Portland, Oregon at the time – and he said “I’m starting a board company so you should move back.” I eventually moved back to Massachusetts and we started to skate together more and I saw the video that they were working on. I thought it was so experimental – everything about it was a critique of skating and skate videos. Now we had a “reason to film.”

So did you kind of make yourself a video identity?

That’s absolutely correct. 

How did you settle on your persona?

There were a couple of really eccentric guys in my hometown. One was Yellow Man who was obsessed with yellow and sort of looked like a wizard. This other guy Red Man dressed in all red. I think he had some sort of mental disability. For some reason they happened to live in the same South Shore town – Hanover – and were both obsessed with one color and lived in their own reality, sort of. That is to say, they kind of warped the reality of everyone else who encountered them because they were proof that you don’t have to buy your cargo pants at Old Navy. Or that you don’t have to go to high school and immediately find your job or go to college. There’s endless options and endless parallel dimensions you can take your idea of self. And then red and yellow make orange.

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It seems more or less like five years ago you started uploading your own stuff to YouTube. When and how did you start filming yourself? 

I kind of think of these videos as my diary. They’re not necessarily the greatest trick that I’ve ever done. They’re more about “this is what’s going on in my life.” This week or this month or even just this day. I want to express something that I can’t even put into words and just kind of capture the moment.

Your videos really do act as a journal – I learn things about you. For instance, I found out you got married from one of your videos. Why include these personal bits?

You ever hear of the concept of the “second brain?” I think of my notebook as a second brain and I think of the camera and a finished video as a second brain. Even if it’s not a precious moment, I still want proof of it. I think that’s a lot of why we as a culture are obsessed with documentation. We need to prove to ourselves and others that we exist. It’s part of a larger question – not just that I exist – but I like to prove that this experience is a lucid dream. We have so much potential to create whatever we want with that.

What do you film with?

I wanted to thank my buddy, Dave Darling. He let me borrow his Sony handycam because he believed in me and knew that I wanted to make my videos. I’ve been basically buying a series of that same camera since. It’s like the cheapest one you can get but it’s still HD and I kind of just run it until it eventually breaks because it’s just a plastic thing and my board seems to be magnetized to it. It’s kind of like having a crappy board – you’re not as afraid of getting it destroyed. You just express yourself until it’s completely destroyed.

There’s a real sense of your body in the world and space around you. It seems like a performance – do you consider that you’re filming yourself and putting it on YouTube as a performance?

Of course. I’ve always thought that skating is a performance art but it’s not pushed enough in that direction. It’s more in the direction of ice skating. It’s like a dangerous dance. There is a direction in there. I do consider myself a performance artist. Being Orange Man is that.

That gives a lot of your work an almost Dadaist edge, like Outsider Art in the skate world. I don’t think you bake it in there on purpose but you seem to have a gleeful disdain for what’s popular in mainstream skating.

My biggest inspiration is finding what is considered cool and then trying to break that down. Which is the complete opposite of what it should be. If you’re feeding what’s cool then you’re just as much a part of the capitalist system as everything else.

Where do you think you fall on the spectrum of skateboarding videos, one side being absurdist abstract art and the other being an advertisement?

I almost don’t think there is absurdist abstract art in skating. I think skate video production has increased a lot in the last few years to where things are tasteful like a music video and not heartfelt enough. They’re still plainly packaged. I think I’m more on that side of the music video. It’s supposed to be, as I said, a kind of video diary. At the end of the day I want to leave things raw.

How did this apply to one of your longer, more recent projects, EITHOR OR. That had this whole mirror/symmetry motif and you were pushing it right around when Verso came out…

I was thinking about Verso when doing that, though I actually had the idea and started it before really linking it to Verso. Then the timing kind of worked out. It’s not about doing amazing tricks ambidextrously, it’s just about the board itself being ambidextrous. I’ve been thinking about this for a while with all the boards that I make – skateboards are kind of all alike in that all the pieces are interchangeable. The modern skateboard is refined to a point where all pieces are compatible with each other and the skateboard itself is a mirror image of itself. 

I was so excited about the Mark Suciu video but then I saw it and it seemed to me to be still industry-standard skateboarding. There was nothing new or conceptual to it. So I was thinking “industry standard skateboarding” leads to an “industry standard” skateboard and thinking about how a skateboard exists as a post-industrial revolution “product.” They’re mass produced and they’re meant to be easily replaced and all the pieces can replace themselves. I sort of went off on a tangent thinking about how the skateboard is a thing that can be easily disposed of and replaced kind of like all skateboard content now. Or skateboarders themselves. Also I was trying to do a skateboarding video that doesn’t really involve skateboarding. It’s just about the board. The board is doing the trick. 

You were making an art piece. A skateboard art piece, if that’s how you want to view it.

Oh, absolutely. That’s what I’m going for. I think what makes anything fine art is the simplicity of idea which leads to less effort in execution. Something so concept-heavy that there’s almost nothing to it physically. A single line on a canvas representing the “divine” or something. 

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What do you think that says about other pieces, such as Verso. I’m not trying to set you up here, but just since you mention it. How would you say that compares? Is that the same kind of art?

I would say no, it isn’t. I don’t think it’s art and I don’t think it does what it sets out to achieve. But I do like that it’s one of the first mainstream conceptual videos, at least theoretically, and I like that it is meant to be pretentious. There’s a lot of pretentiousness and elitism in skateboarding but not that much in the intellectual realm. It’d be interesting to see if that evolves any further beyond one college-educated skater who is kind of a self-proclaimed artist. It’s an interesting new image. I’m tongue-in-cheek about it and I like the idea of the artsy side of skateboarding being pretentious just as a gag.

So, with EITHOR OR or even shorter-form projects, what is the start-to-finish process of making a video?

Often, it has to do with the location. Before the invented boards or the total mockery of skating, my main love and interest was spots and how something that seems so ordinary to someone can be the most fantastic thing to someone else. A lot of the time I’m out on my bike and I’ll be creeping along very slowly and I’ll find something and circle it. Stand real close and stare at it. I keep a notebook or I’ll take a picture of it on my flip phone. That’s usually the main stimulus. Sometimes I’ll measure the spot with my little measuring tape and I’ll figure out that if I build a board specifically tailored to it I can make something happen. I may not have thought of a board before I see the spot. The spot is speaking to me in a kind of way.

Sometimes it seems like you focus on a color or shape or infrastructural cue in a spot.

Totally. I think that once you notice one of a certain type of spot you start to see it everywhere. You’re thinking about it and looking for it to present itself. If I’m looking for a tiny sliver in a wall for me to barely slip through with a board I’ll start seeing them everywhere. It becomes kind of a scavenger hunt for a collection of how many different spots of a certain type are in my specific area and how many are even possible to skate. 

I can relate – if I see a spot in my neighborhood that I think is skateable and pass by it every day without skating it I start getting antsy about it. What does the spot hunt feel like for you?

Finding spots for me is like an animal finding a water oasis that will keep it alive. It’s more spiritual than anything. I’m gathering these moments or supplies as my “nuts and berries” that are gonna sustain me through the mundane work week. It’s really more for my soul. I think we aren’t challenged enough in a real-world survival way. I like to find a healthy challenge that will maybe beat me up or make me feel physically exhausted or mentally drained. Generally, for people like me in modern society, survival is pretty much guaranteed. And in that, apathy and depression is rampant.

What do you do for work?

I’ll tell you straight up – I don’t make any money from skating. Some people have gotten the wrong impression about that in the past. I’m proud to have to work because it kind of keeps you grounded. I work for a bike share. What that entails is riding my bike around the city basically tuning up rental bikes. In that, I have a ton of opportunity to notice city infrastructure changing or all the architecture that could be used for certain tricks. 

You use a lot of angles and extreme closeups that seem like they don’t portray the skating that great but in the end does. How do you make your filming decisions? 

A lot of people have asked me “why so many angles” – that’s their main critique. Sometimes I find it bizarre and unnecessary myself. I think it’s that I’m truly just enjoying the process. I’m in a meditation mode or trance where I’m doing it over and over and getting better at it and it’s becoming more my true voice as my body becomes more adapted to it and I’m mentally more in tune with it. The more I film it from different angles the more I might achieve what I’m actually envisioning. Ironically, achieving what you’re actually envisioning is almost impossible. Often, I’ll use the first land because it has the most character and because it’s not refined. But, on the whole, I want it to be a medley – especially because I use classical music that kind of uses the same themes over and over. I want it to have as many notes as possible. Kind of like Mozart, even – too many notes.

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Tell me more about the music – what’s your mindset behind it? How do you go about picking it?

Lately my process for choosing music has been putting on the local Baltimore classical radio station. If something comes on that really strikes me, I’ll just start filming my radio. When one little piece is really speaking to me I’ll chop it up and find a home for it. In a way, it’s like a temporary spot. It’s almost like surfing a wave. This music is coming in and it’s like the most temporary ephemeral thing. You can’t really stop or pause it, you just have to get it while you can. That’s how a lot of spots are. It might be destroyed tomorrow or have a car parked in front of it. You just have to get there while you can.

Also, my wife is a classical violinist so I’ve been exposed to a lot of stuff through her repertoire. She’s really been – instrumental – hehe – in exposing me to classical music. Part of the reason classical works for what I’m doing is because its all variations on a theme. There’s kind of this back theme that is driving it and then a lot of variations within it. Modern rock and stuff that is typically in skate videos is not as multi-layered. Using classical music is one part ironic and another part positioning it as a valid art form. Like a ballet or a technique-based dance or musical art form. I think of skating in terms of music a lot because it’s a totally involved physical and emotional thing.

Do you decide on the length of your videos beforehand? Or is it based on what you shot? The way people react to the video seems varied to me – some of the longer ones have the most views compared to some of the shorter ones, like “The Golden Ticket.” What’s up with that?

The ones that are longer I put a lot more care and thought into. They’re projects that may have been going for a few months. They’re a lot more important to me so I kind of shop them around to see if an online magazine will host them to feel a bit more validated in my efforts. 

I’ve had the opportunity to have stuff on Transworld and other places. I had this sort of show on the Thrasher site, “Orange Mansion,” that me and one of my best buddies growing up made together.

Then there’s also the other ones that I just went out skating and this is what I found. Those I don’t feel the need to get them out there as much because they’re kind of more for me. There’s something cool about the fact that it’s not well publicized. If you listen to indie music it’s kind of more fun if the band is not well known. It’s more personal to you as the audience. For instance, when you approached me to say you enjoyed my YouTube videos I thought “Wow, most people don’t even know about them or care.” So you’re interested in a different aspect of what I do. With that I feel like we have a connection even though we barely know each other.

I feel that from my side too! I relate in a way. I like the medium of YouTube a lot and I like how you’re using it.

I grew up with YouTube. For me, that’s the way you put stuff out. Instagram still hasn’t really set into me as a truly established point of expression. It’s too short. I often max out my little instagram edits. It’s only 60 seconds long. The younger generation has a shorter attention span I guess or as a working adult maybe you don’t have a full 5 minutes to watch a video. You gotta take care of kids, get back to work, whatever it is.

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I think we’ve gone through the gist of it here. Anything else you’d like to add?

I have one question for you, actually.

What’s that?

How’d you find my YouTube in the first place? Was it through Fancy Lad or my Instagram?

It wasn’t through Instagram. I must have seen a video posted somewhere. Maybe it was through the Instagram explore page, actually…I don’t even remember. I lurk. I sort of have a daily YouTube regimen, though thankfully I’m falling off it a bit. I love finding someone who’s constantly making stuff but isn’t necessarily famous or sponsored. I knew your skating from Fancy Lad so it must have come my way somehow. 

Just curious. Because people who prefer my personal YouTube…I’m curious about them.

I feel more reverence in the practice of taking in media on a computer.

Oh, for sure. You can sit there and eat a meal.

I feel more like I’m in my home or my space. I guess kids feel that way with their phones.

Remember there was a time we were saying the computer screen is too small compared to a TV? Now we’re saying the phone is so small compared to a computer screen.

And the TV is too small compared to a movie theater. Maybe we’ll be looking at our fingernails soon.

It’s all a projection on your own retina.

 

In Excitement for WBATB

Like an aging television network, the Berrics, Eric Koston and Steve Berra’s skatepark-turned-media-factory, is still kicking. I don’t even know if that comparison is apt – I really have no idea what is going on with TV networks. Their shows probably still get the most viewership over subscription on demand services. I don’t have those stats and I’m not going to look them up, so beats me. I’m also not sure what the Berric’s stats are – maybe they garner the most views as well, but I’m also not going to do that research. Point is, TV Networks and the Berrics feel clunky and not super relevant in the same way, at least amongst my peers. Yelling “Do a kickflip!” out a car window at somebody is just as obnoxious if it’s coming from a skateboarder as not. Historically, the only thing that I liked from the Berrics is their “Off the Grid” series, which is a simple idea and features the park solely in the intro. But probably the Berrics’ most popular production is the Battle at the Berrics.

I’ve never really minded the BATB. It was good for cherry-picking skaters I like and watching them throw a couple of flip tricks around. Once freed from its bloated pre-match packaging, some enjoyable and spontaneous skating can crop up – like the Chris Cole vs. Dennis Busenitz marathon, a match I actually revisit from time to time. Not to mention some lo-fi production techniques: unlike other Berrics programming, its filmed as if a camera with a servo zoom was handed to a random spectator and they occasionally rotate the hosts and refs. All of which helped in immediately piquing my interest when the Women’s Battle at the Berrics popped up in my YouTube subscriptions a couple weeks ago.

Speaking anecdotally because, as is my wont, I haven’t done any actual research about this, many of my peers seem to have the same apathy towards WBATB in the way one might towards any Berrics programming. It’s not quite the same, though, because woman haven’t had the opportunity to have had eleven previous editions to be apathetic towards. This is the first and there will be more, hopefully, in a landscape where its increasingly easier and easier to find skaters who don’t look like me. After following the #whoisinwbatb hashtag while it was going on, I learned about a ton of women who were hoping to get involved. I saw that Adrianne Sobloh, a personal favorite and one of the few women skaters I knew already, was in the first round against Margie Didal from the Philippines, someone I hadn’t heard of before. I clicked and watched their “Head to Head” intro video – not the type of video I would have watched before. But it did it’s job. .I wanted to know more about Margie Didal and after that intro I popped her name in the search box. Of course, she rips. Of course, she’s been in Street League. This is stuff I would know had I been paying any kind of attention.

Pointing a radar gun at skaters to create an empirical parameter for what they’re doing is stupid. That’s a stupid way to use a platform inexplicably built on the strength of a couple legendary names. Instead, using that platform to prop up women in skateboarding – a group that has been offered a sliver of the amount of opportunity that men have – is smart. High-minded and in-the-spotlight skaters like Mark Suciu, a seemingly good person and total ripper who happened to go to college and made a sort of palindrome out of his career and latest part while also referencing latin literary terms in an attempt to let us know – well I don’t know what – that he reads? That life is cyclical? That what goes up must come down, what goes around comes back around? At its core, it shows that maybe he thinks about the skateboarding he’s doing. Taking this further, let’s think about what we can do with skateboarding. The Women’s Battle at the Berrics is doing a lot – finally – and elevates it to the most relevant thing The Berrics has done and one of the most relevant skateboarding things on the internet now.

‘Gnarlytown’ in Words and Photos

Words by Me, Photographs By Adam Ianniello

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Like Travis Pastrana blasting his Suzuki over a fireball, the flyer for Gnarlytown suddenly appeared in my life. Its Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater-esque design of stencils, coupled with an asphalt-and-neon palette and no less than 14 logos and 6 different fonts, brought my attention to the one-day festival taking place in San Pedro, California, organized by rock station 95.5 KLOS. Pennywise and Rancid–a duo of Northern and Southern ‘90s California pop-punk heavyweights– were headlining, preceded by a part obvious and part head-scratching lineup of the Aquabats, Mike Watt, Rotting Out, Madball, Off!, and Action Bronson. Add in Travis Pastrana’s Nitro Circus and whatever Chris Cole’s “Rail Jam Invitational” is and you get one doozy of a day down at the port of Los Angeles. 

A lifetime of saying the word “gnarly,” at times with absolute sincerity and others with hypocritical disdain, have not rendered me impervious to the irony of this sort of event. Nor have the many years of alternately enjoying and mocking the type of skate-punk music featured. It was, quite clearly, marketed directly at me. Did I take the bait? Shit yeah, I did.  On a sweltering June afternoon my friend Adam, conveniently a photographer, and I secured our one-way ticket (ahem, press-passes) to Gnarlytown.

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Pulling in to the festival, Adam and I were filled with excitement to lambast this obvious grab at SoCal Nostalgia. The most easily lampoonable event, the Rail Jam Invitational, was Chris Cole and friends (namely Billy Marks and some very hard-working Santa Cruz ams), skating an A-Ramp whose main feature was a box consisting of a Monster Energy-branded guitar. Needless to say: it was fucking gnarly. All jokes aside, I did see Chris Cole perfectly execute a switch frontside 360 flip — something I may never see in person again — and all skaters present tried their best to put on a show for the kids on the windy oceanside berth. With the skateboarding contained to one specific area and three interim time slots, the rest of the “bikes and boards” portion of the event was best experienced as bullet points: 

  • The Nitro Circus did indeed play out like a circus, ringleader and all, celebrating testosterone and fossil fuel. I’m sure there’s YouTube videos of it if that interests you.
  • “Send It,” may enter the same mainstream spot in our language as “gnarly.”

Musically:

  • Rancid sounds identical to when I first heard them as a wannabe punk from New Jersey.
  • The South Bay still heavily backs their hometown band, Pennywise.
  • Unfortunately, I missed San Pedro’s hometown representative, Mike Watt.
  • The “Southern California” pop-skate-punk scene seems to be alive and well and it takes place south and east of Los Angeles.

In the end, however, the people won us over. For all the possible gawking, mean-spirited joking, and actually valid indignation at the corporate world of punk consumption, the saving grace of Gnarlytown was its attendees. We met people who were there to see their favorite local bands, teach their kids how to mosh, or spend a Saturday in the sun with members of their community. As the day wore on and Adam and I spoke with more people about their experiences, we began to feel the joyous sincerity of everyone around us. They were not there to poke fun at how capitalism has co-opted their culture. They were there to fucking thrash, and they let us know it. 

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I’m Troll! I’ve been in a few films. I’m an old school punk rocker. I’ve been around it for a while. I’m from LA. I’m a stagehand; I build a lot of stages and skatepark ramps like these. I got All Access, too!” 

– Troll, Los Angeles, CA

 

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“What brings us here today? Fucking…the bicycles and the skateboards! AND PENNYWISE!” 

– Isaac (and family) San Bernardino, CA

 

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“I’m here to fucking get faded and listen to some good shit.” 

-Eric, Torrance, CA

 

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“That shit just cruised up on my Facebook. I’m here to fucking tear shit up in the pit. We’re South Bay locals. Pennywise is my shit.” 

– Austen, Lawndale, CA

 

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“My dad wanted to bring me here for my first time. I’m probably most excited about the moshpit.”

– Finley, San Pedro, CA

 

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“I came out to have a good time with some friends and listen to some good music, man. I was really super stoked to see Rotting Out and, of course, Rancid. You gotta keep it OG. “– –

– Jules (hair being braided) Pomona, CA

“We’re gonna go to the beach in the middle of the night!”

– Julia (braiding hair), Pomona, CA

 

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I’ve seen Pennywise four times but you can never get enough of it, you know? I’ve never seen Rancid, either, so I’m here for Rancid as well. I love Rancid.”

– Brett, Covina, CA

 

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“We’re pretty drunk!”

– ? 

GNARLYTOWN_Freddy

“My son talked me into it. Thought I should get out of the house. I’m enjoying myself. The ramp is sick! That’s real bad, I’d like to do that. If I was riding my bike I’d do it!”

-Freddy, Norwalk, CA

 

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“I’m the queen of Torrance!”

– Jamie (and companion), Torrance, CA

 

And some more without words:

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89. Stoke of the Week Round-Up

Three clips and a sentence on why each one got stoked. A bigger skate-adjacent piece is going up tomorrow.

Tony Karr | Loop 1 | Transworld Skateboarding

Tony Karr is one of my favorites and footage of him is few, far between, and exquisite.

Kyota Umeki {Homies Network} Raw Documents

Kyota Rips and Frog might be my favorite current new company, and not just because I love Frogs.

Ruben Spelta ‘Mamma Mia’ Part

More parts like this, please.

88. Jetlagbrothers: Istanbul

Skaters, brands, footage, and content come and go so fast these days that it’s hard to tell what or who to keep track of. What is Jetlagged and how are all these people possibly affiliated? Brian Delatorre deservedly is all over the place somehow and on the whole it seems like everyone’s hanging out with everyone everywhere in the world on who knows who’s dime. This ruled. And, yeah – why not? Slo mo that pigeon at the end!

87. JENKEM – Cooking Pierogies With Yaje Popson & Quim Cardona

Dad-Quim is in full effect here and it’s genuine and awesome. The additional skate from the west to the east side and all its happenstance-ry made this slice-of-life all the more accessible, mimicking the way a session organically flows into eating and hanging out. These two clearly know how to cook – Yaje in two surprising turns in his earlier Jenkem installments which, apparently, returned due to popular demand – and Quim flexing culinarily here for the first time with a family pierogi recipe. Perfect for the East Village. Handcrafted, organic and complicatedly-simple, the dish seems perfect over a few joints at the end of a day of skating.