(Versus the two things that I really want to write about.)

by Bud Stratford

A skateboarder is anybody that rides a skateboard. And we all know what a “skateboard” is, because we ain’t stewpid…

Skateboarding is supposed to be fun,

Skateboarding is for everybody and anybody (whether everybody and anybody agrees with that or not, is an altogether different matter… but, more on that in a bit). And,

Skateboarding is all about whatever you want it to be. You have a brain and a body of your own. So, use ’em. And don’t let anybody tell you any damned differently.

So, there you go. “The Ten Things You Need To Know”, edited down to a grand total of four completely obvious, self-evident, and unarguable truths. Essay, complete…! Well, almost…

What I do have in front of me today, though, are two things that are bumming me… and, a lot of my skateboarding allies and cohorts… out. Those two things are “The Rules”, and “The (Increasingly Frequent) Discrimination”.

Skateboarding… for better, or for worse (mostly worse, as we’ll soon see)… is now completely and fully “mainstreamed”. Of course, the “mainstreaming” of skateboarding probably makes The Industry pretty darn happy, overall. The more people that skate, the more skateboards that The Industry sells. And that’s probably pretty cool for The Industry. But not so much, for our skateboarding culture.

Yes. There was a day when we had “a culture”. We’ve always had our own culture. At least, we used to have our own culture. Back in the day… God, I feel old now… our culture was a pretty positive and accepting set of rules and ethics. “The Four Rules” that I just listed a few paragraphs ago were pretty much it… the total, comprehensive, and complete set of “the rules” that all skateboarders… or, maybe more accurately, all skateboarders that were worth a shit… lived by, and accepted as unalienable fact.

Every other rule that could be imagined, extolled, espoused, articulated, agreed upon, and decreed to be “law”, pretty much existed to be broken. Because that’s what skaters did. We broke rules. Except “The Four”. Because those were sacred.

Bobby Piercy at Catalina. Photo: Warren Bolster

Skateboarding, almost exclusively, was that thing that “freaky kids” did. That thing that moms, dads, aunts, uncles, grandmothers, grandfathers, guidance councellors, teachers, and principals really didn’t understand all that well, and didn’t really want to care all that much about. And that was perfectly a-ok with us, actually. The great thing about being uncared for and misunderstood was that it allowed us a huge amount of unfettered freedom to write our own rules, and create our own parallel worlds, well outside “the rules” of mainstream mediocrity. Which is exactly what we did: we created an entire ethos, and a set of “rules”, that rebelled against the “mainstream” of “popular culture”. And when I refer to “popular culture”, please keep in mind that I use the word “culture” very, very loosely. In my world, “Popular Culture” should really be renamed “Chronic Catcrap”. But that’s just my personal interpretation of it. Of course.

Twenty years ago, there was no ageism in skateboarding. The reason, of course, was stupidly simple: old people simply didn’t skate. “Old” people would never even consider taking up skating… too dangerous to life and limb, they thought… and even skateboarders themselves never really skated much after, say, the ripe old age of 25 or so. At that age, most skaters simply quit skating, and moved on with their  lives. They got girlfriends, cars, jobs, perhaps a post-secondary education, careers, wives, kids of their own… mistresses, vices, habits, ulcers, and whatever misery that mainstream mediocrity has in store for us as we become old and broken shells of our former, idealistic and exuberant, fun-filled selves. Skateboarding was thus relegated to “that fun thing that I used to do”, before life caught up with us and got in the way of the good times.

Neal Unger - 60 something.

There was also no racism or sexism in skateboarding, back in my time. Mostly because skateboarding was the exclusive pastime of white, suburban (or urban), lower-to-middle-class boys. Of course, there were exceptions to the rule… and there have always been exceptions to that rule… but, not that many. And of course, we wholeheartedly supported those few exceptions. Because troublemakers just love breaking rules, right..?

There weren’t that many “types” of skateboarding to enjoy, either. Many forms of skateboarding… slalom, barrel jumping, longboarding, and to a great extent, freestyle… had melted away from their former heydays of the 1970’s. My generation had vert, street, mini-ramp (which was a common middle-ground compromise between vert and street)… and, in the darker corners of the peripheries, the backyard pool scene. “Skateparks”, as we know them today, didn’t exist; those were another anachronism that had died off like the dinosaurs in the early 1980’s.

But, my generation was the first (and perhaps, the last) of “The Great Skateboarding Idealists”. We were, in a great many ways, “The Greatest Generation” of skateboarders. I’ll fight that with anybody, and win, hands down.

First of all, my generation was the first generation that didn’t quit skating, en masse, at the ripe old age of 25. For whatever reason… probably because we were, by nature, punk rule breakers and chronic troublemakers… we just didn’t see the point of giving up something that we beloved so immensely, to conform to somebody else’s definition of chronic catcrap.

We were also the first generation to wrestle control of The Industry away from “The Old Guard”, and start fully independent companies. This made for a much more directly skater-run-and-influenced industry than skateboarding had ever seen in its (rather short) history. And the number of companies (today, known as “brands”) that we breathed life into was stunningly staggering. Realizing that, my generation of skateboarders was the first generation that made serious and effectual efforts to take skateboarding “mainstream”, as we realized (subconsciously, at least) that the existing “pie” was only so big, and therefore would only support so many companies/brands.

And lastly, my generation was the first generation to take a hard, long look back in time, and start digging up some of the treasures that our predecessors had long left in the dust. Forms of skateboarding that had been long considered extinct were brought out of the literal woodwork, and renewed with an enthusiastic vigor.

I must say that our intentions were noble enough. My generation, being “The Great Idealists”, held lofty ambitions of invading the mainstream, and re-making it in skateboarding’s image. There were ample precedents for this; we had actually been doing it, with some success, for decades. It’s a well-known and well-documented fact that skateboarders have influenced the artistic realms of music, photography, graphic design, writing, publishing, architecture, and film (among a whole host of other creative pursuits); if we can launch a full-scale invasion of the art world and prevail, why couldn’t we do the same thing to the greater society at large…? Again, I think this was a very subconscious effort on most of our parts… but, there were a small handful of extreme forward-thinkers that did consciously realize the immense potential, and actively pursued that potential quite deliberately.

Of course, things don’t always go quite as we plan. And there are always unintended consequences that could never be predicted, nor accounted for. I don’t think that any of us really thought about what might happen if skateboarding was invaded by the mainstream, instead of vice-versa. And only once the Pandora’s box of “mainstreaming” was cracked open did we realize… much to our own horror and dismay… that there was no do-over, turning around, or going back. We really thought that companies like Airwalk, Vans, Vision Street Wear, Limpies, Eight Ball (later Droors Clothing, later still DC), Etnies (and Emerica, and eS…), et cetera, would take over the fashion world, and put the rest of the world to shame. It never really dawned on us that The Mainstream Corporate Hegemony might either kill these companies outright… or, conversely, actually buy up these brands with their bottomless corporate capital reserves, strip them of their founders, their teams, their visions, their souls, their ethos, and the rest of their defining characteristics… and toss them into some Payless Shoe Bargain Bin somewhere. Vans, for some reason, has been allowed the freedom to buck the trend, stay somewhat true to its roots, and continue relatively unobstructed and unfettered. But the rest are either long gone, or are mere shadows of their fomer greatness. Even relatively recent upstarts like Fallen (gone) and Lakai (struggling) are not immune to the cycle of death and destruction under the mainstream bulldozer blade. But Nike, Converse, and Adidas are thriving in the skate shoe market. Unintended consequences. Damn them all.

Thankfully, the skate hardgoods brands are still ours. Mostly. But even they have been more than happy to compromise their ideals, jump onto “mainstream mores”, and increasingly outsource their production to third-world sweatshops in the name of increased profitability and market share. So much for “quality products”, “honest business ethics”, and “human dignity”, I guess…

Isamu Yamamoto cranks out one wheeler. Photo: Jim Goodrich

The same has happened to us culturally, of course. While we do shed a tear or two over the demises of skate brands, the demise of skate culture has been far more damaging and depressing. With the Mainstream Invasion, we’ve also been inundated with Mainstream Mores on a cultural level absolutely unprecedented in our history. With the influx of females into our culture (an astoundingly good thing for both our culture, and our industry), we’ve also seen a wave of sexism infiltrate our collective ethos… probably best represented by “skate superstar” Nyjah Huston, and his epicly ill-advised “girls shouldn’t be allowed to skate”diatribe.

With more minorities skating than ever (another astounding sign of progress for our culture and our industry), we’ve also inherited the likes of Corey Duffel, and his epicly ill-advised “trashy n**ger” monologue.

With more “old” skaters skating than ever, we’ve also seen a huge wave of agism washing over our social, online, and print media, openly questioning why these geezers (“Barneys”, in the skate vernacular) really have to take up so much open space at our skateparks… the free, public skateparks that our “old geezer” generation fought tooth and nail for (and prevailed in successfully securing) for the benefit of future generations of skateboarders everywhere, mind you.

Of course, with the invasion of new and diverse forms of skateboarding that have (thankfully) been brought back from the dead, such as slalom, freestyle, and longboarding… we have also allowed “skate-ism” to run rampant throughout our “culture”. That is, of course, active discrimination against other skaters based on what kind of skateboarding they might (or might not) enjoy.

And I might add… just because, this is the one that I personally witness the most often of all… “Able-ism”, which I would define as “discrimination based on one’s ability to skate ‘good’ or not”.

I never really thought I’d ever see the day where I’d be sitting at my laptop, and writing about so many types of skater-versus-skater discrimination, and how much of it is currently running through or scenes and our culture.

Skaters are supposed to be fighting the world, and winning. Not, fighting each other and losing. Which makes me wonder, and wonder often, what in the hell are we coming to…?

STAND BY FOR PART 2…