When I was a kid, I was the fat, nerdy dork that you and your snot-nosed little buddies probably picked on in school. For the most part, that still stands to this day. I’m definitely not the picture-perfect definition of “The Cool Dude”, regardless of what others (Mike included) might mistakenly lead you to believe. The only real difference between me then, and me now, is that I’m a much older, and much fatter, balding dork (with bad knees) that has somehow made a “name” for himself by pecking out biting… yet, “incredibly insightful”… cuss-filled think-pieces. At the end of the day, the balding and the cussing are really the only differences between my past, and my present. I catch a lot of crap for speaking my mind in the way that I do. Or rather, I used to catch a lot of crap for it. Not so much anymore. You’d be amazed at what having a billowing bank account, an impressive job description, and a fancy-pants title will do for your overall reputation. Which I find hysterical, because it’s so hypocritical. One of the founding covenants of this fine nation of ours was “Freedom of Speech”. Apparently, you can only speak your mind in this f’n country, and really be respected for it, if you just so happen to have an impressive enough resume, and some cash burning a hole in your pocket. Otherwise, you’re on the outs. America. Go figure. When I was a kid, I couldn’t talk at all. I totally forgot to mention that part. Not only was I fat and nerdy; I was also cursed with a super-serious stuttering problem. Not like, “oh, the fat kid that stutters on occasion”. Nuh-uh. I’m talking like, I seriously couldn’t talk at all. It really, really sucked. One of my earliest childhood memories was sitting on a bus on my way home from kindergarten. We’re going way, way back in the day now. The bus driver was asking me a simple enough question: where did I live? So he could get my fat ass home, naturally enough. After all, that was his job, right? But, I couldn’t answer him. I seriously couldn’t do it. I could not manage to get even a single word out of my face. And he’s looking at me like, “Oh, God, this kid’s a special kinda stupid, ain’t he…? I really hate this job sometimes. Dammit…!” So, he took me right back to school. What else could he do…? And the poor school had to call my frantic mom, and explain to her what a damned idiot I was and all, and how I was gonna be such a hopeless loser in life. Your earliest memory is probably something really cool, like riding a bike or playing baseball or swimming or something. But my earliest memory is of me, being a f’n moron. And that was pretty much the story of my life for a long, long time. Fast forward to my freshman year of high school. All that same stuff, unfortunately, still totally applied. The fat, the nerdy, the stuttering, the whole shebang. Until one day. I actually remember it remarkably well. I can’t tell you the kid’s name. Truth is, he’s still a beloved and loyal friend to me, all these years later. But on that day, he was being a real prick. He was picking on me, of course, for stuttering. Most of my life, I had just quietly kept my mouth shut, and taken it straight up the butt. I couldn’t f’n talk, so what else was I supposed to do…? It’s not like I really had any options or anything. So basically, I was screwed. Until that day.  That day, everything changed. It was pretty awesome… My pops is a truck driver. Always has been. Runs in the family, in fact; his pops was a truck driver, too. Truckers, y’know… they can cuss it up. Sailors and bikers might be in the game, but truckers man… they’re winning at that shit. And of course, I was always surrounded by these bad, bad influences, just by palling around with my pops so much. They were some of the very best influences that I would ever have, as it turns out. But generally speaking, they’re still widely seen by the holier-than-though, bible-thumping, politically-correct, thought-policing general public as being pretty damned lowbrow. And that’s at the very, very best. That day, my whole life changed for the better. That kid picked the worst day ever to pick on my fat, nerdy ass. I stood right up, and pounded him right in the ojo. Poor bastard never saw it coming; probably didn’t think I even had it in me. Now, just to be clear here: I’m not condoning violence. Not one bit. This magazine is pacifist in nature, and all conflicts in an idealized, picture-perfect world would be far better handled by reasonable and empathetic discourse amongst respectably inclined, mature people. All I’m saying is that, sometimes, it’s in the eventual best interests of your victims… and it’s almost always in your immediate best interests, as the perpetrator… for you to stand up, kick some ass, and beat some “enlightenment” into the brains of a bully. That’s all I’m sayin’. Nothing more, and nothing less. So while I’m beating the utter craptasticness out of this poor bloke, I finally pulled my secret weapon out of my back pocket. No, it wasn’t a gun, or a knife, or brass knuckles; we handled stuff like real men back then, not like the pansy-pants wannabies of today. The secret weapons that I’m referring to here are all those years of listening to my dad’s buddies bullshit. Every cuss word that I’ve ever learned… and believe me, there were some pretty impressive ones, thanks to the spontaneous and boundless cussing creativity of your average truck driver… came straight out of my mouth, and fast-tracked into this dude’s ears. And dude really had no choice about it. Wasn’t much left of his head when I was done with him, besides his ears. In that moment, something magical happened. I stopped stuttering. Like, completely and permanently stopped stuttering. Suddenly, much to my immediate amazement, the words smoothly and effortlessly flowed right out of my mouth. Never missed a beat…! Punnyness intended, of course. The eventual solution to my stuttering problem wasn’t a decade’s worth of “speech therapy”. School administrators, of course, are really quick to employ such meaningless bureaucratic psychobabble to “solve these sorts of problems” with kids. That wasn’t the best medicine for me, obviously. But kicking some substantial ass sure was. And right then and there, I accomplished what years of “therapy” could never even dream of doing: I finally found the value of my own voice. Not, the value in talking. Talk is cheap, as the old cliché goes. But the value of speaking your own mind, in your own way, and on your own terms. And screw the whole damn world if they didn’t like it, or if they don’t approve of it. And believe me on this one, they most definitely did not approve of my suddenly liberating, trash-mouthing revelations. Damn near got suspended over them, actually. And my poor, poor mom. She’s never lived a day without disappointment ever since. My job here at The Magazine is so multi-faceted and multi-dimensional, that I could never give you a full synopsis in a quickie little intro. But, I can whittle it down to the pertinent core pretty quickly: my job at This Magazine, first and foremost, is to empower and embolden everybody else around me to speak their minds, in their own way, and on their own terms. It’s really that simple. Everything else that we do here at The Mag follows suit from the source of that basic premise. In the very same way that this magazine has made a continuing contribution to me, exercising my voice… and I, in turn, immediately gave our staff a platform from which to freely exercise theirs… ultimately, this magazine exists to help you discover and exercise yours. We’re just the mentor symbols in the equation. You, the readers, are the ultimate endgame. Just by being a skateboarder, of course, you’re off to a great start. Skateboarding is, without doubt, one of the best vehicles for self-exploration, self-discovery, and artistic expression ever conceived. It’s also an efficient and fun form of personal transportation for us to explore the finer nuances of the world that surrounds us. Of course, you know all this already. I just wanted to remind you of it, in case y’all have forgotten or something. Given skateboarding’s declining popularity right now, it seems that a whole lotta heads have forgotten this stuff. But, no worries. We’ll get to them, and set them straight eventually. But at the end of the day, we want to encourage, empower, and facilitate you, the reader, to step up, open your mouth, and speak your mind, on your own terms, and in your own way, both inside and outside of skateboarding. If we can do something to advance those aims and ends, then we’ve done one of our most important jobs. Without even having to kick a single ass along the way. Not in the literal sense, at least. In this month’s issue, we’ve cataloged, spotlighted, and celebrated a handful of skaters… everyday people, really, just like you and me… that have stepped up, spoken their minds, gone for the gusto, and made something unique and special happen. And in doing so, they have made some significantly huge contribution to skateboarding’s ethos, culture, community, and history. They’re the leaders of the moment. You’ll see. Just keep on turnin’ the virtual pages, buddy. So read the rest content, get what you can out of it (hopefully, it’ll be something inspiring)… and take the whole thing as tacit permission to go out, find your voice, follow their (or our) lead, and get ready to set the whole f’n world on fire. Because you’ve got it in ya. I know you do. Because I’ve been there, kid.   Bud StratfordFancy-Pants Title GuyConcrete Wave Magazine