Iain Borden – writer extraordinaire There is so much to appreciate about skateboarding, it’s almost overwhelming. From the entertainment it yields to the lessons it teaches us to the way it connects us to our surroundings to the culture it has spawned from a few decades of riding. But, if you strip all of those factors away and consider what makes skateboarding as sensational as it is, it comes down to feeling. It’s that feeling where the front trucks hit the ground halfway through a backside 180 and you pivot the rest of the way through. Or it could be that feeling when your eyes open back up after a slam and you realize your body is still resilient enough to have another go. And while it’s impossible to articulate those moments of bliss on the pages of a book, Iain Borden’s Skateboarding, Space and the City, makes the most comprehensive attempt at it that I have ever read. By nature, this book is actually a study about architecture and the ways that skateboarders have begun a unique interaction with the urban and suburban cities around the world, more-so than it is a book merely describing what skateboarding feels like. However, the relationship here is driven, of course, by the skateboard itself and how the skateboarder takes a device first seen as separate to their natural existence and turns it into a part of themselves. In his own words, Borden explains how, “within the act of these skateboarding moves, the skateboard is less a piece of equipment and takes on more the character of a prosthetic device, an extension of the body as a kind of fifth limb, absorbed into and diffused inside the body-terrain encounter.” For example, let’s say you have never carved a wall of transition but still wanted to know exactly what it feels like. For that, you can flip to the third chapter. Here, you will find a description of every millisecond involved in a the physics of a kick turn, in an effort to describe the ways that the rippers of the early 70’s interacted with their newfound spaces of backyard pools, drainage ditches and full pipes. Beyond these spaces, the text tells the tale of how the bowl-oriented parks of the time were adapted from these previous forms of societal architecture. It then touches on the culture of DIY parks, the placement of mini ramps versus vert ramps, the use of wooden ramps versus concrete features and pretty much any other detail about the expansion of spaces that became designed specifically for skateboarding. From one location to the next, the text becomes a riveting history lesson on how the skaters of the world ended up riding in the different places we do without thinking twice about it. From there, the book goes far beyond talking about skateparks and maneuvers. It takes a look into skateboarding subculture and everything that constitutes it. It observes the clothing, the artwork, the roles of masculinity, the participation of women, race and other qualities that forms the subcultural identity of skateboarders. This particular section is important because it perhaps links yesterday’s skateboarding history to the present day skateboarder’s mindset better than anywhere else in the book. In referencing the pride skateboarders take in their subculture, Borden writes “as with many young adults, skateboarders have little sense of history, and indeed see ignorance of the past as something to be proud of in their celebration of themselves as a ‘pure beginning’” About a day after I read that quote, I was actually out in California visiting the Morro Bay Skateboard Museum and I asked Co-Founder Eric Terhorst what he thought of it. Simply put, he said people want to make things their own because they want to feel entitled to them. When asked if he agreed with this statement, Borden told us “Definitely. Skateboarding – or at least the act of skateboarding – is about doing things for yourself in the ways you want to do so. But I would also add to this that nobody – or no set of people – therefore owns or defines skateboarding, and no single form of ‘core’ skateboarding is ‘superior’ to or dominates over any other. Just as every human has, within the confines of law, the right to believe and act as they will, so skaters should express themselves through whatever skateboarding variant they might prefer. Indeed, if there is any hierarchy of the most ‘authentic’ or ‘core’ attributes of skateboarding, then I rate the qualities of openness, inclusivity, accessibility and freedom of interpretation over those of exclusivity, dogmatism or macho aggression. Skateboarding is best when it openly questions, challenges, explores, surprises and welcomes rather than when it is narrowly comfortable, judgmental, predictable, stable or exclusionary.” The simple fact is though, skateboarding’s subculture has become exclusionary throughout the timeline covered in this book and has become even more narrow minded in the time since this book was published. In one of the book’s most shining examples, the frequently contested controversy over skateboarding clothing is brought up. Here, Borden observes how the allure of wearing skate clothing is often rendered useless when it is, essentially, hijacked by non-skateboarders. He goes on to note how this process makes skateboarders realize that their identity is rooted in skateboarding itself, not it’s clothing. To a 21 year old skateboard writer surrounded by non-skateboarders who find that wearing a Thrasher hoodie is more of a fashion trend, rather than a means to pay homage to a premier skateboarding media outlet, this is a no brainer. However, in following up with Borden after my read, he went on to justify this notion in greater detail. After acknowledging both potential generalizations and exceptions, he explained that “The Generation X skaters of the 1990s are far more suspicious of brands, companies, clothing, fashion and style than are many of the more recent and younger skaters. So these older Generation X riders will still buy into certain brands – Vans, Antihero, Independent and the like – but require these brands to have a certain authenticity. The more recent Generation Y skaters are much more relaxed, more open to being hooked-up with different brands and companies. For them, heavily-branded and fashion-oriented outfits like Supreme and Palace can readily sit alongside ‘non-skate’ brands like Nike, just as skateboarding itself may well for them sit alongside and within other interests and activities. Skateboarding is of course very important to many new skaters, but it doesn’t perhaps quite as often wholly define these skaters as it did for their 1990s predecessors, and nor do these Generation Y skaters feel that they in turn own or define skateboarding in the same way that Generation X skaters can often get very territorial over who is or can claim to be a skater, or can ‘rightfully’ wear skate apparel.” On top of all the different avenues that this book covers, it’s most fascinating aspect is the emphasis that Borden puts on using authentic primary sources. With few scholarly sources to cite, he relied on “30 years now of looking at magazines, books, articles, DVDs, videos etc.” to compile the book. Even more thought-provoking is the fact that Borden not only pulled a massive amount of quotes from these sources but also gave them critical analysis throughout. In one specific example. Borden starts the fifth chapter by embedding a poem from a 1986 issue Thrasher that sounds like something a middle-schooler might have haphazardly strung together. Despite the noticeably amateur work, Borden treats the text just the same as he treats the words of philosopher Henri Lefebvre, who is featured throughout the work. Ignoring the poem’s lack of prowess, Borden draws parallels to legitimate commentary on spacial studies from the writings of a skateboarder whose thoughts made it into the magazine one day. It is this consideration and validation that Borden gives to the writers of the skateboarding world that makes this book so important to me. This is something that is acknowledged from the very get-go. In disclosing the lack of scholarly logic behind many of the works he cites, Borden states, “Although often highly intelligent in their articles and reports, particularly through their self-deprecating demeanour, these magazines are not highly theorized. Nor are they the products of professional journalists, but the products of skateboarders themselves who have become journalists through working on such publications.” This reliance on referencing “whatever they saw fit to say and publish at the time” gives purpose not only to all of the skateboarding writers out there but to those reading their work. From the product of a skateboarder themselves, I wholeheartedly encourage those reading this piece to get their hands on a copy of Iain Borden’s Skateboarding, Space and the City before next spring. By that time, in May of 2018, Borden will be releasing “a massively revised/expanded/updated version of the book” that will be sure to live up to the original. I trust that neither read will soon be forgotten.