Though skateboarding has made it into Hollywood on screen and in the streets on plenty of occasions in it’s 60 year lifespan, it’s presence in the music and media capital of Los Angeles this past week was unlike any other depiction of skateboarding this area has ever seen. This can be credited to the Finding a Line event, hosted at the Ford Theatre. Billed as a celebration of the intersection between skateboarding, music and media, the county owned space provided the grounds for one of the most progressive events that skateboarding has seen in recent years.
Beginning this past Tuesday, the process was kicked off by a gallery exhibition, panel discussion and film screening, curated by the likes of Collegiate Skateboarding Educational Foundation Board Member, Neftalie Williams, former pro skater, Laban and filmmaker, Diana Wyenn. Featuring visuals from around the world, the issues of race and diversity in skateboarding culture served as an underlying narrative carried by some of the most iconic people of color in the skateboarding community, including Paul Rodriguez and Stevie Williams. Drawing solid reception at the beginning of the week, this event set the tone for the days that followed.
The resounding capstone to this weeklong celebration was a performance by jazz pianist, Jason Moran with backing instrumentalists, The Bandwagon, fused with a live skate demo. Thanks to some help from the OC Ramps wood shop, the stage for such an unconventional event directed a group of skateboarders front and center as a crowd of hundreds gazed on. Unlike other skate-centric events in the area, this crowd was not intrinsically filled with messy haired teenagers but rather with patrons of all ages whose banter indicated that they hadn’t a clue of who these skaters were or what tricks they were throwing down. At the same time, the mix of pro and am skaters taking the stage seemed undeniably unfazed by the fact that they were skating in front of hundreds, rather than in the privacy of their local park.
However, the interplay between the different occupants of the space was something that Executive Director, Olga Garay-English, noted in her opening address. Speaking on the ownership of physical space that skateboarders take in their communities, Garay-English noted that the evening was a way for a recognized institutions to better embrace skate culture. At the same time, she noted how the weeklong event was a means of skateboarders being able to celebrate their culture alongside the culture of their neighbors in one of the most multicultural places in the world. Though these opening remarks praised skaters as “philosophers” pursuing a “counter culture art form,” the crew of rider sat idly by, seeming less interested in the compliments as they were about sizing up the ramp for the shredding that was set to commence.
With no further ado, the likes of Greg Lutzka, Brad McClain and a host of other rippers began to drop in as the performance commenced. Coming out firing, Lutzka stomped out a series of 360 flips and backside flips that evoked greater ovation from the crowd with each consistent land. Then, after a period of somewhat standard runs for the jam, the cast of skaters began attacking the ramp from all angles. What originally started with casual manuals on the deck led a pair of skaters to take over the entire area, ollieing a gap from the band stage into the half pipe before promptly launching a kickflip indy grab and a massive 360 grab (respectively) out to the other end of the stage. At the same time, there were nose manuals across the deck, 360 spins from Jim Gray on the flat of the ramp and even a drop off the stage and into the crowd.
With all of this was going on in the forefront, Jason Moran and the Bandwagon remained equally unfazed by the crowd and the skaters as they powered through their performance for well over an hour. With instrumental improvisations that matched the off-the-cuff skateboarding, the sounds and the visuals complimented one another perfectly. Plus, Ron Allen tapped into both his skate and MC side by switching from freestyling on the ramp to freestyling on the microphone throughout.
All things considered, the evening and the week of programming represented much more than a couple nights out in Hollywood. Instead, it was a visual testament of skateboarding’s ascension into mainstream culture as we know it. Whether through jazz musicians tailoring their notes around the actions of skateboarders or skateboarders dropping in and skating to the tune of music they had probably never skated to before, it was as much a learning experience on the stage as it was for those in the surrounding crowd. With a positive example of the benefits that sharing skateboarding with other cultures can have on the community, we sincerely hope that efforts like this one are replicated in the future.
All photos shot and authorized to use by Lindsey Best.