Of Skateboarding
(A more coherent version of these ideas can be found here: Skateboarding, Action, and Architecture, after a lecture of mine, given at as a part of the architecture department.The notes below still got something, though)

 I've said before that, one day, I'd like to express the essential genius of skateboarding in the same way Pindar expressed the beauty of Olympic athleticism. Until that fine day, however, I'll have to break off little crumbs and pieces; displaying its transformative genius with skate-historical tidbits, lo-fi clips of Haslam and the Gonz, and semi-philosophical captions that may or may not convey the meanings in full force.

Thing is: these sort of skate-meanings rarely stay within the "world of skateboarding," and we skateboarders instinctively feel that skateboarding has fundamentally altered the way that we interact with our surroundings, and that there really is no such thing as a "world of skateboarding." Skateboarding breaches the daily environment, the outside world— the public domain— and bends and perverts it to its own peculiar logic and sensibility— even when we're not actually skateboarding.

Of Skateboarding is an attempt to gather enough material and expressions together to help the wider public understand this logic, this sensibility, and this greatest Greatest-Love-of-All. Skateboarders themselves do not really need any more convincing, and I probably cannot express anything that they don't already tacitly understand in a nod. Especially not in this epoch of skateboarding, the era of its greatest self-awareness, when skateboarding is plumbing its own history and surrendering the "sport" over to goofy invention and Infinite Possibility.

Our plans are to hold a weird, smallish symposium-like thing, for the public and for skate-geeks (maybe over two days: one in Skatese; the other in English), as well as an experimental video on "experimental skateboarding," and, of course, an online compilation of our thoughts and progress on our favorite subject. Basically, a good excuse to watch skate videos.

-Brandon Joyce

Notes on Skateboarding and Architecture

Brandon writes

Many of my skate-theoretical thoughts came through trying to explain skateboarding's rapport with architecture to a bunch of thicker-headed architecture students. I had actually been fervidly interested in architecture for a while— in its theoretical approach to experience, movement, and space— in much the same manner as the Situationists. I would read Bernard Tschumi, with his descriptions of Action and Event transforming architecture, and inevitably skateboarding would leap to mind as a sadly overlooked ideal.

Skateboarding was the most successful thriving species of Action-determining-Space. The production of Desire. The illicit override of Authorative Structure. It was all there, and not in a "okay-I-see" theoretical way. Millions of kids, all over the free world, were physiologically addicted to developing its principles, instinctually. With a desire as strong, if not stronger, than sex. Tschumi never mentions it, however, and instead dashes off famous non-sequitors like "polevaulting in a cathedral" or "a football player skating through a battle," in order to substantiate Action-determining-Architecture.

He could be forgiven, though, for his distance from the culture. One day, the above-mentioned architecture students were given an assignment to design a "plaza for skateboarding." For their ephedrine-driven designs, they penciled in giant vert-ramps snaking to and fro, bumps here, quarter pipes there, basically lifting the geometry of concrete skateparks and committing it to vellum. The most insightful design would've been— surprise— an everyday, unremarkable marble-and-metal corporate plaza, or maybe a smooth parking lot littered with large, random objects, like newpaper boxes and folding tables. Point being: skateboarding bestows, rather than accepts, meaning. It so completely rewrites the architectural intent of a building, place, or plaza that the architect is, in many ways, wholly overlooked and negated.

So for these architecture students, and for Tschumi even, skateboarding does not really alter design; it alters appreciation. The second half of the dialogue. And architects should feel a close kinship with skateboarders, who are the only other members in the world club of architectural fetishists, connaisseurs of the highest order. It may not be an historical appreciation of periods and styles and masters, but then again, ninety-eight of all architectural form is not historically momentous; a Le Corbusier or Mies van der Rohe; of a notable period, style, or master. The world is composed of Wawas and sidewalks and interstates and Market Streets and edifices in various states of disrepair.

Skateboarding kneads this greater share of buildings, places, and plazas into True Beauty, in a relatively spontaneous reaction to their form and interrelations. Skateboarders are infinitely sensitive to the slightest texture and arrangement of urban objects, in ways that would baffle the common traveler— a little piece of metal here, a dip in the concrete here, an inconspicuous overhang here, a slight steepness there. On a level just as fastidious as the architect, only more tactile and microscopic.

It turns out, after working out my twilight thoughts on the subject, and after having considered offering Transworld an article on "Architecture and Skateboarding," a figure came to my attention and definitively stole my thunder away. His name is Iain Borden, dean of the Bartlett School of Architecture, in London, and he says pretty much everything I would have written on the topic, nearly in the same phrasing. In "A Performative Critique of the American City: the Urban Practice of Skateboarding," Borden lays out nicely the skateboard détournement of the cityscape; the wetdream of Henri Lefebvre and Situationist architectural thinking.

Skateboarding is an intense and tight dialectic between man and environment. If skateboarding is a sport, it is sport with an engagement of body with the environment, rather than the body with itself, or the body with other bodies. This environment, the "skateboard field," is most often the Modern City. It stands to reason that architects should pay close attention to the skateboard cult, and study its phenomenal successes.

I wrote another quick rhapsodic on Skateboarding, years back, entitled "Animal Chin Unchained, which can be found here:

And here is Iain Borden's The Skateboard, the City, and Socio-Spatial Censorship.

Notes on Periods, Heroes, and Historical Consciousness

The history of skateboarding is short in comparison to, say, the history of the Persian empire— only a handful of decades, crawling to land sometime in the 1950's.

Nevertheless, its history is extremely rich; rapidly cycling through numerous cultures, figures, movements, styles, heroes— just like any other unchecked, aesthetic progression. And, at this point, we've reached something of a post-historical period of skateboarding— but an open vista rather than a plateau, where skaters are searching skate-history for oblique inspiration. The result has been a boom of originality; an originality that gets to choose openly from a vast skate-repertoire of tricks and styles, without feeling the need for allegiance to any one. Without being caught in their own time, that is. An optimism akin to that which Arthur Danto holds for the visual arts culture.

This period still has its heroes, and— in some broad way— its own tenor, its own goof-genius. It looks back to the inventiveness of Mark Gonzales, Natas Kaupas, and Rodney Mullen, and sees another wave of innovation in clever folks like Chris Haslam, Louie Barletta, Jerry Hsu, and Richie Jackson, who do far more than just "perform tricks well." These are skaters who fill their videoparts with absolute marvel and magictricks, and make us realize that skateboard tricks are not the discrete and finite actions we sometimes take them for. A style that I'd call "Gonzo," not only for its patron saint Mark Gonzales, but because it encapsulates the style without pinning it down too much.

Rodney, the analytic, the unsurpassed.

My skateboard adolescence happened smackdab in the middle of the "circus-trick" revolution in streetskating, the time when technicality reigned supreme. It was a highly analytic era, often coming closer to a freestyle skating writ large. Can I land a double heelflip? Can I land a pressure flip to late flip? I call freestyle skating "analytic" because it's often more about the relationship between man and board, than the man-and-environment we see in more general streetskating. The demi-god of technicality, Rodney Mullen, has since adapted and joined the ranks of True Street, in my opinion, while staying true to his origins. Most often we skaters like to place him in his own category, just to spare our self-image.

"...No way, that's totally impossible"
"No, Mullen pulled it on his last video part..."
"Oh... well, Mullen... yeah, but..."

Mullen not only invented half of our repertoire of street-tricks, he's still going, prestidigitating tricks that make little sense even on replay. What has always interested me is the coherence of skate-language (as well as the semiotic nature of skate tricks themselves). Aside from a few misunderstandings, trick names seem to enter the vocabulary so effortlessly, and describe the tricks pretty clearly. There are a number of trick catalogues online, such as the Tricktionary, which I want to open and peruse in our symposium-thing. Letting skaters chuckle and awe at the infinite possibilities latent in a board with four wheels. Here, again, skateboarding is a model. A model of the production of desire and possibility from something that, on first inspection, seems so inert; a toy.

Where skateboarding is also a model is in the cultural exchange that surrounds this production. Absolutely free and open, moved by very few ulterior motives, and having no guidance— nor oversight, rules, nor even established ends, it is how culture at large should unfold.

Neil Blender, circa 1988. Skateboard insolence at its very best.
This expresses my ethos toward the "skateboard arena."

There is an industry, skateboarding. But, coming from a skateboarder, this industry is largely irrelevant to the skateboarder himself, to the practice. It provides merely the back-end, so to speak, of the sport/art. And in my experience, it rarely enters the minds of us skateboarders, except for when we snap a deck or kingpin. Then, money enters. But, in the meantime, between repairs, we are dedicated to a very pure reality, a skateboard mysticism that governs and guides us. With skate-criteria invariably set by our peers. Total democracy.

I have seen skateboarders win contests by jumping around the course without a board, or heard of contests won by puppet-skating the board around with the hands only. It's a tough fit with the Olympic ethos, or even with the bullshit, extreme-sport arenas like the X-Games and others. They want to bludgeon skating into the recognizable form of an industry-model sport.

"Okay, just picture this... the Vert Ramp, the Vert Ramp is like the Basketball Court. And Tony Hawk he's like the Michael Jordan of skateboarding. Yeah, and the 900, the 900 is like a slam dunk. You get me?"

Long story short: Fuck the 900.

I'm not fully against these productions, but they are very,very far from the heart of the sport. Every skater knows that skating does not take place in the arena, so to speak. It happens when he is skating, out behind Food Lion, with his crew.

Perfectly happy, doubtless and sensing the whispers of greatness in a parking garage; unable to quite catch up to it, or make it spill its full secrets.

Brandon Joyce

Skateboard Paradigm
Brandon writes:

Skateboarding surpasses the hopes Nietzsche had held for literal and figurative "dancing," as the swift, supreme, aestheticized movement of the liberated. "His ideal, also his art, and finally also his only piety, his service to God."... Skateboard mysticism... Skateboarding not only has the same kind of squiggling, wriggling expression of the body you get with literal dancing, but also this magical mediating object— this tool— that exponentially complicates the squiggling and wriggling— and even more, an object through which we can "dance" pas de deux with all other objects and objecthood. Well, maybe a bit bloodier than a pas de deux, with more concussions, shinners, pleas for the pain to stop, policemen, close calls, broken ankles, and equipment malfunctions.

But, in any event, what other activity brings such life to inert objects? To every overlooked object and arrangement of the outside, and sometimes indoor, world. Let's list them off... Maybe the activities that have drawn off the skateboard-paradigm: bikes, rollerblades, parkour, and so on. But what I'm claiming is that the genius lies in the paradigm that skateboarding propagates, rather than the specific set up— the board, wheels, trucks, griptape and all. What's so magnificent is that such a powerful paradigm came from such an arbitrary thing, rather than from a harder historical necessity. Come to think of it, though, I'm not sure what would count as coming from "historical necessity."

Biking is, in many ways, more transformed; being before anything, a form of transportation. So, historically, freestyle biking could have beaten skateboarding to the punch, having all the ingredients long before. But, as it turns out, it didn't. Skateboarding is more specialized and less transformed, to purpose, and a form of transportation only second. Bikes also seem a lot more dangerous in a lacerating, metallic kind of way— and more universal as far as terrain. So it certainly has my utmost esteem— but biographically I was a skateboarder, and in skateboarding I see best the genesis of a certain idea, a paradigm. So, this is Of Skateboarding. Basically, I'm interested in this paradigm, because it outlives skateboarding, infects your brain, and became the golden measure by which you judge so many of your later Pursuits of Happiness

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