As skateboarding entered the ‘90s things were pretty exciting. The rawness of H-Street’s Hokus Pokus and World Industries’ Rubbish Heap marked a shift from the super slow-mo, skitted out, big production Powell Peralta videos–a needed and necessary change. It wasn’t that Powell’s videos were bad or lacked innovation, they were just too Hollywood. Skateboarding was small, street skating was emerging as “the” discipline, and while none of the kids in your cul-de-sac were as fluid as Hensley or could smith grind a rail (who cares if it was a 3-stair) like Jeremy Klein, no one wanted to “run through a graveyard” anymore.
Boards started to have bigger noses, wheels were getting smaller, and shapes more functional. Anchored by Mark Gonzales, Natas, TG, Matt Hensley, and Vallely, a new crop of innovators were being showcased. Templeton, Howell (both Ocean and Andy), Chatman, Sheffey, Carroll. Progression arrived monthly in your mailbox, the pages of Transworld, Poweredge, and Thrasher documenting landmark moments and the unthinkable.
Then, well… all of a sudden shit got weird. Natas got a serious injury, Gonz quit skateboarding to pursue art, Hensley went full skinhead pool playing EMT, while the rest of us dressed in colorful denim often capped off with jester hat beanies. Yeesh. As we all know the skating wasn’t that impressive either, but it had to happen. Everyone–pro, am, and unsponsored–was hovering inches above the ground, catching up with the progression, before things could go back to normal in the mid-‘90s. This period might have lasted for a shorter time period than most high school jail sentences, for those of us that didn’t drop out, but it felt like an eternity.
If you survived the weirdness, part of you is an early-‘90s skater, whether you want to acknowledge it or not.
YOU’RE GUILTY OF HAVING WHEELS UNDER 40MM
Mentioning the “big pants, small wheels” thing at this point is pretty cliche, but we cant’ make one of these lists without addressing it. I know it seems really obvious that having 38MM wheels wasn’t going to be helpful to anyone, especially when cruising around a brick plaza or anywhere on earth where the pavement is cracked, but that was what people wanted. There wasn’t a massive backlash, people weren’t outside of the Spitfire factory picketing to bring big wheels back or anything. We foolishly wanted “bearing condoms” as some referred to them, to facilitate the awful tricks we were learning. Give it up to Real Skateboards for at least selling a six pack of tiny wheels at the same price as their competitors were selling four. That was polite. Now go watch Henry Sanchez in “Pack of Lies” and try to tell me small wheels held him back. For real, if you never rolled around Embarcadero or a similar brick spot on a pair of semi-flat spotted small wheels with a dumb name like “Bean Cups” let me explain what it was like: shitty. You were rattling and vibrating so much that it felt like you’d lose a filling and your bolts would loosen up after 15 minutes. But wait, if you managed to noseslide to pivot grind, back to a noseslide, back to something else, before falling off the ledge to a dead stop, it was so worth it…. maybe.
YOUR FAVORITE SKATE VID IS VIDEO DAYS
Let’s start with the video that defines everything good about the early-‘90s. Video Days had a lot of the same intentions that the big budget Powell videos did, with slo-mo tricks and skits, but filmed on a clunky VHS camera and with the production budget a fraction of the worst B-movie ever made.
The result was inspiring, motivational, and often confusing. Were these guys serious with the afros and side burns? Why was Guy wearing a Powell “Supreme” T-Shirt? Did Jason Lee cut his pants too short on purpose… and why did he cut them in the first place? Did anyone notice that his part started with him skating vert? Could you imagine if Marc Johnson started his Pretty Sweet section skating a ramp? Exactly, it wouldn’t happen. Gonz wearing an Israel shirt, “No war for heavy metal,” jazz soundtrack, people “dying” in the end. Are they really getting drunk? Is any of this legal? And for most kids of us suburb dwellers, what the fuck was Benihana and why would I wanna go there?
An encouraging start to the ‘90s, but quite deceptive as we wouldn’t see full parts from many of these icons for years to come.
YOU KNOW WHAT A CHINK-CHINK IS AND STILL USE THE TERM
With tricks being invented at warp speed, there would be a lot of confusion about what the hell they were actually called. Naming a fakie nose grind a “chink chink” sounds semi-racist, but it’s an homage to the sound of a truck quickly hitting the metal coping of a ramp. Once it was moved to the streets, the name just became a fakie nose grind, but mentally it’s still a chink chink to some. Ollie north, slide-and-roll, helipop, flower flip, things weren’t “uniform” about naming, so shit was all over the place.
This is how my dad thinks. There wasn’t a Burger King in the city he grew up in, and when the BK Lounge moved in, they took over the space of a spot called Burger Chef. To this day he still calls BK, Burger Chef, but I know what he’s talking about.
YOU REMEMBER WHEN SWITCH SKATING WAS CALLED OPPOSITE FOOT
When switch was introduced, it wasn’t cut and dry either. Mags would call out “opposite foot” or “switch foot” tricks. Sounds weird right? Oh it gets worse. Because you had a whole generation of groms learning how to skate swtich at once, most people looked pretty terrible learning. There were a few people with enough common sense to try to push with their back foot when skating switch, but what if an onlooker didn’t know and just thought you kind of sucked at skating? The solution… switch mongo. Jesus, some people would mongo the fuck out of every push just to announce, “Hey! When I manual for two inches on this 4 inch pad, it’s switch mannnnn.” Now picture said dude wearing a huge purple shirt and giant teal pants with legs the width of industrial pipes and performing a sketchy switch manual. Yikes.
YOU OVERLY COCKED YOUR HAT, PERHAPS UNKNOWINGLY LIKE MIKE SANTAROSSA
Maybe it’s the italian in me that likes to give credit to other Paisanos for “inventing” things, but when I think of a backwards cocked hat, I think Mike Santarossa. Yeah, tons of other guys were photographed and videoed this way, most notably Mike Carroll and later Guy Mariano, but man…. look at this flick. That’s straight up saying: No fucks given, call me a Ledge Wigger, I’m on Think, and you’re “just some guy.”
This is really only notable for white people, as we felt weird making fashion choices that might label us “wannabes,” resulting in an ass kicking by a real G. Don’t front, you straightened that shit out when you dipped into the mall for an Orange Julius, when you saw five dominicans in Triple Fat Goose jackets, smelling like the chronic approaching. Don’t lie to me.
YOU FELL PREY TO U-BOLTS AND OTHER GIMMICKS
We have plenty to choose from here. Velcro shoes, stuffed tongues, one bearing wheels, whatever the fuck dumb shit Grind King made, slick bottom boards. A bunch of crap basically, but you can’t blame everyone for trying. It’s kind of hard to choose what “innovation” was the worst and I’m sure you thought of five more shitty ones just reading this far, but I’m taking U-Bolts, Bridgebolts, Traction Bolts, or whatever you called them as the worst.
Was time so precious in the ‘90s that using a phillips head screwdriver or allen wrench was so tedious that this shit needed to happen? Here’s the theory, you put these joints on and you have this convenient strip of metal across the top of your board holding your bolts in place, therefore eliminating the need to use a device to keep them stationary as you tightened the nut.
Sounds fantastic right? Well, they were heavy as shit, looked dumb, felt dumber, and if you cranked too hard, they’d snap. Awesome. Glad these didn’t last.
YOU DID THAT “GRIP TAPE THING”
What genius decided to put grip tape on sideways in patches and make my life hell? Why was I so compelled to grip my board this way, so there were little lines across it? Whoever started this shit is part genius and part adversary. I remember trying this the first time, semi-skeptical thinking I’d run out of grip and have some bare board showing.
It all worked out of course and I eventually became a pro at this unorthodox gripping method, only to never do it again. I guess doing the “one line” technique made sense as it was a way to indicate what was the front and back of your board, but I kinda hated that one as I dig symmetry. Ditto on leaving a little corner of board showing, I’m too uniform for that shit.
YOU’VE CURB DANCED AND DELAMINATED A BOARD FROM PRESSURE FLIPPING
It’s great and all that skateboarding allows Joe Average the opportunity to leave his mark on the sport by “inventing” a trick. The problem in the ‘90s is that lead to a lot of humans crawling along the pavement and hucking their board in “some” direction hoping to land on it. For real, you’ve seen Chris Fissel right? You can’t tell me that shit was planned. He starts off the part with some bizarro flip, a scrape sound slow and painful, followed by the board doing “something” and then he asks the camera guy if he “saw that one.” Not did you see that definitive trick, nope just “that one.” Aside from the 25 California Shuffles, spazz flips, late-shit, and sloppy landings-cum-grinds performed, Mr. Fissel does have a few clips here that are legit, so I’m not being a total prick. This on the other hand will give you a panic attack.
I know you’re thinking that pressure flips and all the variations were fairly safe tricks, but you’re taking them at face value. Your tail and nose would get scrapped down into a primitive weapon, so sharp that a misguided spin could land on your yellow Airwalk NTS, severing your big toe and requiring stitches to keep it attached.
YOU SCRAPED THE GRAPHICS OFF YOUR BOARD AND OR SPRAY PAINTED IT A SOLID COLOR FOR NO REAL REASON
You just dropped 50 bones on a new deck–maybe some 101 board with killer graphics. Now it’s time to scrape them off or paint it over. Don’t get the sides or its gonna look dipped like a Steve Saiz and that’s cut. Why? Uh, no idea really. Was it inspired by the Big Brother “Red” issue or countless videos and photos of pros on painted decks. It’s a little confusing and gets more complex when we talk about “creating” a blank.
Yup, graphic removal. Another rando ‘90s trend. Buying some bullshit blank was corny, but it was totally normal to buy some brand you were loyal too, and spend the rest of the afternoon stripping off the graphics. Deluxe boards were easy because the water based ink came off with a wet sponge. Another tactic was to use a razor blade to peel that shit off. Sometimes I’d choose a deck based off how easy it was to get the graphic off.
YOU KNOW WHAT THE “UNIFORM” IS AND PROUDLY WORE IT
That brings us to “The Uniform.” If you are just staring blankly at the screen, let me give you a refresher. At some point around ’93/’94, everyone in skateboarding started wearing the same thing–the exact same thing. Plain white T-Shirt, borderline stonewashed jeans, preferably Blind jeans, and low top Etnies or Airwalk “Sorrys.” That’s right folks, Airwalks were cool and acceptable into the ‘90s.
There’s no better display of the uniform than the Blind team clip from Pack of Lies and their section in Virtual Reality. Sure we see some occasional colors, stripes, and the Gav kind of fucks up the flow with the shants momentarily before dawning the uni, but the ratio is mind-blowing. Too bad Rocco didn’t pull a Supreme and just sell 3 packs of Hanes white tees for inflated prices to the lemming, or maybe he did and I just don’t remember.
Of course this list could continue on, addressing such topics as “What would have happened if Natas didn’t get hurt and had a Video Days-esque part in a 101 vid?” or “How come no one knew how to successfully bleach their hair blonde in the ‘90s?,” but let’s not continue down that bottomless pit of nostalgia any further–it’s not healthy. Fellow ‘90s survivors, let’s just look at this era as a lesson, a colorful, interesting, strange, and kind of dumb one that temporarily kept things interesting until the skateworld simultaneous said “What the fuck are we doing?” and moved on.