Over the last couple of years, while you might have been watching the newest Thrasher web clip, a few editors have made some strange and quirky skate videos still unknown to most of the skate public. Their projects (the Beez Trilogy, the Fancy Lad trilogy, and the Golden Egg) all take unique approaches to the skate video format, breaking the editing/skating formulas we’ve grown used to. In these videos, skaters in bread-loaf shoes, on boards made from roller skates and ice blocks, try tricks impossible to convey in writing.
Although these crews take it to the extreme, throughout skate history there have always been pockets of innovators who broke away from skating’s athletic and perfectionist tendencies. Innovators who put an emphasis back on fun. We can look to Neil Blender, Lance Mountain and John Lucero and find in them the beginnings of this sort of unorthodox approach. Years later, we had Simon Woodstock, one of the forefather’s of “weird” skating take it to new heights.
I wanted to find out more about the current leaders of this movement (dubbed “Avant-gnar”) to see where, when, and how they came upon their styles.
Russ Clark, the editor of Beez, seemed like the right first choice, as his trilogy gave me my first exposure to this kind of skating. Via email, he explained that Beez came about from a conversation with his friend Josh; both of them had gripes with the sameness of early 2000’s skate coverage, and favored instead the freedom of older videos like Hokus Pokus, like the Lance O’Neill part in Ban This, and like Neil Blender’s legendary spray-paint contest run.
Instead of trying to one up each other with progressively technical or gnarly skating, he and his friends tried looking for tricks that provoked the most laughter possible. The result was, in his words, “lawless, comedic idiocy.” Beez’s purpose was to document this kind of skating and, as Russ admitted, partially to “torture the sort of people who adhered strictly to the rigid, dead serious handrail and stair skating of the time.”
The Beez trilogy (the third installment can be seen in full here) produced a few mildly popular off-shoots, including parts from its alumni Tim and Eric, and also from John McGuire (who you may know as the Cosmo Kramer of skateboarding.)
Jesse James and Chris Atherton’s “The Golden Egg” stays true to the Beez spirit and expresses it in a concentrated form. Within the seven and a half minute video, we see a museum’s worth of clownish outfits, homemade boards, and tricks beyond comprehension. Jesse helped to make the video, and has a lot of footage in it. He explained that part of the video was simply about creating chaotic excitement, about “watching something and being totally confused by one clip, but by the time you figure it out you have already been confused by 5 more.”
The third experimental collective, Fancy Lad skateboards, maintains close ties to the Golden Egg boys and is, so far as I know, the only skate company committed to “avant-gnar” skating. Fancy Lad founder, Nick Murray, likened his company’s skating and videos to “throwing a child into the pool, who has not learned how to swim, and watching them fight their way to safety.”
A lot about Fancy Lad, he explained, comes from a lack of talent. He and his friends recognized how they “would never be the best, would never even be contenders,” but nonetheless, “loved skateboarding” and saw that “no one needs to be an athlete to be creative.”
This shows through in Fancy Lad’s editing style, which Nick said was inspired by hijinx-focused videos like CKY and the un-talent and poor production values in B-Movies. In these films Nick saw a kindred genre, something “consciously not as good as anything in the mainstream,” but nonetheless “infinitely more interesting than cookie cutter blockbusters.” From what I can tell, this idea – of using their athletic limitations to their advantage – is central to this movement.
In Beez, the Golden Egg, and the Fancy Lad videos, athletically average skaters find ways to skate giant spots. It’s always very funny when this happens, but as I think more about it, there also seems something just right about it, and necessary too.
At one moment in Beez, the camera zooms in on a huge stair-set, creating the expectation that someone might jump down it. Instead, Russ ollies up the first three steps and stalls there before the clip changes. To me, this trick presents, in a short moment, what the whole approach is about.
“We partially wanted to torture the sort of people who adhered strictly to the rigid, dead serious handrail and stair skating of the time.”
By doing a laughably small trick on a large obstacle, Russ seems to highlight his own smallness (in fame and technical skill) next to the giants of skateboarding. What’s odd is that, at a certain point, this trick becomes more interesting than an ollie done down the same set by a more athletic skater.
We all know what success looks like in skating. In fact, before these videos, before I became familiar with these crews, I only knew what success looked like in a video. I never knew what “not success” looked like, and that it could, in it’s way, be more successful.