Let’s travel back to the late ’90s and early ’00s… You’re sitting in class, Lou Bega’s “Mambo #5” or that Blue da-ba-dee song is stuck in your head, the teacher’s droning on about algebra or grammar or something, and all the while your fingers are twiddling away on that new TechDeck you got in your stocking for Christmas.
It’s been a long time since then, and, if you’re anything like me, you’ve let your fingers move on to other things – popping beer tabs, swiping through Tinder, rolling spliffs, ya’ know, adult stuff. But what happened to fingerboarding? Surely it went the way of pogs, or pogos, or dodos and vanished into a comical memory of times past. Wrong. Fingerboarding is alive and well, and some people are taking it more seriously than I could’ve ever imagined.
Meet Martin Ehrenberger, a professional fingerboarder from Germany who has been more or less keeping the scene alive with his company, Black River Ramps. I hit up Martin to ask him about this subculture within a subculture, and to learn about the “core” fingerboard mindset.
Do your fingerboard talents transfer over into the bedroom?
Each finger tip has around 700 sensory receptors and this area has a strong blood circulation. If you have been fingerboarding for years your pointer and middle finger are definitely more sensitive. For example I can feel each detail of a good fingerboard setup like concave, board size, flexibility of trucks etc. In other words if you´re a skilled fingerboarder you´ll be the hero in the bedroom.
I once fingerboarded over my girlfriend’s back as a massage for about 30 minutes. Have you ever tried anything like this? It’s a great way to get knots out of someone’s back.
I’ve never tried it with a fingerboard but I did it with my big cruiser skateboard with soft 78mm wheels and it worked pretty well! She was extremely hyped about my skateboard cruiser back massage skills.
Do you do any kind of finger workouts to bulk up your fingers for better pop like Brandon Biebel?
No, I don´t. I don´t know anyone who does that – for what purpose? Fingerboarding is not about having muscular strength in your fingers. But Biebel is a beast ;-)
How did you first get into fingerboarding?
In 1983 – I was 9 years old back then – my grandma bought me an orange plastic skateboard from a department store as an Easter present. Since then I’ve literally been obsessed with skateboarding. 15 years later when the first plastic fingerboards with real skateboard brands emerged on the market, I saw a Black Label elephant fingerboard at a skateshop in Salt Lake City and I just couldn’t resist, I had to get it.
That winter a good skate buddy visited me and brought a lovingly handmade fingerboard miniramp. I’d never seen anything like it and totally freaked out. When I did the first blunt with the fingerboard, I noticed that it actually feels “real.”
”It’s all in your head, you disappear into a different matrix for a while.”
It´s kind of like learning to play new chords on the guitar. Doing tricks on a fingerboard means you have to apply the same techniques as on a big board. It´s all in your head, you disappear into a different matrix for a while. I love to shred flow parks and bowls with my big skateboard, but with the fingerboard I love to do technical street tricks. I would never ever do flip tricks onto a handrail on a big board, but with the fingerboard I’ve got hardflip nosegrinds on a rail on lock when I´m warmed up. The rest of the story is history. I’ve been fingerboarding for 17 years now, and I’ve been trying to make a living with it for 16 years.
Is it possible to make a living off of fingerboarding? How do you do it?
I’ve mostly been doing pioneer work for the last 16 years, therefore it hasn’t been easy. I don’t make a living off only being a pro fingerboarder. It´s also the distribution of products and being booked for workshops and demos by bigger companies that really pays the bills. It´s not an easy way, and over the years I’ve seen a lot of fingerboard companies come and go.
Can you tell me a little bit about the history of fingerboarding as you know it?
In 2009 I was on holiday in California and I got the chance to visit Lance Mountain and to interview him about fingerboarding. Lance is kind of the godfather of fingerboarding. There’s that scene from “Future Primitive” where Lance and Hawk imagined their contest runs in a sink. Lance told us that he built and designed a pro model fingerboard for Caballero around 1979, one year before he got one on a skateboard. Lance made the first boards out of cardboard and used erasers and matchbox tires as fingerboard wheels. Those were definitely the first seeds for the future fingerboard scene.
Then, sometime in the late ’90s, Martin Winkler – the Mark Gonzales of fingerboarding – secretly started selling fingerboards and wheels he made at his home at the skateshop he worked at in Munich. That sparked the fingerboard scene in Munich, which is still thriving today. Another milestone in fingerboard history was the development of the first professional 5-ply boards with real pop by Timo Lieben, founder of Berlinwood fingerboards.
When I founded Blackriver in 1999, I thought about what you could do to develop a fingerboard scene. I just had to look at skateboarding, and that´s why I started building fingerboard parks. A skatepark builds a scene, this is where people hang out, meet, enjoy their mutual hobby. By 2003 I had spread around 30 fingerboard parks in skateshops, skate halls, and youth centers around Germany. Our local scene started growing and then started spilling over into other countries too. Since then the international scene has been spreading constantly. We organize the annual fingerboard championship, Fast Fingers, and around 1500 fingerboarders from over 20 nations came to our small North-Bavarian town last year.
Have you ever seen anyone focus a fingerboard when they can´t land a trick?
You are always focused on the board when you fingerboard, you control every trick. It is like in skateboarding: you plan a trick mentally and if you know the process of the trick then your legs and feet will execute it intuitively. It’s the same in fingerboarding! If you have a feeling for the board, you plan a trick and then your fingers will perform the motor part. Fingerboarding doesn’t mean to throw a board in the air and hoping that this will be a trick eventually. This is a wrong assumption! As mentioned above, you will develop a feeling for the fingerboard with time in the same way you develop a feeling for the guitar with time.
I think something got lost in translation. In English, to “focus a board” means to break it in half.
Oh. Actually this only happens if you have your fingerboard in your pocket when you slam on a skateboard.
How do you feel about TechDecks? I know they’re made from cheaper materials than what you use. Are TechDecks looked down upon by the serious fingerboarding community?
TechDeck is basically a toy company, they are not part of the fingerboard scene. You can’t compare them to any “real” fingerboard company since the professional equipment is a niche product while their products are for a mass market. Their motivation is profit maximization, they are not interested in the scene at all.
On the other hand, everyone starts with a TechDeck since it´s cheap and good enough for a beginner. They tried to access the scene by copying professional equipment, but failed because it hasn’t been much more than a poorly produced toy copy. They also wanted to cooperate with us, so we told them about our work and strategies, and sure enough they tried to copy all of that from us as well.
”TechDeck is basically a toy company, they are not part of the fingerboard scene.”
Do you warm up or have any routine you do before you get deep into a fingerboard session? Or do you just jump in and bust moves cold turkey?
There is no warm up in fingerboarding. Of course you will have more control after a certain time than when you start shredding. That is like in skateboarding after half an hour on the board everything works out smoother.
What is the worst injury you have sustained from fingerboarding?
A few years ago we were booked by Canon for a trade show and our job was to fingerboard all day long in order to test the new Canon cameras. After three days of fingerboarding for nine hours each day, we’d done every trick possible on a fingerboard! Our arms were stiff and our brains felt like mashed potatoes. This was the worst physical state I’ve ever experienced in fingerboarding. In general there are no fingerboard injuries of course, but does that matter at all?
What are some tips to not look like a poser or a kook when fingerboarding?
I think it´s a widespread problem occurring in all kinds of realms – not being able to behave properly towards others. I can´t really give detailed advice for fingerboarding, because either you want to fingerboard seriously or not. If you are a beginner you´re welcome, but there´s not much space for posing since it´s pretty awkward to stand at a tiny fingerboard park and be a dickhead, you´ll give that up pretty soon.
Who is the greatest fingerboarder of all time?
That´s a hard question because there are a lot of really good fingerboarders out there. Subjectively, I would go for Elias Assmuth from Austria – he is definitely my personal greatest fingerboarder of all time. Apart from him Boris Dietschi from Switzerland and Mike Schneider from Boston would also be on my list, and I could probably mention at least 100 other fingerboarders as well.
”There’s not much space for posing since it’s pretty awkward to stand at a tiny fingerboard park and be a dickhead.”
What do you think makes a fingerboarder stand out from all the other fingerboarders?
In the beginning of 2000, when the first fingerboarders met at events, you definitely stood out from the crowd by doing the hardest tricks, at that time you were the hero if you could do nollie heelflips.
Never been done tricks were always the most impressive. But then fingerboarders like Tobias Phieler entered the scene with no-complies and bs heelflips. Everyone was stoked that those tricks were even possible and that he could do them consistently.
Nowadays, such tricks are the standard for most fingerboarders, though that doesn’t mean they are easy. In 2015 you have to offer more than hard tricks! Personality, engagement in the scene, and of course trick and spot selection are more important now than ever.
Are there plans to make a fingerboard Megaramp?
Actually this ramp is already history in fingerboarding. I built it four years ago when our US teamrider Mike Schneider from Boston asked me whether I could make one for him.
In order to shred the mega ramp you actually have to roll on a skateboard alongside the ramp. It´s fun as hell! Fingerboarding is a visual experience. Usually the background is always static, but having a moving background is a blast! In the future there will be a mega ramp contest for sure, at least that´s on my agenda!
How do you feel about other types of fingersports like fingerbiking?
I´m a skateboarder and fingerboarder. I don´t judge other people´s interests and hobbies, as long as it makes them happy and they have fun, why not?
A few years ago we were booked for a Sony video clip in England where we met some amazing finger-breakdancers. Their skills were pretty sick and funny. I also recently bought two stand-up paddling boards in order to look for standing waves on a small North Bavarian river so I could start filming a fingersurf video. Fingersurfing is sick shit – I´m totally serious!
What would you say to a skateboarder who thinks that fingerboarding is for nerds or posers?
I would tell him that fingerboarding is for everyone who loves skateboarding. There are as many posers and nerds as in any other activity – not more and not less. I think you shouldn’t narrow your mind and judge others, but rather be open to different ideas and ways of thinking. Skateboarding and fingerboarding belong together – it’s one love!