As long as there have been tricks to do on skateboards, skateboarders have insisted that some of them should never be done. The debates go way back, from the Zephyr team doing random slashing in lieu of “real tricks,” to varial kickflips being frowned upon until recently.
But how do these rules get made and how firm are they? To get into the nitty-gritty of so-called “illegal” tricks, we talked with Cephas Benson and Donovan Jones, the host of the Canadian skate podcast, The Bunt.
Every episode Cephas and Donovan ask their guests what they think is the “most illegal trick,” then proceed to shit talk the trick to death. Considering these guys spend more time than anyone thinking about what makes a trick “illegal” or not, we decided to pick their brains on this mildly important topic.
Q&A w/ Cephas & Donovan
Donovan: The first time someone told me a trick was wack was at the skatepark. I was 15 or something. It wasn’t an illegal trick, but the guy who owned the skatepark, my friend Jimbo, I was trying to front nose a down rail and was trying for a while, and he said, “Why are you even trying that? That trick’s ugly as hell.” But I just did a front nose yesterday. That trick’s definitely NOT illegal.
Cephas: I think the nollie smith took a pretty quick turn in our crew. For a short period of time people were doing them. Maybe we were confused, but then I didn’t stop doing them. Then I found out about it [being illegal].
Donovan: An obvious one would be the body varial, but you watch Brad Cromer do one of his body varials over bump-to-bars and you’re like, “Damn. It’s not illegal for him.” That’s how it is for a lot of illegal tricks, right? The first one I always think of is just a nollie tail, but fuck, Chewy Cannon can do a nollie tail to fakie and it looks dope. I guess everyone has their own vision of what’s illegal and not illegal, but some tricks are [illegal] everywhere.
Cephas: Nollie smith’s the worst.
Donovan: Yeah, nollie smith, definitely. That like, nose manual, pivot to fakie manual. That one’s definitely on there.
Cephas: It’s anything that looks wack when 99% of people do it. There’s always going to be 1% of people who can do it, like Brad Cromer…
Donovan: Yeah, if it takes Brad Cromer to pull it off, then it’s probably illegal.
Donovan: When you’re just starting you can’t even decipher what’s illegal and what isn’t illegal. As your own bag of tricks gets a little bigger you can think like, “Yo, maybe I’m not going to do noseslide bigspins. Maybe it doesn’t look the greatest anymore.” I think with time you realize shit doesn’t look as good as it sounds.
Cephas: Nollie back lips. I used to do those on handrails and be proud of them. And now I don’t know if I would ever do that again. It just takes one person to point something out. For me [it was] Wade D[esarmo] [who] kinda ripped nollie back lips. I showed him my footy one time and he kinda ripped it. It took me a while to process but I was like, dang, maybe nollie lips are bad. And that wasn’t even that long ago. [laughs]
But some are on the fence. Like, varial flips are only bad because a lot of people do them and they don’t look good. But then there’s all these people that can make them look good, like Brian Anderson.
Cephas: Yeah, that was crazy! But if you think about yourself doing a fakie v, mine would be so rocket and ugly. If you pop it high enough and make it spin flat, you cross the line and it’s not illegal.
Donovan: I think when you’re doing questionable tricks theres a way bigger microscope on what you’re doing. If you’re going to go down that lane you better do it properly.
Cephas: Switch 180 manual. It’s time to retire that one.
Donovan: No, you can’t retire that one, just don’t film it. It’s too fun and easy. It’s a good warmup trick. But for me it’s probably nollie smith because I feel like in the summer we do them all the time. Or fakie ollie switch smith. Yeah, I’ll go with the fakie ollie switch smith.
Cephas: I’d probably just say nollie tail. Trying to get a little Chewy in there but it’s just not possible.
Donovan: I’ve been seeing a resurgence in nollie tails recently, and every time I see one I think, “You’re not pulling it off.” The Primitive guys have been doing them and I’m so confused, because it’s not a tech trick, and those guys are so tech. I saw Robert Neal do one in a line and I think Diego Najera did one in a line, and I’m like, “Just do it to switch crook. What are you doing?”
Donovan: I think no-complies are already on their way back out. Skating is over the no-comply, again. There’s definitely a cycle for some of them.
Some are never going to be dope. Like benihanas [ed. note: benibongas] had their time in the Jamie Thomas/Josh Kasper days, now they’re dead. But people do them as jokes. My friend was doing a bunch the other day, it was really funny.
But sometimes the joke becomes real when too many people make the joke and some little kids see it and don’t realize you’re joking. I hope nollie smiths never become popular again. I feel like we’ve done our job at The Bunt if they never come back.
Donovan: Someone told us switch 360 double flip. I think you were shocked by that one too, Cephas, you were like, “Holy fuck.”
Cephas: The Shane O’Neill classic? Anything you can switch double tre, just switch tre and it’s way doper.
Donovan: My all-time favorite is probably 5-0 to switch crook.
Cephas: That’s a guilty pleasure one for me. I’ll try one just to see if I can do it.
Donovan: Or a lipslide to crook. Like a long lipslide, then a little crook stall on your way out. Two-for-ones, like two-for-one grind tricks. That’s on a life cycle, I feel.
Donovan: I’ve seen that one recently, and noseslide to crooks.
Cephas: Yeah, somehow noseslide to crooks are in the trendy category.
Donovan: But also I’ve seen people do front tail to switch back 50-50, and that looks pretty sick.
Cephas: This next generation just might be 100% illegal. Everything goes. It’s all personal preference at the end of the day, what you consider illegal.
Donovan: There’s just so many layers to skateboarding. In our layer, our age group is still our critical selves. There will always be illegal tricks. But at that kid layer, it’s uncontrollable. You can’t do anything about it. I think there’s some generational awareness too. Every generation has certain ideas about what’s illegal and not illegal.
Cephas: I feel bad sometimes…We’ll mention a certain illegal trick and next week we’re at the skatepark and one of our older homies will do a trick we just said was illegal, especially if we know they listen [to the podcast].
Our buddy Dennis, who we’ve been skating with forever, he’s probably five or six years older than us, he always is working on switch 180 smiths and nollie smiths. And we always shit on those tricks, but then he’s doing them at the park and you’re cheering because they’ve been in his bag of tricks forever.
Donovan: Maybe wallies. Everybody’s doing 50-50 wallrides, wallie into tricks.
Cephas: I’ve been seeing a lot of hardflip reverts [ed. note: ghetto birds].
Donovan: That’s already illegal.
Cephas: Yeah, but I feel like they’re getting more popular. Chris Joslin and Aurelien Girard are doing them on everything and they’re so wack. But Wes Kremer just did one and it was maybe the sickest thing I’ve ever seen. It was so G. So random.
Donovan: All the people doing wallie crooks. That’s done now. Illegal. It was in the time period. Now when you see it, you should have done it a couple years ago.
Hot Takes on Illegal Tricks
Donovan: Yo, I’m into varial flips right now. I’m feelin’ it.
Cephas: I back varial flips.
Donovan: It comes at a price. It’s gotta be good looking.
Cephas: [sighs] Illegal. [laughs]
Donovan: As clips, for sure. That’s another one you can do fucking around, warming up or something, but if you’re gonna take it to a street gap? Nah.
Donovan: I’m good with it out of back tails or front blunts, but anything else…
Cephas: Very legal. Julian Davidson taking a fakie heel down a big set? Beautiful.
Donovan: Hjalte’s been running ‘em. Very legal.
Cephas: Illegal, unless you’re Muska.
Donovan: Yeah, unless it’s named after you, it’s illegal. [laughs]
Donovan: Bam always had a good one. He always had the craziest bag of tricks. Like pop shuvit tail grabs and then perfect switch back tails, it was crazy.
Cephas: That’s a guilty pleasure. I used to love throwing those out.
Donovan: Like, you landed it but you run a photo of a different try?
Cephas: It’s legal as long as it’s not egregious. Like, if the one you made was rocket but the one you posted was super boned out. I think I’m guilty of it too but it’s illegal if the footage is a huge letdown compared to the photo. If it’s to the point where it’s drastically different, it’s illegal. But if you can’t tell, it’s fine.
Donovan: You know what the new age illegal is? Posting your Story as a post. That’s Instagram illegal. “New post!” What the fuck are you talking about? That’s my most illegal trick nowadays.