We know by now, by now even the most dire and morose of us, even grumbling Bobby Puleo hunched inside of a small room crowded with art and trash, even as he laces up his dead-stock iPaths and layers himself against the New York winter. Bobby knows and Ricky Oyola knows, too, and maybe even Birdo by now, wherever he is.
We watched in cold terror as they came reaching their huge invisible hand for our favorite toy in the whole wide world. They were too strong – they snatched it and now they’re using it to sell whatever they think it might: shoes, of course, and clothing, but also headphones, knives, and scarves. We have not liked this. We have groaned and protested righteously.
And yet the activity hasn’t died like we feared, or even suffered the slightest injury. Has it? Look, it’s been dispersed to distant, strange corners of our globe and psyches, where it continues to morph into different shapes and colors of deformed and perverse glory. Consider the expeditions to post-communist Bosnia Herzegovina or the Amazon basin. Consider the ditch tribes of the American southwest, fluorescent and flamboyant and utterly without care. Consider the frank interviews of professionals willing, all of a sudden, to speak openly and honestly, and their new, strange projects for which “bottom lines” are a hilarious concept. Consider the liberation of a post-boom, declining marketplace.
And there’s even a certain amusement we feel, isn’t there?, for the most crass and commercialized events they’ve concocted for the sake of sales. The Street League experience is, if we’re being honest, actually fucking awesome, the way Las Vegas is awesome, or Times Square, or a huge, crowded Walmart is awesome.
Maybe now’s when I should tell you that I am on drugs, namely a whale’s dose of hydrocodone because my left clavicle has been splintered into four pieces that are jagging into my flesh whenever I move even slightly. I am home from work all week, immobilized and horizontal on the couch while I await surgery, trapped inside a lonely private universe of pain.
We know that skateboarding is a non-capitalist act that has, in the past, shown the potential to be an anti-capitalist, revolutionary act. Recently it has also proven useful as a hyper-capitalist act. And maybe it’s this breadth of possibilities that leads to our endless disagreements and arguments over its most inane details. Does this person who dresses this way and used to dress another way rule, or does this person suck? Is this collabo tight or weak? Define “tight,” define “style,” define “gay” while you’re at it. Is wearing nail polish gay? Is hugging gay?
But these aren’t real debates, of course. They give us a chance to project inner demons onto someone else, is all. Which is only to say that we each suffer our opinions and want, sometimes anyway, to convince others to suffer them with us. Back there behind all of our chatter, skateboarding is barely listening. Skateboarding remains perfectly fine no matter what we say, and it will outlive us all no matter who is or is not selling its shoes.
Right now my shoulder hurts enough that I’m groaning. Every so often I hear myself groan, or moan, or exhale in a way that contains emotional content. I wheeze like a barely open car window. These sounds belong totally to my body – I have no control over them or anything else. But still I think to myself: don’t be a pussy, quit being such a pussy.
But how is that? What exactly did skateboarding do to achieve this immunity? One simple and remarkable fact is this: there is no cheating in skateboarding. So long as it remains analog, floating between temporary scoring rubrics and contest formats while allowing none to stick, there will be no way to cheat. There will be no hormone or supplement – except maybe exactly two-and-a-half beers – that gives anyone an unfair advantage. There will emerge no process to become good at skateboarding beyond doing it for many, many hours on end. Anyone who wants to play will be forced to bleed; doing the thing means caring enough for the thing that your commitment outweighs the truth of what the thing does to your body, which is create pain.
By my fourth day on the couch I have achieved something like freedom from time. Time, on the couch, is fantasy. Have I mentioned how much I am crying? Every so often I move wrong and I start crying without any control. I am not sobbing or weeping. It is just that occasionally my eyes start sweating. There are ways I move or sit that ignite in my left shoulder a pain that makes me want to murder something small and vulnerable with my bare hands. I cry a lot this week and each time I do I think: don’t be a pussy.
Not that we appreciate the pain. Maybe we get tired of hurting all the time. Maybe we find ourselves blaming skateboarding for the pain or the blood or for the rest of the damage it causes. Maybe you’ve blamed it for how you can’t find a girl, or don’t see your kid enough, or can’t sit through a movie without your knees locking up.
Another thing about pain: it’s got a mainline to honesty. As an adult who loves one woman passionately and several others platonically, I know that ‘you pussy’ is something one should not say, because saying it is a small form of aggression against femininity. I know the way such small, incidental aggressions are dangerous, because everyone thinks they’re harmless, or at least everyone who has a penis and a brain informed by his penis. I know, also, that perceived harmlessness can actually be more harmful than overt, deliberate aggression. I know that ‘pussy’s add up the way cicadas add up, that these single tiny sounds become deafening, and therefore that saying ‘pussy’ this way, as a judgment, as a condemnation, is an act of violence.
But blaming skateboarding is the same as bemoaning who’s involved in it, or what shape it’s taking – we can only maintain these for a few seconds before we burst out in laughter. Eventually we remember: skateboarding does not give a shit about us. No matter how we project values onto it, skateboarding does not care. Skateboarding cares no more about your pain than it does about your silly debates over the clothing of the men and boys who you watch doing it. We can hate it, yes, and probably should from time to time. Of what real value is any thing that only pleases, that we only admire? Anything we love we also partially despise for its power over us, and if you don’t know that I might as well be speaking to a rock.
So…that pussy thing. Is that bullshit, do you think? Do you think a single word rattling inside of your own private head can contribute violence into the external world? Is thinking “you pussy” enough to perpetuate our historical track record regarding men and women and power dynamics and one group’s ongoing terror against the other? That depends, you might say. What’s “violence,” exactly? Is “violence” a description of bodies clashing and guns firing and bombs falling? Yes. But violence is also a substance that filters like mist in the air. It is waves of human radiation. It is every human relationship’s atmosphere, and any time we live among other people we live inside of it, both breathing and exuding it through our pores.
This is the secret treasure hidden inside of our pursuit of skateboarding. The activity is so terrible for us, and cares about us so little, that we can’t possibly do it without loving it. Which means that even the ugliest and biggest assholes in our midst are capable of love.
And whether we admit it or not, we seem to know this by now. Six decades in and skateboarders have learned a thing or two. We still bicker but we can’t pretend we haven’t grown. In 2014 we seem to be skewing closer and closer to that utopia of suum cuique pulchrum est: to each his own is beautiful.
Not there yet, and maybe not ever. Still and always, there is nobody more beautiful to us than ourselves, and no footage we enjoy more than our own. But pull back a second and frame the shot of you standing with this thing that you love enough to bleed for. If you love it you want it in the shot, yes? Yes. And this thing, skateboarding, is, if not bigger then at least broader than it has ever been. As the range finder zooms out you yourself start looking a little smaller, there’s more going on, and you watch the footage of this wide-frame shot and spot people wholly unlike yourself who love the thing too, even if they love differently than you do, they’re dressed like fucking weirdoes and it’s all very weird, this big shot, and now it turns out some of them don’t even have penises to think about, or think with, and jesus what’s that like? What would that do to the pain experience? Suddenly we’re not thinking along the old rutted patterns, and it might feel odd and it might hurt but we are up for it because we’re bleeders, aren’t we. Look at our shins and elbows. And so this is nothing, really, it’s going pretty well, so why not zoom out a little more, just back it up slightly more and see how it looks.
For more work by Kyle Beachy and Anders check out:
A Very Large Puzzle on Andrew Reynolds
Making Up Legends in the Era of Zero Budget Skateboarding
Words: Kyle Beachy (@KyleBeachy)
Check out Kyle’s book
Original Illustrations: Anders Nilsen (@andersbrekhus)
Check out Anders’ website for more work.
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March 17, 2014 8:02 pm
“And yet the activity hasn’t died like we feared, or even suffered the slightest injury.”
Maybe I’m just an irrational curmudgeon, but I do have to disagree with the above; skateboarding has been injured by the increase in big corporate influence in the last decade. Small companies and shops have undeniably been crowded out, and the “big money” brands have installed themselves into the culture in such a way that upcoming generations of kids may not be aware of the Outsider vs. Skater-Owned dichotomy that exists today. To me, that’s the concern: it’s not that skateboarding is somehow impure with all the of sporting goods money infused into it – as you say, that money has enabled the spread of skateboarding to global levels that otherwise might never have been possible. It just seems like a slippery slope to me, which is why we need the Birdos of the world to ensure that both sides are represented. If everyone wore Nikes it would be equally as wack as everyone getting Don’t Do It tattoos, and right now it seems to me that things are tilting slightly in the direction of the former.
All that said, this was a refreshing read – not too many people are articulate and thoughtful enough to address issues of feminism within the larger context of skateboarding. I second what a previous commenter said: thank you.
March 20, 2014 4:31 pm
I approve this.
And I despise my own footage, not sure if that’s because I’m the worst critic for myself or the fact I’m not seeing the way and how I wanted the things I have created in my imagination.
March 17, 2014 9:16 pm
this article sounds like it’s sponsored by a pharmaceutical company advocating painkillers to skaters.
this dude is whinging about pain, but at the same time thinking the painkillers are making him a more creative writer.
drugs don’t make people creative – all they do is stop people from doubting themselves.
but that doubt is very useful to most people, because it gives them a chance to reassess and fine-tune their art form.
only very few people like Hendrix are prodigies don’t need to change shit because they’re just instinctively genius.
March 18, 2014 1:03 pm
So the LSD in the headband was all about getting over the doubt?
March 18, 2014 4:51 pm
I think you missed the point bud. This dude isn’t saying “look at my creative mind on drugs” he’s just telling a story about being on the couch on painkillers and how he thinks that ties into the broader context. He never suggested that he thought the painkillers made him a more creative writer, and I don’t think he’s of the mind that he’s a genius. There’s good stuff in this article and you’re getting hung up on this irrelevant shit?
August 22, 2014 6:18 am
March 18, 2014 1:10 pm
No one likes to watch their own footage. Who doesn’t cringe watching their own footage. A jock.
March 18, 2014 3:26 pm
At first reading, this article felt a tad incoherent as a whole, but I guess explaining skateboarding from an epistemological POV is not easy for anyone. Let a philosopher explain what philosophy is, and what it means to its practitioners, while looking at the impact, that polarizing views and thoughts of the core practitioners have on themselves and the society they inhabit, can be quite arduous.
What we know and how we feel about the knowledge is, has, and will always be contradictory. In the end our opinions do not matter that much, because skateboarding would never be where it is without all the contradiction and polarization; without all of the hating of the big companies and how they impact the core industry. Without all the commercialism, without the skateboard being commodified, skateboarding would not have spread to all the corners of the Earth. You wouldn’t have heard of any Arto Saaris’, Geoff Rowleys’ etc. No country with its cities, no city with its locales, no local with its sub cultural groups would have their own skateboarding legends.
Every subcultural “sport”-industry has its own pioneers, posers – and therefore also has its own skeptics, and haters. It’s what is demanded for something to grow and evolve. But despite which direction the evolutionary growth goes, the core, fundamental idea remains the same: Enjoy what you do, and do it as much as you can.