Your fingers slip over the truck’s hanger and split down the middle as they glide around the kingpin and come to rest in a nearly-closed fist above the base. Your skateboard is now effectively locked into position as your third leg and you’ve just committed one of skateboarding’s cardinal sins: the “mall grab.”
The meaning of the term itself sounds pretty self-explanatory, but who coined it, what mall were they at, and when? Who crowned themselves etiquette king that afternoon at the food court and ruled that holding a skateboard by the trucks was not only frowned upon, but also looked dumb?
Arguably, it makes sense to begin our little investigation into the origins of the mall grab around the turn of the millennium, specifically the summer of 2000. Tony Hawk’s 900 is now one year old and little kids can’t convince mom and dad fast enough to throw good money after bad.
In Philadelphia, pro skateboarder Kerry Getz opens Nocturnal Skate Shop on June 10, 2000.
“When I opened, the X Games were in town, too,” Getz said. “With the X Games around, you would have seen mall grabs out the ass,” Getz said. “It would have been mall grabs all day.”
But guess what? That wasn’t the case. If throngs of kids were walking around downtown Philadelphia with their fingers firmly planted around virgin hunks of aluminum, he certainly doesn’t remember seeing it.
Are longboarders responsible for the widespread disdain that carrying a board by the trucks elicits?
“I don’t even remember hearing about the term until the mid-2000s,” Getz said. “I think it started more or less with longboards,” adding that it’s the longboard connection that probably prompted skateboarders to nitpick the mall grab’s look and feel in the first place.
Is Getz on to something here? Are longboarders responsible for the widespread disdain that carrying a board by the trucks elicits? Maybe. Maybe not. We asked the skate photographer and famous shit-talker Giovanni Reda for a second opinion:
“In the 80s you held your board by the truck and it was no big deal, but then when all the vert stuff started dying and everyone was turning into street skaters you wanted to separate yourself as much as possible from them. First time I heard it was early ’90s I think.” You’d think that there would be some sort of documented proof that skaters maligned the mall grab throughout the ’90s, but in all my research I couldn’t find irrefutable proof until the year 2000.
You see, there was once a t-shirt you could get for free by subscribing to Big Brother magazine. On it, a kid is seen cluelessly clutching a longboard by the front truck. That kid was Ian Steele, who just happened to pass by the church in California where his mom worked and where Geoff Rowley happened to be skating that day. Photographer Rick Kosick noticed the longboarder and asked him to pose for a photo.
“Later that month, my younger brother saw the ad for the subscription and shirt offer, and so my mom ordered it,” Steele said of the subscription form inside the magazine bearing his likeness.
The form, which Steele has held on to all these years later, offers a 12-issue subscription for $19.95, and notes in the fine print that the offer expires on Aug. 13, 2001, meaning the issue (and photograph) was likely from 1999 to 2000. Unfortunately for Steele, he never got the subscription/shirt offer he ordered. Much to the shock of his mother, there was a mix-up with his delivery, and, in classic Big Brother fashion, he received a copy of Big Boobs magazine instead.
I contacted former Big Brother Editor-In-Chief Dave Carnie about the t-shirt’s origins, but his memory was predictably fuzzy. “I vaguely remember that image, but I couldn’t give you any specifics on it,” Carnie said. “We were fans of stupid kids. Even now it looks funny to me.”
Taken as a whole, an awkward teenager holding on to that front truck for dear life is symbolic of the overarching problems inherent with the mall grab. So how does Carnie prefer to carry his board?
”You shouldn’t be carrying the fucking thing in the first place. Any way you carry a skateboard is wrong.” -Dave Carnie
“You shouldn’t be carrying the fucking thing in the first place. Any way you carry a skateboard is wrong,” Carnie told me. “If there was anything that my friends and I used to get worked up about, it was ‘carriers.’ Ride the fucking thing. Even if you’re at the mall. That’s the origin of the term, by the way. No one could figure that out? It’s because the mall in many towns and cities is where kids congregate, but while you may have skated to the mall, and you’re going to skate home after the mall, you can’t skate in the mall. But there’s food and girls in there and so you have to carry your board around in the mall, hence: ‘mall grab.’”
It sounds like a trip to the mall is in order.
“The mall rat scene at that point was ridiculous,” former Vans employee Sean Gallagher said of working at a shopping mecca in 2002 located in an upper class New Jersey township. “A lot of those kids would carry boards around for fashion… It’s like the guy who just carries the guitar around and doesn’t play it,” he said.
“It just kind of became known. It’s just one of those things like pushing mongo; you just don’t do it,” Gallagher said. “You never saw any of the pros holding it by the trucks so you didn’t either… you would tell your friend not to do it.”
Does your blood pressure rise every time you see a fashion model or businessman mall grabbing some odd-shaped skateboard-like device? Have you ever really thought to consider why? To question why the way someone carries their skateboard is worth getting so worked up over?
“I’ll be honest and admit I’ve never really understood the disdain for people who carry their boards by the truck. Mongo pushing is a little easier for me to get worked up about, but I’m kind of in the same opinion there as well: who gives a shit?” Carnie said. “Sure, both practices reveal someone who is an inexperienced skateboarder, maybe even a complete kook, but I’m unable to muster the energy to get mad about someone mall grabbing.”
Mall grabbing is kinda like wearing the t-shirt of a band that you’re about to see at a concert.
Here’s the thing: mall grabbing is kinda like wearing the t-shirt of a band that you’re about to see at a concert. Are there any real and lasting repercussions? Of course not. Do you unwittingly look entirely out of a touch to a lot of people in the crowd? Absolutely. Don’t believe me? Walk into the park next time proudly mall grabbing the hell out of your board and see how long it takes for someone to call you out.
There’s just one question left lingering: What do people think the “right” way to hold a skateboard is?
“Under your arm, through the middle, trucks out,” Getz said.
“There’s really no right way. Trucks out, holding it in the middle is most comfortable,” Gallagher said.
We all make mistakes on our path to becoming square pegs that fit so snugly into the square hole that skateboarding’s cool police carved out for us years ago. Maybe it’s time to take a cue from Dave Carnie and ask ourselves, who really gives a shit?