Back in June, a group of curious minds got together in London for what would be skateboarding’s first legitimate international academic conference. Punnily-titled Pushing Boarders, the event was a weekend of high-minded discussions in lecture halls and late-night South Bank sessions. And now you can relive all those invigorating hours from the comfort of your couch!
Pushing Boarders put up video from all the talks. And to save y’all a little time and perhaps encourage lesser-inclined readers to care, we made a run-down of three of my personal favorite panels, breaking down a little of what we learned in attendance.
The best that these conferences can do is to map out the structures that skateboarding is composed of and around. To recognize its strengths and mark its weaknesses. To find its termites and draw up blueprints to rebuild better upon their damage. Pushing Boarders did all this and promises more in the future.
The Challenge of Writing About Skateboarding
Writing about skateboarding is uniquely problematic – how do you write about an intimately subjective experience in a way that those who don’t do it will understand and those who do won’t dismiss? This large panel presents a bunch of different angles you can take to articulate the ineffability of skateboarding.
Dr. Paul O’Connor (Lingnan University)
Kyle Beachy (Roosevelt University and Jenkem contributor)
Dr. Åsa Bäckström (Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences)
Dwayne Dixon (University of North Carolina and member of Redneck Revolt)
Dr. Gregory Snyder (Baruch College and brother of Shorty’s Skateboards pro Aaron Snyder)
Dr. Sander Hölsgens (Leiden University and co-runner of Re-Verb Skateboarding)
Tara Jepsen (Author and stand-up comedian)
Too Long Didn’t Listen:
05:15 – Ted opens with an interesting preamble on skate writing from the art historian’s perspective, with Craig Stecyk, who supposedly said that it took 2000 years of mankind to create the parking lot but the mind of an 11-year-old to unlock its potential, being our Homer, and Big Brother being the beginning of the modern era. But he goes on to say that because skating is now a global culture our writers must reflect that.
16:10 – “You can only write from the body.” Tara Jepsen, in response to a question about how you talk about skating to someone who hasn’t done it, advocates not translating the experience at all and just saying, fuck it, this is how it was for me, let the reader absorb it and make of it what they will. “Going from being in a DIY, queer world,” she says, “and then being in skateboarding, there was never any pretense that I was going to be understood by most people.”
30:45 – “That was the moment the state made an enemy of me.” Dwayne Dixon spins this wild story from his childhood when he and a friend got arrested for skating some parking lot and the cop smashed his friend’s head in and spouted some explicitly racist fear-mongering. It overlapped skating, systemic oppression, and racism, and radicalized him.
45:10 – Here starts the discussion of skateboarding’s problematic idols and the systems that perpetuate their idolization. It’s centered around Kyle Beachy’s essay on Jason Jessee, which, at the time of discussion, had been taken off King’s website and not yet reappeared on Free. Its circuitous publication path highlights how insular and backward we can be. “It seems to me,” Kyle says, “the next step in our revolutionary status is going to have to be a reflective one where we look at the industry that has taught us to raise the middle fingers and we start maybe raising them back to those men.” And a resounding round of applause for that. In my notebook, I scribbled: “If there is no independent media in the US, or at least one that reaches a broad swath of skateboarders, how do we continue the process of holding the industry accountable for its bigotry? Where do we initiate and amplify these conversations?”
01:22:15 – In response to a question posed by a Jenkem contributor, Kyle pushes for a “primitive progressivism” to encourage the change he hopes to see in skateboarding. This is a pedagogy that uses the built-in power structures of a skatepark’s dynamics, with little kids begrudgingly respecting the OGs, to call out younger offenders. Later though, someone pointed out that that force goes both ways, and what if the older skater has outdated and harmful views? I guess we just have to hope the good guys have the louder voices.
Skateboarding and the Gender-Identity Evolution
The title of this panel was taken from an interview we did with Ryan Lay in 2015, where he argues that skateboarding needs “more opinions, more girls, more homosexuality, more global representation.” This panel, comprised of people who’ve made it their mission to embody that challenge, push that conversation forward and give guidance on how to be a better ally.
Dr. Dani Abulhawa (Sheffield Hallam University and SkatePal)
Anthony Pappalardo (NY-based writer and co-editor of Jenkem Vol. 2)
Marie Dabbadie (Xem Skaters)
Danni Gallagher & Kirsty Tonner (Girl Skate UK)
Oisín Tammas & Moch Simos (Skateism)
Too Long Didn’t Listen:
02:30 – Dani sets the tone for the talk. She speaks about philosophy being usually defined as the study of knowledge, but she hopes this panel will operate using a different definition of philosophy “not as a love of wisdom, but a wisdom of love, created through a dialogue between people, through intersubjectivity.”
18:25 – A bit of self-awareness from Jenkemmer Anthony “The Writer” Pappalardo: “I’m here because I’m annoying. I read something and I’m like, ‘That sucks, that’s bullshit…’ I’m annoying. I’m a skateboarder, I have an opinion on everything–how your hand is angled, how your shoes are laced up.” He gets at an interesting dichotomy: skaters are hyper-critical of obscurities and willfully oblivious of more obvious issues. We’ll argue all day about whether a trick should be called a nosegrind or an overcrook but won’t consider whether or not we should still call a quarterpipe “tranny.”
25:00 – Marie gives their powerful speech (which you can read in full here) that explores whether skating is still norm-breaking. The answer in short, yes, skateboarders are, but mainstream skateboarding media, especially in the States, no longer represents that progressive side of skating.
36:15 – Dani talks about her work in integrating girls into skate culture, getting them out of their comfort zones and into the greater skate community using safe spaces or girls-only skate nights to build confidence so they can feel good skating everywhere and with whoever.
42:35 – An audience member brings up a great point: “The fact that we worry so much about who’s legit, means that if you’re a woman, or transgender, or a beginner, or old or young, you feel like you can’t take part.” She reasons that skateboarding’s explosive growth and inclusion in the Olympics might help change that idea of legitimacy. Oisín adds that this growth has caused core skaters to be more aggressively insular while also providing opportunities for outsiders to establish their own scene. “Maybe we can use the money at the top to fund the things at the bottom.” Like Skateism!
54:00 – Marie gives some easy skatepark etiquette to make people feel more welcomed: Just say hello. Simple decency goes a long way apparently.
How to Build a Skate-Friendly City
Urban planning policy might sound like a super dry topic to most skateboarders, but it’s the greatest influence on a local skate scene’s development. This panel explores the many issues skaters face in fighting for their right to exist within a city, and offers some direction on how best to approach that fight.
Ocean Howell (University of Oregon and former pro skater)
Stuart Maclure (Long Live Southbank)
Gustav Svanborg Edén (Official Skateboarding Coordinator for Malmo, Sweden)
Chris Lawton (Skate Nottingham and contributor to Caught in the Crossfire)
Alexis Sablone (Pro skater and MIT-grad)
Daphne Greca (Brixton’s Baddest Skateshop)
David Knight (DK-CM Architects)
Too Long Didn’t Listen:
11:00 – “The reason why most of cities and towns and countrysides look the way they do is because the people that currently spend the most time thinking about and doing planning is middle-aged, middle-class white men.” David Knight, not a skateboarder himself but a damn good ally for us, gets at the point that privilege makes our places what they are, and by acknowledging that “democratic deficit” we can see that representation is key to making the changes we want to see in our cities–in our case that means making cities more skate-friendly.
25:40 – Chris Lawton brings a post-industrial economic lens to the discussion by noting that different tactics are necessary for different city’s economic situations. He compares somewhere like Athens, Greece, which was left in financial ruin after the 2004 Olympics and was, therefore, a somewhat blank and underregulated slate on which to build a skate community, versus somewhere like his hometown of Nottingham, which has had a more slow-decline and often creates short-term fixes that only exacerbate existing problems for the citizens, including skateboarders.
56:30 – “Who is viewed as having a right to damage a city?” Chris continues to make great observations on who cities are designed by and for. Drivers and bikers, who both damage infrastructure in their own ways, are considered okay whereas skaters, who, if the materials are chosen correctly, cause only the same sorts of scuffs as bikers, are demonized and considered illegitimate users. And wrongly so.
1:23:10 – “What’s the difference between destroying a spot and activating a public space?” Gustav here is pushing the importance of the language we use in advocating for our cause. It’s all fine to speak to another skater and say something like, “That guy is a ripper, he demolished that spot with that big heel” (or whatever), but when you’re using that kind of slang to a city councilman all they hear is the destructive terminology. Maybe we need a new vocabulary in our culture – one that focusses on our engaging a ledge and not grinding it, or employing a handrail instead of crushing it.
August 4, 2018 6:11 pm
We need to seriously consider how heteronormative, cisnormative, and cis-homogenous the entire industry and history of this sport is. Although I don’t skate, I am in an academic majoring in Gender Studies and Critical Race Theory. So, when I look at skateboarding, its always through that critical lens. Skating seems like a good sport to begin reorienting to the new realities of the progressive cause. There is so much work to do and so many bad actors to eliminate like JJ. But with time and patience, we’ll get there.
We can make a good faith start by outlawing and renaming problematic trick names like the “sex change,” “ghetto bird,” “roast beef grab,” and the “caveMan.” If and when we can come together as a community, perhaps we can start getting rid of sexist imagery in problematic brands like Fucking Awesome and Baker.
It would be excellent if these companies could hire some trans/non-binary/POC/WOC persons to assist in editing their very bro-saturated aesthetic. I’m very excited about these conferences and things like ‘skate like a girl’ (which is also cis-normative, but hopefully we can make it more inclusive by naming it ‘skate like a sentient organism’ or something).
We will get you boys on board (LOL) soon enough! With persistence and enough social media pressure, we will get skateboarding woke in no time! SKATE & BE WOKE!!!
August 5, 2018 4:08 pm
Could you enlighten me on why we should force change in already established parts of skateboarding? I don’t mind academics brainstorming about the future and issues of the community but I think that skateboarding has a way of organic change. This super sensitive route that everyone is taking nowadays is kinda far from skateboarding’s fundamental punk ethos. Then again, since the community is growing bigger each year, maybe these organized academic conferences will help solve some problems. I just hope that there won’t be any social justice warriors inside world of skateboarding..
August 5, 2018 11:39 pm
Wait, is “roast beef” offensive because of its slang usage as a metaphor for labia? Or is it offensive because it refers to the killing of cattle for food? And is “caveman” offensive because it’s an example of patriarchal language? Or is it offensive because it describes a specific human behavior as primitive, and doing so has historically been associated with constructing pseudo-scientific race-based hierarchies? OR is it offensive because it is historically biased toward the present (presentist), relying on the assumption that present-day humans are automatically considered more civilized than human cave dwellers from long ago? Finally, is “ghetto bird” offensive because it refers to historically underserved communities using outmoded terminology imposed and/or used by those in power? Or is it because calling a person a “bird” is dehumanizing or (in the UK) sexist? OR is it offensive because it makes light of the powerful use of the term “ghetto bird” as a concise, tongue-in-cheek illumination of the disproportionate use of police force (namely, helicopter surveillance) alongside the government’s neglect of the natural environment (as in, “helicopters are the only birds we have here”) in these aforementioned underserved neighborhoods? You need to elaborate on what you actually mean by “problematic.” It has become an overused shortcut for “that seems offensive, but I don’t really want to do the intellectual work to explain or even understand precisely how and why.”
August 5, 2018 5:38 pm
Sounds like self important marxist busy bodies talking how to control skateboarding in the most annoying way possible.
August 5, 2018 6:00 pm
To the people hating on this article and on the conference itself, consider the fact that without these discussions the fate of skateboarding will discussed at length, and very seriously, in corporate conference rooms. You might think that our democratic resistance, as driven by our abstract punk-rock mentality, is enough… but I mean, fuck, have you looked outside lately?
August 6, 2018 2:23 am
Yes i have looked outside and i want no part of it. Capitalism rolls on and yes i contribute with my purchases of skate shoes and hardware. I choose to divorce myself from as much bullshit as possible in my life and no boardroom or what is being presented as intellectual discussion will affect my decision to go for a skate :)
August 7, 2018 1:57 pm
What is even the point of this? To try to come into one of the most free and individual athletic activities there is and control it?
Most skaters couldn’t give lesser of a fuck about the color of your skin or what’s dangling or not dangling between your legs, we are more or less instantly connected by our passion wherever we go in the world. I’ve made friends with people all over the world through skateboarding, in my opinion based on my experiences most skaters are open to who ever the fuck you are as long as there’s a skateboard under your feet.
Why do people want to destroy that with lame rules and regulations on how to speak and integrating whoever into whatever, leave that fake shit at the echo-chambers also known as universities and just go skate if you love it and forget it if you don’t.
August 8, 2018 11:32 am
Putting all the prescriptions about language aside, if you’re curious why it might be a good idea to have just a little bit more intelligent discourse in the skateboarding world, just watch any episode of the Nine Club Experience and listen to a bunch of high school dropout bros constantly fail to articulate their tastes and opinions.