Friday, February 14, 2014

The Real Reason Culture is so Important to Skateboarding

A lot of skateboarders are very protective of their culture. The funny thing is, skateboarding has become so big and so varied that it's impossible to actually define what 'skateboarding culture' is. If I were to paraphrase what Rodney Mullen has said about skateboarding in various interviews, for example, it would probably result in a sentence like, "Skateboarding is an outlet to create something new and contribute to something larger than yourself." By contrast, one of my first memories of someone explaining what skateboarding was to them was in this clip featured in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 (Hey, remember when you weren't a weirdo for liking those games?) in which Chad Muska basically says that skateboarding is interesting because it doesn't have any rules and the only goal is to have fun.

Then others, like Mike Vallely, won't stop talking about how skateboarding is all about creativity and individuality, while others simply stick with saying, "Skateboarding's rad."

So if skateboarding means a bunch of different things to a bunch of different people, and nobody can agree  on what exactly it means to be a true 'skateboarder', then is it even a cohesive culture? And if it's not, then why are so many people so protective and defensive about their particular viewpoint on skateboarding?

If you don't know what I'm talking about, just watch how insistent Andrew Reynolds gets when talking about his viewpoint on the state of skateboarding:

Andrew Reynolds, by the way, is sort of known for being willing to put up with a lot, although that goes sort of unspoken for the most part. I'm drawing that conclusion based on the fact that he happily puts up with crazy characters like Antwuan Dixon and all those crazy Baker kids (not that there's anything wrong with those guys, but I'm sure they're a handful on trips) and also the fact that Beagle has said he's pretty forgiving. But the way Transworld portrays skateboarding? That's straight up wack, apparently.

Now I'm going to illustrate a point by playing a little guessing game. I'm going to list a set of procedures, and you're going to tell me what I'm talking about. Ready? Ok.
Step 1: Learn how to skate.
Step 2: Challenge yourself by learning new maneuvers.
Step 3: Eventually develop maneuvers to reflect your personal style and perfect them.
Step 4: If you get really good, you can try entering some contests for money by impressing judges with your maneuvers.

Ok, now if you follow all of these steps, you are on track to become a professional ___________. Scroll down to see the answer.

Surprise! The answer is ice skating!

You see, the bare bones descriptions of both skateboarding and ice skating are incredibly similar- they are simply using specific modes of transportation in order to express and/or physically challenge one's self for the sake of entertainment.

What that means is that the primary thing that distinguishes ice skaters and skateboarders (besides their attitudes concerning skating on ice) is the culture. Perhaps the most unifying factor in skateboarding is that we have all mostly agreed that skateboarding is sort of whatever you make it out to be. That message might not be as marketable as calling it an "action sport" and making it all about 'athletes' performing tricks consistently. Generally, people who oppose the "action sport" label prefer to call skateboarding an art form, but many people consider that idea to be pretentious or even insulting to art. That's the beauty of it! Skateboarding can mean something completely different to each person, and nobody's right or wrong. It's just kind of... whatever you want it to be. But simply by us as skateboarders allowing it to be 'whatever' is CRUCIAL. Without that key element of allowing people to skate however they want, skateboarding simply becomes a means of doing a list of maneuvers that can be strung together. That means being no different from ice skating, or competitive dancing, or gymnastics, or even competitive diving.

I think most of us can agree that if skateboarding were more like any of those things listed, we would like skateboarding a whole lot less. Competitions would eventually get to the point where casual viewers watch them once every 4 years in a block of a dozen other Olympic events. Judges would only pretend to consider creativity while they studied how close each foot is to being perfectly centered over the bolts and deduct points for seeing a competitor do something weird with their hands. Amateur skaters would have memberships to gymnasiums that included skate parks and spend 10 minutes changing into their skate tights, complete with full pads and a helmet, which would presumably be worn with the standard suede black shoes with white soles, with the only variation being the brand. After getting ready, their coach will check with them and make sure they've been eating right and doing all the proper exercises on their calves, ankles, and quads, to ensure that their ollies are textbook in height and form.

The only thing that's preventing that horrid scene from happening is if we keep asserting that skateboarding has no rules. We need to encourage the younger generation to skate their own way and not somebody else's way. A lot of us could also stand to be less nitpicky while still being opinionated and outspoken, or else the entire concept of skateboarding being subjective could be lost completely.

Together, we can save skateboarding this way.

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