Quite a while ago, I watched this video, and it bothered me. I couldn't put my finger on why it bothered me, but the whole thing was very uncomfortable.
I thought maybe I was just off-put by how short the match was. After all, Chris won with just 7 tricks in a contest where it's not unusual to see pros volley 10 tricks back and forth before someone gets a letter. Maybe it's all in my head.
After I rewatched it though, I realized that I was actually just uncomfortable because of how little I related to Chris Chann. Let me explain:
It seems like Chris Chann and I should have a lot in common. We are both fairly young skateboarders (although I definitely have a few years on him). He's not pro, I'm not pro. He's just a kid with a YouTube channel who happens to be really good at skateboarding. Bastien Salabanzi, on the other hand, is larger than life in my eyes. When he was Chris' age, he was already well into his career as a professional spot-slaughterer with the Flip crew. So if I were in Chris' shoes, I would have savored every second that I got to spend with Bastien, a living legend. I would do my best to calm down and then just have fun playing a game of SKATE. If I went first, I would try a backside flip just so I could watch Bastien do one better than mine. Instead, what I saw was a kid trying to win. He wasn't playing a game- he was setting out to beat the guy as efficiently as possible. He didn't bother with a kickflip or a 360 flip. He started with a hardflip (which I don't ever remember seeing Bastien do) and he ended with a harder variation on a hardflip.
It almost seemed disrespectful. And then he posted this terribly boring video with the least sincere modesty I've ever seen. If you don't care to watch a teenager play video games in his room and then observe his friend insert an awkward prayer into a conversation while another friend tries and fails to be funny, then go ahead and skip to 2:30 in the video.
There's no way you're surprised that you won, Chris. Everyone knows what tricks Bastien has on lock- kickflips, backside flips, half cab flips, cab flips, fakie flips, 360 flips, switch heels, nollie backside heels, switch frontside 360's. Chris intentionally avoided all of them, and then when he won, he complained about how sketchy his tricks are. YOU JUST SKUNKED A PROFESSIONAL SKATEBOARDER. It's good to be modest, but don't pretend like you weren't being competitive and talk about how 'lucky' you were to win your game after not missing a single trick. That's not being nice and then modest- that's being disrespectful and then insincere.
I want to be clear. I'm not trying to construct internet hate rhetoric in this post. I'm just expressing an opinion that I think reflects how I (and other people) feel about the world of skateboarding right now.
One of the biggest changes in most of our lives stems from the fact that we have access to virtually unlimited entertainment online. It's changing the way we entertain ourselves. Since skateboarders have long entertained themselves with skate videos, it makes sense that our culture has also made a fundamental shift in our attitude towards skate videos, which by extension changes our viewpoints on skateboard culture. So what we've seen is the emergence of YouTube personalities with skateboards, a phenomenon that most of us don't really know how to feel about. The most quintessential examples would include many of the guys who are associated with Revive Skateboards. Guys like Andy Schrock and Aaron Kyro. If you don't know who I'm talking about, go search their names on YouTube. I'll wait... You back? Yea. Those guys.
There's also this guy, who appears to mostly just apologize for how bad his video is as he's filming it:
For those of us who remember a time before YouTube, this is weird because that kind of figure had never existed in skateboarding before. When it came to skate videos, people only really watched them if a company put out the video. You only became a form of entertainer when you contributed to a skateboard video worth watching, and most of what you were actually doing was skateboarding. You were a skateboarder, but one who used their skateboarding to inspire other people to skate. What we're seeing now is a group of people that are entertainers first and skateboarders second.
The reason this is a hard notion to accept is that Chris Chann isn't a natural entertainer. He speaks in a monotone and often mumbles. Most of his videos amount to him opening a box on camera. And yes, when a big part of your life consists of making talking videos that get 60,000 views in the first week, you are an entertainer. Period. Yes, he's a kid messing around in front of a camera. But when you post videos on a weekly basis and make considerable ad money off of it, you are absolutely an entertainer.
And there's nothing wrong with any of that- I really mean that. If people enjoy watching him and he enjoys making stuff for people to watch, that's a good thing. I doubt he will ever read this, but Chris, if you're reading this, I want to say that you're an amazing skateboarder and I look forward to seeing more of your skating in the future, even if I find your level of authenticity underwhelming.
Having said that, these YouTube skate personalities still make me feel uncomfortable, because they represent the younger generation of skateboarders that I can't relate to. They're less than a decade younger than me, but their entire understanding of skateboarding as an art and inspiration is different because they don't really remember a time before YouTube. Those of you who think that's an exaggeration- it's really not. YouTube is now 10 years old, which means that you pretty much have to be at least 14 years old to really remember what life was like before it was insanely easy to dig up countless hours of videos online.
So I watch unboxing video after unboxing video get posted, on top of 'day in the life' videos getting posted practically once a month, and I simply don't get it. Why is it that everything a human does is important all of the sudden? Meanwhile all the younger kids can't figure out why the older kids are so mean and bitter. It's because you confuse us, younger kids. We weren't expecting to be confounded by youth until we were at least 40, but here I am in my mid-twenties and I have already given up on trying to understand youth culture.
It's not all bad though, because despite me complaining about how little I have in common with Chris Chann and every other young skater by extension, we actually are bonded together through at least one thing- we love skateboarding. We might not enjoy it the same way, but it will always be the common language that we speak and the obsession that we share. I feel super awkward talking to ten year-olds, but if they skate, the awkwardness melts away and my tendency goes towards brotherhood and understanding.
That's how rad skateboarding is.