Talking trash on skate videos.
Words by Max Olijnyk.
Every day before I start work, I spend about an hour watching skate videos on the Internet – and I know I’m not the only one. We can’t help ourselves, can we? The compulsion to consume skate footage doesn’t seem to decrease the older we get or the more clips we watch. Sure, we all have our tastes – personally, I’m quite partial to a bit of Alex Olson, Callum Paul or Jake Johnson, but more often than I care to admit, I find myself watching a walking tour of the Tampa Skatepark or tedious shoe reviews by some guy called Benson.
When we go skating on the weekend, my friends and I compare notes on the videos we watched that week. It amuses me that we all have such strong opinions that we’ve been silently stewing over the past week, while pretending to be grown-ups with jobs and girlfriends. It all bubbles over when we’re around each other – “He throws himself down 21 stairs, but he can’t push”; “What’s the deal with his pants?” “I don’t care if he’s killing it ... he’s fucking boring”.
This is what ordinary people get up to as well, you know. The difference is, we talk about skating while they talk about football. It’s normal, this need to dissect and analyse the work of the people we look up to. But therein lies my concern. First, I don’t want to be normal. Second, I’ve noticed the insight gained from watching thousands of skate videos seems to actually distance me from the act of skating, rather than bring me closer to it. And that’s weird, isn’t it?
Skate videos have formed a big part of my life since I was 12 years old when I first saw Public Domain. I couldn’t believe skating looked like that – the photographs didn’t capture how amazing it looked. Ray Barbee was the coolest person I had ever seen, and to this day the song from the “Incredible Rubber Boys” part gets me hyped. The energy contained in those four minutes is what hooked me on skateboarding and it’s why I’ve never gotten sick of it. It’s been followed by many more like it – Mike Carroll in Questionable, the whole of Video Days, Sanchez and Mariano in Mouse, PJ Ladd’s Wonderful, Horrible Life, Dill in Photosynthesis – you know the ones. Insert your favourites.
Skateboarding is self-regulating. We know when something is good and when it sucks. And that’s why we feel qualified to talk about these skaters as if we know them – because in a lot of ways, we do. I’m nasty when I watch skate videos. I’m very dismissive. I’m very hardline. I feel like I can see into the skater’s soul through their part, and I judge them accordingly. It’s pretty gnarly. That’s why we get into these heated arguments, isn’t it? Because we have conflicting views about what makes a good person.
Sometimes when I’m in the middle of explaining why I think some skate video part is shit (and hence, the skater is shit, and hence, a bad person), someone will trot out the old, “You can’t do any of those tricks, so who are you to judge?” line. Of course I can’t do any of those tricks. If having the ability to reproduce someone’s actions was the sole justification to be critical of anyone, we couldn’t have opinions on plenty of things – politics, gender equality, disease, sports or restaurants. It’s a given I love skateboarding, but that doesn’t mean I have to approve of all skateboarders, what they do or how they present themselves. The reason I’m so critical is because I know skate videos have the capacity to be amazing, progressive and inspiring.
But I digress. I guess I’m trying to say I enjoy being a critic, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing to think about this stuff. I suppose the problem is I spend more time watching and thinking about skate videos than actually skating, to the point where I feel more like an observer than a participant. When I skate, I’m reminded of how difficult it is, and how enjoyable it is. It feels great to learn a new trick. It feels shit not being able to do something or being too scared to try. And it’s really funny when your friend falls over.
I’ve noticed that in the car on the way home from skating we don’t talk about skate videos as much. Instead, we talk about the session we were just a part of. “That back tail Pete got was perfect”; “Dion was loving it out there!”; “Joey went down like a sack of shit”. Invariably, the tone of the conversation is a lot more exciting and positive than the discussion on the way to the park. I suppose it’s because we’re talking about something we actually experienced, rather than watched while we were supposed to be doing something else. Being there in the flesh is more fun in the end. More fun than watching those godawful shoe review videos, anyway.
Illustration by Pigeonboy. This article was printed in issue 198, which you can buy here.