I am going to write another column about skateboarding. It’s not that I am obsessed with the sport, or trying to hang on to my youth desperately. No, this particular missive concerns passing the sport on to future generations. My daughter is 7, and she is starting to skate a little bit, mostly because dad does. At this age, kids want to do what ever it is their parents are doing, and so I might as well take advantage of it. So the other morning my wife and I were talking about skating, and my wife related a story about a friend of hers who took her boys out of skateboarding because she felt like the sport had really become associated with a bad element of kids- drug users and criminal types that hang around the skatepark.
Now, I know part of my wife’s concern is for our very innocent daughter’s well being, and I am right there with her. But I also have an unparalleled love for the very sport that gave me an identity, a confidence in myself, and a social circle that included athletes, artists, and other interesting people that I remain close with to this day. Skaters that I grew up with just became cool people, and they all seem to share some personality traits that I regard highly: they don’t take themselves too seriously, they lead creative lives, they are problem solvers, and tend to be original thinkers. These are all things I wish for my kids.
So I took my daughter the other morning to skate the famous Venice skate park. On any given afternoon, this park is crowded with really hardcore skaters that move very quickly and fluidly between the bowls and snake run, and the chance for a collision is high. Clearly no place for a kid that is learning to skate. But at 7:30 on a weekday morning, we can have the place virtually to ourselves. So we show up, and to our dismay, there is trash everywhere. Food trash, broken beer bottles, and smashed packets of ketchup litter the bowls. I do my best to clear the glass from the area I want to teach her in, and try to steer her around the gross looking coagulated lump of something that is stuck to one of the banks. But I am saddened. Here is this fantastic public treasure: an oasis of skate surfaces in the very town that invented the sport. We would have killed for something like this as kids.
A few more kids showed up to the park—good kids. One asked me, in earnest, “Did you see who did this?” Another helped me sweep away an area of broken glass to make it safer for my daughter. And as more kids showed up, the buzz was all about the state of the park. I asked one of the kids if this scene was common, and he said, “No, and my best friends mom is the president of the Venice Skate Association, and she is not going to like this.”
Another girl showed up on a skateboard, and was also dismayed. She fit the Venice profile more than the other kids—she was tattooed and dressed in ragged black clothes. “I was here at midnight last night and this place was spotless. No way skaters did this. This shit is just wrong.” Then she looked at my daughter and said, “I mean stuff…poop.”
Now, the element of homelessness and general squalor around Venice is as consistent and predictable as the closeout waves that hit the jetty most days, and a big skate park in the middle of that is never going to be immune to vandalism or litter. But seeing the kids reaction to it made me feel a lot better. These are not end times. Skating has not turned into an apocalyptical Mad-Maxian activity for the disenfranchised. It’s just some litter on the heels of a conversation with my wife.
So, that weekend I took my daughter down to Huntington Beach to watch the Vans Invitational Surf and Skate competition. This is an event that I haven’t visited for over a dozen years, and it has grown from a simple surf contest with spectators on the beach to a full on corporate-tented, branded festival of grossness. Am I just old, or are young people now just incredibly trashy and slutty and obvious? The crowd seemed more akin to the cast of the Jersey Shore.
We found a seat in the grandstands overlooking this incredible bowl, based upon the famous Skatepark du Prado bowl in Marseilles, France, that was built for the competition. My daughter had a hard time understanding the parameters of the contest. She has been to gymnastic meets and soccer games, where people wear uniforms and everything is pretty well organized. But when Greyson Fletcher, wearing a pair of skinny, ripped black jeans that exposed a huge amount of butt-crack, along with a scuzzy t-shirt and a floppy hat that looked like it came from Hunter S. Thompson’s closet, started ripping the bowl, a smile spread across my daughter’s face. Even with her untrained eye, she could tell that what he was doing was amazing, and that clearly he was working on the edge of what was possible. A song by the Clash came on and she said, “Daddy, is this skate music?” “Yes it is, sweetheart, yes it is.”
You can’t put skateboarding in a box. You can’t dress it up or try to get it to seem safe. Great tricks are born from stupid, dangerous ideas. But I would rather hang out with the skaters than with the people in the crowd—the ones trying to fit in by emulating who ever their trashy reality-show idol of the moment was. Yes, maybe it is a fine line, but I am drawing it. I would rather be a participant than a spectator.
Stacy Peralta was my skate hero growing up. He was the coolest, most stylish skater I had ever seen, and he looked like everything my parents weren’t. He had long, stringy bleached blonde hair, skinny jeans, and Vans shoes. When he did a 360 his hair would make a wild spiraling motion that I associate with skating to this day. And Venice, Stacy’s hometown, was a forbidden and magical city where Dogtown was born and only the roughest toughest skaters were allowed in. My parents would never take me there, so it remained a mythical place to me until I could drive a car and see it for myself. And it wasn’t until I became a professional photographer that I had the opportunity to meet, and skate with the legendary Stacy Peralta at his first skate spot ever, the Mar Vista School banks. It is an afternoon I will never forget and it led to me being able to bring you this edition of Off Camera with him.
So hug the next skater you see, say no to drugs, and appreciate the vast amount of talent, balls and dedication it takes to ride a skateboard.