Things were sharp again by the 8th of July. A night filled by skaterock and skateboards and S.T.R.E.E.T.S and Chuck Treece and kids from Space 1026 and spirits from the beyond. The living dream of skating a launch ramp, inside my home, to the soundtrack of Public Domain, had arrived in waking reality. By the the end of the evening, I had the skatebug once again, and a serious case at that.
In chalk, I listed upon the wall:
What better justification of the twentieth century, to have given us two of the top five? One day, maybe when I’m in traction, I will write the definitive rhapsodic on skateboarding. I will make certain and manifest the drift of its genius and its beauty; giving to skateboarding what others have given to matadors, martial artists, and the well-oiled ancient Olympiads. I need to explain its world-historical significance.
Not long after, the Gravity Games came to Philadelphia— to FDR, more specifically, a skatermade concrete playland here in South Philadelphia. It further cemented things for me; the poetics of skateboarding. Omar Hassan, Rune Glifberg, Benji Galloway, and a number of locals pulling maneuvres that only ten years ago would have been unthinkable; and fifty years ago, incomprehensible. Large, whalelike airs over half the park. Clever kickflips tricks everywhere. Terrible feats on oververt. And rarely with any loss of speed.
What a time to be alive: to witness the birth, progression, and perfection of such a phenomenon. Stranger still if I were someone like Rodney Mullen or Mark Gonzales, people who gave the sport literally hundreds of tricks, and practically gave birth to the thing. Where will their names be in a thousand years? In bronze? Who can tell.
Skateboarding— streetskating more specifically— may be the most dominant metaphor or trope in my entire cache of thoughts and experiences, the very model of transformation, for me. There’s a part in Public Domain— the fourth Bones Brigade skatevideo of Powell and Peralta, and effectively the first videomanifesto of streetskating— which must have forced roots in my young brain. About twenty-five minutes in, a professor Eugene D. Mandar comes on the screen and delivers a staid but splendid academic explication of our passion, with Ray Barbie and friends skating along for illustration.
“Here, a clandestine observation: We see a roving band of skateboard cultists, practicing obscure urban rituals amidst cultural detritus of an abandoned manufacturing facility. How is it that these cultists can derive such pleasure from the seemingly insignificant, the debris of modern society?
What is the strange, profound attraction that this rectangular piece of concrete holds for them?
Do we now observe the rites of passage of a newly emerging civilization?
America’s civic engineers, confronted by a pristine natural environment, have designed their cities, their centers of commerce, for that most efficient of all applications: non-usage.
These young urbanites have discovered uncharted activities within the sterile surroundings of the enivronment’s original design.
And has not this trend continued into the residential neighborhood? Why, even into the local schoolyard, where even the simplest activity has been preplanned, tested, surveyed, and constructed for singular purposes…Preordained usage.
Yet our cultists, have created their own usage, their own… interpretation.”
It was that seedling— the idea that a parking block could yield a sublime— that convinced me that the everyday world was bubbling with crude oil; revealed only by inspired action. It was a heavensent example of Bernard Tschumi’s conception of action determining architecture, rather than the other way around.
(I still to this day wonder why Bernard Tschumi never latched onto it; why he never understood the miracle gift of skateboarding; why he had to produce wispy, unconvincing examples like “polevaulting in a cathedral.” Iain Borden, dean of the School of Architecture at Bartlett, did understand however. On some rainy indoor day, google and learn the good professor’s work. It will lead the way.)
A fortiori- even stronger— it was action determining environment, more than the other way around. Action rewriting surroundings. Rewriting the meaning of stairs, handrails, slants, planters, transitions, playgrounds, broken stopsigns, streets, gravity, paper dispensers— the unnoticed ninety percent of the world. It didn’t rebuild that environment, or alter it physically much at all. It added a new layer of meaning by action alone. Streetskating, for me and others, has given the world a new logic, a logic that is generalizable to every form of life, and bigger than just skating as a response to urban modernity (which it is).
The perfection of the form is skateboarders skating “skatestoppers.” Nothing better expresses its genius, its ultimate denial of purpose and “preordained usage.” A denial for and by freeplay. Andy Howell’s 5-0 on a rail ostensively placed to halt the skating of an incline. Jerry Su manualing a block bumpered to stop manualing. Skaters stealthily making their way in the night with Liquid Nails and angle iron and candlesticks and plywood, skating previously unfit and unwelcoming environments. Or Rich Davis and I, for two glorious minutes, skateboarding in the shopping mall with cleaning ladies informing us at the top of their lungs. God, it is so beautiful, so blasphemous against “preordained usage” and Purpose as a whole. Four wheels, one piece of wood, and a few screws: if this, then what else?
Strangely enough, I have gone months— as many as 8 or 9— without skateboarding. An inner voice, some incidental frequency of my superego, tells me that true happiness “surely must be more elusive than this.” When in truth, skateboarding is the only taste I’ve ever had of a complete happiness; a happiness that is in itself completed, fulfilled, and wholly answered. Everything else can always be made better, but skateboarding, no matter how bad or simple or pointless it gets, is always perfect.
Maybe I will become, like many of the destructors at FDR, a skateboard cultist. I will join the order, join the Search of Animal Chin (a Bones Brigade 3 reference, for outsiders). Half the Athenæum, spearheaded by the Brothers Morsberger, has taken the vow. And, lo and behold, there is now a miniramp in the Athenæum, funded by Megan Fuller and Brandon Morsberger, and constructed by everyone but me (I’ve been more than a little on the lazy side these past few weeks— thanks to all for putting up with it). The upstarts are learning at a lightning-quick pace: Dick Davis, the Matts, Dave, and Joseph, our first casualty who broke his foot. They will soon overtake us. All for the better: ever upward and onward.