photo & text by nacrowe
what's interesting about the narrative of iconic professional skateboarder TONY HAWK's career is that it parallels the story of SKATEBOARDING in general. his success and notoriety is the result of a burgeoning, bubbling subculture finding its moment in the media imagination and spotlight, when corporate sponsors and the sporting world effectively caught up. sort of.
and it is that tension between the SELF-DEFINING, DO-IT-YOURSELF PUNK ROCK ethos of an underground culture with the demands of corporate AMERICA in a pre-internet age that make the autobiography HAWK: OCCUPATION: SKATEBOARDER (HARPERCOLLINS, 2000) such a compelling read. in essence the books central claim is that SKATEBOARDING is an ACTIVITY and LIFESTYLE pursuit that has no inherent need for competitions or external judgement. it is its own PURPOSE and needs no outside validation. however, what initially differentiated HAWK and his crew in the original POWELL & PERALTA sponsored BONES BRIGADE (i.e. STEVE CABALLERO, MIKE MCGILL, TOMMY GUERRERO, RODNEY MULLEN and LANCE MOUNTAIN) was their domination of the nascent vert and freestyle competitions of the 1980s. HAWK's ability to master technical tricks and apply a freestyle aesthetic to vert skating and expand its lexicon of tricks was his road to notoriety. this is not to say that he was the most innovative or consequential skater (my vote would be MARK GONZALEZ or RODNEY MULLEN), but he was among the most popular.
the fact that HAWK was able to bridge the cultural divide between the world of BIG BROTHER, TRANSWOLD and THRASHER with that of ESPN is probably the GIFT/CURSE of his life. the former publications have a vested interest in the continued promotion of the SELF-DETERMINING, SELF-PERPETUATING and SELF-MADE aspects of the SKATEBOARDING subculture. cable sports networks are interested in selling beer commercials, which means they have no interest in the culture of SKATEBOARDING and every incentive to promote nonexistent rivalries and hold up individual personalities in order to fulfill their lucrative agenda. HAWK is about the subculture and its SELF-MADE ethos, but he is also undoubtedly a byproduct of the competition circuit (which is anathema to such values). he also is the face of SKATEBOARDING in the popular mindset and has garnered marketshare that has undoubtedly helped popularize the sport and allowed opportunities for countless skater-owned companies to flourish.
its an interesting dilemma and something i found quite compelling to parse through and consider in his autobiography. learning about how the culture concurrently shifted ECONOMICALLY and STYLISTICALLY based on outside ENVIRONMENTAL pressures was interesting as well. much less interesting were the exploits of his travels, his fascination with meeting DONALD TRUMP (way back in the day) and the ups and downs of his personal relationships.
nearly 20 years later we are still very much living in an ecosystem influenced by the BIRDMAN, as well as MATT HOFFMAN and KELLY SLATER respectively. whether or not that sense of purity remains with all that inevitable exposure is a matter of opinion. in the age of social media omnipresence this is probably all a mute point anyway. all compelling to consider.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
pro skateboarding legend RODNEY MULLEN is a magician without peer. widely regarded as one of the most inventive riders to have ever taken up the sport, he is credited with combining street and freestyle skating into a hybrid arsenal of tricks, all of which are the language of the sport today. its true that other skaters have acquired bigger fanbases, but basically everyone is speaking in the lexicon he invented.
but that is not what makes MULLEN interesting to me. if you know his background than you are aware that he was isolated growing up in a strict household and his board was his singular focus in life. in fact, his disciplinarian father let him pursue it only to demand that he hang up his passion if he couldn't make a living from it. after winning contest after contest his father took such as further proof that such were not meaningful. it is truly remarkable how such a transcendent generational talent endured despite having little to no support from those he cared most about, given his isolated upbringing. in comparison TONY HAWK grew up in a household where skateboarding was their family business, his father being the head of competitions funny enough. MULLEN sadly was in a family where skateboarding wasn't encouraged but outright dismissed.
when i think of MULLEN, i think of passion and innovation. i think of survival. i think of someone that pursued their passion with a singular drive and saw opportunities for artistic expression where others saw a common toy. for me its that vision of his that separates him from the pack for me in the same way that a MAGIC JOHNSON no-look side pass bespeaks a mind that can look ahead at what will come to pass and execute such with conviction. most of all he is an artist whose dedication is rooted in a deep love for his craft, which is impossible not to respect.
when watching his tricks i get inspired to create. his abilities transcend sport, its more like ballet. its artistic expression in motion. MARTHA GRAHAM eat your heart out.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
early 20th century french conceptual artist MARCEL DUCHAMP once stated that america's greatest work of art was its plumbing. to him the object was redefined and elevated to that of art purely by the transformational gaze of the artist.
i couldn't help but think of that idea when recently watching a documentary on the legendary BONES BRIGADE 1980s skateboard team for epoch establishing skateboard company POWELL PERALTA, which notably included STEVE CABALLERO, TONY HAWK, LANCE MOUNTAIN, RODNEY MULLEN, TOMMY GUERRERO, and MIKE MCGILL and later BUCKY LASEK, MIKE VALLELY and DANNY WAY among others. BONES BRIGADE: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY (NONFICTION UNLIMITED 2012) was directed by STACY PERALTA of POWELL PERALTA and Z-BOYS fame.
for me what made this documentary interesting is that skateboarding for this generation provided a way of reinterpreting the landscape in just as radical a manner as the ROMANTICS or TRANSCENDENTALISTS of the past. oppressive suburban monotony and urban jungles were transformed into a never ending canvass upon which to explore. as much as these athletes provided a new touchstone that shifted culture in terms of sports, fashion, music and normative definitions of masculinity, it is this freedom that they exemplified that i still find the most compelling.
for me personally i only experienced that level of transformation with my surroundings when i got a honda click scooter in MYANMAR. man i loved that bike. life over there was pretty isolating and monotonous where essentially i lived on the same compound of the school, which felt like a prison. the military government felt rather oppressive and it was a situation where you felt like you were being constantly monitored. i only lasted a year at that school and was happy to leave. but having that bike made my year. it gave me the freedom to really explore the countryside and meet locals, talk with artists and monks from other towns and villages. even now i can still smell the air of the rice fields and see water buffalo lounging in the distance.
without that bike i literally would've been stuck in that compound with a bunch of complaining ex-patriots (mostly americans) whining about some inconsequential bullshit. instead i was out taking in the food, sights and culture of the northern region surrounding MANDALAY. there is something visceral about feeling the wind in your face and being physically traveling in space, not in a traveling air-conditioned room (a la cars, trucks, etc) that makes you really take in the surrounding landscape and notice how it shifts and alters over time. maybe this has little to do with skateboarding, but i really miss that feeling. know i understand the risk/reward of motorcycles.