For the first instalment of our new web feature Point Of View we got Anthony Pappalardo (no not the one who used to be pro for Chocolate) to write this short piece entitled “What Would Natas Do?”
My generation of skateboarders were extremely lucky. Maybe that luck didn’t translate into lucrative careers for a lot of talented skaters, but the innovation I witnessed starting in the mid-‘80s and well into the ‘90s was mind blowing and life changing. It’s easy to forget that there was a point when only a handful of street skaters could land a 360 flip, or that tricks like nose slides weren’t even possible, because boards didn’t have real noses till the late ‘80s.
So yes, there was less money in skateboarding, but we were still fucking spoiled, because we got to watch an a cast of creatives including Gonz, Natas, TG, Hensley, Rodney, Hawk, Blender, Stranger and others, invent, create, and redefine what skateboarding was. And that’s just a small sampling, without even mentioning what Thomas, Templeton, Lotti, Way, McKay, Sanch, and Daewon did in the ‘90s. There’s too many to even list.
Once board and equipment designs evolved with the new types of skating in mind, it was a free for all. At any given spot, anywhere in the world, something was being done for the first time, albeit shitty sometimes in the form of some gross pressure flip or horrible ledge dance combo. Still, you could be “the kid from Sometown, USA who could do front foot impossibles down stairs” or “that guy who ollied a trash can standing up.”
There were plenty of reasons why this happened so quickly in such a condensed time span. Part of it was natural to skateboarding. Skill develops, so you take your bag of tricks from curbs, to ledges, and then handrails. Another huge factor is terrain. Street skating’s legitimacy made everyone start to look at their world as a giant skatepark.
It took a while for the contest circuit to catch up though. Watch some old contest footage again and you’ll understand that you HAD to be creative, because the courses consisted of random shit like vert walls, a cow sculpture, kiddie pools, random tires, and some fucked up car–why did they always have a car?
Well that shit changed quickly didn’t it? X-Games and Street League courses look like some futuristic fantasy world, compared to the Savannah Slamma set up. But maybe the perfection sucked a little creativity out of skateboarding. I mean fuck, in Street League you’re instructed to hit specific obstacles. It’s pretty literal: “OK, it’s Shane O’Neil’s turn to attack that ledge and try to maintain his league leading 8.7 score! What’s he gonna try Felix?”
Dudes already know the “point value” of a trick, so why would they gamble by doing something out of the box? How would the judges even score it, if Austyn Gillette pulled a Neil Blender and spray painted a sweet triangle, or whatever’s cool on said ledge? Oh, and watch the YouTube clip if you have no clue what the hell I’m talking about please.
I hear my generation complain about “contest robots” like Chaz Ortiz or Nyjah as they flip through the channels. Everything is perfect now from the schoolyards to the contest courses. We see them on TV so much that it’s easy to forget they’re still young as hell. They’re also still learning who they are on a board, but have such a precise skill that you forget that they’re kind of “new” to skateboarding.
What would a pre-injury Natas or Blind era Gonz do if you threw them on an X-Games course? I’d gamble that each run would be completely different and equally inspiring. Partly because there’s an actual scoring system that rewards you with a lot of prize money, and due to the fact that only one style of skating is really rewarded with that money, you have to skate like a “contest robot” to get win and get paid. These guys are rich though, and maybe getting tired of doing the same shit EVERY CONTEST. While we’re on the topic, can one of these announcers just record Lutzka’s run once on their iPhone and play it every time he’s out there? Please. Maybe he’ll get how tedious it’s become.
Will P-Rod grow an afro and start painting? Will Torey get into jazz and stop flipping his board? Perhaps it will take one of the “it guys” to say “fuck IT” and get creative for one contest. How would the judges even score innovation? If no one’s done it, can they turn it into points? But let’s get use a current buzzword here and get “granular” about the whole shit. Just because you dress like a waiter at a Lower East Side cafe, doesn’t mean you’re doing anything original either. It barely was when Ethan Fowler morphed into a Bukowski dude, but it looked rad as hell and it fit the Stereo image, plus he was destroying everything in his path with style.
Still, it’s way cooler than a dude in more logos than Dale Earnhardt Jr. flipping down something so perfectly and effortlessly, that I fall asleep. Don’t get sassy and try to channel Chris Fissell or Damon Byrd either as an attempt to stand out. Sorry for making anyone who’s watched them skate puke in their mouth a little just then. I’m not saying go copy anyone, because stealing someone’s bag of tricks and kit is kind of lame, unless you’re like fifteen, but it would be tight to watch Luan mugging for the camera Z-Boy style, doing weird tricks like Tim Jackson in “Risk It.”
Then again, why should any skater from the “new money/athletic shoe/power drink” era care what old people say? We’re rarely happy. How many old heads blast Malto for being Koston 2.0, but can’t praise David Gonzalez for filming a part that’s not only crazy, but an homage to so many different styles of skating. They’re too busy watching “Streets On Fire” for the millionth time, convincing themselves there’s something super special about racist era Jason Jesse doing an ollie. Yeah I went there, sorry. Hey Converse, give Peanut Brown a shoe if you’re reading this OK?
Maybe we’ll see a change in skating when these guys can’t take a beating anymore. When they’ve turned to everything from PEDs to anti-aging chambers to try to preserve their bodies. Or a new crop could come up and push them out the door. Remember that really fucked up scene in “Stoked”–no not all the ones about what a piece of shit Gator was, the other one where he’s trying to stay relevant and street skate? Hosoi could look cool boardsliding a three-stair rail, but Gator looked like such a kooked out mental patient, doing handplants on a curb and throwing tantrums. Imagine Nyjah with a little beer gut, but the same tight red pants, throwing down a switch hardflip down a 20 stair, while some new kids are giggling and clowning him? Don’t laugh, people change. Or did you forget this happened?