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Pushing Boarders: We Need To Talk About Skateboarding

Here’s the story behind Pushing Boarders, the world’s first academic skateboarding conference, held in London at the Bartlett School of Architecture. We reached out to the organisers of the event to find out more…

Photos: Emil Agerkov

Firstly, congratulations on an incredibly inspiring event. How did the idea for the conference come into being?

Thanks!

Each of us – SkatePal, Re-verb & LLSB – were brewing up similar ideas to connect other people in our respective fields: Re-verb within academia, SkatePal in the skate charity sector, and LLSB as public space campaigners. So when Theo (from SkatePal) met Thom (from Re-verb) out skating one day, a collaboration just seemed like the obvious thing to do. So Pushing Boarders grew into a weekend long event connecting all these different worlds within skateboarding together for the first time.

How many people came through in the end? The turnout, and people’s appetite to both listen and engage, was really encouraging to see

Over 1700 people signed up for tickets across the weekend. But you never know in advance whether or not people will actually show up. Then we had about 350 people turn up to the launch party at House of Vans, and the momentum just grew from there. Every one of the talks throughout the weekend was totally full to capacity. So that’s 7 talks with around 160 people in each one – over 1000 people in total – squeezed into packed rooms listening and engaging. The energy was intense! It was also amazing to see the conversations carry on into the evening and immediately after the event.

“There is so much inspiring research and progression in skateboarding right now”

How did you decide on the themes for the panels?

We wanted to give platforms to people who are already working in these spaces and living the experiences that were addressed, so it was important to have for example Neftalie, Dani and Jilleen curate and chair their panels on issues around race and gender.

There is so much inspiring research and progression in skateboarding right now and we wanted to highlight some of the most exciting emerging voices. For the panels curated by the Pushing Boarders team, we spent a long time discussing which individuals and organisations would be most appropriate. At the end of the process, all the themes fell quite naturally into place and we were hyped with how the lineup turned out!

The panels weren’t exhaustive by any means, but they were a good start at trying to reflect the kinds of things already being debated and researched around skateboarding right now and showed that we can have an event like this again covering these kinds of topics and more, and people will come to them.

Alexis Sablone, Elissa Steamer, Jaimie Reyes, Maria Falbo and Louisa Menke.

The panellists had a diverse relationship to skateboarding – they included academics, pros, activists – why was this spectrum of experience important?

If you want to have a discussion about diversity, you should of course be aiming to have a diverse panel. Having speakers from a number of different professional fields is also essential to provide different perspectives. In society generally, as well as in skateboarding, there’s a lot of room to improve representation, and this is something we were also conscious of.

We knew that differing experiences would allow for new thinking to genuinely emerge on the panels as discussions got flowing. This was really inspiring as you could see the panelists and chairs question their own understanding of topics when themes were explored in more detail.

Were there any points raised within the talks that really stood out for you?

There’s a few that spring to mind. One was during the Gender Identity talk, Marie Dabbadie said that one thing you can do to help girls feel more comfortable at the skatepark is just say ‘Hey’ when they arrive and make them feel part of the session. That was a pretty simple and great piece of advice I thought. Another was Gustav talking about the idea that you can actually build too many skate spots in a city — leaving them unfilled and therefore lacking in vibe, which consequently gives city officials a reason to stop funding skate initiatives. Who’d ever thought you could have too many skate spots?

“There’s no lack of analysis of our culture. But are we looking in the right places?”

I really enjoyed Lucy Adams talking about the agency of skateboarders and the importance of the desire for exploration. As skaters, we can get too tied down in spots and skateparks when really there is no feeling like cruising through the streets. Hearing the opening panel discuss skateboarding’s place in transformational politics was eye opening and set a powerful start for the rest of the weekend. Asa Backstrom’s comment in ‘What We Do is Secret’ stood out when she said “they are not talking about using their skateboards as weapons. They are talking about using their skateboards as shields”. There are too many to mention!

Why is analysis of skateboarding, the industry, and ourselves as skateboarders necessary?

It is necessary because skateboarders pride themselves on being progressive. If we do not question and attempt to analyse our own community and industry, I don’t think we are truly being progressive. Of course we don’t need to over-analyse every session, but being reflective and asking the right questions will push skateboarding forward and help us realise what is good and what is not-so-good in skateboarding culture.

There’s a lot of talk about the skateboarding ‘community’. That’s going to mean different things to different people, but for me it doesn’t matter if it’s 5 mates at the spot or 5000 skaters in a city, if there’s questionable shit happening in your community then it needs to be called out. If there’s room for progression, then why not explore that? Pushing Boarders is a platform to do that.

Karl Watson discussing race.

Would you say there’s a lack self-reflection in the skateboarding industry at large?

In the industry at large for sure. There’s definitely some progression being made, but there’s still so many bad things. Kyle brought up the issue of the industry being afraid to talk about issues around not even just race but actual white supremacy. The representation of women by most of the major companies is as sexualised pictures on board graphics rather than sponsoring female skateboarders, that needs to change.

Self reflection? Depends on how that manifests itself. Skaters talk about skateboarding all the time. There’s no lack of analysis of our culture. But are we looking in the right places? I’d argue that one of the most self-referencing subcultures in the world is completely blindsiding itself when it comes to the aspects that really need attention.

Is there space for a ‘new media’ representative of wider/more nuanced experiences of skateboarding? Perhaps something akin to what we’ve seen with left wing politics over the past few years

Actually this is a really interesting point which I don’t think I’ve seen framed like that before. There’s obviously the rise of Instagram in skateboarding which some might say has democratised the production of skate content — as you say in a similar way to Twitter etc. broadening who gets a voice in politics, but I think there’s something really important about diversifying what is seen as the traditional skate media with magazines like Skateism, and the wider/more nuanced experiences of skateboarding being covered in existing publications.

The skate industry and established skate media arguably have the biggest voice in skateboarding, so if that voice doesn’t represent you then you should be asking why. We all should. Social media is clearly changing things dramatically, but it’s also a breeding ground for ignorance. As quickly as we’ve seen a rise in the democratisation of representation through online channels, we’re also realising that comments sections are not always the place to conduct healthy informed discussion.  So yeah, I think it’s a help and a hindrance.

“there’s something really important about diversifying what is seen as the traditional skate media”

Was there any red tape you had a get through for the SOAS session afterwards, or was that simply ‘fuck it, let’s go skating’?

We always knew we wanted a session afterwards as we wanted to make sure the conference stayed rooted in skateboarding, and we were kind of told that if we did it right outside the Bartlett it would get shut down, so we went down the street to the Goodge Gap thinking most people would skate that til we got moved on and then skate somewhere else. The session on the wedge ramps happened fully organically on that little bit of cutaway from the street and we were so stoked in went on until about 1am. There were so many people skating it, drinking beers, and just hanging out there.

Yeah no red tape – just 100 skaters in an impromptu session. But it was interesting to hear all the Americans telling us this could’ve never happened in the States. If anyone has footage we wanna see it!

Gustav Eden.

Will we see a Pushing Boarders 2? The event certainly felt like the beginning of something

Yes for sure. There were so many discussions and ideas that came up, from the panelists and from the audience too, so it would be great to have another event that can pick up on some of these and the topics we didn’t get to cover. And we were so encouraged by the number of people who showed up for this one that we think there will definitely be an audience for another event like this. There are some plans in place to make this happen so watch this space for more details when we can release them.

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