Lately I’ve been on a documentary kick. Chief among what I’ve been
interested in is an entire slew of
films chronicling the fates of the professional skateboarders who
reigned supreme during my adolescence. Call it morbid curiosity, voyeurism or closure, I have been fascinated by the culling that took place after Vert skating became suddenly passe circa 1991/92. Maybe it is because I was into skating at that strange time before teenage interest in drugs and alcohol made their presences known; before girls were anything more than an unapproachable, uncomfortable conundrum, and before any of my friends or I had automobiles.
Part of the thing that I want to impress here is that skateboarding, while now a rather socially acceptable sport was once, in that magical time of ‘the 80’s’, seriously frowned upon by the adult population. Nowadays a score of young fathers hang out with their eight-year old kids on the street in my neighborhood, building ramps for the tykes and teaching them how to Ollie, Grind, Railslide, etc. Imagine my astonishment at first seeing this. My parents, especially my Father was always supportive of my interest in skating, but they also kind of flinched at the Sepulchre-imagery of a lot of the boards/mags and harbored at least some level of fear that my favored form of mobility at that tempestuous young age was skirting the line between recreation and vandalism*. As for other adults, well let’s just say that Tony Hawk wasn’t a household name equivalent to Michael Jordan yet. Skating was a closer cousin to the much-maligned set of Heavy Metal and its bat-biting icon Ozzy Osbourne. As such the sport often gave adults the impetus to run up and down the block on the cordless phone crying alarming warnings of ‘Satanists! Satanists!’ rather than wholesome big screen X-game entertainment.
There was even a suburb nearby whose police had a vice-like device that would snap your board in front of you if they caught you skating public property.
But that was a long time ago, and these days skateboarding falls in with the socially acceptable ‘X games’ and is a marketing and media phenomenon. I think that is awesome, the talent and pure artistry of guys like Alva, Peralta, Hawk, Hosoi, Mullen, and so many others needs to be recognized for what it is – amazing feats of human accomplishment. At the same time, to say that skating didn’t always go hand in hand with counter-culture and even fringe or crime elements would be to speak with one’s tongue firmly forked and there are a whole ton of films out there chronicling the sociological reasons for this.
So where do we begin? Let’s start with the granddaddy of the bad apples. Let’s start with gator.
STOKED: THE RISE AND FALL OF GATOR:
My first board was a Gator. It looked somewhat like this:
I was a pose and bought it more for the graphics than anything else. Just starting out I didn’t know much about the scene, I saw the opp to get a pro board and jumped at this one. At that age and in those circumstances you try to stick by the pro whose board you skate, and I did, until gator’s swatch-stylin’ douche baggery began to grate on even my bum-equipment wearing ass and I bailed for the mini Lance Mountain model (and my Ollie shot up about a foot because of it too!). Years went by and street style took over, high school moved me in other directions and even while I still skated somewhat regularly I stopped following the sport altogether. So imagine my surprise when years later my good friend Mr. Brown would inform me that mark ‘gator’ rogowski had in fact been convicted of murdering a girl and burying her in the desert?
Stoked is very well done and very creepy. It begins covering the 80’s boom of skating as a sport that, while not socially acceptable in the adult or mainstream America world, was a marketing bonanza to start-up companies like Powell-Peralta, Vision Skateboards/Streetwear and Santa Cruz. As with any marketing flash bomb skating had its icons and one of the initial ‘holy three’ was indeed gator (flanked of course by Hawk and Christian Hosoi, whose own eventual problems we will get to in a moment). Fame built gator up and he crested the wave for a time, but when vert skating unexpectedly died at the hands of Street style proliferation swatch-boy was left with a fuse the size of a lonely So-Cal mansion tied to his savings and a lifestyle that demanded he be in the spotlight all the time. The last half of Stoked then deals with the consuming anger, alcoholism and general disregard for human life that put gator behind bars where, hopefully, he will stay.
PRAY FOR ME: THE JASON JESSEE MOVIE
While watching stoked one old-schooler who I grew to really like via his interview segments was Jason Jesse. If you used to
skate and don’t remember the name, let me help you out of a moment:
That most likely will do the trick. Anyway, after Stoked a friend informed me there
was a documentary about the Jesse and that he would lend it to me.
The movie, like Stoked, chronicles what it was like for these guys who went from being So-Cal suburbanite teenagers to rich, international
stars. Jason Jesse, raised amidst his mother’s image neurosis and his father’s love for cars, motorcycles and guns has fared okay for himself, despite (as he put it) going from making big bucks to working a minimum wage job as a dish washer almost overnight. Add to this body image neurosis and paranoid delusions that see him well-armed and aiming binoculars at the skies for evidence of ‘Chemtrails’** Jason Jesse has come through his own personal trials as an amazing artist, still a bad ass skater and really, just a regular guy trying to figure out his own path in life. Pray for Me is a great documentary that not only gives a bird’s eye view of the evolution of skating but the whole So-Cal scene and how some people are raised into circumstances they have to battle for the rest of their lives.
RISING SON: THE LEGEND OF SKATEBOARDER CHRISTIAN HOSOI
Out of all the insanely talented pro skaters in the 1980’s one name stood up next to and often eclipsed that of Tony Hawk. That name was Christian Hosoi and he was probably the premiere vert innovator ever. In Rising Son Hawk gets a pretty large amount of screen time to talk about his friend and biggest competitor, telling how he himself often remained completely staggered by Hosoi’s seemingly endless ability to perform new and previously thought impossible maneuvers during the fleeting moments of his air time, pushing the limits (both physical and mental) of the vert style until, realistically, there was nowhere else for skating to go but back to the street (without a jet pack that is).
The footage in Rising Son is amazing, as well as sometimes heart-breaking, as we see yet another boy get handed a crown and then lose it, this time not because he couldn’t adapt to streetstyle (on the contrary, evidence suggests that Hosoi may have been as good on the horizontal plane as he was on the vertical) but because of crystal meth. Dennis Hopper narrates the story of the truest ‘Natural’ skating may have ever seen, and how the choices he navigated his fame with eventually lead him down a dark and narrow path that finally terminated at prison.
Ah, so much more of this amazing stuff out there that I feel like I need to tighten the trucks on my deck (sitting in the closet now for almost four years without a session) and take to the streets. Only problem is of course the eight-year old’s in my neighborhood may very well skate circles around my rusty ass, and wishing to avoid that I’ll stick to the docu’s for a while longer and perhaps scout out a secluded place to re-initiate myself in the ways of the concrete waves.
* They thought right.
** see below.