Comparing Yourself to Other Skaters
When I first saw Leo Romero's part in "First Love," I was depressed. Watching another skater who was around my same age, then 16-years-old, perform to the degree that he did gave me a feeling of hopelessness. I knew I would never be that good. Or, I knew I could never skate as well as he did on the type of obstacles he tackled. I walked outside Harbor Skateshop in Rockville Center, where I viewed the video, and contemplated my skateboard future.
In that period of my life, I identified myself in relation to society by skateboarding alone. Just a year or two earlier, in 2004, I started filming my skateboarding with a MiniDV camera - Panasonic or Sony - that my mom gave me as a birthday present. Having a camera was a big deal, even though it wasn't a great one, because they were expensive and I never had one of my own to use before. The camera was the external mechanism I needed to progress as a skater. That was my opinion then. No doubt, I relied on the pressure to capture my tricks to improve my skills, to push further than I had in the previous session. And that worked. What ended up happening, though, was that I focused so heavily on recording that the video of the trick became more important than the trick itself. My experience of skateboarding was displaced by the medium of the video. The act of skating was secondary to the evidence of it.
The Negative Impact of Video Recording on Skateboarding
I was too consumed with the product of my skateboarding, being the video, and lost sight of the joy I originally felt by simply skating without that external pressure. My intention in gathering skate clips was to compile them into a traditional back-to-back edit on a VHS tape, trick followed by trick, and present that to skate shops as a means to receive sponsorship. Which I did, and it sorta worked. I knew this guy named Jimmy Lopez through a mutual friend and he worked at Harbor. I told Lopez about my sponsorship goals and he basically facilitated a casual shop-flow situation for me. The owner of the shop, Tommy, saw my tape and agreed to authorize a free board through his own company here and there, which was called Underworld, as well as a discount on store purchases.
My motivation for taking those steps came from the directions of the skate industry itself. It wasn't like I ever read anything that said, make a tape, submit it, get sponsored, but that was nearly every pro skater's origin story. They were an unknown ripper, they proved their rippage with video, and then a person with some form of power in the industry vouched for them and gave them a chance to further demonstrate their skills in exchange for products and possibly money.
And I wasn't the only one who knew the rules. Thousands of skateboarders were applying for sponsorship in the exact same way, probably all over the world. Making a "sponsor me tape." As a community, we collectively invested a great deal of reverence into skate videos. Even amateur productions. They represented the pinnacle of skateboarding achievements, globally or locally. Their other function, that of promoting a brand, product, or shop, was perhaps not fully recognized. Mostly, skate videos were sacred objects to be respected and analyzed, even if one had a critical interpretation of the content.
The Role of Video Production as an Amateur
The comparison tendency I referred to earlier is a byproduct of the relationship between skaters and their video productions.
So far as I understand, video production is the mainstay of the skateboard industry, because it is the most effective means of promotion. Every skater is "working on a video part," even if these projects are not as much a piece of a whole film as they used to be. The elevation of this particular product alters one's perception of the meaning of skateboarding. When you skate for the video, not for yourself, because it is your job or professional responsibility, the kind of strain associated with everyday regular work probably seeps into the experience. I don't see how it couldn't, given that the video is created for the consumer.
As a teen, I unnecessarily adopted that mindset. In reality, I was not under any actual pressure to film tricks. I had no commitment to any company and was just an amateur skateboarder with ambition. To be honest, I'm not sure I even fully understood why I had that ambition. Looking back, I would say my intentions were purely guided by my naive belief in the industry's vague promises.
A few things occurred. First, VHS tape was phased out and DVDs came into the picture. People I knew started to have Windows Movie Maker on their PCs, which meant we could upload MiniDV video directly onto computers, edit it, and add music. By the age of 17, I had produced a number of "sponsor me tapes," which I downloaded onto discs and submitted to a few other shops. Nothing ever came of that. A guy named Tom, owner of Mass Transit shop in Valley Stream, told me that he watched the video I gave him, considered the quality of skating very good, but couldn't "put me on the team" because I didn't have an existing relationship with any of the other riders. I also had a sort of trial skate day with the Underworld skate team, but I was told indirectly by Lopez they decided I wasn't a good fit. I did not have an inside connection with any legitimate company, nor did I really know how to form one.
Posting Video on YouTube
In 2007, I uploaded my last sponsor tape attempt onto YouTube. To promote it, I shared a link on a skateboard message board/forum I read then, called Official New York, and told people in real life who spread it via word of mouth. That effort garnered me the most attention I had ever received for my skateboarding. I even recall a gym teacher stopping me in my high school hallway to tell me his son watched the video. In a way, presenting the evidence of my skills to a wide online audience, including skaters and non-skaters, earned me respect.
The attention and respect wasn't that fulfilling after a while. I didn't get any kind of high off of it. Following the YouTube effort, I continued to shoot video for about a year, and then stopped. I couldn't be bothered to play the skateboard industry game because it seemed like a waste of time. I wasn't in a cool clique. I didn't want to be in one either. I realized my passion was for skateboarding, not attention, not products, not belonging to any kind of team.
By 18-years-old, I discovered that I had other, perhaps more practical ambitions, and chose to decrease the amount I skated. When I did go out, I went for myself, and having sessions without any pressure whatsoever was creatively regenerative. The burnout disappeared and I found that original fun, escape-like feeling. Skateboarding's true purpose in my life was revealed. For me, skateboarding is salvation.
Pressure as an Adult Skater
Even these days, I sometimes get too deep in my head about expectations and pressure to perform. I remind myself that the only one making the demands is me. When I feel like my self-worth is defined by my skateboarding performance, I take a step back and tell myself that it is perfectly acceptable to fail. Or, that there is no deadline for progress or a video. If I want to strategically hone a type of trick or maneuver, I can do that. If I feel tired or am not motivated, I give myself permission to relax on my board. Authenticity is not actually tied to execution. Style is the art. Authenticity and style can be represented on any level, basic to absolutely extreme. As a skater, I try to be open to my stylistic multitudes without judgment or self-criticism. Low level or high impact, cruising or flipping your board, it is all skateboarding.