To Skateboard Alone

To Skateboard Alone

Skateboarding Alone

I skate alone. This decision allows me to set about my task with the least amount of distraction or interruption. It's the most practical scenario for my style of skating. I also do not have enough skater-friends at my age to coordinate a session. Like the majority of skaters, in my younger years I would primarily skate with people. I suppose I don't live near the ones I used to reach out to, if they even still skate. Some only go out once in a while. Others quit. They've "grown up." And, I'm not comfortable, really, making friends with 20-year-olds as a guy in my mid-30s. So I do solo skating. 

It took me over 20 years to realize that I prefer skating alone. Within the past few years, I've seen an increase in media that covers solo skaters. People who film themselves doing tricks. Most of these "skate vloggers" talk directly to their camera. From the outside, it seems they're using the camera as a replacement for people. They speak into the lens to the audience, like me, who may be there watching. 

This style of making skateboarding videos was definitely not popular when I was a younger skater. The respected video-making format was skater skating and filmer filming. Then the failures are edited out, probably by the filmer, and the successes cut together back to back and included as part of a whole video of similar "parts" or chapters, each titled with the name of the skater. Nearly everyone adhered to this format. CKY was perhaps the exception, because those productions incorporated stunts, hijinks, pranks, vandalism, nudity, etc with skating in a less rigid editing style - probably Bam Margera's vision. And as a teen, my friends and I, like many suburbanites, filmed similar antics when we weren't skateboarding. 

Skateboard Videos and Influence 

But, if anyone, amateur or professional, wanted their skate video to be perceived as legitimate, it had to be shot and edited with a certain seriousness. Even if the action was absurd or joking in nature, in or around or through skating, the conception of the action was such that we were always conscious it was for the video, for people in our community to see and judge. And the anticipation of being seen and judged beyond that moment detracted from its existence, its consciousness, as a moment in that particular time. There was a type of displacement effect, in my recollection anyway, that occurred, because much of what we were doing was performing according to a strict format. 

I never really aligned creatively with that seriousness or the format. Interestingly, the format was established just by way of the preceding media, the skate video canon. At least up to 2010 or maybe a few years later. There may have been slight challenges or interpretations of the expectations, in terms of camera angles, slow-motion, lighting, effects, and so forth, but the format itself never really shifted in any major way. You either had a filmer recording you doing your tricks for a video that may or may not be released and distributed, or you were just skating with no documentation whatsoever. 

Up until about 10 years ago, the majority of skaters in the world largely skated for an audience of themselves or whoever was around and did not record their actions on video. Maybe that could be said about nearly everything human beings do. Since there was not such an intimate relationship with and dependence on social media to identify ourselves as skaters, filming (that's what we called it, regardless of tape or digital) was reserved for whatever the major production was that you were working on. No one supplemented their efforts working on a film with short video pieces that revealed their process or status in life. There was also an explicit understanding of who was worth filming and who wasn't, and one's view of their own skill level was measured, in a way, by whether or not you were good enough to be filmed. "Don't film me, I suck," was a common phrase. 

The more advanced you were as a skater, the more you tried to hoard and hide your footage. I definitely aimed to keep my filmed tricks as private as possible. Ideally only the filmer and I would have seen it. Until the "release" of the whole production. That way, the rumors of what I did or what anyone did would circulate and the audience or community would anticipate the production and watch it. 

Personally, as a teen I made different versions of sponsor tapes. I never really had a deep enough connection with any filmer who was working on a closer-to-professional video, and who I could regularly go shooting with. So, I worked closely with my very amateur friends, certain people who considered themselves more filmer than skater or whoever was around to hold and point the video camera, to record enough for me to create a video showcasing my skills alone. Randomly, I would shoot with older skaters or kids who had top-quality camera equipment, and my tricks would end up in their productions. Or, the tricks I considered of lesser quality or fooling around, which I didn't plan to include in my own solo videos, would get thrown into my friend's productions. YouTube was the platform where we posted and watched these videos, typically only when they were fully edited and finalized according to the format referred to earlier. Full length videos. 

The bulk of what we all shot, though, regardless of intention, lives or dies on the tapes they were recorded on. I have a box of tapes with tons of footage I never put on YouTube or anywhere else. I'm sure millions of kids do, too. Stuff we considered good for our age, which we then discarded as not good enough once we got older and our skills improved. So it collects dust and will probably eventually degrade. 

The process of video production was: 

  1. Get someone to film you if your skills are considered worth watching. 
  2. Isolate the filmed, landed tricks that were the absolute best, based on the editor's or skater's opinion. 
  3. Cut those wins back to back to form a part or sponsor me video. 
  4. If cut for a part, edit that chapter into the full length video, featuring several similar parts. 
  5. Release and distribute the film on YouTube, or, if you were professional, on DVD. 

Major contemporary skate video productions still adhere to this format. It is considered the only way to be legit. The content is also important, with non-skatepark footage being the most hardcore. 

Standard Skate Video Format

How did this happen and why is this format viewed as the standard? As a skate media consumer, the format seems to have developed gradually and in tandem with skateboarding and technological progression overall. Skate video filmmakers also seem to have had a desire to highlight both skateboarding and technological progression. If you are a filmer, you will want to always have the best and newest camera. If you are a skater, you will want to perform innovative and groundbreaking tricks. 

The ambition to endlessly improve these aspects of skate videos and skateboarding itself probably built the path toward the ultimate format. People like Stacy Peralta used old-fashioned film cameras to capture skaters doing their tricks in a session setting - skating with a group of other people, taking turns - and shot the successes within a few takes. The cost of film, I'm sure, influenced this stylistic decision. This method saw skate progression as more of a collective act intertwined with the energy of a given session. Perhaps these skaters in the 80s practiced a maneuver off camera as much as they wanted, but the pressure to execute a trick from their repertoire on camera seems to have been very high, and that may also have to do with the rarity of the occasion to actually get filmed, given its relative inaccessibility. 

Later, with videographers like Spike Jonze in the early 90s, the home movie camcorder permitted filmmakers to shoot skaters performing a single trick either in a session setting or completely alone over and over again until they perfected it. The cost of the amateur camcorder and the tape inside it made that approach of recording more economically feasible. The lower equipment and production cost made videotaping accessible to more people. The acceptable and coveted terrain of the 90s, being the street versus a ramp or any kind of vertical skateboarding, broadened the appeal and interest, too. With that, skaters could practice tricks while filming and often perform a trick they've never accomplished before in front of the camcorder, perhaps even as a one-off. The energy was directed, in a sense, away from the other skaters in the session, and toward the camera itself. 

The older film camera served as more of an observer of what skateboarding would have happened in a live session setting anyway, while the camcorder or video camera served as an active participant in the action of the skateboarding. The relationship shifted, so that skaters could progress their skills working with just the camera, rather than relying on the energy of their crew. The ability to envision a trick and develop the possibility of landing it in real-time while being recorded seems to have unlocked a creative or imaginative path in the skateboarding consciousness that did not exist previously. The camera's commitment to witnessing and the filmer's commitment to believing in the capability of the skater encouraged a vast amount of creative growth. Not having the sense of running out of time means you can try a trick as long as you need to, as many attempts, as many days, as required. If you don't do it today, you can come back again. The elimination of the movie-set structure busted open the doors of skateboarding's perception. 

With this unlocked potential came the capitalization by brands. Skate companies could make full length productions relatively easily, and they discovered that the skate community was interested in consuming the videos in order to observe the progression. You buy the video to witness the latest innovations, along with the clothing, music, and skate styles. The videos became the ultimate challenge and proving ground for professionals. The importance of competitions evaporated and skaters skated for videos that were sold to consumers and which promoted their sponsors and moved products. The owners of brands were the video producers and they controlled the culture with those videos. The video format of back to back peak-performance clips of tricks in per-skater parts that served as chapters in a full length film, showcasing a brand's given team of riders, probably greatly increased sales. So having the control over the production and capitalizing on the progression aspect of the video format meant that this became the status quo for skateboard films. In my estimation. 

And, no one really challenged it. Unfortunately, ideas that are not in line with the status quo of skateboarding culture are often ridiculed and eliminated. 

Technological Progression and Skateboarding

Skateboarding progression does not seem to have a limit. Which, if compared to other athletic activities, is amazing. It should have a limit, but it doesn't really. At least not in terms of technique. The progression of skateboarding made possible by the accessibility of video production, however, does have a limit with regard to consumer appeal because of that same accessibility. The expansion of the skateboarding culture by way of the video dissemination means that there are more people skating or who want to learn how to skate now than ever before in its history. The majority of skaters, no matter their skill level, are not as good as the professionals represented in brand videos. Consuming media that shows only the best can make people not try at all or quit at a certain point. 

And the technological progression, like skateboarding, does not have a limit. So when phone video and social media became more accessible to culture at large, not just subcultures like skating, skaters of the old school perspective used it to show their process or personality, and the newer average-skill amateur skater found a platform to do the same thing. A sort of democratization took place, and just like when the camcorder replaced the film camera and shifted the culture, so with social media. 

I came to the realization that I have a preference for solo skating after shedding the notion that I needed someone to film me skate, that I needed to stick to the format and structure that was dictated by the culture. I stopped acting as though my footage was so sacred that it needed to be kept secret. I use a phone to take video of myself skating, but do not speak to the camera because I want my skating to speak for me. And I include all the failures of a specific trick I'm trying so as to demonstrate the process of landing a trick in its entirety, which then becomes an individual video suitable for the platform that is social media. We all know "Skate or Die" and abide by it, and to my mind the same goes for adaptation. 

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