As D.I.Y. spots have become more common over the past decade, the Brooklyn Volcano remains an anomaly. It was the first New York spot of its kind, and existed in a place that could have hypothetically grown into something the size of a skatepark. Given the route real estate has taken throughout the Bloomberg years, it will likely be the last of its sort. New York D.I.Y. spots are now one-offs in spaces that could not accommodate a full, skater-made skatepark.
Daniel Campo’s The Accidental Playground is a case study of the Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal (BEDT), a onetime freight loading yard. The BEDT was home to the Volcano, a photogenic D.I.Y. spot overlooking the Manhattan skyline, seen in any skate magazine from the early 2000s. Campo is a former New York city planner and an architecture professor at Morgan State University. He is an advocate of “unplanned” public space, and writes The Accidental Playground to discuss the merits of when cities do not get involved with the recreational lives of their citizens, allowing them to “make their own environment.” These sort of spaces present a “get your hands dirty” alternative to the “manicured” nature of a Central or Prospect Park.
Compared to the restrictions faced in official parks, the BEDT was practically lawless within reason. Recreational use of the space was pioneered by dog walkers fed up with leash laws, but eventually gave way to a host of characters with interests that were not accommodated by other nearby parks. This included artists, a punk marching band, undocumented day laborers who could not procure on-the-books housing, and neighborhood residents who wanted to drink a beer outside without worry of an open container ticket. Campo considers skateboarding to have been the most sophisticated use of the space, though each group is afforded its own chapter in the book.
At a moment when everyone is preoccupied with the Emerica video, we are going to discuss some skateboarding that is two or three universes away, not eight. Stee, the collaborative video between Sk8Mafia and Sweet Skateboards, has been out since June, but recently went from “I’ll see it when I see it” to “must-see,” thanks to a hyperbolic tweet from Frozen in Carbonite (more on that later.)
Sk8Mafia is great. Though they are grown-ups who spell “skate” with an eight, rarely travel outside SoCal, and have art direction that reaches the bare minimum required for a brand to look more like a skate company than a drug front, they utilize a winning formula in which everyone onboard actually skates together. This translates to a fun experience when watching anything they put out.
“If you like Sk8Mafia so much, why did it take so long to watch Stee?” To put it bluntly: What the hell is Sweet Skateboards? (Answer: Sweet Skateboards is a Swedish company that has existed for over ten years, with a bunch of tall, mostly technical white guys whose names you cannot pronounce on its team.) It’s like the skate video equivalent of when Cam’ron started putting out those mixtapes with Vado — there’s always some hesitation when an old favorite mixes with an unknown. This sort of European crossbranding has worked in small doses, e.g. J.B. in the late-period World videos, the likes of Penny being introduced through 411, etc., but an entire project seems like a bit much.
This Ain’t California, despite its vague title (…most skate scenes are not California), is a detailed pseudo-documentary about a crossroads of recent world history and lesser-known local skate lore.
Marten Persiel’s tale centers around Denis “Panik” Paraceck and his 1980s skate crew in the German Democratic Republic, the portion of Germany that was a Soviet satellite state until 1990. The story is told through Panik’s friends as they gather to reminisce in 2011 upon learning he was killed as a soldier in Afghanistan. This Ain’t California is seemingly presented as fact through old footage, modern interviews and animation sequences, but the viewer suspects the main character may not have existed early on in the film, due to “archival” footage that is a bit too-good-to-be-true, and several obviously scripted moments. Some Googling will reveal that the character of Panik is played by German model and skater, Kai Hillebrandt, and that the film is a blend of both reenactments and real home movies.
Though Panik is fictionalized, he is a composite character found in any skate crew out there — the hometown hero who will try the gnarliest trick to further his legend, who could be good at just about anything but chooses to skate, often to the chagrin of parents. (Even superficially, one would think the actor’s resemblance to Natas Kaupas was part of the casting decision.) Denis Paraceck may not be real, but every skater knows someone like him.
The easiest thing to say is that this book is amazing. From Scott Bourne’s “Black Box” columns in Slap Magazine, to his video parts and more recent poetry books, the man has shown a serious dedication to quality across a variety of media. A Room With No Windows is Bourne’s first novel and one that is fully worth the decade of anticipation that preceded its publication. Bourne notes in the introduction that he writes to release himself from shame. To this end, Bourne casts himself the main character in a story that is as impressive in its introspection as in its illumination of other people and places. With alcohol as a “seasoning for sin,” a single man explores the differences between love and sex while coming to understand San Francisco’s geography based on the different neighborhoods where he wakes up after going home with women. He makes these beds when he leaves them, seeks a cup of coffee and a park, then wanders back to the Webster Street apartment where he resides throughout the novel. There is a beautiful passage about installing a door that provides slightly more light into Bourne’s windowless room.
Well, physical skate videos are not dead. Apple may have made it tougher to author them, but since when has antiquated technology stopped skaters? These are the people who pour thousands of dollars each year into repairing and maintaining a camera released in 1996. Skate videos are good for at least another 20 years.
If you need a change of pace from the two blockbuster videos that have dominated the winter, here are some of the more notable independent projects to come out in the past two months. With shops like Labor making an effort to carry more local videos, and the seemingly successful “put a few parts on YouTube but still try to sell the full video for $10″-business model, smaller videos seem to be doing alright these days.
After ten years, the presumed end of civilized skateboard society in Philadelphia has been reversed. The only difference between Love today and Love 10 years ago, is that there’s no three-stair ledge. Kids are now good enough to pretend that the planters in front of the ledges don’t exist; the higher ones are just another thing to prop a tile up to. A-list skaters are moving to Philly again (for “college”) and the Photosynthesis comparisons are apparent.