All Photography by Nils Svensson
Been a slow news week around here. The web store ate up most of the time (thanks for all the support, your stuff should finish shipping today!) In consolation, here’s a quick convo with Polar Skateboards man-in-charge, Pontus Alv, and Aaron Herrington, Polar’s resident New Yorker, about their Manhattan-based sequel to last year’s “Trocadero Days” video. Have a good weekend.
What is the concept behind the “Manhattan Days” video?
Pontus: For both this and “Trocadero Days,” we approached it like we were tourists discovering a new city with our skateboards.
Aaron: We watched the New York section from Powell-Peralta’s Future Primitive a few times before we filmed it. You see them skating the streets together around Times Square, World Trade, and Rector Street as a big crew.
Pontus: We wanted to use diamond plates for it. The sounds they make are very distinctive to east coast skateboarding. I really wanted that noise in it. The shopping cart was another aspect. Coming from Europe, the homeless people pushing around the shopping cart with all their belongings really stands out for us. It’s not something we really see. We wanted to customize that idea for skateboarding — us pushing around New York with junk. We added a pole jam as a Ricky Oyola tribute, to Philly and that whole Eastern Exposure era.
Aaron: In “Trocadero Days,” they used pieces of wood, but we wanted to make it so that the diamond plate material was accessible everywhere. You always associate it with New York skating, just seeing those old Tribeca spots and bump to bars made out of it.
Was the Future Primitive section a big guide for the vibe you guys were trying to achieve?
Pontus: My biggest inspiration for both videos was the Trent Gaines, Rueben Dominguez and Paul de Jesus section in Propaganda. That part has always been a huge inspiration behind what I do. I want to showcase skaters skating together: doubles, triples and more of a gang vibe than about the individual. When skateboarders go skate, they go in a crew. We have fun together and we laugh together, but in the final product, the video always turns out to be about the one guy who’s doing the trick, even if the whole crew is there with him. Skate videos have a way of portraying it as more about the solo artist. I really miss seeing people doing stuff together.
When you film with the whole crew in mind, the skaters approach it differently. They think of it in terms of “Oh, you’re coming from this direction and doing a wallride? I have to go from here at this time.” It’s fun to see people plan those things out.
Why do you think skate videos took the individual-based direction as they developed?
Pontus: When skate videos first started coming out, it was more like “We’re gonna make a film.” There weren’t any standards. In Future Primitive, the approach was, “Let’s go to New York together, skate around, and get all these shots of the streets.” There was no expectation of how they should do it. The standards of how things should look weren’t set yet. In time, companies realized they had to create superstars out of the skaters. These people were building businesses around Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero and Mark Gonzales, so they had to focus on them because they were the faces pushing their brands.
Before, they didn’t know how to go about portraying skateboarding. Everything was experimental. I’m inspired by that era of skate videos when no standards were established.
Was there anything tough about pulling it off in New York? Parisians and Europeans in general seem a lot more open minded about the sort of thing you guys were doing in the streets.
Pontus: Lower Manhattan was fine. We didn’t get in much trouble. Cops would tell us to move on if anything. In New York, a bunch of skaters pushing junk around is pretty normal. Central Park was the only issue. “You’re filming? I need to see a permit.”
Aaron: I’m a nervous, paranoid dude as far as cops go. I thought the reaction would be way more negative than it was. There were only two times that cops told us to go somewhere else, which isn’t a lot considering we had these huge metal plates and were riding on people’s walls. There was one lady in the Lower East Side who came out at 3:30 in the afternoon, flexing about how we weren’t letting her sleep. We just started giving her shit for sleeping at three in the afternoon.
People figured out that we were filming for something, and weren’t a group of street performers or something. They were even willingly getting out of the way. Some would stop and take pictures on their phones, but for the most part, there weren’t any crazy crowds or anything. Even in Times Square or on Madison Avenue, a cop never came up to us.
Did you have specific obstacles in mind that you wanted to skate with the ramps?
Aaron: We only had a week to do it, so I wanted to best utilize the time. I had a few ideas before everyone got here, like putting the ramp up to the handrail at Columbus Park, or finding a good bike rack that we could go over or grind.
Pontus: I didn’t really have spots in mind, it was mostly improvisational. “We have two diamond plate ramps — what can we do with them?” We stayed on the Lower East Side, which is photogenic and a lot older than other parts of the city. We wanted to get a bunch of shots there. We had the spots with us wherever we went, so it was more about what street or building looks good.
We were pretty limited in where we could go because those things were super heavy to move around. We could only push ten, fifteen, maybe twenty blocks with them.
What’s the story of the music for the video?
Pontus: My friend Jean-Louis Huhta, who lives in Stockholm, makes music. I’d send him links to Propaganda and all these old videos that I liked. There were a lot of old eighties synth sounds, “Pump Up the Jam” and weird things like that. “Oh, I really like the drums in this one.” When it came down to it, we sat down for five days straight, maybe ten hours a day. We’d go heavy in one direction, then realize it didn’t work with the material we had, and have to start all over again. Our original idea was a lot more eighties, synths, funky type beats. We couldn’t get that vibe to work with the video.
Is there anything you wish you could’ve done on those days that you didn’t get to?
Pontus: When you watch the footage, you always wish you had a few more shots. The ideas always come when you look at the final product, but I’m really happy with the result.
Aaron: I had some ideas for Brooklyn, but the “Manhattan Days” aspect of it didn’t really work with those…