What is your first reaction when you see a new spot on a friend of a friend’s Instagram page? Is it straight to the DMs for the address, asking around, or are you a D.I.Y. about it, seeking out context clues in the clip? Does it vary by situation: what happens when you, yourself, are in possession of a brand new spot? And how does one catalog such information?
These are perhaps strange questions when we’re all hunkered down in our homes, but then again, when you can’t skate (or can’t skate with people) it’s a good time to resort to academics. Me? I’m thinking about the time I posted a clip, filmed on an actual camera, at a new-ish spot to IG, where in short order one commenter asked for the spot’s coordinates and another obliged with the info. I judged that interaction too easy, but maybe my tastes lag behind the rules of today. Full disclosure? I saw the spot on someone’s story and DMed for the location.
The stakes are higher for those whose dealings in spots are a part of their livelihoods. Skateboard media types — photographers and video people — exist in a spot economy, where their knowledge, network and discretion make the whole thing go. Social distancing made it pretty convenient to hear from some normally busy people: gold-standard skateboard photographer Atiba Jefferson, Real Skateboards videographer Tim Fulton, and New York-based photographer Mike Heikkila.
How have you kept track of spots — photo book, notes, pins? How has it changed over the years?
Atiba Jefferson: Since I’ve been around forever, the original way to track spots was a Thomas Guide. You’d have to get it updated every year or so, and when I moved to California, I remember Grant Brittain being like, “You’ve gotta get a Thomas Guide because that’s the only way to know spots.” So it was a big map and it had a directory of streets. You literally became a map specialist and used these coordinates. It was only for like, Southern California, so you’d buy an edition for Southern California, because it was every small street, and so it was Google Maps before Google Maps. And that’s how you did it.
And then I remember even Mapquest changed everything, because it was like, “Oh my God, you can put it in the computer and the address will pop up and you can get the directions there.” So I’ve seen a lot of change, you know, but before it was old school, like, “Ok, you’re going to get on the 5, exit at Warner, take a left at the third light, which is Euclid, and yada, yada, yada.” And this is why pagers were even amazing when pagers came around, because you page someone and be like, “Dude, I’m fucking lost, call me back at this payphone.” And then of course you got cell phones, and everything changed.
I will admit, I’ve always been the worst guy with spots. I’ve always been what I consider a very lazy skater, in the sense that people will be like, “Dude, you got spots?” No, I don’t. I’ve never had spots. I’ve never been one to really search them out and have them just because I kind have been pretty lucky. Most people will hit me up like, “This is what I want to skate.” But that’s not always the case.
But I do keep GPS Log. That’s always been helpful and I’ve had that for the last couple of years. That’s just a good app that helps everyone brainstorm. It happened yesterday: we got kicked out of the spot …everyone starts looking at GPS Log, which has photos and a pin for where it is.
Tim Fulton: I’ve always taken photos of spots and just ran it off my phone. I remember a long time ago I had an actual spot book, like printed out photos and everything, but obviously it’s way easier to just do it on your phone. I used to use this app called Pin Drop, and then after logging stuff there for like two years, they went out of business and I lost everything.
Since then, I’ve been running this app called Rego. Whenever I hit up their customer support and ask about a new feature, they’re pretty cool about adding it. I just log everything on there, and then when we’re out skating, the dudes can just flip through it.
I kind of work with dudes to pick spots, I guess. Usually, I’ll go off of something they told me. We try to do one spot idea for the day. Say Tanner [Van Vark] told me he wanted to skate a spot — we’ll go over there, and from there, we’re just running off my spot book and looking at stuff around there.
Mike Heikkila: If I found a spot, I would take a photo of it with my phone, and before you could pin shit — before I had an iPhone — I had an Android, I would take a photo and then skate to the corner and take a photo of whatever the closest intersection was. Now, I pretty much keep track of them by just shooting a photo, and it puts a geotag on it, so you can see where it is.
At one point, we had a private Instagram that had a shit ton of spots with a pin on it; only like 10 people followed it. [Heikkila looks it up] It was just called @nycspots; 35 followers. One following, and it’s @mnsk8spots.
Are there rules about how info about spots should spread? Do you tend to be secretive or not?
Atiba: I just respect people’s shit. That’s also why I don’t have a lot of spots. I’ve always learned that if you keep spots secret, then people will skate with you more. My whole thing was never to really just like, burn the spot and be that dude, because it’ll always catch up to you. Especially when you’re the photographer that everyone should be trusting with spots — that’s why I’m always never like, “Oh, Andrew Reynolds took me to this, so I’m going to bring Jamie Thomas there.”
Tim: I’m pretty [open to] sharing. I know some people are pretty secretive about their spots, which I totally understand, but the way I see it is that we’re all in this together. Like, whenever I’m talking to another filmer about spots — I’m trying to do the same thing you are. So I’m usually sharing, unless it’s something where I found this one rail where someone could 50-50 it and that’s literally the only trick. I’m probably not going to share that one. But everything else, it’s pretty fair game.
Mike: If it’s a new spot, you obviously don’t want to blow it out. Say you find a spot that looks so fucking cool, or it’s such an awesome spot, and the trick on it is back tail. And it’s like, your homie backtailed it; the photo is fire, the clip is fire, all of it is fire, but who knows when that video comes out? If other people find out about that thing and they go there, they’re like, “Damn, the back tail would be the move on this thing.” Somebody else would do it, who knows if it comes out first, so we’re going to try to keep it a secret.
If you see something in footage, you don’t want to ask people for it. You don’t want to be like, “Dude, where is that thing?” and be that guy. A lot of times you’ve got to go into detective mode. I know people who are out there pausing, freeze-framing, frame by frame on YouTube, just to see. In New York it works at least; like, if I can see that there’s “Pretty Nail Salon LLC” in the background of something, I can type that into Google and find that spot. People pause footage all the time to get intersections or the name of a deli in the background. It could be any deli, but you gotta try to read it. I find spots through doing that shit too.
If it seems like more and more people are going [to a spot] and I have to ask, I will. But most of the time, if I’m skating with people who are maybe here on a trip or from out of town, they always want to go to the same old shit anyways. I have to text my friends, “Where is this spot that’s been around forever that I can’t remember right now?” Then it doesn’t really matter.
Here’s something that’s sort of an unspoken rule: I shoot photos with a lot of people who come from out of town. Like, [John] Shanahan rides for DC and a lot of DC people come here to skate. But the New York person has first chance at the spot.
“Keeping shit a secret is virtually fucking impossible now.”
Have you ever felt responsible for blowing out a spot by being the first to put it out there?
Atiba: Yeah, for sure, for sure. I have a couple articles in Transworld that literally are called “Blowing Up The Spot” that are just like, yeah, the crew went there and fucking destroyed it. That’s just part of the game when the crew goes somewhere. The article was on the Chino four-block. It was definitely a Baker spot. I remember we were the first big crew and five people got something.
Tim: I’m sure it’s happened but nothing I can really think of. But definitely anytime you go to a spot with more than six dudes — all of a sudden the phones are out and we’re filming their warm up tricks. That’s kind of when the spot gets blown out. Yeah, I blame everyone else.
Mike: I can’t think of a time I did, but I’ve definitely gotten shit for bringing somebody to a spot. My New York homies will be like “Why the fuck did you bring this guy here?” I’m like, “I was bringing somebody else there and that person was there too.” And that’s just the whole team aspect of stuff. A couple of my buddies that are skate nerds — they know where every spot is — I’ll ask them if something’s been done [at a spot] and they’re like, “Why are you there?” Especially if it’s something in Jersey.
People have padlocked rails, cut rails — is there ever a good reason to render a spot unskateable?
Atiba: No. I think that’s just straight being a hater, being scared. I think that’s always wack. Skating’s already hard enough as it is, so why make it any harder?
Tim: No, I don’t think so. I’ve been to a couple spots where there’s been a bike lock on it, and you hear, “So-and-so filmer put this bike lock here.” Dude, really, do you really have to do that? It’s kind of what I was going back to before: We’re all in this together. It’s not that competitive out here, is it?
Mike: I don’t think so — we are running out of fucking spots at an alarming rate. And then, this is New York shit, it’s not always a permanent spot. That’s the best part of New York: there’s so much shit that comes and goes, weird construction, we’re skating garbage. I’ve definitely had homies who did a trick on a spot who cut or broke it or some shit. It wasn’t like a big spot — it was some weird rail that somebody could pole jam. But what is somebody else going to do there, pole jam 180? He just kicked the pole and it broke. In my eyes, I would rather not have people fuck shit up, just to preserve. But if somebody gets a clip and they don’t give a fuck, it’s on them.
“Kids are down, they don’t care, they just want to see pros rip their spots.”
Are the politics of spot-sharing different now that there’s less traditional skate media and way more clips? Are the stakes higher? Lower?
Atiba: For me, it’s kind of the same. Like I said, I just respect it. But I do think I’m old school — a lot of the new kids will be like, “Wait you went so-and-so with so-and-so?” I’m not going to tell you. You ask them. You know what I mean? Like clips definitely float around because everybody films it on their phones and shit like that. That shit wasn’t like that back in the day. People were like, “Top-secret footage, don’t tell them what went down.” Now it’s kind of like, “Oh, that’s what he did? Cool.”
Even yesterday — we went to UCI. I didn’t even take a personal photo of Nyjah [Huston] at UCI, but I reposted a photo that Nyjah posted of me, then I posted a photo of Ty [Evans], and then a pro skater hit me and was like, “You guys went to UCI?”
It’s so easy to play detective. And that’s why a lot of people will be like, “Don’t post something at the spot.” But that’s also the fun thing about it, because it has people being extra curious about what went down.
Tim: I think it’s easier for spots to get blown out now just because of the internet. I find myself finding most of my spots watching videos and finding a street sign in the background. On Instagram, it is super easy to get a spot blown out, obviously. You go on a popular skater’s Instagram and there’s a video at a spot that they posted — most of the time some kid in the comments will go, “Oh that’s my school, so-and-so High.”
I found some spot in Palm Springs one time, like middle of nowhere. This random kid posted a photo of it and I DMed him like, “What’s up with this rail?” He sent me a pin and I think Robbie [Brockell] noseblunted the rail. It works really good actually — kids are down, they don’t care, they just want to see pros rip their spots.
Mike: Keeping shit a secret is virtually fucking impossible now. Like, it’s so hard to get a skateboarder to care about that shit like I do. And I also care about a dumb shit more than I should, probably. An actual full spot — keeping that a secret is pretty difficult. But there’s people who film something on a new spot and they’re like, “This thing is obviously going to get found and skated because of where this is. Should I save this or should I put this shit on Instagram right now?” People have to make that decision sometimes.
Through Instagram, every single person could just DM somebody and be like, “Yo, where is that?” But of course I think you should do some detective shit.