Words & Images by Adam Abada
“Shut up and skate!” That is a refrain I have seen written and analyzed more than actually spoken or practiced, but its dumb ethos echoes through so much of that which is considered “real” skating.
With the mindset of getting into the “summer vibe” (or something like that), I recently watched Dogtown & Z-Boys. Sean Penn’s bitter post-Spicoli narration about the [then] worst drought in California history doesn’t specifically say “shut up and skate,” but it lays claim to the temperament that it comes from. The film made me think about skateboarding’s connection to the world: the weather, school, roads, family, class, economics, substance use, housing. The film claims modern skating was born out of a drought.
Like everything else, when we skate, we bring the outside world to it. I do want to skate, but I don’t want to shut up about it! These three authors’ — all of whom skate — books, ideas, and studies help show that we can bring whatever we please to skateboarding to make it something that pleases us.
Skateboarding and Femininity: Gender, space-making, and expressive movement by Dani Abulhawa
“Let skateboarding speak for itself,” a close relative of “shut up and skate,” seems to be applied most readily when gender comes into play. Dani Abulhawa, a senior lecturer in performance at Sheffield Hallam University, ambassador for SkatePal, and decades-long lover of skateboarding, explores this idea in her book.
Working from the vast well of existing interviews and articles on skateboarding – a technique employed by the other two books here – Abulhawa shows how just the act of skateboarding actually can’t speak for itself because it’s imbued with our identities. A lot of these identity characteristics have come to favor traditional masculine qualities. Citing examples from the 60s and 70s of girls skating alongside boys in about equal numbers, she chronicles how those gender roles changed alongside skateboarding as crews like the Z-Boys placed values on descriptors like “power,” and “raw.”
In well-researched, stated and constructed chapters, Abulhawa digs into some of the separatism in skating’s history that has influenced the culture away from feminism. She argues how the subculture leaned farther and farther towards post-feminist ideas of full inclusion and representation as it picked up mainstream steam without really allowing for any space equity.
Ideas such as bodily-kinesthetic intelligence — a theory around the understanding of body movement that allows for replicating motions — sound heady and philosophical, but make pretty damn good sense from a skateboarding perspective. The chapter on skateboarding philanthropy is informed by her role as a SkatePal ambassador. Ideas like how the open framework that many of these programs provide suggest the “strong possibility that skateboarding leads towards a development of a broad range of physical skills and self-expressions in both participants and observers” is drawn from her real-world experience.
Abulhawa describes gender as a “dialogic process occurring between people, places, and the things in a range of contexts.” Gender can be anything and skating can be anything, based on where it exists and who participates. Skateboarding culture comes from how skateboarders identify themselves, and since skateboarders participate in the world beyond itself, skateboarding cannot be defined by just skateboarding.
Skateboarding and Religion Dr. Paul O’Connor
With a long history of iconography, diction and prose surrounding religious representation in skateboarding, Dr. Paul O’Connor’s Skateboarding and Religion sports Zered Bassett on the cover kickflipping over a church’s bump-to-bar. Set in our vast cultural lifeworld, it is easy to see how skating can be seen as religious. This happens most overtly through graphics, music, and videos, but O’Connor’s book goes much deeper. Skateboarding and religion are both based on the beliefs and views of groups of people. They both have foundational texts and ideas. They have their legends, myths, disciples, and, even Gods. (Some of them are switch.)
Stacy Peralta rears his head yet again, with references to his origin myth of skateboarding and the idea of California as some kind of “holy land.” Throw in Peralta’s The Search For Animal Chin, infamous Natas graphics, Jamie Thomas fanaticism — the well is deep.
O’Connor brings up and balances lofty, cerebral topics like “edgework,” the voluntary taking of risks in engaging in an activity that acts as a temporary escape from societal norms; mysterium tremendum, the power of religious feeling (think the communion of video premieres); and hierophany, the manifestation of the sacred (think the hallowed ground of Love Park or South Bank), with prose getting right at the historical and emotional parts of the act of skateboarding itself.
“I believe in skateboarding scholarship,” O’Connor includes himself in his text, imbuing the value of the object in hand, “precisely because it provides a rich context by which we can understand more about society, space, and culture. Skateboarding is not a niche concern; it presents valuable lessons to us in its multiple forms.”
Skateboarding and the City: A Complete History by Iain Borden
Finally, the biggest book in this little wrap-up, the proper textbook, Skateboarding and the City by Iain Borden. It is a decades-in-the-making follow-up to the book that started it all, Skateboarding, Space, and the City. The latter, published in 2001, famously uses Lefebreve’s super-architectural space theory — an equally heady, thoughtful, clever, dense, and aimless French Marxist mix — to talk about the new space that is created by bodies in movement in relation to architecture. There’s some real academic weight and pedigree going on, so take that for what it’s worth. While in no way containing its totality, this book is as complete as can be in summarizing the general history, function, and equipment of skateboarding. Stocked to the brim with references, citations, video links, images, and archives, the book does hard labor as a history for skateboarding in text form that would not be out of place in a college classroom, but exists also as a jumping off-point for connecting skateboarding to any aspect of our lives.
Borden warns against neoliberalism in skating. Though touting D.I.Y. culture and wearing that influence proudly, skate culture is also subject to the same racial and socioeconomic factors as its individuals, and not everyone may be able to express this specific value. So many other identities spring out of skating. It also includes a very strong narrative identity and editorial angle that shows how skateboarding has increasingly engaged with things like “public space, historic and architectural preservation, healthy and sustainable living, and entrepreneurialism.”
Any singular skateboard mentality or history, like that posited by Dogtown and Z-Boys, seems a silly proposition when briefly mentioned in this document of skateboarding’s longevity and how it has attached it to, and been born from, many cultures outside of itself. The place from which Borden understands the history of skateboarding recognizes that a skateboard in itself, like a toy, is pretty easy to understand. It is more the complexity of its relationship to the rider, their bodies, and the space around them when things get interesting and worth investigating.
Skateboarding and Anything
There is a healthy fear in skateboarding toward the codification of its unspoken poetry into the world of intellectualized academia. Institutions certainly ain’t punk, but I’m watching the damn Olympics and I bet a lot of y’all are, too. It is still furiously hot out and there is a fan four feet away from me on full blast, reminding me that things really aren’t going to get much better unless we make it better.
When watching Dogtown & Z-Boys, I did recognize some of the 70s Venice surf style and flow as represented by Stacy Peralta in my contemporary skating. There’s truth in it. Neither his, the monoculture, the Olympic Committee’s, nor my representation of skateboarding is wrong. (Maybe the Olympic Committee’s, actually.) It is just that all of them aren’t complete and the idea that it’s not worth digging into these representations is wrong. Dani Abulhawa, Paul O’Connor, and Iain Borden help show that just the act of skating is enough to think about outside of ourselves once in a while. You don’t have to read their books to figure this stuff out, but that is not going to hurt. Neither is contributing however you want to skateboarding. Take what you love, or what makes you happy, or what feels good, and skate.