July 3, 2012

Remember The Kids

Quoting B-Show from Twitter and writing posts about the X-Games; skaters, 2012 really is a strange time.

Sunday afternoon was hot and I watched the X-Games street finals drinking some Miller High Life out of a can that resembled the American flag. I'm not sure that seeing skateboarding on the television is still that much of a shock given that these things have been happening for the past 17 years, but there's still something transfixing about it in a very different way from which we normally watch the act, be it in person, or through the fisheye and rolling long lens. The X-Games' camera work maximizes nothing about the obstacles; it is, in fact, quite shoddy, exemplified by Nyjah Huston grunting an annoyed "look out," as he brushed/bumped a camera man before perfectly handling a bigspin frontside boardslide fakie to finish his first and best run.

On Nyjah, who was pumped up as having an injured left knee by Tony Hawk (who claimed to see a hitch in his push, which I couldn't perceive) and the who-knows-why-this-dude-is-there Sal Masekela: yes, we know, the kid is frighteningly amazing at riding a skateboard with which to do tricks. His brutality towards the board and rail was on full display as he did three 360 flip lipslides in a row (in different runs) and too-close-for-comfort attempts at kickflip backside noseblunt slides at the ends of runs that must have been tiring, if not completely nerve wracking. He's seemingly emerged as an antihero, at least when it comes to contests, in that his complete and quiet destruction must somehow be stopped by something else, lest we know what not is that something else. He's the skateboard equivalence of the San Antonio Spurs of the past decade or so, in that there's nothing more to hate than the consistency, lack of flair and the inevitability.

Enter Paul Rodriguez. P-Rod was never exactly considered to have a chance if you listened to the commentators. He's surgical with the type of accuracy with which we could only wish our drones could operate (the drone/robotic analogy would have been apropos a couple of years ago, but dude has grown on me, a lot). When he made his tricks, which he struggled to do until a perfect final and winning run, it was with an inevitable type of control which Nyjah could someday hope for. What separates PR from NH is the finesse over the brutal, a deeper bag and, in the end, more difficult tricks. P-Rod did this with switch frontside bluntslides to straight and a run capping switch 360 flip down the contest stack that was, especially within the constraints of the five or six seconds in which he threw down, popped and completed within time, elicited a grunt from me which lead to inquiries from the kitchen regarding whether all was well.

P-Rod was transcendant in difficulty and Nyjah got aced out by simply not trying hard enough (tricks). They finished first and third, respectively. Other guys, like Chaz Ortiz and Manny Santiago and Ryan Decenzo all properly vied for fourth, in what was really good skateboarding, if not anything that was a compelling display of what skateboarding sort of feels like.

Enter Ryan Sheckler. It should be more of a faux paus than it actually is, on the ground nowadays, to reflexively hate Sheckler. All the first hand, close accounts point to the dude being one of a kind awesome and if we are to take the Phelps endorsement at face value, the dude is pretty goddamn OK. Beyond that, he was the only skateboarder out of the six to really approach a type of skateboarding that could be called barely in control, balls out, or fun. Where Santiago picks up his board and daintily turns it around to drop in, Shecks ollies into the ramp only to speed check. His hip ollie/air is a kind of stinky nosebone but he grinds the bank-to-bench with no set up and we're thinking he might be the only guy in the whole thing that might surprise us, not by difficulty, but by sheer unexpectedness (real surprise). He put together a second place run to end the contest and it was a delight; Hawk and Sal said the kid thrives under pressure but it came off more like a dude who knew his friend was bound for first and just wanted to shred and succeed at it. He fatty-to-flatied a backside 360 (he and a 20-year-old Danny Way could have had a field day battling on that one) to end the whole thing, but the writing on the wall was written.

On judging skateboard contests: I've judged my share and the creme is usually obvious unless it is truly middling. I'm sure the guys judging the X-Games knew that; while Nyjah did more difficult tricks, Sheckler simply was better, in that strange intangible way that just makes some things more compelling than others. They bumped him by a third of a point to beat the formerly dreaded kid, and while he'd finished the event with a true exclamation point and a little bit of electricity, P-Rod, with some likable flair, rightly, claimed top billing.

Offering some ways in which to better the event, I'd say the first thing to do is move Birdman to a color commentating spot and leave Sal, a brand, if he is such a thing, on the wayside. Hawk might be one of the best practitioners of all time, but as far as modern streetstyle goes, he leaves a bit to be desired in the true knowledge department, weird as that may seem. Install some feisty upstart from the SPOT fold and we're fine. Otherwise, I'm sure some of the young geniuses that make the Disney Co. happen can make the skateboarding at the X-Games look like the skateboarding that skateboarders actually watch. The talent pool of hungry filmers is deep and even if they need to join some union or some other, it's all the better for those kids. The lay TV watching community won't notice a difference between a washed out long lens and a nice fisheye angle (Nyjah might like it too if the filmers knew where to be).

In all, I've belabored the blog post. Compelling skateboarding in a public (ESPN 2) setting is still a seeming rarity, and it's worth writing about and parsing out at the same time.

That I consumed skateboarding in the same way that I might have watched a Twins game is a little testament to where it's been and where it might be, later.

I had a couple more American flag beers after P-Rod won. He thanked God for winning a skateboarding contest, telling Dune, or Chris Pastras or the interviewer, that, essentially, God let him win the whole damn thing. Oh how petty, Old Testament style, He can be.

The invocation of God was it. We accept much about the "State of Skateboarding" and we contend that we haven't quite lost it to something else, in a macro-type-sense, but we have. It's easy to imagine Paul Rodriguez saying something else to whoever might interview him after a Tampa win, but having him play into every cliche of sports seemed both jarring and right. It, the skateboarding, has arrived, but we stand as midwives, helpers, who deliver what we once thought was something else, something maybe scarier and edgier than He on high thinks, at least up to that point.

The midwives among us stand to determine what's next in a nominal way, but that's not a place of powerlessness. That I enjoyed the whole spectacle (go Cultural Studies classes!) of the ordeal means that it was relevant, but not the name of the game.

While at dinner Monday, I noticed a group of three kids come out of an alley with skateboards, one without shoes, one with and a skinny girl in flip-flops. They handled the boards awkwardly, from some old dude's point of view, but all they cared about was getting there and doing it fast. I keyed my girlfriend into the scene, and told her that those kids are why skateboarding is awesome. She understood.

Thanking God is not an exclusionary point but a point of which to take notice. The X-Games are not going away. ESPN put on a great show of skateboarding; the skateboarding son of a comedian furthered his excellence. It's 2012 and there's no groundswell because it's already split. We write the story, or something, and the kids still rumble around, barefoot, going somewhere, while we pay some decent money for dinner.


JCarples said...

Well said my friend

Wylie Tueting said...

You nailed when you said Nyjah has become an "antihero" - truly nailed it on that one! Unfortunately, most people don't know the actual meaning of the word. But no less!

Wylie Tueting said...

And the Sheckler line was run was so sick, except, of course, for that last part, in which he held up his hands after the bs 360, as if to clarify that he still had control. That of course is an ingrained habit of Sheckler's.

Anonymous said...

solid B on that one wylie