Rolling in the direction of something real | Simply Ranked
Plus: Freedom? NBDs on ABC, Joe Buffalo guest PRO, and more.
The definitive weekly ranking and analysis of all the skateboarding and other online things that I cannot stop consuming and how they make me feel, personally.
We finally have an answer. Sort of. Steve Berra, who made another insufferable appearance as the reader of the rules during last weekend’s Battle At The Berrics game between Nick Holt and Gustavo Ribeiro, revealed, at least in his mind, why the thirteenth iteration of the contest is dubbed “Freedom.” To Berra, what that means is “freedom from COVID. Freedom from the schedule last year, freedom from [the 64-person bracket] — that was brutal.”
So this year’s BATB refers to how shitty last year’s was? And, you know, COVID is still out there, Berra. He would also go on to say that BATB is now a “teenager” and that “we should have had our bar mitzvah.” Okay.
It’s obviously easy to dump on the guy for being, well, himself. His frantic state of petulant insecurity only seems to get worse each time we see him on camera and only damages The Berrics’ already ailing brand. He really doesn’t give anyone much reason to feel compassion for him, but I do hope the guy is okay. At the risk of armchair diagnosing, it seems like he’s taken on some real psychic damage from being criticized online (most of it warranted, albeit with a lot of dogpiling). He doesn’t need to keep doing this to himself. Why not just take a backseat? There’s no reason he has to be front and centre at these things.
Berra can grant himself that freedom, and we, the viewers, freedom from Berra.
NBDs rebroadcast on ABC?
Mood: 🥇 🥈 🥉
During last weekend’s X Games “Real Street Best Trick” event at Rincon Middle School in Escondido, CA, commentator Brandon Graham said that the production team at the long-running action sports competition had been trying for three years to secure the massive four-block and its accompanying rails as a location for their event. In fact, it was the first place they considered the series taking place.
As a skate spot with as extensive a history as Rincon has, that makes sense. Thanks to its association with skateboarding, this aesthetically lifeless and forgettable mountain of concrete and steel could reasonably be dubbed “iconic.” It’s been featured on and in magazines and videos for over two decades. For some of the skateboarders who’ve managed to ride away from tricks there, it’s helped launch careers and cement legacies.
It’s also so imposing in stature that it seems absurd to turn this place of cultural myth-making into a contest course. This was reflected in the results, where even with some of the gnarlier big drop and rail skaters in history in attendance — some of which, like Ryan Decenzo and Chris Joslin, who had already marked their names in history there previously — the group could only manage to ride away from eight tricks in total over the course of an hour of skateboarding.
While a thoroughly entertaining watch, it was odd to think of this place known simply and somewhat frighteningly as “Rincon,” becoming a location where a gold medal could be won. The broadcast did a decent job explaining the gravity of what having an event here meant, using talking head interviews with Jamie Thomas, Chris Cole, and Chris Joslin to place the dull grey concrete bleachers in a historical perspective. But what does having an event like this here mean for the spot itself? Can a skate spot sell out? Are skateboarders going to want to try NBDs here now that the spot will likely get rebroadcast on ABC? Or had skaters already wrung out what was left of Rincon’s cultural impact over all these years and tricks, and this was the only way to resuscitate it?
That’s a lot of questions without definitive answers. What is concrete, however, is that Alec Majerus kickflip-frontside-nosegrinding Rincon’s rail in nine tries was absolutely messed up. But that begs another question: if someone does a trick at a street spot but in a contest setting, does it still count as a “street” trick? … Damn.
Where they getting this shit?
Mood: 🌯 🤤
Back in February, I wrote about old enjoi boards that were auctioned off by the Government of Canada (which a friend of a friend eventually picked up on the cheap). It was a bit of a shock to see the Feds hawking hard goods, and I wasn’t sure anything could top that moment and its uncanny intersection with my personal interests, but earlier this week, Twitter users uncovered a monumental find on the Alberta Online Auction website. An item up for sale that speaks to me on an equally deep personal level:
Just look at it. Zoom in. Bring your nose right up to the screen. Taste it. It’s magnificent.
Rolling in the direction of something real
Mood: 📽 🎞
Somewhere along the way, the word “documentary” and the structure of the documentary film was coopted by brands and marketing agencies as a way to burnish or repair the reputations of people and products in a fashion that is in antithesis to the medium’s form. However, hagiographic content dressed as objective storytelling does feel natural to the way our culture works. Gestures towards authenticity instead of authenticity are the goal — c’mon, don’t let reality or ethics get in the way of brand messaging! The word “authentic” is now loaded, as the genuine becomes ever more rare. An aspirational trait. A buzzword meant to convince audiences that what they’re watching is worth believing. That the feelings it gives them aren’t fugazi.
Is there a reason to think that the Red Bull-produced Ryan Scheckler “skateboard documentary” Rolling Away is anything but a thinly veiled marketing beat by his longtime sponsor that’s meant to breathe new life into his aging career and hype up his latest Red Bull-produced video part Lifer? Why else would they include the Golden State Warriors’ Klay Thomspon in it if not for a pop with the casual viewer — the audience who might have loved Sheckler during his Life of Ryan reality show days in the late aughts but haven’t thought about him since. While an incredible skateboarder in his own right, is there a reason Zion Wright is in the doc besides him also being sponsored by Red Bull? It’s just brand synergy, alignment, etc., all the way down.
Does that mean I’m not going to watch Rolling Away? Nope. I will watch the shit out of it, and I’m sure it’ll be entertaining. Sheckler has one of the most important and engaging personal stories in the history of professional skateboarding. I’m just under no illusions about what purpose this piece of content serves, which is illustrated by the interview Sheckler recently gave to Red Bull about his upcoming film projects.
In it, the interviewer is at times nauseatingly fawning towards Shecks. However, some legitimately interesting tidbits are scattered throughout the piece, like Sheckler’s favourite skate video as a kid being Toy Machine’s Welcome to Hell and how his favourite part of the video was the slam section.
Yeah, it's the falls, it's all the slams. That's what made skateboarding super real to me. It made me know that, okay, these guys are pros. These are the guys we want to be, but they're slamming. Right? Like they're falling just like us. And that's totally a part of it. And that's kind of where that's kind of what switched in my brain was like, oh okay, I don't have to land everything actually I don't have to land everything. I can just land it one time all the falls happen beforehand. I was 7 or 8 years old when I saw that. And that was the catalyst for me. I had already broken my arm too, and when I saw that video and was like, oh yeah, it's on.
Sheckler also explains what a good video part means to him (which I feel the same about).
Video parts are all about a feeling, right? Like there's a dime a dozen parts that yes, they are gnarly, and I watch all of them. I'm a skate nerd. I watch all the video parts. Do I know the names of everybody? I don’t, but I watch the skateboarding, right? Cause I'm trying to feel something, and if your part makes me feel something, then I'm invested in you. If I see your part and it's super gnarly, but it's got no character, it's not that I didn't like the part, it's just I'm not gonna really remember what I saw. You know, there's gotta be a feeling, there's gotta be a vibe and you have to feel a certain way when you watch something.
Then there are the more personal insights into the life of a high-level professional skateboarder, like Sheckler having a surgeon on call in case he gets injured so he can get treated immediately or how when asked if he has any pre-trick rituals, a recently devout Shecks says “I just pray, dude. I just pray to Christ. I just try to make sure that Jesus is at the center of the session...” And in a missed opportunity for one of the greatest pull quotes of all time, in response to being asked how he juggles all of his professional and family obligations, Sheckler responds in part that he’s able to do it because “My wife is dope, and my child is dope.” Beautiful.
That’s what we can expect from Rolling Away — entertainment with hints of authenticity.
Joe Buffalo, guest PRO
The first time I saw Joe Buffalo skate was in Premium Skateboard’s 2004 video Unfazed, an effort that showcased an unusual level of power, pop, and grace for the time, especially in the “Canadian” skateboarding scene. Now, nearly twenty years later and just a few years shy of 50, he’s still going strong, as evidenced by his Antihero Skateboards “Joe Buffalo Guest Board” video part released on Wednesday.
The first time I saw Joe skate in person was at the sprawling mass of concrete and coping that is Calgary’s Millennium Skatepark around ‘05, ‘06. I mumbled hello, told him I liked his part in Unfazed, and asked how he was popping so big out of his frontside 5-0s in transition, something I’d admired him do from afar that afternoon. Joe was kind to an awkward teenage me and generous with his time. Something he’s been every time we’ve skated together since, which is, fortunately, every other day now here in Vancouver.
Our limited technologies cannot fully capture the power and grace Joe possesses on a skateboard in video or photographic form. To watch him place a hand on his knee and push with all of his being before launching onto a ledge with a backside lipslide that continues for however long he’d like it to is something you must see for yourself. It stays with you, a moment of impact that worms itself into a comfortable home in your gray matter.
Speaking of impact, that’s been Joe’s general M.O. these last few years. From the incredible success of the 2021 film Joe Buffalo, which tells Joe’s story of surviving the horrors of Canada’s residential school system, to his work with Nations Skate Youth, which “[empowers] Indigenous youth to embrace their right to self-determination through the positive impact of skateboarding,” Joe is making the most of his platform. A platform that happens to be a piece of wood with wheels that bears his name. And when he’s on it, it’s an enlightening experience — even if he’s just showing you how to pop big out of your frontside 5-0s.
Something to consider: Touching the big cursed fish.
Good thing: Friend of the newsletter Kyle Beachy is back to bless us with another instalment of his “What Blessing Is This” series over at Village Psychic. This time he plays with the photography of Kyle Seidler.
Another good thing: Another friend of the ‘sletter (wow, so many friends!), Adam Abada, has a very rad art show up at Tetrapod Gallery in Los Angeles, CA, if you’re in the neighbourhood.
Even more good thing??: Holy shit, another friend of the newsletter with cool stuff to look at?? Ted Barrow returns with his “This Old Ledge” series over on Thrasher.
Until next week… whatever half of the blockbuster summer movie portmanteau you decide to watch this weekend, just know that you’re loved.
I wrote a book about the history and cultural impact of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, and I will keep posting about it at the end of the newsletter for the foreseeable future. Apologies. It’ll be in stores on September 26 and you can pre-order Right, Down + Circle now from your favourite local bookshop, my publisher ECW Press, or all of the usual devils (Amazon, Barnes & Noble). I think you might like it.