After our adventures at the Texas Book Festival, Jules and I walked west all the way across the Capitol grounds and down to the skate park by Lamar Blvd. I’m not sure Jules had seen anybody skateboard before. We watched the skaters and drew in our sketchbooks.
I’m not a skater myself, but I love to watch skaters. “I’m not familiar with the scene of skateboarding,” Werner Herzog said when he was shown a video of skateboarders. “At the same time, I had the feeling, yes, that’s kind of my people.”
One of my quarantine hobbies was watching skate videos of skaters in cities I wished I was in — I particularly love the Instagram of these dudes in San Francisco: @gx1000. (My friend James also sends me gnarly videos of hill bombing.)
Over time, I’ve been learning more about the sport, mostly by watching documentaries. I enjoyed Tony Hawk: Until The Wheels Fall Off. I also watched Bones Brigade: An Autobiography, which gives you the context of the scenius around Hawk. The skater who steals the show in both documentaries is Rodney Mullen, who has become a sought-after consultant and public speaker. (His TED talk is worth watching.)
I also love to listen to skaters talk about how they see the world. Skateboarding seems to reconfigure your molecules and changes the way you look and the kind of attention you pay to the world. (Exactly what we hope for when practicing any art.)
Here’s Ian MacKaye in his Library of Congress lecture talking about skateboarding:
Skateboarding is not a hobby. And it is not a sport. Skateboarding is a way of learning how to redefine the world around you. For most people, when they saw a swimming pool, they thought, ‘Let’s take a swim.’ But I thought, ‘Let’s ride it.’ When they saw the curb or a street, they would think about driving on it. I would think about the texture. I slowly developed the ability to look at the world through totally different means.
This is echoed by my friend, the photographer Clayton Cubitt:
Skateboarding irreparably changes the way you perceive the built physical world and structures of power that guard it…. It’s hard to ever have respect for authority again after you’ve bombed a rail and glided away from a security guard chasing and yelling at you.
“Skateboarding is neither sport nor art,” writes Bret Anthony Johnson. “It’s a path, a perspective, and a practice—a habit of being.”
Jules thought it was funny how many times the skaters fell down. He was kind of like, Who would choose to fall down over and over? (Bret Anthony Johnson, again: “Learning to skate is, in fact, tantamount to learning to fall.”)
I told him it was like kind of like drawing: You turn to a blank page and you take a ride on your pencil and then you turn the page and try again. (“Fall” and “fail” don’t have the same etymology, but they’re only one little dot apart.)
Not sure if any of that sank in, but we had a good time.