Arts » Books

Once A Skateboarder. . .

A lively history of the world's fastest growing sport

by

comment
Skateboarding has been around for over 40 years now. What was once an outlet for surfers to practice carving lines on the asphalt when the waves were down has become a staple of international youth culture, as well as the fastest growing sport in the world.The Answer Is Never gives two interwoven looks at skateboarding: a well-researched historical document, and the autobiographical memoirs of a keen observer and participant in skateboarding culture as it has evolved over the past 30 years.

Author Jocko Weyland is a lifetime skateboarder who experienced the booms and busts of skateboarding through the last three decades as an isolated teenager in a small Colorado town, an early punk rocker, a young intellectual in the Reagan years, a world traveler, and even (briefly) as a sponsored skater.

Weyland begins by tracing surfing's past from the royalty of ancient Hawaii to the obscure bohemian culture of Southern California in the late 1930s. He discusses the Northern European roots of skiing and sledding and how they're in fact cousins to skateboarding; after all, as far back as 2,500 BC, people have wanted to find a good way to go really fast down a hill.

Weyland does both skateboarding and non-skaters a favor by giving readers some basis to understand how the sport is beautiful, challenging, and worthy of respect. He also provides a sort of family tree of "extreme" activities from the world's history that have evolved into the individualistic amalgam of alternative sports we've become familiar with.

Weyland does a great job of tracking the boom and bust cycles of skateboarding between 1960 and 1990, providing readers a clear picture of "the way it was" for the infant skate culture of skateboarding in the first boom of the early 1960s. That era's marketing of skateboarding in the mass media creates a template for each subsequent up-and-down cycle skateboarding would see over the next 40 years. The cycles look something like this: massive popularity, followed by heavy short-term investment, followed by a host of beginner injuries and a sudden fear that the sport is too raw and dangerous to be supported in majority culture and must be controlled or eradicated entirely.

Weyland effectively connects readers to how changes in skateboarding culture affected the sport's aficionados at the time by weaving in the stories of his life and what he was doing in skateboarding during the various eras. He tells of Tony Alva's national media-hyped exploits with the Dogtown Z-boys in 1977, as well as relating a personal memoir of his skateboarding experiences in Colorado and Hawaii as an alienated teenager.

Ultimately, Weyland identifies skateboarding culture as a key part of the American experience in the second half of the 20th century, noting wryly that the very reason skateboarding has thrived in the over-hyped modern world could doom the very book he was writing: "For many skaters, the history of their own pastime is boring, and that's a good thing, because too much reverence for the past hinders the innovation that skating thrives on. People are happier not remembering the past anyway, and most skaters are young and indifferent to anything outside of their own moment."

Weyland may also be a skateboarder, but his worldview is considerably larger than the last few days. Here he traces skateboarding's evolution through several decades of complex change and technical breakthroughs in a way no one has ever attempted before, despite the fact that he runs out of steam around the street skating boom of the early 1990s. In the process, Weyland shows that skateboarding has finally been around long enough to establish a pattern of highs and lows that can be speculated upon with less risk, and can, in fact, be treated with the type of financial commitment from big business once reserved for mainstream sports like baseball and football.

Hopefully, another author will learn from this pioneering effort and use the superb historical foundation Weyland has laid. The next great book on skateboarding must pick up where he left off, chronicling and analyzing the phenomenal boom of the last 10 years that has brought skateboarding to a degree of acceptance by the cultural mainstream.

My parents had to buy my first skateboard in 1982. It was about five inches wide, with big, soft, blue urethane wheels. It turned out I was no longer allowed to use an old one that some other kids in the neighborhood sat down on and pushed each other around. I had shocked them all by standing on the board and riding away down the street one fall afternoon. In doing so, I had broken an unspoken rule and had turned their simple toy into something more dangerous than any of them were ready to face. From that point on, I was a skateboarder -- and if asked when I would give it up, the answer would be "never."

Joshua Nims is an attorney and lifetime skateboarder from Fort Mill, SC. He lives in Philadelphia, where he is a skateboarding-business consultant and an active lobbyist for skateboarders' rights and skatepark construction. CL Recommends In Search Of Fatima: A Palestinian Story by Ghada Karmi. A very moving memoir that makes us wish we had space for a full-fledged review. Karmi, now a doctor, tells the story of her middle-class family's life in Palestine and their emigration to England after the founding of Israel and the subsequent expropriation of their home and property. Ironically, they assimilate into a Jewish neighborhood in London, until mounting Israeli-Arab tensions turn acquaintances against them. Karmi becomes politicized, founds the British group Palestine Action, then goes to Lebanon to practice medicine in a refugee camp -- where her Western ways and habits make her as unwelcome as she was in Britain. Karmi tells an intimate family story rife with the tension that comes from historical forces at work, weaving together a tale that mixes the personal and political as well as it's ever been done.

Add a comment