HOW COVID COULD CHANGE CONTENT

Have We Reached a Tipping Point in How We Consume Skateboarding?

PHOTOGRAPH FROM REUTERS/ALY SONG

This week’s post starts with a Tweet from “Lurker” Lou Sarowsky. Sarowsky is correct in that “new” skate content will slowly dry up and in some cases, any COVID-19-era clips will be met with people commenting to “stay inside,” which is already happening, despite said posters denoting the clips as “TBT” or “pre-Rona.” We’ll most likely see a lot of raw footage, old footage, nostalgic footage, and unseen clips and angles, thrusting us into a stasis never before experienced in skateboarding. Most of you reading are children of skateboarding’s “video era,” unfamiliar with how slow skating once was so I’ll do my best to lay this out in a “Non-Joe Biden telling a tedious story of his childhood” manner.

If you started skating before the late-’80s you were part of the “photo era,” this meant that your experience with skateboarding was either what you saw in person or what you looked at in magazines. For example, some saw Alan Gelfand executing the first ollie in person while others looked at the “no-handed aerial” in Skateboarder Magazine in 1978, trying to figure out how the hell he did it. As stated in Craig Snyders’ book The Secret History of the Ollie Vol 1: The 1970s that puts into question who actually invented the trick, some believed it was faked with rogue skaters frequently stealing Gelfand’s shoes to see if there were magnets in them. Even with photo sequences, you had to learn the trick by guessing how to distribute your weight and balance, apply pressure, and get a feel for the overall timing of a trick.  

As brand videos slowly became standard marketing tools in the late-’80s, a new “video era” was born speeding up progression. If you look at the videos released from 89-91, it’s the difference between the end of the jump ramp/early grab era and pros who couldn’t ollie on street to bLind Video Days (1991) being released, changing skateboarding forever. By 1992, the vocabulary of modern flip tricks had been completely reinvented, with many becoming obsolete by 1993 due to their gross nature. Briefly called “opposite footed,” switch had now become an essential skill for street pros with Danny Way and Colin McKay pushing the practice on vert. For context, a few years later you could get a photo in a mag doing a street plant.

The “video era” stretched well into the 2000s, becoming more and more robust, produced and simultaneously raw. Fuse TV took a page from Skate TV and produced skate content on an actual cable channel and contests were receiving national coverage as online content built and slowly lost its taboo as “disposable.” Then things got really weird and or interesting. There were free DVDs in shoe boxes and under the shrinkwrap of skateboards, web-edits, slow and choppy MPEG video on blogs, iTunes only parts, before YouTube became the “brand” of online video viewing, giving way to online premiers and once exclusive web content becoming the main distribution channels, sparking the tired debate of “the death of the full-length.” 

The next era is as specific as it is diverse. Skateboarding split into YouTube brands and content franchises such as Braille and Revive which are both essentially faux-real brands. They have the feel of a person “going out and skating,” but the authenticity is manufactured, narrated, and packaged with an “aw shucks, let’s skate because anyone can!” mantra. As Instagram video lengths grew, IG parts were born in various formats, including the often derided “trap edits.” Unlike the YouTube sect, Instagram’s platform shortened the distance between trick and audience, allowing an easier channel to “go live,” if someone chooses, projecting progression or in some cases, the devolvement of skating in time as real as desired.

What do we call this? The “virtual era,” perhaps... I have no clue but it’s basically just “modern skateboarding” until now. With every day, real-time chokes and wheezes as if it’s on a respirator. It’s to the point that filming that content is borderline irresponsible and no one really wants to see a socially distanced, mask-wearing person doing a crooked grind or whatever the fuck. Inevitably, what we see online will only go back before it goes forward but what does “forward” mean?

Perhaps its trap skating moving to its logical home on TikTok or brands/skaters taking longer to create valuable content as we slowly grow tired of a pummelling of parts, full-lengths, clips, edits, throwbacks, live-streams, contests, event recaps, Q&As, AMAs, and whatever else we’ve become used to in the “virtual era.” 

As we navigate a world dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us find ourselves dealing with shifting moods, much akin to the stages of grief and loss. Denial, anger, bargaining (this is the “what if” or “we should have” factor), depression, and acceptance are the natural path in times of extreme duress but for those directly impacted by Coronavirus, each stage can be experienced daily if not hourly. It’s more than overwhelming, it can completely consume the collection minutes we call days. 

So we constantly adjust and then once we have some footing, turn to our lives and reassess. As skateboarders, the activity that can often be our therapy has been derailed and not just the physicality of it but our consumption of it. Yes, there’s a backlog of content—it’s amazing how many pre-Corona clips were filmed and not instantly put on Instagram ;)—and Thrasher Magazine’s player is mostly likely stocked for months but what’s interesting is that seeing skateboarding is no longer the escape it once was. It’s more than simply not being able to go find spots after being sparked on a video or photo; the actual psychology of how we view content has been flipped and twisted like a wet discarded rag.

So what does going forward mean? First, we should think about something that’s familiar to anyone who’s been skateboarding for more than four years. The reality is that people quit. Sometimes it’s due to progression—it’s hard to transition into a rail chomper if you grew up low-impact—and most commonly, people’s interests shift, “mature,” or sometimes are even forced to pivot based on the environment. Let me expand on the latter. If you grew up in an area of the world with extreme cold, skateboarding becomes a challenge in the winter if you lack indoor space or parks. This caused many to become more invested in activities such as snowboarding or skiing when winters were actually winter, causing some to abandon skating entirely. In a sense, COVID-19’s impact on the global environment could cause a mass exodus or drop in active skateboarders as people get more invested in their family life, pickling shit in jars, weight lifting, cooking elaborate meals, doing whatever the hell you do on a Peloton, and for others, it will drive a thirst to go harder once it’s safer to be outside but that doesn’t mean an immediate return to “normal.”

As budgets are cut in every sect of skateboarding and media, this means less content and fewer places for that content to live. You’ll no longer see micro-campaigns for every product being released, there will be less brand produced content and more DIY / personal content and that has its positives and negatives but it’s impossible to predict how it will impact how we consume it. 

Will everyone OD on documenting their post-COVID-19 skating or will we be more consumed with actually doing it? We can project but more importantly, everyone needs to stay safe, patient, and informed. It feels as if at the infancy of the pandemic, everyone is united in being fatigued by people “going live,” the abundance of sales and even earnest efforts to support shops becomes a challenge as dollars dry up. In a sense, we’ve applied a tighter filter on everything we do, consume, say, and do… unless you don’t give a shit or fashion yourself a denier which is completely your choice, albeit a selfish one based on every metric available. 

What’s entirely possible is a greater value shift and a weight put on our time and dollars as members of society not just skateboarders and that’s the most compelling reason for optimism. Every industry we’ve enjoyed in modern times has expanded, contracted, grown in unpredictable ways, and sometimes completely vanished (like, who the fuck cares about mp3s anymore?).  I can confidently say that like 9/11, progress may start by going backward, yearning for a world that existed before the tragedy but actual advancement begins once we recalibrate after getting a hug from past memories, experiences, and sensations. 

It’s not what COVID-19 will change, it’s what it won’t change and as a society, we’re stubborn. Perhaps that’s a synonym for the resiliency and willingness to embrace not the “new normal,” but a better normal overall. 

In the interim, stay safe, stay sane, stay connected, and stay the fuck inside as much as possible… please.