A Snapshot of Generational Differences In Skateboarding

Colby Carter in Speed Wheels Risk It (1990)

I was recently battling insomnia and after thinking about what work I needed to do, what wares I needed to buy, and what bills I needed to pay, I started thinking about the medium of skateboarding videos and how young the art actually is. For the purpose of this piece we can start the timeline in the early-1980s for “year zero,” then keep it moving.

Right, why am thinking about skateboarding video parts as I wait for Melatonin to kick in? Partially because thinking about videos rather than watching videos was the most mundane, banal thing I could imagine at the time, and soon I’d be asleep, dreaming about working in a paper clip factory owned by Michael Imperioli or something.

Then I took it a step further. I started to map out a timeline in my brain of the videos I watched the most—not the most influential but the ones I wore out due to living in an analog era where VHS tapes were precious and skate videos were sparse.

I got to Santa Cruz Speed Wheels Risk It (1990) and that’s all I remember and the following day I was reminded of my mental #listicle and watched a few parts. Like its predecessor Speed Freaks (1989), Risk It was more of a mixtape than a cohesive video, comprised of a deep cast of skaters that skated everything from downhill to street. Some of the skating in both videos was great, some was ordinary and between the banter, hijinx, and tricks, every part felt like a “day-in-the-life” segment because the parts were mostly filmed in a single day, session, or a weekend. Most of all, these videos were raw and sharply contrasted the Powell Peralta videos of the time, which had a higher production value, scripting, and were often shot on film. That’s not a good or bad thing, just two sides of skating’s coin in the late-’80s/early-’90s.

For whatever reason, I thought about Colby Carter, a former H-Street pro from Arizona who, like Chris Senn, skated everything with a lot of speed and power. His part in Risk It is close to 7 minutes and begins with a montage of him skating several spots in his home zone, broken up by cops, rent-a-cops, civilians, and randoms kicking him out of each location before crunchy California melodic punk guitars kick in and his “real” part begins. I’m fairly sure he doesn’t flip his board once but don’t hold me to that.

In one segment a woman tells Carter to leave because he, “Doesn’t belong here,” to which Carter replies, “We do we belong?”

Another snippet features a security guard booting Carter from a square-topped handrail, asking him how old he is—he was 25 at the time unless he was lying—and then blasting him for “playing with skateboards,” before telling him he should be killing people in “Arabia” instead of grinding handrails. (You’ll note in the screenshot below, the people producing the video kindly added specifics to the guard’s quote)

Both of these quotes stood out to me.

As street skating grew in popularity in 1990 the world was largely unfamiliar with skateboarders damaging their property, making loud noises, and hanging out around a ledge for an entire day. Sure, it wasn’t the first time in history skateboarders were riding around in places not designated for skateboarding but for as small as skateboarding was then, it was the first time that kids went out en masse in their towns looking for stairs, handrails, ledges, and other obstacles du jour rather than banks, backyard pools, or abandoned concrete structures. Modern street skating was more visible and public than skateboarding had been in the past and it drew the ire of many humans so Carter’s reply of “Where do we belong?” made perfect sense at the time whereas today the answer is, “The fucking skatepark, idiot!”

That’s a massive change and something for younger folks to think about not because I’m nostalgic for the ‘90s or any particular era but rather, because it provides some context as to how far skateboarding has come and how different the mental state of skateboarders searching for a place to belong was compared to now.

Without getting too anthropological, late-’80s/early-’90s street skaters specifically were coming up in a unique time where the private parks of the ‘80s were closing and the existing ones rarely had street obstacles and public parks were rare if they existed at all. In fact, outside of warmer climates, indoor skate parks were mostly a cold-weather necessity not part of the daily routine with a monetary barrier to entry that often excluded many skaters.

There was also the insurance angle that comes up in Carter’s part, as the risk of injury was a common concern then, in the wild and in parks. I remember driving several hours from New Hampshire, down to the Playground Skatepark in Connecticut only to be turned away because I needed a parental waiver signed. We ended up skating around Hartford and sleeping at a rest stop before being told to leave by the police at 2AM. That sucked.

The screenshot brings up another crucial point. Risk It was released during The Gulf War and the security guard certainly thought fighting in said war was more admirable than skateboarding, even if he wasn’t quite sure where the conflict was occurring. This was also documented in a much more satirical sense in Blind Video Days (1991), which depicts the Blind team riding alongside a pro-war rally in Downtown Los Angeles rife with Patriots carrying racist and xenophobic signs, punctuated by Jason Lee yelling “No War For Heavy Metal!” with his fist in the air.

Some of the signs don’t even make sense but you know, one can surmise that some Commie Liberals of the day were against the war so there’s always going to be those well-informed Patriots out on the streets, reminding you that war is important to the American experience and we should hate the “arabs,” for a myriad of reasons fed to them by right-wing media or even worse, just tropes embedded in their brains through the cultural ether.

And here we are. It’s 2021 and the world of Risk It depicted in Colby Carter’s part is both distant and present.

Skateboarding is of course mainstream, accepted, and in many cases a respectable living. We do belong to skateparks and for young people, especially those looking for a safe space to have fun, that’s a powerful thing but also, one that has many challenges and massive room for growth and progress. The wealth of parks was just one step towards normalizing skateboarding now it’s up to skateboarding to make those spaces welcoming, accepting, and comfortable for all, unlike the world around us, especially the world that exists in our screens and there are plenty of groups, orgs, and people taking action to do so.

That’s a pretty grandiose statement and a topic to explore another time but for now, let’s just think of how different 1990 and 2021 are before we get into how not different they are.

I mention the Gulf War because if you’ve looked at Instagram or any social media in the past week, the dire situation in Afghanistan has been top-of-mind for anyone scrolling. Without getting into the specifics and complex dynamics of Middle Eastern Conflict (It’s a skateboarding newsletter, remember and I’m a scholar of neither skating nor the Middle East) I’d use this example—the protests, the nationalism, the hatred, the tension—as a reminder that the United States has perpetually been in some form of conflict in the Middle East for decades but we often get so distracted that we forget that… until we can’t.

With social media, it becomes a twitchy climate, where every post feels like a call to action, often without context. It’s confusing, consuming, but also, it can make us more informed, make better choices, and try to understand things we weren’t taught—things we ignored, or things completely out of our sphere that impact the world. Heavy, right?

The reason I bring this up is that skateboarding’s media presence is Instagram—we can agree this is fact—and over the past two years, even if we’re looking for photos, video, nostalgia, our place to belong is often and rightfully disrupted by the world, just as it was in Risk It.

I hope Colby Carter is doing well. I hope you’re all doing well. And thanks for reading Artless Industria®.