Monday, March 28, 2016

Skateboarding as ecosystem

Because of skateboarding’s quirks, the media plays an outsize role in the sport — if you can even call it that. Skateboarding probably has more in common with pornography: Talented people are paid to be filmed doing something they’re good at, or at least insane enough to try. Unlike in most other athletic pursuits, you can’t really win or lose, and, even at the professional level, it doesn’t typically happen at taxpayer-subsidized arenas; it happens wherever, whenever. There are contests, but by and large, skateboarders don’t care about them. There are “teams,” but these are just loose arrangements of dudes paid to ride a certain type of board (or truck or wheel or bearing; any one pro might have several sponsors, one for each part of his board — plus, if he’s lucky, clothes and shoes). You don’t root for skaters; you have taste in skaters. And a professional’s job is to go out and get footage for his sponsors, who put out videos that are both marketing for products and the means by which skateboarding progresses. It’s less a sport than an ad hoc media ecosystem run by, well, a bunch of skateboarders.
At the end:
This punk vision of skate culture occludes an uncomfortable fact about skateboarding: It has so successfully resisted becoming a sport that it is now only a business — a business that loathes business and businesspeople. Phelps is invaluable in this ecosystem because he insists over and over that skateboarding is hideous, irredeemable, and, above all, outside the logic of the rest of the orderly, sanitized world. As he put it to me, staring out at the bay: “I don’t like when people candy-coat skateboarding or make fun and games out of it. It’s sacred to me.”

It was perhaps the most earnest thing I heard him say, and it resonated with me. Society reveres athletes for winning. Skateboarders are losers — they can’t win — so instead they seek perfection of form, expansion of possibility. When they fetishize pain, it’s only because it resides so closely to excellence.

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