Behind the Lens with Brandon Alton
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A Sentimental Defense of the Full-Length Skateboard Video
by Cole Nowicki
In an age where the “after-black” hammers of the early oughts are now barely fit for an Instagram story, and a flood of boundary pushing, web-released solo parts spam us on a rigid, weekly basis, the full-length skate video still holds strong. They’re not as rare and endangered as we’ve come to think of them, either. Yes, they can’t compete with the hurried schedule of the internet, but their presence can’t be denied.
Over the last 16 months, we’ve seen videos from aging titans like Lakai, Birdhouse, Krooked, Sk8mafia, Santa Cruz, Creature, DC (it was long for a “Promo”), DGK, Antihero, and Foundation, along with offerings from the new guard who have seamlessly tapped into the vein of popular skateboarding’s sensibilities: 917, Palace, Welcome, Traffic (new-ish guard), Hotel Blue (13 minutes is the new 25) and more. Their recent high turnout alone disproves that the full-length is sounding its death knell. It might even be the opposite—a giddy, celebratory full-throated mezzo-soprano.
Here and above: Matt Berger and Mike Manzoori. Alton photos
And next up on the docket? Etnies’ Album. The company’s first release since High 5 in ’95. This is a video, that up until I’m writing these words in early March, has received little fanfare—which seems criminal. Here’s their team: Aidan Campbell (devastatingly underrated), Chris Joslin (you know he’s going to 360 Flip something offensively large), David Reyes, Samarria Brevard (it took us too long to get here, but now we finally get to see women shred on the big stage on the regular), Nick Garcia, Ryan Sheckler (it’s Shecks, for fuck sakes. You know you’re tuning in), Ryan Lay, Silvester Eduardo, Trevor McClung, Willow and maybe we’ll even see a flash of Japan’s Koichiro Uehara and Euro-sensation Barney Page. That’s a formidable line-up and one that has me salivating. And that’s without even mentioning the Canadians on the crew in Matt Berger and Jamie Tancowny.
Matt, Frontside Boardslide. Seidler photo
These two are the hook for me, and not just because I’m being paid to interview them for this piece (although, it doesn’t hurt). It’s because the full-length skateboard video just paints a bigger picture—one that’s easier to get lost in, to see yourself in. With Album, we have two good ol’ Canadian boys on the same bill as Sheckler in a film directed by the legendary Mike Manzoori. That’s big. I’m from a rural Albertan hamlet. So is Tancowny, or more specifically as he put it, “out in the country”—just outside of Redwater, Alberta. When Jamie got the cover of Thrasher in 2008, it blew my goddamn mind. To see his career span from enders in Zero videos to a featured part in Etnies’ newest offering is inspiring and important to younger generations of Canadian skateboarders—see, we are on the same level!
Maybe I’m just a touch emotional (Pontus Alv’s In Search of The Miraculous did make me cry), but to see Kamloops’ own Matt Berger Bigflip Front Hurricane down a rail in Street League warms my stupid heart. The full-length video is another grand platform for him to shine. It’s his contribution to an exquisite corpse where all of the other artists are just like him—operating on a completely unhinged level of skateboarding.
Jamie Tancowny. McGuire photo
This is also where we get engaged with the skateboarder as an individual. Sure, it’s a group project where we see each skater’s style and trick selection juxtaposed against everyone else’s on the team, but that’s the perfect way to establish personalities! Highlighting with contrast. Flip Sorry was the first skate video I owned. It created legends not just through their skating but by giving glimpses into their human sides—Ali Boulala’s party proclivities, Geoff Rowley’s disturbing thirst for punishment, and Alex Chalmer’s disturbing thirst for Coca-Cola. Berger is now a pro for Flip himself, and Album is his first big-time, full-length project where we can see him contrasted against the likes of Joslin and Page.
Talking to Matt on the phone was a treat. Thoughtful, polite and measured, he is the definition of a skateboard professional. He detailed to me his recovery from a series of surgeries; one that didn’t take, and a new one where the cartilage from a cadaver was used to fill the space in his knee that was missing its own. He had just finished a two-hour physio session. This is where his energy lies now. He called it “tunnel vision”—his extreme dedication to recovery.
Jamie, Hardflip. McGuire photo
I believe the way he carries himself off-board reflects his on board style. You’ll see it in Album. Controlled. Precise. Graceful. Honest. That smooth style is not a front. When I asked if he had any Olympic hopes, he politely demurred, chuckling and calling the topic “taboo in the skateboarding world.” But when gently pushed again he didn’t front—if given the opportunity he would “proudly put on for [his] country.” Respect. But then he went further. He wants more than just the opportunity to compete, he wants the Canadian government to kick in some dollars, to build indoor facilities around the country so kids aren’t limited to rolling around in only the spring and summer months—something he was subjected to growing up in Kamloops until he eventually made the move to California. Respect x2. That’s a big picture man. And that’ll come through in his part. Each trick considered. Deliberate.
Over the constant pull and exhale of what we’ll assume for this piece was a hardy spliff—the smoke of which nearly coming through the receiver, Tancowny told me of his struggles with an ankle injury, his short-lived dalliance with getting back on Zero before he and the Chief, Jamie Thomas, “butted heads on tour,” how Antwuan Dixon hit him up about riding for his new company, Dog, getting kicked off Emerica, picked up by Etnies and how he’s been working towards becoming a chef, securing that post-skating career while still skating at the highest (haha, weed) level. He shared all of this with an openness that was unexpected. Like when you first see his legs wonderfully contort to catch a Hardflip or Varial Heel––unexpected goodness. Then the conversation veered into reminiscing about spending winters skating in our respective rural Albertan garages, constructing ramshackle obstacles of sawhorses and plywood, drops and gaps that were not up to any safety code. The Canadian skateboarder’s dedication a common thread throughout these conversations.
Jamie, Frontside Heelflip. Seidler photo
This is why Tancowny and Berger are the anchors of Album for me. Not so much for the reveling in our shared Canadian nationalism—this isn’t goddamn soccer—but our shared experience as humans who lived similar upbringings, regardless of flag. These are my guys. Same ilk. Similar stock. They just reached the highest of heights, and in a way that only seeing them in videos like Album can do, we get to go there with them.