Birling the Skatepark Effect
Wesley Lee, Drop down to 50-50. Cayer By Adam Wawrzynczak There was once a time when skateparks acted primarily as warm-up spots....
by Cole Nowicki
When it comes to skateboarding’s historically fraught relationship with security and authority in general—both sides are dicks about it. Isn’t it about time we try to grow up?
One of the original viral skateboarding videos is of a sixteen year-old kid getting into a full-on hockey fight with an adult male security guard. It first emerged as a quasi-ender from a part in an independent skate video out of Toronto, circa 2005. Then the fight clip went on its own solo-trajectory. From a brief stint as a troll torrent on Limewire—a friend telling me he first saw the video as a teenager when he’d tried to illegally download Zero’s New Blood and got the scrap instead–to eventually amassing hundreds of thousands of views across multiple uploads on a fledgling Youtube.
Another viral video from 2009 documents a pedestrian getting upset at a group of skateboarders filming at a spot. As one of the skaters goes to try his trick the woman hip checks him, knocking herself over. The skateboarder tries to help her up, she refuses and runs after him, attacking the filmer instead. It’s a sad scene. That video has over four-million hits on Youtube. It was featured on Tosh.0.
Unfortunately, neither of those videos are surprising. That the security guard sees skateboarders as less-than? A scourge that that needs to be swung at? It’s expected. The pedestrian? She didn’t even have the authority to kick those kids out and she was still on the offensive.
Why? Because we have a reputation that precedes us.
Skateboarders have long positioned ourselves as anti-authority. It’s an almost cringe-inducing cliché at this point, but it’s also why most of us were attracted to skateboarding in the first place—that freedom to rebel. The side effect to that anti-authority attitude is that we get treated like ne’er-do-wells.
But maybe that’s oversimplifying things. Or perhaps not simplifying things enough. It could be that assholery just begets assholery. If you’re a security guard and the entire premise of your minimum-wage job—that you need to do competently to survive—is to keep people off of the property you’re paid to keep watch over, then you’d probably get a little testy everytime a group of rowdy skateboarders transgressed, too.
Our freedom to skate is in direct conflict with their ability to make a living.
“Anyone who tells you you can’t do something, you’re just gonna fuckin’ do it. That’s just how skateboarders are.”
Andy Roy opines in Supreme’s “Blessed”, easily the biggest skate video of 2018. “They don’t like what we do. We fuckin’ destroy shit, whatever it is. And we fuckin’ love it.”
We love it. There is a certain thrill that comes with sticking it to the man each time you refuse the orders of authority and try jumping down that stairset one more time before the cops come. It almost feels sacred. Ritual disobedience.
But when I watched Tyshawn Jones rip away those metal barriers from museum workers in Paris to clear his runway, eventually launching his part-ending switch 360-flip in “Blessed”, the only word that came to mind was bully. You can see it in one museum worker’s posture as his battle with the eventual SOTY continues. Shoulders slumped. Head down. No eye contact. He was demoralized. For what? A trick? Is that worth treating another human like trash for?
It made me think about the times I’d been a dick to people kicking me out of a spot. It made me think about the times they’d been dicks to me. I’ve had security get in my face before I’ve even said a word. Push me before I even put my board on the ground. I’ve been threatened with a hammer for not scramming from a ledge outside of a storefront.
It’s obviously complicated. Every situation is different and the role of antagonizer is fluid. Sometimes you are forced to stand-up for yourself, and in those moments when it gets heated, it can be hard to know what to do.
Sometimes that confusion leads to potentially dangerous acts.
What is surprising about those viral videos from the aughts? I personally know both of the skaters in them. A bizarre coincidence or proof of how commonplace it is for a skateboarder’s run-ins with authority to turn violent?
Thankfully, no one was seriously hurt in those instances. We’re not always so lucky.
This happened at Black Rock in SF late last year. A common confrontation at a famous skate spot that ended with uncommon brutality. The security guard, Dan Jansen, will never be the same. He has a serious brain injury that required parts of his skull and brain to be removed. He has to learn how to walk and how to talk again.
Now Jesse Vieira, the skateboarder charged in the assault, who allegedly struck him with his board, has gone from the cover of Thrasher to prison in a matter of months.
We rarely see it turn out like this. The skater so often lionized. A champion of our liberties. Fighting with security such a common refrain in our media that it’s turned into a tired b-movie trope. Even Andy Roy’s words from “Blessed” come of as parody. Like the response a bot would give after being forced to watch 1000 hours of skate videos.
But with Jansen and Vieira, it was no joke.
This isn’t a call to submit to the man or to never skate a street spot again, it’s just a suggestion to look at the bigger picture and see how superficial this ritual is. Mike Vallely forged an identity as skateboarding’s tough guy and went from fighting security guards at demos to “punking” Paul Blart.
Yet we still glorify this confrontation. It remains a big part of our culture and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. So we should reconsider how we handle it. And as backwards as this may seem to some, consider the other side. And next time you’re getting kicked out, try to de-escalate it. Try leaving the spot and the assholery in the past. Try some humanity. Hopefully they will, too.