Celebrating the Modern Skate Video's 20th Anniversary Pt. 1

Words by Anthony Pappalardo

The progression from 1970 to 1990 in skateboarding could be paralleled to leaps made in the home video game industry. That’s straight up from bouncing a gray ball between two lines in Pong to Super NES. That twenty year chunk in skating is equally dramatic and if you don’t know your history, watch Dogtown & Z-Boys (the documentary not the motion picture) and then peep Ed Templeton’s part from New Deal’s Useless Wooden Toys, Frankie Hill’s stunt work in Powell Peralta’s Propaganda, or any street-centric section from Risk It, to grasp the level of progression that occurred over those two decades. We’re talking homemade banana boards and sidewalk surfing to Hill jumping over a grassy knoll and slick bottom boards with functional noses—real future shit.

Well, in thinking about Girl’s Mouse turning 20 this year, which is really one of the greatest/most cliched tropes in skate lore, a larger narrative unfolded: Has the skate video progressed since 1996? Is a drone shot of some technically flawless human, grinding across a glassy-black ledge in some city in Asia I cannot pronounce, progression? Is employing older cameras to emulate the grain and grit of ‘90s footage homage, nostalgia, or simply preference?

In skateboarding, there seems to be a synergy with the music industry. Those who are “going for it,”—the skaters, companies, and producers who aspire to be mainstream–see every advancement in production quality as a tool to communicate their craft to the mainstream. Those big-box videos are full of Protools, Autotune, guest stars, and high definition/fidelity, while the “indie” sect opts for VX—skateboarding’s equivalent of the 4-track or analog recording, even though it’s digital.

Running through the videos released in the year 1996, it’s apparent that there’s a massive amount of predictive output that was released on VHS cassette, much of it very indicative of what you’re watching on your computer / phone screen in 2016. So, rather than look back at this like some fallen High School sports stars, depressingly recalling their salad days over domestic beer and hot wings prepared by “the wife,” let’s recount a truly incredible year in skateboarding video history.

1996, the year of Mad Cow Disease, the Spice Girls, Independence Day, and the first Major League Soccer match, as well as a bunch of shit in skateboarding that is truly incredible… and they year Jerry Fowler moved to Boston.

*Please note that all of the bolded names indicate being currently active in the skateboarding industry in some capacity.

Toy Machine - Welcome to Hell
Brian Anderson, Donny Barley, Ed Templeton, Elissa Steamer, Jamie Thomas, Mike Maldonado, Satva Leung

Did you ever think that 20 years after its release, a cool NYC magazine would call upon Satva Leung to ollie something, in celebration of a collab Toy Machine capsule collection? Well, that happened. More importantly, this was the world’s introduction to Thomas Vision®, that signature style of filming really big shit, that set in motion an entire battalion of folks who may or may not even be able to nosegrind a ledge, but can front lip a 20 stair rail. Swear to God.

Anecdotally, few skate videos had premiers at all in the mid-’90s, let alone on the East Coast, but this one was shown in some theatre outside of Boston, I believe by Coliseum Skate Shop. I recall nothing about this event, other than being awestruck and that it was the first true non-contest skate event I attended.

Of course, Toy Machine has soldiered on, The Chief is still out their producing and leading, but what’s most noteworthy is Elissa Steamer’s breakthrough section—a landmark in skateboarding feminist history.

Girl - Mouse
Ben Sanchez, Chico Brenes, Daniel Castillo, Eric Koston, Gabriel Rodriguez, Gino Iannucci, Guy Mariano, Jeron Wilson, Jovontae Turner, Keenan Milton (RIP), Mike Carroll, Mike York, Richard Mulder, Rick Howard, Rudy Johnson, Sean Sheffey, Shamil Randle, Tim Gavin, Tony Ferguson

I mean, where do you start with this one? The skits, the footage, the music supervision, guest company section? Even though it wasn’t entirely filmed in Los Angeles, Mouse feels LA, establishing the Courthouse once again as the premier proving ground for the elite. Some of you may not be aware that the Courthouse laid dormant for years, before Nike SB helped return its functionality for the skateboarding community, so that Mike York could once again do crooked grinds and Jereme Rogers could also film a skateboarding clips after his respite in the rap game.

While Guy Mariano’s (first) comeback part in Mouse has become such a “Top Five Parts” staple that it, along with Gonz or J-Lee from Video Days should be automatics, like the R,S,T,N,L and E in Wheel of Fortune, it’s important to note why this part was so significant. There are several factors, but the two most salient points are as follows: relatability and unbelievability. Mariano was neither a rail skater or gap skater, but he was a pioneer of bringing technical prowess to both. He wore several styles and brands of shoes in his part, like any of us would do over the time period it took him to film this part. He skated so cleanly both ways, that it made his footage look seamless, until you realized later which tricks were infact switch, adding value to the viewing. Was the random switch slappy grind on the round bar a sneak diss to Philadelphia or just extension of his virtuosity and mastery?

We will never truly understand, nor does it matter, but Mouse stands as one of the most significant skateboarding videos of all time, so much so, that even bitter East Coasters, who often shun technicality for rawness agree. Also, it’s so fucking good that the Chocolate section could stand alone as its own video, if slightly re-edited. Fuck.

Eastern Exposure 3: Underachievers and Zero

Donny Barley, Jahmal Williams, Jerry Fisher, Fred Gall, **Keith Hufnagel, Matt Reason, Mike Maldonado, Reese Forbes, Ricky Oyola, Tim O'Connor, Quim Cardona, Sergei Trudnowski, a bunch of NY dudes and just too many to mention...**

What Dan Wolfe’s videos did for East Coast skateboarding i**s as important as Dischord’s contribution to music. Straight up. Dischord’s ethos has and always will be that they exclusively release music, independently, by Washington, D.C. artists, with a few minor exceptions. Wolfe’s videos also had some West Coast “artists,” but the core of Donny Barley, Jahmal Williams, and Ricky Oyola, and Resse Forbes are his Year in 7”s. Translation: influential, iconic, and legendary.

Oyola once wanted to release a Zoo York graphic featuring a US map, sans California and that sums up the spirit of Underachievers, but the skating itself, in the spots, execution, and ability equally embraced that attitude. It wasn’t as much of a “fuck you,” as it was a “fuck yeah,” and once you were absolutely pummelled by Oyola’s footage, set to Metallica’s Battery, it was obvious that something new was happening. Pole jams, bulkheads, lines weaving through traffic, Love Park, Pulaski, Copley Square, and skating’s most iconic non-spot, the Astor Cube, skating in the Northeast (and Florida to be fair, don’t think we’d forget Josh Stewart!) had arrived to the masses.

One thing to note, which often gets overlooked was that Mr. Barley put out two crushing parts that year, both high profile and indie, with Toy Machine and EE3, proving to be a great move in cross promotion, amplifying EE3 and adding validity to the movement. Back to Mr. Stewart, he’s effectively taken Wolfe’s lessons and learnings and created an entirely new franchise, with his unmistakable eye and taste, expanding it into Theories of Atlantis, as well as leaving us with the gorgeously gritty Static series. So, thank you to all involved.

All words by Anthony Pappalardo
All photos via Chromeball