Skateboarding as a Path to Creativity

“Skateboarding teaches you your own way to navigate the world.” - Ty Evans

Published: 6 Dec 2021

Topics: Life, Cycling, Film

TL;DR: Like many young kids, I got into skateboarding and it made a lasting impact on my life

Slow Motion

Recently, Antonio from Aisle One restarted his newsletter and linked to a skate video from 2007 entitled Fully Flared. By 2007, I was no longer skating, but I remember seeing this video ricochet across the internet due to the beautiful slow-motion intro sequence directed by Ty Evans, Spike Jonze, and Cory Weincheque.

The intro sequence from Fully Flared features the music of M83, pyrotechnics, and beautiful slow-motion footage to great effect

This got me thinking about skateboarding and how it inspired and challenged me in my younger years. I have a theory about creative people that I admire: Many of them spent their formative years in alternative/DIY culture whether it was skateboarding, music, or another art form and this made them who they are today.

Don’t Get the Wrong Idea, I was no Tony Hawk…

Let’s get this out of the way early: As a teenager, I was barely more than a poser. I could only land a kickflip standing still (strangely, I was better at heelflips) and dropping in on quarter pipe terrified me for years.

I lived in out in the country on a gravel road and the only paved surface was my driveway, so I had to drive to “the city” to skate. The town didn’t have a skatepark until late in my teens—and I couldn’t afford to ride there anyway—so I spent most of my time skating the streets, loading docks, and parking garages of Springfield, Missouri.

Getting some sweet air with an ollie over one of my childhood toys circa 1998 - Photo and scrapbooking edges courtesy my mom

Combining Art and Skateboarding

My first website and logo I ever made for money was for my local skate shop. On the homepage, I made the logo blurry until the user rolled over the image, where it became clear. I remember thinking it was really cool and the shop owner being confused why I made his logo blurry. I’m pretty sure I used Frontpage 98 for that site which was totally cheating, I know.

The first skate video I uploaded to the internet was of a young kid I knew landing a kick flip on a big six-stair drop. This was long before YouTube and I think the user had to download the entire video to RealPlayer to watch it—streaming wasn’t even a thing yet.

Ty Evans on the Art of Skate Filmmaking

“Skateboarding teaches you your own way to navigate the world.” - Ty Evans

During high school, I got really into photography (who didn’t?) and I devoured skate magazines. I started noticing the names in the photo credits and committing them to memory, like Mike Blabac, Ed Templeton, and Atiba Jefferson.

My senior year of high school, I went so far as to write up a list of photography equipment that I would need to start professionally shooting skateboarding: a Nikon F5 film camera that shot eight frames per second and several flash units for those sweet magazine sequences.

The first issue of Transworld Skateboarding I ever purchased featured Danny Way jumping out of a helicopter onto a giant half pipe. Photo credited to Dave Swift but actually shot by Skin Phillips

With that list, I went with my dad to a local bank to ask for a loan. My plan was to move out to Los Angeles (where my aunt and uncle lived) and start shooting and, well… I don’t really know from there.

I’m pretty sure that is where I learned the word “collateral” and how much it cost to borrow money from a bank. Welcome to capitalism, Doug. In the end, I didn’t get the loan and I chose to go to college to do something with art and computers—which was probably the right decision—but who knows?

A Way to Creativity

I believe that skateboarding is an incredible way to learn creativity and resourcefulness when you’re young. Skaters are good at making something out of nothing. Find a small drainage ditch and a piece of plywood? Well, you just created a half pipe. Tired of getting yelled at by business owners? Show up at midnight and session that loading dock with you car headlights until your battery almost dies.

“The craziest thing about skateboarding is you can say: ‘What if?’ and you can go do it. You can take something that was pure thought and you can make it a reality…” - Marc Johnson in Modus Operandi

Modus Operandi was such an influential skate video to me and I cannot exaggerate how much I watched this VHS tape as a teenager

Skateboarding also teaches a healthy distrust of authority. Constantly getting hassled by the cops for doing something that is questionably “illegal” and minimally destructive shows you who the system is set up to “serve and protect.” As a white kid, I saw firsthand how much more black skaters got hassled or physically manhandled by the cops and it was furiously unfair.

Persistence and Not Asking for Permission

Have you ever seen kids trying the same trick over and over again and thought, “What’s the point? They will never land that trick.”? I firmly believe in the importance of using the energy of youth to persevere through constant failure—because the first time you land the trick you’ve been trying all week feels amazing and you immediately want to try it again.

Why am I sharing my embarrassing senior portraits? I don’t know, but I think it is funny. If I had a time machine, I’d use it to go back to this day and encourage myself to tone it down just a bit on the jewelry.

Almost 10 years ago, I released an independant documentary film called Linotype: The Film and I believe I would have never made the film if it wasn’t for my skateboarding past.

I didn’t go to film school, I didn’t know how to direct or interview people, but I knew that I could figure it out. At least some of that blind confidence (and sheer stupidity) came from pushing the boundaries of what was possible on a maple skate deck, 7.625" wide, on four wheels and not asking for permission.

Dad Vibes & Lycra

These days, I only break out my skateboard at a local skate park with my kids. They have bikes and I roll around on my skateboard, trying not to grievously injure myself. I did, however recently drop in on a six-foot quarter pipe and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pretty proud of myself.

Yep, that’s me, dropping in on a quater pipe, in a button-up shirt, because that is how I roll…

Cycling is my sport of choice now and likely my teenage self would make fun of my middle-age self—but I think there are similarities between the two activities:

  1. Cycling is mostly an individual sport. Sure, you can do it with others, but you don’t have to.
  2. You can customize your bike the same way you can customize your skateboard and it becomes an extension of your personality.
  3. When you’re doing either sport, you’re mainly competing against yourself. “How fast can I make it up this hill?” has replaced “Think I can 50-50 grind this low railing?”
  4. There is a specific fashion to the clothes and shoes for both sports, just now my clothes are embarrassingly tight and expensive.
  5. People continue to get mad at you for being in “their” space, but now they are yelling out their car window instead the front of their business.
  6. I still don’t trust cops.

Further Reading & Writing