Category Archives: freestyle skateboarding

A good session

Tonight I forced myself to go skate. I’m just so over this heat. Tired of it 100%, but I knew I needed to skate. As I’ve written here lately, I’ve been a little burned out, from just about everything, actually. All I’ve wanted to do is hang with my wife. Just be at home with her. We had our anniversary the other day, and went to a Rangers baseball game, which was great. I wish every day was just the two of us doing fun stuff. As I get older, I’m starting to resent more and more that our time is not 100% our own to use this way. Childish? Maybe. But damn, these are our lives.

Anyway, for the first time since my London/Germany trip last month, I got all my stuff and went to my spot. Board, iPod, speaker, water. It wasn’t too bad. Got there at a little after 7pm, and while it was still hot and pretty humid, it was not horrible at all.

Having not practiced much, I went into this session with no expectations. I spent about 30 minutes just doing simple footwork and space walks. Then finally I started doing some tricks. My friend Tony Gales tells me I need to reduce the setup time between my tricks. Since he just won the world championship in Sweden, I think I’ll listen to him. I started working on it. One push, quick setup (more efficient setup), and right into a trick. I think this is good way to practice. If you can skate this way, you can alway draw things out, but if you always draw things out, you can’t immediately do things quickly.  So I did some one push into 360 shove it practice, and by the end of the session I was getting that pretty much every time, and managed to start doing a rolling fingerflip on the other side of my spot. Two tricks where I usually only do one. So I’m pretty happy about that.

 

Summer Skate 2017: Pre-Travel Post #2

As my trip approaches, and the Paderborn freestyle contest draws nearer, I must remind myself that I am skating for me. Not for a contest. Not to win. Not for a prize. But for me. To show what I can do, enjoy the company of my friends from all over the world, and contribute to the greatness that is freestyle skateboarding.

This is my weekend to work, so I was off a half day today, and I’m off all day tomorrow. I got a lot of my trip prep done today, and will finish tomorrow.

I got in a good session today at 7pm. Skated pretty well. Had a good time. I’m feeling good. Body feels limber, agile, and strong, if a little bit heavy.

Worked on my rolling finger flip today. Not that many of the old guys do these. I haven’t done them in about a year, frankly because I’m lazy and they require a lot of effort. However, since they are a trick that gives a lot of old dudes trouble, and since I can do them, I’ve decided to practice the hell out of mine so it is on lock for these contests.  Today I spent 30 minutes on terrible attempts and bad landings, but then got the foot placement and timing worked out and made some good ones. I need to go a bit faster, but that will come. A good, solid finger flip is the main thing. Smooth. Even if a bit slow. Good landings. That is what I go for.

 

Bad Ass Skating

My friend and podcasting partner Tony Gale got 5th place pro division last weekend at the World Freestyle Roundup in Vancouver. He should have been ranked higher, but judging is hard to do, and mistakes happen.

This is his 1st run from the Semi Finals. It is perfect, and extremely difficult. Three 540 Shove-It variations, difficult kickflip and double kickflips, etc, etc. Perfect run. Ripping. So proud of him.

Street Skaters and Freestyle and Whatnot

For the record, real street skating is very rad. That’s my opinion on it. By “real”, I mean skateboarding done on the actual streets.

I’m a skateboarder. I love skating ditches, street skating, parks, freestyle, hills. I don’t do slalom, but I think it’s very cool. I used to skate a little vert, but simply didn’t have the grapes for it. So my point is, to a great extent skateboarding is skateboarding, but there are “borders” between disciplines, even if those borders are often a bit porous.

In the past I have fluctuated on the relationship between freestyle and street skating. There’s a part of me that really appreciates the ability to get on your board — one non-specialized board – and skate everything.  Up until about 1977 or 1978 it was kind of like that. The specialized freestyle board was still evolving. You’d still see people entering freestyle contests on boards that were essentially the same as what they’d ride in bowls or in their neighborhoods. So, yes, I do have an appreciation for the modern street board and its best practioners, who can ride it on almost any surface or terrain.

That doesn’t mean I dig all of modern street skating style. That part of it, for me, depends on the individual skater I’m watching.

There used to be kind of a joke about old vert skaters trying to skate street. A lot of them weren’t very good at it. Street was in, Vert was out, and many of the vert dudes simply weren’t good at street skating. Some were, however. I have street skated with Jeff Phillips and Dan Wilkes, and I can assure you they both had/have great street skating ability with great style.

What does this have to do with Freestyle? I’m getting to it.

Sooooo…seldom do you hear anyone but crusty old guys joke about street skaters riding vert. How horrible their style often is. There are of course some really good ones, but man, the street skating approach to vert can be fantastically ugly even when it is technically successful. At least to my critical and judgemental old eyes.

With the new boom of skateparks, there are some skaters now that can do it all. I love that. They can do it all and do it all with good style. I think that the pure street dudes still outnumber the all-terrain rippers though.

Which brings me to the subject of freestyle skateboarding and street.

My friend Keith Renna and I have had this discussion, and I’ve often found myself in agreement with him. The top street pros are sooooooo frickin’ good. They have such fantastic board control, and such a total lack of fear. What would happen if even one of the top dudes got into Freestyle? Would he/she kick everyone’s ass?

I have often suspected that would be the case. It’s not that the best freestyle guys aren’t fantastic, but there are just so many great street skaters. When you have probably hundreds of thousands of skaters in the potential population of spoilers, compared to a few hundred at most in the freestyle world, the laws of large numbers just seem to indicate the current freestylers would be overwhelmed by an onslaught of ultra-talented street skaters.

But I think I have changed my mind.

You might be able to find plenty of amazing street skaters who could quickly learn some tricks, but my mind drifts back to the ugly spectacle of street skaters riding vert. It’s just ugly. Sorry, but it is. The body positioning that works so well in modern street skating looks like an ape taking a dump when transferred to vert. I think the same thing would happen in freestyle.

But it isn’t just a matter of body positioning and style. It’s a matter of mind-set and discernment. Most of the best freestylers I know have the ability to discern good stuff from shit. A good landing from a shit landing. A good trick from a stupid one. A trick done well from the same trick done poorly. In the age of 50 Trys for 1 Make video street skating, I don’t know if that same standard applies. Maybe it does. I don’t see it.

What is freestyle? What is good freestyle? The answers to those questions are of course subjective. I know ’em when I see ’em. I think most of us know when someone is “doing freestyle” and when someone is just doing a bunch of tricks. How we know I do not know.

What I’ve seen when I see street skaters attempt freestyle, even very good street skaters, is a very clumsy version of freestyle. That’s not really meant as a criticism. Just a fact. Someone may have a killer 360 flip, but really not have any smoothness in what were once some very basic movements, like end-overs or walk-the-dog.  What I see a lot is street skaters overpowering things where subtlety is needed.

It’s just a different, though related, art.

But – I am always stoked to see new people working on freestyle. At a freestyle contest, having street skaters enter is cool. I encourage everyone to give it a try. I just don’t think freestylers should sell themselves short regarding their craft. There is nothing inherently greater about street skating skills, and freestyle as the art and the “event” needs to be preserved and honored.

 

Some freestyle

Had a good session last night. Here are a few tricks. This is how I practice. I roll back and forth doing tricks for at least an hour. I start with simple footwork, then eventually get into flip tricks and shove-its, etc. The trick at the end is new. I just learned it last night. Simple, but it has a nice flow and is fun.

New Tricks

I think I’ve always been a lazy freestyle skateboarder. I think I’ve always just done the tricks that come easy to me, which is fine, but honestly I think I’ve lacked the persistence to really work on a hard trick until I make it. I don’t like to fail, and learning new tricks in skateboarding involves lots of failure.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been working on some new tricks. It doesn’t matter what they are. They’re just new to me, and they are of the “hard” variety. Board flipping and spinning, etc. I’m having some success. Haven’t landed the new stuff yet, but it is an order of magnitude harder than my normal tricks. I’m coming close. I recorded some attempts last night, and man, some of ’em are right there! I actually feel like I’m going to get them.

This one below, which I’ve shared all over and will share here again because I’m happy about it, is not complex, but it’s hard. This 2-foot nose spin has eluded me for years. Again, I think I just wasn’t persistent enough. A couple of nights ago I made a small change to my foot placement, and it started to fall into place. This is only 2 spins, but I’m getting it consistantly, and it feels good and solid. I think I can get this up to 4 or 5 given a couple weeks practice.

London/Paderborn Trip

As I begin writing this I’m about two hours into my eight hour return flight from London to Washington DC, which will connect me to a final flight home to Dallas. I’m deeply tired, but it’s a good tired, the kind of weariness that comes from expenditure of energy on one of the best skate experiences of my life.

I just finished a journey that took me to England to skate with my friend and co-founder of the Freestyle Podcast, Tony Gale, and then through three other countries as he, I, and 6 other skaters attended the legendary Paderborn freestyle contest in Germany.

My trip began when my wife dropped me off at DFW International Airport. I was loaded down – backpack, small duffel full of clothes, and a longboard bag with my freestyle board, my street board, a backup freestyle board, and 4 decks requested by various Brits and Europeans. All together it was heavy.

I arrived at Heathrow and my research regarding my train/tube rides payed off. Finding the Heathrow Express was very easy, and it got me to Paddington Station very quickly. I took the escalator down a level to the Underground, purchased an Oyster card, and boarded the Bannerloo line to Charing Cross Station, went back upstairs purchased a ticket to the Southeastern Line train to Hastings — which quickly got me to Tunbridge Wells, home of Tony Gale and his girlfriend Georgie, who picked me up at the train station. We returned to their flat, and as Tony was at work until late, I crashed there for a few hours of much needed rest. Sometime after 9pm, Tony arrived with freestyler Simon Mrozinkski who had also arrived at the station after a 3-hour train ride from Salisbury.

I can’t exactly describe how fantastic it was to meet Tony and Simon in-person after all these years. Tony and I of course communicate all the time, and do the Freestyle Podcast together, and I already felt like I knew him. I guess I did. Likewise, Simon was very much already considered a friend. We all exchanged various gifts and deliveries for each other, and talked until fairly late. This was all on Thursday, London time.

The next morning we got up and prepared for the journey to Paderborn, Germany. 5 other freestylers were to arrive, including our driver James “Fairbro” Fairbrother.  When most of us were there, we took off fo a quick freestyle session at the little skatepark that Tony frequents in the town. Eventually the rest of the crew got there, we sessioned a bit more, then took off for Germany.

First stop, Chunnel. What an amazing feet of engineering. We purchased a ticket and boarded the Chunnel train, by simply driving on to a train car and parking there for the 30 minute trip under the English Channel. Incredible. We emerged in France, went through border control, and proceded on our way, passing through beautiful French countryside and into Belgium, then the Netherlands. We stopped a few time for food, etc. and pushed on through Germany to the town of Paderborn, arriving at the skatepark and camping location at about 2:30am. Fairbro is a really driving machine, and as the other two don’t drive, I can’t express my appreciation enough for him driving the whole way to and from Paderborn.

The organizers had the group tent set up for us, but the folding beds were not to be found, so we spread our sleeping bags on the ground and attempted to sleep. There were already some skaters in the tent, and a few smaller tents set up. We had no idea who they were.As soon as I went in the tent, the freshly cut grass on the ground activated my hay fever, so I knew it was going to be a rough night and rougher morning.

Sunrise at that latitude is about 4am, and certainly by 5 most of us had given up on additional sleep. We emerged from the tent still clothed from the previous night, grabbed our boards, and walked down to the park to start sampling the surface. That’s right. Skating before 6am. Insane, but true. My eyes were on fire with hay fever, but I managed to keep myself together, and the problem lessened slightly after leaving the tent.  After some time skating and chilling, James, Tony, Simon and I drove to town to an Aldi market for food, hit up a coffee shop for much needed caffeine infusions,  and I managed to find a pharmacy.

The friendly German pharmacist was able to understand my request of non-drowsy allergy medicine, which I purchased and took immediatly, later offering some to my traveling companion Denham Hill, who was also suffering from the malady.

This was on Saturday, which was the day for the street skating event at the park. Lots of great riders showed up and practiced, while the Brits and I immediatly began skating again. We were joined by some of the guys already there – Marco Sassi of Itally, Mario Steinemann of Switzerland, Turi Zoltan of Hungary, and Marius Constantin of Romania. I have long been in communication with these guys, and it was utterly fantastic and dreamlike to be there at the contest practicing with them.

As the street contest got under way, the freestylers left the skating area and joined the very large crowd there to see the event. The park is surrounded by small hills, almost forming a natural ampitheater. Families were there to see the skating. The only contest I’ve seen like this one is the EZ-7 Turkey Jam ditch contest in Houston, which has the same vibe. This is the way skate events should be.

Eventually my friend Yoyo Schulz arrived from Frankfurt. Man, it was good to see Yoyo again. We spent some time catching up during the street event.

A little more about this 2-day skate event. This is also known as the BBQ contest, as there is a food stand selling Bratwurst, other foods, beer, soft drinks, etc. Skaters entered in the event — registration fee of 30 Euros – get a wrist band allowing them to get as much bottled water as they’d like, for free. There are plenty of toilets available and a small skate shop in a tent.  Down the road through this park there is an atheletic facility that has showers. Sadly, we didn’t really get access to the showers until Sunday morning, so by then we were pretty damned smelly and dirty, but that’s camping with skating, right?  Fairbro and I discovered the bottled carbonated water is quite refreshing when poured over your head and used to quickly wash your face and hair.

Street skating wrapped up, so the Brits and I loaded into our two cars and headed to dinner at a very good Italian restaurant (at this point we were still pretty filthy, heh heh). After dinner, of course, we went back to the park and continued skating. As the sun went down sometime after 9pm, most of us sat and talked while Tony Gale and Robert continued to skate in the near dark by a small light, while photos were taken. I would say we all got to bed about 10pm, except for Steinemann and Sassi, who arrived back at the tent about 4am after a night of partying in town.

On Sunday, we again awakened about 6:30am, to discover that James Fairbrother had been up and skating since about 5:30. James is a builder, and he naturally gets up very early.

Sunday morning was cold and overcast. “Bleak”, as Fairbro put it. The scene of the skatepark, empty but for us, in the strange bleak German morning, was for lack of a better word surreal. I stood there in my shorts and a borrowed hoody, envisioning a contest largely devoid of spectators — the freestylers skating in this strange environment.

As the morning progressed, the sun came out and the day transformed from something out of some dismal myth to a beautiful, sunny, perfect day. Perfect temperature. The contest organizers provided an excellent free breakfast and I slammed down a couple of coffees to keep the brain in check. Finally shower access was granted, so Tony, Simon, James, and I managed to wash the grime of a couple of days off and get refreshed before the contest started.

More and more people started to appear, both skaters and spectators. I can honestly say I don’t think any other freestyle contest gets the kind of interest from non-skaters as this one. This was the 15th year they’ve done this contest, and people know about it. They know the freestyle skateboarders will entertain them as they compete, they know the contest environment is fun, has great food, is friendly, and great for families, and they show up to see it.

I liked the way they ran the contest. Skaters got two 2-minute runs. Amateurs skated, then with no break the Pros and then again with no break, the Legends. Then a very short break, and they ran through the order again.

Let me just express an opinion here, which I know not everyone agrees with, but it’s my blog and you can start a blog if you want to say otherwise. The 2-minute run is the way to go. If you are going to have a real freestyle contest, one that really exhibits the best qualities of the skaters, both artistic and technical, you need to do the 2-minute run. I have now done both, and there’s simply no comparison. The 1-minute run format, the “battle” format, etc., might have their place, I don’t know. But the 2-minute run allows skaters to access different styles, slower paces, and just generally express themselves. That is how any kind of freestyle “championship” needs to be. I’m not taking a shot at anyone personally here. We’re all entitled to our opinions, and to run contests the way we want, but that is my opinion. The first of my runs, which is described a little later in this post, was to a slow song. It was a more slow, contemplative run. THAT is what I was trying to get across, because there was some real, actual, emotional content that I wanted to express. Whether I achieved it is debateable, but it was important to me.

I don’t want to go on too much about the results here, as they are published elsewhere, and several people have provided video on youtube — every single run is available — they were there the next day.

Here they are.

Organizers of other contests – take note. Getting the video up weeks or months later, or never, is not good and not helpful. It does not generate excitement for your events. You need to do it like the Germans. Tape every single run, then go home and get the video processed and uploaded. No editing is required. No clever bullshit. Let the other videographers there do the highlight reels and edited stuff. But organizers – just post the runs, like the Germans did, in their entirety and on the next day. We are freestylers. We want to see and study everyone’s runs. We enjoy that, and we have the patience for it. Frankly, when skaters spend their own money to travel long distances to be at an event, I think they deserve to have good video of everything available in a day or two. I think they are right to be bummed when this doesn’t happen.

Regarding the judging: It was good. Having watched the video and knowing what the Paderborn judges are looking for, I feel that they got it right. Here is my editorial comment: My podasting partner Tony Gale got 2nd in Pro. Tony blew the metaphorical roof off that place like nothing I’ve ever seen. A high energy, high difficulty run that had everyone watching say a collective “holy shit!”. It looks really good on video, but in person it was fantastic verging on superhuman. BUT – Guenter Mokulys, the 11 time world champion, European champ, etc, is a machine. He had a couple of misses, but his precision is just unmatched. His tricks are difficult and usually executed to perfection. So while I think Tony’s runs were an order of magnitude more exciting, and perhaps even more difficult, I have to think that a couple of extra step offs may have made the difference, and at Paderborn that’s important. And it should be. Given similar levels of skating, the guy who screws up least should win. But I think that Tony really served notice that there’s a new preditor in the jungle, and he can’t be ignored. That being said, a massive congratulations to Guenter, a great great skater who continues to get the job done and skate at a remarkably high level. Seeing Guenter skate in-person is an eye-opening experience. 3rd Place was the absolutley amazing Marco Sassi, of Italy. A lot of Marco’s really great stuff is so subtle that a non-freestyler would not even understand it. His footwork is complex, original, difficult as hell, and beyond smooth. A very strong argument could me made for him for 1st place. That’s how good he is.  It is really something for which to aspire. Finally, 4th place was Germany’s Christian Heise. Chrisitan is just a great all-around freestyler. Smooth, slick, and amazing. I really enjoyed seeing his skating in-person.

The Ams were all great fun to watch, and skated well, Marius Constantin of Romania took 1st, and I think he has earned the right to join the pro ranks. He is a guy radiates enthusiasm, his skating is right up there, he is scene-building hero of freestyle, and I admire his humility in not just jumping into the pro ranks. He told me he really wanted to earn it, and he has.

The German MC was fantastic. Super positive and all his comments were smart and appropriate.  The contest was judged by people knowledgeable about modern freestyle — freestylers themselves.

Since this is my blog, I want to talk about my performance. Though I’ve been doing freestyle a long time, looking back this is only the 5th freestyle contest I’ve ever been in. That’s kind of weird to think about. Two of them when I was 15, one when I was 21, Philly in 2013, and now this one when I am 50. I entered the “Legends” category, mostly because I am a lot older than most of the skaters in the Am division, and I’m certainly far from Pro material, not because I actually consider myself a “legend”. Truth is, I’m not even that good. I was once, but now I’m just an old Texas skater who likes to roll around and do a few tricks, who is still trying to improve.

I had the honor of skating the Legends category with a true Legend, Yoyo Schulz, of Frankfurt, Germany. He and I have been friends for many years now. A better person than Joachim “Yoyo” Schulz would be hard to find. The man is a fantastic skater, runs a small skate business to help provide excellent freestyle equipment to the UK and Europe, and is one of the driving forces behind the European freestyle scene.  He was the only other person in the Legends group, so I knew going in that in the contest I would simply get 2nd place. And I am very very happy with that. Because the real prize I got means so much more to me than a trophy.

As I sat there watching the first section of runs, I honestly had no idea when I was to come up. The German MC, speaking German, began to speak, and was apparently introducing me by explaining to everyone there about my old Bob’s Trick Tips website, and then in English thanking me for “all you have done for freestyle”. I simply didn’t know what to do. It was emotionally overwhelming. Throughout the weekend many skaters approached me and thanked me, saying things like “I wouldn’t be here if not for you.” All of that was just very, very hard to compute. I thanked them all,  explaining that at the time I really had no idea, and that I’m just on old skater with a computer and a  camcorder. But then, to be publicly acknowledged, all I could do was try to thank them and not act like a jackass. Really, this was probably the high point of my skateboarding life.

Then my music started. Only a few people know this, but a few weeks ago our beloved  cat Pancho died very suddenly and at a young age. My wife and I have really felt devastated, as happens when one loses a loving little companion. Our other cat is named Lefty – they are named after the characters in the song Pancho & Lefty, written and best-performed by Townes Van Zant, of Texas. So I decided weeks ago to use this beautiful, sad, and quintessentially Texan song for my first run, as a tribute to my little buddy.

My British friends have told me how relaxed I looked while I was skating, but I was actually kind of emotionally worked up. I guess they couldn’t see it. I knew going in that the song might upset me a little, but for some reason I wanted that to happen. I simply didn’t care. My skating is very simple anyway. I messed up a couple of tricks, and slipped out and went down on some very simple footwork (not bad — not a slam really – caught myself with both hands and popped right back up). That’s fine. It didn’t even upset me. The unexpected adulation of these people and the chance to pay respects to Pancho, and the wonderful companionship and brotherhood of my British friends, were enough. To me that was a 1st prize.

I write this not to say “I don’t really suck that bad”, but rather because I want the people there to know how much it all meant to me.

Thanks to all from the bottom of my heart.

My 2nd run was technically better. I stuck to Texas music, playing ZZ Top’s classic “Just Got Paid”, just to give the crowd a taste of a different kind of Texas music. I really didn’t have a routine planned out for either song. I had a few sequences to work in, but I just went out and skated. Even without any technical tricks and looking not so great, my runs made me happy. Just participating in something like this, traveling far from home, skating, and making new friends is very satisfying.

Here’s the thing about contests. The point of entering a contest doesn’t have to be to win. That is a great goal, but especially in a small community like the freestyle world, the contest is a chance to have time to show your friends and fellow freestylers what you can do, and a time for them to take joy in your skating. If there is a contest you have reasonable access to enter, by all means, enter. Be part of the thing. Let your friends enjoy your skating in that format.

Now, on to the Brits. Tony Gale, James Fairbrother, Simon Mrozinski, Nathan Pseuzan, Michael Erskine, Denham Hill, and Alex Foster. A better group of people to travel with and do a contest with I cannot imagine. We had so much fun. Just such cool guys.

The German crowd was excellent and engaged, but the Brits brought a new, fun, raucus energy to the contest. A bunch of fookin’ ruffians! Team GB. Or as I’ve been calling it, Team GB/TX. We whooped and hollered for each other during every run. We hugged, fist bumped, and high-fived each other after completion of a run. None of this was planned. It just happened, because we were all so happy to be there, and so genuinely supportive of each other. It was just a great experience. All of these guys seemed to be having a great time during their runs, and their attitudes were infectious. This is how grassroots contests are in Texas. It’s the way they should be.

After the trophies were awarded people slowly began to leave. It was obvious that everyone really just wanted to stay and skate.  We said our goodbyes to the other skaters, thanked the organizers, and Fairbrother used his unique charm to sweet talk them into leaving the tent up for us Sunday night, so we could sleep there again and get an early start back to England on Monday morning. Then we went out for more Italian food, came back, and chilled at the park and skated a bit more before going to bed.

We pulled out of the campgrounds/skatepark I think before 6am, and hammered back through Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France, to the Chunnel. After a small mechanical scare — turned out to be nothing — we boarded the train, went under the sea again, and were soon again driving on the left side of the road, past the beautiful green hills of Dover. All met back at Tony Gale’s place in Tunbridge Wells, where we said our goodbyes, and they left me and Tony there.

Tuesday was to be my last day in England. Tony and I took the train into London, carrying boards and backpacks, and we hit the classic London skate spots of South Bank and the Kennington bowl. Southbank is gnarly. Videos and photos simply don’t do its gnarliness justice. It is all made from big pave stones. None of the stones are quite even. It can be slick. As Tony says, it is a classic English spot — “rough as shit and smells like piss.” We skated there for a while then ventured south to the Kennington Bowl, which is a capsule-shaped bowl built in the 1970s. The walls are steep banks with good transition. Some years ago, Converse did a retrofit of the bowl, resurfacing it and adding some fairly stupid round wall sections and a strange and not very usable ledge. Now, maybe 4 years later (?), the flatbottom is chunking and cracking at the seams, leaving it almost as gnarly as South Bank. Tony rips at this place. He’s known for freestyle, but he can skate banks really well, and loves the shitty greatness of this bowl. It’s not a place that skatepark kids will thrive in, but for the dediicated it is cool.

We then headed to Brixton, where there is another 1970s era skatepark. There are a few modern retrofits, but the snake run into a big banked bowl was intact. I felt like I was back at Wizard skatepark in Dallas in 1979. It was just extremely fun. It is in a somewhat rough looking neighborhood. Tony told me it was the stabbing capital of London, or something like that, but the skaters at the park were cool. No bad vibes at all. We skated there longer than the other spots.

We skated there until 5pm, and then headed to the underground, going up to Buckingham Palace so I could see a few standard tourist things and take a few pics. We both got pics skating in front of the palace. Then we headed for Waterloo Station, stopping to each pick up a serving up traditional English chips, which we devoured on the train back to Tunbridge Wells.

We got home, cleaned up, and went to dinner at 9pm at yet another delicious Italian place.

This morning I got up at 5:30, made sure I had all my stuff together, said farewell to Georgie, and Tony and I walked back to the train station, where I did the train/tube/train thing back to Heathrow, which brings me to the present.

I’m 4:12 into my eight hour flight to Washington D.C., to then make a connecting flight to Dallas. I’m tired. My legs are sore. I haven’t shaved in a week. I have ignored jet lag and weariness for the last week, half of which I spent sleeping in a cold tent for about 5 hours per night, and for some reason have not closed my eyes on the plane. I guess I’m still just to fired up.

A huge thanks to Tony and Georgie for hosting me. Looking forward to doing it all again.

And biggest thank you of all to my wife, Toni. Without you, Toni, this trip couldn’t have happened. You are the most supportive wife ever. Thank you for understanding me.

 

The Road to Europe #3

After a full week of resting my lower back, I got back on the freestyle board last night. No pressure – mostly just did some footwork, shove-its, etc. I did practice my 50/50 fingerflip, a trick I rarely do, but I feel like if done smoothly it isn’t too bad. I don’t like “pogo” tricks where you bounce around on the tail a lot.  So I don’t bounce. I get up on the truck, then right back down.  Just my personal preference. Here are just a few clips I shot with the GoPro.

The Road to Europe #2: A Slight Setback

Besides the fact that we’ve had a lot of rain that has made it hard to practice, this last weekend I strained my lower back pretty badly at Aikido. I was just helping someone warm up for a test, before practice even started, and I felt the lower back muscles and spine just stiffen up. Not good. So I quietly told our instructor I was going to head home. I spent the day laying around, taking lots of ibuprofin. Woke up feeling a little better on Sunday, and though the drive to Fort Worth’s Modern museum as a little rough, all the walking around helped. I continued taking 800mg of ibuprofin 3 times a day, and now it is Tuesday and I finally woke up not feeling my back aching.

So I’m going to take this week totally off from skateboarding and Aikido and just let the muscles and inflamation go away. It’s raining this week anyway.

My lower back has been a problem since I was 18, when I herniated the L4/L5 disk and required surgery. Then when I was 28 I herniated the same disk again. It was really bad that time, but they went back in and got it “fixed”. I had a better doctor that time. But once you have something like that, your muscles are never quite the same. I’m sure I have some arthritis in that part of my back. I’ve been dealing with it for 32 years now, so it’s just part of my life. It’s always part of the background noise. Normally it doesn’t hurt, but I’m always aware. I just press on and live life and do what I want. When it gets strained, like this time, I take some time and rest it and get it “well”, or at least “well” by my standards.

The truth is, you can strain your back by sleeping in a bad position. The best thing I can do for it is remain active, try to stay in shape, and not be stupid.

But it has been frustrating. In 2013 I was unable to practice for the Philly Freestyle contest because I had really jacked the lower back up pretty bad. I went anyway, but really didn’t get to give a good accounting of myself. I had fun, but I’d of course rather skate to the best of my ability and have fun. So I’ll admit, when I felt this current strain, I was very upset. I said some bad words when I got home. I was pissed that I’ll be missing some practice time. But then I realized I will still go, still have time to practice. I’ve been practicing already. I don’t suck. I’m not practicing to “win”. I’m practicing to have fun, not suck, and have a blast. So there really isn’t any pressure. There are a few tricks I’d like to learn and lock down before the contest, but I’m already prepared for my main goals. Everything else is just icing on the cake.

As of this moment, I feel like a full week of recovery time will be enough. I think that Sunday I will probably be able to get back on the board and start skating. Will probably give it another week before I start hitting the “bending over” tricks like fingerflips, and also the lower-back intensive Space Walk, but as long as I can be on the board, doing footwork and shove-its and wheelies, that’s fine.

Some Freestyle

OK, it’s on.

Last night I got started on my official freestyle skateboarding practice regimen.  I got some practice a week or two ago, and did alright, but couldn’t get my fingerflip (rolling, of course. No fun in doing them stationary). Frankly, I didn’t try that hard. I was just coming back from bronchitis, hadn’t done them in months, and just didn’t feel that good. So I made a few half ass attempts, mostly giving up as soon as I bent down to grab the nose.

I was tired as shit last night too, it being after work and all. But I’ve come to understand that even if I’m tired, if I just start skating, eventually I’ll loosen up. The trick is to not get frustrated early. It’s all about knowing yourself. O’Sensei, founder of Aikido, said “True victory is self victory”, and I’ve found this to be true.

So after I’d skated for about 45 minutes I started working on the fingerflip. The went for horrible attempts, to not quite so horrible attempts, to almost got my feet back on the board, to made a shitty one, to remembering how to do it right and making good ones.

I have my 360 shove-it at fast speed down. It’s good. I can throw them and catch them with ease, smoothness, and speed. 2-footed nose wheelies are good, fast, and solid. G-turn always solid. Kickflip solid. Footwork is good. Slide into Big Spin good. Need to work on my 180 caspers, rail flips, and some other things I’m tinkering with.

Overall a good practice session. It is nice to get there feeling a bit worn out and leave feeling energized. Skateboarding does that.

The Road to Europe #1: Mode Freestyle Board

Inspired by my friends Tommy Harward and Sean Burke, I am doing a series of posts about my preparations to go on a skateboarding trip to London this summer, to skate with my friend and podcasting partner Tony Gale for the first time, and road trip with a bunch of British freestylers to the Paderborn contest, in Germany.

My posts will not be as funny as Tommy and Sean’s videos. Sorry.

That being said, I’m practicing my various English accents like a madman in order to fit in. I’m using the word “lovely” a lot. And “bollocks”.  I’ll get up to speed on inappropriate phrases in German soon.

Since buying my tickets, there has been exactly one day in which I have had good enough weather to get out and do a little freestyle practice.

Anyway, I decided to try out a slightly longer freestyle board than I normally ride. I say “normally” because sometimes over the last few years I’ve chosen to ride a standard 7.75″ wide newschool street board for freestyle from time to time. It has room for my feet, and the 14″ wheelbase seems to lend itself better to the way I ride. My friends mostly seem to think my skating has better flow on a board this size.

However, there are certain aspects of the newschool board that are not ideal. The nose and tail are really too long for freestyle. Not only do you not need them to be that long, but they get in the way.

click image to embiggen

click image to embiggen

Sooooo… I ordered the Mode Skateboards double kick, the board my friend Terry Synnott designed and rides. He’s refined this shape over the last 10 or 12 years, over various sponsors, until finally he started Mode Skateboards and produces this board. It’s the one on the right that says “Mode’ on it. Compared to my older Small School “Sarge” model, the wheelbase is a little longer, coming in at 13.75″. That may not look like much difference, but it is significant. The board is also a bit wider. The nose and tail are symmetrical, and 5.75″ long. This is a good length, as it provides sufficient leverage, but is short enough I can raise the nose/tail high during wheelies without scraping the ground too quickly. As you can see, the ends are blunt/square, which helps with a lot of freestyle tricks.

Also relating to leverage of the kicks; the kicks don’t start right after the truck bolts. There is a little distance between the bolts and where the bend of the tail/nose starts. Obviously this is because it is made on a newschool mold, but I have come to like this. It keeps the nose and tail from seeming excessively steep. I don’t think you want a really steep tail/nose for freestyle, and until we can get some custom molds going out there, this seems to be a good alternative. So, my point is that the nose and tail really work well, providing the right amount of kick and leverage without making your feet feel too locked into place.

As you can see, I don’t use a front skid. This board is symmetrical, but I still prefer to have a nose and a tail, with the trucks adjusted a little differently on each. I don’t like the feel of a tail skid when I do fingerflips, so I just sacrifice the nose to get the feel I like. This also allows me to lift the tail higher on nose wheelies and g-turns without scraping the ground. It is a trade-off.

I’m using some old Destructo Hi trucks. Looking at the Destructo website, I don’t see that they even make the Hi models anymore. Tony Gale has been preaching the superiority of “high” setups to me, and this feels pretty good. My first inclination is to go low, but I think I do that more out of desire to skate like Terry than out of a realistic view of how I actually skate. I’m using the hard purple Khiro insert bushings. I like them. They’re hard. Depending on some lines I work out and how these break in, I may go to the next softer one down. Trying to balance the stability of a hard bushing with the fact that I like to turn and carve, even in freestyle.

The wheels on the Mode are the Seismic Focus 97a freestyle wheels. I’d like to thank Dan Gesmer for making these wheels. I really like these wheels. They look really big and wide, but the slide and break free for shove-its really nicely, while retaining appropriate traction at other times. I got the wheels and bushings from Decomposed. Witter has excellent fast service.

That’s about it for my current setup. I don’t do any weird modifications – though I do cut the “freestyle hole” in the middle of the grip to help with footwork. Of course I have a little grip tape in the casper spots.

OK, so I took the Mode out for my first serious freestyle session in quite a while, and immediately tried a 360 shove-it, and immediately made it. So that’s good. After a couple of hours, I determined that I am not totally sucking, and with some practice I should be able to give a good accounting of myself at Paderborn. I have some ideas for a unique approach to my runs that I will work on over the next few months. If it ever stops raining.

Here’s one of those first 360 shove-its. Pretty much perfect. I just need to make it a 540.

 

Long or Short?

If I’m going to go back to the Philly Freestyle contest in 2014, I guess now is the time to start thinking about my plan. Will I ride the longboard again? Will I go back to a shortboard? Will I do one run on each?

The truth is that I could probably go back to a normal freestyle board and do pretty well. I have enough reasonably good tricks to place well, and that would be very cool. On the other hand, I really like riding the longboard. It is challenging, and it is different. Even if other longboarders enter, it is unlikely they will skate in the same way I do.

I had a good time this year without placing. A number of people approached me after the contest to tell me they enjoyed my runs. That made me feel real good — I’d kind of rather be appreciated by a select few that dug by the many. Unless the many are all giving me money in appreciation of my skillz. Then the many would be really cool.

The Long and Short of the matter.Now, when I eventually see the video of myself at this event, if I am just horrified by what I see I may change my mind, but as of right now I think I’m gonna stick with the longboard. I think there are enough good tricks I can adapt to the longboard that I can make it continue to work for me.

This past weekend in Philly was the most I’ve ever ridden the Small School 41″ Mega Freestyle deck before. It took a while, but I really started getting used to it. Took a while to find the wheelie sweet spot on the nose, as well as the right foot positioning for 360s and Space Walks on the tail. Once I figured that stuff out, it really became fun.

Besides the obvious difference of figuring out how to do tricks on a longer, heavier board, one thing I didn’t really consider is how much space it takes to do the moves. There were a few times I really had to rush. For instance, I had to rush getting my feet into position for a two-footed nose wheel, and as a result the wheelie wasn’t really that good. That’s a trick I can typically just lock in, and carve a nice smooth curve. So I need to remember that even with the relatively short 1-minute runs to not rush anything. I’d rather do 6 tricks well than 8 tricks crappily.

In the two days since I started writing this post, I’ve been thinking of and noting lots of ideas for tricks and footwork sequences on the longboard. While you can’t do the footwork as fast on the longboard, the extra wheelbase actually allows some footwork to be done better, as it give you a lot more room to move your feet.

So in the coming weeks I’ll start working on both my tricks and tweaking my setup a bit. Not much to be done with the setup, but I want to experiment with different wheels. I like the Bones STF — they are great and provide the perfect amount of slide for the board, but I am thinking about going to a slightly larger diameter. The taller wheels provide a little more consistent roll for doing wheelies. I’m not talking about a big difference – just going from 51mm to 54mm.