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.


8 thoughts on “Street Skaters and Freestyle and Whatnot

  1. Mike Moore

    My opinion(s) on the matters above…

    (Let’s go ahead and acknowledge we may have to agree to disagree)

    First, to ME, modern street skating is freestyle with obstacles thrown in. I have trouble distinguishing the differences beyond that. The fact that Mullen went from being FS God to one of the founding fathers of modern street skating is just about all the evidence I need.

    In MY opinion, the only skating that has “style” is of the “flowier” nature. Static flippity floppity, spinny, jump off shit, kick flip in…kick flip out…has no “style” to me. I will whole heartedly agree and give massive props to those that possess the skills to do those sorts of things, that they are talented individuals, and are deserving of their accolades. But style? Meh. I’ve been blown away by the TRICKS street and freestyle guys can throw down…mind boggling at times…but it’s a trick, a maneuver, a learned skill. Nothing wrong, and certainly some awesome stuff getting thrown down, but no style.

    For ME, style comes from flow. A pool, bowl, ditch, street carve, whatever…anything that produces a motion/flow that can be tapped into. The argument can be made that the total immersion in an activity “produces” flow, and that concept may be well beyond my grasp. To me, motion creates flow.

    Style is flow. Flow is fluid. No style in static.

    I’m REALLY not hating on street or FS. I, again, am constantly blown away by the TRICKS being done. But not a whole lot of it is pretty to me. Rad? Sure. Ballsy? Ok. Superhuman effort? Maybe. Stylish? Eh.

    I leave you with this…
    One of the sweetest FS runs ever. Style, flow, the whole enchilada.

    Have Fun!

  2. admin Post author

    On the part we disagree on: Modern street skating — pretty much based on one family of tricks (the ollie) which originated in freestyle. That is really where the similarity ends.

    Where we agree: as you know, I am not a fan of stationary tricks. I will occasionally do one, IF it is a good trick, and only to sort of punctuate a line. I generally hate them. In my mind, the flow of Kevin Harris and relaxed style of Pineapple are the hallmark of good freestyle.

    Thanks for the reply, Mike. It has helped me once again to purify my thoughts on this topic. Which means I will continue to try to flow and skate like ME, and not give in to the powers of evil.

  3. Mike Moore

    After my initial post, I watched Mullen’s run from the same contest (Oceanside 1986), he did a ton more tricks, and a ton more difficult tricks…but none of it was more pleasing to the eye than Harris’ run.

    The older FS guys (pre Mullen) incorporated rolling into their runs. It’s a skateboard…it rolls…sorta the point. No sane person can take anything away from Rodney, he without a doubt raised the bar, upped the ante…whatever you wanna call it. That being said, it ain’t always pretty to watch…amazing maybe…but not always pretty.

    Maybe it’s because I’m old now, but I’d much rather watch something pleasing…than just something tech/gnar/etc. The modern all terrain guys seem to be bringing it back. I can watch Ben Raybourn all day, he’s got it all. The contrast of that is I can watch Jason Adams slappy videos with the same awe and visual pleasure.

  4. admin Post author

    I should clarify, as long as I’m being tedious.

    I am not a fan of stationary tricks, and I hate them FOR MYSELF. As with anything in skating, I advocate that every skater do what he, she, or it enjoys.

    Tony Gale and I talk about his a lot, actually. Both of us generally abstain from pogo and/or stationary stuff, but will throw in an occasional rail trick or 50/50 fingerflip variation. I give a little more leeway to FSers who are really pushing the limits of stationary/pogo/truck transfer kind of stuff. I don’t really enjoy seeing it, I don’t enjoy doing it, but I appreciate their tenacity.

    All that being said, good rolling style can take many forms. Not every good style run is in the smooth ice skater style of Kevin Harris. You can do one in more of an aggressive “ripping” style too. The main thing is, as you said, movement creating flow. I totally agree with that.

  5. David

    This really does go to the conversations that have been happening on effbook and lucha.

    My two cents at this point is that there is some really ugly “freestyle” out there (me included) that gets a lot of praise. Because you can do something faster or with more hops on the non-rolling side of the board than everyone else in the world doesn’t mean it looks good. I wrinkle my brow about once a day when I see someone comment, “I love your style,” on a clip that lacks either any real proficiency or any “good” style. I know my freestyle style sucks at this point. Style tends to get better with time (unless you’re unlucky) and I’ve luckily started to see some little glimpses of good style (generally followed by something terrible). I have wondered how in the world I have more instagram followers than some freestyle professionals when I’m pretty crap at it so far.

    But I also think that, coming from a non-freestyle background, I appreciate different things from others who are into freestyle. Since I have spent so much time just rolling, cruising, pumping without any tricks I look at how they stand on a board more than how many times they’ve flipped the board over. I appreciate the simple a little more than most of the freestyle folks (I know you do too). There is a girl on instagram who’s monster walks are beautiful. Just a simple monster walk. I’d rather monster walk with grace like her than 720 shove it (which is a good thing, because I can’t 720 shove it).

    Now, with all that done, I will say that I think a great street skater could come in and kill freestyle as long as they understand it. I immediately think Connor Burke. His is very much street meets freestyle. I love watching him skate (and wish there was more content).

    1. admin Post author

      Regarding a good street skater killing it — maybe. I think the critical phrase you used is “as long as they understand it.” I never see any that do. Like, never.


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