I’ll be honest: beyond the last month or so, it all seems like a terrible blur.
I spent most of 2020 stuck in our Brooklyn apartment, attempting to be a teacher, parent, butler and best friend to my terrified five-year-old son. But the moment the little bastard fell asleep, I tagged out with my wife and went skating for an hour or so.
I think that was the best thing about this year. When everything else was taken away—skatepark gates were chained shut, schools were closed, we all lost our jobs, we couldn’t touch each other, many of us got sick and some of us died—skateboarding was an invaluable escape and stress release; a reminder that life could still be a rewarding, funny and exciting thing. Plus you could film yourself without feeling embarrassed. But beyond that:
One of the most iconic, influential and universally respected humans in skateboarding passed away this year. He was immaculate, dignified, incredible. My favourite Huf video part was in FTC’s 1993 video Finally, which not only taught me to skate faster and try out a beanie with a t-shirt but also introduced me to the world of good reggae.
A weathered survivor of the 80s vert boom, Jeff Grosso returned to our screens as a warm and wizened dad who loved to talk about skateboarding. Through his Love Letters series (created with Coan ‘Buddy’ Nichols and Rick Charnoski) he was able to not only stay part of the conversation, but led by example as a positive force in our culture. Grosso’s last great contribution to skateboarding was as a bewildered and vulnerable host of a Loveletters To LGBTQ+ Skateboarding, during which he happily got schooled.
The square in the park near our apartment had a couple of nice granite curbs that I slowly learned my way around. In January, I couldn’t slappie at all—I’d just ride into the curb and stop. By the time we finally left NYC in September, I could hit the curbs both ways, first try. I like that curb skating is cool again, because I have a bad knee (my doctor referred to it as ‘macerated’) and ollieing hurts. Slappies are a whole different side of skating, simultaneously extremely challenging while also low impact. There is plenty of great curb skating inspiration on Instagram (try @curbcontrol for starters), but if you want to go straight to the source, you can’t go past this masterclass from Jef Hartsel.
The Rise of Realness
For many years there has been talk about diversity in skateboarding, but it’s always been delivered in a half-assed, straight white male-determined way. Grudgingly adding a female team rider to satisfy market demand, politely patting pros on the back for finally finding the courage to come out as gay, turning the other way when a teammate is ‘partying’ too much, then collapsing in a heap when we discover one of our dear friends was actually desperately depressed and suicidal that whole time—it all feels like symptoms of quite a toxic, ill-managed, and extremely repressed culture.
This year there have been several signs of things changing in a real way. Shari White’s Credits was a charming and enjoyable full-length video celebrating the global women’s skate community; and there was Grosso’s aforementioned Loveletter to LGBTQ+ skateboarding. There, Unity and Glue are among the coolest brands in skateboarding.
The Ben Raemers Foundation produced a series of films that focused on speaking honestly with skaters about mental health. Several prominent skaters have been called out and held accountable for their abusive, bigoted or just plain offensive behaviour—which is a painful and sometimes problematic process, but vastly preferable to the industry’s culture of simply ignoring it in the past.
It feels like the industry has begun to actually reflect what’s going on rather than stubbornly presenting it as something only one type of person does, and skateboarding feels a lot more exciting and open for it.
The Sidewalk Sale
Throughout the dark month of June, while Covid reigned and the Black Lives Matter movement rose in response to a never-ending series of savage police brutalities, Brooklyn-based skater Aaron Wiggs and a couple of friends started selling their unwanted clothes and boards every second Sunday on the edge of McGolrick Park in Greenpoint to raise funds for BLM-affiliated charities and businesses in need. The sales grew to a full-scale market of donated goods and local businesses wares and became the highlight of everyone’s social calendar, as well as an endless guilt-free spring of amazing skate goods and clothes. Wiggs and his friends ended up raising more than $260,000, as well as serving as an example of how to be a positive role model in skateboarding and the wider community.
Banging skate videos
Besides the spate of SOTY-thirsty releases over the past month or so (Tom Knox’s Atlantic Drift masterpiece; Mason Silva’s fourth part this year; Primitive’s Fourth Quarter; Vans’ Alright. OK; Deathwish’s Uncrossed; Cons’ Seize the Seconds; the Sk8Mafia video and whoever else I forgot) 2020 somehow spawned plenty of great skate videos. Bobby de Keyzer’s Guided By Voices-backed introduction to Quasi was an early contender for part of the year; Austyn Gillette reminded us of how special he is in Former’s Cheap Perfume; Spanky killed it on Instagram; and FA (which even Dill seems embarrassed to refer to as Fucking Awesome) cemented its dominance and set chats alight arguing about whether Aidan Mackey is any good in Dancing on Thin Ice.
YouTube Rabbit Holes of Delight
In the end, there’s nothing better than watching Mark Gonzales parts on YouTube. This part from Real Skateboards’ 1997 full-length Non Fiction isn’t necessarily his best, but it’s still better than pretty much anything else that exists in the entire world. It includes: Gonz skating the vert ramp at Max Schaaf’s house, Gonz getting towed around nighttime LA in a shiny black shirt, and Gonz bombing an indoor carpark with Keith Hufnagel. What more could you want in 2020?