As I sit, gripped to footage of three young men shuffling uncomfortably around a kitchen, I’m confronted by the choices I’ve made in my life.
Speed Freaks was the first skate video I ever owned, a blueprint for the life that followed. Neil Blender’s part was different to the rest—there was a weird skit at the start, he skated at his house and cruised around Sadlands. He was the coolest person I had ever seen: fully formed, sarcastic, already over it. For anyone of my vintage, this newly released clip is some behind the looking glass shit. For anyone else, it’s footage of three young men shuffling uncomfortably around a kitchen.
Real Skate Stories: Neil Blender Classic 1988 Raw Camera Tapes From Speed Freaks Sessions
Blender is a weirdo just like me, but he’s more self-assured. He knows he’s the shit. He continually deflects and provides ironic soundbites (‘We like to keep things nice in here; here’s a cupboard.’) His deadpan banter is never serious, but sort of menacing. You’re never quite in on the joke; in fact, a function of his humour is to be continually reminded you’re on the outer. It seems like he’s pegged the filmer, Tony Roberts, as a tool and has decided to treat him appropriately. Or maybe that’s what he was/is like to anyone he doesn’t really know. It’s standard cool-guy behaviour, the stuff I grew up in awe of and respected, yet could never replicate, because I’m too eager to please.
Through the lens of 2021, Blender is still obviously cool, albeit with embarrassingly dated language and behaviour. He jokingly refers to things as ‘gay’ and says ‘you’re a fag, man.’ He wears an Independent iron cross t-shirt (and makes it look very cool). There’s a bit of a skinhead vibe to the kitchen scene, or maybe that’s just me. The filmer, Tony Roberts, makes fun of a guy in a cheap store by putting on a mock-Asian accent. The casual racism is just part of the cool guy act, just the way things were. I’m glad they aren’t that way anymore.
I used to fantasise about Blender’s house. To me, it was incredible: a grown-up’s home, completely subverted. And on the inverse, a genius living in a normal house – Blender’s obvious fondness for the place, his little bits and pieces everywhere, the quarter pipe, the paintings, the ramp – made me want to own a house one day, too. Looking at it now, it’s a bit of a dump.
Blender’s ramp is ridiculously tight, possibly elliptical. Blenders backside ollies are otherworldly. His approach to the ramp is so cool, advanced and thoughtful. Roskopp skates it hard and traditional, like a pool. Claar slashes around and goes backwards. Roberts asks Blender to do stuff and he obliges with a wry smile. He’s feeding off the attention.
It’s fascinating watching the session, seeing all the gold that was left out of the final edit. That’s part of what’s so precious about the footage: this guy Roberts was tasked with putting together a film of all these young gods, but he didn’t really know what he was dealing with. Or maybe he was bringing his own cool guy attitude to the production, adding his own take to it. Think about all the older kids who cool-guyed you when you were younger. Think of how insecure they were underneath. Acting cool is the worst, but it was the oxygen of the era.
Imagine watching the raw tapes of Star Wars, or Wild At Heart—it would be the same. None of this is stuff important. The meaning we ascribe to it keeps us going and gives us something to aspire to, like a cool older brother. All this stuff just hit us at the exact right time, when it was the realest shit out. Nothing else was as funny or cool and accessible as skateboarding was in the late ‘80s, not that I saw, anyway.
Powell-Peralta, SEEN HIM, a Zenga Bros Film Featuring Andy Anderson
Andy Anderson is also a weirdo. But he is sort of the wide-eyed antithesis of Neil Blender, or the attitudes portrayed in the Speed Freaks era and beyond to which Blender was an enigmatic foil (‘It’s 1990 boys, let’s get rid of the skeletons.’), yet still a part of.
Anderson does a lot of uncool things. He wears a peaked helmet (even when he’s walking around), he does freestyle tricks on his Powell board, he speaks earnestly of his love of skateboarding to girls at cafes, he stars in unashamed self-mythologising films like this.
SEEN HIM seems to be made by someone who either rejects or has no awareness of skateboarding’s visual language or the culture that preceded it, even though Anderson himself is obviously so enamoured with it. It is full of embarrassing one-liners (‘Some people might be embarrassed to be sleeping in an ambulance out the front of someone’s house.’) and meandering takes of nothing in particular. It’s as if Blender’s Speed Freaks raw tapes were just chopped up and set to bad electronic music; and if Blender was a nice young Canadian man with a penchant for military shirting.
Anderson undeniably rips. I’ve thought about this a bit, and ‘ripping’ is different to being the best. It’s more that you can feel his dedication to, and enjoyment of, skateboarding. He’s inventive and articulate. He’s just not cool, or not in the way I’ve grown up understanding what cool was. Cool is Neil Blender—making art, being nonchalant and funny and enigmatic. SEEN HIM is anything but enigmatic. It over-explains and lays it all on the table. Maybe that’s the fault of the filmmakers rather than Anderson; I would like to see a Benny Magliano edit of his skating. But maybe skateboarding has been the domain of the enigmatic for too long; maybe skaters like Anderson and films like these will push things in a more open and accessible direction, in which our beloved pastime can be accepted and understood by everyone, not just ‘us’ cool guys. Would that suck?
Jack O’Grady’s Pass~Port part
From the opening bars of its perfectly matched backing track and the first cuts of a sweat-soaked ‘Squish’ charging down Sydney streets, Jack O’Grady’s pro part is an instant classic swelling with hometown pride. It’s also buzzing with the kind of electricity that can only be generated by a young skater basically rewriting the book of what can be done on a skateboard. All his friends jump around giggling as he charges by after landing yet another bullshit stunt—they can’t believe it, either. It’s all very exciting and beautiful, and represents perhaps the greatest showcase yet of Trent Evans’ Pass~Port—which is saying something, because everything the brand releases is fantastic. But perhaps I’m biased.
Louie Lopez Days Of Grace
Louie Lopez has been on a tear for a good few years now and shows no sign of slowing down—like his best mate Mason Silva, it seems like he releases a new part every few months or so. Lopez makes everything look effortless and fun; many of his safe-footed lines have a similar feel to an early Girl or Chocolate video, but are obviously eons ahead in every way. FA/Hockey’s in-house auteur Benny Magliano comes through with a characteristically tasteful edit, complete with an obscure film soundtrack, interesting colour grading and an extended slow-mo cut of a bum wigging out. In Lopez, he has a great subject—not only for his incredible productivity (which puts many of his teammates—and the rest of the skateboard world—to shame), but also his tasteful selection of spots and tricks.