It’s no news to anyone that skateboarding has all sorts of dark corners, tribal factions and bizarre characters.
From skinheads to nerds to gangsters to small children, skaters range from slightly dorky to totally dysfunctional. Straddling the line between subculture and sport, skateboarding’s history often proliferates film and photography. These visual mediums have long been an intrinsic part of the culture, so it’s often the case that the classic moments of skateboarding can be pieced together with archival footage and interviews. Which is to say that there are plenty of ripper documentaries about skateboarding if you know where to look.
Of course, skateboarding has its own set of tropes and clichés. Usually, it starts with drugs and drinking, followed by some violence, then jail time and, finally, salvation through Jesus. But the ultimate skater cliché is this one: ‘If it wasn’t for skateboarding, I’d be dead or in jail.’ The following docos aren’t all particularly underground or rare, but they’re certainly worth a look.
The Devil’s Toy (1996)
I’ll start with the weirdest shit I could find: The Devil’s Toy. It came out of Montreal in 1966 and is pegged as the first-ever Canadian documentary about skateboarding. But it’s more like an experimental art film than an informative doco. It opens like a Hitchcock production, with moody soundscapes and black and white shots of the city, playing up to the age-old perception that skateboarding is a dangerous, juvenile and delinquent stain on any upstanding family’s sense of decency. At times it’s hard to gauge whether or not it’s satire, but ultimately the film is ‘dedicated to all victims of intolerance’ and seems to be taking a dig at the 1960s middle-class families who couldn’t swallow skateboarding. Stylistically, The Devil’s Toy resembles an old propaganda film, rich in irony and the subtlety, with truly beautiful videography.
Tic Tac 2 Heelflip (2001)
Tic Tac 2 Heelflip goes deep into the archives of history, setting itself the ambitious task of charting Australian skateboarding’s trajectory through the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. Between the title and the opening montage, which is cut to a song by 28 Days called ‘Rip It Up’ (remember them?), there’s a lot of cheese in here, but overall it’s pretty amusing, informative and classically 2001. The highlight might be the footage from the 2000 X Games, where a certain Aussie pro skater known as ‘Skunk’ smacks a security guard over the back of the head with his board, truck-fucking him in front of a stadium full of people. Skunk Em! The doco also contains some interviews with Tony Hawk, Dustin Dollin and Matt Mumford, along with Tas and Ben Pappas, two brothers from Melbourne who you may remember from another Australian skate doco called All This Mayhem. More on the Pappas brothers later…
The Bones Brigade: An Autobiography (2012)
You’ve probably seen Lords of Dogtown, or better yet the documentary version, Dogtown and Z Boys, which were both directed by Stacy Peralta. But Bones Brigade: An Autobiography, is another one of Stacy Peralta’s films that documented the fluorescent fashion and vert madness of the 1980s. Charting the careers of Tony Hawk, Lance Mountain, Steve Caballero, Mike McGill, Rodney Mullen, a bunch of others, this film managed to captivate an audience beyond skateboarding and ended up getting screened at Sundance. Stacy scored interviews with pretty much all the greats of skateboarding from that particular era as well as a bunch of people who are better known for what they did outside skateboarding. The funniest cameo might be Fred Durst from Limp Bizkit.
All This Mayhem (2014)
This is one of those documentaries that just spirals further and further into unexpected calamity and grimness. It’s hard to describe it without throwing out spoilers, but it’s essentially about two brothers, Tas and Ben Pappas, who grew up skating vert in Melbourne and went on to dominate the big international comps in the States. In the ‘90s, they were among the best vert skaters in the world, with Tas beating Tony Hawk at a comp and almost beating him to the 900. But of course, then came that familiar story of drugs, violence, death, jail, and Jesus. The director, Eddie Martin, also made a film called Jisoe, which is one of Australia’s all-time cult graffiti docos, and he definitely has the gift of storytelling, along with an eye for the darkness of Australiana. Tas’s quote in the opening to the trailer says it all: ‘Don’t want the Pappas brothers to be remembered as just… maniacs.’
The Original Baker Boy – Epicly Later’d (2015)
I think I’ve seen almost every episode of Patrick O’Dell’s documentary series, Epicly Later’d. The premise of the show is that he profiles professional skateboarders and doesn’t shy away from asking them the tough stuff. He’s done episodes with nearly all the greats of skateboarding, from Reynolds to Rowley; Cardiel to Koston; BA to Bam. But the episode with Ali Boulala, The Original Baker Boy, is one of the standouts. Apparently Boulala commented on one of O’Dell’s Instagram posts, saying, ‘I’ll do an episode, but I’m sure it will be all depressing.’ He wasn’t wrong: Ali had been in a drunk driving incident which left him in a coma and killed one of his good friends, Shane Cross. The episode is terribly sad, but it also charts Ali’s highest highs, filming for Flip Sorry, buying remote control helicopters and attempting to ollie the 25-stair in Lyon, but eating shit. Ali’s parts in the Baker and Flip videos were great and with Baker 4 just out, The Original Baker Boy is well worth a watch or a re-watch.
Brian Anderson On Being A Gay Professional Skateboarder (2016)
‘My name is Brian Anderson, I’m a professional skateboarder, and we are here to talk about the fact that I am gay.’ There had been rumours floating around for years and apparently a lot of people in the industry knew, but this was a huge coming out moment for Brian in Giovanni Reda’s doco. It’s actually pretty gnarly that it took that long for him to do it, raising questions about just how accepting and tolerant skateboarding is. In Brian’s words, ‘Hearing “faggot” all the time, made me think at a young age, that it was really dangerous to talk about it.’ Sad that he had to experience that kind of bigotry, but rad that he was able to go public in this doco and to be largely supported by skaters all over the world. Hopefully, Brian’s honesty in this doco has made things a little easier for gay skateboarders everywhere.