This week's hot topic in skateboarding is corporate cannibalism. The level of outsider corporate involvement in skating is at an all-time high. Brands that never had any interest in the activity are now realizing there's a buck to be made and they're trying to make it. Shit, New Balance just started making skate shoes. There's blood in the water, and the sharks are coming to feast.
But I am not here to vilify corporate greed in skating—it's been a part of the game since its inception. As humans, greed is what we do best. Is it any surprise then that the first documented skateboarder was a Nazi? (See buttboarding at 0:32)
To a degree, I actually quite enjoy big corporate involvement when it puts huge checks into the pockets of my socially-inept skateboarding friends. They deserve it. They take more of a beating than many NFL players and they sure as shit put in a harder day's work than Tiger Woods. So I'm thankful my high school drop out buddies can afford homes and health insurance for as long as these companies decide to leech off skating.
My take is that there will always be corporate involvement. Most of us get our checks from one corporation or another. It is what it is. I work for Vans. And although they're owned by a larger, publicly traded corporation, for as long as I've been there the philosophy has always been "skateboarding is paramount." The culture of skateboarding is what we are about. And that culture must be preserved. So when we as a skateboarding community allow these visiting corporations to dictate our code of conduct, things have gone too far. It might be an idealist way to look at things, but I don't think the guy with the most money should get to decide what we are and aren't allowed to say and do. It's like when your little brother begs and begs and begs to go to the Slayer show with you and your buddies and you finally say, "Fine! You can come! Just don't fucking open your mouth!"
All outsiders and their checkbooks are allowed to come along for the ride, but don't open your fucking mouths.
Recently a manufacturer of basketball, wrestling, and golf shoes decided to open its fucking mouth and tell their skateboarding division that one of their riders was acting too much like a skateboarder and not enough like a role model a la Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods, or Lance Armstrong. In an interview with me the rider talked about buying (medicinal) marijuana and also shared some great poop stories from when he was a teenager some 25-plus years ago. Well, someone high up in the corporation took offense to this and had the skater fired immediately. His main source of income snatched away.
Photo by Chris Nieratko
I've heard many arguments on the matter since it occurred, but the saddest are from some in the new generation of skateboarding who are backing the corporation and saying the skater should have known better, or the corporation should have given him media training, or that he signed on the X so he has to play by their rules.
This is skateboarding. They chose to be involved in this fucked up community. This is as juvenile an activity as exists; if it weren't we wouldn't have 50-year-olds doing it and treating it like the goddamn fountain of youth. Skateboarding is rebellious by nature. For every generation's clean cut Paul Rodriguez, Tony Hawk, or Stacy Peralta that temporarily attracted wholesome kids to skating there has always been a Jay Adams, Tony Alva, Jason Jessee, Jeff Grosso, Mike Vallely, or Ricky Oyola type of badass who eternally inspired a troubled kid and made him a skater for life. I've got nothing against the talented vanilla skaters in history—they're amazing to watch—but for a kid like me and all my friends from broken homes, it was the weirdos, fuck ups, and outsiders who we latched on to. When they spoke it was honest and from the heart, not just a canned sound bite response.
Growing up, while kids everywhere were in love with the Bones Brigade I was stoked on Jason Jesse and especially Jeff Grosso, who both told the most outrageous stories possible just for shits and giggles. It's tragic to think how different my life and skateboarding's landscape would be if someone told Grosso decades ago he was fired for speaking his mind or quit on him because of his drug use and abuse.
As you can probably tell, I have a real big problem with all of this. Not only with the fact that the silencing of a personality has happened in modern skateboarding, but that it is both accepted and unaddressed. There has been no mention of this travesty from any "objective" endemic media. Why? Because the corporation involved has deep ad dollars and as skateboarding shrinks and print magazines of every kind are dying off people must bow to the almighty dollar. Free speech is dead.
And I call bullshit. "This aggression will not stand, man!"
I'm more than happy to play ball with the corporate tourists and have my friends make good money, but I don't like people telling me how to drive, I don't want anyone telling me how to raise my kids, I won't allow anyone to come in my house and tell me how to fuck my wife, and I sure as hell will not stay silent as the thing I love most in the world (aside from pussy) gets castrated by whoever has the biggest wallet.
OK, I'm done. I just thought it apt to give a little honesty what with today being the premiere of the fourth season of Vans' webiseries Grosso's Love Letters To Skateboarding:
And I thought it also a good time to catch up with my childhood hero and one of the most honest guys to ever ride a skateboard, Jeffrey Blain Grosso, to ask him if he had ever been fired from a team for drug use.
You can watch the last three seasons of Jeff Grosso's Love Letters To Skateboarding here.
And follow Grosso on Instagram @Grossosucks