For a group that prides itself on rebellion, skateboarders sure love their elders. Ask a group of skaters who their favorites are and you’ll hear the same 90s pros, over and over: Guy Mariano, Eric Koston, John Cardiel, Tom Penny, Mark Gonzales, etc. These are all great choices, of course—true icons in a field where everyone who makes it past 35 with a board sponsor is a “legend”—but the answers aren’t particularly interesting.
It seems safe to say that there are now more skateboarders than ever, and undoubtedly there's more skate footage than ever. In addition to the constant stream of Instagram clips, 2018 had a real glut of great videos, from brands like Converse, GX1000, Polar, Bronze, Alltimers, Quasi, and Supreme. At the same time, the community of smart, thoughtful writers who care deeply about skateboarding has grown, both in the real world and online. We thought it would be fun to ask some of these writers, many of whom have written about skateboarding for VICE in the past, to tell us about their favorite active skateboarder—someone who released a video part or a significant amount of footage in the last year or so. We weren't looking for who they think is the greatest, or who they'd select for Skater of the Year, nor who they think defines the times—just who they like watching the most.
Gilbert Crocket in "Mother"
Growing up halfway between skateboarding’s two coastal centers in a small city on the edge of the Colorado plains, I often experienced intense bouts of spot jealousy. Every length of marble bench or gleaming architectural accident I saw in a video seemed like an open criticism of the rusted metal ledges near our grain silo, or the cracks on the church manual pads. Inundated with footage of sunny weather and smooth concrete, there was always an eagerness to believe, at least in part, that good spots could make a skater. All of which goes a ways toward explaining why, over the last few years, I’ve found myself drawn to watching Gilbert Crockett skate. He lives in Richmond, Virginia, where he grew up, and continues to film there, including many of the tricks in this year’s Quasi video Mother . The spots he likes to skate are, if not outright sketchy, then at least eminently recognizable: a crusty rail behind a warehouse, the brick plaza of a municipal building. And what you see in his approach to them is the learned grace of a local: He skates fast, in a deep crouch, like he’s navigating rather than skating the spot. His arms are out wide, extended, his whole frame like a Vitruvian Man in vintage denim.
In one of my favorite clips from Mother, he swerves between two parked cars, flicks a 360 flip up a curb the wrong way, then steers his body out wide into two ledge tricks—that’s it. But it’s flawlessly done. He once told Thrasher he wanted to put together a part without a single handrail in it, a kind of minimalism that sought to squeeze the creative essence out of a crack in a driveway. Watching Crockett skate this way, whether it’s in Mother or last year’s equally inspired Gospel, has reconfirmed my idea that spots make a skater, but for the exact opposite reason: the good ones got that way by figuring out how to skate anywhere.
–Noah Gallagher Shannon
Alexis Sablone's welcome video for Weekend
There is her perfect kickflip, for one, and she's got what's perhaps the finest nollie heel this side of Tiago. But I'm a little numbed to the perfect these days. I'm here for the slight skew of her 360 flips, that whip and lateral float with nothing chill or lazy about it. Or the way her front arm tends to hang there sort of detached as she pushes for a street gap, an oversized shirt cuff pinched between fingers. Meanwhile the back arm churns furiously and her face goes wholesale fierce, teeth gritted, labor obvious. It's the "Sir Palmer" animations and the board graphics. It's panel discussions and the small, uncontainable smile that creeps through her dominant humility. Is there any joy so sweet as the hard-earned but disbelieved? That she even has favorite architects, forget too many to list a top three. On a skate trip through Portugal Alexis sketches ideas in the van and sculpts clay models in hotel rooms at night. "To be clear," she reminds us, "nothing built for skating will ever be as cool as something a skater finds and decides to make for skating." In 2018, it is a rare US skater about whom we unhesitatingly want to know more. She is antidote in more ways than one.
Griffin Gass in "Doll"
Griffin Gass is a Seattle boy, so we're also friends. But that doesn’t invalidate my opinion; ask most pros who their favorite skater is and they'll name someone they love to hang out with. While I think the way Griffin is skating right now is amazing and progressive and really fun to watch, I also think placing equal weight on how skaters behave is something we should all be doing in 2018.
To that end, Griff is one of the good ones. First off, he puts on for his city. His part in Girl’s new Doll video is chock full of Seattle clips—most of them never-been-dones at very rough, very gnarly spots. Rather than coasting on his success, he spent two weeks before and after the Seattle premiere ripping around the streets with all of us. Seattle is home to a bunch of shredders, and they all seem to end up skating in a big mob together when Griffin’s home. He gets the whole city hyped. Besides that, he’s level-headed, which is rare in skateboarding. I like to roast him for being “big-time now,” but he supports himself by working at a Whole Foods in Frogtown, and still makes time to film VX night lines with the homies.
Scumco tour video
Kyle Nicholson is the best part about skateboarding on social media: If it weren’t for Instagram, we might never see him. He can do every trick in the book, regular and switch, on flat or down whatever you put in his way, but he’s only popped up in a few Scumco tour edits this year and his last full part was in a video for a board brand owned by Jereme Rogers.
On IG, though, it’s obvious that he’s on another level. In April, he ended a months-long media blackout with a post captioned “3 months ago one of my best friends ran me over with his Toyota” and the laughing emoji. Kyle has shown he can do perfect switch flips up ancient, elongated five stairs, he’s destroyed legendary spots across the globe without as much as a soundtrack, and still found time to be a little artsy.
Did I mention that, besides skateboarding, Kyle’s favorite hobby is chopping logs of wood? I once heard a rumor that Kyle routinely pushed more than 60 miles from his hometown of Reading, Pennsylvania, (where the logs are) to skate downtown Philly, and I have never doubted it once.
Jake Johnson in Converse's "Purple"
Let's talk about the real people's champ, and my personal skater of the year: Jake Johnson. After hibernating through most of 2017 he came through strong in 2018. Most notably, he got last part in the Cons Purple video, and rightfully so. At 30, he filmed a part full of tricks we've never seen him do, at the hardest possible spots to do them. Half cab to frontside 5-0 a nine stair rail against a wall? Frontside 180 over a bump-to-bar and land in a switch backside 50-50 on a ledge? And that final wallie? Never mind the fact that he found a new way to skate a 20-year-old skate-stopped spot in a way that defies physics.
As impressive as his Purple showing is, I tend to favor his part in Quasi’s Mother. I've always thought he was in his prime, or, as Jason Dill would say, "in the window," during the post–Mind Field period from 2010-2013. Unfortunately, most of his footage from this time was scattered among different projects and web clips, or was simply lost to the ages as Gravis and Quiksilver went under and Alien Workshop hit a rough patch. A follow up to Mind Field or a solo Gravis part would have been a heavy hitter, and this might be the closest we'll ever get to it. Really, the fact that he got away with running seven-year-old footage, candid iPhone clips, and VX footage in an HD video is a testament to how timeless and unique his skating is. The sickest thing is, when all was said and done, he just fucked right off back to State College to build a massive mini ramp in his backyard.
Franky Villani's pro video from Primative
When I was 15 years old I stopped skateboarding. Anxious about not impressing other skateboarders and unsure if skateboarding would prevent me from fitting in at high school, I didn’t touch my board for a year. Instead I got deep into Jimi Hendrix, lifted weights daily, and sought acceptance from the kids who smoke and drank. I chose worrying about looking cool on a skateboard over having fun skating, a problem not unheard of in skateboarding, but not something Franky Villani has ever burdened himself with. With Franky, there’s no pretense or posturing. He’s been skating to Blink 182 since he was a teen in the late 2000s, and still does today. He’s the sore thumb on Primitive, a board brand that focuses on guys who skate to hip-hop in athleisure wear, but he owns that punkishness. He possesses a video game–like talent. Not only big flips down big stairs, pinches on long rails, smooth ledge dancing, and viral hippie flips. Franky does illicit, imaginary tricks too. And he’s a finger boarder, the nerdiest of all skate nerdery.
Franky lets his freak flag fly, something I’d like to see more of from skateboarders and from myself. For that, I salute him.
Tyshawn Jones mercilessly destroying some trash cans
The thing about skateboarding is it's absurdly difficult. To be an exceptional skateboarder is nothing less than a marvel of athleticism. I’d posit that there is more in common between an athlete like LeBron James and my favorite skateboarder, Supreme’s Tyshawn Jones, than not. Consider what it takes to drop 50 points in an NBA game, and what it takes to nollie full cab the height of a small child. Both are drawing from an astonishing well of raw talent that makes seemingly impossible human achievements possible. It likely explains why Jones was awarded Thrasher’s Skater of the Year title this year. The 19-year-old’s natural gifts (he is, after all, “BLESSED”) are especially recognizable among other skaters who understand the astonishing physicality of doing a nollie flip over a standing trash can—from flat.
If Tyshawn did play ball, there’s no doubt he’d be one of those straight-to-NBA superstars you always hear about. He skates with a comfortable swagger that makes it seem more like he’s floating than exerting any effort. Of course, it’s cliché to say he makes everything he does look easy, but the skating really does speak for itself. In New York, any trick you could dream up has probably been done by Jones as a warm-up. He can ollie over just about anything, and he can even make a bike slam look smooth. He also just opened up a restaurant in his native Bronx, presenting a LeBron-like commitment to black-owned businesses. I’m obliged to support.
Mark Suciu in "Sabotage 3"
I like to joke that Mark Suciu is the “thinking man’s skater”—not a joke because it’s not true, but a joke because it's an apparent contradiction in terms. Maybe it's not really a joke at all. This is an image Suciu has done plenty to cultivate, not just as a byproduct of his association with Habitat and its semester-abroad aesthetic, but also by posting Instagrams that hint, not so subtly, that he reads Proust in the original French. In a recent interview, he self-flagellated over the fact that, among the 80-odd books he'd read so far this year, there hadn't been enough female authors. This is a good impulse, no doubt, but one that feels almost comically misplaced in his milieu. (Sample Slap board comment: "80 books in a year is crazy. Unless he’s reading mostly Goosebumps or something.")
In academic conversations about skateboarding—or, more accurately, in how I imagine academic conversations about skateboarding—it is neither a sport nor an art, but an "interrogation" of urban surroundings, a "reimagining of potentialities" and probably vaguely anticapitalist in its reclamation of the cityscape. Even if there’s truth to all of these claims, most skaters would roll their eyes at this sort of talk—except, perhaps, for earnest comp. lit majors like Suciu. And appropriately, his skateboarding makes good on the rhetoric.
First of all, he spends an uncanny amount of time skateboarding on public art—objects that are, more often than not, billed as "interrogations" of their surroundings. He closes the loop, re-interrogating their abstractions, finding use for them at last. Those bits and pieces of urbanity you might briefly daydream about skating on before realizing what a tremendous pain in the ass it would be, Suciu actually does skate on. Blessed with the quick reload of a young Keith Hufnagel, he puts it to more delicate use, truly making the entire urban landscape submit to his aesthetic inquiry.
But even if Suciu’s style skews smart, it’s hardly bloodless. This guy varial heelflipped the Love gap; he backside noseblunted the Duffy rail, kink and all. He often stomps his tricks, weirdly, with his feet practically outside of the bolts. That sort of board control allows him to constantly upend his viewers’ expectations: He loves doing tricks the wrong way, not just in the alley-oop sense, but also in terms of fashionability; no one takes crooked grinds to fakie with more grace.
There’s one trick from his part in Sabotage 3 that stands out to me as peak Suciu. At night, on a small rail in a parking lot lit by a flood lamp, he alley-oop backside 180s into a fakie nosegrind, and, almost as soon as he locks in, reaches the bottom and reverts—backside again—before hitting the pavement. I’ve tried to imagine what it must have been like for him, projecting myself into his body, and I realized something odd: Not only could he never see where he was going, he probably couldn’t even see his board. It was just his body and the rail and the pavement and the dark over and over and over again until they reached some agreement.
Brent Atchley in "Portland Public Skateboarding 2"
I have a theory that Brent Atchley's bones are hollow, like a bird's. How else to explain the way he seems to float about an inch above his board at all times? By the time he snaps his tail his front foot is somehow already finishing the trick. Atchley burst onto the national scene in 2005 with Elementality Volume 1, doing things to Portland's Burnside skatepark that seemed borderline pornographic. It wasn't that the tricks were necessarily at a higher level than what other people were doing, but the style with which he did them was effortless, almost sensual, and unlike anything else out there. After going pro for Element in 2006 he put out a few more parts, but he was never an omnipresent pro and the footage of Atchley seemed to slow to a trickle and then almost disappear completely sometime in the late aughts. Then, in 2016 Atchley put out a full part in a video called Portland Public Skating, followed up this summer with another in Portland Public Skating 2. His return is a small bright spot in this hell world, and watching him effortlessly glide through Burnside, floating massive ollies and scooping into lighting-fast backside disasters was a welcome thing of beauty.
Mike Arnold in "Atlantic Drift"
Can skateboarding be funny? Well, sure, just watch Jackass. But can skateboarding ascend to the highest level of humor, the kind that prompts you to quietly say, “That’s funny,” while making you doubt your comprehension of both the work in question and the world at large?
When Mike Arnold skates it can. It’s not a skateboard trick, but when Arnold was welcomed onto the Isle Skateboards team it was with a video of him doing a somersault over the top of a moving car. Imagine not only thinking you could probably do a tuck and roll across a rolling vehicle, but then successfully doing it. That’s how he skates, too. He does tricks that aren’t really tricks at spots that aren’t really spots.
Sometimes his tricks are huge and absurd, like this trashcan wallie, or these hippy jumps through a phone booth window and over a rail, into a bank, and under a sign. Others are subtler: This fakie 360 flip perfectly spun into a kick ramp would make more sense viewed in reverse. He possesses the physicality of a stuntman who studied ballet in college.
To promote the eighth episode of Arnold and friends’ Atlantic Drift series, Thrasher posted a video on Instagram of him trying to do a 360 flip on a narrow strait of cement maybe six feet above an open storm drain flowing into the Hawaiian ocean. He stumbles on the first attempt and falls into the water. He takes off his sweatshirt, fishes out his waterlogged board, and tries again, with the same result. Eight more times. A 360 flip is not easy, but done alone on flat ground it is not a video-worthy trick. Landing one on a foot-wide ledge is impressive, but really the only thing stopping Arnold’s trick from being a throwaway is the pointlessness of the endeavor measured against the enormity of his efforts. He lands the tenth attempt. Like a hero at the end of a novel I almost understand, he’s significantly worse for wear, but he’s accomplished something. Was it worth the effort? Probably not, but what matters is that he did it.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.