There is no higher honor one can pay a skater than to say he or she creates inside you a delirious desire to skate. How we find our favorite skaters is their skating, pure and subjective and superficial as fuck. That blueprint is then inside us, gets on the board with us, gives us someone to channel, some action to aspire to, for every movement we make. And I have to tell you, I haven't envisioned myself as anyone while skating—even just going down the street—much more than Dylan Rieder.
Rieder died from leukemia last week, at the age of 28. I never met him, and as such could not imagine memorializing the actual, real him; family and friends will have to attest to his spirit, how his presence affected their lives. Others are exponentially better suited to speak to his modeling career—his appearance in Vogue, his minimalist Huf signature shoes, all the indelible aspects that made him a singular figure in an art form that prides itself on its idiosyncratic ipseity. (As an example of his reach, I went out last Friday with a friend, whose only connection to the skating world is me, and the minute she saw my outfit, she noted it was a Rieder tribute: denim black and tight as tar, oxblood leather biker jacket over an undershirt. She herself had bought something earlier that day that she thought he would have worn, too.)
But God, Dylan Rieder could skate, and this I feel imminently qualified to tell you about, as a horrendous skater who has devoured it nonetheless for over a decade.
I first became aware of Rieder during my more skate-saturated youth, but it was only within the past couple years that he became my favorite. We skate nothing alike, not just in terms of the talent discrepancy, which is like the distances between the stars, but in our favored types of tricks and spots, too. His aesthetic appeal, however, was undeniable—he was fucking cool.Through every video I watched, every photo I saw, every push on my skateboard and borrowed confidence in my mirror, I felt I knew him, but of course I just knew his skating, the same type of faux-intimacy you feel for a musician whose every album and single you know by heart, or author whose every book and interview you have ever read. The kind of one-sided relationship that makes mourning somehow authentic but still wrought with guilt.
There was a benevolent power that drove Rider's skating, an application of force with the kind of precision and appeal normally limited to conversations about boxers and smart missiles. He struck difficult tricks with such seeming effortlessness that it requires repeated viewings—maybe two, or even three or four—to register just how fucking fast he is skating, how high he is snapping, how tall the ledges and rails he is blessing are, how truly ridiculous every trick is, a man launching himself with a blink-and-you-miss-it savagery before alighting like a premier danseur. Rieder could make the claim that he was among the best stylists in skating since Transworld's Time to Shine, in 2006, when he shot a massive flare up into the skate world at mere age of 18. By the time his single for Gravis came out in 2010, no one on the deck would look at you askance for calling Rieder an artist, someone who could take a weirdly foot-wrapping butterfly knife of a trick like the impossible and turn it into a beautiful cyclone, often up and over an obstacle not meant to be impossibled over. In that Gravis part, for example, holy fuck: an insane gap, Rieder floating for too long and too high in the air, an immense impossible orbiting his foot like a satellite, halted by his hand, landed with a perfect bend of the knees before riding away, with no loss of speed. And it all looked so goddamn easy, ollies snapped and tricks brought to his feet like they were magnetized.
It was impossible to see Rieder skate and not feel the immense desire to skate yourself; his every movement was a siren song, from the simple way he pushed, to his angular body applying force to the ground, a force that was then redirected over a picnic table, an accidental hole in the architecture, a yawning seemingly made for him to span, a rail ridden like a motorcycle around a curve, always seemingly exiting faster than he had got on. The slightest, most gorgeous hint of imperfection crept into his skating, a touch of humanity in a supernatural skill set most obviously apparent, in black and white, in his Cherry part, from 2014. This was compounded—ever the aesthete!—by the perfect selection of song, that romantic dirge of INXS, and for myself and the thousands of skaters like me, who greedily brought Rieder into our homes and crews, who took from him passion and desire and confidence and envy and aspiration and sartorial and even corporeal mimicry, who found themselves feeling both perfectly natural and embarrassed when we wept unearned last Wednesday. We never knew him, and now never will, but we will never forget how he rode.
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