‘Living for a Plank and Four Wheels in a Profligate Culture’

My wife, Daphne, got to something I’d been trying to figure out for years when, after reading a particularly asinine article in the February 2003 issue [of Thrasher magazine], she said: “It’s really not OK that these people are using so little of their brains.”

“Using so little.” It’s the perfect indictment of everything that’s wrong with—and the most succinct encapsulation of everything that’s brilliant about—skateboarding. The beauty of using so little in a country that uses so much. Living for a plank and four wheels in a profligate culture. And the saddening fact that Thrasher has, in many ways, been failing to move against the wind. Jake Phelps, the current editor, a San Francisco skater to the bone, wrote a sort of suicide note in the March 2003 issue: “I’ve never felt as depressed as I do now… I try to stay focused on the mag—my life is in this mag. And its life is in me… I feel distant from the spots, skaters and special people I’ve known… God this is awful.” These desperate words, especially jarring in contrast to Thrasher’s ironic dirtbag voice (it used to be ironic, big-hearted, dirtbag), were wedged into an issue stuffed with ads. An issue fifty-four pages longer than a contemporaneous Vanity Fair.

Feeling depressed by your success is a rare predicament for an editor in chief. (I wanted to tell him to try aromatherapy.) I figured Phelps was about to hang it up and let Thrasher go fully corporate. There were certainly skateboard doomsday signs aplenty. I attended a screening of Dogtown and Z-Boys, a documentary about the earliest days of skating, in a private theater at the Sony Corporation’s New York headquarters. The place was filled with MTV celebrities and their posses. I was the only person with a plank on wheels. A guy in a long black leather jacket pointed at me, turned to a young woman, and said: “Ooh, he brought his board,” and I felt ashamed.

Skating through midtown Manhattan that night, I remembered that I used to think skateboarding would never get too big because it hurt too much. Because you can’t take the pain out of skateboarding. Because putting yourself deliberately in harm’s way is a quick, easy, and reliable route to the truth. But what I didn’t realize is that you can take the skateboarding out of skateboarding—make the act a mere accessory to its style.

Sean Wilsey, in his 2003 essay for the London Review of Books, edited for his anthology More Curious, and reprinted on BuzzFeed

Read the story

Photo: fotologic, Flickr