“Probably the gayest skate video” gives the sport a new dimension | 23-29 March 2022

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On March 13th, a crowd of skateboarders packed into the Northwest Film Forum to do what they had done many times before: watch the premiere of a full-length skate video. Full-length videos are a powerful form of cultural currency in skateboarding. They typically consist of individual skater “parts” – collections of their best tricks, set to music – that are assembled into a 30- to 60-minute film. Skateboarding, like everything else, has seen its content shrink in social media snippets. No subculture is safe from TikTok. But the persistence of full-length videos contradicts that, bringing together a local skate scene like nothing else.

However, this video brought together a much larger scene: the entire LGBTQ+ skate community. This video was It skateboards‘ first full-length release ironically titled ‘Ruining Skateboarding’. Launched as “arguably the gayest skate video” by Seattle team rider and videographer Leo Bañuelos, it marks a milestone in queer skate culture worldwide.

First, a bit of backstory. There Skateboards is a board company that grew out of Unity, the San Francisco queer skate convention that started a skateboarding revolution. While some prominent male pro skaters were coming out of the closet in the late 2010s, skateboarding remained a deeply homophobic, misogynistic, and racist subculture. Despite being a bunch of self-proclaimed freethinkers and rebels, skateboarders were – and still are – predominantly cisgender, straight men. So no dressing rooms, lots of dressing room talk.

Unity was born as an antidote to that – a fun, welcoming environment at a skate spot dominated by small curbs and flat ground, the antithesis of the traditional cocktail of brothers, tall stairs and strict but unwritten dress codes. It also inspired queer gatherings around the world, which garnered a lot of interest from people who might not otherwise have seen a place for themselves in skate culture. Entirely new scenes were born.

Such was a board society. There are certain traits of legitimation in skate culture. Sponsoring a board company is a big deal. You can stand on a podium at the Olympics and even make a living from winning competitions, but if your name isn’t printed on a board and sold in independent skate shops, you’re not a “pro”.

Traditionally, to reach that pro status, people have had to do lots and lots of really hard tricks, film them and put bits out to prove it – another reason why full lengths are so important. Then, if their sponsor deems them worthy, they go Pro. If you’re just sponsored but not a pro, you’re an “Am” or amateur, which is still a pretty big deal. Professional skateboarding has never been a meritocracy, despite its self-mythologization, but the general idea is that being sponsored is something you deserve. That brings us to the title of There’s video.

While some core skaters have welcomed the emergence of queer skateboarding as a subculture within a subculture, many others have complained that queer skaters don’t deserve that they don’t deserve all that attention and win all that sponsorship without enough gnarly handrails to grind. Scrape enough pool decking or whatever. The “level” is not high enough, they say. And that accusation has been leveled at pretty much every skater with a sizable following or sponsorship who isn’t a cisgender, straight male. This is deeply annoying and that’s exactly what makes There Skateboards ridiculous with the title of the video.

Reflecting on the recent cultural shift away from gatekeeping, literary critic Ayesha A. Siddiqi wrote in her substack, “In 2010, Patton Oswalt practically had a meltdown because comics weren’t that hard to get into, I guess me, for him. The increased accessibility of everything he held dear about his identity seemed more of a personal loss than a societal gain.”

CC: Mid to late 30’s skater who owns a collection of washcloths and has a complicated relationship with local beer.

The point is that the existence of companies like There and Glue, another queer-owned skate company, as well as the growing number of women and LGBTQ+ people being sponsored by major shoe brands and legacy skate companies is an absolute win for the society is. “Ruining Skateboarding” proves how significant this win is. Far from ruining it, the video celebrates skateboarding and skate culture.

What skateboarding’s Patton Oswalts often overlook when they ponder “who deserves it” is that it’s never really been about being good. The industry side of things, the part the naysayers are most concerned about, is a fairly simple lifestyle marketing contraption. If you want people to buy your boards, shoes, and sweatshirts, you have to sell them a story.

The story every skater wants to be told hasn’t really changed since the ’90s: quit your job, grab your board, meet up with your friends, have the time of your life in any parking lot, grab some pizza. The easier it is to believe that the people on your screen are actually best friends, the better. As tight-knit as the queer skate community is, it doesn’t really need to sell much, but Ruining Skateboarding still tops the good vibes department. Everyone is clearly having fun. You will too if you watch it.

However, it’s not as if skill and trick selection are completely irrelevant. After all, a skate video consists mainly of tricks. Luckily there are a lot of good, interesting skateboarding scenes in the video too. Apparently 8ft tall, Chandler Burton is not afraid to tackle very difficult terrain (often in drag makeup). Shag’s flat bottom exudes style. Rey, who filmed most of it, shows off her gorgeous frontside shove-its at every opportunity. James Pitonyak is simply better than many bro skaters conventionally. And Bañuelos’ part, brimming with footage at classic Seattle skate spots, is a masterclass in trick selection.

Even if – or especially if – everything you know about skateboarding comes from its Olympic debut, you should watch this video. It will give you a glimpse of a subculture that, despite its shortcomings, has plenty to offer about society. That it wasn’t always like that has a lot to do with who did it. Now, through the lens of the queer community, skateboarding looks a lot more like itself.

Two parts of Ruining Skateboarding—Jessyka Bailey and Kien Caples—will be published in Thrasher Magazine early next month, with the full video going live on There’s (“There Skateboards”) YouTube channel shortly after.

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