Gleaming The Cube: Ben Raybourn and the rehabilitation of vert

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Posted March 8, 2013 in Opinion

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Words: Danny Wilson / more Gleaming The Cube / Danny’s Twitter

Skateboarding has always had a somewhat uneasy attitude towards its own history. The fact that skateboarding culture itself is relatively speaking still such a new phenomenon means that in some quarters progression alone is defining criteria of skateboading’s worth. When one considers that the original pioneers of the activity as we have now come to understand it still pretty much across the board have yet to reach sixty years of age it puts into context the relative youth skateboarding as a whole. This attitude of blind progression above all else paired with something of a disdain for the preceding pioneers reached its zenith in the “this is what’s cool this is what’s wack” fever pitch of hate that was 90s skating.

The branch of skateboarding that suffered most due to this narrow view of what was deemed to be “acceptable” was undoubtedly transitionally focused park skateboarding that dominated prior to the advent of street skating as we now understand it.  This  “always moving forward” ideology has been under threat for some time. The boom in construction of concrete skateparks across America’s pacific northwest (Oregon in particular) captured the imagination of skateboarders the world over during the course of the last decade or so. At the capable of hands of big name park designers like Grindline and Dreamland skateparks countless concrete edifices have popped up peaking the interest of even the world’s premier ledge dancers.

These moves towards an acceptance of skateboarding’s roots is old news to some degree and some of skateboarding’s biggest name up and comers in recent memory have been praised for their ATV approach towards skating both the transitional and that which they encounter on the streets but even with the stage being set for some time now, the last year or so has marked a boom time for those creatively minded enough to re-interpret and embrace some of the tropes of 80s vertical skateboarding. The two (yes, two) Ben Raybourn parts that have surfaced in the last month or so are a testament to this.

Raybourn has been on the come up for a while now but these parts combined encapsulate what has made the man’s rise so captivating for those with a soft spot for the way things once were. It is perhaps presumptuous to attach any great “meaning” of sorts to any single trick a skater does but at the 39 second mark in Raybourn’s thrasher part where he fully extends his loose leg on a one footed invert it cannot help but be taken as a statement of intent, and he delivers. There was a time when the very notion of one footed handplant variations was laughably quaint, something that old dudes were hung up on before they had their eyes opened to the full scope of possibilities latent within street skateboarding. We can all be thankful that this school of thought has been losing traction for sometime now and understandably so.

No matter what way you look at it Raybourn is exciting to watch simply down to the fact it’s nigh on impossible to know what the man will do next, he could bluntslide a sizeable handrail, roll out some twisting and twirling tailblock variation unseen in polite company for 20 odd years or even film a line in a drainage ditch lit only with hand held torches (torch skating, hot trend for 2013?).  And I say to those who accuse Raybourn of simply playing the hits, doing tricks that get nostalgia bubbling in the sizeable bellys of backwards looking skate nerds when was the last time you saw somebody perform such a flawless fakie 540 in an actual backyard pool or smith grinding a giant pool designed for rehabilitating injured horses. If pushing the limits in this regard isn’t progression I don’t know what is.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nxnoy6iin50

This idea of treating skateboarding’s past with the deference it deserves is not just evident in Raybourn’s rise alone. The fact that the covers of the last two skater of the year issues of Thrasher have been colossal frontside airs in bowls speaks volumes. The very idea that the defining document of the 2012/2013 skater of the year’s “reign”, for want of a better word, should be a floated frontside grab as opposed to a gap, rail or tasteful pastiche of a no limited album cover goes to show the extent to which the values of skateboarding’s past have come to be reinstated.  Some of the most prominent of skateboarding’s transitionally inclined rising stars have even gone as far as to embrace what many skateboarders would have considered a skeleton in their collective closets, the vert ramp. Considering the total dominance of vertical skateboarding over the course of the 1980’s it’s fall from grace was both spectacular and perhaps the ultimate testament to blind hate that fuelled certain corners of 90s skateboarding.

Despite the efforts of great 90s ramp dwellers like Max Schaff and Mike Frazier by the end of the 90s Vert skating had been so shunned that the fast forward button on VHS players were by many simply being referred to as the “vert button”. And with skateboarding less than entirely smooth transition into the noughties and it’s new found position of popularity post Tony Hawk’s pro skater and X-games boom Vert skating became almost exclusively the refuge of perma-smiling, Sobe swilling, Boost mobile sponsored, fully padded Andy McDonalds of this world or even worse still, Brazilians. It is now commonplace to see footage of extended vert lines from the likes of Raven Tershy or the ever-present Grant Taylor. Just in the last few days the internet has been getting it’s self all in a lather over pad-less switch blunts on vert from Zero Am Ben Hatchell, Zero previously having been associated with the sort of rail chomping that capture imagination of most skaters during the dark days of X-games vert though when one see’s Hatchell’s 540 stalefish over the channel the excitement is more than understandable.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0NGZ-hH1Oc

Skateboarding’s willingness to accept vert skating again and in a broader sense, skateboarding culture’s newfound reverence towards it’s own past can be best exemplified in the second wind the Career of Jeff Grosso is currently experiencing. Grosso was a big name in Vert skating in the 80’s and 90’s only to disappear for a spell dealing with personal and drug related issues, a familiar story amongst the countless skateboarders of his generation that the industry turned its back on once vert was deemed “uncool”. Having gotten clean and picked up new sponsorship from the always on point Anti-Hero skateboards Grosso is back and not just performing flawless Texas plants in and long distance lipslides around California’s multitude of drained swimming pools but also taking it on himself to draw attention to some of the ramp and pool innovators that have too long gone overlooked.

Love Letters To Skateboarding, Grosso’s web series on the Van’s website primarily concerns it’s self with long gone skateparks, tricks that were for a spell were considered terribly unfashionable or in some cases even the origin stories of tricks that are now understood as commonplace. “The Letters” is invariably entertaining due to stellar content and footage but also through the sheer power of Grosso’s own likeability. He is for my money one of the most well spoken and likeable characters in skateboarding today and that’s aside from his ability to lipslide a corner like no other and his already long established position is skate history.

grosso texas

It would seem like Skateboarding was just ready for Grosso’s return. Skateboarding was ready to take a more critical look over it’s own past. Critical not in the negative sense but in the sense the culture was prepared to take more from what it can learn from the past and apply that to modern skateboarding rather than dismissing it simply for being old.

The demand for unusual board shapes like those coming from the always brilliant Welcome Skateboards rather than the “popsicle stick” shape that has been the norm in some form or another for the last 20 years just goes to show that people are ready to start thinking that perhaps the newest way isn’t necessarily the best. It would seem skateboarding has finally made it’s way out it’s stroppy teens and is taking a more mature attitude towards it’s own history. Modern skaters have finally taken some heed of their elders and considered that maybe just maybe there really is nothing better than a head high, tweaked, frontside air.

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