Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fire, air, water, and earth: the evolution of Skateboarding

In Kabbalah it is taught that the world is built of four primary elements: fire, air, water, and earth. (In scientific jargon we might refer to these as solid, liquid, gas, and energy.) Earth is heavy, solid, and stable. It is the base upon which all the other elements coexist. Water is malleable, flows downward toward the earth, and takes on the shape of the container into which it is poured. Air is lightweight and diffuses to the sides. Fire ascends, consumes the other elements, and is most lively and dynamic. The elements thus form a ladder of progress from matter to energy, with the element of earth being the lowest (most material), and fire, the highest (most energetic).

Observing the chronological stages of the evolution of skateboarding we see how it has progressed up the hierarchy of elements. In the earliest stages, in the 50's and 60's, skating was pretty much limited to travelling from place to place. And, even when skaters began to perform tricks or engage in competitions, the craft was primarily about exhibiting stability and balance: handstands, one footed skating, slalom racing, etc. A heavy and rigid style clearly predominated by the element of earth.

In the 70's a group of young free-spirited surfers from California began skating as a form of 'surfing'. The 'Z-Boys' or 'Dogtown boys' as they're known, used roads and banks like waves, carving them with the flowing, graceful style of surfers. More than anything, they revolutionized skateboarding by bringing it into the empty swimming pool, skating along its steep curvature. Their skating was akin to water, taking on the shape of the pools that they skated - that is, until they started to get airborne.                           

At some point the 'Z-boys' could no longer be contained by pools. They began skating with such speed and intensity that they'd ascend above the pool lip and gain 'air'. This was the beginning of a whole new era of skating. In the 80's it was half-pipe skating which dominated the scene. This form of skating emphasized not the carving of transition, but the attainment of 'air' out of the transition edge or coping. It was here that Tony Hawk - by far the world's most famous skater - began to dazzle the crowds with his enormously high airs, and his 720 degree rotations in mid flight. The name 'Hawk' was most befitting for the skating legend who ruled the element of air.

From the 90's till today, skating has taken on a most dynamic nature. Skaters will use every object possible to perform tricks: ledges, stairs, handrails, curbs, walls, roads, banks, roofs, wheel chair ramps, benches, picnic tables, bent poles...everything serves as fuel for the consuming fire of skateboarding. Even the skateboard itself is being using in every conceivable way possible: tricks are performed off the tail, nose, travelling forward, travelling backward, and switch. Tricks have also become exceptionally technical with skaters cramming more and more complexity into their every manoeuvre. Skating has transcended the element of air, it has tapped the explosive energy condensed into the small warhead of an atomic bomb. And  it has subsumed all the other elements in its flames, for modern skating incorporates all the former styles. 

                               There seems to be no limit to its fiery ascent...                        

No comments:

Post a Comment