On March 13, a gaggle of skateboarders crowded into the Northwest Film Forum to do what they’ve done many times before: watch the premiere of a full-length skate video. Full-length videos are a potent form of cultural currency within skateboarding. They typically consist of “parts” from individual skaters — collections of their best tricks set to music — stitched together into a 30- to 60-minute film. Skateboarding, like everything else, has seen its content shrunken down into made-for-social-media snippets. No subculture is safe from TikTok. But the persistence of full-length videos flies in the face of that and brings a local skate scene together like nothing else.
This video, however, brought together a much bigger scene: the entire LGBTQ+ skate community. This video was There Skateboards’ first full-length offering, ironically titled “Ruining Skateboarding.” Introduced as “arguably the gayest skate video” by There team rider and Seattle-based videographer Leo Bañuelos, it represents a milestone for queer skate culture worldwide.
First off, a bit of backstory. There Skateboards is a board company that grew out of Unity, the San Francisco queer skate meetup that sparked a revolution within skateboarding. While some prominent male pro skaters had come out of the closet by the late 2010s, skateboarding remained a deeply homophobic, misogynist and racist subculture. Despite being a bunch of self-styled freethinkers and rebels, skateboarders were — and still are — predominately cisgender, heterosexual men. So, no locker rooms, lots of locker room talk.
Unity emerged as an antidote to that — a fun, welcoming environment at a skate spot dominated by little curbs and flat ground, the opposite of the traditional cocktail of bros, big stair sets and strict but unwritten dress codes. It also inspired queer meetups across the globe, which sparked a lot of interest from folks who might otherwise not have seen a place for themselves in skate culture. Whole new scenes were born.
So was a board company. In skate culture, there are certain markers of legitimacy. A board company sponsorship is a big deal. You can be on a podium at the Olympics and you can even make a living from contest winnings, but if your name isn’t printed on a board and sold in independent skate shops, you ain’t “pro.”
To achieve that pro status, people have traditionally had to do lots and lots of really hard tricks, film them and put out parts to prove it — another reason full-lengths are so important. Then, when their sponsor deems them worthy, they “turn pro.” If you’re just sponsored but not pro, you’re an “am,” or amateur, which is still a pretty big deal. Professional skateboarding has never been a meritocracy, despite its self-mythologizing, but the general idea is that being sponsored is something you earn. That brings us to the title of There’s video.
While some core skaters have greeted the emergence of queer skateboarding as a subculture within a subculture, plenty more have complained that queer skaters haven’t earned it, that they’ve gotten all this attention and gained all these sponsors without grinding enough gnarly handrails, scraping enough pool coping or whatever. The “level” isn’t high enough, they say. And this accusation has been leveled at pretty much any skater with any sizeable following or sponsorship who is not a cisgender, heterosexual man. It’s deeply annoying, and it’s exactly what There Skateboards is poking fun at with the video’s title.
Reflecting on the recent cultural shift away from gatekeeping, literary critic Ayesha A. Siddiqi wrote on her Substack, “In 2010, Patton Oswalt practically had a meltdown because it no longer was as hard to be into comic books as it was, I guess, for him. The increasing accessibility of everything he held dear to his identity struck him as a personal loss rather than a society-wide gain.”
CC: skaters in their mid-to-late 30s who own a collection of flannels and have a complicated relationship with domestic beer.
Point is, the existence of companies like There and Glue, another queer-owned skate company, as well as the growing number of women and LGBTQ+ people sponsored by big shoe brands and legacy skate companies, is absolutely a society-wide gain. “Ruining Skateboarding” proves just how significant that gain is. Far from ruining it, the video celebrates skateboarding and skate culture.
What the Patton Oswalts of skateboarding tend to miss when they worry about “who’s earned 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 straightforward lifestyle marketing apparatus. If you want people to buy your boards and shoes and sweatshirts, you’ve got to sell them a story.
The story that every skater wants to be told hasn’t really changed since the ’90s: ditch your day job, grab your board, meet up with your friends, have the absolute time of your life in a random parking lot, get pizza. The easier it is to believe that the people on your screen are genuinely best friends, the better. As tight-knit as it is, the queer skate community doesn’t really have to do much selling, but “Ruining Skateboarding” still overdelivers in the good vibes department. Everyone is clearly having a good time. You will too, watching it.
That said, it’s not like skill and trick selection are completely irrelevant. A skate video is, after all, primarily composed of tricks. Thankfully, there’s also plenty of good, interesting skateboarding in the video. Chandler Burton is seemingly 8 feet tall and not afraid to tackle some very heavy terrain (often in drag makeup). Shag’s flat ground oozes style. Rey, who filmed the majority of it, displays their picture-perfect frontside shove-its at every opportunity. James Pitonyak is just conventionally better than a lot of bro skaters. And Bañuelos’ part, chock-full of footage at classic Seattle skate spots, is a masterclass in trick selection.
Even if — or perhaps especially if — the only thing you know about skateboarding is from its Olympics debut, you should watch this video. It will give you a window into a subculture that, despite its flaws, has a lot of insight to offer about society. That it hasn’t always done so has a lot to do with who’s been doing it. Now, seen through the lens of the queer community, skateboarding is starting to look a lot more like itself.
Two parts from “Ruining Skateboarding”— Jessyka Bailey and Kien Caples— will be posted on Thrasher Magazine early next month, with the full video going live on There’s YouTube channel (“There Skateboards”) shortly after.
Read more of the Mar. 23-29, 2022 issue.