A Fragmentary History of Skateboarding Videos – Chapter 6 - Questionable

Chapter 6 – The Questionable Chapter

Fragment 35

Mike Carroll’s part in Questionable [1992] is the perfect starting point from which to address some transformations that were occurring in skateboarding at the time, particularly in street skating, and to which we still owe a lot of our ideas about skating and skate videos.

Fragment 36

The association of a skater to a particular skate spot, which developed and became commonplace in skate-talk with the circulation of skate videos, is established simbolically at the beginning of this part. The aerial shot of the Embarcadero’s (official name “Justin Herman Plaza”) C-block used as the first letter in “Carroll” means just that: this dude and this place are inseparable. Having seen that, it’s no surprise that most of Carroll’s part is shot at the Embarcadero.

Fragment 37

Which means that, in this part, the viewer mostly gets to see Carroll explore the different possibilities of approaching the same 8 or 9 obstacles. Overall, it’s very different from what we saw in the last chapter with Mark Gonzales’ Video Days part. Street skating goes from adapting to ever-changing architectural features to using the same architectural feature over and over with ever-changing board/body variations. One could call it, if not the birth, at least the debutante ball of what is now referred to as “technical skating”.

Fragment 38

Two related implications that are worth mentioning: the rise of “tech” skating meant 1) a shift in attention from the surrounding environment to the board (the long lasting shoegazing period of skate videos started here); and 2) a shift in the culture’s relevant values from speed, grace and fluidity to detail, complexity and difficulty.

Fragment 39

On the first of the implications.
In Rodney Mullen’s autobiography (chapter 23) he tells the story of how he came back from being an almost forgotten freestyler and became a respected street skater. Of the difference between the two, he says: “In freestyle, there’s nothing to run into; you skate on an open, flat surface: all you watch is your board. Street skating is all about using obstacles [...]” (p.224) He goes on to tell how he felt he had no business being in a team with the best street skaters, was ashamed to skate in front of anyone during that period and, through a lot of pressure from Plan B’s Mike Ternasky, ended up having a part in Questionable and getting props from all the street pros. It’s not a coincidence that Questionable kicked off Mullen’s comeback. Ternasky saw the transformations going on in street skating and saw the connections: everybody was watching their boards a lot more.

Fragment 40

On the second of the implications.
We could describe it as a change in emphasis. Mark Gonzales did some hard tricks in Video Days, but he also surfed down the street, like Lance Mountain, Tommy Guerrero or Ray Barbee before him. In Carroll’s Questionable part that is largely gone. He is doing tricks. The ledge or stair set where he does them doesn’t matter too much. It’s skating for skate rats. For the casual viewer, it’s comparatively slow (though Carroll is actually faster than many of his tech brethren), jerky and kind of boring. You need to be an insider to notice the little differences: did the nose touch? Is he sliding on his board or grinding with his truck? Which way did the board flip? Which foot made it flip?

Fragment 41

This is a way of separating the hardcore from the rest. Something of this sort always happens in small communities that gather around a particular phenomenon. It’s a matter of identity. If you can’t tell the difference, you’re not a part of it and your exclusion brings the remaining group closer together. Switch skating is a good example. Skating with the wrong foot forward is rarely as graceful or as fast or as fun to watch. But it’s way harder, and in order to value that you need to have tried it. Not many street skaters would have admitted they thought skating switch (and watching it) was kind of boring in 1992. That would’ve meant you were out.

By Sebastião Belfort Cerqueira

Sign Up for our Newsletter

Join the Trucks and Fins community and receive exclusive news, giveaways, access to subscribers-only-contests, discounts from our partners and much more directly from us!