Tony Hawk & Architectural Historian Iain Borden Tell the Story of How Skateboarding Found a New Use for Cities & Architecture

Would­n’t we enjoy see­ing our cities like an archi­tec­tur­al his­to­ri­an, in com­mand of deep knowl­edge about the tech­nol­o­gy, ide­ol­o­gy, and aes­thet­ics of the build­ings we pass by every day? For most of us, this would huge­ly enrich our expe­ri­ence of the urban envi­ron­ment. But then so, less obvi­ous­ly, would see­ing our cities like a skate­board­er, in com­mand of deep knowl­edge about how to glide, jump, and bounce along the streets, the build­ings, and all the myr­i­ad pieces of infra­struc­ture as a surfer rides the waves. The archi­tec­tur­al his­to­ri­an learns the city with his mind; the skater learns the city, no less painstak­ing­ly, with his body.

The Vox video above brings mind and body come togeth­er in the per­sons of Iain Bor­den, author of Skate­board­ing and the City: A Com­plete His­to­ry, and Tony Hawk, to whom even those whol­ly igno­rant of skate­board­ing need no intro­duc­tion. Their com­ple­men­tary inter­views reveal the his­to­ry of mod­ern skate­board­ing through the sport’s “leg­endary spots”: pub­lic-school cam­pus­es, aban­doned swim­ming pools, dry drainage ditch­es, for­got­ten sec­tions of con­crete pipe. In the main this selec­tion reflects the high­ly sub­ur­ban­ized 1970s in which skate­boards first came to pop­u­lar­i­ty in the Unit­ed States. But at its out­er lim­its, such as the Mt. Baldy pipeline in north­ern Cal­i­for­nia, it also shows how far skaters will go in search of the ide­al place to ride.

Though pur­pose-build skate parks do exist (their num­bers kept low by for­mi­da­ble insur­ance chal­lenges), seri­ous skaters pre­fer spaces not express­ly designed for skat­ing. This is thanks in large part to the inno­va­tions of a skater with less wider-world name recog­ni­tion than Hawk, but no less influ­ence with­in the sport: Natas Kau­pas. Hawk remem­bers the thoughts trig­gered by footage of the young Kau­pas skat­ing mas­ter­ful­ly through his neigh­bor­hood in the 1987 film Wheels of Fire: “Wow, you can skate curbs like that? You can skate bench­es? You can skate fire hydrants? The whole world is a skate park now.” Sud­den­ly, Bor­den adds, “you did­n’t need to be in Cal­i­for­nia, or in the Ari­zona desert, or in Flori­da any­more. You could be any­where.”

Review­ing Bor­den’s Skate­board­ing and the City, Jack Lay­ton in Urban Stud­ies high­lights its his­to­ry of “how the assem­blage of mate­ri­als that makes up cities has been – in count­less ways – re-imag­ined by the skate­board­er to cre­ate accel­er­a­tion, rota­tion, fric­tion and flow.” It’s easy to for­get, Lay­ton writes, that “along with facil­i­tat­ing com­merce, trans­port and habi­ta­tion, cities can be spaces that facil­i­tate play, exhil­a­ra­tion and plea­sure.” Despite often hav­ing been regard­ed as pub­lic nui­sances, skate­board­ers are “a con­stant reminder that our cities are cre­ative and rich places,” says Bor­den. With the excep­tion of the skate parks secret­ly con­struct­ed in hid­den urban spaces across the world, skaters, of course, don’t build the city — but they do show us some of its untapped poten­tial.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ful­ly Flared

3 Icon­ic Paint­ings by Fri­da Kahlo Get Reborn as Vans Skate Shoes

Sax­o­phon­ist Plays into Large Gas Pipes & Then Uses the Echo to Accom­pa­ny Him­self

Every­thing You Ever Want­ed to Know About the Beau­ty of Bru­tal­ist Archi­tec­ture: An Intro­duc­tion in Six Videos

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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