I have been skateboarding since I was nine. My dad showed me how to ride, how to feel comfortable on a board, and how to manual. From there, everything I learned came from me messing around in parking lots and skateparks, and from religiously watching skate videos. From YEAH RIGHT! to Baker 2 and from Stay Gold to the various clips in the extras menu in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, I consumed any and all skate videos I could get my hands on. At the time, it was mainly through buying DVDs at my local skate shop, but there was also a bigger skate shop—Ambush on Barrett Parkway—that would have videos playing in a viewing nook in their store. I’d go with my dad to buy a board and end up just watching clip after clip. And then YouTube came along, Thrasher’s channel grew, and now skate videos can be consumed through the click of a button.
Skateboarding is in an interesting place right now. The push against the Street Leagues and Nyjah Huston’s of the world has led skaters to stay and thrive in the skating of sketchier and heavier street spots. Through doing so, skateboarding benchmarks are being broken day in and day out. Below I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite skate videos of the past five-or-so years. As always, subjectivity is the name of the game. And to me, skate videos are cinema. I’ve long read and treated them as concrete ethnographies. They tell stories of reclamation against the concrete and metal decay of capitalism, and watching skaters rip and tear their ways past bodyguards as they hit rails on Wallstreet is a cathartic act in and of itself. Skateboarding as cinema can be found below, enjoy.
Thrasher’s 2017 “Am Scramble” video showcases the best skaters to ever be featured in a scramble video—from SOTY winner (and rail destroyer) Jamie Foy to the fearless Ducky Kovacs. This video takes these skaters all across the country, and they even kill some spots in Atlanta! From sketchy wooden rails to college campuses, this video is a brilliant display of the vibrant talent found in skateboarding, today. The use of the camera feels very in line with the motifs of many skateboarding videos as it acts as a mobile observer to what the skaters are doing in-frame.
New Balance Numeric’s “Tinto de Verano” is a travelogue by way of multiple skateboards. This flowing trip across Spain showcases beautiful locales with some genuinely awe-inspiring tricks and lines. The music brings the viewer into the overall feel and flow of the piece, while the skaters exemplify that through how they glide across the concrete as if it were water. Furthermore, the camerawork in “Tinto de Verano” feels intimate and deliberate, and exudes a feeling of exaltation; as if skateboarding is the only thing that these cameras can capture. The camera and the skateboard exist together in an endless conversation of close-ups and low angles. “Tinto de Verano” makes that conversation feel as if it is the only thing existing in the world at that moment.
Rowan Zorilla’s style befits that of the Baker team. He skates with one-foot pushing through the style of 90s skaters and with the other foot pushing into the uncharted territories of skateboarding’s today. “Certi-Fried Pro Rowan Zorilla” is Baker’s love-letter to him and the video that welcomes him to the team. It is also an ensemble piece and showcases one of the best facets of skateboarding cinema—the ability to capture friends doing what they love in the moment as if nothing else exists. Lou Reed’s “Street Hassle” sets the relaxed tone of the video as it opens with The Boss (Andrew Reynolds) tearing across L.A.’s urban sprawl. From there the familiar cast of Baker faces skate their way across California. One of the best segments is Figgy’s line across a highschool set of bleachers because it showcases his absurdly elegant and lanky style, as well as his warm sense of humor. The song ramps up as we get closer and closer to Rowan’s part, and when the electric guitar kicks in, the rest of the video belongs to him. He deserves it.
I do not know what else to say about Milton Martinez’s history-making part. He earned his SOTY 2019 award in it, that is for damn sure. The kickflip down the carwash was the most transcendent moment in the cinema of 2019. Milton hits spots so hard that when he lands, he always does so with speed wobbles. Just watch it.
The city comes alive at night. Bust Crew’s “A Street” is a raw and simply shot skate video that understands the concrete allure of sidewalks freed from foot traffic. Elegant and heavy, “A Street” is everything skateboarding should be. Gilbert Crockett and crew run shop across ledge and curb alike while a simple camera with a single-light basks all of their movements in an SD glow. Paired with the music, the visuals of a still city in the dead of night evokes a sort of Lynchian dreamscape that only pulls itself from the depths of a nightmare due to the joyous time that these skaters are so obviously having. It also features one of the best frontside shuvs that these eyes have ever seen!
The Atlantic Drift series is one of the best skate video movements of all time—bar none. Born out of the UK skate scene, this video (and series) owes more to Stan Brakhage and Jonas Mekas than it does to skateboarding itself. Yet, when the camera pulls into Tom Knox’s face against a glowing neon backdrop, you know you are about to be in for some brilliant skateboarding. Atlantic Drift’s UK video is my favorite because, well, it is the first one, and for the simple fact that I love watching UK skate videos. Watching a Tom Knox line where he rides over three different types of cracked concrete and brick before all is said and done is something unique to skateboarding in the United Kingdom. These skaters make the harshest of surfaces look easily rideable. As the music in the video slowly reveals its pulsing structure, a genuine sense of euphoria builds and it holds sway over the viewer long after the credits roll.
Cinema. Jim Greco’s “The Skateboarding of Leandre Sanders and Ludvig Håkansson” is cinema stripped bare to its rawest, purest form. It is A Man with a Movie Camera (and a Skateboard). Jim Greco’s skate videos (or films) are often dubbed “more than just skateboarding”. That is true, yes, but it is also reductive. His films are All Skateboarding. Skateboarding is not what happens when someone’s feet meet a board with four wheels. Rather, skateboarding is a movement, a way of being and feeling and of seeing the world. There is a moment near the end of this short film where Greco’s roaming camera hones in on Ludvig as he eats french fries in a deli on a rainy L.A. evening—one hand grasping fries and the other in a cast. You can just see that Ludvig’s mind is somewhere else, probably riding a skateboard. It is the small moments in this film that make it shine, but when the skating happens, well, it is beautiful. Full stop. The movement where stanceless Leandre Sanders skates a bowl is one of the purest, most distilled moments in the oeuvre of skateboarding cinema.