Now, I must confess that there was a period in my youth when I did ride the wheeled board. Furthermore, it was during a time when Hosoi and his contemporaries were at their most popular, and while they were pushing the limits of just how high you could go on a skateboard (and, it turns out, just how high you could get while off of one), the companies they promoted were pushing the limits of how much crap they could sell you. A skateboard is pretty much just a wooden deck with a pair of trucks and some wheels on it, and you'd think it would be hard to convince people to buy accessories for the skateboard itself. But somehow they also managed to sell people things like plastic rails and tail protectors and nose protectors and truck protectors and multicolored risers to bold under the trucks and even little plastic covers for the rear truck designed to allow you to ride up curbs more easily. If you were foolish and dorky enough to put all of these things on your board at once your skateboard was vastly more protected than you were and looked like the board itself was ready to enter a roller derby.
In any case, firmly in nostalgia's grip, I kept watching. If you don't know what happened to Christian Hosoi I'd hate to spoil the ending, but I'll just say that he had it all, then he lost it all, then he went to jail, and then that thing that happens to everybody in jail happened to him. (No, not that thing--I mean he got religious.) I recognized many of the people interviewed from the magazines of my youth, when I'd stare at pictures of people like Natas Kaupas ollying over life-sized plastic cows or whatever, and I'd imagine California as this endless landscape of backyards with empty pools (apparently nobody in California put water in their pools), and palm trees, and banked walls, and ramps, and life-sized plastic cows begging to be ollied. I on the other hand lived in New York, where the sidewalks were covered with ice half the year, and by the time I went to Washington Square Park to skate on those asphalt mounds the city had covered them in some kind of rubbery material and I looked and felt like I was trying to trudge through a flood of maple syrup.
But while I may have blamed my environment for making skating difficult, the truth is I wasn't very good at it. The same went for freestyle BMX, which I also wasn't especially good at. The people in the magazines always seemed to be floating, but I never felt like I was floating when I was doing tricks on skateboards or bikes. I always felt kind of stuck to the ground (even when it wasn't covered with rubber), and especially when it came to freestyle BMX I was also very concerned about hurting my crotch. (Which is why I could never do a cherrypicker.) On the other hand, racing BMX did give me that sensation of flight, and that's the direction I ultimately went, though I have no intention of purchasing either of the PK Rippers currently on offer on Craigslist here in New York City (not least of which because "PK Ripper" sounds like the name of a villain in a horror movie about a killer plastic surgeon or something):
Obviously people still do tricks on skateboards and on bikes--in fact it's probably more popular than ever--though it's been awhile since I've concerned myself with it. However, I was perusing trackosaurusrex recently (where the tricks are usually performed on "track" bikes) and unexpectedly came upon this video:
After all those videos of fixed-gear freestyling I forgot that bike tricks can actually seem kind of fluid and graceful when performed on bikes with small wheels that coast. Even if you're not particularly interested in that type of riding nor the sneakers and t-shirts that type of riding is often used to promote, you've probably been impressed by something someone did on a BMX at least once. In any case, it's in stark contrast, to, say, this (also from trackosaurusrex):
The Hammer from Laali on Vimeo.
Perhaps I'm just jaded, but when I turn down the loud guitar music I just see some guys riding in circles. Sure, they can handle their bikes, but watching them they look the way I used to feel when I used to do tricks--stuck to the ground. There's just not that speed and fluidity that made skating and BMX seem exciting to me, and that I can still see when I watch it today.