Skateboarders are a scraggly bunch who speak in their own moronic lingo, flippantly destroy property and generally are a public nuisance--so the stereotype concludes. And, as with most stereotypes, this assertion is completely false. A collection of writings from skateboarders, Life and Limb: Skateboarders Write from the Deep End--recently published by Soft Skull Press--should smash these preconceptions like a broken deck. This collection of short pieces ranges widely from terse, humorous anecdotes to deep philosophical musings--all written by skaters, professional or otherwise. One might think that a book written entirely by skateboarders would be littered with mundane tales of accomplishment in the skating world, accessible solely to other skaters. Thankfully, the twenty works collected here offer great insight into the minds of skaters, revealing their sense of art, love and human emotion from an "outsider" perspective.
I say outsider because, until recently, skateboarding has always been "a form that attracted the unattractive ... some absurd martial art," as Scott Bourne states so succinctly in his essay "RE Movement." Skateboarders are caught between the world of their passion and the world of real jobs, of growing up and being responsible adults. These issues are central to many of the stories contained in Life and Limb--how does a skateboarder fight to perfect his art and realize the absurdity of being nearly 30 years old hanging out with mostly 15-year-old kids.
Another conflict espoused in these short pieces is the recent corporate takeover of skateboarding culture. The sport has rapidly gone from an underground sensation to a multi-million dollar marketing tool. Naturally, many of these writers are wrestling with their conception of the purity of the sport while trying to deal with the fact that skating is becoming little more than a means to sell more Mountain Dew and Tony Hawk video games. While the writing is at times a tad simplistic and the collection is sparsely edited (I'm guessing this is motivated by some sort of Kerouac/Punk Rock ideal), the conflicts inherent to the passion of the skateboarder play out as sublime drama.
The pieces themselves range from accounts of hilarious, youthful rebellion to mediocre attempts at heavy, poetic prose to surprisingly deep, philosophical studies. Though they range widely in style, somehow the works have a thread of connectivity. Jared Jacang Maher's pseudo-anarchic anti-consumerism tale, "The U.L.F. Does Not Exist!"--a personal favorite--seems strangely in concord with Lori Damiano's backwards ghost tale, "Placerita Canyon." To be sure, there are some stinkers. "Burgundy Hair Dye" by Mark Gonzales had me rolling my eyes with its lame adolescent fatality-fantasy, and contributing editor Justin Hocking's "The Whale" would've been pretty good had he called it something else and not tried to evoke Melville's Moby Dick.
My own skateboarding career lasted approximately three years and came to a halt at the ripe old age of 12. I perfected three tricks, but most of the skateboarding I did involved seeing who could get going fastest down the steep hills of the Seattle suburb where I lived before pussing out, or navigating the new Microsoft construction sites, falling on our asses, pretending we knew how to rail slide. Suffice it to say, I'm no skater.
That being said, I still thoroughly enjoyed the selections in this book. The short stories and essays contained often deal with skating as a peripheral subject or sometimes not at all. What ties them together is the creativity spawned from the devotion, art and raw lust for this so-called "non-sport." Life and Limb is certainly a must-read for all the skaters out there, but even those wholly unfamiliar with skateboarding will take something from this diverse collection of writings.