If the articles in this 30th Anniversary Issue teach you anything, it should be that skateboarding has evolved leaps and bounds over the past three decades. It should also make clear that key individuals—pioneers—served as central catalysts to these massive advances. Ray Barbee’s addition to the Bones Brigade in ’87 and subsequent appearances in Powell Peralta’s Public Domain (’88) then Ban This (’89) represent some of the most critical junctures in our short history. On the heels of Steve Steadham, Ray cracked the façade of what had been more or less up to then a white-bred pastime. He also showcased some of the first conscious line-based flatground street skating ever. And unlike the neon glam beach volleyball styles of the ‘80s vert scene, Ray’s casual attire and cruising lines through LA sprawl set the table for city kids of all stripes and colors to make skateboarding theirs in the two decades and change since.   

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« B-Sides Interview: Jeff Grosso on Street League »

This was Jeff Grosso's interview for a Street League article that appeared in TWS last November. It never ran based on the former Editor's decision so I wanted to post it here. I'm neither here nor there when it comes to this issue but I do think the conversation is an important one. Here's Jeff.

ME: What's your overall take on Street League? Have you watched one?

Jeff: I’ve watched a few of them, or tried to watch a few of them.

What’s your general takeaway?
(Laughing.) The skateboarders are all insanely good and the skateboarding is amazing but as far as viewing it as a skateboarder it’s like watching fucking paint dry (Laughs.) I don’t know, what’s your take on it?

I don’t know. I watch them. It’s kind of like watching golf.
Watching any skateboarding, unless you’re totally into it, unless you’re a completely crazed skateboarder, you can last maybe 20 minutes. It’s like going to a baseball game or watching golf like you said. Unless you’re totally into it it’s like, “Okay, that was cool. Is Law and Order on now?”

I guess maybe this might be easier—what would you say the differences are between Street League and the major contests back in the ‘80s hey day? Obviously those were vert, but aside from that?
Well, I’m loath to say that they took the flow out of it. Because, like I said, I have the utmost respect for all the skateboarders in it and stuff. But there’s been this active move in contest skating like that it seems like. You’re talking about a world I really know nothing about, because I don’t skateboard that way. But I mean it’s reduced down to gymnastics. I guess that’s great for some people or whatever. I guess if you’re the dude in the contest you figure out what trick gets the most points, and then you get that trick dialed, and then your name is Nyjah Huston.

Then you take home a hundred grand in the process.
Yeah, and then you say silly things about women (Laughs). I’m not a big fan of taking style, spontaneity, and flow out of skateboarding. I think that’s what makes skateboarding so amazing. And putting a number to a trick scale, I mean it makes it easier to judge I guess, but I don’t know.

American sports in general love stats. So this quantifying tricks is almost like getting skateboarding ready for that mass-market maybe?
Yeah. It’s kind of the final nail in the death coffin—as far as I know it. But like I said, I really don’t know anything. I really truly don’t. And I really don’t want to. But when I turn on my TV on Sunday morning and I’m trying to get behind it, and check it out, and be a fan boy—you just kind of go, “Oh man. What did they do to it?” Like you have this big beautiful course that they only ride a couple of sections of. It makes it super hard for someone like Dennis (Busenitz) or someone who’s real flowy. I don’t know. Look, the great thing about skateboarding is that there’s room for everybody I guess. If that’s what you want to do, go for it.

I do think it’s funny that the dude, that tool that started it all, turned around and was like, “I’m doing this because ‘screw the X Games’ and I’m all about skateboarding.” The second that he loses his backing, or whatever the scenario was, he goes and sells it to the X Games. Because he came up with gymnastics theory or whatever. But whatever, I’m not a big fan of the whole politics of it and I don’t even profess to know much but the whole thing is just kind of goony.

It’s really neat to turn on the TV and see all these incredibly awesome talented dudes on TV, but at what cost exactly. What does it do for skateboarding? It gets you into this bigger philosophical argument.

I could play devils advocate I guess—Alex Olson was saying that as cheesy as it is, it could sort of be like Police Academy IV or Back to the Future where some kid might see it, get interested and then dig deeper. Like it could be a gateway?
Sure. Totally. It’s like viewing Animal Chin or something and going like, “Oh, this is skateboarding.” And it was, it is or whatever, but there was just way more going on than just “searching for fun” (Laughs.). But if it gets you there, cool. I guess whatever gets you there is okay.

What about the prize money? A hundred grand is a lot of money, no?
Is it? Compared to what? I don’t know. It’s not the direction that I really care to see skateboarding go in. But you know, I’m an old bitter dude, who likes the grassrootsy trying to build it up thing. But whatever, you can come up with some sort of format and sell it to a company like ESPN, or CBS, or NBC, or Fox or whoever the fuck. The Ted Turner Network. Get Oprah to back it. You’re selling the youth market. Fine and dandy. There’s room for everybody to line their pockets I guess.

It’s a wonderful opportunity for the guys that get invited to it I guess. Like, “Oh, we’re gonna pick our guys and these will be the guys that we back.”

It’s a bit exclusive?
Yeah. And then you have people that skate in that contest who aren’t even trying, they’re just there to get the small check because it keeps them going on and on. I can’t blame them, I’d probably do the same thing like, “I’m not gonna win this thing. I’ll fly in late Friday night, I’ll take my runs Saturday morning, collect my check and I’ll be done with it.”

Broad strokes, what impact would you say Street League has on skateboarding and the skateboard industry? To you, is it a positive impact or a negative one?
Probably neither. I’d say it’s kind of a moot point. It just doesn’t matter. It’s not really representative of the industry at all.

Does it really carry any weight? I guess if you’re trying to keep a set of Nike’s on your feet, or you’re trying to keep Monster Energy drink happy. For the individual skateboarder competing in the thing—yeah, it probably means everything. It’s what bankrolls him to stay a pro skateboarder and pay his fucking mortgage and live out in the bus with the rest of his buddies when he’s not doing Street League. Does it have any kind of bearing on anything? Not really.

Alex (Olson) does have a point. For a seven or eight-year-old watching cartoons on a Sunday morning it’s brilliant. You see that, you see P-Rod and you go, “Yeah, I want to be P-Rod”. That’s great and then maybe that kid gets into it and falls in love with it and has the same experiences like all of the rest of us did. Whatever gets you there.

I look at it from the perspective of, is it exciting and fun to watch? And yeah, there’s a little bit of a ramp up, and then someone does something completely wild.

The fact that we’re even paying it any lip service means that it’s winning. Whether I say it sucks or I say it rules, Dyrdek just bought another fucking ridiculous car. And can collect twenty more stupid hats that he can wear sideways on his head, and not skateboard. How much riding are you really doing dude? There are skateboarders and there are people who skateboard. Street League to me seems more indicative of people who skateboard making money off of skateboarding rather than skateboarders doing it for themselves. I guess that’s my takeaway from the whole thing. Is it neat and fun and all of that stuff. I guess on one level it is. But on another level—you might as well just put up a Wal-Mart banner and say, “Join the Army”.

Jeff nosepick in TWS, circa 1990. Photo: O.

I think they already did all that.
Yeah (Laughs.) Just consume more people. You don’t need to care what you consume, just consume more. Oh, we’re selling toxic energy drinks to fucking ten-year-olds. Are we part of the problem or are we part of the solution. It gets you into a philosophical debate that no one really wants to have because we’re all complicit. We’re all fucking guilty. And that makes us sad and not like ourselves (Laughs.) But is anybody going to change. Is anybody going to stand up and fight the power? I doubt it. Because this was all bought and sold years and years ago.

This all goes back to the Big 5 and the Rocco wars. We all bought into Rocco’s lie, like, “Dude, I’m one of you. Be with me because those guys aren’t skateboarders.” The biggest, the best, and the brightest all bought into the lie and they all got their asses handed to them. And where’s Rocco now. He’s on a golf course somewhere laughing his ass off with a huge bank account. Shame on us for wanting to believe in the great Messiah. It was a lie then and it’s a lie now.

The Messiah will not be appearing at Street League?
(Laughs.) Yeah. It basically sucks, because if I bash it, if I say ugly things—I’m basically talking shit about people I highly respect and think the world of. They’re just doing what they have to do to stay in the game and follow their dreams and their passions. And that’s a wonderful thing but at what fucking cost.

You watch any of these contests and the guy’s got his energy drink squeegee in his hand and he’s taking a drink on camera. It’s all so scripted.

I guess they have water in Monster cans. I do think that's a bit much. So to the kid at home it looks like the dude is pounding Monster when he’s actually drinking water.
Of course, I drink that crap because I’m an idiot. They’re not, in the middle of trying to conquer course B or whatever, it’s just not happening. But that’s all part of playing the game and getting paid. I’m not slighting any of them for taking the checks. Lord knows I would too. They have families, they have careers and they’re pursuing their dreams. Fucking good on you, this is America. And at the end of the day your not really hurting anybody that much. It’s Devo, Freedom of Choice. If you don’t know that consuming large quantities of energy drinks is bad for your health or that everybody is out to get you—whether it’s your money or your fucking attention or whatever, then you’re not going to go very far in life here.

I guess it’s a good premise for an article, “Is it good, is it bad?” A bigger question is, “Fucking how did we get here man?” How did we get so in the back seat of our own shit? These contests don’t even matter. It’s not even about P-Rod winning, or Nyjah winning another one, or whether or not Chris (Cole) is gonna step up to bat, or “Where the fuck is Malto man? Come on Malto!” (Laughs.)

Whatever, I’m a big fan of Malto. I want to see Malto take it. He’s a beautiful kid. He has a beautiful smile and he’s totally stylish, so let’s give one to Malto. But how did we become so secondary in the process? It’s not about us. They probably spend more money building the course then they do in the pro purse. Only to tear it down after their 45 minutes on TV so that I can be told to buy a Chevy or a Prius. Go green America!

I think the bigger, better question. In the 35/37 years I’ve been doing this, how did we go from where we were—from being this infant who didn’t know any better to somewhat learning the ropes, to this.

Wasn’t this all happening with something like Disney’s Skateboard Mania shows in the ‘70s with Duane Peters? Has it just gone full circle?
Yeah. On a different level. Yeah I guess. Skateboard Mania was trying to present skateboarding in a show type atmosphere, like Cirque de Soleil or whatever so they layman, the dude on the street could wrap his head around what these kids were doing on this insane new prepubescent activity. Like it’s not really a sport, it’s not really an art. We don’t really know how to define it so we’ll bring it to you people instead. But this is different in the sense that it quantifies it. How do you decide who’s “best” at it?

Well now they can tell you who was the best. It doesn’t matter about style or form. This trick was executed and it was harder than that thing. I don’t know. I don’t street skate. Maybe the street skaters love that format.

Whatever works. Fucking great. But really what does Street League give back to skateboarding? I know it takes a lot. I’m honestly asking I don’t know.

I guess it provides a decent income for a select few and then provides incredible entertainment for the rest of us apparently.
(Laughs.) Do they do anything with all that good will? Does Dyrdek still build Street plazas and hate on transition. Like I said, it’s not me trying to bash on it, but at the end of the day, when you tune in—and I fucking love everything about skateboarding. I’ll watch a fucking slalom race if I have to and that’s like watching paint dry too—but it’s like we had this wonderful opportunity and this was the best we could do with it? I don’t have a solution on how you make it better or anything. But it just kind of seems like we sold our soul. We sold our souls just to get scraps at the table. I mean, you’ve got golfers on the PGA tour that are ranked 116th and they’re making a couple of hundred thousand per tournament. It’s just like, “Eh. Fuck. This is what it all turned into?” I guess that’s great. But it’s not really my trip. If I was 18 though,, maybe I would be clocking in on it.

Get your switch double 360 flip together.
Yeah (Laughs.) Maybe. Like I said, I’m a bitter old dude with very limited knowledge of the whole landscape. Still a fan though. Every time one comes on TV and I know about it I still tune in. I hope that helped you. Go Malto.


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