Pools, Stairs And Rails Shift Underfoot In State Sanctioned Shred At Capalaba (Survey Of Pubescent Males Finds Genital Punch Favored Over Extended Suburban Mosey)

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Saturday Afternoon Session; Redland Youth Plaza (Capalaba Skate Park); 22/2/2014

“…by appearances at least, skateboarding retains a punkish edge – it’s generally teenage, middle-finger-raised realisation that some parts of the life are blatantly contradictory and bullshit. And, more specifically, that lots of potentially fun places are deemed off limits and policed thus.”

Report by Nicholas Turner

K has something difficult to do, something difficult and also pretty dangerous, and his brain won’t let him do it. The thing he’s got to do is really something he’d like to do, rather than need to do, and he thinks that that’s why his brain is interjecting, stopping him right before he does it, telling him that he’s scared and that it’s not worth it. Every time he rides up to the precipice, his back foot kicks down and pulls his skateboard up short – and so he stands there, the scratched-into-oblivion print on the underside of his deck flashed to all of us down at the foot of the stairs. And he shakes his head;

Shit. Ok…ok…..ok…shit. Ok, I’m going again.”

K turns around and heads back to the top of his run-up. He takes a moment to square up the task, then comes toward the stairs again. But the outcome is the same as it has been the last dozen or so times. His back foot kicks down stubbornly. He halts at the top.

“Alright, alright,” says K, hands enmeshed on his flat-brim cap, elbows pointed skyward. The large, geometric graphic on his oversized white t-shirt stretches out like something three-dimensional unfolding. “Alright, man.  Pete, man, alright man. If I don’t do it this time. Pete, if I don’t do it this time, here man, you’ve got to punch me in the nuts.”

“Nah man,” says Pete, shaking his head. Pete’s prickly black moustache shrinks like an insect poisoned. He’s in the habit of scratching his wrist tattoo with a finger. “Nah man, I don’t want to man. I don’t want to punch you in the nuts.” Pete’s nursing a busted hip from a fall not ten minutes before. I think he’s kind of glad to have a reason not to be trying to do what K’s trying to do.

“Come on man. I’ll do it, man. I’ll do it but you’ve got to promise me you’ll punch me if I don’t. In the nuts.”

“Nah. Nah, I don’t want to man.  I’ve got it. I’ll tell you. Man, if you don’t do it this time, I’m not driving you home.”

“Oh man,” says K, nodding, maybe wincing.

“That’s it man. You’ve got to do it this time. Or you’re walking all night.”

“Yeah,” says W, who hasn’t said much for a while. W’s not injured, he just knows he’s not good enough to even attempt something like this. And he’s ok with that; he speaks softly and without any swearing and generally he’s kind of sweet. He’s got a soft face, a bit of straight hair on his lip, and a shiny brown pony-tail whose loose strands he directs back over his ear with one finger. He’d make for a convincing stage and/or screen Jesus.

“Ok, that’s it,” says K, taking a few deep breaths and heading back to his mark. “That’s it then, this is it.”

K gets going with three big kicks that are all business and no intellectual compromise. By the time he’s at the top of the stairs, it’s not a matter of if but how he’ll get to the bottom. On wheels or face or ass.

Your correspondent is at Capalaba skate park (officially, ‘Redlands Youth Plaza’), where for maybe the last hour or so K, M and Pete have been taking turns at the fairly shallow six-stair rail at the centre of the facility. For those outside the skateboard discourse (I’ll assume everyone knows at very least what a skateboard looks like, and its defining features), to ‘do a rail’ is to jump up and land the board on a (usually metal hand-) rail and slide down it and land on the ground at the bottom and skate away. Depending on how one’s board sits on the rail (on some part of the wooden deck, or on the metal trucks between the wheels, or some combination of these) and which direction one is facing and also if and how one is garnishing this manoeuvre with the flavour of ‘style’, the slide goes by a different name.

If you’ve never seen this happen, think about it now; if you’re standing on a smooth plank of wood or a couple of rounded bits of metal, sliding down a metal rail, you move like something smooth and hot falling down a wall of ice. Which is to say, awfully quickly. More or less solely in gravity’s tugging hands.  Skateboards from this position have no form of break and no kind of rudder or steering wheel and anyone less than very well practised would almost certainly go ass over tit and be mangled by or around the rail and/or stairs. What I’m trying to say is that it’s both tricky and dangerous, and that it requires all kinds of agility and subtlety of movement to nail. Not to mention guts, because you’ve got a hell of a lot of unforgivingly hard and awkward objects underneath you, and no way of avoiding them if things go even a little bit wrong.  As a group, K, M and Pete land around 65% or the 150 or so rail slides they attempt.  Of those not landed, around 10% result in evident pain. The wonder that bones are not broken and/or ankles and wrists not regularly dislocated never subsides. In fact it seems flat-out miraculous.

Right across from where the boys are doing rails, there is an even steeper and higher set of stairs, this one closer to sheer, basically 45 degrees.  Ultimately, only K has the gall to roll over to it and declare himself ‘ready’. Which brings us back to the apparent absurdity where we began; a sixteen-year-old boy handing his testicles over to his friends to be held again him as ransom. His demand; that his own stubborn sense of self-preservation not kick in where it naturally ought.

Capalaba skate park is pretty darn impressive, much more so that anything that was available at your correspondent’s home town when your correspondent was pubescent. There’s a nice looking bowl with lots of different gradients, oodles of metal-railed concrete boxes, a handful of ramps, stairs, rails, bumps, slopes and boxes all underlined by one very long run right through the middle that’s got to be a hundred meters and full of things to jump and grind and generally find skating use for. Word on the street is that it usually heaves here on the weekend, though today (it’s overcast, and rain has threatened constantly) K, M and Pete pretty much have the run of the place, except for a swarm of pre high-school kids on Razors (little metal scooters that went viral about ten years ago – you have seen then) who sometimes just stand there right in the way of where they boys are landing under the stairs and look into space in a way that really is infuriating. Generally, the boys exercise Zen patience.

Looking out over this collection of oddly misplaced urban objects – an empty pool, and staircases that ascend to and from nowhere in particular – one is reminded that skateboarders have always exercised a philosophical elasticity when it comes to utilitarian structures. They found a whole other use for waterways, gutters, ramps, park benches – indeed stairs and pools –  and basically any odd shape or bump or lip or edge or ripple in the man-made concrete world. In the beginning, as the potential use of the structures was discovered, skateboarding was by default a ratbag activity, outlaw stuff. It tore at the efficient fabric of busy urban scapes, jumped fences and drained and ruined pools. Indeed, by appearances at least, skateboarding retains a punkish edge – it’s generally teenage, middle-finger-raised realisation that some parts of the life are blatantly contradictory and bullshit. And, more specifically, that lots of potentially fun places are deemed off limits and policed thus.

If you accept the premise that skateboarding is at it’s heart a kind of physical graffiti, a ‘footloose’ dance all over the concrete and steel structures of the city, then skateparks are an attempt to confine all this to a sanctified zone, to drag the rebelliousness of skating out from under its wheels. Indeed, as governments integrate skateboarding facilities into the very structure of the city, it’s increasingly difficult to understand exactly what skateboarding represents politically, culturally, even artistically these days.

To which curiosity this report provides only fodder for thought, and no answer. By the looks on the faces of M, K and Pete, it doesn’t seem immediately necessary that skateboarding represent much more than its own tactile pleasures. Here, happily, three young men use an organic communal spirit to overwhelm the fear and self-doubt that are the ceiling of personal limitation. M, K and Pete take photos and video of each other on their iphones, and watch them play back between attempts. Indeed their constant showcasing and sharing and back-patting and cheering of their deft and daring interactions with these brutal structures, the brief moments of flying and sliding and freefall, and the incredibly elegant underfoot play – the board twisting and twirling, uniquely both mode of movement and baton of flourish – demonstrates how this activity is at very least a unique alloy of sport, performance art, play and just plain old kicking it.

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