Against the backdrop of viral social media clips, Ben Powell unpacks the enduring power of the full-length skate film, while photographer Manuel Obadia-Wills captures riders from Carhartt WIP’s skate team, ahead of the Paris premiere of INSIDE OUT.
Words: Ben Powell
Images: Manuel Obadia-Wills
Every skateboarder remembers the first full-length skate video they saw. Without exception, skate videos act as a kind of portal, where the individual is exposed to the richness of the wider skate universe through a medium that is crucial to the culture.
“They were hugely influential in my journey as a skater,” says Carhartt WIP team rider Matlok Bennet-Jones. “The first video I ever watched obsessively was Blind’s What If? I got it free with an issue of Sidewalk magazine. At that point, I had already been skating for a little while but it was just something I did. Having that video to pore over introduced me to a whole other aspect of this hobby of mine: the music, the editing, the idea of professionals, different styles and so on. It made me view skateboarding as something way more important. Skate videos are so valuable early on, as they expose you to what’s achievable and possible. They make you excited, and start to fuel the idea of ‘I wanna be able to do that’ far more than just seeing people skate at your local park.”
In the modern sense, the skate video came into being sometime between the 1984 release of Powell Peralta’s The Bones Brigade Video Show and the 1988 release of H-Street’s Shackle Me Not. From the mid-80s, the skate video sat alongside the skateboard magazine as the primary conduit through which skate culture was transmitted to the world.
Pepe Tirelli, 25, Torino BP: What was the first skate video you ever watched? PT: I’m not that sure but it might be the DC European Collective DVD. My cousin gave it to me when I was like 10. BP: What is your favorite song or soundtrack from a skate video? PT: There’s too many. Either some glam-metal song by Mötley Crüe in Tony Trujillo’s part or some rap, like Bone Thugs-N-Harmony in “Baker has a Deathwish.” BP: What skate film has inspired you the most? PT: Probably the full-length videos from the skaters in my own town, like Non è Sempre Domenica. When I was a kid, I loved seeing what it meant to be an “older” skater in Turin, and I wanted to be just like them.
Tolia Titaev, 27, Moscow
BP: What was the first skate video you ever watched? TT: 88’s Destroy Everything Now BP: What is your favorite part of all time? TT: Van Wastell – Krooked, Andrew Reynolds – Stay Gold, Jason Dill – Mind Field, Alex Olson – Fully Flared. They all make me want to go skate. Andrew is killing it and also the music in his part is sick.
Felipe Bartolomé Morcuende, 26, Madrid/Mexico City BP: What was the first skate video you ever watched? FBM:Madriders – a 2000s classic from the CLN plaza locals. BP: What is your favorite part of all time? FBM:Alain Saavedra in Alaikids. He always inspired me a lot when I was young. This part was fucked – he was doing this long hubbas and huge gaps, also some sick half pipe lines. In my opinion, it might be his best. BP: What skate film has inspired you the most? FBM: All of the ones from the homies – because that’s who everyone wants to see improve and create. BP: What is the biggest challenge in making any skate film? FBM: Not delaying the deadline. It's hard to not always try to improve on what you have for the video, because you want it to be perfect, but that process never ends.
The videos that had come before this watershed moment had tended to treat skateboarding with thinly veiled incredulity, in the same way that the sensationalist Mondo film genre of the 1970s treated other presumed fads. It took the creative genius of Powell Peralta’s Stacey Peralta and H-Street’s Mike Ternasky to understand the potential power of the skate video and to harness it as a tool for its propagation. The parameters that still shape the majority of skate releases to this day were established during this embryonic era. On the one hand was the high-budget, narrative-led mythmaking of the early Powell videos. The other was the raw, trick-focused pornography of progression popularized by H-Street. With these aesthetic poles firmly established by 1990, the cultural centrality of the full-length skate video became apparent within the skateboarding universe. While magazines focused on the stars of each era, and devoted their glossy pages to the established skaters driving the industry machine, it was left to skate videos to shine a light on progression that happened too fast for print. Trick evolution was transmitted through video from the streets of California into the VCRs of skaters across the Atlantic. Innovators, moving too fast for print to keep up, triggered VHS paradigm shifts with increasing frequency, resulting in an unparalleled burst of progression from the 1990s onwards. Spots, trends, fashion, footwear, art and music also benefited from the same signal-boost, with each new video release showcasing new styles and locations, which would then ripple across the culture.
As technology advanced and formats became obsolete, (with VHS giving way to DVD, and ultimately, the internet), much was made of the supposed impending death of the skate video. Those sounding death knells for a format which had propelled skate culture to the fore since the late 80s were, of course, completely wrong. YouTube didn’t kill the full-length video; neither did social media. If anything, the multiplication of channels through which skate videos could be promoted, accessed and created served instead to amplify their significance. Simply put: there is not a single skateboarder whose passion for the useless wooden toy hasn’t been augmented and enhanced by skate videos.
Into this rich cultural context comes Carhartt WIP’s first full-length video since the 2008 release of Spektra. Speaking in pre-Covid 2020, at the beginning of the filming process for what would become INSIDE OUT, Carhartt WIP Team Manager and rider Joseph Biais set out the concept: “We wanted to focus on a couple of skaters from the team who have strong personalities and are strongly linked to their hometowns — and to enable people to film at spots they knew, while sharing these places with their teammates, so that the end result feels more like a local crew video than a manufactured tour video.”
The onset of Covid slowed the filming process, as they attempted to shoot across four cities — London, Milan, Paris, and Madrid — while navigating lockdowns and travel bans. But, as Biais reflects, it also had a positive effect, enhancing the distinct textures and rhythms of the four cities featured. “Two months into filming, the whole world shut down. We’d wait around for the situation to calm a little, re-start, and then be thrown off course. But one positive aspect was that the riders were able to concentrate on local filming missions, where travel wasn’t so much of an issue. Weirdly, I think this gave it much more of that local crew vibe that we’d originally wanted.”
Few things frame a brand narrative in a more indelible manner than a full-length video — particularly when the audience is that of hyper-attentive skaters. Think of the early experimental Alien Workshop releases, and how their video art influences would set the aesthetic agenda for the next three decades of that iconic brand’s life. Or the fast-paced, immersive fisheye perspective offered by pioneering Far East Skate Network releases out of Japan — which in turn would help shape the video output of French brand Magenta. Equally, the full-length releases from current titans of the skater-owned brand landscape, Palace and Polar, have both adopted different but related approaches, which have given their brands unmistakeable voices. Their deliberate use of obsolete camera tech and knowing referential nods to skate video history, via editing and music choices, sets both brands apart from their peers.
Armand Vaucher, 26, Paris BP: Favorite part of all time? AV: Hugo Maillard in A Serious Video. It’s not at all a serious video, every trick is very spontaneous and kind of an ignorant move. He is the best skater in the world. I love him. BP: What was your favorite memory from making Inside Out? AV: Bombing down the hill in Madrid with Felipe and seven mad guys during the night. En mode rocknroll. BP: What is the biggest challenge in making any skate film? AV: You want to give the viewer energy, while also keeping the fun of skateboarding and not making it too professional or serious.
Notis Aggelis, 26, Thessaloniki BP: What was the first skate video you ever watched? NA: Transworld’s Subtleties. BP: What is your favorite part of all time? NA: Bobby de Keyzer from Grand Prairie. It’s just really epic how good this guy is. And this particular part with the music is something else. BP: What is the biggest challenge in making any skate film? NA: Being able to sleep without overthinking tricks.
Ebou Sanyang, 26, El Masnou BP: What was the first skate video you ever watched? ES: I’m not really sure, I used to go to my friend’s place to watch a bunch of clips, but I would probably say Jimmy Carlin’s Mystery Black and White. BP: What is your favorite song or soundtrack from a skate video? ES: “These Eyes” by The Guess Who. BP: What is your favorite part of all time? ES: Louie Barletta from Bag of Suck. I love it – it gets me hyped every time.
“Legitimacy can’t be faked,” as New York-based rider Max Palmer puts it. “It takes time and investment to do things correctly. Any company with a legitimate voice needs to make a full-length video because it offers a completely different experience. The longform skate video is so valuable because it condenses what can be years of each skater’s life into a couple minutes of film. It can show a lot more about them, because of all the time and effort behind it, and the end result is dense and rich in a way that shorter, throwaway clips just aren’t.”
INSIDE OUT nods towards both of the foundational polarities of skate video-making. Not only does the film serve up some extremely heavy skating, it also adds narrative depth with lots of footage of the things occurring on the periphery of the tricks. As such, you’re treated to beautifully shot atmospherics, a narrative shaped by the flavor of each city’s unique architecture, and snippets of team riders’ conversation overlaid throughout. And on the trick front, absolute bangers of every variety, performed on a diversity of terrains with spots both seen and unseen.
There’s a fine line to tread when brands think outside of the box and dare to combine elements of these two opposing approaches to documenting skateboarding, as director Joaquim Bayle asserts. “There is a part of me which says that it’s just skateboarding and it shouldn’t be too twisted from what it is. But I also have this other desire to look beyond the surface and to explore the nuances of skateboarding because I think it’s a really special thing.” This openness to try new ideas, while respecting what Bayle refers to as “the inalienable core norms” of skate video-making sits at the heart of INSIDE OUT, and contributed to the willingness of the team to buy into the concept.
Carhartt WIP rider and pro skater Sylvain Tognelli grew up in rural France and was teleported into an alternate dimension by VHS skate videos. “Being in the countryside I barely saw any skateboarding live, so everything was learned through videos or magazines. Every time I’d get my hands on a new VHS it was quite a big deal, like a window on a completely new world.”
The function of skate videos in creating portals into other worlds has always been one of the fundamental purposes of the medium. While they are undeniably marketing tools, their real value lies in their ability to record moments in time, whether that be through particular tricks, spots, or more generally in capturing a zeitgeist. For kids across the world, generation after generation has been exposed to the unbridled possibilities of riding a skateboard through the same process that Sylvain recalls. Whether those viewing are clear as to the nuances of what they’re seeing on their screens is immaterial; the act of looking is often enough to ignite the flame.
That is something that can never be achieved via fragmentary mediums like Instagram and TikTok, no matter how viral these visual canapés can become. It’s also the reason why full-length skate films continue to endure, offering immersive experiences for an audience that actively wants to go deeper, that is obsessed with the minutiae of the culture. “Say for example, the emotion you felt watching Heath Kirchart’s part in Mind Field for the first time,” explains Tognelli. “You could never replicate that feeling by just playing a few seconds of the part out of context. Without the existence of the entire video, it just wouldn’t work. In that way, social media is very dependent on more established art forms — without the anchor of cohesive full-length videos, everything is just floating in space. You couldn’t just cut The Shining into a ten minute recap and get the same feeling.
“With viral clips all you get is a momentary ‘wow’ effect, and even though that’s very effective, it’s also restrictive. Skateboarding has so much more to offer.”
This article was taken from issue 06 of WIP magazine, available from Carhartt WIP stores and our online shop.