Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Gordon Students Win Big at Regional Skateboarding Contest (and Why It's Not About Winning at All)

Brian Glenney, assistant professor of philosophy and skateboarding enthusiast, shares a story of how two Gordon students are making some impressive (concrete and wooden) waves in New England:

The Fall Brawl, New England’s largest amateur skateboarding contest, took place earlier this month. Among the highly selective crop of 50 invited competitors were Gordon College students Matt Lane ’13, a recreation and leisure studies major, and Steve Mull ’15, an English major.

After warm-ups—a kind of Battle Royale which seemed to defy not only Newton’s laws of nature but Hobbes’ nasty, brutish, and short state of nature—competitors plied their tricks in groups of five for several minutes while judges jotted notes and, at points, covered their eyes. Following a few elimination rounds (a term I use in both its technical and descriptive senses), only two groups remained. Both our heroes, Gordiators we might call them, remained in the fight.

Allow me a moment to clarify something: skateboarding is not a sport. These contests are not really a competition amongst skateboarders. Skateboarding is, rather, an inherently kinetic activity of the body—not unlike ballet or other forms of artistic dance—which simply adds further dimensions of speed and landscape. What do you have when you add landscape to ballet? Parkour. Now, add speed—pushing-a-wheeled-stick-as-hard-as-possible-with-your-mobile-leg speed—and you get skateboarding. Add several skateboarders together, you get a session. Add judges, you get a contest. The Fall Brawl, then, is really some breed of obstacled, high-speed, free-form ballet—and Lane and Mull are kinetic artists of rare quality.

However, let’s not let this information take away the social meaning and fiscal value from a further set of facts: A this year’s Fall Brawl, Matt Lane took 1st place and $1000. Steve Mull took 2nd place and $450. And there’s little reason to be surprised. Consider the following:

“Matt [Lane]’s the best up-and-coming skater in Boston, hands down,” I overheard from Josh, part-owner of Boardwalk Skate Shop and Indoor Skate Park in Woburn. Matt’s recent feature article in Steez, a top skateboarding magazine, sharpen Josh’s point, as does Matt’s mug on the cover of another premier magazine, Focus. What makes Matt so good is that he rarely misses a trick. What’s more, every trick he does is done faster and bigger than anyone else who does that trick. I feel sorry for the obstacles in Matt’s landscape. It’s like watching a silverback gorilla move across a jungle floor: the trees might try to get out of the way, but the silverback is just too quick. Power, courage and backbone like Matt’s—well, you just can’t buy that stuff.

Steve Mull, whose signature board just came out with his sponsor, Vermont Skateboards (yes, I mean that Steve Mull has a skateboard deck with his name printed on it in fancy script next to graphics that would make any street artist go legal), is a different kind of skater. His style is influenced by the round and sloped semi-rural landscape of his home, Vermont. This kid is pure style. (And to use this word, ‘style,’ multiple times, as I intend to, is not being repetitive when describing Steve Mull.) Mull’s contest performance was marked by his signature trick, a very long, stylish stalefish crooked, which looks something like this (skip ahead to 2:30). It’s a trick as difficult as it is original. Steve Mull: innovator, innovator, innovator… and style-king… and owner of a heart-warming smile that could melt a Vermont winter.

Matt Lane, Steve Mull, we love you. You make Gordon proud—for your backbone and your style; for throwing your whole selves onto those boards.

Brian Glenney, PhD, is assistant professor of philosophy at Gordon College, where he also teaches a skateboarding physical education class. In addition to his peer-reviewed scholarly work on philosophical psychology and perception, Glenney has been an active skateboarder and (reformed, legal) street artist for over twenty years. His scholarly interests in perception and personal passions for art and mobility have recently coalesced into the Accessible Icon Project, a collaboration with Harvard artist Sara Hendren to transform the International Symbol of Access (the Wheelchair Symbol) into an “active, engaged image.”

Photos: 1—Steve Mull ’15, Frontside 180 Kickflip; 2—Matt Lane ’13, Frontside Nosegrind


Mango Corduroy said...

This is awesome. I have just picked up skating as a hobby and this kind of stuff is inspirational. Keep it uprea

Mango Corduroy said...

This is awesome, guys. I have picked up skating as a hobby and this stuff is really inspirational. Keep it up

Rich Oges said...

As a dad in the community, I'm very proud of Steve - Great Job - Mr. Oges !!! :-))