Another chance?

I wasn’t sure if I should write this article, because it is about very sensitive thing. About image, and essence of aggressive skating, and why both these things are nails in a coffin of this sport. Why it do not have a chance to progress further, and why we can forget about return of golden age of blading, if nothing is going to change. I do not skate for that long, and I am first and foremost, a freeskater.

But I enjoy watching aggressive skating movies, and edits, especially older ones from years up to 2000. Treat this text as a outsider point of view. Maybe you’ll agree with me, maybe you won’t. And maybe you’ll wish I would burn in hell for these words.

I gave myself a green light to write it, after reading interview with Oli Benet. You can’t deny that Oli is very influential person in rollerblading. And you should pay attention to his words, too.

„After months, or even years of watching people arguing on skate sites about USA Vs Europe, Spin to Win and other pointless arguments, I realised that we were a little bit stuck. What is left to attract new skaters into the sport, whether a 720 royale is good or “stupid and French”? It was all so ridiculous to me. Most people don’t become Aggressive skaters from skateboarding or biking, they come from Fitness and Freeskate.”

„After over 10 years of aggressive skating on small wheels, I was absolutely blown away by the actual feeling of rolling. Skating to sessions and switching to an Aggressive setup became more and more frustrating, killing the enjoyment of what has always felt to me like “urban skiing”. When Richie and Dustin came to Barcelona, I lent them my skates as they wanted to explore Barcelona. They were hooked immediately, so we sat down to really analize what it was about rolling that we loved. We began to realize that aggressive was often forgetting the key element of rolling. While Freeskating was a real style of skating at the time, it was never going to satisfy the hardcore skaters that we were, and neither was the hardware.”

Read full Interview here: http://powerblading.org/oli-benet-interview-by-jamie-reid/

Why aggressive skating failed to be as popular as many other “urban” sports are? Probably biggest issue of all, is that aggressive skating evolved in to a blind corner. And you know what happens with species that fail to evolve further – they simply extinct, when environment changes.

When I watch older productions, from mid-nineties, all I can see is VERY raw skating. And that were times when rollerblading was at pinnacle of its popularity. And it was spectacular, impressive way of skating. Balance between going big and technical tricks were shifted towards huge tricks, which are rarely done by skaters nowadays. Crude tricks on ledges, lots of spins, grabs and jumps. And speed, of course. Almost no presence of factor that you would call “style” nowadays. And audience loved it.

I’m not saying that technical tricks aren’t good – they of course they are, as they require ridiculous amount of skill and control. It’s pleasure to watch skilled skater, when you actually know what he is doing, and have knowledge to appreciate it.

But audience, people not in to blading, “X-games crowd”, action sports enthusiasts, call them as you wish,  do not have that knowledge. They do not know why tech tricks are so hard, and do not appreciate them. Because they do not differentiate between grinds, most of them look the same to such people. Difficulty level is hard to recognize for outsider, not to mention judging system at the comps is inconsistent and do not help. There is very little in current form of aggressive blading to attract them.

These people are more likely to be impressed by 360 from set of 5 stairs, than by sweatstance on a curved ledge. For general public rollerblading now looks like curling… rules are complicated and unclear, there are tons of technical nuances, to be good at it lot of experience and skill is required but in the end all they see are guys sliding rocks on ice and other people brushing ice. And when they look at rollerblading, all they see are guys doing spins to and out of grinds on ledges and rails.

To be honest this is simply boring. Even though I like watching aggressive skating edits, most of them fail to impress me. The more ”off” is edit compared to usual grinding routine, the more likely I’ll have fun watching it. It doesn’t need to contain huge drops and tricks and insane speeds. For example, I found Mushroom Blading videos very entertaining, simply because there is lot of creativity in them.

Freestyle slalom community barely managed to escape this “too technical to understand/enjoy as spectator” trap. Many higher level tricks look less impressive than lower level ones in this case too. That’s why these skaters have two rule sets: classic and battle. Thanks to it, there is a place for competition that is based on pure technique, but also for more spectacular one, providing show to the public, and more freedom of style – and fun – to skaters. Aggressive skating do not have anything like that.

Do not fool yourself – when rollerblading exploded, thing that attracted people the most weren’t grinds, as they were in infancy and they were still very basic, but simply – freedom. Rolling, jumps, riding stairs, and most notably, ability to put your skates on and go where you wanted to.

As rollerblading progressed, aggressive became more of a “session on a spot” than “do whatever you like” sport. More akin to skateboarding, where most boarders sit at one spot half day, repeating the same thing over and over. Because not only wheels got smaller (riding around on flat 60mm is still not that bad) but because antirocker setup became pretty much a standard. There is a shortage of good flat frames that allow to ride bigger wheels, without worrying about wheel bite when grinding.

Ridiculous thing is, many bladers ride to a spots, and between them, using public transport or a car. Carrying their skates in their hands. That is saying something about how awry evolution of equipment went in aggressive. Inmag.info published Trust Spec Ops review some time ago. There is no English version, but author wrote under “cons” section very meaningful sentence:

“Liner have its own lacing system: of course it have pros and cons, but add to it lacing of (Valo) Light shells, lacing of skin itself, and it turns out that to put skates on and off you need 5 minutes – it seems like nothing, but I’m very irritated by it, especially, when I frequently  have to get in to a car when switching spots etc.”

And that guy skate for a very long time, and is skilled blader.

Seriously – WTF? You have ROLLERblades and you aren’t able to use them to ROLL between the spots? That is something grotesque. It’s the same level of nonsense as people who get in to a car, to ride to a park, where they run in circle for half an hour. And they call themselves “runners”. When it’s basically impossible or too impractical to simply rollerblade around, can it still be called rollerblading?

Rolling. It was, and is still the thing that attracts people the most to this sport. And when you’ll look at the fact both fitness skating and speedskating are actually larger nowadays than aggressive, you cannot say otherwise. Rolling is fun for majority of skaters. But it is gone, or at best, atrophied element in aggressive skating. Rolling was sacrificed for grinding, and majority of people who skate aren’t that much in to grinding – they would probably enjoy it to some extend if they had option to, but they’ll rather skate fitness skates without ability to grind, than aggressive skates which take away enjoyment of …skating.

Thing is, when rollerblading was young sport, people used they skates as all-purpose ones and used them in whatever way they wanted. It’s not like everyone who bought Roces M12 or RB Tarmac, or early Razors was hardcore aggressive skater. Too high level of specialization killed possibilities, and limited what we can do on skates. For years closest thing to that “raw” style of skating was actually freeskating, but it failed to gain enough attention because very few brands invested in it, and skates price was steep compared to fitness ones. Now powerblading is on a good way to fix this, providing modern gear that actually excels early skates in possibilities.

But, is it even possible to still fix this? While I’m not a delusional to think all aggressive skaters will suddenly go back to style from nineties, there is a light in the tunnel.

While powerblading and freeskating won’t take over aggressive or replace it, their influence is already visible. Most important fact is, more skaters grew tired of small wheels, and companies start to make products that are better for rolling, while still providing relatively easy grinding.

First successful small step were in my opinion Kaltik Flat frames, which made using flat setup more accessible to less skilled skaters. Grindwheels in Adapt (Symmetrics) soulplates are also welcome addition – they allow you to use 72mm-76mm wheels in antirocker setup in slightly modified, but otherwise, standard aggressive frame. New Kizer Slimlines allows for 80mm antirocker setup!

And of course, RB Switch frames – too bad, they are no longer in production. But I hope that RB will bring them back when market for such solutions grew. Tom Hyser already stated that they will eventually release a frame designed more for rolling under Blank brand.

Kizer Level 2 can be described as “halfway there” frame, and actually can bring much desired balance between mobility and grind-ability for those who feel existing frames lack in one of these departments.

I think eventually new frames for 65-72mm flat setups will be created, to give better comfort of rolling while still maintaining characteristics close to current aggressive ones. Maybe skates construction will change? Wheel wells would be an obvious design choice, giving possibility to lower balance of flat frame with bigger wheels.

Of course, hardware is not enough. Skaters must use it! It won’t change anything, if people would do the same things on slightly different frames and larger wheels. Audience wants speed, adrenaline, large gaps. Most viewed skating video of last two years is Greg Mirzoyan riding down the shaft of salt mine, filmed by Ben Brillante. It do not contain any tricks. But it contain loads of adrenaline and speed – what people always loved about rollerblading!

Of course “going big” rollerblading never disappeared completely from the surface of the planet. For example, Pat Lennen section from “4×4-Leading the blind” released  should be treated as instructional movie: “how to be awesome on skates”. It’s simply jaw-dropping.

The same can be said for many other videos released during past years and also in 2012. John Bolino section from Pariah presents technical tricks linked with some impressive gaps. The fact that team TRS finally decided to try Fusion frames and filmed edits skating them. Sven Boekhorst Cityhopper video never failed to amaze any of my non-skating friends.

Chris Haffey and his megaramp stunts reception is great, and show that people do not hate rollerblading, but love it, when it is presented in right way. What Mathieu Ledoux is doing on skates is fresh and minblowing. “Mushroom blading” slowly but surely gains imitators. People on big wheels setups participate in competitions, and wins them. Always powerful skating of Nils Jasons, who blades like he was born to fly. Recent Leon Basin edit. Barcelona Session The Conference edits.

Seba WSX series, bladecross reanimated, is a good thing too – while it do not push tricks as a priority, it shows people that they can use their skates not only to cruise around, and is also very entertaining to watch. Wax&Bombing event in Barcelona.

And many, many more! Actually too much, to write it all down here.

I do not know if more “unorthodox” approach to skating will actually help aggressive, but I think that’s best chance for rollerblading to regain its place among extreme/action sports. Spin to grind, switchup fetishism failed to get more people in to the sport, and failed to get enough media attention. Maybe different approach will manage to?

…and now I think I’ll simply lie down and wait for death delivered by fangs and claws of haters who want my blood…

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