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Altered Route: A Deeper Skateboarding Experience

Kilian Martin in “Altered Route” by Brett Novak Most clips of skateboarding I’ve seen simply show the skill and artistry of the skater, and that’s all they really need to do. Being a plebian to skateboarding world, my furthest venture into includes walking into a skate shop and buying a pair of Vans.  But as I watched the coupling of Martin’s skill with the overtones suggested in the musical score and location, true artistry emerged. Novak opens on Martin driving out to the “All new Lake Resort” and “Waterpark” now ironically deserted and in the middle of the Mojave. Abandoned, empty and dry the “oasis” promised is now littered with fast food wrappings. The message could not be clearer. Consumerism led us to assume that riches existed in little pockets, ideas, places and ventures waiting to be tried. America was a land with waterfalls of promise, pools of comfort, a land that would never dry up. We set up shop in a desert, thinking that creating a good system could ensure success. But the truth about capitalism and any other system is that things deteriorate without continual upkeep. Simply writing the words growing economy doesn’t create stability any more that posting a sign for water ensures the continuing existence of an oasis in the middle of the desert. It seems that something similar happened to skateboarding. Back in high school the walk home was punctuated with the rolling and popping of skateboarders over concrete. Now I live next to a middle school, and I have yet to see one skateboard. When skateboarding as an individual every fall brings pain, but the risk is for themselves, to themselves. Once corporations saw the potential for a consumer draw and large monetary returns the effect of a skater’s fall expanded. For a professional athlete of any sort, the scraped knee or the buckling of an elbow ripples out to fans, promoters, and most importantly investors. From a capitalist perspective the fall of one person from a rolling wooden board was a risk taken by many. Suddenly all this pressure to stay afloat overburdened the board, weighing it down with fears bigger than the man and only the most resilient (and some of those less resilient and more cash supported) could keep pushing across the bleak outlook left in capitalism’s wake. Risk isn’t fun under all that responsibility. There is a lack of serious statistical analysis on skateboarding either as a hobby or professionally. Go figure. But there are enough people interested in the sport have troubled to gather numbers. On a national scale the non-profit Outdoor Foundation reported that from 2006 to 2013 the number of participants in skateboarding decreased by almost 4 million in the U.S. Perhaps, like the economic draught, those who are just starting out are disillusioned by the shark-infested waters of a severe capitalist market in which winning and success are the only goals. The biggest and brightest at everything seem secure, controlling the best waters and making attempts at anything feel intimidating. Most of those who recently graduated college can feel even if they don’t know for a fact that worthwhile jobs have become less accessible. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an unemployment rate that hovers around 10% between 2007 and 2011. And the lack of career worthy jobs for graduates, what is called underemployment, has dipped significantly as well. The Wall Street Journal, that bastion of conservatism, recently published a piece on the 284,000 college graduates who, although not unemployed, work in minimum wage jobs. But, since when do skaters respect the establishment. Novak, like the kids of Dogtown, has presented an alternative way of looking at the bleak atmosphere left behind by withering effects. As the draught hit southern California drained pools became perfect skate parks. As the camera follows Martin through the deserted oasis you are first struck by his loneliness. He is the only thing that moves with autonomy, all else is lifeless. The palm trees leaves hang sad, untouched by even the slightest breeze. An abandoned skateboard rests on edge, its wheels uselessly horizontal to the ground. The use of old footage fading in and out around the now empty spaces where Martin skates juxtaposes the waterpark’s once vibrant life with its currently vast emptiness. Martin skates across the whole property, using what is left to perpetrate tricks and willfully create something from dust.  The struggle is real. His concentration reads intense despite his downturned head and one can imagine his blood might even be streaked across a few concrete slabs. For all the risk, the reward is materialistically little. Sound plays just as important a roll in the film. The score, “Adventures in Your Own Backyard”, by Patrick Watson attests to the possibility apparent even in the midst of the mundane.  lot’s dusty ghosts. Choirs of voices call out a melancholy sound mirroring the dusty ghosts of the abandoned park. Those voices are only to superseded by the hopeful sound of trumpets and lively maracas melding perfectly with Martin’s dynamic movements and the echo of his board. Martin appears independently, but he is not by himself. He holds the focus of this film because he is the one person on camera, but he builds upon this piece of art created at least in part by a crew of people. Someone held the camera, the mic, ensured lighting, provided boards. We are especially reminded of the fact that Martin performs for the camera because Novak makes intentional use of editing with flashbacks, the music, the use of slow motion and cuts between stunts. This art comes to you through a medium which in itself is an art form with risks and sometimes very little reward. The video engages others to create as well with the second skateboard suggests possibility by opening up a space and a medium for others.  At the start of the video a skateboard rests tipped to the side, wheels uselessly horizontal to the ground. It could be forgotten within the scheme of the video, except, another board appears halfway through one of Martin’s tricks. The board rolls away before Novak cuts to another shot. Then a board inexplicably appears once again for a handstand on double boards at the end of the film and as Martin rolls away, the rider-less board continues on its own, without a rider, in tangent, but independent of Martin.  An empty skateboard needs a skater to keep moving. Creating something for ourselves out of what seems empty is never easy. But this video to me suggests that my best hope lies in continuing to do something just for me, to dance through the dust and delight in the freedom of an abandoned space, to create in this time that’s been given me.       Cited material in order of appearance: Altered Routes. Dir. Brett Novak. Perf. Kilian Martin. 29 May 2012. Outdoor Foundation. “2014 Outdoor Recreation Participation Topline Report”. Statistica. 6 Oct. 2014 <http://www.statista.com/statistics/191308/participants-in-skateboarding-in-the-us-since-2006/>. Casselman, Ben. “Number of the Week: College Grads in Minimum Wage Jobs.” Wall Street Journal 30 Mar. 2013. 6 Oct. 2014  <http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2013/03/30/ number-of-the-week-college-grads-in-minimum-wage-jobs/>. Watson, Patrick. “Adventures in Your Own Backyard.” 2012.

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