CAN IT BE ALL SO SIMPLE?

Celebrating the golden age of lo-fi skateboarding through the combined efforts of Mike Manzoori and Jon Miner in 1997.

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“Yo back… Remember back in the days when… Shit, everything was all smooth and calm and shit was like…”

RZA, Can it be all so simple Intermission, Enter the 36 Chambers, Wu Tang Clan, BMG / RCA Records / Loud Records

Listen as the RZA reminisces with rose-tinted glasses of time passed. A simpler epoch that raised the Wu Tang Clan as children and led them towards illustrious careers in music. Every generation is raised by its parents’ generation and seeks inspiration from their grandparents’ generation. This 30 year gap repeats itself over and over again like the samples the RZA mines and buries into his sonic deliveries. James Brown, The Delfonics, Isaac Hayes, Gladys Knight were all major figures of music before the RZA was conceived yet they live on through his music.

RZA reminiscing

One generation takes the creative output of another and builds upon it to reveal something they can call their own. Whatever it is they display, the new generation’s output does not look identical to its predecessor even if there are clear traces of an outline. This homage of sorts is quickly summarised as a fashion or trend.

Currently in skateboarding, Twenty-something year olds have looked back upon the Nineties as a treasure trove of ideas to identify themselves with. The most notable influence is felt in the tricks and the clothing. Pressure flips, board shapes and baggy trousers are back. Some might say with a vengeance. A common denominator for teenagers is to try and do the exact opposite of whatever their elders would expect of them. More often than not, ideas of self-expression are pushed to the extreme. Such extremes are often ugly and thankfully short-lived.

Kader Sylla, Kenny Schmidt and Daryl Dominguez Vs The pressure flip
(KylerAdidas / Natural High by Elenex / Pack Light by Baglady)

By digging a little deeper, settling into the bed they have made for themselves, some contemporary skateboarders have focused primarily on the simplification of their tricks. Flipping a board is no longer necessary and neither is launching over something potentially dangerous. Instead, ollies, powerslides, footplants, grabs and varials are the order of play. A dedication to the lo-fi annals of skateboarding manoeuvrability has recently established itself as a baseline for many to adhere to. There may even be some who hide behind this façade of basic skating to deny the fact that they simply aren’t that good at riding their boards yet. Others are lost and without logic. But that is just a spiteful opinion not worth pursuing. No, instead there are those who embrace the flow of things and enjoy the ride wherever it takes them.

Tom Botwid negates the ollie

Studying this timeline of styles within skateboarding, it is difficult to consider the concept of Time as a basic measurement of history in tandem with Space. Time is in flux, racing in fact, against the steady advance of technology. Skateboarding uses technology as a tool to justify, analyse and share itself throughout its networks and beyond. At first there were photos, then film, then video, more video, ever more video and finally social media. Video consumption has gone from rare homegrown morsels to veritable mass produced smorgasbords of footage pouring through every portal. One single offering is no longer enough. There is a constant stream of videos available at a touch for those who dare look. The relationship between style and technology is complicated and compact. With so much footage to process, there is effectively something for everyone, all facets available yet no obvious way to filter and focus on the content. The video clip is living in a new era where its value is undetermined. How things will settle is anyone’s guess but one thing is for sure, the bargaining chip of the industry is far from its net worth of the fabled mid-Nineties.

Wes Kremer living analogue in a digital age

The reason skate videos from that golden era are so cherished and remembered is that they offer snapshots of specific individuals, places and performances that cannot be repeated. A single record of a trick is all there was to justify another stone being placed into the foundations of skate culture. Today, anyone can record a trick and share it to the world without due diligence. Of course there is still amazing skating going on but the market is flooded, gorged and stale just like a sad landscape ravaged by a deadly tsunami.

Without digressing further on the state of the skate video, it is important to identify and pay respect to the masters of simple skateboarding. Who were the skateboarders that best represented the universal language of a straightforward 50-50 or frontside air? As skaters, filmers and men, Mike Manzoori and Jon Miner both came up during a highly competitive yet frugal period for the culture. During the mid-Nineties, skateboarders matched technical prowess against determined heroics with style becoming the deciding factor of respect and honour. Money was not so much an issue even if hard work would eventually pay off for some.

Bobby Puleo doesn’t want to see another polejam

So what of the few who had neither switch ledge skills nor balls of steel nor the support of comfortable endorsements? Who led these denizens of the community that mastered the ollie, the kickflip, and the lipslide – the ones who could control their centre of gravity at speed? The neutrality of this social demographic saw its members ride all terrain. They were hard to classify as they jumped on rails and ledges just as much as they bombed hills and carved bowls. Mike Manzoori and Jon Miner were actively documenting this nomad tribe of skaters who just skated whatever lay ahead of them and made sure to have fun doing so.

Mike and Jon’s combined knowledge of skateboard mechanics and magic helped them both carve out faultless careers within the skateboard industry as filmers and camera handlers. Their dedication to their art was condensed into a single montage for Transworld Skateboarding Magazine and released in 1997 as part of a feature length project alongside the work of other notable skateboard cinematographers. As such, the video was titled Cinematographer and was later revisited on two more occasions. The Cinematographer Project released in 2011 and the Cinematographer Project: World View released in 2017.

Mike Manzoori & Jon Miner, Transworld Cinematographer (1997)

Mike and Jon’s edit for Cinematographer is a finely crafted mix of Hi-8, Digital and cellular film played over the soundscape of Tortoise’s instrumental track Gooseneck. For those who remember shopping in music stores, Gooseneck sounds like something you might find in the Indie or World Music aisles where nomads of society moved freely. The cast for their Cinematographer project are a mixed bunch with no clear affiliation between them in so much as the mediatised skate community permitted during the mid to late Nineties. Flip riders Luke McKirdy – a lesser known British amateur – and Ali Boulala – a Swede still very much in touch with his fresher and baggier origins – rub shoulders with San Francisco transplants Dan Drehobl and Tim McKinney.

Luke McKirdy, the lesser known Flip rider
Pre-punk era Ali Boulala was a treat

There are possible common threads that link Chip Van Ham – probably the greatest name in skateboarding – to Hanzy Driscoll and Shortys professional Steve Olson. It is either the cloud of curly hair Chip and Steve share or the Shortys t-shirt Hanzy wears. Rather, it is the spontaneous nature of the straight forward tricks each of them brings to the table. An ollie over a rail into a steep bank by Chip, a 50-50 transfer on a round rail to drop by Steve, and a quick-footed ollie up a steep bank to 50-50 down a virgin bannister of sorts by Hanzy. Non-spots become spots for those best versed in every terrain. Sheets of plywood lead the way over utility boxes and mounds of dirt to create ephemeral pyramids. Only the control of a powerslide is the saving grace from the abrasive and hard surfaces of a city or space that offers a terrain suitable for 60mm wheels.

Hanzy Driscoll puts wood to good use

Mike and Jon feature submissively in their own edit with a couple of clips each. Jon performs a backside flip on an embankment to backside 180 over a wall onto a stage below with a small drop down to the street. Then he does a fast manual to clear a grass gap. Mike offers a quick manual to ollie up and kickflip down a three block then drops in on a huge kinked hubba. These tricks are just enough for the viewer to understand that they understand what they are doing and how to do it. Other media handlers share the moment with them. Brian Gaberman, Mat O’Brien and Joel Price add their skills to the sepia seeped palette of this Cinematographer project.

Mat O’Brien rides urban transition

Somehow the inclusion of fellow photographers and filmers adds validity to the overall composition of the montage. Mat O’Brien rides up and over a steep jersey barrier, then carves around and rises up over and out again via another near vertical wall as if the barrier spot were the urban equivalent of a steep backyard pool. Joel Price gets full exposure for his pump and slide out of the Santa Rosa bowl before a sharper second angle picks up where the first angle left off and takes us further into the concrete playground. Brian Gaberman hits the screen with a beautifully rotated nollie frontside heelflip around a tight corner. Later he skates head on towards the camera to grind up a ledge. The camera retreats to reveal the fire hydrant Brian needs to clear on the dismount.

Brian Gaberman pops and twists around corners

Today’s generation of street skaters seek speed and sophistication by doing slappies on standard issue curbs that meet zoning regulations. They take their boardslides and grinds to greater lengths and reach down to pull themselves free of danger. The clothes are baggy, very baggy with logos, designs, cuts and colours that scream for attention. The tricks are amazing but the decor is dramatic. And the music – because all good videos have their soundtrack – is often hard to describe… Benchmarks have been surpassed but they will never match the perfect balance that Mike Manzoori and Jon Miner maintained for just over four minutes as kickflips and manuals were dressed in plain t-shirts, chinos or shorts to the sound of acoustic instruments. There was no desire to stand out or hide in plain sight. Mike, Jon and friends focused their energy on skating and the feeling of riding away from a fast ollie. The feeling that keeps everyone skating.

The following videos and music were sampled (in chronological order):

  • Can it be all so simple / The Wu Tang Clan Enter the 36 chambers / The RZA
  • On Video Magazine Winter 2002 / From the ground up Rodney Mullen / Steve Rocco
  • Bobshirt Tim Anderson Transworld Skateboarding Magazine / Bobby Puleo
  • Bobshirt Tim Anderson Transworld Skateboarding Magazine / Aaron Meza
  • Ride Channel Free Lunch / Wes Kremer
  • Transworld Skateboarding Magazine / Daewon Documentary / Daewon Song
  • Epicly Later Patrick O’Dell Vice Media / Brandon Westgate Part 3 / Brandon Westgate
  • Transworld Skateboarding Magazine Cinematographer / Mike Manzoori Jon Miner opening credits
  • Transworld Skateboarding Magazine Cinematographer opening credits / Palace Brothers I am a cinematographer
  • Transworld Skateboarding Magazine The Cinematographer Project opening credits / Crystal Castles Vanished
  • Transworld Skateboarding Magazine The Cinematographer Project World View opening credits
  • Transworld Skateboarding Magazine / Cinematographer / Mike Manzoori Jon Miner section / Tortoise Gooseneck Extracts
  • Polar Skate Co We blew it at some point / Dane Brady / Narada Michael Walden The dance of life
  • Vague Skate Mag Jude Harrison / Harrison Woolgar Four / The Brian Jonestown Massacre Tempo 116.7
  • Limosine Paymaster Genesis Evans / Doris Usher
  • Transworld Skateboarding Magazine / Cinematographer / Mike Manzoori Jon Miner section / Tortoise Gooseneck
  • Bobshirt Tim Anderson Transworld Skateboarding Magazine / Bobby Puleo

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