I stood mired in the greyness; the rain searing through my skin with manic ingenuity. The unflinching drizzle brought an unexpected warmth to my frozen skin, and the tingle of sensation was strangely welcome. I shook my jacket with a passive futility, and continued to stare at the lonely figure sketching invisible lines on the uneven slabs beneath him.
Almost 3000 metres up in the Ecuadorian Highlands, a skater of around 13 or 14 was investing this dilapidated basketball court with a new sense of purpose.
His board, which, on first impression appeared better suited to removing spinach from dental cavities, nevertheless allowed a very individual bag of tricks to be performed on it. He was deterred not by the rain, nor the fact that the nose of his board was joined to the main body by a piece of connecting ply, or even that the resulting imbalance gave it the incline of a drag car.
Attempted double flip nosepick on a courtside rock....a kind of ollie with a delayed kick to the nose (producing a decidedly violent shuvit flip of sorts)....boneless 5-0 grind with one leg hopping adjacent like an old man who missed the last bus by a split-second. These tricks were idiosyncracy in its purest form. Calculated in their conecption, yet see-what-happens in their execution. In a word; different!
I started to think loosely on this juxtaposition between cultures, and reflected that skate culture was just another manifestation of a universal constant.
If we step back a little and think about this, it becomes a little clearer. Consider, for example, the Inca culture of the South American Andes. They constructed an advanced society and edifices to match. They did not, however, have a system of writing, and their society was markedly different from that of Ancient Greece, Byzantine or Ming China. They did not build upon these elements, as they did not know much of their existence. In the Eurasian arena, ideas were traded, religions fused and overlapped, and a fairly linear "progression" was entrenched .
This idea of linear advancement does not, for me, carry the admiration of what we have acheived so far, but rather a concern of what we have failed to achieve! What have we missed?
To scale down again, we just have to look at our skate culture in the ´developed´ world to see how the vast majority follow well-worn trails. The massive media influence we are subjected to, leaves us with little room for independent thought. I am so over-exposed to 360 flips that my skin glows in the dark. In this remote part of Ecuador, there are no skate magazines, skate shops pushing products or trick-trick-trick-homie pose handrail videos. Tricks and styles therefore expand and evolve in their own direction, sequestered from what we see as normal, or average. There´s not much inter-spot travel, and each town has it´s own style and set of tricks. I am serious!
Everyone in Baños (another highland town) is crazy about freestlye skateboarding, whilst the Riobabambans from the next town just can´t get enough of 50-50-jump of your board while it´s still grinding-back on-180 out. Nobody knows who Chad Muska is, and there is a distinct lack of assholes who bite your style because it´s not modern enough or because they see you as somehow inferior. The whole concept is patas arriba, and it reminds me of why I started skating.
Watching this kid, I reaffirmed my commitment there and then to keep travelling, keep growing and building and never taking anything for status quo just because it´s in Transworld Magazine. I wish more people would swap their nollie crooks for a plane ticket and see what they can discover.
I walked up to the skater and introduced myself as Paul Rodriguez and he didn´t bat an eye.