Skateboarding is art
Skateboarding is by nature one of the most creative forms of recreation practiced anywhere in the world. It was born out of pure creativity: a way to go surfing on the street. When the surfing youth of Santa Monica couldn’t fight for space on the local shore to ride the waves, they took to the acres of uninhabited pavement around them.
As legendary skate writer and filmmaker Craig Stecyk put it in a 1975 issue of Skateboarding Magazine:
“Two hundred years of American technology has unwittingly created a massive cement playground of unlimited potential. But it was the minds of 11-year-olds that could see that potential.”
After all, who needs the ocean when you’ve got a parking lot? Now that’s some creativity.
Since those 11-year-olds paved the way in the late 70s, skateboarding has proceeded to crank up the creativity to 11. The sport is surrounded by skateboarding artists, writers, photographers and filmmakers – many of whom are pro skaters themselves.
It’s only natural that creative people seek each other out and come together to collaborate – and the skatepark has always been a breeding ground for creativity. What better place to be the center of it all?
Skaters who make art
Chad Muska is a veteran of the skateboarding scene. At just 17 he started skating professionally for Maple and Toy Machine when he was homeless and living on the beach in San Diego. He moved there from Phoenix after switching to skating from BMX biking.
Muska had nothing but a sketch book and a portable cassette tape player to his name when he started skating professionally. But he was pure art on a skateboard.
In his more than 25 years as a pro Muska has gone from skating for Toy Machine to helping propel Shorty’s into a famous brand to designing some of the most popular skate shoes ever with éS and C1RCA. In 2011, Transworld Skateboarding named him one of their “30 Most Influential Skaters of All Time,” and editor-in-chief Skin Phillips described Muska as “one of the most marketable pros skateboarding has ever seen.”
At 36, that former 17-year-old with nothing but a sketchbook transitioned into making more art full time. In 2013 his debut solo art show, Transitions, followed his “journey of creativity and discovery” from skateboarding to art.
The title of the show “not only stems from the curved surfaces skateboarders ride on in pools, parks and ramps, but it’s also a reference to the skateboard lifestyle which is defined by movement from place to place, and from one state of mind to the next.”
As Muska put it, “It’s about the struggles I’ve been going through in life and what’s next after being a pro skater, something that I’ve done my whole life. Transition is a universal idea that everyone can relate to whether you skate or not, but it’s strongly connected to the roots of skateboarding which is about bending the world to your will and making it rideable – a world without transition is a world that is dull and flat.”
Muska’s work speaks to the true creative origins of the art of skateboarding and exudes the imagination that surrounds the sport today.
Ron Cameron might be the most influential skate artist of all time. His skills arguably shaped the evolution of skateboarding style, and his visionary contributions helped to grow some of the biggest brands in skateboarding.
Cameron was the artist behind Blockhead Skateboards, the company credited with giving skating the look that would come to define it in its early years. Cameron started as a young team rider – but after inking the famous “evil eye” graphic for Sam Cunningham’s signature deck, Cameron took over all graphics and ads for Blockhead, and the brand took off.
Cameron’s style has profoundly influenced the skate art world – anything with that “old skool” look (think wide boards with a flat nose and concave tail) can trace its inspiration back to him.
Artists who skateboard
Lee Spielman and Garrett Stevenson
Lee Spielman and Garrett Stevenson of the hard core punk band Trash Talk co-founded Babylon LA – a branded retail store, community center and skatepark. They moved to LA from Sacramento to promote their band and started Babylon “to create a vibe with just real kids being themselves,” according to Spielman. He added, “the brand has exceeded the band now.”
The goal of Babylon was to create a place for everyone. It’s a spot whose mission speaks not only to the creative nature of skateboarding, but also to the culture of acceptance that has become intertwined with the sport.
Spielman said the shop is open to everyone, “as long as you’re not gonna be an asshole and are just gonna be yourself and a creative individual.” With that attitude his shop has become a hotspot for kids launching their skating careers.
“A lot of kids have gotten opportunities from this shop,” he said. “Now it’s like you fuckin’ flip open these Japanese magazines and it’s all the kids from LA skating. All these kids are taking street snaps and doing every brand’s lookbooks… they seek them out and pull from them because these fools are the real deal.” He added, “These kids are actual skate rats.”
The marriage of skating, art, creative vibes and universal acceptance has made skating a safe haven for kids of all backgrounds, and Spielman and Stevenson personify that image.
Mikey Alfred is another skateboarding artist. He created the LA skate crew and production company Illegal Civ. He was one of the producers on Jonah Hill’s 2018 indy film mid90s about a skateboarding teen – starring pro skater Na-Kel Smith.
Alfred also curated his own event – the Illegal Civ Movie Motel at the 2019 Red Bull Music Festival in Los Angeles – and directed the 2020 film North Hollywood about a skater who wants to go pro against the wishes of his father.
Alfred told Okayplayer. he wants to help creative people who might be on the wrong path to channel their creativity into something positive.
“That’s my whole goal – just building our own institutions and teaching people to stop being timid,” he said. “It’s like everyone in our communities are tough in the wrong situations. It’s like be tough about your future. Be tough about your career.”
Alfred’s toughness and creativity are the reasons he’s found success in art and skateboarding.
Shepard Fairey might be the most famous contemporary artist of our generation – and one of many famous skateboarding artists. Before he was making world-renown US presidential-campaign posters, he was wheatpasting Andre the Giant’s face all over your local community. Why? To make you ask that very question.
Fairey’s subversiveness and rebellious flair spawned from his skateboarding youth – and he has always used his artistic talents to support skateboarding.
Fairey has been skating since 1984 and he has always admired skaters for their culture and music, as well as their skating. Skateboarding introduced Fairey to punk rock, which sparked his journey into political thinking and art. You might say that skateboarding is at the root of every art piece he’s ever created.
Steve Berra rose from poverty to pro-skater fame after he launched the Berrics – the massively popular indoor LA skatepark he founded with fellow skateboarding legend Eric Koston (Berra + Eric = Berrics). Since then his career has included the titles of film director, screenwriter, actor, content creator and brand consultant for companies like Nike, Gatorade and Unilever.
“I took to the counterculture spirit of skateboarding – it kind of just bit me,” Berra told Fast Company in 2017. “It was the perfect blend of athleticism and artistry.”
Berra is living proof that skaters are creators and that skateboarding is not just a sport, but a culture and a lifestyle.
Make a career out of it!
According to a 2011 study from the City University of New York titled The City and the Subculture Career: Professional Street Skateboarding in LA,” the creative roots of skateboarding not only facilitate the development of more innovative skaters, they also provide a place for skaters to learn creative skills they can parlay into other careers.
The study – authored by sociology and anthropology professor Gregory J. Snyder – cites the need for skaters to document their art (skating) – and in doing so producing art themselves. As the study notes:
“This need for documentation and dissemination of skateboard tricks, as well as the need to design and distribute subculture media, skateboards and skateboarding products, makes skateboarding a self-sustaining industry and provides skaters with an opportunity for subculture careers. These careers are in skating and also the ancillary careers necessary to support this industry. These subculture careers have a positive impact on individual skaters by providing opportunities, in many cases where none existed, and also upon the urban centers where this industry is most prominent by drawing creative, talented people to the city to participate in the subculture and quite possibly even make a career.”
Skateboarding isn’t just a creative sport – it’s a launching pad to a sustainable, creative lifestyle that can even become a career.
Get creative with DIVERT!
Whether you’re a kid looking for a fun, creative activity or a rad parent trying to reconnect with your creative routes, DIVERT can help you hop on a skateboard and start creating.
Our Creative Lab offers guided Skills Sessions so you can really explore your creativity on and off the skatepark! DIVERT’s Creative Lab has all the equipment, tech and resources you could need for music, art, photography, videography and more.
DIVERT can give you a place to flex your art muscles in between skate sessions. Shred up the skatepark and then get creative in the studio! We’ve got all your bases covered – schedule a session today!