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Answer Is Never: A Skateboarder's History of the World

Answer Is Never: A Skateboarder's History of the World

by Jocko Weyland, Jockey Weyland

From the hard-ridden half-pipe of a suburban driveway to teens doing boardslides down stairway handrails in Rio de Janeiro, from the bright-light glare of ESPN's X-Games to the groundbreaking street-skating videos of Spike Jonze, skateboarding has taken the world by storm -- and if you can't deal with that, get out of the way. In The Answer Is Never, skating


From the hard-ridden half-pipe of a suburban driveway to teens doing boardslides down stairway handrails in Rio de Janeiro, from the bright-light glare of ESPN's X-Games to the groundbreaking street-skating videos of Spike Jonze, skateboarding has taken the world by storm -- and if you can't deal with that, get out of the way. In The Answer Is Never, skating journalist Jocko Weyland tells the rambunctious story of a rebellious sport that began as a wintertime surfing substitute on the streets of Southern California beach towns more than forty years ago and has evolved over the decades to become a fixture of urban youth culture around the world. Merging the historical development of the sport with passages about his own skating adventures in such wide-ranging places as Hawaii, Germany, and Cameroon, Weyland gives a fully realized portrait of a subculture whose love of free-flowing creativity and a distinctive antiauthoritarian worldview has inspired major trends in fashion, music, art, and film. Along the way, Weyland interweaves the stories of skating pioneers like Gregg Weaver and the Dogtown Z-Boys and living legends like Steve Caballero and Tony Hawk. He also charts the course of innovations in deck, truck, and wheel design to show how the changing boards changed the sport itself, enabling new tricks as skaters moved from the freestyle techniques that dominated the early days to the extreme street-skating style of today. Vivid and vibrant, The Answer Is Never is a fascinating book as radical and unique as the sport it chronicles.

Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
This chronicle, by a seasoned practitioner, of the halting but persistent ascent of skateboarding is sharp and winning, depicting from the inside the evolution of a subculture that has retained its stylistic distinctiveness even as it has spawned ESPN shows and tacky merchandising franchises. Unfortunately, Weyland spends too much time fretting that skaters have gone soft, and lamenting the decay of the anti-authoritarianism that once animated the sport. But his picture of the real world in which skaters live belies his warmed-over Frankfurt School critique, and he is at his best when he writes about what skating gave him as a kid -- what it's like to awaken to a sense of possibility, and to realize that what you've grown up with is not what you're stuck with.
Publishers Weekly
At the beginning of this slim history of skateboarding, the author makes it clear that his version will be biased, prejudiced and discriminating. Weyland has been hooked on skateboarding for more than 20 years (he is 33 years old), making objectivity all but impossible. Instead, Weyland has written what amounts to a love letter to skateboarding and its culture. He cobbles old articles and reportage from skating magazines like Skateboarder and Thrasher into a breezy narrative of the sport from its birth in 1960s California as a way for surfers to pass the time when the waves were flat to the hugely popular sport of today, regularly featured on ESPN. Along the way readers meet legends like the Dogtown Z-Boys (skating pioneers who were recently the subject of a documentary film), Steve Caballero and Tony Hawk. But the real strength of this book comes from the personal experiences he skillfully drops in the mix. He does a great job explaining how, growing up as an alienated kid, skating offered him an alternative to institutionalized jock mentality and its attendant boorishness. Through his vivid remembrances, he offers a glimpse into the rebellious skating culture in the 1980s when it was still far underground. And while Weyland lapses a bit into sentimentality over today' s commercialization of the sport, he always returns to its true spirit. As he writes, It' s slamming onto cement and getting purple hip contusions that stick to your pants for weeks, riding on rain-soaked sidewalks and arguing with old ladies and running from cops. This is a rallying cry to true skate punks everywhere. (Sept.) Forecast: Excerpts from the book will appear in skateboarding magazine Thrasher (circulation of 500,000), which should drive sales. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Extreme sports have gained popularity, but little is known about their origins. Here in exhaustive detail are the roots of skateboarding from its surfing ancestry to roller-skating to street boarding. At age thirty-something, Weyland relates his lifelong passion for skateboarding, enthusiastically defining the activity as one that appeals to rebellious teens, offers no guidelines or rules, and as the sport gains popularity, defies authority. Although valuable for its historical research, this book could easily be titled A Text on Skateboarding Locomotion 101, it is so detailed. A target audience of fourteen- through sixteen-year-olds might not comprehend phrases such as "rising speed as a destroyer of perception's stability, creating simultaneous panic and tranquility in ordered minds." Throughout the text, Weyland drops pop culture references and names that might be completely lost to today's teens. Despite providing an authoritative alternative to Thrasher magazine, it is doubtful that skating free-stylists would read this book cover-to-cover. The disappointing section of dated black-and-white photos also discourages casual browsing. Despite these drawbacks, there is a place in the young adult section for the book. Many teens, when assigned a report on a topic of their choice, will choose skateboarding. Here in one volume is the development of the boards, slang, an explanation of the skating lifestyle, the evolution of stunts, and publications promoting the sport. An extensive list of sources used adds to the book's value as a research title. Index. Photos. Source Notes. VOYA CODES: 3Q 2P S A/YA (Readable without serious defects; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; SeniorHigh, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 2002, Grove Press, 354p,
— Rollie Welch
Weyland's (he's an editor for and a contributor to ) intelligently written memoir chronicles a youth spent skateboarding and listening to punk music in California, Hawaii, and Africa (his fairly enlightened parents moved a lot). At the end of this memoir, Weyland bemoans the popularity of skateboarding now and the attendant loss of a subculture he cherished. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
An enthusiast recounts the rise of skateboarding and his own experiences with the sport. Exhibiting the skateboarder's trademark gusto, newcomer Weyland begins his history of this outsider sport with the Big Bang, leaps to Hawaii circa 1900, and winds up at the Los Angeles drought of 1975, during which bone-dry swimming pools became the new frontier for hitherto earthbound skateboarders. After explaining how plastic wheels helped usher in a new era of skating tricks, the author profiles the rise of the sport and its contemporary heroes. Completists may revel in Weyland's detailed critique of early skateboarding magazines, movies, and books; others may skip these chapters entirely in favor of those where he chronicles his own love affair with skating. The author became enamored of the sport at age nine; he embraced it through the 1980s, when as a teenaged punk he enjoyed any activity that could be seen as out of favor with the mainstream; and he continues to practice today. The most engaging passages, even though they have little to do with skateboarding as such, describe the isolation Weyland felt in his small Colorado hometown, his dependence on mail-order records and magazines for outsider culture, his intense and immediate connection with the few young men he met who shared his passion. Unfortunately, his descriptions of skating remain opaque; he is unable to translate terms like "ollie," "fakie," or "boneless" and brings none of the sport’s fabled grace to the page. Enamored of phrasing so ponderous as to be farcical ("Play is a manifestation of an atavistic legacy that can be traced back to the propensity for the animals of all higher species to cavort and roughhouse"), Ol’ Jocko isin grave danger of crushing his entire narrative. Never gets off the ground.

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Read an Excerpt

The Answer Is Never

A Skateboarder's History of the World

Grove Press

Copyright © 2002 Jocko Weyland
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0802139450

Chapter One

Noble Pursuits

From the instant of the singularity that began the universe, movement has been a constant. Clouds of matter became stars and planets that were propelled away from each other, a scenario of unstinting expansion that continues to this day. Hundreds of millions of years after the big bang, the earth coalesced into a planet, spinning and moving along with the rest of the universe. The parts of this particular planet mimicked the entropy of the larger reality. Plates of rock shifted, mountains rose, volcanoes erupted. Moisture turned to vapor that became clouds and then rain, which fell to the earth to become streams and rivers that emptied into seas and oceans that sent waves crashing to the shore. Unending, eternal movement.

With the arrival of life the movement continued. In the beginning it wasn't planned or desired-the amoeba unthinkingly jostled to and fro-but by the time of the original amphibian crawling out onto shore, propulsion had become willful. Evolution led to more intricate creatures, moving, always moving, now with self-determination. Locomotion in the service of obtaining food, of seeking out new habitats to escape predators. At some point there was a development of movement that didn't have anyclearly useful purpose. The baby cubs rolled and tumbled, the ancestors of dolphins jumped and splashed. They were playing; their actions didn't have a practical or easily decipherable reason.

Down the line, humanity evolved and had to move like all the other creatures. Except during sleep and infrequent periods of rest, they had to hunt and chase game and run away from fiercer fauna. The new species also traveled, leaving its birthplace in Africa and spreading out across the globe. At some point, humans came up with ways to move themselves along that didn't rely on their two feet. Floating rafts pushed by sticks and paddles and sails, then most importantly, the wheel facilitated this movement of the human body from one place to another. In addition to this, there were domesticated animals that were eventually ridden for transportation. And some of these, the horse in particular, could go much faster than humans could on their own.

The harnessing of the domesticated animal to the wheel led to the rounded object as an engine of recreation, and the primal urge for speed blossomed. The mechanical advancement of the wheel allowed humans to figure out ways to ride in chariots and wagons, gliding with the forces of nature to become one with them, and in doing so to experience the joy of unshackled propulsion.

In myriad ways, the mechanical device married to natural forces enabled this urge for movement and unlocked the purely psychological reasons that were behind it all-a need for release, uncertainty and fear induced on purpose at high speed. All over the world, the ways of doing it emerged and multiplied. The horse was ridden faster, initiates jumped off of towers with only a vine attached to their feet, rafts shot rapids, and ships were flung forward by the power of the wind. A singular relationship to the earth based on independent movement came into being, to risking death in the pursuit of vertigo and using speed as a destroyer of perception's stability, creating simultaneous panic and tranquillity in ordered minds. Whether thrill-seeking, fun-making or an attempt to clear the mind of prosaic concerns, these urges fed a hunger to test balance and the body's ability to stay upright under adverse conditions.

Surely from the very beginning of the wheel or the sled, somebody was going too fast, using the device in a way that wasn't commensurate with its purpose. There is archaeological proof that points to later developments in the recreational use of wheels attached to a platform. Skis found in a bog in Hoting, Sweden have been carbon-dated to five thousand years, and prehistoric rock drawings at Rodoy in Norway and in northern Siberia from around 2500 B.C. show skis being used for hunting and traveling across snow-covered land. Later there are reports from the Tang Dynasty of Mongolian tribes riding MuMu (wooden horses), and Bishop Adam of Bremen in 1000 A.D. described skridfinns (sliding Finns) who "borne on bent boards ... traverse the heights which are covered with snow." The Norse sagas tell of contests that document less disciplined and dreamier uses for skis. In the nineteenth century, a poor Norwegian farmer named Sondre Overson Norheim began experimenting with ski and binding design. He almost went bankrupt, and his wife was reduced to begging for food, but by 1868 he went to the Molmenkollen ski competition where his technical breakthroughs helped him win in both the jumping and style skiing events. Skiing took off soon after as an arena for physical flights of fancy that had nothing to do with work.

But the roots of skateboarding are found far away from the mountains of northern Europe, in the much warmer climes of the Pacific. The Polynesians went one step further than the Scandinavians, using another kind of platform on an aquatic stage-the moving wave. The inspiration might have come from riding canoes in the surf, though before that, they were surely engaging in bodysurfing, one of the purest manifestations of a body acquiring speed via a natural force. Surfing waves with the body was going on in Tahiti, Samoa, New Zealand and New Guinea, but it wasn't until the eastern migration from the Society Islands to Hawaii around 500 A.D. that surfing developed the intermediary platform to balance on that bodysurfing lacked. By 1000 A.D., he'e nalu-surfboard riding-had been perfected in the waters surrounding the Hawaiian Islands.

By the time Captain James Cook landed in 1778, surfing was a cross between sport, leisure activity and religious ritual that amazed the Europeans with its combination of skill, talent, balance and daring. The Hawaiians owed much to the ocean; they lived by it and it had a profound influence on their lives. But surfing was special and mostly reserved for the royal classes, the alii. The kapu (taboo) system deemed it for the most part unvirtuous for commoners to engage in bowling, running, canoe races and especially surfing. It was the alii who had the time to really pursue surfing and who could use the lengthier and better olo boards, and it was their ceremonies that had the greatest religious import.

Building a proper olo board began by selecting the right tree with an offering of kumu fish and incantations by a kakuna (priest) at the base of the trunk. After the tree was cut down, the board was custom-built for a specific owner; shaped for the least amount of traction and maximum maneuverability. When it was completely carved it was polished with oahi stone rubbers, stained with the ash of burned kukui nuts and shined to reflection with kukui oil. The kakuna performed further rites upon the launching of the board. Then the alii owner paddled the wiliwili-wood board, fourteen feet long, five inches thick and weighing 150 pounds, out beyond the breakers to wait for a good set. As the wave approached, the rider got prone and paddled until the board was at enough of a slant on the incoming wave and in one feline, graceful movement, got to his or her feet. Standing upright, he or she rode the wave in, maneuvering by leaning left and right, rushing and gliding toward the shore with the power and roar of the curling wave. On these isolated islands in the Pacific, the alii were the avant-garde in rejecting mere transportation for a more transcendent connection to nature, one in which they tempted fate by going to the heart of the ocean's power to ride big waves.

Contact with outsiders following Captain Cook's arrival ripped Hawaiian society apart. The influx of explorers and then traders destabilized the civic situation and fostered a concurrent cultural revolution. Only fifty years after Cook's landing, the society was in such disarray that the taboo system was abolished. In 1820 the first Calvinist missionaries arrived from New England, and the war on surfing began. According to missionary Sheldon Dibble. "The evils resulting from all these sports and amusements have in part been named. Some lost their lives thereby, some were severely wounded, maimed and crippled, some were reduced to poverty, both by losses in gambling and by neglecting to cultivate the land; the instances were not few in which they were reduced to utter starvation. But the greatest evil of all resulted from the constant intermingling, without any restraint, of persons of both sexes and of all ages, at all times of day and at all hours of the night." The betting that went along with surfing and the scanty clothing worn in the water seemed to inspire particular horror among the missionaries. One of the first converts was Kaahumanu, King Kamehameha's widow, who had ascended to power as de facto prime minister. The missionaries saw the end of taboo as a sign from God that their mission had holy sanction. They convinced Kaahumanu and the other alii converts that surfing and other leisurely pastimes would offend heaven. The alii quickly decreed that these activities should stop.

So there were new taboos after all that coincided with the disintegration of Hawaiian society, a reshuffling of massive proportions. Some of the missionaries despaired at the passing of "noble" pursuits like surfing, but the damage was done. By the late nineteenth century, Caucasians were the important ministers in what was effectively a puppet government. The noveau-riche royal figureheads were so enamored with their newfound wealth and zest to acquire foreign luxuries that they taxed the commoners exorbitantly, forcing them to work harder and robbing them of any serious leisure time. Barter and trade replaced the subsistence-based economy, and the Hawaiians began to imitate the more technologically advanced Caucasians. The removal of the old gods and ways created a vacuum for a headlong rush to the new, in particular a mania for reading and writing. In Kauai surfboards were turned into desks for schools. The family and traditional crafts degenerated along with a catastrophic decline in the native population, from three hundred thousand in 1778 to forty thousand in 1900. The annual Makahiki sporting festival became a thing of the past. The cumulative effect of all these factors was that for all intents and purposes surfing was dead by the beginning of the twentieth century.

But some Hawaiians must have been surfing in secret, riding hidden breaks by moonlight; some rebels continued to hear the siren song of the crashing waves. In the early twentieth century surfing was resuscitated. Maybe atavistic longings could only be suppressed for so long. Maybe the example of skiing as pure recreation had echoed; perhaps the railroad and faster ships and the possibilities of aviation reawakened dreams of flight down waves.

After the turn of the century Hawaii's economy improved and with that came a resurgent interest in sports. Haoles (Caucasians) and locals alike began to surf again off of Waikiki. Around 1905, some Hawaiian boys started gathering around a hau tree at Waikiki Beach and formed a club called Hui Nalu, a poor man's fraternity whose name, roughly translated, meant "united in surfing." One of the boys hanging around at the hau tree was fifteen-year-old Duke Kahanamoku, who would later gain notice by winning a gold medal in the hundred-meter freestyle swimming event at the 1912 Stockholm Olympic games. After that he began to go around the world giving demonstrations on "speed swimming," and on surfing whenever there waves enough to do so. He brought surfing to Australia, New Zealand and the mainland United States, where his role as ambassador of surfing would have furthest-reaching consequences in California.

Surfing in California between the wars was a matter of a small brotherhood riding redwood or hollow "cigarbox" boards at places like Corona del Mar. In the early thirties, before the harbor entrance was dredged, surfers were riding a quarter mile from the jetty down to China Cove. A few schoolboys hitchhiked to the beach wearing custom-sewn white canvas trunks to partake in an idyll of uncrowded waves and unrestrained aquatic pleasure.

World War II slowed things down for surfing, with most of the able-bodied men and potential surfers away. The Allies' 1945 victory led to an American cultural ascendancy over the rest of the world. And much of that cultural hegemony radiated from the golden state of California, its massive filmmaking industry producing movies with their all-persuasive ability to transmit directly ideas and ideals through the retina to the brain, to entice people to covet a way of life and a notion of freedom and possibility.

In this state by the Pacific, the caldron of postwar change was roiling. Returning GIs were joined by an influx of new immigrants in fueling and benefiting from a booming economy. Working-class people now had more time for leisurely pursuits. Freeway networks were constructed that made these activities easily accessible. Fun became a goal, a way of life, a birthright. With these changes also came the advent of the modern American teenager. Kids with their parents' disposable income had time on their hands for fun and rebellion, time for being bad and a nascent repulsion toward their parents' world and its value system.

The confluence of these factors meant an upswing for surfing in California. GIs coming back from Hawaii drew on Duke's example and made surfing part of their lives. The new freeways, along with films of Hawaiian wave riding and the development of the light foam surfboard at Windansea in La Jolla (by Bob Simmons, who later drowned there), expanded the visibility and potential of surfing. A new type emerged who yearned for the sensation of speed that surfing provided, who saw the riding of waves as a lifestyle that was a rejection of the civilized land and its society, an escape to the last frontier. They had a spiritual attachment to the ocean and "the life," an ethical conception of what they were doing as a communion with nature that harkened back to the Hawaiians of two hundred years earlier.

They used the beach as a base for what was beyond. Surfing was challenging, a melding with the ocean's power. In life it was an art, a movement. They were doing something odd and transgressive and new. It was an obsession that was antisocial while having its own underground communities, a culture distinct from what was sanctioned. At the right place and right time, the gestation was happening. California had the adherents of surfing, and they were about to start a revolution.

Excerpted from The Answer Is Never by JOCKO WEYLAND Copyright © 2002 by Jocko Weyland
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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