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When oceans were calm, surfers turned to the drought-ridden pools in southern California. By attaching wheels from roller skates to 2x4s, these pioneers could replicate the carving motions they were used to through waves on cement. Transition to today in Jamaica Plain, where Abe "Orange Man" Dubin has fastened eight wheels from a skateboard to a snow scooter he found at a yard sale.
Although, Dubin isn't very hopeful about his "board manipulations," he says, "I like to document them beforehand because they always break." Regardless, Dubin mimics those innovators from SoCal, but acts more like "The Simpsons" mad scientist, Professor Frink.
Dubin is one of dozen, or so, official members of the Boston-based Fancy Lad Skateboard Company.
The 13th annual international Go Skateboarding Day is Tuesday, June 21 — a day encouraging the creativity, community and non-conforming culture skateboarding has come to stand for. But the Fancy Lad crew say they don't need a special day for their "avant gnar" artistic expression.
On top of designing boards and selling merchandise, Fancy Lad is known for their wacky videos involving some of the most creative and silly approaches to skateboarding we have seen. The Fancy Lad crew was featured on a special via Adult Swim’s risqué late-night Web Experiments segment, and they debuted a 52-minute video through one of skateboarding’s most popular publications, Thrasher Magazine. The video, which gained international recognition, is titled “Is This Skateboarding” — a question that lingers while watching the video cassette-recorded highlight reel.
According to Fancy Lad owner Nick Murray, “The appeal to capturing these clips and stringing them together with these loose connections started coming together when I took a fascination in B movies. Considering myself and the rest of the team B actors in the play of skateboarding. The interesting thing about B movies is that they are consciously not as good as anything in the mainstream, but they co-exist as a one-of-a-kind flaw, which is infinitely more interesting than a cookie-cutter blockbuster.”
Normal is boring for Fancy Lad, which is why Murray and his team have kick-pushed in the opposite direction mainstream skateboarding has.
“We are global heroes, local losers,” Murray proudly proclaimed. “We are the merry pranksters of the Boston skate scene. We find it much more amusing to have a laugh whether it be self-deprecating or just through our creativity, when you present someone with a new idea or perspective, they tend to find it absurd and, as a result, very humorous.”
Fancy Lad’s clever opposition to the standard of mass appeal is apparent when you become familiar with their trademark attributes: poorly produced skate videos pervaded with eerie clips from Murray’s enormous VHS collection, janky board manipulations, "Simpsons" references, distinctive wardrobes and determination to do the undone.
“There’s always a uniqueness that comes through in poor production quality,” Murray said, “it’s like a deviation of what is considered good because it’s so bad.”
Fancy Lad’s outdated analog recording approach emphasizes that every take matters, whereas modern digital recording allows for unlimited attempts. As a result, their videos express the rawness of skating as well as what it takes to produce a skate video and be a part of a skateboarding team.
You will see the struggle, frustration and multiple bails a skater will take before nailing a trick. And then you will see how stoked the entire crew gets when one skater earns the triumph. Like when Matt Tomasello spent two hours this past Saturday on the same stoop in Roxbury trying to “noseslide to late front foot flip out” on an unusual inclined ledge, which involves “grinding" down a waxed ledge on the front tail of the board, then kicking the board to create a rotation, and most importantly landing both feet on the board. This eventually induced a roar from his patient teammates, and the crowd of local spectators drawn to his exertion. While in some neighborhoods police would have been called, in this particular case, one local brought over water while others poked their heads out of their apartments’ windows at the opportunity to see the exhibition.
Next, they loaded up their ride and set off to the next destination. Disorder filled the air conditioner-less van with Kam Lindsey lip-syncing the punk music blasting over Colin Fiske’s wonderstruck examination of the countless skate spots being passed, only to be shredded days later. Eric Humes impulsively requested that Murray hit the breaks so he can “bomb the hill,” and then jumped out in pursuance of speed and a cool breeze. This time it’s the East Boston Skatepark, across the city from their improvised Roxbury spot.
Whether they find an impromptu location on the street, or visit a designed park, you can expect to hear the sound of polyurethane wheels rolling on the pavement. The East Boston park is just one of the local areas skaters will be taking over Tuesday for Go Skateboarding Day. In Cambridge, you'll see a migration to the recently constructed Lynch Family Skatepark. Orchard Skateshop, with locations in Allston and the North End, will be hosting giveaways, free food and contests.
Murray does not see why one day of the year is dedicated to skateboarding, when he and the Fancy Lad team treat everyday as such. To them, skateboarding is about spontaneous self-expression.
“Go Skateboarding Day is a positive creation in the skateboarding community," he says. "It has really just been a reason for shops and businesses to hold events that bring everyone together ... skateboarding is really just about having good times with your friends.”
Behind the VHS static, Fancy Lad channels the values Go Skateboarding Day promotes. By creating their own paths and drawing on various forms of accessible entertainment, Fancy Lad is able to captivate those who skate, and those who don’t, through creativity, chaos and comedy.
“I think the most important thing to think about is skateboarding as an art form. There is no idea too small to explore in an aspect of art,” Murray says. “It is just a matter of being open to the infinite number of possibilities and not being afraid to explore them. For us it is a lot more fun when treating it like a comedy and entertaining at that. In the end it’s not important to us if we are 'better' than anyone. Just whether or not it is entertaining to us.”
Michael Hagerty is an intern for The ARTery. He currently studies communication at UMass Amherst and is the production and training director at the university's radio station WMUA.
Correction: An earlier version of this post indicated this was the 12th annual Go Skateboarding Day, while it is in fact the 13th year. We regret the error.
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