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Editorial

The Best and Worst Skateboard Documentaries and Films.

The Best and Worst Skateboard Documentaries and Films. Guy, Rudy, Gabriel and Paulo from Colin Kennedy's LA Boys.
Posted by Neil Chester30 min read
Monday, March 30, 2020

Updated:

We found a bunch more, not sure where some of them fit in terms of being any good, there's definitely some cheese although the On Video edits are class, Skate Kitchen and Street Dreams, er...

On Video: Natas Kaupas

On Video was ahead of its time, if you didn't know, it was kinda like an upmarket 411. Similar format with mixed sections and features from the various going's on that season. Although I think they were released quarterly of even bi-annually. Anyway, it didn't last that long but some of the features they created we legit amazing. Serious work went into them and the stories were always on-point. This one about Natas Kaupas is amazing. If you've never heard of Natas, be prepared to be inspired. The guy was so cool and his skating was pioneering. Up there with Mark Gonzales.

On Video: Love Park

The other great On Video feature; Love Park. As you'll know, Love has a fascinating story behind it and until Chris Mulhern drops his feature-length documentary, 15th & JFK, this is still the best watch around Love.

Skate Kitchen

Remember Jaden Smith's short lived skate career? Really don't know which side of the fence we're on in regard to Skate Kitchen, defo very cringe in far too many places.

Mid 90s

What did you all think of Mid 90s? I thought its heart was in the right place and for the most part, it was rad but it was just lacking that something plus the cringe factor was always lurking in the background. Maybe this is just too close to home but we feel this film perfectly illustrates how hard it is to portray skateboarding. The details are still so over-amplified, I know it's a movie, and this is about as legit as you'll ever get but we'll have to just go 'meh' on this one. Hats off to Jonah Hill though, he could have easily not even tried to do this, but he did.

Police Academy 4

I know, we're scraping the barrel here. But I bet most of you have never even heard of it? Trust me, it's only worth it for the skate scenes, which featured the Bones Brigade, so watch this clip just for that and enjoy how Hollywood, for a brief minute, tried to jump on the skateboarding trend hard in the late 80s. Side note, this is where Nike Jordan 1s first ever showed up in skateboarding.

Mind The Gap.

Skateboarding means many different things to many different people. Escapism is something that can be dialed up or down and treated as good or bad. But the realities of life is what it is and no matter how hard we may wish, they don't go away. This is an honest portrayal of, sadly, an all too familiar tale within skateboarding.

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Skateboarding is notoriously difficult to tell an accurate story of. It’s one of the reasons skate videos consist of short clips of individual tricks edited together to form a part. By and large, this is how skateboarding is packaged, marketed and sold. At least to its core audience. Trying to weave a narrative and tell a story through the medium of a skate video has always proved challenging. Just as it can be the opposite way round, having a drama that involves skateboarding.

Examples of this would be Powell Perelta’s The Search For Animal Chin and Shorty’s Guilty. Guilty starts out with a court scene where the Shorty’s team get sentenced to death by firing squad, all for skateboarding. Upon their transfer to jail, the van is ambushed by weed smoking skaters toting AK-47’s, who hold-up the van, gun down the officers and let the riders skate free. Sorry for the spoiler!

The Search For Animal Chin focuses on the reasons behind why we skate, the journey that every skater makes to find the next amazing skate spot and, of course, the fun that is had with friends along the way. That is the narrative of this particular film, another spoiler, they don’t find Animal Chin! Searching for Chin is the journey and the reason why, get it? 

Outside of the genre of core skate videos, many stand-alone films and documentaries have tried to either tell a story around skateboarding or focus on characters within the skateboarding world. The latter is usually far more appealing, although it can still be a mixed bag.

Feature films have also struggled to get to grips with skateboarding, from Gleaming The Cube to Mid 90s via Kids. Movies need to dramatise events, and they often provide a forced overbearing view of skating that doesn’t quite match the reality. Some do a better job than others, but I doubt whether many skaters can get through these films without wincing at some of the details. 

Documentaries, you’d think, would fare better and more accurately represent the real picture. Don’t get us wrong here, we applaud anyone wanting to try and tackle the subject of skateboarding, and going as far as making a film about it is some serious work. A labour of love. 

All This Mayhem, centred around Tas Pappas, an Australian vert skater hell bent on making it any way he could, is a great example of a skate character documentary. Although more for the story around what happened to Tas as things started to go south for him. Similarly, Stoked: The Rise and Fall of Gator, another vert skater, this time from the 80s, who did a very stupid thing. God knows how and why these are all vert skaters, but Danny Way’s Waiting For Lightning is a further tale of hardship and suffering. Guess that makes good movies. 

There are many skateboard films and documentaries out there, and since you’re all stuck at home right now, we thought we’d collate a whole bunch of them. Compiling some of the best and worst examples we could find. If you can make it through even half of these then you definitely deserve some sort of prize!  

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The Better Ones

L.A. Boys.

Kinda linked to the Bones Brigade doc below, this is Colin Kennedy's detailed look at the then kids who featured in an LA section of Powell Peralta's Ban This video from 1989. The skaters were Guy Mariano, Gabriel Rodriguez, Paulo Diaz and Rudy Johnson who all went on to illustrious professional careers. This is really good, although you need to be old enough to know what impact the section had when it dropped in '89 but still, it's just a cool film. Available on iTunes.

Bones Brigade: An Autobiography.

Another Stacy Peralta production, but this is his own narrative. Maybe you need to be 35+ to really appreciate this and the sentiment that it brings. In the 80s Powell Peralta was the biggest company by a country mile, their packaged product mushroomed skateboarding around the world. For that alone, they deserve a lot of respect. 

This Ain’t California. 

This is a strange one, I kinda don’t want to say too much cause you really need to watch the film and make up your own mind. Personally I think it’s amazing and a work of genius in places, but I’m a huge 80s East Berlin fan. Was it all home video footage or did they reshoot in locations? Also, Kaio Hillebrand in the lead role is simply so, so good. 

Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You're a Girl).

I have to confess i’ve not seen this, but it won a goddamn Oscar so praise where praise is due. 

All This Mayhem.

What can we say, if you’re going to watch just one doc on this list, go for this one. It certainly entertains whether you end up liking Tas or not. Pure bogan.

Dogtown and Z Boys.

If for some insane reason you’ve not seen this then you really should. And the original documentary, not the movie version. It was made by Stacy Peralta of Powell Peralta, whose filmmaking skill is not in doubt. Find it here. Better still was Peralta’s big wave surfing doc, Riding Giants. Search that one out.

Stoked: The Rise and Fall of Gator.

Many of you will never have heard of Mark ‘Gator’ Rogowski. He was a pro vert skateer for Vision, alongside Mark Gonzales who was pro for street. This is a crazy story with an extremely gnarly outcome, check it out but be prepared...

Waiting For Lightning.

Danny Way’s storied career goes deep, the guy has done so much over so many years and it has taken its toll on his body. If anything, it goes to show how some of the stuff he’s done is just plain crazy. At the time, I always thought the staged, heavily DC branded Great Wall of China jump was a bit of a show, this film gives you all the details.

Dumb: The Story Of Big Brother Magazine.

Big Brother was legendary, and so were the skate videos they put out - Shit, Number Two, Boob and Crap. It was Jackass before Jackass existed, as it was these guys that went on to create the infamous MTV series.

The Man Who Souled The World.

If you don’t know Steve Rocco’s story, then watch this. The brands he created - World Industries, Blind and 101 - were the shit and changed skateboarding forever. Rocco took what little rule book there was in skateboarding and tore it up. It ties in a lot to the Big Brother doc above.

Deathbowl To Downtown.

This is interesting as you don’t see so many 70s/80s skate stories coming out of NYC. The point about zoning laws, and how the newly built skyscrapers needed to house their own plazas, the size of which related to how tall the building was, is very interesting. This certainly helped the advancement of street skateboarding and unearthed new East Coast talent.

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Kinda ok.

Made In Venice.

I think you’ve gotta love both Jesse Martinez and Venice Beach to really like this. Or maybe you went on holiday and gawped at the park on the beach and thought it was the best place in the world.

The Devils Toy.

This is mad given it was made in 1966 by the National Film Board of Canada! Quite random as it’s part warning, part instructional and part story. Still, some pretty funny skate footage from the 60s though.

King Skate.

All I know about this one is that they have a truck load of amazing 70s footage of skateboarding in Poland. If you’re Polish, or even if you’re not, check this one out.

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The worst.

Grind.

Maybe this is worth it for the Bam scenes alone. But overall it’s pretty appalling, how this got made is really beyond me.

Hardflip.

I dare you to sit through this? This film and Grind were the 2000s equivalent of Thrashin’ and Gleaming the Cube. A boom in skateboarding popularity must mean people will want to watch movies about it right?

We Are Blood.

As if skateboarding in movies wasn’t dramatised enough. This film is kinda odd, it starts with a narrative around P-Rod getting run over, before zooming into the blood and becoming a classic skate video, then flipping out to some RV tour doc, then before you know it Antony Pappalardo crops up pushing down some Brooklyn backstreet claiming he loves skateboarding. Just. All. Over. The. Place.

The Motivation.

I feel this series had good intentions but this first one (oh, there was a Motivation 2 and 3) was certain people within skateboarding overtly trying to broadcast it’s core popularity to a wider audience for their own personal benefit. If you’re really bored you can find this on Netflix, give it try, I doubt you’ll finish it. 

Kids.

Very controversial this is in the worst section, right? Sorry, I know this will divide opinion but it’s just got too many sections that for me, just weren’t reality. Maybe for others? And I always couldn’t stand the fight section in Washington Sq park, just way too over the top and frankly lame.  

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So bad they’re good.

Thrashin’.

This is the original Hollywood take on 80s skateboarding. Punks vs High School jocks that California based movies can do so well. Watching his today is frankly hilarious, almost every line delivered gives you a “are they for real” feeling. It’s worth it for this and the outfits are 80s amazing. 

Gleaming the Cube.

Similar to Thrashin’, which came out in ‘86, this was the bigger Hollywood follow up in ‘89 with a bit more of a realistic (or so they thought) cast of characters and storyline. It actually features Tony Hawk, Natas and bunch of pro’s of the era. It goes south quickly as the story turns serious and skateboarding just gets depicted in the most insane way. Worth watching all the way through for the killer board Brain (Christian Slater, no less) receives for this final move to catch the bad guys.

Street Dreams.

Debatable whether this should be here or in the worst section. I actually take my hat off to P-Rod and Rob Dyrdek for putting themselves out there and going through with this. There is some hilarious moments that certainly weren't meant to be. Maybe you have to be stoned.

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