Andreas Trolf is a life-long skater and first-generation American. He splits his time between New York (where he’s from) and L.A. (where he works writing TV shows). He’s spent a good share of the pandemic summer pouring curbs with Pat Smith of Coda Skateboards and running a Greatest Skate Video of All Time bracket on the Instagram account Useless Wooden Knowledge, the trivia night he started with Daniel Shimizu, Clint Peterson, and Justin Strubing.
The brackets are voted on by “the people” via the comments section, I joked that it’s one of the only “democratic” skate awards in existence, along with the Berrics “Populist” award but there’s a big difference. UWK (Useless Wooden Knowledge) aren’t a media corp or pros with massive digital followings. It’s a bar-born collective of friends who simply put their real life and group text arguments into the ether for all skateboarding to get worked up about.
“Useless Wooden Knowledge started circa-2016,” Trolf says. “Daniel Shimizu, Clint Peterson, Justin Strubing, and I had been going to a weekly pub trivia with some friends in Los Angeles and somehow decided that this specific trivia format they were using was really good but that all the questions were, I suppose, broadly speaking "normie" type stuff. Very much catering to people who didn't really enjoy music or film or art, or whatever, but stuff that would be called "engaging" for the most normal, sports-and-sitcom-loving person you could imagine. Stuff that was not really in our wheelhouse, but we thought about adapting it, taking the best elements of pub trivia and making it super niche and skate-centered.”
After experimenting with visual devices and different question formats, they began a monthly residence at Black in Hollywood, California, an infamous skate bar, much akin to Max Fish West, eventually working with Vans, Deluxe, Adidas, and Dwindle, until the pandemic hit.
Along with shifting their focus to Instagram, the platform dujour of skateboarding, Trolf and Shimizu started concepting a trivia app in 2019. The idea spun around with different developers and ad models until their friend—a talented photographer and app guru named Terry Worona—offered the solve, taking on the work and writing hundreds of hours of code in the process. With the app about 95% finished, it should be public in a few weeks and while Strubing has stepped out of the fold, the Brackets live and the G.O.A.T. video will be crowned soon.
As a lover of skate video dissection who also helped construct the brackets, I decided the most logical thing to do with four videos standing was to talk for four hours about them with Trolf. Here’s a condensed version of our conversation for your sanity.
How did “The Brackets” come to be?
I was driving cross-country in March when all the pandemic became really serious and we realized we're not gonna be able to do any in-person trivia events, which is kind of like our lifeblood... not that we make money off this - we do this because we enjoy it. Maybe I'm really going out of my way to state the obvious, but this sort of thing works best when you've got a baked in avenue of engagement. We started posting the daily trivia stuff and that was really fun to do that and see people get fucking hyped on these daily posts that happen. That became a part of the day—every day you've got something to look forward to and you might win a box of shoes from Vans.
With daily trivia there would be one winner each day, which translated to one winner each week cumulatively, and then that was that. Part of this doing the brackets was that it would be a thing that you could participate in and become a communal thing where people could argue in the comments. We have conversations and dialogue about why certain videos resonate the way they do 20-some odd years later. It’s because we’re so familiar with our favorite videos. I can quote you a line trick-for-trick or know music because I grew up with a video. I know art because of that, I know filmmaking as well as. Videos are a formative part of skating, aside from actually skating, then the stuff that you would stare at and scrutinize.
Videos are important to skateboarding and this seems like a fun way to open up the engagement with them.
If you grew up with video, it’s easy to forget the introduction of it was possibly the biggest sea change in skating since the urethane wheel.
Yeah, and I think for context when we didn't have the sharing of clips being in realtime (in the ‘80s/‘90s) so video was where the bar was set.
Do you remember 15 years ago when Transworld Skateboarding videos were a fucking event?
Sure, Plan B’s first videos—when skating was so small in the ‘90s—basically were declarations of “this is what elite skating is.” It happens less today but I think Supreme / William Strobeck’s work has that feeling of “this is the pulse of skating” in a modern sense.
Do you remember 15 years ago when Transworld Skateboarding videos were a fucking event? You were not a top tier pro until you had a Transworld part. Big time, career-defining videos don’t appear as often now. And the impact is almost blunted a bit when they do appear because you’ve got a non-stop 24 hour-a-day stream of amazing content in your pocket. But of course, that cuts both ways, when something stands out now, especially in a big name, full-length video, you know that it’s truly special because it rises above this glut of content.
Having helped create the brackets with you, I can fully admit there are some big omissions, especially Sick Boys and FTC Penal Code 101A and that’s partly because I blew it and partly because there’s no real resource out there that definitively catalogs video, let alone skating. I was on archive.org looking at the old version of skatevideosite.com to try to do it. (Shout out SVS for all the hard work). But yeah, we should address those holes in the brackets.
There's no good answer here because someone is gonna savage us—I’ll take it on the chin [laughs]. Any video we left out could be someone’s favorite, there’s no accounting for taste. There's no objectivity here--none of that exists. There's consensus, right? And I like to tell myself, and you and I had this discussion in the interests of a broader base of videos we put in stuff such as Gullwing Trucks Full Power Trip. It’s not amazing but there are parts in there and it’s part of the evolution of video. Then you have Rhythm Genesis which a lot of people ended up fucking going to the mat for. Out of the original 128 videos, I think I can say beyond a reasonable doubt that 100 out of those no one will argue their inclusion.
There were some difficult choices, honestly, that had to be made, and I gotta own that and that's fine.
Also, as an older person, there are some newer videos I thought would have gone much farther and it surprised me when they got knocked out early.
We have to make some tough choices, specifically the matchups. Maybe I shouldn't have put Mouse against cherry. Clearly, at some point, Mouse is objectively a better video but also, cherry is undoubtedly better than Zorlac Zero Hero, which didn’t even make the list. I have nothing against Zorlac, but there’s the issue of consensus. I wouldn’t put it on the list, but I love that we live in a world where Zombu wheels exist.
It’s funny because the entire concept of “Greatest Skate Video of All Time” is the most skateboarding thing ever because there are no real criteria—it’s up to the individual. Personally, I picked by impact at the time, staying power, how it depicted skating, the filming but someone else will be like, ‘Video X’ is the greatest. The end. Bye. It’s actually similar to how people vote for a president in the United States?
When we were kids contests had all these weird rankings like “bioness” and “gnarlitude.” What kind of criteria are these? Who makes that up? How do you really judge skating? Someone’s favorite part could be a Mike Maldonado part and another a Chris Roberts part. If those are my guys, I'm gonna vote for those videos and who can say that criteria is wrong?
Brian Anderson has mentioned Ben Schroeder being one of his favorite skaters. Of course, he’s gnarly but he’s not making my list but if he inspired BA? Incredible.
Exactly! That’s in his credits column right there. There's no right way to vote here, again, it comes down to consensus and not just in skate videos but to fucking everything—the greatest films, the greatest books of all time. All of it about who is establishing the canon and in literature and in film.
Okay, this raises a question I hadn't even thought of until now. In music, heads will always want to blow your mind with a deep cut. In seeing these play out, is there a “deep cut video”?
Can I just digress for half a second before I get in on that, imagine taking the music comparison like a step further. Imagine if that Mason Silva Nike SB video that just came out was only available on a rare Blu-Ray DVD? Does it make it more or less impactful? Also, I’m calling SoTY for him right now. But if you had to really dig to get the gold, does it change things?
I think pre-YouTube you could argue getting European videos or Japanese videos in the US was the equivalent of buying Import music. Those are kind of deep cuts to me. Think about Cliché Freedom Fries… which we also omitted. [laughs]
Right, and now not only do you have global media access but you have access to the product. You can be a kid in Wyoming whose favorite brand is Sour and order a Gustav board from your phone and boom, you have it a few days later. That wasn’t possible in 1988.
But to go back to your questions about the brackets and the deep cuts, it makes me think about the 917 video that we included. I thought it was great, man. Was it the greatest of all time? No, but it was a really solid offering and I think it's a deep cut that I think 10 years from now, it's gonna be really appreciated. I remember when we put that one up—and I don't even recall what video it went up against in the first round—Alex Olson left a comment on the Instagram page saying this is bullshit bracketing and my response was just like, ‘Man, I just really like your video and I think people should see it but also, it’s probably not going to beat Yeah Right!’
I know it’s sketchy but anyone could have been like, ‘Hey, we’re up against Elementality tomorrow, vote for us.’
[Laughs] Someone did do that, he wasn’t even in the video but he had 20 bucks riding on a match up and had a decent Instagram following. Suddenly we had more votes than usual, especially from people that don’t follow us. So I DMed him and wrote I appreciate the enthusiasm but you're skewing a fair vote here. I had to take it down and people had to vote again the next day, and to his credit, the guy understood.
Also, a video like Blockhead Adventures In Cheese had an amazing Rick Howard part but not many people saw it because it lacked distribution. If I recall correctly, I got mine by mailing them $5.00 and it just showed up a month later in a white VHS cardstock case.
Blockhead alone is a deep cut. Dill, Omar Hassan, Rick Howard… Jeremy Wray. Debbie Does Blockhead was amazing and a direct precursor to his Color part which all culminated in Second-Hand Smoke, it was just leading up to that.
Fuck, the Color vid is kind of a deep cut.
Color went up against Rhythm in Round Three and people were agonizing. I didn't know that there was such loyalty to these videos that are 20-some odd years old that don't often get talked about in these canonical lists. People love the Color video and they fucking love Blockhead and Rhythm… and fucking Prime. That’s absolutely valid.
I was shocked by certain videos that I thought we're gonna go further and didn’t.
What were the biggest surprises to you leading up to the Final Four?
I was shocked by certain videos that I thought we're gonna go further and didn’t. The big one being Questionable. To me, that was an upset and maybe Yeah Right! going as far as it did. It's really, really, really good, but as amazing as the scale was, what do we remember from that video? We remember the invisible skateboard and Owen Wilson. Questionable was, objectively, a ground-breaking video because of the level of skating, that was an event. When it came out, pros retired. They saw that and realized they needed to move on.
It's like the video equivalent of that scene in the Gator documentary, Stoked—which is for my money, the greatest movie ever made about skateboarding—when he's trying to boardslide a curb and he can't do it. He's trying to transition into street skating and he's like in a t-shirt with the sleeves cut off and ends up doing a ho-ho on the curb. That to me, more than anything, sums up that era, that seachange in skateboarding. Maybe he was in prison already at that point, when Questionable came out, but he's the archetypal dude who would have seen that video and realized he had better get a fucking job the next day.
Let’s talk about the last four videos standing.
Yeah, we got Photosynthesis, Welcome to Hell, Yeah Right! and Video Days.
Welcome to Hell—people have been saying that's a sleeper but I don't agree. That video turned relative unknowns into stars. BA, Barley, Elissa, Maldonado… unless you were around them, you don't know the fuck they were.
You're right, and also, Jamie Thomas set a standard for video production for half a generation. It’s 24-years old. Is it not modern as hell? Everything about it is minus the cameras I guess. If you think about it, Questionable, created a template and it's still largely unchanged from that but then four years later, Jamie refined it into the thing that would define a generation. For better or worse, ultra fisheye, low handrail angles where you don't even see a skater’s body... that became an aesthetic for a long time.
And you don’t get Baker videos without Welcome to Hell but also, what makes Baker unique are the editing choices and what Beagle documents, so they added to the formula and changed the recipe.
Photosynthesis built on Alien Workshop’s aesthetic—it’s so cohesive.
Yeah, it's just, it has the Alien feel though in the interstitial segments and in the titles and all the stuff, it has the feel of an alien video, I think Photo brought the skating up to that level of aesthetic to where they were on a par with one another. So you've got amazing skateboarders that are documented super well, filming is great, you got again, great musical choices, you've got great interstitial, and editing, and everything about it works harmoniously. Just purely from an aesthetic standpoint, it's the most successful video of the Final Four—it’s branded, but it's not over-branded.
On to Yeah Right! That one is unique because if you grew up with Plan B and Girl, it was a bit of a “comeback” for the older riders plus an infusion of new talent. If it’s the first Crail video you saw it really just hit overall.
Yeah Right was like this magic box that you could reach into and sort of pull out whatever you wanted. Incredible skating, the best filming, the effects and editing, the skits--all of this was not just high-end, but the highest-end. It had Spike’s bonafides, and at this point Girl was on top of the world. But even though they had the highest production values, the best cameras, the sickest music, maybe it wasn’t the most, I don’t know, cohesive video? It was a major, major release, a marquee video in the way that was an event back when most full-length videos were “events,” but on another level. It was a spectacle. It had all the hallmarks of a modern-day Powell Peralta video. It had choreography, and, like, intentionality we hadn't seen in skating on that level for years.
I think what I wanna say about that is that none of these final videos, in my opinion, are the least bit like each other.
OK, so this is interesting. Despite having zero control, the Brackets ended in a very emblematic way. You have Welcome to Hell that really represents gnarly rail chomping but in a way that showed everyone’s personality, Yeah Right! which is high production, high level, and cinematic, then the art side of the coin with Photo and the final inclusion, Video Days.
I think what I wanna say about that is that none of these final videos, in my opinion, are the least bit like each other. That's what's so rad about this. It’s four individual videos with four unique aesthetics and they all bleed into each other in different ways.
I’m not going to hide this but to me, Video Days remains the purest documentation of skateboarding on video and I’ll add that it’s the only one on the list featured in a major motion picture. Think about it, part of the storyline of Kids was that 4 years after Video Days people were still getting high, tripping out on.
Do you think that was a conscious choice? Like Larry Clark or Harmony Korine felt like that video was so important that we have to include it in the background as a sort of a nod to how much we respect its legacy? Or was it just a video that Harmony or those guys were watching and were friends with Mark (Gonzales)?
I dunno, I wish we could ask but I just love coming up with shit like that.
I love Video Days but why is it the most referenced video? To me, it’s just a bunch of intangible stuff—great stating, The Jackson Five, Dinosaur Jr, Black Flag, and a lot of people’s introduction to John Coltrane. Looking back on it, Jordan Richter had a pretty decent part, even though it's the most fast-forwarded video part of all time. There’s something that works there that creates a bigger more important whole here. It’s all of that stuff, yes, but to me, more importantly, it’s all of that stuff together. That might be the most obvious statement I’ll ever make, but there you go.
I think Mark’s influence on the shots and editing gets lost and doesn’t receive the credit it should. Also, it was the first time a skate video was really driven by someone skating at their highest level. It would happen again as we said with Jamie Thomas and Baker but for the time, there was no other video where arguably the best skater was orchestrating his brand’s video.
And it just happened, right? No big premier or lead up. It just happened one day. It's pretty crazy. I don't know, at 13 or 14-years-old, it felt like everything they [bLind] did was magic—every board graphic, every ad—I think bLind in that era—the Video Days era—everything worked. Everything about it. Music, just stupid little tag lines in ads, the nonsense to get chicks where Mark is like putting his hair up into a ponytail, right.
Sometimes showing the skating was secondary but it felt like “this is skateboarding.”
Well, now that we’ve shown our bias, I think we both agree whichever video wins is the one people want to win and that’s the GOAT. Any closing thoughts?
What was really surprising is that people give this so much thought. There's a community of us that do but just to see them come out in the thousands, every single day, I'm kinda taken aback that people give a shit and it's rad because it means as much to them as it does to the people actually doing it. I’m just happy because to me, these are formative documents.
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