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Opinion

The Natas Spin and skateboarding’s legendary skate spots.

Posted by Richard Slade14 min read
Monday, July 27, 2020

If you can ignore the somewhat distracting emulated voiceover of this recently published video by Vox Media, you find a thoroughly enjoyable capsule of some of skating’s most infamous spots. Though it’s titled “Tony Hawk Breaks Down Skateboarding’s Legendary Spots,” the video features author and academic Iain Borden (Skateboarding and the City: A Complete History) running through a truncated history and evolution of skate spots, effectively adding the color we often refer to as “the skater’s eye.”

More than the Z-Boy narrative of drainage ditches and drained pools, the 13-ish minute video outlines an evolution from obscure full pipes in Arizona deserts to central city street spots. OK, they do refer to Justin Herman Plaza or Embarcadero as “The Embarcadero” and Mr. Hawk politely omits that he once front 180’ed the Gonz Gap but as a primer and time-waster, it’s worth adding to your media diet.

With an injury-shortened career, Natas Kaupus’ imprint on modern street skating can be ignored for both being obvious and somewhat obscure. Kaupas’ contributions to a string of Santa Cruz and Santa Cruz Wheels videos were formative, innovative, and interesting as his approach, while technical, still had the painterly flow of surfing. As the video details, his part in Santa Cruz Wheels of Fire (1987) where Kaupas “transforms his neighbourhood into a skatepark.” As Hawk and Borden explain, it was Kaupas’ utilitarian approach and undeniable talent that drew attention to everyday, often overlooked obstacles such as walls, curbs, benches, and even fire hydrants. Sure, all those things had been skated for years, but not the way Kaupas was using them both creatively and by virtue of his pop, at new heights. In a sense, Kaupas introduced a new standard, though it would take years before ollieing hydrants or skating benches like curbs would be stock.

There’s also the appearance of “The Natas Spin” or as some called it back then, “The Revolution,” in Santa Cruz Streets On Fire (1989) one of skating’s earliest examples of a viral trick. Though Kaupas’ semi-treacherous balancing act on the tip of a fire hydrant was years after the first wallrides and handrail grinds and slides, the Natas Spin premiered in what was then a high-profile video project, and became folklore, canon but not common. Yes, there’s probably some kid filming a variation for Instagram right now but the only pro to have it consistent and clean in his quiver is Jahmal Williams. 

Oh, if you want to really lose your mind, you can then watch this Rad Rat video where he spends almost 11 minutes saying that Mike Vallely did it first but on a square “pole” kind of on the edge and kind of not, which is a lot different than a hydrant but whatever.

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