Letter of Recommendation: Cutting The Liner Out Of Your Leathers

I wear my leathers every time I skate downhill because (a) I am, fundamentally, a coward; (b) having road rash sucks; and (c) if I don’t, I spend more money on first aid supplies than I make in pro-model board royalties and my ego absolutely cannot handle that.

Of course, riding in leathers has some minor drawbacks. They can be uncomfortably warm on hot days. You look like a sport motorcycle weirdo may attract the attention of homosexual leather fetishists. (This is, emphatically, not a problem for me.) Finally, even the best-designed skate suit can bind up between your knee and your shoulder, restricting your flexibility and range of motion when crouching down for slides. For a long time, I accepted these tradeoffs as the price of not waking up with road rash that had fused to my bedding. We all make choices in life.

Last year, after hearing my friends sing the praises of unlined leathers for several months, I finally took the lining out of my NJKs. All it took was a sharp pair of scissors and some patience (be careful around the zippers).

I was immediately impressed by how much easier it was to move in them. Instead of binding up when I crouched down for a heelside, my leathers slid easily over my body, restoring a full range of motion. This was a game-changer, and it has made skating in leathers feel functionally identical to skating in street clothes, a fact that I have been annoyingly vocal about in downhill-event U-Haul trucks across North America.

Without a liner, you will need a full-body base layer to put something between your body and the leather. I personally prefer one-piece skins like these (cut the stirrups off). Other riders swear by UnderArmour’s moisture wicking HeatGear leggings and shirts. If you don’t care about brand names, cheaper compression shirts and leggings will also do the trick.

Yes, this is one more thing to bring with you when you go skating; but unlike your leathers, skins can be washed in a regular machine; so you’ll be considerably less stinky and/or bleeding at the end of the session.

(These are Amazon affiliate links, from which I will make a small commission.)

Devil's Peak Downhill 2019

A couple weeks ago I went out to Colorado to skate and serve as the event photographer for the third annual Devil’s Peak Downhill race. I was there thanks to a partnership between Comet Skateboards and Justin Rouleau, the event organizer. Here’s what happened. (You can click each image in these gridded galleries to see the full frame)

I arrived on Tuesday before the race to get acclimated to the altitude and to help Justin with any last-minute organizing. That first afternoon, the main task was reviving Zak Maytum’s Fool Injector, an electric beer bong made from an assortment of high end racing skateboard parts and a (used) hot rod fuel pump that made its last appearance at the 2012 Buffalo Bill race. After some minor reassembly, cleaning, and electrical troubleshooting, it was ready to go. (Mercifully, unlike the original, the reincarnated version does not make your beer taste like gasoline.)

On Wednesday afternoon I headed out to a brand new pump track for a session with Aaron Breetwor and some of the new Comet Skateboards cruisers. I have slammed super hard every time have skated a pump track; so I grabbed my camera and channelled my inner Edward Weston as the sun went down. (For the curious, this pump track is at Anthem Community Park in Broomfield. It’s kinda hard to find so here’s a Google Maps link to its actual location. )

Wednesday night’s Pagan Party marked the unofficial beginning of Devil’s Peak festivities. Skaters from around the country and the world gathered at legendary downhill skater and ice climber Kevin Cooper’s high country compound for a night of reuniting with old friends, fire jumping, saw blade throwing, and Fool Injecting before getting up at 5am to skate at first light.

After a few hours of sleep, we rolled out in the dark, arriving at the top of the hill in time to catch the full moon setting. After an exchange of high fives, a group photo, and a brief elk-safety lecture from Coop and Rouleau, the assembled skaters dropped in as a huge pack.

I have been going to Colorado to skate downhill since 2010. This year was the first time I have ever really enjoyed dawn patrol. Unlike in previous years, when I endured the distinctly unnerving experience of standing on a skateboard moving at 55mph with numb feet, it was relatively warm; so I could feel my feet the whole time. Having finally memorized the road, I was no longer worried about unexpected tight corners. Aside from the mild altitude effects—Zak and Justin got it much worse—I had a great time.

I kept it pretty chill until Friday, when we headed up to Georgetown for the official start of Devil’s Peak.

Saturday dawned bright and early at the campsite and we made our way to the hill for a day of practice/freeride runs. Thanks to Justin and Ty’s excellent management, I got about ten hot laps before taking off my gear to shoot photos.

This is one of the better downhill skateboarding photos I’ve shot. Daina Banks, Micah Green, Emily Pross, Zak Maytum, and many others.

This is one of the better downhill skateboarding photos I’ve shot. Daina Banks, Micah Green, Emily Pross, Zak Maytum, and many others.

Almost every top racer in the world was in attendance at this year’s Devil’s Peak, and that was evident in the quality of the riding. Big packs of skilled riders came hauling into high speed sliding corners inches apart and for the most part, everyone held it together. It was cool to watch.

Apart from a brief rain shower that dried in minutes, the weather held all day and we got a remarkable 20 runs; plenty enough to tire us out before the Wheel of Death.

Every downhill skateboard race organizer has to find a way to balance riders’ competing desires for fair racing brackets and lots of freeride runs. Sending each rider down for an individual timed run gets you the fairest possible brackets; but that requires an expensive timing system and, more importantly, takes all day.

In the interest of maximizing freeride time, Colorado races traditionally employ a “Wheel of Death, Hand of God” qualifying method in which each rider’s name is written on a wheel of fortune, which is spun to seed the bracket. The “Hand of God” rule refers to the organizers’ use of his own discretion to manipulate the bracket however he wants, whether to separate fast riders for fairness or to arrange first-round grudge matches between rivals.

The wheel also sometimes requires riders to make ritual offerings to the Pagan gods of the high country by throwing their socks in the fire, doing a chainsaw shotgun, or having the sleeves of their shirt ripped off.

When the ceremony is over and the bracket is filled out, the wheel itself is offered up to the Pagan gods as a fiery sacrifice.

This year’s Wheel of Death started unusually early in the evening to avoid disturbing other residents of the campsite, which meant we all got a good night’s sleep before race day.

Sunday went as expected, with practice runs all morning and racing in the afternoon. Rouleau, Ty, Allie, and the rest of the team kept things moving along.

When it all shook out, Chase Hiller snagged first place. Daina Banks recovered from a first-round crash to come in, with Harper Knight third, and Riley Irvine in fourth.

I put the camera away after the podium and enjoyed the Sunday night campsite party before flying back to LA on Monday. Special thanks to Justin Rouleau, the entire Devil’s Peak crew, and Comet skateboards for getting me out there.

Some Thoughts on Gatekeeping In Skateboard Culture

Many skateboarders strongly identify as skaters and are very invested in the idea that, as skaters, they are members of a prestigious elite group of renegade outlaw athlete/artists. These skaters often have a sense of ownership over skateboarding and feel it is their responsibility to protect skateboarding from outsiders who they see as trying to change, corrupt, or co-opt this thing they love so much.

These guys see longboarders as dilettantes who are trying to steal their glory* by claiming to be skaters without suffering through the hard work, frustration, palm scrapes, and minor orthopedic injuries required to learn how to kickflip down a six stair. Talking trash about these “longboard kooks” provides an opportunity to make fun of strangers while reinforcing the skater’s identity as a member of an elite in-group.

That in-group/out group dynamic also manifests as a suspicion of women and lgbt people who skate, many of whom are accused of being posers because they wear skate-branded clothing without having met some arbitrary definition of “paying your dues.” This comes marbled in with garden-variety “she’s just doing this to get guys” and “she’s only sponsored because she’s a sexually attractive woman” sexism and low-grade “I don’t understand why you have to flaunt your sexuality in the skatepark” homophobia**.

Suspicion of and hostility toward outsiders has been actively encouraged by a legacy skate industry wary of competing with big businesses. Convincing kids that purchasing your sub-par sneakers at premium prices is a blow against Big Corporate is fantastic marketing. Declaring yourself the Bible of Skateboarding is a great way to extract lots of ad dollars from Big Corporate. If hating on longboarders helps you do that, well, go ahead and call them fags.

This anti-outsider attitude is bad, wrong, and unsustainable as skateboarding moves into the mainstream.

While lots of rad people skate, Being A Skater does not make you cool or smart or interesting or a member of a prestigious club, it just means you skate. Plenty of extremely talented skaters are genuinely terrible people: Jay Adams single handedly made skateboarding cool, then beat a gay dude to death and spent the rest of his life being a junkie loser. Jason Jessee had the cover of Thrasher last year and that dude is a literal Nazi. Gator killed a girl. Koston is kind of a douchebag on social media. I sometimes wait until the last second to merge into busy traffic. You get the picture. Skaters are just people.

Being a gatekeeping asshole about skating might make you feel superior in the moment but telling people who don’t look like you or skate like you that they aren’t real skaters is a dick move that helps keep skateboarding white, male, and straight by sending the message that difference isn’t welcome. We don’t actually lose anything when a stranger calls herself a skater because she pushes to work on a drop-platform longboard every day. Skateboarding is awesome. Why wouldn’t we want more people to do it?

The idea that you, me, Thrasher Magazine, or anyone else needs to “protect” skateboarding from hordes of businessmen, longboarders, girls, and homosexuals who want to co-opt** or change it is reactionary nonsense that has made skateboarding insular and exclusive, and for what? Skateboarding’s past is, uh, not great. Some change is a good thing.

The only rules in skateboarding are that there are no rules and you can do it yourself. Skateboarding is going to be just fine, even if someone, somewhere is doing it in a way you don’t like. There is no need to be a jerk to people who do it differently.

*I have been a pro longboarder for years. I can assure all of street skateboarding that none of us are trying to do a “stolen valor” on your frontside flip or culturally appropriate Dickies, Vans, and Thrasher shirts. Calm down.

**OBVIOUSLY, there is no real equivalence between the systemic injustice of misogyny and hating longboarders, but they’re both products of skate culture’s longstanding distrust of outsiders.

Why is Thrasher Magazine Trying to Rehabilitate Jason Jessee's Reputation?

Thrasher Magazine is to skateboarding what Vogue is to fashion: a tremendously powerful legacy publication run by a legendary editor who is capable of single handedly bestowing legitimacy upon an up-and-coming new talent. Appearing in the magazine is an important boost to any skater’s reputation and being featured on the cover of “the Bible” is considered an honor and a major career highlight.

Last May, 48 year old Santa Cruz pro Jason Jessee got his first Thrasher cover, an early evening fastplant to fakie on a vert ramp. At the time Jessee was a successful pro skateboarder and custom motorcycle builder who was enjoying a late-career renaissance as a brand ambassador and influencer, having just released a major video part for Converse.

Within days of the release of that video part, a now-deleted thread on the popular SlapMag.com skate forum revealed that he has a long and well-documented history of using racial slurs in interviews, displaying swastikas and other racist imagery on his body and in his artwork, and palling around with neo-nazi band the Highway Murderers. These revelations, which were summarized in a damning YouTube video and written up in Vice, made Jessee toxic to sponsors: he lost all of his endorsement deals within weeks.

Thrasher is notoriously petty about banning skaters from its pages based on the personal whims of its longtime editor, Jake Phelps, who recently died. Benji Galloway, a transition pro, is apparently banned for wearing knee pads at a contest. Frank Hirata is banned for expressing displeasure with the editing of his interview. Danny Gonzalez is banned for demanding payment for use of his likeness on the cover of the Thrasher video game. The list goes on.

Jason Jessee has appeared on the Thrasher website five times in the year following the Nazi revelations, including a recent video segment that concludes with other skaters literally bowing down to him. He has a positive mention in the latest issue of the print magazine as well.

Jason Jessee is not an especially talented or influential skateboarder in 2019. On the board, he is a replacement-level vert Barney who hasn’t done a new trick in 20 years. Fully half of his video parts are “lifestyle” footage of him riding bikes, driving around, and generally being a dirtbag. His appeal to skaters is based on his personality, image, and lifestyle, which has lost much of its appeal following the exposure of his white supremacist ties. (His recent arrest for possession of a stolen vehicle and an illegally modified assault rifle haven’t helped anything.)

Why does he keep appearing in Thrasher? Why do kneepads at a contest get you banned while repeated use of Nazi symbols doesn’t? What the hell is going on over there?

Narrow Hangars for Downhill and Freeriding, Explained

Are you confused as to why everyone seems to be in an arms race to ride the skinniest trucks they can find? I was too, until I tried them out. This article is my attempt to explain why all the top pro riders’ boards are an inch and a half skinnier than they were 3 years ago.

Why 180s?

Why are so many people switching to these narrower hangar widths and what do they mean for your setup? Before we get to that, we should ask why everyone was riding 180s for so long.

Way back in the prehistoric times of 2007, basically all of our gear sucked and the central problems of downhill skateboarding gear design were stability, the need to avoid wobbling out, and braking, the ability to slow down in a controlled manner without crashing.

180mm trucks helped solve those problems.

Wide hangars make your board more stable and less prone wobbles because getting a setup with a wide track width (the combined width of your trucks and wheels) to lean over and turn requires more force, especially when your board is relatively narrow. You won’t wobble if you can’t really turn.

Wide hangars and long wheelbases also helped with braking by smoothing out slides at a time when most wheels were prone to chatter, even when broken in, and we thought BigZigs were good freeride wheels. Ahh, good times.

Over the past ten years we have essentially solved the problems of stability and braking through advancements in truck geometry, wheel design, riding technique. At this point, the central issues of gear design have shifted away from basic issues of control and safety toward creating higher-performing gear that is easier and more fun to ride.

(As an aside, I think that we are in the middle of a radical cleavage between freeride and racing setups, with race boards becoming much narrower, shorter, and more aggressively directional slalom-type setups while freeride boards continue to look like most downhill longboards, albeit narrower.)

Through these advancements, the 180mm truck width has mostly stuck around out of tradition and inertia: most trucks were 180s, most boards were designed to fit them, and aside from some short-lived and unpopular experiments with 195s, nobody really thought to try anything else.

Why narrow hangars?

A few years ago, some downhill guys started chopping their trucks down and realized that a narrower setup can grip harder and slide more crisply than a wider setup, setting off a flurry of experimentation among high-level gear nerds. Eventually this trickled down to me and I gave narrow hangars a try shortly after the Venom Magnum came out.

I found that riding skinnier trucks has two major performance benefits: first, narrow hangars can make your board feel grippier and more responsive, especially when riding wide wheels like Venom Magnums that would otherwise make your track width (the combined width of your trucks and wheels, from lip to lip) considerably wider. That said, when you pair your narrower trucks with a narrower deck, you get the improvements in maneuverability while the grip and slide characteristics are basically unchanged. It’s not grippier or slidier or very different at all. It’s just narrower and easier to turn.

Second, and relatedly, as a dude with size nine and a half feet, I find this narrower setup noticeably easier to ride. The deck I’m riding right now tapers from about 9.25” in front to around 8.25” in back. That sounds crazy skinny; but it puts the rails directly under the ball and heel of my back foot, which allows me to do toeside and heelside slides without moving it. This also helps me get more on top of the board for more braking power, as I’m pushing straight down into the surface of the deck rather than sideways on the rail. When you stop to think about it, this makes a lot of sense: most street decks are between eight and eight and three quarters inches wide. Why should longboards be much wider?

The bottom line is that after 10 years of the 180 being THE standard, truck width is simply one more thing you can tune to fit your personal riding style.

Dialing in your setup.

Now, switching to narrower trucks requires adjusting some other parts of your setup. The main thing you need to consider, even more than absolute hangar width, is the relationship between track width and deck width. Slapping super-skinny hangars on a big wide board designed for 180s is gonna give you way too much leverage and make your setup tippy and prone to high-siding; so you are gonna want to pair your narrower trucks with a narrower board, whether this means busting out the bandsaw or buying a different deck altogether.

TRACK WIDTH VS BOARD WIDTH: Setup vs Riding Characteristics

Board wider than track width: Tippy, prone to high siding, extremely aggressive slide hookup, very maneuverable, less stable.

Equal: Good balance of stability and maneuverability, smooth slides with a crisp hookup. Ideal.

Board narrower than track width: Drifty, very stable, less maneuverable, less prone to high siding.

ACTUAL AXLE LENGTH OF TRUCK HANGAR SIZES

Hangar Width - Approximate Axle Length

  • 140mm - 8”

  • 150mm - 8.5”

  • 160mm - 8.75”

  • 170mm - 9”

  • 180mm - 9.5”

You’re also going to want to go down a step or three in bushing hardness, especially in your front truck if you’re running splits, because your suspension needs have changed. I dropped my front truck from a 93/90 combo to double 87a, and I still might go softer if I drop down to 140/150mm hangars.

(Based on the fact that I can ride the same exact bushing setup in Rogue Slalom trucks as people half my weight, I am starting to suspect that most people’s ideal bushing setup has more to do with truck angle and hangar width than their weight, but that’s a topic for another day.)

Finally, narrower hangars really emphasize the difference between narrow freeride wheels and wide race wheels. The narrow Rogue hangars are spaceable so you can make sure your track width matches your deck when you’re riding narrow freeride wheels and when you’re riding wide grippy wheels just by running the spacer on the wide or narrow setting.

The good news is that you probably don’t need to buy new trucks because you can send your current hangars out to Rolling Tree and have them machined down to whatever width you like.

Personally, I’m never going back to 180s. Narrow hangars and narrow downhill boards are one of those gear innovations, like the original Rogue truck or grippy brake soles, that provide an immediate and noticeable performance benefit, making skateboarding easier, safer, and more fun. They’re the kind of thing you want to tell your friends about so they can have a better time skating. Give ‘em a shot.