Words create reality and if the words are limited, they either also limit your reality or lack in describing what is going on. That’s why skateboarding created an ever-evolving technical language that can translate tricks into words, so you can describe to your friends what crazy maneuvers you did on your board. However, sometimes the evolution of language is slower than the evolution of the reality it is describing. Daryl Mersom is a friend of ours and a friend of words and was bugged out by this. That’s why he had a closer look at terms that should be replaced and found some words in other languages that would be useful to include in our vocabulary.
Few would disagree that English is the language of skateboarding. Travel anywhere in the world and you’ll be understood amongst skaters in just a few esoteric words. Kickflip, ollie, and powerslide spill out like code words amongst the initiated. In some cases, trick names alone are enough to meet new friends and hang out at a skatepark in a country where you don’t speak the language. It shouldn’t surprise us that tricks are named in English. Nearly 400 million people speak it as their first language, and it is an official language in over 59 countries. Our art form was pioneered in the US and the fundamental maneuvers were named there. Even the language with which we describe the built environment derives from American English. We skate around cities with our eyes peeled for distant relatives of Hubba Hideout and Pier 7. Though, to be fair, République and the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) are famous examples of spots known by another tongue.
It’s time to question the dominance of the English language in skateboarding. Can a culture that celebrates diversity and heterogeneity tolerate “mongo” any longer? It is difficult to prove for certain that the word derives from the deeply pejorative “mongoloid”, but even so, when outsiders hear skaters taunt “mongo” at one another, a host of negative connotations are brought to the fore. The word was once used by scientists to describe people with Down's syndrome and makes a crude and offensive comparison to Mongolian physiognomy. It is twice barbed then.
"In Kazakhstan, skaters use the Cyrillic “На ходах” to refer to doing a trick at full speed."
Our terminology also excludes homosexuals. In the R.a.D Skateboard Encyclopaedia (1989) the “gay twist” is described in literal terms as a “fakie 360 mute air”. Surely the neutral latter is not so much of a mouthful that we can’t exclude the homophobic former for good. Language matters because it reflects the assumptions of a culture in nuanced ways. And until now, our culture has held some troubling views. Is it possible that the glacial pace at which skateboarding accepted that some of us might also be gay is bound up with the under-appreciated homoerotic nature of the art form? Strobeck’s uncomfortable use of slow motion hints at this. It is men looking at other men, appreciating the shapes of their bodies, and how they put together an outfit. Skaters literally check each other out (Check Out: so and so on | TransWorld SKATEboarding).
Fortunately, the language of skateboarding is not set in stone. It develops along with fashions, cultural attitudes, and the commercialization of our subculture. Tricks are slippery things, and throughout the world, new names for them are being coined. When I spoke to the Far East Skate Network, they gave me the Hiragana for “hippie jump”, which is タケシ. It translates into English as “Takeshi” and comes from the Japanese game show in which contestants jump between obstacles in an effort to storm Takeshi's Castle. フルプッシュ or “full push” is another unique phrase. Ricky Oyola is the best-known practitioner of full push. In Kazakhstan, skaters use the Cyrillic “На ходах” to refer to doing a trick at full speed. The Russian “Трёшка” describes a 360 flip, and sounds a lot like “tre flip”, as does the Hungarian “trezor”. There are even place-specific names for tricks. Marcelo Formiguinha has a trick called the “favela slide”, which is named after the neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. In the early 2000s, Austrian vert skater Roman Hackl performed his signature trick, the “frontside flip roast beef grab”. In German-speaking countries, it became known as the “Hackl flip”.
One of the gates to our subculture, that protects it from outsiders, is its deeply esoteric language. When someone uses a trick name out of THPS, they instantly give themselves away. The initiated will know. The Olympics will force us to codify our tricks and will not permit deviations. Switch front biggie or nollington hards are out. Phrases such as these will only confuse an already perplexed general public. If we are going to stay one step ahead, we might have to switch from English, and start using タケシ and Трёшка.
Illustration: Stefan Vogtländer