Life and Limb: Skateboarders Write from the Deep End

Life and Limb: Skateboarders Write from the Deep End

Edited by Justin Hocking, Jared Maher, and Jeffrey Knutson
Introduction by Jocko Weyland.
Soft Skull Press
ISBN: 1-932360-28-X
Copyright Date: 06/1/2004
Type: Soft cover. 220 Pages
Size: 5.5 x 98.5 inches
Review Date: 3/4/05

Skateboarding culture has gradually assimilated art and personal expression. The origin can probably be traced to Stecyk’s famous writings in Skateboarder where he first began to suggest that there was more to skateboarding than the simple act of rolling, and that a certain connection could be made to art and lifestyle. As far back as the eighties Thrasher magazine would occasionally feature fiction and obscure art, something that Transworld’s “Skate and Create” ethos certainly helped along. GSD, Swank Zine, Contort, Templeton, and Gonzales were among those who ran with it. By the end of the nineties it was pretty much an acknowledged fact that a healthy portion of the core skateboard community was artsy-fartsy. Yes, somewhere along the way we got uppity. 2004 was a banner year for books by skaters, for skaters. Who knew we could read, let alone write?

“Life and Limb” is a collection of short stories written by skaters, some famous, some not. Each story is accompanied by a photograph or illustration or two. Like a lot of short story collections, the quality or effectiveness can be hard to maintain from author to author. Jocko Weyland’s introduction states “You won’t find an anthology of poems by NBA players or a book of paintings by tennis pros, and if such a vanity indulgence were unleashed it would garner attention based solely on the contributor’s celebrity instead of their talent.” Basically, his point is that this collection is supposed to be interesting due to the fact that the author’s common background in skating allows them a unique perspective on life and writing, and that the reader shouldn’t care whether they are famous, good skaters, or even writing about skateboarding, for that matter. If you hold the book up to Weyland’s standards, you’ll find that Life and Limb somewhat successful. If you are only interested in reading about skateboarding, than you’ll find it less interesting.

One point that Weyland makes is that “another facet of skateboarding’s uniqueness is that a ‘nobody’ can write a story and it will end up in anthology with an acknowledged legend like Mark Gonzales.” Ironically, Gonzales’ contribution is one of the shortest and weakest ones in the book. It seem like he was included simply because of his celebrity. It’s amusing, yes, but at about one page it seems lacking in effort and only serves to reinforce the Cult of Gonzales. Other pieces seem lacking because they are either too short or there is no background of work to subconsciously inform the reader.

On the plus side, there are some really compelling stories present. A lot of them are actual excerpts from longer stories, or feel like they are based on some actual events. Sometimes it’s hard to tell who is embellishing and who is re-tellingas with Jeff Knutson’s Trip. Michael Burnett’s Get Radical is a familiar and believable fiction with the exception of a historically inaccurate fingerboard collection. Nial Neeson’s tale of the decline of Western Skateboarding Civilization through the likening of today’s magazine and video spot/trick obsession to that of pornography – actual title The Lost Boys might be the most thoughtful and concise analysis of the State of Skateboarding today, and it even includes an amusing personal tale. Jared Jagang Maher’s The U.L.F. Does Not Exist! tackles similar and broader issues of skateboarder vs culture. Not surprisingly, it originally appeared in Adbusters magazine. U.L.F. is definitely one of the standouts, even if it is just a repurposed Fight Club. Jocko Weyland’s Rumble at Riverside and Justin Hocking’s Whaling are more vulnerable looks at culture clash.

While some stories will likely only appeal to skaters, such as Wez Lundry’s Last Summer Some Hippy Pinched My Stick (insert Surf Punks reference here), other highlights have marginal or no skateboarding references, including Andreas Trolf’s With Love and Squalor, and Jeff Parker’s Ovenman, who is the kind of character you can really empathize with.

Life and Limb is kind of a tough one to call. There is definitely some interesting reading, but the collection doesn’t succeed solely on the ground of good stories or purely on skateboard-related features, and some of it is just plain filler. Fortunately, at $13.95 it’s not much of a risk.

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