Today, coinciding with another episode of The Pro’s Closet’s World of Bikes series, we offer up an article Daniel Wakefield Pasley wrote to the head of the gravel (evil) empire, aka the overlords in control of the Gravel Hall of Fame, nominating skateboarding. Daniel has had more to do with the popularity of gravel than you might think and so let’s hear him out below. Please note, take this stuff with a grain (gravel) of (gravel) salt. It’s all in good fun!
While it does, for various reasons, make sense to nominate me—since most notably, I created the Rapha Continental, which, in addition to publishing photography, words, videos, maps, and instructions focused on mixed-surface “epics” for 2+ years, in the form of a multimedia guidebook on a blog (which at the time was itself “cutting edge” technology), the Rapha Continental also engaged a number of best-in-class independent framebuilders (Independent Fabrications, Moots, Ira Ryan, Vanilla, Sachs, Sycip, etc.) to literally design-and-develop the first bikes that could begin to not just handle that style of riding, but actually excel at it— nominating myself would be lazy. So instead, I’d like to nominate skateboarding.
If skateboarding seems too specific or out there, maybe think of skateboarding as shorthand for Action Sports: surfing, snowboarding, skateboarding, BMX, Heelys, scooters, squirrel suits aaaaaaaand first-generation late 80s /early 90s mountain biking. But, again, it’s easier to say skateboarding, so let’s do that.
In order to properly make my case for skateboarding, please bear with me for a second while I do some light history and context, which is integral to my argument and I swear is relevant. Take these points:
- Contrary to popular belief, skateboarding, at that time, was in fact basically illegal. In fact, in order to like, “do it,” you often had to trespass, transgress, or risk altercations with security guards. The possibility of fines, detainment, and even arrest was a very real and present danger. So going where you’re not supposed to go is literally hardwired into skateboarding.
- Because of 👆👆👆👆👆 and Ronald Regan, ”fuck the man” and rule-breaking were part and parcel to skateboarding.
- At the time, in street skating at least, there were no routes or prescribed lines or course directions. You had if you were lucky and lived somewhere like Los Angeles, miles and miles of ledges, curbs, handrails, walls, banks, curb cuts, staircases, etc., but how you linked those things together and what you did on them was entirely up to you and your imagination. So visualization and “line creation” are also hardwired into skateboarding.
- While self-expression was a large part of skateboarding, it was also about physicality and athleticism, even if nobody would have used words like that, or would have wanted to even admit that skateboarding had some low-key “sport” vibes.
- If we look at all these facts together, it’s why, in the early to mid-90s, you had a large number of transgressing, rule-breaking, line-visualizing, closeted athletes looking for something to do—preferably with wheels.
- In 1992 I traded some weed and a snowboard to my friend Rick for my first road bike—that’s right, I was 10-speed curious—which was a red CAAD4. I showed up to my first group ride a few weeks later—Tuesday Night at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena—with a visor, a Camelbak, and a Sony Discman, and let’s just say I was not popular.
- I did some crits. Boring. But you know, fun in a way too. And I went on a ride or two. But pretty quickly I was annoyed that road cycling, as an activity, lacked any of the shred-ability that was so important to me and was like, baked into my worldview. Also, I was getting simultaneously stronger and increasingly less interested in racing, cause remember, I grew up doing a sport that was NOT ABOUT competition, even if it kinda was about competition.
- In 1996 I moved to Portland, Oregon. It was great back then. Like moving to the Bay Area in the late 60s but also not at all like that. One thing though, it turned out mountain biking there sucked, while the road riding, especially if you were creative and morally flexible about caring for your wheels, was unreal.
- And that’s when I invented gravel. Along with EVERY OTHER DUDE (AND WOMAN!) roughly my age and with roughly my interests. The way I see it, I was just around at the right time in the right place. I was just an instrument if you will. The hand of God. Like a priest or a disciple, of which there were literally hundreds, if not thousands, all of us real-time reimagining what’s fun, reasonable, and possible on a drop-bar bike with the right attitude and sensibilities. For us, Skateboarders and Action Sports Enthusiasts the world over, the idea of coming to a stop and turning around just because the road changed from chipseal to dirt was laughable at best. Skateboarding taught us to see lines, imagine connections, and transgress with alacrity. In this context skateboarding isn’t a sport, it’s a way of seeing the world, literally. It’s why an entire generation at roughly the same time, decided to just keep going, past the seam, past the imaginary invisible wall that was never there in the first place. Also, we had nooooo problem getting super fucked-up on hunger and weather and exhaustion, and rolling home in the dark with no lights, cause we were used to falling downstairs and sharing Taco Bell burritos.
So all of that is true, and that’s my first reason why skateboarding belongs in the Gravel Hall of Fame. My second reason is that skateboarding is an institution, not a person or a group. And like, it’s never been more evident than individualism is horrible and stupid, and to blame, like really blame, for so so so so much that’s wrong in the world. How good would it be to cite a shared cultural phenomenon over a single person? (Unless that single person is Grant Peterson because he’s also a cultural phenomenon.)
PS: If Rough Stuff Archive isn’t among those inducted into the Gravel Hall of Fame, I will make it my mission to cause problems for you…
-Daniel Wakefield Pasley