Koston & Beasley

Koston & Beasley

Ride to Live, Live to Ride — Notes on professional skateboarding, Eric Koston and Theotis Beasley. Skullcandy European Skate Tour, 2012. Barcelona, Spain.

The lobby of Barcelona’s Hotel Inglaterra is an air-conditioned nightmare of beat and broken skateboarders. It’s a scorching but flawless summer day, the sun hanging relentless in a cloudless sky – a far cry from the grey sprawl of London left only hours ago.

It’s the morning of day two of the Skullcandy European Skate Tour, and Barcelona’s underbelly has already struck a practised blow. Shadows of former-selves creep out of the shadows, wincing through sunglasses, taunted by bleary half-memories of countless drinks and sloppy hook-ups. The laughter filling the lobby comes in waves of pure pain.

Among the holiday wreckage, though, sits a fresh-faced Theotis Beasley, the hugely promising young skateboarder from Hawthorne, California. He smiles with ease and jams to tunes on his phone, seemingly unscathed by the aftermath of Barcelona’s nocturnal wrath. As one of the chargers among Andrew Reynolds’ raucous, style-heavy Baker crew, the twenty-one-year-old gives off a surprisingly mellow, modest vibe. He’s among the few always in good spirits, always stoked. Nothing is taken for granted.

Together, we step outside to get some fresh air while we wait for Eric Koston, a longstanding figurehead of skateboarding who’s pioneered much of its progression from the mid-1980s through to today. Standing out in the road to reserve a parking spot for our lift around the city, we get to talking about the Beatles-worthy mob scene they were greeted with yesterday and about rapper Rick Ross, whose voice is spilling out of the standard-issue headphones around Theo’s neck.

Through the crowd flowing up from Placa Catalunya, the city centre perched at the top of the world famous La Rambla, we spot Eric – but the thirty-seven-year-old figure heading our way is not quite as I envisioned. In keeping with the video parts embedded in my brain, I expect him to roll up on his board, ready to rip. Instead, he walks towards us carrying his three-year-old daughter and talking to his wife as she strolls next to him holding his son’s hand. In tow is their blonde-haired nanny pushing a decked-out stroller with Eric’s board propped on the handles.

Skateboarding, and the touring life that comes with it, is a family affair in the Koston household. For Eric, who’s already been on the road for a good two months, not having his young family along would mean rarely seeing them at all. So instead, they all adopt skateboarding’s wayfaring ways. “My daughter’s only three now, you know, and this will already be her third time in Copenhagen,” Eric remarks. “She came to Europe when she was a month-and-a-half old.”

Eric says his good-byes for the day and his family head off to check out the many wild faces of Barcelona’s historical weirdness while he sets up to ride it. In other words, it’s time to clock in and go to work. A loud horn rings out and our ride finally shows up. The fat nine-seater van pulls an obscene U-turn and peels in to park. Though everyone has arrived and looks ready to split, still we wait. Statutes of Spanish time begin to kick in.

Finally, we pile into the van and head off. The back row is taken up by the Skateboarder mag crew, a mix of filmers and photographers. The next row holds Theotis, Eric and myself. Both are laid-back and approachable, but having grown up watching Eric skate and with Theo’s recent footage at the forefront of my mind, piling into a van to skate around Barcelona with these guys feels oddly surreal yet familiar at the same time – like it’s just any other session with friends.

We hit the road and, after introductions fade, reggaeton starts busting from the van’s speakers. Talk turns to the excellence of GG Allin as we dodge the traffic on the way to Parallel – or Parallelo – a legendary manual-pad spot tucked among scattered trees and lined by a sprawling wall of graffiti.

Upon arrival, first order of business by general consensus is the need for supplies: big bottles of water, a six-pack and some extra beers, just to be safe. As we hit the semi-shade of the thin trees at the spot, professional Girl skater Kenny Anderson hauls past chased by a filmer. Sitting watching him on one of the mani-pads is Rick McCrank. Next to him, Mike Carroll. It quickly becomes clear that most of the Girl team is hanging here on a skate tour of their own, filming some last-minute lines for their upcoming video, Pretty Sweet.

Behind the graffiti wall, where the square opens out to the amphitheatre stage-turned-skate ledge, roll the rest of the Girl crew. Some are skating free and easy, some are really charging to juice up their upcoming parts, some are just hanging loose and knocking back cans of Estrella Damm and San Miguel. Generally, they’re all burning down the spot in one way or another, getting baked by the Barcelona sun (and, in some cases, its local produce, too).

It’s hard to believe that, for these guys, this demo on street skating and easy living actually qualifies as time at the office. This is work. Dormant envy begins to stir. The appeal of skateboarding for a living is still as blinding as ever: to live fast and loose on someone else’s dime, to be at home all around the world, and to get paid for the whole deal – by most standards that qualifies as living the dream.

But like most good things in life, there is a flipside.

We’ve been here for over an hour and certain things, people rather, are starting to change. Kenny Anderson, for example, is pouring with sweat, fatigued and noticeably trying to keep his shit together without fully flipping out. He’s been relentlessly trying a frontside bigspin to switch nose manual on one of the slabs since before we showed up, probably for about the past two hours. Mind games are now at play.

Mike Mo Capaldi has been trying to hammer out some crazy light-footed madness – something along the lines of a fakie backside 180 to manual to backside flip to switch manual to some other crazy shit all on one ten-foot long pad. Unfortunately, despite getting real close a few times he doesn’t manage to put it down, instead giving his board a bit of a beating before cooling out in the Girl team van.

Theotis, too, is charging and spends an ultimately successful but exhausting solid hour-and-a-half getting a very clean fakie kickflip switch nose manual to fakie tre-flip out on tape.

This bittersweet process is nothing new to skaters. But we forget that guys like Eric and Theo also have to pay their dues. Our perception of reality has become so distorted, thanks to the barrage of footage that focuses in on the good stuff and cuts the chaff. Hours of frustration are whittled down to three seconds of perfectly landed technical feats. Apart from the odd slam section, the blood and sweat spills only behind the scenes.

Eric is no stranger to the mounting pressure and tedium of an average session. “Yesterday I hit the wall pretty hard,” he admits. “It just gets to the point of so much repetition that you just can’t do it any more. I actually threw my board once and then was like, ‘Ah, don’t do this! Don’t let it get to you!’ So I skated off and just got a water – well, some shitty sugar water called Aquarius – then came back to the spot and just watched some other dudes skate. I had my drink, tried to calm down and hit the reset button, pretty much having to start all over again.” He pauses: “It’s hard sometimes, but you just need to leave the spot and get a change of scenery because you forget what you’re doing. You’re just on autopilot and you’re so used to bailing that you just keep on bailing.”

Skateboarding is, and always will be, a purely personal challenge that reaps personal rewards – that’s one of the perks. But for forerunners like Eric, pressure to perform often comes from outside, fuelled by a demand for ever-progressive video parts and near-constant innovation. “It’s crazy how much I’ve seen skating evolve, how much it has changed,” explains Eric. “I remember seeing things done when they weren’t even really thought of, let alone thought possible. Starting in the mid-eighties, it’s been pure evolution […] And it gets harder and harder. Especially with filming, it gets a little tough trying to do something you haven’t done before. And you can’t always do everything you can think of. I wish it worked like that but sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.”

Likening pro skateboarders to professional athletes in mainstream sports may feel wrong, but there is some truth in the analogy. As Brian Anderson said of Eric in the VBS web series Epicly Later’d, he’s become “like the Tiger Woods of skateboarding”. But, despite an affinity for golf, the likeness ends there. As co-owner of Fourstar Clothing and influential skate hub The Berrics, Eric has involved himself in the business of skateboarding in a more immersive way.

“Skateboarding is all I know. It’s been my only job, and from it you become more interested in creating, whatever it may be, whether it’s a product, a graphic idea, a clothing idea, or designing a shoe,” he says. “All that stuff I’m interested in, I can contribute to in some way. […] I know I can’t skate forever, but I’d definitely love to be a part of skateboarding forever. It’s not always going to be tricks, but I will still skate for as long as my body will let me. […] And I want to teach my kids how to skateboard. I want to be able to show them a tre-flip when they can understand it and say, ‘Dad can do that!’”

The pace at which skateboarding has exploded in recent years has brought its own brand of celebrity. As we leave Parallel, bound for the Forum skatepark by the beach, the locals bring this point home as they start their assault. They run up screaming, some asking for gear and signatures, some demanding them. They’re so stoked to see these guys ride and hang with them that they bang on the doors and windows of the van as we pile in.

At Forum, Theotis takes the brunt of it and finds himself engulfed in a small mob scene. He’s all smiles and even goes as far as hooking some lucky kid up with the hat off his head. The kid gets so excited it nearly brings on a nosebleed. Then things get weird and they all start asking for the rest of his clothes, even down to his shoes and pants. If they had their way, he would’ve been left streaking through Barcelona.

One well-executed escape plan later, we drive up the winding roads to Tibidabo, the mountaintop cathedral that looks out over the Mediterranean. After a long day skating in sweltering heat, us hangers-on (journalists, photographers and general entourage) get a chance to mellow out. But Theotis and Eric are still on the clock. The golden hour casts a warm glow over the city and the filmers and photographers break out their cameras, setting up some portraits, cityscapes and a few time-lapses for the tour footage.

Eric splits to film some heavy session at a local handrail, so Theotis is on call now. He puts on his Skullcandy headphones, as instructed, and moves into shot. Even after an exhausting skate session, he’s got nothing but good vibes for the shoot.

As the golden hour fades, the photo session comes to an end and everyone clocks off. The workday is over and Barcelona’s evening siren song begins again. Beer, tapas, beer, MACBA, skate, beer.

The next few days are a fast-paced blur of ‘cultural’ excursions around the city. Speedy photo shoots take place at every tourist hotspot in town, from Gaudi’s still-unfinished Sagrada Familia, to the castle on Montjuïc, to an interesting, albeit sketchy shoot on the beach with some domino-playing, tattoo-covered Catalan ex-cons. In the space of a few hours, dozens of pictures of Koston and Beasley – sponsors’ logos emblazoned across their chests — are Instagrammed and Tweeted across the globe.

It may seem counter-intuitive, this lack of spontaneity, to skateboarding’s raw and reckless roots. But, in many ways, all the posing, product placement and paparazzi’ing seems like a relatively small price to pay for a ticket around the world. Whatever way you look at it, they’re still in Barcelona, they’re still roaming the globe, they’re still both riding to live and living to ride. That kind of rewarding work is undoubtedly more than can be said of most jobs.

“I started travelling around, I mean really travelling the world, when I was nineteen,” Eric remarks. “I learned the world from skateboarding. It really does totally culture you; it opens your eyes.”