- Text by Biju Belinky
If there’s one stereotype that’s haunted skaters all over the world since the beginning of time, it’s the one that says they’re unmotivated dropouts, spending their days smoking weed in a variety of dingy basements.
Now – if you’ve ever actually paid attention to anything related to skateboarding, you probably know that that stereotype is very far from the truth. After all, some skaters spend years revitalising abandoned spaces and putting together completely DIY parks for the benefit of the community, while others continuously destroy numerous body parts challenging themselves to new tricks – all while managing to maintain a close-knit community riddled with almost exclusively positivity and good vibes.
Looking a bit closer, it’s also not hard to spot the deep-seated link between skating and photography. Amazing creators such as Ed Templeton and Jerry Hsu stemmed directly from the scene, delving into photographing via the skateboard. It was that unspoken connection between creativity and skateboarding that Kelli Watson decided to explore with her latest interactive documentary project, We Can Fly.
A media production teacher, Kelli came to the idea after becoming annoyed with the attitude of academia towards the work of her students who were interested in skateboarding. “A lot of my students who were really creative, but lacked motivation, were skaters,” she tells me over the phone. “I wanted to validate skateboarding as an activity, and to prove people wrong.”
With that motivation, Kelli went on to her Master’s degree, studying the skateboarding scene from a global perspective. An outsider herself, Kelli admires the subculture’s ability to remain consistent throughout different countries, as well as its ability to embrace creativity as one of its core values.
“As a teacher, skateboarding is a really important tool for enhancing resilience, and independence skills. Skateboarders do everything themselves,” she says. “They fall off the board, they get back on. I think that is very underappreciated – what these people are doing with very little.”
Based in England but looking to expand further, Kelli’s docu-series features four icons of the local skating scene who work with a variety of creative mediums: Illustrator Eloise Dorr, multi-media artist Ben Gore, poet Mat Loyd, and Barry Kay, a furniture designer who works with innovatively repurposing skateboards. Also interviewed are Deadbeat Club photographers Ed Templeton and Grant Hatfield.
We Can Fly will launch on August 22, at Doomed Gallery. You can accompany the project as it develops through the We Can Fly website.