For such a solitary pursuit, skateboarding has a funny way of bringing people together. It’s a simple, if somewhat contradictory phenomenon and – here’s the best bit – it can happen at the drop of a hat. Sure, impromptu sessions go down every day – pools get thrashed, sidewalks get surfed and abandoned cities get brought back to life – but they usually burn out as quickly as they start. It’s only when you throw a camera into the mix that those serendipitous moments shared by a few become immovable fixtures of skateboarding lore – snapshots of stories that get bandied about, long after the dust has settled and the action fades.
It’s lucky, then, that photographer Isaac McKay-Randozzi jumped at the opportunity to join The Solitary Arts crew on a recent road trip that, from the word go, seemed pre-destined to take a few twists and turns.
Founded by renowned artist Geoff McFetridge and organisational mastermind Yong-Ki Chang, The Solitary Arts is no ordinary skateboard company. With passion, not profit, taking the lead, each custom-built board boasts the unmistakable McFetridge stamp: in an industry that seems ready to churn out any ass-ugly, cost-cutting design, SA boards hover somewhere between rideable plaything and work of high art. So, it came as no surprise when The Solitary Arts was invited to take part in A Product of Design, an exhibition in Culver City’s Scion Space that saw designers from different disciplines showcasing personal passion projects – photos, artwork, installations and clothing designs – that blur the line between ‘product and art object, collectability and function’.
With McFetridge building a nine-feet tall installation called the ‘Curb Thief’, Chang gathered together The Solitary Arts team – a legendary little crew, with a mean age of forty-one, consisting of Virginia Beach local Bob Lake and Jef ‘All Hearts’ Hartsel of eighties’ Alva team fame – piled them into an ’86 Vanagon nicknamed ‘The Mule’ and set off from the Bay Area for an ad libbed skate tour for the middle-aged. “I wanted to share an experience that encapsulated our love as skateboarders for travelling, making art, showing at a gallery space, and getting some round-walls together as a family – all in a week,” explains Chang.
McKay-Randozzi adds: ”When Yong-Ki asked me to be the photographer for the trip, I knew it was going to be something unique. Solitary Arts doesn’t do events like this and with the recent addition of legendary Jef Hartsel to the team, I knew that the interaction between him and Bob Lake was going to be something special. It was: they fed off each other’s energy, skating like two kids who’d just downed double shots of espresso.”
Over the next few days, bowls were sessioned and good times had (in-between all the hard work going down at Scion Space, that is.) Things took a magical twist when Z-boys legend Jay Adams rocked up at Arto Saari’s Hollywood pool for a little spontaneous slashathon. It’s been over three years since Adams was released from prison, and the mythology of his past still leaves a trail. But now, having reconnected with Jef Hartsel to resurrect EzRyder Originalz – the custom-built skateboard company he first founded with his family in 1975 – Adams is piecing together the best bits of his history, one sidewalk-surfing board at a time.
With Adams dropping in to the sound of Suicidal Tendencies, and Hartsel, Chang and Lake standing by for their turns, the trip inadvertently morphed into a subcultural summit of sorts, as two generations of fiercely independent skate company owners found their like-minds interlocked.
No matter how grown-up skateboarding seems to get, that need to keep things totally DIY has a funny way of helping people connect.