Isle Skateboards – Vase review

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In common with skateboarders across the UK, I spent a mid-week evening huddled in front of Isle’s debut full-length video ‘Vase’. This was courtesy of Nottingham’s 42 skate shop, with a large crowd squeezed onto Rough Trade’s trendy utilitarian chipboard benches drinking expensive craft lager.

The audience mixed fans of OG Blueprint, those who’ve seen and enjoyed Jacob Harris’ previous work, especially the award winning ‘Eleventh Hour’, and daft youth who don’t know or care about any of those things. This context is relevant to y’all, as any familiarity with Isle co-owner Nick Jensen’s other life as a fine artist, the brand’s unrepentant positioning towards the ‘arty’ end of the spectrum, and the series of high-concept web edits for Dazed & Confused could lead you to fear an experience veering towards the Quartersnacks parody of late-stage Alien Workshop: “seagulls….. seeaaaagullls….. seeeaaaa gullllllls”. But it doesn’t veer that way. For full disclosure, I really rate Isle’s thoughtful graphic output and dug their Dazed & Confused stuff – but I’m a pretentious bastard.

For more down-to-earth types, Vase manages to be more than a little arty whilst fully committing to raw, relatable street skating on almost entirely crusty ass spots. It’s urgent, fun, short and snappy, and makes you want to skate in the tradition of the fine ol’ proper skate videos made by old folk in ancient times. I say “video” not “film”: no one likes a trust-fund Tarquin who calls every Instagram post a fucking ‘feature film’ and they wouldn’t like Vase, and all is well with that.

Three things to cover: the filming and editing; the music; and the skating. The prophesied artsiness in the editing is pretty paired down – grainy skits of the team and a nice linking theme of silver party balloons initialing each skaters’ name that drift forlornly in the wind, deflate on spiked railings, or float out across the Thames. And quite a few floating vases plus the VX-as-flowerpot motif used in the magazine ads. But the filming is a game changer – with Jacob Harris taking the fidgety VX mastery one associates with Minuit/Magenta’s Yoan Taillandier to new levels, sticking unbelievably close to the skater, from super low down, and jerking towards or away from the obstacle to create a sense of speedy dynamism that queasily draws you along with the action. In this, Vase has similarities with Static, Minuit or the Japanese Lenz films – but overall looks entirely different, not least in the bleached palette that makes everything look drenched by weak, winter sunlight. Definite contender for honorary doctorate in VX studies, making others’ switch to HD look all weird again just as we’d finally gotten used to it. Vase also feels like a change-up on the more sedate, dreamy Eleventh Hour.

Onto the music, which is again a change on Jacob Harris’ previous stuff – eschewing Motown for a heavy 1980s UK electronic bias: Yazzoo, New Order…. Ian Rees spent the entire video delightedly bobbing about in my peripheral vision. But not to everyone’s tastes. Hip hop heads and Mixtape/Static purists left grumpily claiming song-for-song replay of the BBC’s Synth Britannia.

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Finally the skating. Despite some of it being obscured by Will Golding’s massive head in front of the screen (how can someone blessed with such precise, dexterous feet have a head the size and shape of a Looney Toons anvil?), the skating mixes relatable lines with the occasional mind-blowing banger. Tom Knox, with pro status awarded with the video’s release, opens with super quick feet, enviable flatland game and the closest of camera follows (or maybe I was just coveting his sneakers) and nails one of Vase’s super-bangers – ollieing out to a tight wallride then dropping into a subway underpass (with subways reoccurring later). This was one of my favourite sections of the video. Casper Brooker, with long legs that never seem to bend too much, nails the other highly notable banger – a kickflip across the width of the Southbank 7 into the flatbank the other side.

Paul Shier and Jon Nguyen share a section. Co-owner and transatlantic Blueprint hero Shier is short and sweet, with fast ledge combos and whipped flips on tight banks (no signature tres flip though) and Nguyen filling in the post-Blueprint hole left by Coakley: the bearded Yank with the super precise flip tricks, unafraid of jumping switch stance down curved hubbas. Enjoying Shier’s section, and then writing about it, hopefully pays penance for the time, shortly after the release of ‘Lost & Found’ when I (drunk out of my mind) sang “heart breaker” at him whilst he was waiting at a bar in Barcelona, a performance I sustained for a good one and a half minutes longer than either of us were comfortable with. That said bar was themed on a fairies’ grotto leaves absolutely nothing that isn’t drenched in shame. As someone of similar vintage, it’s stoking to see Shier continue to put it down to such a level – something he’d better continue doing until he drops dead at 103, otherwise I’m summoning a posse to fly out to LA to sing “heartbreaker” at him until everyone’s face melts like Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Sylvian Tognelli and Nick Jensen have solid sections mid-way through the video. For Jensen, with so many amazing sections under his belt at what is still a relatively young age – including sections that are contenders for ‘best section’ in videos stacked with great skaters (‘Lost & Found’, ‘City of Rats’ and ‘Eleventh Hour’) – it must be hard to plan a strategy, especially if you’re a notorious over thinker. In the case of Vase, Jensen opts for something a little more planned out than his more spontaneous ‘City of Rats’ section, with lines that seem deceptively simple (bump to bar ollies) before morphing into all switch or alternate ambidexterity. A couple of enormous switch flips, one down a stair set that would have been a section ender ten years’ ago, are thrown in the middle to remind us that Jensen can skate everything better than almost everyone.

The last section honours are held down by stylish Welshman Chris Jones – which ties with Tom Knox as my favourite of the video (on first watch, although you know how different sections churn around as favourites on repeat watches). A couple of the bank to block/bar tricks and the gap ollie into a tight bank stand out as the big tricks, but I really loved his couple of downhill lines through subway underpasses – long, fast flatland with alternate switch and regs tricks and then out-of-the-blue snaps down decent sized stair sets. He has a cool lanky, slightly hunched yet relaxed steez as well – kind of like Philly OG Brian Douglas – coupled with that enormous pop. Long downhill underpass lines for #trendwatch in 2016? Its got to be 20 years since Ricky, Tim O’Connor and Fred Gall did them on Eastern Exposure and 411.

Marks of a good skate video include an urge to skate immediately after (and at least 3 days of desperately wanting to push yourself to skate better before slipping into the usual tentative mediocrity) and a strong memory of both the detail and the overall feel of the thing. All those criteria are well met by Vase. I knew I’d dig it, as a fan of Blueprint, Eleventh Hour and a bunch of the skaters in their own rights, but I didn’t expect it to make such an original, skate-year defining impression.

Hope this installs Isle where they deserve to be in the eyes of the British (and global) consuming public, especially amongst those who are unafraid to take an hour out of a skate trip to visit a gallery.

Chris Lawton

Boys of Summer – full video

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Get the teas on again for this as Jeff Kutter’s new video Boys of Summer has been sent to the interweb overnight featuring a shit load of known skateboarders. This is fun as fuck, tongue in cheek and well worthy of watching footage of the likes of Jason Dill, Alex Olson, Eric Koston, Andrew Reynolds, Jerry Hsu, Heath Kirchart, Mike Carroll, Dylan Rieder, Gino Iannucci and many more.

Download it here.

Gilbert Crockett interview

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One of the best parts of being involved in skateboarding is appreciating someone else’s natural ability to ride one, especially when they are straight-forward rolling like Gilbert Crockett. The Virginian may have been left in Alien Workshop limbo with the rest of the team exactly a year ago, but it didn’t slow down his ability to progress whatsoever. He just pushed faster.

With a killer new part under his wing in the new Vans Propeller movie and launching a new skate company, Mother Collective, he’s had his work cut out, but Crockett’s attitude on and off a board comes across as nothing but refreshing. Chris Pulman spoke with him the week before Propeller hit screens to speak about the good things that have gone down of late:

Looks like you have a busy year ahead. You must be pretty excited?

Yes, I am. I can’t wait to see this video.

I guess filming for the Vans video is pretty much wrapped up by now. Are you happy with what you have for it?

Yeah, we’re all done. I am happy with what I have, it’s been a long time coming.

It’s gonna be pretty epic purely from the list of riders Vans has. Is there anyone in particular you’re looking forward to seeing a part from?

I’m really looking forward to AVE’s and Daniel’s parts, but also just the whole thing. I can’t wait to see what Greg does.

Greg Hunt has some formidable projects under his belt and a real ability for communicating skateboarding in a genuine way. Do you get any direction from him? Do you have a strong vision of how you’d like to be portrayed or is more a case of ‘just get on with it’ and do what you do as best and as interestingly as you can?

I think Greg and I see eye to eye on a lot of things, and I think what you said is true about him doing things in a genuine way, and that is definitely a goal of mine when trying to put something together. So, I think I’m definitely just inspired by Greg, and working with him motivates me because I feel like we have a mutual respect about both of us wanting to do our job well and be happy with what we make.

The feeling I get from watching the Cellout and Bust Crew videos is that you use your talent to skate everything you come across. There’s a real genuine excitement from the act of skateboarding that comes across from these. It reminds me of being younger and street skating and trying to do everything on anything. Do you still get that excitement of real challenges in real surroundings?

Yes of course. Skateboarding for me at this point is sort of an intimate, emotional thing for me. If I’m skating the shittiest ledge you’ve ever seen with my friends and everyone is excited and having fun and trying to do whatever we can on it, I’m going to skate better than when I’m on a more serious session and I can feel everything around me like, “Wow, I called this session out and I’m wasting everyone’s time if I don’t get this”. But even then, I want to try to get a clip or a photo that my friends will be siked on.

Do you think that’s a reflection of growing up in Virginia? I’ve never been there, but I’m guessing, like a lot of us that didn’t grow up in major cities, you have to make do with the architecture that’s directly in front of you.

Yeah. It definitely has to do with that, and also, I think getting older and after you’ve been skating for 10-15 years, you start to want to just fuck around with spots that you’ve driven by your whole life, and just learn how to skate different shit, or shittier shit.

At a time when a lot of media is digested in disposable web-clips and instagram posts, what do you feel is the purpose of a full-length skate film?

I think the full length video is just the real deal. It’s just doing it, really doing it. And when you do it right, it’s unmistakable. You can’t just pump these things out like you can a fucking web edit, they take YEARS to make, and you can see it. Videos that are made like this have an impact for a reason; they live in real skate shops and on skateboarders’ bookshelves — they’re not just taking up space.

Apart from the easily accessible nature of instagram clips, I also think that they’re inherently genuine. In a world where kids are hammered by a lot of shallow marketing, do you think that this genuineness is what really appeals to the skaters?

I don’t know, everything is so clouded. It’s hard to tell who is keeping it real anymore. But I try really hard to not hate and just pay attention to the people I like.

gilbert_crockett_switchflipI’ve heard that you’re very details-orientated when it comes to footwear especially. Do you have any reasons for this that you’d like to share or do you suffer from the same level of OCD that most skateboarders have when it comes to their gear?

I mean, I can’t just wear whatever. It’s got to be tested and approved to be a part of “the uniform” which is what AVE calls it. A lot of skateboarders work like this: you find a pair of jeans, a couple shirts, and usually some sort of hat that works for you, and you just run it into the ground until it falls apart or until you have your next gear crisis.

I’ve also heard that you like to look at authentic things and processes, be it footwear or tattoos. Personally, I love to know how everything works from making skateboards, footwear construction, leather-working and carpentry. Do you have any other skills or interests that you pursue as doggedly?

Yeah, I definitely pay a lot of attention to detail and how things are made. I paint flash and have messed around with making some clothes recently, but I don’t really pursue any of it. Hopefully one day.

Ph: Anthony Acosta / Vans

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Your first Vans pro shoe is looking great. The Wafflecup seems like a perfect way to bring a little more consistency to a vulc-style shoe without losing any of the qualities that make that construction perfect for skateboarding. Have you had a lot of say in the development of that construction? There look to have been some subtle developments since the earlier Vans Stage IV shoes.

Yeah, it’s great. I really love it. My shoe is just the next generation of the waffle cup sole, we just found ways to improve it. I can’t say enough good things about the shoe and about Vans for letting me design a shoe that I love.

You’ve also included a mid-top version, which looks to be based on one of Vans’ longest running shoes, the Half Cab, do you wear either style in preference for any kind of terrain or do they both feel equally as good to you?

I usually skate the lows, but I always get into a mid phase like once a year or so where I’ll wear them for a while. I love both.

Ph: Greg Hunt / Vans

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Now that Mother Collective has launched, it must be a relief to end all the speculation after the AWS sabbatical. Is that how it feels?

What happened with Workshop was inevitable. AVE and Dill knew that, but here we are, and I’m happy that it did.

Lastly, I spied your Vans team page quickly before I started these questions and noticed that you mention ‘The Four Agreements’ by Don Miguel Ruiz. It’s a good philosophy for making the most of one’s lifetime. Is philosophy something that interests you a lot?

I don’t really pay much attention to it, but I do love that book, a lot of things inspire me, that was one of them.

Any philosophy on skateboarding that you’d like to end this with?

Have fun with your friends, stay up late and eat pie.

Interview by Chris Pulman.
Illustration by George Yarnton.
Gifs by Henry Calvert.
Download Vans’ Propeller skate video here.

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