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They say that skateboard videos are dying.

In the late ‘90s, my baggy pants, butt cut, chain wallet early skateboarding days, videos were the trick-by-trick estimation by which professionals were measured.  Each new video brought me, or whichever one of my grubby little friends could scrounge up 20 bucks, down to the local shop to make the eager purchase.  As we gathered around my parents’ 13-inch TV and watched Jamie Thomas switch lipslide into the Venice sunset to the crashes of “Baba O’Riley,” I swore, at 15, that I had found my calling.

As the mid-2000s began to roll, the new skateboard industry target market came to prominence amongst the proliferation of Youtube and the death cries of the standard skate part-by-skate part video seemed imminent.  Why pay for a new video when you could find it for free online?  (My arguments to the contrary, although extensive, are not relevant here.)  The skateboard companies were naturally forced to adapt.  DVDs, being cheaper to print than VHS, were included freely with magazines.  Gradually, these too were eclipsed as companies began to post new footage straight to the web.  Full video parts, formerly the cornerstone of a successful career and the fire stoking the fans, seemed obsolete as 30-second clips, or even single tricks, appeared with greater frequency.  And who could blame the industry?  By what financial rationale could a company fly their riders across the world to film for a new video only to find their hard work uploaded to LimeWire by the following evening?

Whether by the lingering hope for profits or simply by the fact that skateboarders are a nostalgic bunch, videos have yet to die completely.  Only last month, Emerica released the full-length for sale Stay Gold, representing years of work from their team.  However, by my estimation, the last and what will perhaps prove the last ever, truly great skateboard video: Lakai’s 2007 release, Fully Flared.

In 2004, the first whispers of the Lakai video emerged on the pages of Thrasher magazine: “Ty has let it be known that his next priority will be the Lakai project.”  Among skateboarders, Ty’s reputation preceded him.  After work on a number of the most influential Transworld videos (i.e. Feedback, The Reason) and Girl’s Yeah, Right!, Ty was known for his prowess behind the camera, top notch editing, and ruthless work ethic.  For its part, Lakai emerged in 2000 and steadily grew in public esteem as a shoe company headed by the skaters’ skaters: pros such as Mike Carroll and Marc Johnson who had not only led the progression of the sport for over a decade, but had done so with no b.s. or gimmicky marketing schemes but simply through top notch stylish skateboarding.  With the combination of Ty’s résumé and the widely held respect for Lakai, hype for the video was a given.

Working towards a 2006 release, Lakai added ‘90s legend Guy Mariano following his five-year absence from skateboarding.  Well known among the older crowd for his influence during the previous decade (as a child prodigy in 1991’s Video Days and for his groundbreaking part in 1997’s Mouse), Guy was an unbelievably talented skateboarder destined for greatness who slipped too heavily into the party scene and disappeared in the early millennial years to become a full-blown drug addict.  After crawling up from Skid Row and seeking professional treatment, Guy was welcomed by old friends at Lakai and given what would become a second chance at life.  While the skateboard industry has seen comeback after half-assed comeback, in the words of Thrasher’s enigmatic editor Jake Phelps, “he’s the only guy that we’ve been waiting for.  There’s only one and that was Guy Mariano.”  As word spread and photos began to appear in magazines, expectations mounted even higher for the video.  With years of progression to catch up on and expecting to film no more than a few tricks for the video, Guy was shocked and more than a little skeptical when Ty informed him that the video would not be released until Guy had filmed a full part.

Following the reintroduction of Guy Mariano, Lakai made three further additions which proved formative.  First, Lakai added a young Alex Olson, an emerging skater of interest whose father had played a major role in the sport decades earlier.  Second, Simi Valley’s Mike Mo Capaldi, arguably the most technical emerging amateur, was given a spot on the roster.  Finally, and most importantly, Eric Koston, the man who has been frequently described as skateboarding’s Michael Jordan, left éS to join his longstanding friends at Lakai.  The roster was set and as a result, the anticipation for the video grew well beyond anything that a skateboard video had ever seen.  Struggling to provide enough time for all of the new additions to compile enough footage for the video and allow the veteran riders time to match inflating public expectations, the release was postponed again and again until the premiere date was finally announced for late 2007.

By the arrival of the premiere, public expectation for the video had grown beyond any measurable boundaries.  Message boards were aflutter, magazines published gushing editorial, and many a professional skateboarder grew increasingly nervous.  Would Guy Mariano really have a full part and could it actually be good enough after all these years?  Did Marc Johnson really have 30 minutes of footage?  Could the video possibly live up to the hype?  When the video finally showed, at an unprecedented 1½ hours in length (an otherwise presumptuous running time for the medium and contemporary attention spans), skateboarding was collectively stunned.  The art direction by Ty Evans and Spike Jonze (of Where the Wild Things Are fame) was first-rate and innovative.  Mike Mo, Mike Carroll, Alex Olson, Lucas Puig, Nick Jensen, Rick Howard, Cairo Foster, and Brandon Biebel all gave top notch and unique performances (although, I will say, Anthony Pappalardo, Jeff Lenoce, and Rob Welsh could have put in a bit more elbow grease).  Eric Koston was in fine form as always.  Guy Mariano, skateboarding’s former fallen hero, went above and beyond all expectations for what I hold as one of the finer performances of the decade.  Finally, the video closed with Marc Johnson’s staggering three-song opus.

In 2010, almost three years after the premiere, Fully Flared continues to dazzle.  Guy Mariano’s tale of destruction and redemption continues to ring in the heartstrings of skateboarders worldwide.  Marc Johnson’s obsession and almost 15-minute part have slipped into the realm of legend.  Mike Mo’s switch kickflip beneath a mushrooming explosion still seems beyond belief.  Finally, the Lakai video stands as a reminder of the increasingly forgotten power of the skateboard video to inspire, unite, and remind us why it is that we continue to find freedom, even after decades have passed, in riding a plank of wood with wheels.

You can catch Fully Flared on the big screen as part of the Anaheim International Film Festival on October 16th, 2010 at 4PM.

-Wesley Miller