Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Panelists speak on skateboarding culture at The Nation Skate

Rowan Born,

Image from article, with caption: (From left to right): Neftalie Williams, K.C. Cole, Johnny Schillereff, Trina Bolton, Renata Simril and Garth Ross spoke on skate culture. Photo by Julia Erickson | Daily Trojan

“The Nation Skate: Diplomacy, Diversity, and Global Engagement through Skateboarding,” a panel event hosted by USC Visions and Voices, was held on Monday evening at Wallis Annenberg Hall. It hosted notable speakers involved in skate culture and sports diplomacy to encourage conversations about how to change the world through skateboarding.

The evening began with Willow Bay, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, introducing the panel moderators: Neftalie Williams, an adjunct professor at Annenberg who lectures on the intersection of skateboarding, business, media and culture in the United States; and K.C. Cole, a journalism professor at Annenberg who specializes in science and society. Williams and Cole then kicked off the first part of the event, “Creating a Global Community: Business, the Academy, and Philanthropy in Action Sports,” by introducing the four starting panelists: Johnny Schillereff, Trina Bolton, Renata Simril and Garth Ross.

The discussion focused on the development of skate culture, and each panelist focused on how these elements play out in society. Schillereff, the founder of skate brand Element, commented on the equalizing power of skateboarding.

“Skateboarding was born from the streets, and there’s no denying that,” Schillereff said.

[Trina] Bolton, a program officer in the U.S. State Department’s Sports Diplomacy Division, works with U.S. embassies to increase dialogue and cultural connectivity among people around the world through sports, where skateboarding has started to take a prominent place with its introduction into the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

“Skateboarding is particularly powerful,” Bolton said. “It is this new entry point for us. It promotes the concept of entrepreneurism.”

Simril, president and CEO of LA84, a foundation supporting youth sports organizations in southern California, grew up skateboarding and added to Bolton’s comment about the transformative power of skateboarding.

“The unstructured nature of skateboarding frightens the establishment,” Simril said.

When discussing the evolution of the status of skateboarding in society, Ross, vice president of community engagement at The Kennedy Center and contributor to the project “Finding a Line: Skateboarding, Music, and Media,” said that authenticity is the best way to have skateboarding remain on an upward trend in society.

Schillereff similarly commented on his anticipation about the positivity surrounding skate culture, but he noted that it will be a while before such recognition comes full circle.

“As skaters we’re excited about the change that’s happening,” Schillereff said. “We’re waiting for the world to catch up with us.”

Following the audience’s applause and a brief intermission, the second part of the event, “Public Diplomacy and Globalization through Skateboarding, Media, Science, and the Arts,” began. Three new panelists were introduced: professional skateboarders Rodney Mullen, Vanessa Torres and Chris “Dune” Pastras.

Shifting the discussion toward identity and global citizenship in skateboarding, Williams began by addressing each panelist’s attitudes toward skateboarding and the community.

“Skating became a voice for me. It gave me an understanding of movement,” Mullen said.

Named one of the most influential skateboarders of all time, Mullen has won 35 world titles and is the co-founder of the original World Industries, Almost Skateboards and Dwindle Distribution. In addition, most of the tricks done in the more modern era (the street ollie, kickflip and 360-flip) evolved from his technique.

“[With skateboarding] there’s a sense of, ‘I was a part of something bigger that happened,’” Mullen said.

Pastras is a broadcast host and skateboarding legend who co-founded World Industries and Stereo Skateboards. As one of the first major black skateboarding figures, Pastras contributed to diversity in the skateboarding world with his initiative to put a black character on boards where only white characters existed previously.

Now, Pastras illustrates how Cuba is a prime example of skateboarding and diplomacy, as the collectivist culture that skateboarding encourages has made a connection for Cuban youth trapped in an era where trade embargos shut Cubans off from most of the world.

Torres, the first female skateboarder to win a gold medal at the 2003 X Games, has also made strides with skateboarding and diversity in the United States, but she said that these achievements came from her identifying as a skateboarder first.

“I never felt that my sexuality was a big focal point in my career,” Torres said. “I was appreciated for my gift and talent and contribution to women’s skateboarding. I just happened to be gay.”

From diplomacy to identity, skate culture’s growing prominence has taken the world by storm in ways that are continually unveiled. Even with its integration into everyday culture and its new spot in the 2020 Summer Olympics, what keeps skate culture pushing forward is its ability to maintain its roots despite societal advancements.

“Skateboarding, before it’s a sport, is an art,” Schillereff said. “If they don’t build parks, we don’t care and will tear up the streets anyways.”

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