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On deck this week on Field of Streams, we’re dropping in on some skateboarding movies currently available on streaming platforms. In addition to two recent pro skater documentaries on Tony Hawk and Leo Baker, we’re also taking a look at a smaller narrative feature highlighting the local shop experience.
Skateshop, currently free to watch on Youtube and Tubi, is a story that embodies both skaters’ DIY spirit and the mantra of “shop local”.
Atmosphere Skate Shop is feeling the pinch. With rising overhead, overdue debts, online competition, and pressure from local developers to give up his retail space, things are looking dire for Dave, the shop’s owner. Learning that the store is on the brink of closure, a group of Atmosphere’s regulars work together to raise money to save the shop.
With an hourlong runtime and straightforward story, the tone of the movie feels a little “after school special”, with a cartoonishly evil real estate developer trying to obstruct and bully our protagonists at every turn. In this sense the screenplay can feel a little contrived, though it’s also kind of a throwback to classic skate videos which sometimes had simple plots, and it’s nice to have a new skate movie that’s actually family-friendly. Moreover, there’s a meaningful message to the narrative. Great shops aren’t just places to purchase gear, but an investment in the community, sponsoring events and acting as a social hub. Unfortunately the local experience is on the decline as newcomers to the hobby are more likely to purchase from Amazon, Walmart, or Zumiez.
One important scene depicts a father and son coming into the store to get the kid his first skateboard: picking out a deck, learning how to assemble the parts, and applying the griptape. This might feel like a throwaway scene but skaters will immediately recognize this ritual as a core value of the lifeblood of the hobby and the role of skate shops: passing on the love and creating new skaters.
Skateshop is the brainchild of Zack Whyel, who takes on the film in multi-hyphenate fashion as its writer, executive producer, co-director, and star. Whyel, known for his Youtube presence in addition to his acting credits, is a great skater and fun to watch in the film’s skating scenes, and you a get a sense that he’s wearing his heart on his sleeve for this passion project five years in the making.
Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off (2022) – HBO Max
Tony Hawk is inarguably the most famous skateboarder in the world, thanks in no small part to the ultra-popular video game series which bears his name. But while Hawk was always a dominant force as a competitive skater, that doesn’t mean his life has always been easy.
Now in his 50s, the vert-skating legend grapples with aging and the toll that decades of abuse as an extreme sports athlete have had on his body, and recounts his life story with the realization that he’s nearing the end of his skateboarding journey: Pressures as an awkward kid (his father, Frank Hawk, was an officiant in his competitive organization, making him a target for mockery and accusations of bias), coming up as as a member of the youthful Bones Brigade team, disillusionment with always winning, struggling for relevance as an adult and as a father and parent (especially at times when skating professionally wasn’t paying the bills), finding his professional second wind with X-Games and his video game franchise, and aging into his modern era, physically diminished but wiser in mind and spirit.
I absolutely love this film; Tony’s story is inspiring and he’s an incredible dude who has done amazing, impossible things. But he’s also a pretty humble guy with a gentle personality and seems to have a clear sense of himself and who he is. The film dovetails into an soulful introspection on the inescapability of getting older, with not only Tony but other several other legendary skaters weighing in.
Features interviews with tons of pro skaters including Christian Hosoi, Duane Peters, and members of the Bones Brigade team: Stacy Peralta, Rodney Mullen, Lance Mountain, Steve Caballero, and Mike McGill.
Stay on Board: The Leo Baker Story (2022) – Netflix
Stay on Board, produced by Drew Barrymore, chronicles the struggles and triumphs of Leo – born Lacey – Baker, a trans pro skater who came up in the female side of the sport before identifying first as non-binary, then as male, publicly transitioning and adopting the name “Leo”.
Leo describes struggles with identity, relationships, and tremendous pressures from within the industry. Things came to a dramatic head in 2020: after decades of demonstrating its cultural and athletic relevance, skateboarding made its Olympic debut for the Summer Games. For the first time ever, skateboarders would compete on the world’s greatest competitive stage. Leo was accepted into the US Women’s Olympic Team, creating a line-in-the-sand moment and an impossible decision: to compete as a woman – a betrayal of self – or to pass on the chance of a lifetime.
This is a pretty tremendous journey of empathy, getting to Leo’s heart and sharing in his triumphs and tragedies along the way, like the crushing pain of facing vitriol and hatred, and the victory of getting a pro shoe model from Nike. Understanding someone’s perspective can be a difficult thing to achieve, especially when their experience is so different from your own. But Stay on Board provides precisely that: a true sense of perspective.