Friday, 9 April 2021

Baker 4

A professional skateboarder can call himself a professional because he has sponsorship deals with some skateboarding related companies.
To become a professional skateboarder, one naturally has to posses some above-average abilities, but just as important is having something that sets you apart from the many others who posses similar abilities. It are these characteristics, such as a recognisable trick selection, a distinct fashion sense, some outspoken personality traits or even a noticeable name, that give a professional skater a marketability that leads consumers to identify with them and subsequently purchase the products they represent.
While most sports rely on the metrics of competition to display the notable characteristics of their athletes, skateboarding has found its own marketing medium for its more intangible traits. This medium is the skatevideo. 
Skateboarding brands commonly have about ten to twenty skaters on their 'team', much like the stable of an art gallery. Up until the 2010's and the advent of social media, the primary way a company would showcase this team was through videos of roughly 30 minutes to two hours in length. They were sold in stores on VHS or DVD and released every two to three years. 
In these videos each skateboarder on the team had a section for themselves. Such a section is also known as a 'video part' and they are the considered the primary achievement in a skateboarders' career. A video part is typically 3 to 5 minutes long and is a sort of highlight reel of what tricks the person has performed in the last few years. These parts are usually set to a piece of (popular) music and the song that accompanies a video part tend to become heavily associated with the skateboarder in question, as well as how their audience perceives them.

One of the professional skateboarders who posses a very recognisable image is Dustin Dollin.
Dollin came to prominence in the early 2000's, with video parts in the videos Baker Bootleg, Baker 2g and Baker 3. All these video were unsurprisingly produced by his board sponsor Baker. 
Dollin also had major parts in Chicagof from clothing brand Volcom and Sight Unseen, a video published by Transworld Skateboarding, a now-defunct magazine.
With these parts Dollin became known for being somewhat of a powerhouse who knew no fear and could jump down the biggest gaps without flinching. At the same time, he cultivated somewhat of a rock'n'roll image, with alcohol use featuring prominently in this. 
 
This kind of behaviour isn't an uncommon sight in the skateboarding industry. There are numerous examples of famous skateboarders who are 'washed up' by the time they hit their thirties because of injuries or alcohol and drug abuse. 
The skateboarders in their forties who still work in the industry have almost always transitioned into other aspects of the business. There is of course the example of Tony Hawk and the famous video games named after him, but there are also people like Ed Templeton, who now entertains a successful art career with the same kind of photos he used to shoot for his skateboard company Toy Machine.

By the time Dustin Dollin hit his thirties, he was still 'just' a skateboarder, albeit a much less prolific one than he had been in the early 2000's. Occasionally he featured in videos published by his sponsors, but his contributions rarely consisted of anything more than a few unremarkable tricks.
Dollin's only genuine video part in the period between 2007 and 2019 was his part in Propeller. This was the first video released by Vans, a shoe company which has sponsored Dollin since 1999. This part however was only a minute long, versus an average length of three to five minutes.
In 2016 Dollin also had a part in Holy Stokes! produced by long-time clothing sponsor Volcom. This part is unique in the history of skateboarding in that it only showed Dollin's slams, with not a single successful trick being performed. While highlighting failure isn't unusual in the skateboarding world, it is uncommon that this isn't offset with a glorious triumph. It seemed as if Dollin was trying to bite off more than he could chew in the tricks he attempted and all he had to show for it were images of him choking on the pieces.
 
After an extended period of silence surrounding Dollin's skateboarding, we arrive in 2019.
It has been about twelve years since Dollin has produced a video part that adheres to the norms of the skateboard industry. At this point it can very well be argued that Dollin's recognisable public image is the only reason he still retains his sponsors. Yet this is an image of a heavy drinker, largely unable to perform the tricks that had made him famous. That his alcoholism hasn't landed him in jail or the morgue is seen as a positive and his only redeeming quality is that he's still featured regularly in promotional videos, even if he's often not skating in those videos. 
In the latter half of the 2010's, Dollin was considered somewhat of a court jester; entertaining to be around, but not to be taken too seriously.

It is in this climate that the long awaited Baker 4 is released. This video is the sequel to Baker 3, which was at that point 14 years old and can be considered the high-water mark of Dollin's skateboarding career.
In a brilliant move, the song chosen for Dollin's part in Baker 4 is 'The Comeback' by Alex Cameron.
The opening lines to that song are 'You been in showbiz long enough, you get a grip on how things work / But that don't mean it ain't a surprise when they come to take your show / I been in showbiz long enough / You need to wait your turn / wait your turn like me.'
The part starts with Dollin attempting a trick and breaking his board on the landing, before walking away unscathed and smiling to the camera. After a few other tricks at the same location, a harder fall is shown, but Dollin is still laughing and lands the trick immediately after. A contented Dollin is then seen petting a dog.
This cuts abruptly to Dollin mid-trick at a completely different location, falling to the ground. Sitting on the floor after his fall, he immediately reaches for his jacket pocket and takes out a cigarette. 'They say the kids don't wanna see / an old dog sing and dance' plays in the background. 
The whole part has a decidedly slower pace then most skateboarder's videoparts, with tricks being shown twice, many images of Dollin hanging out and longer than normal cuts of his run-ups and roll-aways, which are often accompanied by audible cries of celebration in the background. 
During the longest celebration scene, many of Dollin's friends can be seen hugging and cheering, while the song's lyrics go 'They ignored my lawyer / and they ignored my wife / and I just sat there thinking / I hate my god-damned life'. This cuts to the next clip, showing Dollin standing in the rain, amping himself up for yet another trick. 'I used to be the number one entertainer / now I'm bumpkin with a knife / I'll never get my show back' the song continues, as Dollin jumps down a wall and slams so hard he bounces back up from the concrete floor. For a whole 12 seconds, the camera slowly zooms in on Dollin lying stooped in pain while the rain continues to fall upon him. The cameraman asks him: 'Yeah Dustin! You alright?' and in response Dollin raises an index finger, telling us he's going to need a minute. 
After a friend puts his arm around his shoulder in support, Dollin is seen back up on the wall. It's a different day, with the rain no longer falling. He makes his trick, shouting 'Fuck yeah', while the song exclaims 'We're gonna get my show back'. The next clip comes and the song continues; 'Come on we're gonna get my show / I got too much love stored in me / I got a pain you'll never know / You'll never get my show' and it slowly fades out as Dollin lands his final trick, riding away with a somewhat pained expression on his face. 
The part ends with him walking and falling to the ground, seemingly exhausted.


What struck me about this videopart is that it was an honest portrait of Dustin Dollin at that point in his life and his career. He might even be shown as quite vulnerable and fragile, which is highly unusual for a skateboarder. A videopart is a showcase of abilities and challenges overcome. To emphasize the fact that despite his best efforts, Dollin has to take a step back from what he used to be able to accomplish doesn't sit well with the idea of a skatevideo as promotional material for a business.
What is also interesting about this part is that it's a cumulation of a development that lasted almost fifteen years. For this part to have any kind of impact on its audience, they have to be familiar with his achievements of more than a decade earlier, as well as his subsequent failures and shortcomings. Dollin has been successful at maintaining a career in skateboarding for over twenty years, but this rare feat has also come at a price and this videopart somehow manages to acknowledge both sides of that coin.
In the end Dollin's part is an honest celebration of an unusual life trajectory which one is hard-pressed to find anywhere else and for that it deserves to be highlighted far beyond its original context.