In 7th grade, I was remarkably talented in the art of procrastinating on the internet. I would spend hours on my Mom’s beat up black PC, opening up so many tabs that the computer slowed down to a barely useable state. I don’t remember exactly when I stumbled upon the film Second Nature, but I knew I was watching something sacred. There’s an almost primal energy in the opening scenes. Patrick Rizzo and Noah Sakamoto are somewhere in the deserted and daunting Sierra Nevadas, both sporting powder blue suits. They filmed the piece on VHS cameras, giving the film a punchy and sharp contrast between the open blue skies and black mountains, polka dotted with snow. Patrick pulls the raw materials for a skateboard out of a duffel bag and begins to assemble the board from scratch on the hill. As Patrick grinds down the coarse grip tape over the edges of the pintail shaped board, there are jolts of half second splices of Patrick and Noah flying through space violently on their skateboards. There is no background music like most traditional skate videos, only the raw sounds of flying down mountain passes at near highway speeds. I remember concentrating so intensely on each frame that my sight would fade into an abstraction of sapphire and emerald pixels.
The film is about 20 minutes long and I remember deleting all the other tabs on my mom’s PC so the video could load faster. I watched every video I could find of Patrick and Noah. I would scour the internet for hours, just for the off chance that I could read a pixelated street sign in the corner of the video. I berated the space bar on my mom’s computer, looking to catch just the right frame to read a street sign. Patrick and Noah were intentionally careful about naming spots. All of these roads are fast and dangerous. Their reason to hide the spot names were my reason to find them. I had no clue what I was about to begin. Almost 7 years later and I still thank my ignorant 7th grade internet scout. What I eventually discovered was bigger than any skate video and bigger than myself.
When I finally met the mountains that Patrick and Noah filmed in Second Nature over a decade prior, I was far from using words as a description. Now I knew that these experiences were best explained through automatic yelps of fear and excitement with speed tears streaming down my face after every run. Aaron Breetwor of DGM Magazine eloquently translated those yelps and tears when he wrote, “This is about speed. This is about surface tension. This is about skin, meat and bones.This is about addiction. This is about a death wish. This is about people who come alive in the mountains”.
It’s not that I wasn’t alive before. But after learning the rituals of this sacred land, my eyes got better. It’s like operating from a higher and less obstructed vista point. I remember, mouth agape at the sheer and brittle black cliffs that even the evergreens had a hard time holding on. Driving up Sonora Pass for the first time was when it began to reveal itself. The land around me took on similar shapes as it did back home, but there was a new energy there that I couldn’t shake nor place. For whatever reason, it felt like home. It immediately evoked winter dinners at my old and creaky wooden house in the hills. The heavy blue dusk inviting the fog to roll into the tall and frail windows. I could see the condensation on the inside of the windows from the warm lentil soup with a cleanly sliced chunk of french bread partially submerged in the warm bowl. I felt all of this spinning around my head, at the same time as I sat in Tom’s hatchback as we zip up the mountain pass.
As I drove up, each corner was distinct and recognizable. Each bend had its own stories, close calls and crashes. I memorized most of the corners, thanks to my 7th grade internet scouting. What the camera never captured was how quickly the cliffside dropped off on the right side into the canyon’s shadowy mouth and how the left side of the mountain wall had granite teeth. All of the bails I watched from the screen over the years had a new gravity. It’s not like this was my first encounter with these huge and engulfing risks. From my first close calls with cars back home on Oakland pothole-riddled pavement, I knew skateboarding was a burning passion only found through a sustained near-death experience. That didn’t bother me, although maybe it should have. That experience means something different up here. I could feel the risks in my stomach.
When I finally took my first run, I do not remember any thoughts about the road, the environment or my emotions. I remember thinking nothing at all. I remember only reacting and concentrating to a point of exhaustion. There was so much about this place that my mom’s black PC left out. When I began my descent, my sight got a lot better and a lot worse. I no longer saw a road, I saw streaks of yellow flying by my eyes in long strokes. I saw blurs of marine blue where my wheels used to be. I no longer saw the cliffside or the mountain’s pointed boulders either. The environment lost its detail and transcended into a tapestry of color and form. All movements were purely reactionary and automatic. Any extra movements would be a waste of precious energy. This is about survival. This is about gripping to the earth’s crust with all I got.
This particular pass is so long that it takes 30 minutes to skate to the bottom. In the interest of self preservation, the run is broken up into two different sections. The top section begins at the highest point of the pass. The wind bites at your face, sometimes affectionately and sometimes aggressively. A river of Sierra Nevada snowmelt follows the road as it drops. The corners are broad and turn slowly, providing the opportunity to accidentally reach highway speeds. This road and every other one in this environment does not give you any breaks. It demands respect and carefully monitored concentration. The bottom section starts with gargantuan beige monolith shaped towers that lean over the road. They serve as a reminder to all that pass under the rocks: humankind does not own this land. The road quickly drops through the emerald canyon with sharp and twisting corners. Here, I don’t have to remind myself to slow down, the road will demand it of me. Each corner presents a unique challenge of maintaining as much speed as possible, while aiming for the apex and staying an arm’s distance from hungry toothlike rocks and belligerent pickup trucks that believe a double yellow line is a suggestion.
I still remember how it felt to watch Second Nature for the first time on my mom’s beat up black PC. The overwhelming sense of boundary pushing exploration while flying through sacred mountains with an effortless flow. Now when I think of that place, I remember the wind ripping across my chapped lips and the taste of the pomegranate chapstick in Tom’s zippy hatchback. I remember picking up PCT hitch hikers and connecting over the magic of these mountains. I remember 40 mph staring contests with the grill of a Chevy Silverado. There’s always a huge basin of beauty and genuine terror to pull from when I talk about this place. The best part is it isn’t a stagnant basin of memories and feelings. These mountains, these friends and these experiences shape the way I digest the world daily.
The 100 drawings we did in Studio brought me into the idea of automatic drawings. Traversing through memories freely with no care brings up interesting avenues and detours. As I was efficiently getting lost visually in Studio, I was re-learning to free write in my Seminar. It was daunting to sit down and write a memoir about my life, it sounds like a massive undertaking that ends with a hardcover book. So instead, I took an automatic approach to carelessly writing ideas with no hindrances. It helped me start somewhere other than an entirely blank page.
My intention with the final memoir was to pay homage to my alpine routes. I wanted to explain a temporal landmark in my life that helps me define who I am. Skateboarding in the Sierra Nevadas has given me so much for my perception, I’ve always felt like I owed it something. Even now, I am pretty happy with my final product and I know there is so much left to say that I haven’t even touched.
Through revisions of my memoir, I learned that I can sketch a decent idea out pretty quickly, but it takes me longer to mobilize the idea and eventually get it running into a final piece. I think a lot of that has to do with patience for my own ideas and giving them the time and attention they need.
I decided after I wrote my two rough drafts that I wasn’t interested in revisiting either of them right now. I wanted to (and still do) write about something that defines who I am. I don’t want to write about NYC just yet and I’m not very ready to start writing about imagined worlds. I wanted to explain a little glimpse of where I come from.
For me, making any art about the Sierra Nevadas and skating the Alpines is a risk in itself. I find it difficult to channel my experience accurately into any medium, especially writing. It’s especially daunting because of all the artists that have came before me and grappled with trying to explain the aura of those mountains. Although challenging, I wanted to give it a chance because I have so much to say about the place. I strayed away from fabricating an entire new story because I have had little experience or practice in that form of storytelling.
I want this class to provide me the space and critique I need to shake off the rust from my literary voice. I need to become a more efficient editor to present better polished final products. I know that I have ideas worth developing, at least for myself. Now it’s time to write more so I can find other questions I have yet to consider. I want those questions to make me a better storyteller, regardless of the medium I choose.