After months of planning and careful attention to detail, California seemed to flash before my eyes. The ten-day visit concluded with eleven interviews, eight rolls of analogue film ready for developing, three Super 8 films requiring scanning and digitising and sounds bites captured at various locations both in the city and the deserts of Los Angeles. My support team, a videographer and a photographer were drained as we dealt with an intense heatwave that had gripped LA the week we arrived. Leaving mid-July where UK temperatures were around 22 Celsius we arrived in LA faced with 41 Celsius most days, rising to an incredible 46 towards the end of the visit.
Lugging around our equipment and staying focused in such extreme heat had not been easy but thankfully none of us succumbed to jet lag and by the end of day one interviews were already in full swing. Having designed my questions in advance I had emailed each participant before leaving the UK. Setting a clear framework from which to position the research meant that I found each contributor comfortable and prepared to discuss the contents of the questions.
From capturing the conversations, to taking images of participant’s work spaces, going out to locations on shoots and finding time to skate the team and I immersed ourselves in the practise and processes associated with capturing skateboard culture. Kieran the videographer, a keen skateboarder, spoke the language and had followed the career of many of those I was interviewing. His work in the field of documentary was focused on anthropological studies and we would often discuss approaches to capturing the data at each location. Leo, the photographer, supported sound, drove the car from location to location and documented behind the scenes as I interviewed participants. We all fully submerged ourselves into the LA scene spending every waking moment surrounded or talking about the subculture.
The case studies were mounting up and we were quickly running out of storage space. The more people I interviewed the more they wanted to put me in touch with other photographers and videographers. I could have spent another two weeks interviewing industry but the end of my visit was in site. With the last two days set aside for down time, I waved Kieran off at the airport and headed to Joshua Tree park to skate the open roads. I have always loved the vista of the cacti and wanted to give myself a little time to take in what had unfolded. Cruising on my long board I hit the asphalt and headed out into the heat.
The melting heat of the dessert softened my wheels and on a downhill I suffered from speed wobbles. Suffice to say I had to make a split decision as to whether I was eating tarmac or sand. In my head the tarmac won. Instinct led me to roll from my board catching my elbow and splitting it around either side of the olecranon. Having wrapped my elbow inside my t-shirt to form a make shift sling, I hauled myself up and walked back to the car. Calling out to Leo we drove to where my board was, threw it in the car and headed for the nearest hospital. Walking through the doors I was ushered past reception into the emergency room of a military facility. After a full inspection of my wounds, six x-rays and an extensive clean, I was superglued together, patched up and sent on my way. On looking back at this event I acknowledged one very important stipulation, for all future research trips, a required update to my health and safety documentation would be required to cover personal injury due to extreme temperatures.
While most researchers would address this incident as a risk, the reality is it’s just is part and parcel of skateboarding. When Thrasher talks about skate and destroy, I often wonder if they don’t really mean the destruction of skateboarders bodies not the environment they skate.