Home » How Context Shapes Content: Rodney Mullen at TEDxUSC (Full Transcript)

How Context Shapes Content: Rodney Mullen at TEDxUSC (Full Transcript)

Rodney Mullen

Rodney Mullen – TRANSCRIPT


So, that’s what I’ve done with my life. Thank you.

As a kid, I grew up on a farm in Florida, and I did what most little kids do. I played a little baseball, did a few other things like that, but I always had the sense of being an outsider, and it wasn’t until I saw pictures in the magazines that a couple other guys skate, I thought, “Wow, that’s for me,” you know? Because there was no coach standing directly over you, and these guys, they were just being themselves. There was no opponent directly across from you. And I loved that sense, so I started skating when I was about 10 years old, in 1977, and when I did, I picked it up pretty quickly. In fact, here’s some footage from about 1984.

It wasn’t until ’79 I won my first amateur championship, and then, by ’81, I was 14, and I won my first world championship, which was amazing to me, and in a very real sense, that was the first real victory I had. Oh, watch this. This is a Casper slide, where the board’s upside down. Mental note on that one. And this one here? An ollie.

So, as she mentioned, that is overstated for sure, but that’s why they called me the godfather of modern street skating. Here’s some images of that. Now, I was about halfway through my pro career in, I would say, the mid-’80s Freestyle itself we developed all these flat ground tricks, as you saw, but there was evolving a new kind of skateboarding, where guys were taking it to the streets, and they were using that ollie, like I showed you. They were using it to get up onto stuff like bleachers and handrails and over stairwells and all kinds of cool stuff. So it was evolving upwards.

In fact, when someone tells you they’re a skater today, they pretty much mean a street skater, because freestyle, it took about five years for it to die, and at that stage, I’d been a “champion” — champion for 11 years, which Phew! And suddenly, it was over for me, that’s it it was gone. They took my pro model off the shelf, which was essentially pronouncing you dead, publicly. That’s how you make your money, you know? You have a signature board and wheels and shoes and clothes. I had all that stuff, and it’s gone. The crazy thing was, there was a really liberating sense about it, because I no longer had to protect my record as a champion.

“Champion,” again. Champion sounds so goofy, but it’s what it was, right? What drew me to skateboarding, the freedom, was now restored, where I could just create things, because that’s where the joy was for me, always, was creating new stuff. The other thing that I had was a deep well of tricks to draw from that were rooted in these flat ground tricks. Stuff the normal guys were doing was very much different. So, as humbling and rotten as it was.

And believe me, it was rotten. I would go to skate spots, and I was already “famous guy,” right? And everyone thought I was good, but in this new terrain, I was horrible. So people would go, “Oh, what happened to Mullen?” So, humbling as it was, I began again.

Here are some tricks that I started to bring to that new terrain. And again, there’s this undergirding layer of influence of freestyle. Oh, that one? That’s, like, the hardest thing I’ve ever done. OK, look at that, it’s a Darkslide. See how it’s sliding on the backside? Those are super fun, and, actually, not that hard. You know, at the very root of that, see, Caspers, see how you throw it? Simple as that, right? No biggie. And your front foot, the way it grabs it. I’d seen someone slide on the back of the board like that, and I was like, “How can I get it over?” Because that had not yet been done. And then it dawned on me, and here’s part of what I’m saying. I had an infrastructure. I had this deep layer, where it was like, oh my gosh, it’s just your foot. It’s just the way you throw your board over.

Just let the ledge do that, and it’s easy, and the next thing you know, there’s 20 more tricks based out of the variations. So that’s the kind of thing. Here, check this out, here’s another way, and I won’t overdo this. A little indulgent, I understand. There’s something called a Primo slide. It is the funnest trick ever to do. It’s like skimboarding.

And this one, look how it slides sideways, every which way? OK, so when you’re skating, and you take a fall, the board slips that way or that way; it’s kind of predictable. This? It goes every which way. It’s like a cartoon, the falls, and that’s what I love the most about it.

It’s so much fun to do. In fact, when I started doing them, I remember, because I got hurt. I had to get a knee surgery, right? So there were a couple of weeks where I couldn’t skate at all. It would give out on me, and I would watch the guys, I’d go to this warehouse where a lot of the guys were skating, my friends, and I was like, “I’ve got to do something new, I want to do something new. I want to start fresh.”

And so the night before my surgery, I’d watched, and I was like, “How am I going to do this?” So I ran up, and I jumped on my board, and I Cavemanned, and I flipped it down, and I remember thinking, I landed so light-footed, thinking, if my knee gives, they’ll just have more work to do in the morning. And so, when it was the crazy thing I don’t know how many of you guys have had surgery, but you are so helpless, right? You’re on this gurney and you’re watching the ceiling go by, every time, it’s always that, and right when they’re putting the mask on you before you go to sleep, all I was thinking is, “Man, when I wake up and I get better, the first thing I’m going to do is film that trick.” And indeed I did, it was the very first thing I filmed, which was awesome. I told you a little bit about the evolution of the tricks. Consider that content, in a sense.

What we do as street skaters is, you have these tricks. Say I’m working on Darkslides, or a Primo, that you guys know this stuff now. What you do is, you cruise around the same streets that you’ve seen a hundred times, but suddenly, because you already have something in this fixed domain of this target, it’s like, what will match this trick? How can I expand, how can the context, how can the environment change the very nature of what I do? So you drive and drive and drive, and, actually I’ve got to admit, just because I was struggling with this because I’m here, but I’ll just say it, is, I cannot tell you, not only to be here in front of you, but what a privilege it is to be at US campus, because I have been escorted off of this campus so many times.

So let me give you another example of how context shapes content. This is a place not that far from here, It’s a rotten neighborhood. Your first consideration is, am I going to get beat up? You go out and see this wall? It’s fairly mellow, and it’s beckoning to do bank tricks, right? But there’s this other aspect of it for wheelies, so check this out.

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