Monday, November 01, 2004

Tom Penny Changed The Game So Shut Up Already


This blog has started off as being too grad-school-nerdy so I’ma bring it down to a level I’m more comfortable at.

So, last week, I was checking my man Brendan BringEm’s and Joey Blanco’s wonderful weekly Sunday night jump-off Soul Travelin’ and I walked in and saw some dude that looked mighty familiar. The fact that he was surrounded by a group of skateboarders might’ve tipped me off (after all, skateboarders are the biggest fucking group of “yes men” star-worshippers that I’ve ever seen), but you never know these days. So, I tapped my buddy Ricky on the shoulder and asked him: “Ayo, is that Tom Penny?”

Now, I haven’t really skateboarded in years and don’t plan on skateboarding very much in the future, but from the ages of like 13-20, I was pretty much a fucking pathetic skateboard nerd. All I ever did was watch skateboard videos and talk about skateboarding and talk about skateboard videos and talk about watching skateboard videos talking about skateboarding and, of course, skateboard. During the heyday of my skateboard career (which is highlighted by a magical 24-hour period where I could switchfrontsideflip and nolliebacksideflip everytime… and then, never again) no one was as legendary as Sir Tom Penny.

I don’t remember exactly what year it was that he was killing shit but I think it was around ’94 or ’95. All those European Flip dudes came over to the states on a bit of a tour and vowed to destroy everything in their path. Well, they pretty much did, but nobody killed shit like Penny.

In those days, you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing the Penny-lore: how he was always high (on coke, weed, meth, whatever) or how his teeth were all fucked up (he IS British, after all) or how he just switchflipped a building or whatever the fuck it was. The fact of the matter, dudes were talking about this dude and gossiping about this dude and wanting to see every single thing this dude did. He basically turned a whole generation of skateboarding men and boys into gossiping little girls who wanted to know everything about him. But for good reason. Dude is a fucking God.

I mean, he stole the show in both 411 #9 and #10 (I think those are the right issues). Of course, he didn’t actually have any actual “parts” in those videos. He just had commercial clips.

There was the one Etnies ad where he kickflipped and frontside flipped down something like 10 stairs and over a rail drenched in his signature “I don’t give a fuck how hard this shit is, it’s fucking easy for me because I’m the fucking king and I can kickflip over fucking anything and look so fucking good doing it and you’ll watch it in slow motion over and over and over and over” style. The slow motion roar of approval from the camera man is pretty fucking on point. Then there was the TSA ad where he did some ramp-gap-ramp insanity: first, easily floating a massive kickflip over the 10 foot wide gap and then busting an insanely big 360 flip over the same gap… except this time there was a chair placed on top of the ramp he was supposed to land on. Well, he cleared the chair and the ramp with relative ease and stomped the tre flip smoothly on the flat. Stupid hot.

His part in Etnies Hi-Five is so ridiculous I’m not even going to talk about it.

And of course, the legendary switchfrontsideflip over the Carlsbad Gap in the Flip Industry section of 411 #11 was unheard of. Not to mention the “switchflip, switch-ollie, switch-180, 3-stair kickflip, tweaked-backside 5-0 down an 8 stair rail” line.

Basically, dude was out of control.

What pisses me off though is that I’m still friends with a lot of skateboarders and they resent the fact that hella dudes’ favorite skater is still Penny even though he’s really not a shadow of his former self. But, to me, the longevity of his popularity is quite simple: this motherfucker changed the game.

Before Tom Penny, nobody skated like him. After Tom Penny, everyone wanted to skate like him… like it or not. He made everything that came prior to him look obsolete. “Oh, you’re kickflipping 8 stairs? Well, you better make that shit look fucking good or it fucking sucks.” Or, to put it in terms a hip-hop nerd might appreciate: Tom Penny is basically the Rakim of skateboarding. Sure, you had your Tony Hawks and your Eric Kostons and your Rodney Mullens and your Kareem Campbells and your Mike Carrolls. Dudes like them were always leading the pack and will be in the skateboard hall of fame (once its resurrected at what’s left of either EMB or Love Park). But, none of those dudes really really changed the trajectory of modern skateboarding as dramatically as Tom Penny did.

And, I think what Sir Penny did that is still a pretty important lesson is his insistence that what you were doing wasn’t shit if it didn’t look good. “Sports” like skateboarding go through spurts and cycles of progression. Dudes are always going to be doing bigger and harder stuff (until people start trying to ollie like 50 stairs and just fucking die), but Penny will most likely always be “the best” because of his suggestion that style is paramount in skateboarding. But Penny helped us realize that skateboarding is something more of an art than it is a sport. Penny reminded us that the aesthetics of skateboarding are at least AS IMPORTANT AS (if not more so then) the actual tricks themselves.

Or, to reiterate the running theme of this stupid blog: Penny insisted that even in skateboarding the “how” (style) was at least as important as the “what” (the actual trick).

The ending of the story is this: I found out that it was Tom Penny at Loie’s that Sunday night at Soul Traveling. I guess I’m pretty stoked I got to see him… even if he was just sitting around drinking, being jocked by a bunch of grown men.



At 5:30 PM, Blogger rollie said...

if penny is the rakim of skateboarding, is tony hawk nas? technical, direct offshoot stylistically. oh and they also changed the entire ebb and flow of the genre, you know? before rakim, it was the nursery rhyme, happy dappy shit. nas took the style and ran to the end zone with it, effectively.

At 6:19 PM, Blogger SergDun said...

dude if tony hawk is anyone he's the LL Cool J of this shit. dude got in the game early and he's still in it, although I would say tony hawk has more talent than LL, respectively

At 8:12 PM, Blogger emynd said...

Yeah the "Tom Penny : Skateboarding" what "Rakim : Hip-hop" analogy starts breaking down pretty fast when you try to encorporate more names. Serg is right with his LL comparison though-- Tony Hawk is an innovative oldhead that's still putting it down today (too bad LL isn't). He came way before Tom Penny and lasted way longer. And, frankly, he was probably more influential in the sort've basic trajectory of skateboarding (especially vert) then Penny was, but the thing about Penny is that he just stepped into the game from the outside and totally changed that trajectory. Tony Hawk gets nothing but love from me, but the difference was, him (and the influential skaters like him) were guiding the basic trajectory of skateboarding steadily from the inside. Penny just stepped in and was on some "BLADOW the game done changed" shit. If you were to visualize it somehow on a graph, it would look something like this: a steady-line that increases upwards at a fairly regular pace with minor ripples here and there. Then, there'd be a point in the graph where the line veered dramatically. That dramatic shift would be due to Penny. But if you really wanna know who the Nas of skateboarding is, I'd probably have to give it to Andrew Reynolds (someone who is clearly influenced by Penny and yet has still established himself and built on that influence).

At 5:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Tom Penny is the Mikah 9 of skateboarding. A relaxed technical style way ahead of everybody else for many years. He was one of the first skaters to make it really difficult to distinguish whether he was skating regular or switch. I went to university at Oxford in England (i'm English and my teeth are fine) and every now and then he would show up at skateboard spots and networks of kids would contact each other so they could show up and just stare at him. Damn right he is a legend and this status was increased even further through his anonymity.

The Contortionist

At 8:40 AM, Blogger emynd said...

The Micah 9 comparison ain't bad either. Like I said though, this analogy starts breaking down pretty quickly when you think about it in more depth. The only thing I would add though is that Tom Penny had much more of a lasting, widespread effect than Micah 9 did. Micah changed the game for a lot of underground west coast dudes, and his influence is still seen today in a lot of these guys, but Tom Penny changed the whole trajectory of modern skateboarding. Micah 9 is easily one of my favorite rappers, but I simply don't think his influence covers the scope that Tom Penny's did.

At 8:40 AM, Blogger emynd said...

And sorry about the teeth comment.

At 8:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

peoples... don't compare skateboarding and hiphop, it's just a nonsensical connection. Tom Penny, yes a style pioneer, but there were a lot of style monkeys way before him. People just don't remember as much because all that teck whackness of flatground pressure flips and whatnot that consumed the early part of the 1990's. I met Tom Penny on several occasions and I think why people did dick ride him so much was the fact that he didn't care. The dude had mad natural talent and would not really show up for practices and feel a park out before a contest.

What I'm getting at: He didn't define style, those trying to emmulate him did.

Oh and if you are gonna compare it to hiphop, no way he is the rakim of that shit.

At 9:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey I have been skating for about 5 years now and I have watched alot of videos but penny even thought his recent parts havent been the best out there he has something that no other skateboarder has i can't relly explain what it is but it's just sick his style, his attitude and the way he those his tricks for me is still just above everybody else.

At 1:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i have seen a lot of tricks thrown down the carlsbad gap...but the switch frontside flip mr penny did in 411 nr the smoothest one i've ever seen..props 2 you!


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