Already Been Done?
The initial impetus for the piece before you came from a decidedly innocent comment that I left on a skateboarding clip posted on Instagram.
Rather than dox anyone, let’s just say that the trick in question was being performed at one of the most well known spots in London and had been documented previously, more than a decade before.
My comment was in no way intended to be mean-spirited or snide – it was just one of those half-thoughts expressed via smartphone that flood our feeds on a daily basis.
After watching the clip a couple of times I posted ‘Everything is ABD’ underneath it. I did so partly because I remembered the original sequence of the same trick, and partly because I knew the person whose video I was commenting on and thus assumed that it would be taken as it was intended; nothing more than a pointless bit of banter on an otherwise impressive skateboard trick.
However, subsequent to my comment, another more militant response soon appeared on the same post. This time around the tone wasn’t as playful and read as more of a ‘call out’ if that makes sense.
I’m fairly sure that the ensuing comment thread was never meant to be malicious but it quickly evolved from what had begun as a mindless bubble of thought blown on the breeze of Instagram, into a semi ‘serious’ debate about whether or not the once sacred principle of respecting what has already been done (ABD) was being violated by today’s skateboard scene.
At this point I’d like to just throw in a quick disclaimer in case any of you reading are erring towards misinterpreting this little article as yet another ‘bitter old man bemoaning the youth’ scenario. That is definitively NOT my intention.
All this is intended to be is an opportunity to consider some of the cultural rules at work within skateboarding, how attitudes towards these rules may or may not change over time, and to poke a little fun at everyone with a horse in the race, myself included. Okay? Cool…
So back to the matter in hand: the Insta beef mentioned above, (the usual storm in a teacup that lingered for a couple of days before dissolving) sparked off a thought process in my head around the concept of ABD.
Given that I no longer work in the skate industry, it wasn’t really something that I’d dedicated much brain space to in a long time. In my current profession, obsessing over who did the first hardflip down the Snide 3 isn’t really something awarded much importance and thus I’ve necessarily had to reign in my natural inclination to store this kind of niche information since entering the ‘real world’ a couple of years ago.
There was a time when I took the duty of gate-keeping this shit way too seriously though. Back before smartphones and self-publishing, anybody lucky enough to work for a skateboard magazine was expected to approach their role with a degree of earnest devotion to the cause of wider progression and cultural awareness.
Inevitably, this meant acquiring a good working knowledge of ABD lists for all the current hotspots and being prepared to drop the hammer if anyone dared to reshoot any notable tricks in contravention of the rules.
My sense of duty was two-fold in that, not only did I work for a magazine but I was also a filmer and during the period from the mid ‘90s to the mid ‘00s – filmers pretty much set the agenda for magazine content. (I’m sure that statement will have annoyed a fair few photographers but they all know it’s true.)
Videographers were always paid the least so I like to think that this maltreatment is the underlying reason why (myself included) they tended to fall straight into the skate Nazi stereotype and always be the people most vocal about infringements of the ABD credo. If anyone was going to call out an ABD, it was going to be the guy kneeling on a gardening mat, in tramp piss, cradling a convex Japanese eye.
This musing got me thinking further – why had this been the case?
And why, a couple of decades after filmers had grabbed the reins and started driving the horses towards Century Optics glory, was it still filmers who seemed to care the most about this (possibly) outmoded concept that you’re not allowed to re-document a trick that has already been done?
Historical context required at this point methinks. There is obviously nothing time-specific about the idea that skateboarders collectively strive towards newness and novelty as a cultural goal. It has been ever thus.
The concept under discussion that has acquired the mantle ‘ABD’ since maybe the mid ‘90s is just another incarnation of the fundamental dichotomy that sits at the heart of skateboarding.
In the ‘70s it was framed as ‘surf vs. concrete’, in the ‘80s to mid ‘90s it was ‘tricks vs. style’ and then from that point onwards, the opposing polarities of ABD vs. NBD formed the shorthand. Despite the different names, culturally we’ve essentially been talking about the same thing since skateboarding started. This duality forms the core of skateboarding’s meaning and gives each of us a side of the fence to inhabit.
Whether you choose to look at it as ‘new thing’ versus ‘old thing done well’ or you view skateboarding’s linear progression as more important than the refinement of its performance – it’s the same old argument and the social media spat that first inspired this ramble attests to the fact that, for some of us at least, this element of skateboarding is not something to be taken lightly.
The currency of skateboard culture is (to a certain extent at least) documented skateboard tricks. Skate culture imposes a hierarchy on this cultural capital, often via the medium through which these tricks are documented and presented to the wider culture.
This hierarchy operates because certain rules are generally accepted: harder tricks are more valuable than easier ones; never been done tricks at well-known spots add to the history of a place and thus have more intrinsic cultural value than ABDs; ‘it’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it’; a photo in a magazine is more important than a photo on the Internet, etc., etc.
Which brings us back around to the matter in hand – in today’s skateboarding universe where literally millions of skateboarding tricks are uploaded in real time to the Internet every minute of the day – can a rule such as that tied into the notion of ‘ABD = illegal’ really still hold any importance?
Personally, I’m not 100% sure of my opinion: I do think that adhering to the idea that only NBD tricks should be documented by ‘proper’ skate media at recognisable and historically significant spots is logical and correct.
Does that sound OTT?
Consider it this way then – why wouldn’t Thrasher or Free or Solo or Slam print another photo of a backside flip down Wallenberg on their covers?
Is it out of respect for Andrew Reynolds? For the spot? For the mythos around the trick list created at the spot that demands sequencing and recognition of pioneers? Or is it because printing an ABD at an iconic spot like that would subtract credibility from a supposedly ‘serious’ skateboard publication?
ABD militancy sort of makes sense looked at through that example, right?
Well yeah, but only until you throw in another variable. What about if a local zine shot and published the same shot? That doesn’t matter, right?
Or what about if a photographer shoots their mate backside flipping Wallenberg and posts it on Insta? That’s cool too, right?
If we agree with the above it leads to the inevitable conclusion that we’re then accepting that there are tiers of documentation and that the rules for those skate media at the ‘top’ (national mags, company videos, etc.) are not the same for those at the ‘bottom’ (homie videos, local zines, social media, etc.).
Equally, if someone shoots a bail shot of a trick at a famous spot and it gets published first, can the person who actually lands the trick still claim NBD and demand that their photo is printed?
And we’ve not even mentioned tranny here: why does ABD not apply to transition? Or does it apply but only in certain instances?
Shite…I’ve confused myself now. I’ll be honest, when I first started writing this, I was reasonably confident that I knew where I stood on the issue but, the more I’ve delved into the internal logic of the idea, the less certain I’ve become.
What I will say by way of a conclusion before I pass the mic over to other, far more esteemed skateboarding minds than mine, is the following:
One of the dominant cultural theories of the last half century, Postmodernism, states that ‘nothing new can be created, leaving everyone with only the option of relentless quoting and remaking pre-existing things – a context in which the only way to get noticed is to be ironic’.
Postmodernist theorists present this idea as a fixed fact, something immune to further debate. If you’ve been to University in the last 20 years and studied anything remotely related to Arts or Humanities then you’ll know just how deeply this supposed ‘fact’ has penetrated modern thinking.
Personally, I’ve always thought it was bollocks: nothing more than sophistry and word wanking by a bunch of egotistical academics desperate to leave their mark on the world through competitive nihilism. I think my deep contempt for this doctrine – that every possible story had already been written, every possible thought had already been considered, every conceivable piece of music or art had already been recorded or created and so on – made me fall even more deeply in love with skateboarding.
At the same time that I was being force-fed Lacan, Derrida and Foucault at Uni and being told that there was no such thing as truth and that the notion of anyone possibly coming up with a new idea was laughable – I was also out skateboarding with hundreds of fellow enthusiasts who were pulling off personal and cultural NBDs on a weekly basis.
This disconnect between the risible nonsense I was reading at University and the clear and present reality of new ideas and never before considered tricks happening all around me made me proud to be a skateboarder then, and it makes me proud to be one now.
Fuck you Derrida – Henry Sanchez just fakie flipped out of a fakie 5-0. NBD!!!
– Ben Powell
I remember the idea of ABD was treated with a lot of respect when I was younger – in a similar way to how spots were shown respect by not blowing them out. That pretty much doesn’t exist any more and hasn’t since the rise of people making their name via Insta by pushing as much footage out as they can to build that following.
Personally, I think it’s sad, but I grew up in a different era where these unsaid rules were respected almost universally. If you did a trick knowing that someone else had already done it back then, it would be considered super lame; and rightly so. Letting the original person have their moment for being the first person to do something shows respect. I don’t think people care about that shit anymore. We live in a different time.
Let’s be honest, half the stuff people post of themselves on Insta today would have been called out instantly in the ‘90s. It’s crazy that everyone loves the ‘90s but half of the unsaid rules that defined that era don’t apply now. The militancy of observing ‘the rules’ were a lot of reason why the ‘90s created so much rad shit and the ignorance of the same rules explains why we now have a sea of shite with a few gems sprinkled here and there.
I never really paid much attention to the concept of ABD in skateboarding. Firstly because I believe skateboarding is so much more interesting than just counting tricks. To me, it is about the way you do a trick, how unique and personal it looks, but also where you do the trick and what kind of vibe you show in your footage. Most importantly, I want to see skaters enjoying themselves and looking like they’re having a good time.
The time we’re living right now, confined at home, is a good reminder that skateboarding is about sharing: sharing with friends, sharing with other city users. At the end of the day, everyone could perform on the same spot doing the same trick and it will most likely look different, because everyone’s styles and ways of doing tricks is different, and that’s the beauty of skateboarding.
I often say that skateboarding doesn’t have rules but has codes. I remember ABD really being a thing 10 or 15 years ago, especially in cities that would experience a lot of skate tourism, like LA or NYC; it was sometimes considered wrong to go skate a spot if someone else had found it first. It created unnecessary tensions between skaters; at least that’s how I saw it. Today, it feels like the surplus of skate footage on social media and such – especially the ‘fun’, and ‘on the go’ footage – made the ABD concept a bit irrelevant.
Skating is all about references.
If you know your history you can get away with almost everything in skateboarding, even ABDs.
The ABD concept has certainly taken a battering with the near-endless release of new skate content to keep up with every week. I think it’s good not to re-tread the same ground, but you can’t expect skaters these days to have seen every video that comes out – it was a little easier to keep track a decade or so back as there was a smaller cluster of formalised releases that would get almost unanimous focus.
I think there’s some leeway for an ABD popping up in a tour edit by a visiting pro that is none the wiser. It’s a bit more disappointing if it’s a trick from a classic video reproduced in a video from the same city, but again, sometimes people genuinely don’t know. I sadly fell into this category myself last year – I spent my last chance to film for Cafe’s Ensemble video filming a trick down a stair set in London that was definitely beyond my usual comfort zone, only to have it pointed out afterwards that it was ABD – so who am I to talk?
I was gutted as I don’t ‘huck’ all that much and having no chance to replace the clip I really wanted to use it, so much so that I actually asked the skater who’d done it first for their permission to run with it, which they kindly granted – with the words, ‘do what you want with it – it’s ABD.’
I feel it applies more to the city you are in/from and within that scene. In Oslo I feel ABDs are still very much a thing, but more with the Norwegians than with people travelling here. Guess it’s a combination of respecting others in a pretty small scene and the ‘validation’ of doing tricks at spots that have been skated for decades.
I’ve been on a ton of Euro trips where the question has come up and the rule hasn’t applied as much: ‘Some guy from here did that years ago, but can’t remember where the footage is,’ and ‘just do it anyway, nobody will care if it’s done,’ or ‘it’s been done but would still be cool if you did it’, etc. Guess it’s a combination of time and exposure of the trick. Some ABDs just wouldn’t make sense to do again, like the obvious tricks that come to mind with a spot. I feel it’s the tricks in between if that makes sense. Tricks will still show up in international videos from Oslo that are ABD, but it’s still cool to see those tricks.
For example: A lot more Germans would notice that you do an ABD at a Berlin spot than the entire rest of the audience watching that part. Of course taking into account that the trick isn’t in a very well known video or part.
The ABD thing is a topic that has come up on quite a few all-female skate trips that I’ve been part of and there was this running joke that ABD only stands for guys and that there should be an ABGirl-D and NBGirl-D. I personally quite liked this idea but also I think it highlights a deeper conversation about gender and ability.
In general, I think as popular as skateboarding is in 2020, I still quite enjoy the concept of ABD as it helps push people to think outside the box and come up with something more original or inventive. It’s this creative approach to boundaries and skate spots where I find the most joy when it comes to skateboarding.
However, I also think that skateboarding is like a combi-lock, there are so many different combinations that make up a skater as an individual, so even if there is an ABD, someone could still do the same trick but in their own way, with their own style, clothes, board shape, etc. and it’d be like an NBD.
I feel like because so much has been done, it’s harder and harder to see people come up with ‘new tricks’. I do find it impressive to see NBD tricks, but usually it’s something incredibly tech that, if I’m honest, doesn’t really get me that hyped.
I don’t think it matters that much, as skateboarding is so mainstream now, it’s hard to find or recognise what is actually an NBD trick. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s someone out there who’s already gone and done it in their garage with no interest in broadcasting it on social media. I think it only matters to the individual who has made it their thing to come up with NBD tricks.
Doing an ABD is as much of a crime as whatever party wants to make it really.
I’ve knowingly done ABDs before so I don’t really have an argument to say NEVER do an ABD trick or I’m being a hypocrite.
I would say though – general rule: if you are aware of tricks that have been done at spots, try and do something different or take the trick to a different spot.
People are out just cruising and doing tricks that people have done in proper videos years ago and filming it for Instagram.
This can be perceived as a diss like, ‘this trick is just a warm up for Instagram; it’s easy.’ That isn’t always the case though. Some people spend hours on tricks for Instagram but because they’re released as a ‘filmed on a phone’ clip people are given the impression that it was just knocked out easily.
I’ve seen videos come out where 5-10 tricks in there are ones I’ve filmed of people and were in my videos on the same spots years ago. That doesn’t really bother me… If anything it just makes the new guy look silly for not paying more attention to the local skate scene and it’s flattering to the guy who came before and did the trick… ‘Cool this guy still thinks this is a good enough trick to put in a video and myself or someone else did it 10 years ago, I’m flattered.’
I feel like in a personal skate evolution you need to have something that makes you step up; I see the concept of THE NBD as a way to try something different, maybe to fight your own fears. I don’t know… Personally I don’t always follow the NBD concept as every skater has a different approach to spots, a different style… You could see two skaters do the same trick at the same spot but for some reason you liked one of them more! For example I wouldn’t care if John Cardiel did all the ABDs ‘cause it’s Cardiel so it’s totally different to me!
Think for a second of a photo you really like… Now on the same spot just change the skater and add the one you’ve always looked up to… Would you care if it was an ABD? I guess tricks are as personal as skateboarding!
I feel like we shouldn’t be so picky about ABDs… We should just think that everyone fought their own personal wars with spots… For some it’s quicker, for some it takes longer, for some it takes more effort, for some it takes less effort…
It would be sick if the NBD concept was just a challenge between skaters, like something that didn’t have that much importance in the industry.
I’d love to see ABDs by different people being paid (in terms of photos/videos published) even if it’s an ABD!
I wish ABD was still adhered to in today’s skate culture, but it seems like it’s too hard to abide by it as a cultural rule. It’s so difficult for younger generations of skaters to have an in-depth knowledge of every video or every bit of coverage that’s dropped. On the flip side, it’s hard for someone like myself who is older to keep up with anything that’s come out in the era of Instagram edits and online content. I have to limit the amount of skate content I watch and I find myself watching a lot more videos from the ‘80s, ‘90s and ‘00s these days. If I’m filming and I go to a spot, I’ll often text someone else for trick confirmation, but there’s been a couple that have fallen through the cracks.
These days I think ABD applies more to the context of the spot and this is the aspect of it that we tried to stick to when filming the last video. If the spot is a gap or a ledge, cool: everyone is going to skate that spot in the same way.
Where things change are if it’s a spot that someone has made an effort to find or something somebody wouldn’t normally touch. Where ABDs and one-ups happen is where skaters are only doing it because they have a lack of imagination or are doing it for the kudos or Instagram likes.
To me personally, I see the stuff Chris Jones and Jake Harris skate as a good example: the spot in Kentish Town where Chris ducks under the bar and Jake follow-films him and he flips and backside flips the pavement bump to road.
That spot must have been blocked off with the barriers for ages but no one wanted to skate it until they saw that. Then all of sudden, people are going and trying to skate it the same way. The key thing here is that the idea and execution of that spot was so perfect that there is really no need for anyone else to go there, except for those two, and do anything else. In that sense, it’s not just a trick that can be ABD; it can be an idea, a spot or a combination of any of the three.
Adding on to my previous thoughts, I feel like the real cultural theory here is that if something takes away from the purity of an idea, trick or spot, then that something is an ABD. You’re trying to paint over a picture that was already beautiful with something worse. An NBD is a good thing if it’s adding something to the cultural canon of skateboarding. That said this applies if it’s something you’re putting out with the aim of bringing something to that canon. If you’re ABDing for yourself, or your friends and the hype: all good. The ABD rules really only apply to ‘showcase skateboarding’ for want of a better term.
However, there are always exceptions. If someone has done a banging back tail on the spot originally and there’s a chance to see Gino or Heath back tail the same spot, you’re going to throw away the rulebook.