The Most Fun Thing: an Interview with Kyle Beachy
The first time I met Kyle Beachy was in London in 2018. He was crouched down at Canada Water tending to Ted Barrow, who was lying there having just broken his arm. I had just arrived for a pre-arranged session, but with Ted’s sudden accident, the intended crew for the morning skate before day two of Pushing Boarders had suddenly shrunk. Kyle went with Ted in a taxi to the hospital so we didn’t get a chance to properly chat, but we kept in touch, and soon after we published his highly contentious Primitive Progressivism piece on our website. A year later we met again in Malmö at the second Pushing Boarders conference. This time we got to drink beers, skate, hang out and really get to know each other (Ted was there too, arm fully healed and challenging us to switch backside flip competitions). Kyle chaired a discussion at that PB, which included Nick Sharratt of Palomino fame. Anyways, to cut to the chase: Nick, Kyle and I all became good friends and we got to hang out together again this year at the Vladimir Film Festival in Croatia, which was really sick (Kyle lives in Chicago, where he teaches creative writing at Roosevelt University). But enough about this bromance, it’s basically a long-winded way to introduce this interview with Kyle, by Nick and I, about Kyle’s book: ‘The Most Fun Thing: Dispatches From A Skateboard Life.’
Kyle’s new book consists of a curated selection of his essays written in the past ten years. The essays cover a range of topics like: his love/hate relationship with Nike SB and their Blazers, wrestling with the fact of aging whilst still being in love with an activity that’s essentially a young person’s game, a day spent in the surreal world of Chaz Ortiz, and many others. Also, I would be remiss not to mention that Kyle is adept at something that we just don’t see enough of in traditional skateboard media: critique. Talk that was previously reserved for private WhatsApp groups and message boards with anonymous users has now been analysed, articulated and published thanks to Kyle and Grand Central Publishing. Look no further than Chapter Two of Kyle’s book about Nyjah Huston’s Rise & Shine part:
‘He skates with his trucks rigidly tight, keeping his lines straight and landings perfect. Anything less requires a quick tick-tack adjustment––a clunky, artless flourish and probable cause for editing that cuts landings as soon as his legs absorb the impact. Every time: feet wide, strategic, automatic. Soulless.’
That’s just a snippet of one chapter amongst the many within The Most Fun Thing. In my opinion (and Nick’s as well) Kyle’s book is one of the greatest pieces of skateboarding nonfiction ever written. After reading his book I was left with the same feeling I’d had after the first time I’d seen Dennis Busenitz skate in the flesh: seriously, what have I been doing all these years?
But to spare you from my personal introspection and also for the sake of brevity, it’s time to hear from Kyle himself. –Will Harmon
Interview by Nick Sharratt & Will Harmon
Will: This isn’t your first novel, how does The Most Fun Thing differ from your other book?
Kyle: Well, my other book is a novel, a novel proper. It’s called The Slide and I have three copies of it, and I don’t know how many more exist in the world. You know, eventually, the publisher a) stops making them and b) they pulp them. They turn them back into pulp so they can reuse the material.
Will: Ah okay.
Kyle: The bleakest thing to think of is that your book you’ve spent years working on has been pulped.
Will: Yeah but it’s good for sustainability, ha ha.
Kyle: Yeah (laughs). From the earth we come, and back to it we will go. So, you know that’s a novel proper right, it’s a fictional narrative about a young man whose story vaguely overlaps with my life. Like a lot of first novels my book The Slide is drawn very much from my experience up until that point. The Most Fun Thing – technically, it’s not a novel, it’s a collection of nonfiction. I mean it does end up becoming a little bit of a memoir or nonfiction about the life that I live as I’m trying to write these things about skateboarding. So there are a lot of interesting conversations these days about art and truth and where, you know, where the line between a fictional narrative and truth is. Writing about oneself truthfully, really where we draw that line… But you know I guess the main difference is that in The Slide I was trying to make as interesting a story as possible and in The Most Fun Thing I was really just interested in being as truthful as possible about my experience.
Nick: I think it does, I mean that’s one of my takeaways from it, it’s that it does come across as truthful. I think there are some bits that are truthful to the point where there’s probably some people that might be a bit pissed off with how truthful you’ve been for us right? Like maybe your girlfriend, for example?
Kyle: Yeah. You know, I was very upfront with my wife Kristin.
Will: You mean K?
Kyle: Yeah in the book she’s K. Yeah, you know I was very up front with her as I was writing this material. And you know the period that a good deal of the book is about, is about a very dark period for us in terms of our marriage and so there is quite a bit of sort of, you know intimate or details that people would generally hold close. But my sense is, ultimately, I end up kind of taking a stance on skateboarding that says skateboarding is kind of inseparable from the kind of person you are, and the kind of life that you lead, that it’s kind of folly to try to separate skateboarding from the rest of your life. So you know, at a certain point, it just became important to dig into that material a little bit. I will say that we’ve (my wife and I) been very up front and open about it, as I was writing it. I don’t know… You can never tell totally if someone is completely okay, with a thing. But my sense is that she understands the project pretty well and understands why it was necessary for me to speak intimately about our private lives.
Will: I also think to be in a relationship with a skateboarder you just have to have a lot of understanding full stop about what it is to be a skateboarder and what that entails, and how they’re going to be grumpy if they don’t get to skate enough.
Kyle: Yeah, yeah, I think so. And I think also a lot of what the project ends up being too is trying to find different ways into skateboarding. You know when I get kind of my least sufferable, or I guess when I get my least generous in the book is when I’m very critical about the ways that skateboarding conversations have always gone. And I’m pretty open about like, well what if we come at it from this different place? What if what if I come from a position of marriage into skateboarding? Or I come from a position of aging into skateboarding, or reading and writing, and I tried to like, access skateboarding but through that sort of weird back door. So, really, it was just a question of: what does skateboarding look like if you come at it through these other sorts of entryways that haven’t traditionally been doorways to skateboarding?
Will: Well, one of the things that when I was reading – and I thought, how refreshing it was – I think because in my job I’m always interviewing Pro skateboarders, or you know people that make a living off skateboarding… And so, it was really refreshing to read about someone who has skateboarding as their pastime and they love it and it’s such a part of their life yet this is not how they make money, being a skateboarder. It was just really nice to read something like that and people’s thoughts and views, because I think it’s something that I’ve experienced myself: I don’t make money off skateboarding but I make money talking about skateboarders, (laughs) I guess.
Kyle: Yeah. I’ve always been very, very happy to not be dependent on the industry at all.
Will: Right, yeah.
Kyle: I think a lot of my interest in writing about skateboarding comes, or is naturally tied to the fact that I don’t really have any skin in the game, you know? Like the injuries I suffer from skateboarding are never financial. Yeah so at times, that means being able to maybe ask questions without having to fear the kind of reprisals that the skate industry is sort of famous for. I mean one of the dark things about this industry is that it’s notorious for deciding who gets to be part of it and who doesn’t.
Will: Yeah that’s true. And that actually kind of brings us to another question we had about the Primitive Progressivism article that was finally published online. I kind of wanted to ask, have you had any personal blowback or whatnot? What has that changed for you, since it’s fully out there, and anyone can see it now? It’s also in the book, I’ll remind the readers.
Kyle: Yeah, it’s a chapter in the book and then I kind of expand a little bit on the chapter to talk about the story of how that article came to be. And you know, meeting you guys at Pushing Boarders and how central that was to the experience – the first Pushing Boarders. I don’t know that I’ve suffered any blowback that I’ve recognised.
I mean I’m certain there are probably people within skateboarding who are disinterested or disinclined to pick up my book or have opinions about me based on that one article, and that’s perfectly fine, but you know, like I said I don’t know… There’s no real martyr situation here. Like I didn’t suffer at all from that. Yeah, I got a lot of thank you notes from people. I was introduced to a whole lot of people who I wouldn’t otherwise have met. I mean for me, I’m in this sort of very fortunate situation where writing a thing that at the time was sort of controversial actually ended up serving me well, because I got to have all of these different conversations after it. You know there’s no real blowback to speak of. Um, and that could be for a number of reasons…
Nick: That’s really quite refreshing really isn’t it?
Nick: Following on from Will’s, my initial question was: do you think you’d find it much easier to find a home for that article now rather than then? But on the back of what you’ve just said, do you think if you wrote and released that article now you would have received more blowback now? Just due to the times we live in now, that if somebody likes something they’re going to talk about it more, and if somebody doesn’t like something they’re gonna shout about it even more.
Kyle: Yeah, I mean that’s interesting, that’s an interesting thought experiment. I think the skateboarding industry three years later, or more than three years later, is now much better equipped to handle its own sort of internal outbursts, like this.
Will: I agree.
Kyle: Yeah, I think the industry itself wouldn’t respond, the way it did – which essentially – I mean it’s dangerous to talk about ‘the industry’ but you know the real challenge for me was that it was it was just silence, you know it’s just crickets from the sort of people that we depend on to kind of help us understand what’s going on in skateboarding.
Will: Yeah Ryan Lay, he was the first Pro to say anything.
Kyle: Ryan was perfectly comfortable talking about it and I think also understood that in a sense he might have needed to, right? Like someone in pro skating had to be the one to talk about it first.
Will: And did you actually know Ryan then or did you not know him yet?
Kyle: I didn’t know him very well. I mean I had maybe a conversation or two, with him, but that was really the way that I came to know him at all. And that was something he put out on his own Instagram before anything. So yeah I mean Nick, I think that’s an interesting question. I mean I guess my sort of answer is: like I don’t think it could happen now… There’s too much of the industry now, that has a vested interest in inclusivity. Like the industry has turned a corner, where they seem you know, the people who are selling things, seem to recognise that it is in their interest, it is in their company’s interests to appeal to a more diverse and broader consumer base. I mean to be totally kind of, you know shallow and cold about it, there is some kind of just pure market logic at play with that.
Nick: It’s that sad thing isn’t it? It’s the bigger corporate companies that are doing the most to push inclusivity and progression but it’s like, yeah they are they only doing it because they think it’s going to make them loads of money? But in the end, the net gain is good.
Kyle: Right. That’s a sneaky thing too right? It does get very murky like when the net gain is positive, the question becomes ultimately like: does it matter where it’s coming from?
Will: But also, I wanted to ask, when you wrote Primitive Progressivism, was this kind of a response to, ‘I can’t believe no pro skaters are saying anything’, or did you want to write that immediately when you heard about these allegations?
Kyle: It was less for me about pro skaters and it was more for me about having spent as much money as I have over my life into this industry.
Will: Ok yeah.
Kyle: At a certain point you want to believe that the thing, the hobby, the culture, the thing that has taken so much of my resources right, I mean since eight years old I’ve been buying skateboard shit. You know it was really a matter of disappointment that this thing I have supported, this thing that has in so many ways defined how I learned how to be a person… It felt like there was an obvious hole and silence in the way that this thing, this institution, this culture was responding, which was essentially trying to avoid it and just pretend like nothing had happened.
Will: Brush it under the rug, yeah.
Kyle: Yeah so I was made angry. I was disappointed and angered. And you know that’s not in pro skaters per se, or specific brands per se, it was more kind of a whole macro view of: man, this culture sure could use some work.
Nick: OK, without us ending up just having a personal conversation about this for two hours and forgetting the fact that we’re doing an interview with you for Free, it is insane to think that was only three years ago. And, like the reaction to that coming out now compared to then. It would just be like, people would be falling over themselves to cancel him.
Will: Yeah how much has the world changed in the past two years! So much…
Kyle: Yeah it is, and you know the big question would become like are we, are we better equipped now to actually have the conversations beyond, you know, quote unquote cancelling? Like cancelling is a kind of tool… Everyone has found a way to make cancelling sort of fit into his or her ideological system. And the question I wonder is, are we actually better equipped now to have the conversation about it? Or would we just be better equipped to push him out of the industry?
Will: Yeah, interesting…
Kyle: Yeah would it be just a faster sort of ejection, or would it be like actually a substantial conversation about what has happened, what needs to change, how we go about making that change and so on. And Nick to your point like I don’t know that Jason Jesse himself would do better now than he did three years ago, in terms of learning about what has happened. I mean because my understanding is that part of the challenge is that so many people within the industry had a reason to believe that Jesse, Jason Jesse, was a different person than that. You know so many people had firsthand experience to say, ‘wait a minute, no this isn’t the person I know.’
And so at the core of this is a question about a human being and how much harm that human being can do, and how that human being learns and changes going forward, and I don’t know necessarily that we’re better three years down the road at doing that sort of more important kind of work behind. We might just be a lot quicker to get it out of here.
Will: Air it out quick; I see what you’re saying…
Kyle: Eject, exit, abort, etc.
Nick: I mean, I think we’ve kind of proved a lot of the times; it is good to do so.
Nick: A lot of your writing, and this book is, is analysing skateboarding and analysing what it means to you, and in that sort of like memoir sense of how it has shaped you and everything, do you ever worry that you can over analyse it? It comes across in the book how much pure joy you take from just going skateboarding. Do you think by, in your tying yourself in knots to write the best thing you can write about skateboarding, you take something away from the simplicity of it?
Kyle: Yeah no, I think that’s an important question and the first thing I would say is that boy I’ve wrestled with that a lot myself. I can say that; I know that. Once the book was out, I did not have any interest in continuing to write more things about skateboarding for a period. There was a period as soon as the book came out where I was relieved to not have to watch the new video that came out in a hypercritical way, that I did not have to think about each thing I did as it relates to this ongoing project of trying to understand skateboarding. So I can say that I felt relief as a writer and a skateboarder to get back to skating. You know when I went to Fažana (Croatia) I was very pleased to not be writing about it, I was very pleased to be there experiencing it with total sort of innocence and presence. I mean because that’s one of the challenges is that when you are writing about a thing, it’s difficult to always know that you’re fully in the thing, because you’re kind of commenting and noting and analysing…
Will: Yeah I know this feeling…
Kyle: Right! But I think I think Nick, you’re also asking a bigger question, though, that I hear, which is like, is this ultimately maybe harmful for one’s experience with skateboarding? Like is there a way that I am somehow undercutting what skateboarding actually relies on, which is the sort of innocent naive kind of wonderful thoughtlessness?
And I guess again, the first thing I would say is, my hope would be that I don’t imply at any point that other people should be thinking more seriously about what they’re doing. Everyone’s relationship to skateboarding is their own relationship to skateboarding. And all I’ve done is set out to ask some hard questions about my own relationship to skateboarding. I do think that there is something wonderful and beautiful about the thing that is unexamined. I think that there’s something to be said for the relationship that we allow to just be what it is and we don’t ask questions of it.
For me, that relationship exists with such things as food or largely music, you know, like, in choosing to write about skateboarding I understood that I was going to complicate in some ways, what would otherwise be an innocent and joyful relationship. I got my start writing about music and the reason I stopped writing about music was because it just started fucking with the way I heard music and I didn’t want that. I didn’t want to keep thinking about structure and the you know where the album fits politically into some sort of spectrum, I just wanted music to be the sort of thing I don’t know very much about and that I can just enjoy innocently and naively.
Nick: The one nice thing that we have with skateboarding compared to music is that, like they’re two sort of like accepted…As in the currencies of skating, like the photo and the video, so often there’s not really any politics involved in that part of it. There’s no grand statement. But we still end up tying ourselves in knots talking about the pants and how high this person’s socks are pulled up and everything, so it’s like, we can start to over analyse it, but a lot of the time that over analysing is ridiculous.
Will: But also, I think it has to do with the age that we are, and I think you mentioned this in your book, we actually think about skateboarding way more than we get to do it now because of our ages and you know, our adult responsibilities.
Will: And so I think analysing it, in a sense it’s enjoyable because it is something that isn’t analysed that much – the actual somewhat academic analysis of skateboarding is rare… I don’t know how to say it, but…
Kyle: Well, the thing I would stress Will, if I can hop back in here is that one thing I do believe, though, like as far as the rewards of thinking too seriously about a thing is that, I do believe that there are values to the activity, there are rewards to the activity that have been under-circulated. I mean we speak very, very fluently these days about how the failure in skateboarding is so important because you know it teaches us hard lessons about perseverance and getting back up and so on. I will say that there was some relief in setting it down and going back to skating without thinking about it. The thing I would never undo is the sort of, the way that I found skateboarding to help me understand the projects of the humanities, which are essentially about selfhood and one’s experience of time, and you know the very real way that our interpersonal relationships are based on performances, right? I mean what skateboarding has done for me has given me a way to understand those sort of interpersonal performances to understand how much of my relationship to my wife is the way that I watch her. And the way that I see her move through a space, and likewise the way she sees me and understands me. So you know all of that stuff is the reward for the overthinking and my hope would be that people who come to this book, and are patient with it, and are willing to go on this kind of long winding journey. It is my hope that they come away to realise that this thing they do is giving them rewards that they might not have appreciated.
Will: Yeah, yeah.
Kyle: It’s less about breaking down skateboarding and it’s more about like, ‘hey look at the beautiful thing that you’re up to,’ you know.
Nick: If I can say, I think you’ve achieved that.
Kyle: Oh that’s wonderful. Thank you, good.
Will: Well, I love the book, but I mean I’m a skateboarder. I’m kind of curious as to what feedback you’ve gotten from non-skateboarders about your book?
Kyle: Yeah you know I mean it’s hard to say. It’s hard to know exactly… I mean I know that people I personally know who are non-skateboarders, I’ve had excellent conversations with them about it.
Will: Ah great.
Kyle: What’s harder to know is how the kind of broader public feels. I’ve had a couple interviews with people who are not skaters, who seem to have asked questions that make it feel like ‘oh man you got something out of this’, you know ‘you get it’. I know that there are some writers I admire very much who very early on came to me and said, ‘oh man this has given me an understanding I didn’t have before’ and so on, but you know it’s just a very hard question to answer. Like I might be the worst person in the world to know how people are actually experiencing this because the way that people talk to me about it is always going to be skewed by the dynamics of our relationship and the fact that I wrote the book, so I don’t know I just simply do not know.
Nick: All right.
Kyle: As unsatisfying as an answer that is, I’m sorry (laughs).
Will: Nah, that’s interesting. I read one of the reviews by someone that was talking about your book and he wasn’t a skateboarder but he said all these glowing things, so it does make me think people will enjoy it you know, even if they don’t skate.
Kyle: And I think I think you have to be open to the possibility that skateboarding might be worthwhile, right.
Kyle: A book is a long – it’s a big request right, I mean asking for 20 some hours of your life, so that’s a big ask, and so, if there are people who have just decided already that skateboarding is something they already know, they’ve filed it into this slot in the world, I don’t know that they’re going to be open to kind of what the book is asking of them. I mean it requires a curiosity; it requires an openness to the possibility that skateboarding might be interesting, that it might be worthy of 20 hours or so of their thought.
Nick: In the last two years, it seems like there has been a real explosion in skate literature. Like there are loads of books now written about skateboarding, all different kinds, do you have an opinion on why that might be? It can’t just be coincidence that for 40-50 years there’s been basically nothing and then all of a sudden, there is, like a wealth of them. And all different kinds, like yours, a friend of ours Jono, ah you’ve read Jono’s book haven’t you?
Kyle: Love Jono’s book yeah…
Nick: …Walker Ryan’s book or, like all very different and but there’s more in the pipeline, Jose Vadi’s book. What do you think it’s about the times that we’re in that has got people to the point of getting these across the finish line?
Kyle: First of all, I agree that we are in a kind of golden era of skateboarding writing or skateboarding literature. Part of it has to do with publishing and the shape of publishing. I mean with on demand publishing smaller presses like Red Fez that put out Jono’s book, is able to do that. I mean you know, in the same way that you know Walker Ryan’s book benefits from the sort of infrastructure of self-published work and self-published distribution, right? Like those are new avenues for book publishing that didn’t exist 20 years ago. So things that might have turned into books in the 1990s, or the oughts, became like zines or they became blogs.
Will: Blogs yeah, I remember there were some good ones.
Kyle: Ted Barrow hit me to this blog project… I think it was called ‘What We Talked About When We Talk About Mike Carroll’ and it’s essentially book length fanfiction of 1990s era, like San Francisco and it’s a wild, wild project, but the reason that wasn’t a book was because publishing wasn’t in the state that it is now, which is essentially that you know books are made are legitimised by the way that they’re published. Red Fez is one guy running a press out of his garage and that’s it; that’s all it takes. And so it doesn’t require the whole machinery of New York publishing in order to find its way out there.
I also think that part of it has to be as simple as the people who are at book writing age now grew up with skateboarding in their lives, but not in their lives in the ways that it was in the very early 90s, where it was all of your life, right? I mean there was a time where to be a skater meant you were only a skater. And, and that’s kind of shifted, right? I mean you don’t have to look farther than you know the Isle guys to realise like… There’s no longer this sort of hardcore test, where, if you do other things you are somehow being dishonest to skateboarding, that if you have interests beyond skateboarding you are somehow less of a skater, right? That conception is totally out the door, but I think, for a long time that was part of it, that the person who would go through the amount of time to make a book should have just been skateboarding.
Will: I see.
Kyle: So I don’t know that’s part of it. I remember a moment when a friend and I were watching… I think it was a Nike ad, maybe like a Darius Miles ad it was in that era of like sort of late ‘90s, and they the song they used was ‘Now You’re Mine’ by Gang Starr. And I remember at the time being, like ‘oh my god, how did this song – that I think of as like this personal underground Hip Hop song – make its way into this nationwide ad?’ And the fact is that the people who are making the ads carry their interests with them.
Will: Yeah, yeah.
Kyle: It’s a pretty simple reality, but that’s how cool shit ends up being part of popular culture. It’s that thing where people that are passionate about a thing carry it with them into their jobs. So my job is literature, and to make literature as rich of an experience as possible is to write about this thing that I love and that I don’t believe anyone has written about in this way. That’s like a one two combo.
Here’s an interest I have, and here seems like an opportunity, because people haven’t addressed it in this way and it just ends up being what it is. I mean Jose’s book is a great example… It’s not a book about skateboarding, that’s just that’s a book about California and the man who wrote it happens to be a devoted skater and a real historian of skateboarding and it made him – just as much as his family’s history, his geographical history – skateboarding is every bit as important as, in terms of who he became, as a Californian.
Kyle: And that’s just it, you know it made us who we are and it would be untrue for me to write something right now that wasn’t somehow about skateboarding, or about bodies, or about space, etc.
Will: So going with a big publisher like this for your book… Did that change things? Did you have an editor? How did that go? As opposed to like, publishing yourself, like a lot of people do.
Kyle: Well, you know I frame that in terms of not having to change things, but the reality is, that there’s nothing better in the world than having an editor who understands your work.
Will: Right yeah.
Kyle: Having an editor who gets your project and pushes you toward what they understand your project is sometimes better than you do is the most ideal situation in the world. Being able to bounce ideas off this person, being able to submit rough pages and have them see something in those rough pages that you didn’t see a connection that you didn’t see, you know. The editorial process with a good smart committed editor who is engaged with your project is the best thing in the world, and you don’t get that with self-publishing. You know I’m a person who believes in revision and there’s nothing I’ve written, there’s nothing in this book that didn’t go through, you know, six, seven rounds of hard revision. And that’s not a thing that you get when you do it yourself, you know you might have friends who will help you out, you might have you know, a mentor, maybe you can ask for their time, but the best possible way, I think, is to have a committed editor, to have someone whose job that is and who has a stake in the book. I mean my editor, in acquiring this book, which is to say, buying this book, has a vested interest in this book doing well. And I appreciated that. It ends up being a kind of partnership and that partnership was really important to me. My editor’s name is Wes Miller and he is a skater. He lives in Jersey and we geeked out pretty hard about skateboarding as we were writing it and that.
Will: (Laughs) That’s cool!
Kyle: It was amazing (laughs). Yeah that was key.
Will: One of the first things, maybe it’s like the second chapter, I know it was written in 2011 and I’m wondering at what point in the writing of all these essays did you decide: ‘hey I think I want to put these in the book,’?
Kyle: The book didn’t become a book until very late in the process right, I mean there was a point where I pitched about 15 of these chapters, I think of them as articles or essays, that I pitched them to a small press here in Chicago called Featherproof Books and the guy who runs that, a guy named Tim Kinsella, he’s like a rock star and he’s a really cool guy. Well he’s friends with Atiba (Jefferson) and so he had this idea that we could get photos from Atiba and we could make like this indie press skate book. And you know these things, you have conversations about them and they never materialise, and that might have been in like 2015-2016. So, at that point, I kind of had the idea that it could become a book, maybe down the road. But you know, the thing I would stress is that what I was writing at this time, primarily what I thought of as my project, was this novel – this totally other project that was fiction, a work of fiction, about skateboarding.
Will: Ah so kind of like the excerpt that we ran in Free?
Kyle: Right. The Poison Buffet, which ran in Free…
Will: Ah ok.
Kyle: Yeah that manuscript exists, that is a project that to me was my main project and so these articles were a way to kind of do something else.
Nick: What plans, if any, do you have for that fiction novel then?
Kyle: Well, I think I figured out how to make it good, like I sort of think I figured it out. Really, really stupid thing to say in public and it’s a profoundly stupid thing to say on record, but I do think that my time away from the novel, thinking about this book and taking skateboarding as seriously as this book does, has kind of freed up that project that is fiction as maybe taking some of the burden off of it. You know, like I wanted really badly to ask some hard questions about skateboarding. It was pretty clear that a novel, a fictional novel, was the wrong place to do that. And so now, what I’m finding as I go back to that book is that you know there’s actually a lot of really wonderful material there, it’s just taking itself way too seriously. And so what I’m trying to do is go back in and see what happens if it allows some looseness into it a little bit.
Will: Yeah I see what you’re saying, because you have that that piece of work now that has these serious discussions, and now you can go back to the other one and be like ‘no, I just want this to be fictionalised’ and it doesn’t have to ask these hard questions and whatnot.
Kyle: Yeah, and I mean, I think you know, anyone who makes work of any sort knows that the relationship between ambition and the sort of pressures one puts oneself under, you know, there’s a real sweet spot for that.
Kyle: You have to hold yourself to a high standard in order to have the sort of diligence required to make a body of work. But it’s very easy for some of us, and for me it’s very easy for that sort of determination, ambition and that sort of pressure that one puts on oneself, to go too far. And what’s clear is that in trying to write this novel I went too far, and I got too hard on myself, and I expected things out of the project, that the project wasn’t right for.
And so it was a very, very long and indirect process to learning a whole lot about what it means to make art. And it was bad, it was dark, you know there were some very dark periods that I moved through as I was writing the original book and The Most Fun Thing sort of accidentally came out of that work.
Nick: Did you think you might actually be able to have fun writing, in like going back to that and working on it? Rather than it just being a burden?
Kyle: Well what I can say is that the six months that I spent writing basically, the second half of The Most Fun Thing was the easiest, most joyful writing that I’ve ever done in my life. It was totally unlike any other period of productivity that I’ve ever known. And I do think I’ve learned something from that process about what works for me and what my lane sort of is… You know a lot of the challenge of being a writer is figuring out where you want to position yourself, or what sort of work you want to make.
Kyle: And I think what The Most Fun Thing taught me is that, like I have a gear, you know, I do have a way of writing where it doesn’t have to kill me, where I’m not disappointed in it, where I don’t find it hideous, and that I can actually continue producing it, and it doesn’t kill me. You know that’s it, like how to make art without that artwork damaging you.
Will: And was it difficult, putting together things you’d written in 2011 to the things you’d written in 2020? Because did you see your writing changing at all?
Kyle: You know, it wasn’t, I mean the essays are very different right?
Will: Yeah, they’re all quite different.
Kyle: Dylan Reider or the Picasso statue that’s in the last part of the book is a very different thing than that first Nyjah Huston article or the Nike article that’s early in the book. What is clear though, is that the questions I was asking, or the sort of way that I was kind of adjusting skateboarding under my own sort of microscope, they were always part of the same project. You know when I finished one I didn’t want to ask those questions anymore.
Will: I got you.
Kyle: I wanted to ask different questions, and so there was a way that it was always kind of a unified project. Even when I thought of them as like separate articles, I was kind of moving through this sort of ongoing thing, and that was a challenge sometimes. I would have editors who would say things like, ‘hey, I need you to explain to us why skateboarding films are important at all.’ I was like, ‘well I already did that,’ like I’ve already done that work elsewhere, I don’t want to do that for this article. So yeah even when I thought of them as kind of standalone things they were always for me this kind of bigger… I don’t know journey or quest or whatever it was.
Nick: Quest! Quest!
Will: I think we should mention Vent City a bit because you’re on a podcast that some readers might not know about. Can you explain how this podcast differs from other skate podcasts out there?
Kyle: Ryan Lay was the sort of the organiser of Vent City. And its purpose was to have conversations that you know at the time, I guess we’ve been two years now, but at the time were less common than they are now.
Kyle: I mean the hope was always, I think, with Vent City that it would no longer be strange at some point to be talking about skateboarding the way that we were. And I don’t think it as strange now to do, right? Like, we were sort of labelled like the ‘woke podcast’ for a bit, the Marxist podcast for a bit, but you know I mean I think a lot of people are having those conversations now. The Vent City crew is: Ryan Lay, Ted Schmitz, Ted Barrow, formerly of @Feedback_TS, Kristin Ebeling, pro for Meow Skateboards and runs Skate Like A Girl in Seattle and elsewhere, and then Alex White, who is a long-time skate rat and now does announcing and works for Krux. Both she and Kristin work for Krux now, so you know a mixture of people in and out of the industry talking openly about the way that the industry could get better. Could improve…
Will: Yeah, could be different…
Kyle: And so maybe the distinguishing factor there is we’re very interested in possibility. Like what other models might there be for skate shops? Or how else might it look to be a pro skater instead of this incredibly abusive form of halfway employment where you’re essentially a contractor and you have (in the US) no health insurance, like how else might this go? Given yeah, the world we live in…
Will: Have the discussions on this podcast kind of given you ideas of things you’d further want to explore and actually possibly write about yourself?
Kyle: Yeah I think so… I mean I think they’re all part of the same sort of swirling ecosystem of curiosity. You know that’s it man, you know when it comes down to it, and this gets back to you Nick, to your earlier question, like the only way that any of this makes any sort of progress is if people are curious about how it might look, or how else it might go, or ask questions of the thing that we might otherwise just take for granted and not wonder about. So Vent City comes from a place of curiosity for the most part, but there’s also a fair amount of shit talking, you know? Like any skateboard conversation we also talk shit…
Will: I think that’s refreshing actually. I don’t know, so many other podcasts just won’t talk any shit…
Nick: Vent City is definitely divisive, I don’t mean like through any exclusion of yours, if you’ve got people either lovin’ or hatin’ what you’re doing I think you’re kind of on the right track. And if somebody hates it, at least you’ve pissed them off, and if you’ve pissed them off you’ve garnered some kind of reaction from them.
Nick: Like you know if someone’s just apathetic to what you’re doing it’s like, ‘who gives a fuck?’ You’d rather have these people really like it, and these people really hate it. And there’s going to be some people that will listen to it, maybe, assuming that they’re going to hate it because they’ve had it described to them as the ‘woke podcast’ or however else. And then it’s going to make them think about something and even if they’re only thinking about it and it doesn’t change their mind, they’ve at least thought about it.
Kyle: And Nick I mean you’re in a good position to answer this, like do you think skateboarding is now more willing to kind of embrace that sort of philosophy? Like for so long so much of skating was just doing what we knew worked, right? Like just a new brand that that takes this sort of idea and combines like a little bit of Habitat, with a little bit of I-Path with a you know a little bit of a New York flavour and we know all these things work and, like here’s the new brand. We don’t see that as much anymore, right? It seems like skateboarding to me, and I’m really curious if you agree or disagree with this from where you stand – brands and companies are more inclined toward that philosophy you just described, where it’s like we’re gonna do our thing. And some people are going to be super into us some people are not, right? Like Last Resort, is going to be what they are, and people are going to feel them or they’re not.
Nick: I listen to like a nerdy film podcast every week and there’s a film critic called Mark Kermode and he loves saying the same thing over again, but of his kind of things he regularly says is: you’d rather see somebody try and fail than not see them try at all, and so I think what you’re saying is totally right. I mean you’ll get a company that does something different, regardless of whether people are going to like it, and inevitably loads of people are then going to copy it, if it works. You’re never going to be able to get rid of that. But I think more and more now companies can just do what they want, because you have to have so much less skin in the game to see if it’s gonna work. You have to throw less shit to see if it sticks right? It’s like, that it never needs talking about again, like smaller minimum board orders and it’s cheaper to make T shirts and da da da, right?
Nick: Say a company like, for me personally, like a company like Frog. When I first saw Frog I was like, are you fucking kidding me?
Kyle: Totally (laughs).
Nick: But then it’s like, I’m not gonna ever wear a Frog T-shirt I don’t think. I don’t think I’m ever gonna skate a Frog board, but I’d kind of say Frog is one of my favourite companies out there at the moment because it is just like, ‘Fuck you guys, we’re just doing our little thing.’ And then, I shouldn’t say little thing anymore, because I’m sure they’re doing all right!
Nick: And for you, for the landscape for anybody to be able to do anything now, we live in a world where even if you want to kind of publicly cuss something down, you have to be so much more careful now, which is kind of connected to that thing of the net gain of the corporations being involved. It’s like: well if somebody’s only not criticizing something because they’re scared of how that’s going to make them look, they’re still not publicly criticising it, so there still is a positive, even if their motives aren’t pure, the outcome is still good. So yeah, you can put out your book and like people on a forum or whatever can shit talk it…
Nick: Think of how many people in the past would have not even read your book and then listen to Vent City and then shit-talked your book on the basis of what they thought it probably was, having not read it. And I think that probably happens a bit less now because people don’t want to be seen to be doing that, I don’t know…
Kyle: That’s interesting yeah. I mean the Frog example is a great one right, I mean Frog is the sort of, the biggest slow mind change I’ve had in the last, you know, year of skateboarding. It was sort of like, ‘all right, fine, I’m on board, go ahead.’ Like again, not for me, like you said, I won’t ever rock a Frog hat or board. But I am fully on board for what they are doing and part of that is just like proving that you’re doing it. Like this Noah video that came out of whatever that was, that New York fashion brand Noah, they seem to now be totally disassociated with skateboarding. It seemed to be a one off deal.
And you know I think skateboarding has a real sort of critical eye for anyone who’s not actually going to keep doing it, right? And I think there is just sort of this threshold, where, if you are in skateboarding long enough you sort of prove your bona fides and you show like, ‘you might not be into what I’m doing, but I have every right to be here doing it.’ And I think that’s kind of one of the beauties of skateboarding, it’s that you do sort of earn your way in and there’s a real fine line here between gatekeeping and sort of proving oneself, but I do think that skateboarding requires… You know if you’re going to be here, if you’re going to be this weird MS Paintbrand, sort of this jokey brand called Frog like, yeah whatever I can roll my eyes at it, but if you’re doing that two years later or whatever, and your team has grown and you’re putting out videos and…
Will: Yeah you’re putting out amazing videos…
Kyle: Yeah, so what in the world can I possibly say? It doesn’t matter if you line up with my taste. It doesn’t matter if the new Bronze video is by the same company that when they first came out I was like: ‘oh fuck it, another New York company, great! (said sarcastically)’ But like by this video, video five or whatever, it’s like: great, let’s go! Let’s see it; I want it! I hunger for it because, I know that if you’re in skateboarding long enough, you will learn from it, you will adapt from it, your work will reflect that time with it. And again, I say all this because I would hope that, at the very least, anyone can think whatever they want about my book, either by reading it or not, reading it… What I feel very, very confident in is that in my time with skateboarding I have learned from it, and that is what this book is, more than anything. It’s: here has what skateboarding has made of me over 30 some years, and so that, you can’t disagree with that.
Kyle: You know, you can think I’m taking it too seriously, or you can think like, ‘fuck this guy he thinks he knows everything’ and so on. But what you can’t disagree with is the fact that this has been a genuine and real part of what has made me into a writer and here is the work that has come out of it. Here’s the thing skateboarding actually has made through me.
Nick: Can’t disagree with that, thanks Kyle.
Pick up The Most Fun Thing at your local bookstore or online at ThePalomino.com.