Mark Suciu on the Poetry of Skating
The world of skating is a hermetically sealed bubble. With their technical jargon and repurposing of safety rails into obstacles, skaters seem detached from the daily hustle and bustle as they explore urban space for its aesthetic and athletic possibilities. Should you, a non-skater, gain access to this secret order, there is much to be learned from their dedication and the way they conceptualize their craft. My thoughtful guide into this world was Thrasher’s 2021 Skater of the Year, Mark Suciu. Sponsored by adidas Skateboarding, Suciu is perfectly suited to reveal skating’s relationship to writing, history, and embodied practices.
Shane Anderson: I hear you’re heading to Sardinia.
Mark Suciu: Yeah, it’s for the Thrasher Skater of the Year tour.
I wanted to go to the South of France but Thrasher said there would probably be too much rain. They suggested some other places, and I thought Sardinia sounded cool. There are some untouched spots that we’ve been researching.
That’s a thing in skating, right?
For sure. Some people are really dedicated to finding spots you’ve never seen before, which is cool, but it’s not totally my thing. If I put out a new video, I don’t set out to skate ten of the spots that are only my own. In “Verso,” I only had one or two spots that nobody had skated before. I’m more interested in giving a new experience of a spot that others might already know.
Can you give an example?
Say there’s a classic handrail that you can see in a bunch of videos but there’s also a series of perfect ledges at the top that no one skated before. What would be really fun for me is to do something really technical on the ledges. Something that would feel like the importance of the line is just on the ledges and the ledges alone. And then all of a sudden, I would hit the well-known handrail. I like to create a glitch where you’re like, “Oh my God, it’s that spot.” It feels then that you’re experiencing the entire space and not just the classic handrail.
So you’re trying to expand the field of what’s already known.
It’s an exploration. It’s also for the viewer’s enjoyment.
Do you think about the viewer when you skate?
Definitely when I’m making a video. But if I’m alone and just really want to skate that day, I don’t think about the viewer at all. I’ll maybe go out at night and hit the only park that’s barely lit up and float around, cruise around, and do whatever feels fun. I might do a trick that reminds me of another trick and that trick might remind me of how Brian Anderson did the same one in another part. So, when I’m out there skating, I think about how Brian Anderson skates and it gives me something to work with. I skate with other skaters in my head.
How important is the history of skating for you?
Very. It’s also just so interesting that skaters have such a deep contextual knowledge of what they’re doing. We also expect people to know that. It’s very common for skaters to shame younger skaters if they don’t know how to do a rock ‘n’ roll right. Skaters will say things about who does the trick right and who does it wrong, and this idea of the “right way” comes from these texts, these videos, that everyone is supposed to have seen. It’s taken for granted that everyone has seen these classics. And it’s mostly true. We all watch these videos or at least have a firm grounding in them. And so, you could just do the tricks you’re good at or the hardest thing you’re able to do and not think about the videos but what’s more fun is to interact with this history and enter a conversation with it.
How does the weight of this knowledge influence your skating? I would think it might squash creativity and be constricting.
Yeah, but if you’re going to a spot, you know what’s been done and you don’t do those tricks. You have to avoid ABDs.
ABDs? Already been done?
Yeah. But I guess I would say that skaters work within the constricted frame but that thinking about videos opens up new possibilities and the notion of intertextuality. These add dimensions to creativity.
You stopped skating to study creative writing for awhile. Is there any overlap between them?
Skating has a similar aspect of composition. There are similar rules about flow and structure and repetition. When you write, you also ask yourself, “what am I trying to say?” This is also a relevant question in skating, especially when you’re making a video part.
It’s also really interesting to think about skating in terms of language. Skating has its own jargon, which can be very technical at times. We talk about nollie flip crooks, and for me, the thing and the descriptor are closely linked – I don’t see the gap between them – but the rest of the world has no idea what that refers to. This brings up questions about the opacity or transparency of language, about inclusion and exclusion, and these are also relevant questions in writing.
The inclusion/exclusion of groups certainly used to be important for skating. When I was younger, it was always “skaters vs jocks.” Is that still the case?
Skate culture used to be more insecure. Skaters would need to prove themselves and what they do as being something valuable, which is maybe why they pushed people out and create a clique of exclusivity. But there’s less of a need to pit jocks versus skaters today. The breaking down of the boundaries started with the X Games and then big shoe sponsors like adidas and Nike followed suit. Then Rob Dyrdek, Street League, and Fantasy Factory have increased the territorialization, entering the mainstream. Kyle Beachy writes a lot about this in his book The Most Fun Thing.
In a previous interview you said that you stopped skating and went to school to live “a more deliberate life.” What is a deliberate life? And are you still living this way even though you’ve returned to skating?
I know I said that but the term is kind of unattractive to me now. It sounds wordy. I think what I meant though is that I want to live on my own terms and take stock of what I’m doing and not just be sent out on skate trips by sponsors. The idea was to go against the grain of the life that a skate career has planned out, which is empty in some ways, and which doesn’t fulfill certain needs of mine. So, I went to school. And when I was there, I started paying more attention to what really matters to me. I became a vegetarian, which was always one of my core values, but it was something I never acted on. I looked at who I really am and then started living by that. All of this took time. I still live like this and when I came out on the other side, I could now go on these skate trips and skate when I’m at home, but it feels more like part of a continuous project of living the life I know I want to live, which also includes a lot of reading and movies as a process of discovery.
What made you return to skating?
It kind of came as a surprise. I had planned to go from undergrad to grad school but realized I was going to need a gap year if I wanted to apply with the thesis work I had done. But I got cold feet. I realized that you have to be 100 percent into doing something like that and I wasn’t. Then I realized I had to stop kidding myself. I am a pro skater. Skating is fun. I’m not going to be young forever. I should do this while I still have the chance. This was hard to come to terms with, given my dream to go to grad school, but the tools I learned in school had helped me to become more open minded, and so I was able to come back to skating and be comfortable with just letting it be what it was.
Before going to university, I had wanted skating to fulfill every aspect of my being. I expected it to do this because I had formed the dream of becoming a pro skater at a really young age. And I didn’t realize that skating wasn’t going to give me a deep experience of knowledge of the world or of myself. But when I finished school, I thought, that’s fine. It doesn’t have to. If I want to fulfill those aspects of my life, then I’ll have to do it in other ways, like through reading or writing or watching movies or talking to people. Now I could just let skating be what it is. Around this time is when I started getting more interested in these ideas of creating videos as texts. I wanted to figure out how to create a video that’s a work in relation to other texts. That’s when I had the idea for “Verso.”
What was the idea there?
“Verso” starts off like a classic video part that you might see in a major brand video from the 2000s. But at the end, there’s a section where all the tricks mirror each other. They comment on each other in an almost geometrical fashion. I was following the idea of chiasmus. The basic form is ABBA. So, in skating when you do a series of tricks, it’s called a line. And if you do a mirror line, then you do one trick “regular” before turning around and doing the exact same trick “switch.” So, it’s a mirror version of itself. But skaters do that a lot. And I realized you could extend this.
The structure I made is 14 units comprising of seven lines and two tricks each. So, the structure of ABBA applied to 14 units is A, B, C, D, E, F, G, F, E, D, C, B, A. And the tricks are mirrored in a sequence not just like a baseball batter hitting regular or switch but along the lines of nollie and fakie (standing at the front or the back of your board). You kind of create a quadrant, and now I’m realizing I’m getting really technical.
So yeah, I studied literature and poetry, and it wasn’t my intention to use the tools I learned at school when I went back to skating, but when I started thinking about all the tricks I wanted to do and writing them on my phone, I organized them into a pattern that I recognized as a poetic structure. And it just seemed like this kind of composition was something nobody else was doing.
Are you a perfectionist?
Definitely when I’m filming a video and trying something that’s really hard. I know it’s going to take a long time and it’s going to get really repetitive. I’m getting closer and closer to the trick. But since I have such a clear idea of what I’m doing, there isn’t much room for spontaneity. There’s going to be some stubbornness. I’m going to try it for a while. I’m going to freak out. I’m going to be like, I thought I could do this. And then there's going to be acceptance. And then I’m going to work with what I've got and see what else I can do. It’s different when I’m just skating with friends or filming on my phone. That’s when skating can be more free-form.
I know you don’t like that word, but it sounds like you approach skating and setting up sequences very deliberately.
I don’t mind that word in this context.
“The experience of a trick is so complete in itself. When you do one trick, you don’t need any other.”
Do you have a favorite trick?
A backside disaster in transition. It’s just got a nice scoop and weightlessness and a good release. There’s a lot of action and it gives you a good feeling of board control.
Do you imagine whole lines in your head?
When I think about skating, I think about tricks. They’re the building blocks for lines, which are more free-form. Lines don’t stay in my head, actually. Maybe it’s because the experience of a trick is so complete in itself. When you do one trick, you don’t need any other.
The way you talk about tricks sounds almost like a religious experience.
Yeah, it’s hard to talk about. I mean, you’re a writer and I could ask you what some of your favorite words are. Do you like words that are more direct, or do you like longer ones? Ones that are really weighty? Or ones that cut straight to the chase? But I wouldn’t ask you, what’s your favorite sentence, right? I would ask you what’s your favorite quote. So, I wouldn’t really be asking you about language and the building blocks but more about the meaning. And so, a parallel would be more like, who’s your favorite skater? What’s your favorite video part? What’s your favorite thing that someone did at a certain skate spot? And then, I would say, when Mike Carroll skated the library and did that line in “Modus Operandi” where he showed how to link a spot together in a really amazing way. But that line isn’t applicable to me. I can’t do that line when I skate in a park. A line doesn’t have the universality that a trick has.
A trick can be done anywhere. I can enjoy the experience of a trick at every skatepark. I do it and it always means the same thing. It’s always itself but a line is spot specific. And what Mike Carroll did means so much for that spot.
I was watching this French movie where they’re talking about Pascal and there’s this quote about the vast expanse of infinite spaces being frightening. That’s a beautiful sequence of words and it means something to anyone who hears it, but what Pascal is talking about has a lot to do with religion and the state of society at that time, like coming to terms with that idea of life without a God. In the same way, Mike’s line at the SF library is specific to him and the spot.
If you went to the same library and did the same line, it’d be a quote, right? Is it interesting to you to embody that history?
Yeah, totally. I did that somewhat recently at Pier Seven, a skate spot in San Francisco. It’s been recently unknobbed after 15 years of being knobbed and unskateable. And so I went there, 15 years after I skated it as a kid. And now I can do things I saw on videos back then. I did them for Instagram, just to show people and enter the conversation. Like, do you remember when this guy did that there? And when I was embodying it, I realized how hard some of their lines actually were. That gave me a deeper appreciation for them.
What does skating mean to you? What can be learned from it?
Skating is a beautiful way to experience the world. It’s a visceral experience and a great way to have fun that gives you a deep feeling of your body, of being in space and in cities. And then, being a pro skater allows for me to have all these other experiences, to travel and do other projects. It also teaches me a lot about creating work, you know, thinking about perfectionism, composition, editing, and expressing what I want to express. What can the average person learn from skating? I think they might be surprised to know that the skater cruising around on the street is actually a deeply involved member of a community who is passionate about what they are doing. Someone who is dedicated. And that’s a really beautiful way to live.
Any book recommendations?
Edinburgh by Alexander Chee. It’s a novel about love with really beautiful language. I also loved Eula Biss’ Having and Being Had, which is so well-written. It’s about being a member of capitalist society and all the tortuous, sinuous complications that poses.