John Paul Ficenec John Paul Ficenec



How the Rugged Individualism of Skateboarding Failed Women and the LGBTQ+ Community.

Since its sun-kissed, shaggy-haired inception, skateboarding has been a bastion for those who felt left behind and misunderstood: The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. A true, natural heir to the Californian counterculture birthed in the late '50s.

This sense of the skate community being a welcome home to those who felt “othered” increased tenfold in the '90s, as skateboarding’s outward expansion from backyard bowls and into the streets was nearing completion. Skate culture as we know it today—a mystically influential world where artists, musicians, and other eccentric creators all come together—truly came into its own during this period. Shedding its laid-back, surf-oriented roots and settling into an ideology that was, for better or worse, a bit more rough-hewn.

Anti-authoritarianism and a natural aversion towards anything mainstream became defining principles of skateboarding culture in the '90s; Cops, security guards, and business owners were fun killers who got in the way of beautiful rails, ledges, and other spots that were just begging to be skated. Popular music, films, and fashion were all blasé and lacking a perceived substance. Above all else, skateboarders felt misrepresented by media outlets across the country. We weren't thuggish, nor did we have any want to destroy property, it was just a side-effect of this passion of ours that gave us a brief moment of ego death.

So, with this vacuum of representation existing in the media, skaters took it upon themselves to shape their own narrative so that nobody would misconstrue their motives.

Embracing this rugged individualism, skaters used a D.I.Y. punk ethos to posit themselves in stark contrast to the more polished, team-oriented sports ideologies that dominated popular culture. In high schools across America, jocks were heralded as beacons of the nuclear identity and skaters their unruly opposite. As Becky Beal and Lisa Weidman noted, skateboarding is unlike traditional sport in its lack of being an organization run by adults, as well as not being solely reliant on competition for its global success. The activity is in and off itself the main appeal.

Skaters soon became the gatekeepers of their own insular world, producing blistering, one-of-kind media that, in a great display of irony, increased skateboarding’s mainstream appeal. The loudest cultural voice during this period, Big Brother magazine, birthed the Jackass cinematic universe, and America's schadenfreude-laden relationship with skateboarding only grew from this point forward.

Professional skateboarder Tony Hawk had the foresight to see this next wave of cyclical popularity for skateboarding and to then use his platform as cultural ambassador—provided through financial support from his sponsorship with companies like McDonald’s and Bagel Bites—to expand its audience and get more people involved in a way that would ultimately diversify the voices in the skate community.

Through his landmark video game series (the sole reason I picked up a skateboard in the first place), the creation of his titular non-profit organization aimed at building skateparks in underserved communities, and—perhaps most importantly—his clean-cut image and well-spoken manner, Hawk represented the beginning of a slow but necessary defanging of the abrasive 90’s skate culture.

As expected, many self-identifying purists at the time decried these corporations being brought into the skateboarding world, bequeathing upon Hawk the title of “Bagel Boy” as a result, and casting him as the ultimate sellout. To them, Hawk and his desire to expand the skateboarding community was antithetical to its countercultural roots. They’d fought too long and too hard to broaden skateboarding's narrow entry tunnel. As a result, the first 30-or-so years of professional skateboarding as we know it today was rampant with homophobic slurs, misogyny, and a general lack of inclusion. Skaters who wore skinny jeans during the late '90s—the fashion of skateboarding at this time being defined by "big pants and little tires"—were called f****s. Women who entered the skate scene were expected to suppress their own identity and act more like men to get ahead in the industry. Overall, the skate community was becoming increasingly less accepting of the weirdos and outcasts who founded it.

This irony was completely lost on the dogmatists.

And this is where the oxymoronic M.O. of skateboarding lies: How can a culture that prides itself on being a safe-haven for weirdos still be so close-minded when it comes to any newcomers who aren’t outwardly identifiable as cishet, white men?

Education, or a lack thereof, is where part of the answer lies. Skateboarders by-and-large lack bachelor’s degrees—some, even their GEDs. Because of this, the shedding of their ingrained prejudices takes longer than those who have the resources and access to higher education, mirroring in many ways the part of our country's electorate that elected President Trump in 2016.

Fortunately, the progress made over the last 6 years to usher in a new generation of queer and femme skaters of color has been nothing short of incredible. The visibility of more trans skaters like Leo Baker, as well as their efforts in launching the NYCSP (New York City Skate Project)—described as an "informal effort to create space for queer, trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming skateboarders"—has been essential in shedding the bigotry of skateboarding's past.

This slow, knotty reckoning the skateboarding community (much like the video game community) is currently having with learning to accept the perspective-changing voices of its newest generation of spokespersons—as well as said spokespeople representing the culture's core tenants in ways the last may have forgotten along the way—is long overdue, to say the least. But it should never have been received as unexpected.

For decades, gender non-conforming, trans folx, non-binary folx & cis women who skate have been left on the sidelines, asking themselves if they truly do belong to a culture that claims to house the misled youth, but brandishes verbal abuse upon them with the same tongue as the unaccepting oppressor. Now, however, they have the leaders and voices who have the courage to be nothing but themselves, taking the groundwork laid by their elders to unapologetically live their truth inside and out of their fame-defining profession.

Megan Rapinoe once said, “If we don't fit the sport, we'll change the sport.” And that’s exactly what these New Queer Skaters are doing in a most badass fashion.


Album Review: Freedom by Amen Dunes

Amen Dunes’s latest album —Freedom— is a tact and purposeful artistic statement. The album’s forward-thinking, nostalgia-mining nature gives it room to flirt with the knotty lyrical passages of past releases while forging ahead with a sleek, coquettish songwriting style.

What Damon McMahon (the man behind the Amen Dunes moniker) may have lacked in clarity and “conciseness” on his previous releases, he more than made up for in worthwhile and sprawling epics that shone through his discography’s collective haziness (e.g. the title track from his previous album; Love, and “Tomorrow Never Knows” from 2011’s Through Donkey Jaw, which is not to be confused as a Beatles cover). Freedom finds McMahon swimmingly marrying his previous penchant for rustic, psychedelic folk with assertive and direct pop music. A match made in heaven.

At multiple points, this record is an amazing exercise in build and restraint. Tracks like “Skipping School”, “Miki Dora”, and many more continuously pulsate and expand throughout their run-times. The effect is one of nail-biting suspense. McMahon leaves you on the edge of your seat, waiting for some sort of climax. Yet said climax never appears to fully come. Now let it be known, that previous sentence is meant to be interpreted in the most positive manner. These quasi-payoffs may not be concrete or discernible to some, but the reward that comes along with the act of totally letting go and giving yourself to these living, breathing tracks is tremendous.

In that regard, a lot of these songs are undoubtedly more sexy than D’Angelo in the music video for “Untitled (How Does it Feel?)”. Jokes aside, the reason this album is more sensual than, say, a Miguel or The Weeknd album lies exactly in the aforementioned build-ups these tracks employ and the subsequent restraint that McMahon takes in not allowing himself to indulge or wade in any sort of bombastic, Wagner-esque territory.

The subtle sensuality that runs throughout the mere sounds of McMahon’s songwriting is the perfect new backdrop for his often cryptic, spiritual words — numerous interviews for this album as well as his for his past works have found McMahon mentioning his belief in having a past life. Here, he leaves little morsels for us to chew upon in regards to what navigates his world view, while never giving us a firm answer on its content. In fact, in a recent Reddit AMA, whenever McMahon was asked about his lyrical process, he would refer to the narrators and characters in his songs as separate entities from himself, while conversely saying that he could also be the narrator. This detachment that McMahon allows himself from the songs’s content is exactly what allows them to be so universal and one-size-fits all. It’s what will allow these songs to become refuges for listeners for many years to come.

A quote that has always floated around in my mind since I first discovered it goes something like this: “Good art answers questions. Great art asks questions.” That was probably a terrible butchering and a disservice to the original author, but the point still stands: “Freedom” is a stunning, generous work of art that shape-shifts its experience to the listener — whoever that may be — and believes in their autonomy and ability to dig deeper. And if you don’t have time or simply don’t want to investigate this record’s “mythopoetic depth” (as Reddit user jokula said) and just want some bangin’, off-kilter pop tunes, “Freedom” has got ya covered my friend.



The lengths he would go in order to cheat on his exams without raising any eyebrows was honestly pretty commendable. I imagine that if any of his professors would have actually caught him in the act or found out afterwards, their reaction would have been the same as Ron Burgundy’s when he found out that his beloved pooch had pooped in the refrigerator AND ate a whole wheel of cheese (i.e. “Actually I’m not even mad, that’s amazing!”).

It started out for him innocently enough: Gently, and with stealth-like precision, he would pull down the sleeve of his oversized Disneyland sweater in order to consult his graffitied wrist of answers. But as he grew older and the exams became more onerous, his methods increased in their madness.

Whispers would float and bounce around in the air before class, or rather, before he walked in. Fellow classmates would hypothesize, compare theories, and discuss his legendary status. Philosophy majors would question his ethics (or if he even contained a set thereof). Budding statisticians would calculate the probability of whether or not he would eventually get caught. But the man responsible for all this hoopla? He never once thought twice about his sacrilegious nature. Instead, he opted to keep his head down and maintain as low of a profile as he possibly could. However, during the second semester of his junior year, his under-the-radar persona soon become more detectable thanks to the world’s worst typeface.

You see, when a scrawny and pasty-looking boy - who in the past never showed any interest whatsoever in changing the dermis layer of his skin with a potpourri of pigments - started showing up to class with a fresh, new tattoo every fortnight, suspicions were raised on general principle. Of course, the first two or three were not that big of a deal. His classmates and professors alike barely noticed them, and even if they did, they figured they were just the initials of loved ones, or at least something forgivably stupid. But soon, his small assortment of knuckle and wrist displays blossomed into a full-blown sleeve on his left arm, and it looked weird as hell.

Each new set of answers were separated by a boorish, mangled depiction of barbed wire. And of course every set of answers were differentiated furthermore by their different typefaces, that way he wouldn’t confuse himself (as if that was even possible).

I regret to tell you this, but he even went so far as to tell the tattoo artist to use (and again, pardon me for the cringe I’m about to induce) Comic. Fucking. Sans on one set of answers. And for a freaking typography class exam nonetheless!

The irony wasn’t lost on him, nor his typography class’s professor, who came to humorously notice the alphabetical set the Tuesday before that Thursday’s exam.

“I see all the principles I’ve talked about have gone in one ear and out the other!” she jokingly remarked.

He paused, nervously laughed as to return the social favor, and pretended she hadn’t noticed its existence.

But how could she not notice it? The new ink was so distractingly loud and bombastic it was the equivalent of the scene in Vampire’s Kiss where Nicolas Cage runs around screaming “I’M A VAMPIRE!” at everybody and nobody.

On the Wednesday before the exam, she sat in her office, sipping her iced caramel macchiato, the ridiculous idea ruminating around in her head that, just maybe, these new tattoos of his were all part of a bigger scheme to flawlessly subvert the basic integrity of academia (quite the oxymoron, she thought).

As close as she got to truly believing in this farfetched theory of hers, she knew that she’d be alone in her thinking. Absolutely nobody else would believe her. The entire faculty would question her faculties (and she was only an adjunct anyway, so she knew her words wouldn’t hold any weight without that precious tenure), and she was sure that even her friends and parents would tell her to lighten up and sweep it under the rug.

She didn’t fall asleep until 3 A.M. that night, and even when she did, the knot in her stomach could not be untangled.

Thursday came and went. The test was taken, but not proctored by her. Instead, a fellow adjunct in the college filled in at the very last minute that day. In fact, she never showed up for class again, and the college was uncharacteristically hush-hush about her absence. Everyone in the class was left scratching their heads.

Except for him. He still showed up to class as usual, like nothing was awry. All the while with a gradual decline in the advertising space left available on his precious skin.

One would understandably wonder what the newest addition was to his canvas of flesh the week following the exam, and here’s the answer: One single teardrop next to his right eye, not outlined, but colored in all the way with piercing, black ink.


How her brother could even manage himself on vacation was beyond her realm of knowledge. Now now, don’t get me wrong here. He, like most of us, needed his particular dosage of vices to begin the day, but this was no classic case of “I need my cup of coffee before I can even speak to anyone”. This one was of a more rare, peculiar breed.

The rope you often find yourself at the end of tends to extend a lot further for family, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have a definable, finite ending. She found the end of hers one fateful Sunday morning inside of the Ozark forests.

Mother, father, older brother and younger sister all gathered around the skillet that was able to fully function due to the fire that was admirably puttering along beneath it. Apparently old issues of the National Enquirer (which were only read ironically whilst inebriated) don’t burn as well as one might think.

Pancakes were on the menu, and their overzealous and eager to please parents actually carved the menu into a nearby tree. It wasn’t until they finished carving the “P” that they realized their action of familial love may not fly well with Greenpeace. Thus, they removed the all vowels and the kids had their choice of “Pncks” and “Bcn”. In spite of all this, she knew that none of it would not fly with her older brother.

Luckily, a debacle of biblical proportions was avoided due to their mother smartly planning ahead and remembering to pack the coveted Hello Kitty-shaped dough cutter. But just because said debacle was now no longer of a holy nature, the pending outburst that was festering in her big brother’s brain would still be worthy of its own footnote if it were to be found in the pages of book.

You see, in addition to his pancakes needing to resemble everyone’s favorite anthropomorphic cat, he needed his favorite beverage to wash it down with. For this, he did not need a Doctor of the table spice persuasion, nor did he need the condensation of an entire Mountain. Her brother was a simple man, and that was exactly who he needed to stand alongside him and his kawaii ‘cakes every morning. That man he so steadfastly slurped down was none other than the spicy, seductive, scintillating, Mr. Pibb. But on this morning, he was nowhere to be found.

She didn’t think the hour-long drive into the nearest town that carried his tried and true thirst-quenching partner would send her over the edge. In fact, for the first thirty minutes, she was resolutely calm. Unfortunately, a series of events that could only be described as “persnickety” unfolded in those last thirty minutes: Three potholes (in a row), two dead AirPods, and a one accidental kick from her brother later, it truly dawned on her: Where she wanted to be and where she was going now were both out of sync. She could almost feel her tongue doing deadlifts in preparation for the lashing it was about to hand out.

But once they parked and shimmied themselves out of the car, nothing came out. She remained mute, almost stoic. Why wasn’t she saying anything? Surely there was no better time than now to give her brother - the one man whom describing as “anal” would be a disservice to ISTJ’s and ISFJ’s everywhere- the dressing down of a lifetime.

Why wasn’t it happening, then?”

“Hey sis, look! They have Martinelli’s in that cute little chubby bottle you like, did you want me to grab you one?”

At that moment, all she could do was stare and nod her head.