What is this Newschool stuff all about?
Dumont, Wester, Spence and Karlstrom discuss the newschool scene
Words and picture by John Spelman
Imagine this. Some where in a medium sized advertising agency in New York or London, the type of agency which is growing fast and keen to win new sports clients, they are having a meeting about you guys. It is a “concept meeting”. There is a guest speaker, a coolhunter, who probably works freelance for someone like Adidas or Reebok, doing Powerpoint and also showing concept boards of skateboard and snowboard (but not newschool, he hasn’t come across that yet) and describing them as the future of sport. His general point is that in the coming decade the identity of some sports will change. They will not be like old school sport like running or football, all about discipline and set goals, and at its most prestigious, Olympian ideals of human achievement and Bono feeding the world. No, this new approach to sport is about youth culture, music, fashion, style all mixing together, he will explain it as a “cultural vortex”. “Sport – it’s the new rock n roll” might be the rather predictable concluding statement on his final slide.
As much as some of you may be totally baffled that any such mystifying “concept meetings” with such strange people called “coolhunters” exist, or those of you who do understand the game but are born skeptics, the in-escapable truth is that this presenter in ad land would probably be right. Sports like freeski, surf, skate are a mix of style, fashion and music all chaotically thrown together and that is the way other niche sports are starting to taking shape. Newschoolers should know it more than most - I mean, just look around.
At the recent abandoned Rip Curl event I was killing a long afternoon with Steele Spence, Simon Dumont, Jacob Wester and Niklas Karlstrom and we decided to do our own alternative “concept meeting” to kick around some thoughts on the music, image and lifestyle of newschool and of course not forgetting the actual skiing. Enough stuff to fill a “coolhunters” PowerPoint presentation, but for us it was a much more an irreverent, laid back afternoon in which the discussion flowed randomly. Below are the salient parts of what we talked about.
(Some hard to explain text I simplify/make coherent in brackets; English is a second language for Wester and Karlstrom though they usually speak it perfectly; we talked for two hours so the conversation is abridged to make it shorter)
Jacob Wester: The whole gangsta style, I am so sick of it, it is totally overdone.
Simon Dumont: I disagree, I think gangsta style around newschool is OK, I mean it brings money in because it gives newschool some street cred.
Steele Spence: But it’s outside the skiing and it is sort of bad that [newschool] is at the buck of an outside style and you know I can see how it can be a bad influence in some ways.
Dumont: It can be a bad influence but it depends how far it goes… and there are many other bad influences. I mean people who wear pot leaves on jackets are so bad, how does that help the image of newschool?
Wester: Hip hop is just dominating our sport and the lyrics are so shallow it’s all about having a big car and that stuff.
Spence: No, no, that’s just the commercial stuff on MTV.
Wester: Yeah, maybe but it is built around that whole aggression thing? Should newschool have an aggressive image, it is supposed to be [about having fun].
John Spelman: At some point hip hop ran out of ideas and the money men starting pushing the sensational parts of ghetto life to keep the bubble going.
Wester: It is so [materialistic] I prefer music with more intelligent lyrics.
Spence: Indie hip hop is much more creative.
Dumont: But the underground stuff is different, it is rapping about real issues… but yeah I can agree a lot of hip hop is just commercial, aggressive stuff. It’s not all materialistic like big car and gold stuff.
Spelman: Who loves bling? I do. Aluminum sprayed gold, love it, goes with the alloys on the UV under-lit car! Fat Elvis had a lot of bling, he was the first real blingish-king.
Dumont: What? I didn’t hear…
Wester: That’s it [bling]. It has such a show-off image, it is like “lets-all-be-dumb”.
Dumont: I don’t care about the image so much, I just love the beats. It is music I respond to.
Spelman: So the image is ok?
Dumont: Well not always… it depends, I mean when Ninthward say in an article they carry guns but just not on the slopes. I mean that is bad, what message does that give?
Spelman: They said that? Are you serious?!
Spelman: But that is shocking. Don’t they understand that the slopes is where you really need a gun, you know tourists who get in your way, people who jump the lift line…
Dumont: (laughing) yeah… but seriously saying that just jeopardizes newschool because no big companies outside the newschool scene will put money in [to newschool].
Spence: But they weren’t serious were they, it’s like gangsta, it’s all about… saying stuff like that.
Spelman: Well guns are easy enough to own in the States, so maybe they [Ninthward] do carry guns?
Dumont: But people outside, like big non-sport companies, just see the image and run a mile. Guns really go over the line and create a bad image, this is supposed to be about skiing and fun. Guns scare people away.
Spelman: Not always. One thing I have learned is that if say a moderate city neighborhood suddenly has a few drive by shootings you can bet that shortly after property prices will go through the roof because everyone wants to live in a “real” neighborhood because it impresses their work colleagues…
Wester: ha ha ha ha ha!
Spelman: …but yeah, being serious, I agree with you it is really bad for skiing if they said that in an article. On the other hand I liked what that Ninthward guy said in the new Freeskier about the ghetto having warm hospitality if you have friends and family there, that was positive, it’s good someone highlights the other side, that suggests a sensibility, so maybe Steele is right, it is gangsta boasting, just a lot of “shock and awe” PR.
Dumont: What did you just say [I missed it] you are sitting too far away I don’t hear you?
(I move over closer)
(Rambling talk for a while)
Wester: Gangsta has meant baggy clothes all over the scene. It’s just one big baggy image, that’s boring, no one is trying anything new.
Niklas Karlstrom: Well, no one has to wear the [boring] clothes.
Spence: People do wear it because the image of baggy clothes is so dominant so no kid is going to face being laughed at for being different.
Spelman: Well the clothes are becoming clichéd but my bug with gangsta is when you see 14 year olds doing those tired old hand gestures, (sigh), I mean… I just can’t explain how bored it makes me, and words like “muthafucker” and “bitch” are now so totally and monotonously overused and banal and boring to such an extent that you have got to ask: what is left?
Wester: Yeah, it is totally over sold. No one is trying anything new.
Dumont: Yeah but I like hip hop for the [sounds], that is all it should be about.
Spence: I’m with you [on that].
Spelman: But let’s talk about the skiing. Do you guys think it [newschool] is going to become pro in the end. For example there are already established schools in freeski.
Dumont: Some people are trying to make it all professional and like… organized shit.
Spence: I can’t understand those schools that try to teach freeski, I mean it was OK for racing or moguls, but how can a school teach guys to be freeskiers?
Wester: That is so true, what is freeski? It is supposed to be something you create, something you do on your own, how can anyone teach it as…
Spelman: a discipline?
Wester: …yeah, setting up schools and formal stuff like that will end up destroying freeski.
Dumont: Yeah I so agree… being creative with your skiing that is freeski, the guys at the schools they are having it made for them, but how can they learn themselves, I don’t understand that, the point of freeski is to learn yourself, so how can they? [teach it]. They don’t learn how to be creative, you can’t teach that, it is something you just keep progressing.
Spelman: Nick you are the most quiet here, lets see if Simon can bring you out of your corner. Simon go on, ask him some questions.
Dumont (to Nick): What style do you like best? Candide style? Gorrila style? Jon Style?
Karlstrom: I am just trying to do my own thing… I don’t like Gorilla style
Dumont (to Nick): What do you think of double grabs?
Karlstrom: Truck drivers do it.
Dumont: You don’t like them?
Wester (to Nick): I disagree, I think double grabs is the way newschool will develop next.
Karlstrom: Yeah, I am not saying “it is not going to develop out” it’s just that everyone keeps trying to do the same tricks all the time.
Spelman: Which is why you did that super impressive double back flip in
Karlstrom: Yeah, I mean not everyone likes that, but I thought it would be different to do that than trying the usual cork stuff.
Dumont (to Nick): When was your first double back flip?
Dumont: Yeah, actually I heard about that. I was so impressed
Spelman: What about one footers that seem to have been a big thing over the past year, I mean Gagnier in the films and all that.
Spence: Well this is the problem, one guy does something special at X-Games and then everyone thinks “this is what I have to do now” because it was big at X-Games, so everyone starts doing it and it is too much, the sport becomes reduced to what guys think will impress others and [impress the] judges.
Wester: I don’t like one-footers. I mean it is so rollerblade, so easy to just copy it over. What I mean is we can invent our own stuff in freeski, we don’t have to just be led by what happened in in-line or something. And now everyone is talking about one-footers but I would hate it if stuff like that came to define what newschool is about.
Karlstrom: It depends how it is done, it can be done cool but at X-Games I thought it was gay.
Spence: But I dunno… on the other hand, what else can you do with rails?
Dumont: It looks so forced, it does not have any style in it, but I think it could develop, maybe…
Spelman: Though no one here seems that hot on one-footer you have got to hand it to Gagnier he is an excellent skier .
Spelman: What you guys were just saying, you have a good point, I mean what Steele said about everyone just doing what is expected, that is why Nick was so cool at the Air We Go doing the back flip, it gave diversity to the show. Agree?
Wester: Totally. I hate it when we feel we have to do certain stuff just because you know the judges are looking for it. But you have to, otherwise you don’t win.
Dumont: That is true. What is the point in that [not winning] or not getting money, which we need.
Wester: I think the point is that big air gives so many more options for creativity so why does everyone just reduce down to an old rollerblade trick, instead of trying really new stuff?
Karlstrom: That is why the schools are so pointless because [we create] new stuff of our own, and to think the guys at the schools have to pay for that as well, so you just get rich kids who can’t develop the skiing.
Wester: Those schools are so forced, that it doesn’t even feel like a sport, racer kids pick up freeski and then try to go to school to learn it, it is just so wrong way round, why would anyone pay for it.
Spelman: Ugh? They pay for it? Not in
Spelman: I still can’t figure out where all the Norwegian oil money goes?
Dumont: You know all the best chicks in this world are in
Steele: Yeah, you can say that again.
Dumont: The Vikings went out and stole all the nicest girls in the world and brought them back to
Spelman: (laughing) Really? Jacob and Nick, the Swedes here, is that true, did your forebears really do something so selfish and cruel to the rest of the human race?
Spelman: Nick you say “rich kids” [are] at the freeski school, but they are not really rich, that’s going too far, or if they are “rich” so are you, because isn’t the cost of skiing just so high for everyone anyway? I mean just look at the price of a lift ticket in
Karlstrom: All I can say is that I am so glad I am sponsored.
Spence: Yeah for sure skiing is the most expensive sport to get into, so it is kind of a problem… I mean only skateboard is easy for kids in the city
Karlstrom: But a lot of kids who are into skiing somehow keep in it.
Spelman: You mean to say: “though it’s expensive it is not exclusive”, is that right?
Dumont: You know in many ways it is the ski bums who make newschool, I mean they are really are true to it all, living a life just to ski and they are not rich. So I think if you are good [then] you get sponsored or if have the passion you can live a life of skiing. [whatever your background]
Spelman: Steele what about
Spence: Yeah sure but you know that [elite thing] may as well be on a different planet, because when I grew up in Aspen it was just such a normal experience, I went to our regular high school and all that, all my friends just come from average families, there is a whole normal town beyond the elite stuff. The reputation is much worse [the elite-ness] than the reality. Those of us who wanted to get on in skiing just did, it was no different to say… like Simon in
Spelman (to Simon): Was Aspen “elite” to someone from
Dumont (laughing) Actually the first time I went to
Spelman: Ugh? Steele’s house was “elite”?
Dumont: ha ha ha! No.
Spence: No? (smiling) Yeah, I remember that day so well, this kid on our door we had never seen before just asking if he could stay over and I just said “yeah sure”.
Dumont: Your parents were just so good… yeah
Spelman: Was going East Coast to the West a big change in the way resorts are. I mean was it a bigger difference than say going from the
Dumont: No not really.
Spence: All pretty much the same stuff goes down everywhere.
Spelman: Not like the difference you can detect between say Scandinavia, a place like Are in
Wester: What’s the difference?
Spelman: Well, food for one… but also the newschool scene is much bigger in Scandinavia and
Spence: In the states it is more like a sport thing but in
Wester: The problem for Europe is that in terms of parks and facilities
Karlstrom: You are so lucky in the states because the half pipes are so good.
Spelman: Lets talk about the films, you know the good stuff like Level1, Poorboyz, Teddy, what do you guys all think? I mean they really define the sport, don’t they?
Dumont (to John): I really liked your film [Strike], TJ showed me it, that thing with the chair was so funny!
Spelman: Yeah, it was a lot of fun on the day we filmed that scene.
Spence: The films don’t really do anything new, just introduce new riders
Dumont: Yeah the films need to change, they need to be more wider based with documentary stuff, broken up in different segments, so it is like a more interesting film you can go into different er…[presentation] of it [newschool] on one DVD.
Wester: That is yes… [a good point] I really like the surf movies they do it much better than ski movies, people talk about the ocean and all that sort of stuff.
Dumont: Yeah explaining more broader view of the sport and also the music and lifestyle.
Karlstrom: I like a lot of the board movies they use a lot of fun stuff in them.
Spence: The films should show more locations, really unusual ones not the same old places every year.
Spelman: What is the most boring interview question? Is it: “What’s your favorite trick?”
Wester: I really hate that question so much!
Spence: And the other bad one is: “How do you see the sport progressing”
Everyone: (louder laughing)
Dumont: That is the absolute worst question of all time, I really, really, really hate that one, totally! It is such a suck question to have to answer. I never want to hear it again.
Spelman: No, I’ve got an even worse one: “Where do you see yourself in 10 years from now?”
Everyone: (even louder laughing)
By this stage other people who were bored and looking for fun had bundled into the room on hearing our loud laughing. So the conversation died out. Everyone carried on socializing and drinking whilst Jacob Wester and me had great fun watching Team
A couple of evenings later I was in a hotel room outside
The first question was: “What’s your favorite trick?”. Further on was: “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
Spelman: ha ha ha! Brilliant! You have to answer it - I insist! You have to earn your sponsor money. Come on, you have to suffer to earn your bucks like the rest of us!
Karlstrom: no way! [he deletes message]