Chairmen of the board
A local filmmaker documents area skateboarders taking it to the streets
Skateboarders are often considered an annoyance, punk teenagers with nothing better to do than rudely pass pedestrians on the sidewalk or scratch up curbs, ledges and railings in parking lots and neighborhoods. Or, for many drivers at least, they’re just another thing to watch out for in traffic—like bicyclists and moped drivers.
Then again, skateboarding—perhaps the most popular extreme sport—is almost a billion-dollar industry. With shoe and clothing endorsements, video game deals, skate equipment endorsements, television reality shows, not to mention the prize money for winning competitions, the amount of money that can be made in skateboarding is incredible.
But the chances for a skater to become the Next Big Thing are about one in a million. Meanwhile, the chance of injury is about nine in 10.
Chase McMullen and his team of skaters and sponsors are willing to take both of those chances. McMullen, 24, a skateboarder, filmmaker and business management major at the University of Nevada, Reno recently finished producing his second skateboarding video—aptly titled Help Us, an acknowledgment of the uphill climb he faces to make the video successful.
“It was originally a DIY project,” says McMullen. “As we’ve gone on, we’ve had all sorts of people pick it up.”
The final version of the project is a joint venture between McMullen’s Precision Productions and Eternal, a locally-owned national distributor of snowboarding gear that is hoping to break into the skateboarding industry with the talent of a handful of local skaters—the cast of Help Us.
“Those guys were so seriously real about what they wanted,” McMullen says of Eternal, the video’s chief financial backer. “And we were serious about what we wanted.”
McMullen declined to say exactly how much the video cost to produce, saying only that, “I got a check for 12 grand last December, and it was gone in three months.”
“We skated hard,” he says. “We’d be breaking two decks a week!”
McMullen describes his first skate video, Paint It Red as a learning experience, claiming that Help Us is the first professional skate video to come out of Reno.
“This is like, no doubt, has got to be one of the best videos,” says Glynn Osburn, 20, a member of McMullen’s team who appears briefly in the special features section of the video. “You put it in the DVD player, and you don’t know what to expect.”
“The whole purpose of the video—the name says it itself—we’re the underdogs here,” says McMullen. “We get overlooked. We live next to California. But we’re the shit.”
McMullen himself doesn’t skate in the video and only appears briefly in the special features. Rather, the video is a showcase of five skaters handpicked by McMullen and Eternal.
Skaters at work
Hanging out at Idlewild Skate Park on a recent Saturday is nothing short of another day at the office for McMullen’s team. But they’re happy to be there.
“I think I was, like, genetically predisposed for skateboarding,” Travis Prange, 22, says. “When I was a little kid, I used to drive by and see people skateboarding and got a crazy feeling,” says the Las Vegas native who’s now a student at UNR.
Prange has plenty of war stories. Since he started skating in fifth grade, he has torn ligaments, broken bones and had to have metal plates and screws put in his arm after one accident.
“I’ve had chips taken out of my hips,” he adds. “I can’t stop, though. I’m addicted to it.”
The rest of his team seem to have the same attitude.
“It’s almost like crack,” says George Vargas, an eccentric 22-year-old. “That shit is just addictive. … We skate through the winter. We skate through all four seasons, you know. It’s an everyday process.”
“Money. Gas. Two-degree weather. Time. It doesn’t matter,” adds McMullen. “No matter what, you keep doing it because it’s what you love. It’s what you do.”
“I’ve broken so many boards,” says Robert Landers, 23.
“This guy over here breaks boards like it’s going out of style,” adds McMullen.
A couple hours earlier that day, Landers casually pulled off a backside 180 (a half-spin) while jumping into a six-foot deep skate bowl. It was an impressive trick, but neither he nor his fellow teammates seemed all that shocked.
“When I first started doing big drops and stuff, I was 16, 17,” he says.
What goes through his head as he free-falls six feet on top of his skateboard?
“Nothing,” he responds. “You just gotta draw a blank and go for it.”
“You can’t be worried about getting hurt …” he starts to say.
“… Cause then you get hurt,” McMullen finishes for him.
Also featured on the video are Joel Wilkins, 21, and out-of-town-recruit Dane Vaugn.
McMullen takes pride in having created what may be the first nationally distributed skate video from Reno. And he takes it upon himself to promote the area. Renoites will recognize spots from all over the city, like the dorms on the UNR campus, the courtyards of Reed High School in Sparks and the rec center on Neil Road.
The video has a scenic emphasis, and McMullen works to capture each of the four seasons. The video starts with an anonymous quote: “He who has conquered all the seasons has won a greater victory than he who has conquered an entire city.”
“It’s like a backyard built for skaters,” McMullen says of Reno. “There’s stuff you can skate everywhere … even kids that skate in Reno, kids that skate and are good, they don’t see the beauty in it.”
The video also features various local rock and hip-hop artists, and MC Ernie Upton from Who Cares even hosts the special features section. On the menu page, he is seen sitting in his grandmother’s living room rapping.
The video has already began to get some hype on a national level, due in large part to McMullen’s “Clip of the Week,” a weekly YouTube clip that promotes the video by teaching a new skating trick each week—taught by one of the skaters featured on the video.
McMullen says the videos are getting anywhere from 1,000 to 6,000 hits per week—sometimes beating similar “Clips of the Week” from much larger skating companies.
All of the skaters featured on the video have picked up several endorsements and some personal fame.
“It wasn’t even a thought that someone from New York would know who we are,” McMullen says. “And now kids from the East Coast email Joel Wilkins every day.
“It’s crazy to be on a national level … it’s a dream come true, to be honest.”