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The Concrete Canyon

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Paula Arundel gives an abstract, lyrical view of this year’s Bowl-a-rama

Wil says, “will you do a story about Bowl-a-rama?”

“No,” I say.
“Paula, come on,” Wil says.
“I have absolutely no interest in skating whatsoever,” I say, emphatically.
“But Paula, think of it like this: there’s something about these guys… they look out for each other. It's an amazing subculture… a counterculture. It isn’t just about advertising and merchandising. It’s more than that,

it’s primal and revolutionary and awesomely good for the kids who do it.

I want you to write about what it is that makes someone want to stand on a board at the top of a pool and just drop vertically down the side, and then work on their tricks over and over...? And I want you to do it because you know absolutely nothing about it.”
“Okay,” I say. “I'll do it.”
I'll do it, and I'm doing it because Wil is so excited about it. His excitement is contagious. I catch it. And his questions really, sincerely make sense. 

"The bowl is at once eloquent and tragic." Pat Ngoho.
"How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?" Mother Superior, The Sound Of Music.

How?  You can't. Why? Because it’s a cloud, a magical, tragical realism.
That's how it feels to try and write about the art of skating. I say the art of skating because that’s what skating is according to Pat Ngoho, a professional veteran, dare-I-say vintage skater and a prolific artist. Just to clarify, that's vintage in the ‘Grange’ sense. Pat is gorgeous. And I've no doubt he will only get better with age. 

His walk has a suave drag reminiscent of one of the Fat Albert’s gang circa 1972, and when he skates it’s not much different.

Born in LA, half-Norwegian, half-Philippino, looking beautifully Navajo,  he oozes cool, and oldschool. At the age of 48 he still can't help but skate!

Some say he's nothing if not the most poetical of skaters. And thankfully for me it's him that I am seated next to. We're introduced. Pat, Paula. Paula, Pat. He takes my hand.
“It's an absolute pleasure,” he says.
“Yep. Sooooo, skating? What's up with that?”
Of course I don't say that. I hardly say anything actually, because this man before me is so congenial and forthcoming with his take on skating that I just sit and enjoy the ride. A ride that goes a little something like this:
"The definition of what sort of skater you are today is less defined. It's an artistic expression. Like Dada, Picasso, and there is the same fight to change within this core community. I myself paint to continue the passion – the momentum.
‘I love being here in Bondi. Skating the bowl is awesome. The concrete canyon... delicate, eloquent and tragic. You dance the dance. It's individual and at the same time a great way to interact with your environment. Skating is innovative and impressive! Like walking through a museum... a live museum!"

So I arrange to go to the park to watch this artist skate. On arrival, however, there's no skating in the bowl.  So I take a seat and watch some ramp action. Child after boy after guy after man all take turns to plunge into ramps, onto railings...

falling, skidding, gliding on what  looks like a cement river that undulates, it corrugates the mind

as my head swings back and forth and back and forth.

"It's like dancing, man," says Pat.
Is it only the ‘whoa!’ factor? Is that what looking at art is? Finding the one piece, be it a painting, a sculpture in a room, hung on the hallowed walls of a gallery, dropping your eyes onto that one piece and it makes you go ‘whoa!’
Pat says, "you've gotta look at it within it's historical context, know where it comes from, who was doing what when and then bring it to the now. You see that kid you're watching? He's all about competition. He’s doing the right moves and ticking the right boxes, but there's no expression of who he is there. There's a whole bunch of kids like that and with the right amount of money and tutoring and so forth they can win comps, sure. But you stand in a gallery like this and find the guy who is doing something so original, some guy who’s been in some backyard doing shit you never thought possible...

a true expression of who he is and you’ll feel it.... And he’s changing the face of skateboarding right there...

Those kids are one in a million."

Next day, the day of Bowl-a-rama, it’s hot and packed. Busloads of kids and adults alike come down to the skatepark, waiting to sit in the seats that were constructed only hours before by flesh, sweat and forklifts.

A herd of people, a litter of sass-ass organizers, a school of skaters, a murder of cameras and the scene is set.

Backdropped by our glorious beach.  A dj. An animated announcer whipping the crowd into anticipatory frenzy. A super gorgeous funk reggae version of Seaseme Street plays! It’s really quite friggin’ awesome. The first heat is announced,  the animated announcer’s job seems now superfluous as the crowd gets what they came for.


The skateboarders. The Peter Pans. One of them stands at the edge, wheels ready hung over, ready for the swan, the dive into the too-too-empty pool! No splash just... the elongated ash grey jet sound,  like the drawn rasping cough of a prehistoric bird, he  swoops, lifts into a small whizz and fizz spin, his fingers clench the thin wooden body, the crowd gapes as one, and within one open-mouthed blue bowled hiatus... freeze!

The visible mass of liquid droplets or frozen crystals....

To pin it down? In this moment, dead sound but for the drips of him, arm outstretched his bird held up in glory. They are the prey! The hunted!
Cameras clash, nip and snarl at them, and a swarm of clicks plague the air then dissolve back into the black obscure as he lands horizontal to the blue pool wall.
Pinned. In a picture. The game will be framed and the magazines stained with the beauty of being captured.
Back at the bowl the crowd roars. With claws clenched the boy and his bird whirl to the other side to ride the edge, to scrape the tiles, the belly bleeds and the wood screams and seems to burn, before his foot  pushes the neck down into a swift relief, into the brilliant horizontal swoop again rising merely to taunt the pirrahnic picture-takers drooling, the suspended skater falls, his pendulumic mewing of a panther slices the surface to rise to the tile and stop.
There is an art to what they do.

A kink in the world of normal movement. A lyricism and a danger. A music, a rhythm.

And like a true skater, I can practice my trick of description over and over until you see what I saw. 

Finally Pat skates and, what can I say? It's true. It's like watching a cat. In the jazz sense.

I'm hooked. If I could, I would write a book about skating, get closer, go deeper. Thanks to Pat, my eye changed. My way of seeing altered, only slightly, but enough to give me an in. And thanks to events like this I was able to, ever-so-slightly, get amongst the clouds.


Words: Paula Arundell

Photography: Dean Tirkot



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