Text by Farran Golding
Photos by Chris Johnson
“What if AVE skates to really bad hip hop in his Vans video part. ‘Sorry we spent twenty grand on this camera, it’s all we could afford.’” read a text message of genuine concern from a friend of mine. To say that Propeller, the Vans video, has been highly anticipated is an understatement. Talk of the video has come around a least once a session over the last six months, from who will have the opener and/or the last part (it’s an easy guess), how many of Vans’ legends will feature, song choices and so on. Now that Propeller has been released, this discussion has only escalated more so amongst my skateboarding friends and I, and with the raw files being released on a weekly basis, it’s hard to picture Propeller being a video that gets brushed to the side despite the attention span of my generation lasting around fifteen seconds, literally.
Undertaking making a video for Vans, the oldest skateboard footwear brand in existence can’t have been an easy feat and there are few videographers I could have imagined taking on such a duty aside from Greg Hunt. With his past productions such as the DC Video and Mind Field, Hunt was either given a guideline for the format of the video, or, as with Alien Workshop, had a rich tapestry of art direction and influences to draw from in the production. With this in mind, it could be argued that Propeller is as much the Vans video as it is ‘the Greg Hunt video’ as he had complete free reign over the project.
Propeller is very much ‘less is more’ in many aspects, the editing is never over the top and even the intro is short and sweet. Starting with Tony Alva skating down a sidewalk and then a backyard pool – fittingly, the areas where not just Vans but also skateboarding itself was pioneered by him and his peers. Age is also an imaginary barrier to Christian Hosoi, Steve Caballero and Jeff Grosso, perfectly content shredding a half pipe while Steve Van Doren’s gleeful face pops out of a window to salute them. Ray Barbee delivers the most euphoric no comply of the year afterwards and even John Cardiel blasts a frontside slash grind that no doubt sent premiere crowds wild (it did – Ed).
It’s hard to not have a boyish grin on your face as Rowley gleefully pushes down the street, knowing you’re about to see the best footage of him in five years. Those that follow Greg Hunt closely will find this light-hearted intro a nice contrast to the emotional bagpipe fuelled oeuvre for Mind Field he last brought to us. The trailer for Propeller gave off a more serious vibe than the end result actually yields and, while it may sound like this makes for a cheesy intro, it taps into the ten year old version of your current self; brimming with exciting to see another skate video.
Chima Ferguson takes the video’s opening part, switch stance tanking it first over a road gap, then through a schoolyard over a picnic table. Though surprising and not who I expected as an opener, with likely the bestselling Vans model right now it makes sense to give Chima the opener and he certainly deserves it. Gaps and stairs are flown over, all of which become more impressive after noticing Chima’s shoe of choice for most of the filming seems to be a pair of Authentics. This made my feet hurt just watching – imagine taking those sorts of drops in a shoe so thin. Regardless, Chima is unrelenting, even pulling off what some would consider questionable heelflip variations with perfect style.
Following on is latest addition to the team and Propeller poster boy Rowan Zorilla. A little ATV in every sense of the phrase, as far as first video parts go, (scene videos such as Shep Dogs aside) it’s nothing short of rad. The appearance of a racoon-skin cap will also give you a few laughs but coincidentally (maybe), whenever this item appears on Rowan’s head it’s at some of the heaviest moments of his part. There are few skateboarders that could both frontside disaster up a five foot vert extension and handle a five-kink handrail, so hopefully that will give a better perspective of the broad range of terrain he’s capable of destroying. This could have easily been an opening section for the video with no complaints and you should definitely keep an eye out for Rowan in the future and rinse his back catalogue when you get chance.
Following on is adult ATV Tony Trujillo with a Slayer accompanied onslaught taking place on all sorts of seemingly unskateable terrain. Transition is torn up, with some Super 8 cam of TNT at Burnside being particularly astounding for an unexpected grab to fingerflip, while footplant-based manoeuvres are plentiful yet never overdone. Appropriately Elijah Berle follows on by disgruntling a tourist with a part that is less transition heavy than I expected, but those skills do not go to waste; most notably placing a perfect (yet awkward) backside revert in from a front noseblunt in an early ditch line.
Going into Chris Pfanner’s part, you may be expecting big ollies by the handful. First off, you aren’t wrong and second, you won’t be bored by them. Obviously there is way more to Pfanner’s part than big pop. Handrail grinds get held in length and rolled away from in style, but personally I think Pfanner is at his best either powering over waist high objects or football field sized road gaps. A few late shove-it variations are casually tossed over said gaps and even into a ditch at one point in a proper display of what ‘power’ looks like. Pfanner’s section will leave your eyebrows raised well into Curren Caples’ part, which follows on and is filled with his signature smooth surfer style cruising across many a bowl deep end, handrail and bank. Out of the whole video Curren’s part seemed the shortest, by no means due to being cut prematurely but more due to him going full on Road Runner speed throughout. Props to the ‘the most beautiful child on a skateboard’…
As expected, with Greg Hunt behind the wheel, Propeller does not slack when it comes to music. Whilst all the song choices weren’t to my personal taste, each track and the skater it accompanies all fits incredibly well, ranging from Iggy Pop to Siouxsie and the Banshees and even Ray Barbee providing his guitar skills over the credits. Daniel Lutheran definitely had one of, if not the, best and most well-matched songs of the whole video. I definitely feel Lutheran was a bit underrated before the video but the aftermath of this part should see him in the spotlight a lot more. Laid back and loose, smashing stairs and handrails – often those embedded into walls and unafraid to flip onto them in this scenario. What’s most endearing and amusing about Lutheran’s skating, (apart from his Christmas jumper which makes a few appearances – the fashion hammers in this video probably deserve a separate review of their own) is that whether it be B-Roll clips, rolling away from his tricks or sometimes even mid manoeuvre, it’s rare that Lutheran doesn’t have a smile on his face. I honestly left this part in a better mood and Lutheran is a pleasant reminder that there’s still fun to be had behind the gruelling years of filming that go in these sort of productions. Further props given for possible the best/most stylish save/ride away on a skinny landing documented on a video.
Taking what could have been a flawless double song ender, is Gilbert Crockett. After the release of his extra raw footage from the video, I’m sure Hunt could’ve left it all in and given Ol’ Gil a three song part and nobody would have complained. The shit-kicking country boy goes hard, fast, high and oozes style consistently. The first half of his part feels like a nice intro, though the skating is brilliant, whereas the second half feels more like a section you’d expect from Gilbert. Perhaps due to his Old Dominion part being a main point of reference for him to many, as he skates to a song by the same band he skated to in that part (Magnolia Electric Co.) with lots of night footage and glimpses of his hometown of Richmond, Virginia adding to this vibe. Prior to watching the video I’d read an interview with Crockett where he stated, “Filming for this video has been long. Pre-tattoo footage, weird pant phases, hair, no hair, don’t judge me.” and also “I want to grind a twenty stair handrail.” With both these thoughts in mind, I did not expect to witness Crockett 5050 a double kink wearing a neckerchief. Now, I’m aware Gilbert feels handrail skating is, largely, not relatable to a lot of skateboarders so at least Gilbert had the initiative to spice things up by making arguable the most ‘macho’ aspect of skateboarding, a bit less so. I’m backing that scarf more than AVE’s sheep skin jacket anyhow… Power, finesse pop, after all those web clips Gilbert put out last year it’s amazing to see that he still came through with what could be considered a definitive video part for him.
It’s very surprising and a credit to both Greg Hunt and Cody Green, the other main filmer on this project, that there is a real lack of shared parts. With a team as stacked as Vans, I think a lot of people saw this as inevitability. The only shared part in the video is Andrew Allen and Dustin Dollin. Whether it was their decision or Greg’s for them to share a part, two people could not have worked better together. Arriving on the scene looking like he fell backwards through the Miami Vice wardrobe department, Allen alley-oops out of curb cuts before traversing walls and incredibly steep banks in to nosegrinds, both switch a regular. Dustin takes the latter half of the part of his usual haphazard demeanour, throwing a surprising shove-it tail grab to wheel biter filled ride away and ending with a monster of a 180 to Nosegrind. However it’s Dollin’s utilisation of the noseslide that stands out. Taking one to a double kink and placing one perfectly in the middle of a double barrelled rail that beckons an injury are just a couple of the tricks that may have been lost amongst the tech renaissance but are gaining momentum again thanks to people like Dustin.
The prospect of another full length Geoff Rowley part has definitely held hopes up high in the time leading up to Propeller’s release – more so by UK skateboarders than our US friends and I imagine the response to Geoff’s part from the Lost Art crew and Liverpool heads in general was through the roof, especially at the opening trick. Whether or not this will be Geoff’s last part is unknown; however at the age of 38, we wouldn’t blame him and if it is, he’s gone out on a banger. We know Mr Rowley has a fairly long relationship with Motorhead so it doesn’t come as too much of a surprise that Lemmy’s rough throated lyrics accompany Geoff in this outing and it works fantastically. Predominantly, Geoff’s part features him skating ditches. No ordinary selection of ditches though, as what ensues is the greatest assortment of ‘gnarly ditch tech’ ever put to video. The ‘Hell’s Mouth’ ditch gets a barrage of bluntslide variations, whilst Geoff throws the most spectacular of backside 360s into it too. A fakie flip on another mountainous drainage reserve will leave your eyes widened and heart pounding at the thought of catapulting down something so treacherous backwards. Basically, imagine that for every stair-set Geoff jumped in Sorry, you had a ditch instead and you’ll have a vague idea of what his Propeller part looks like. For fear of spoiling too much of definitely one of the best parts in the video, I’ll leave it at this. Time and time again this once ‘pint-sized aggro kid’ has done us proud and Propeller is no exception (and he’s fucking 38!).
Brazilian vert beast Pedro Barros is the last of Vans transition focused shredders to feature. Burnside, backyard parks and a wide assortment of transition you probably wouldn’t even drop in on are fearlessly grinded, aired out of and up and Omar Hassan also appears for a few cameo tricks. The length of the lines here are simply mesmerising, one of which takes three camera angles to fit the whole run in while another sees a full cab backside tail delivered at warp speed.
Taking the penultimate part is Kyle Walker who delivers the second breakout part of this video with a well-rounded mix of speed, long and mellow handrails with dashes of ledge tech here and there. Frontside 360s are a favourite trick of mine and often lesser seen, so Walker casually stretching one across a gap was much to my delight whilst Reynolds-esque full cabs are thrown across hefty distances. I’m looking forward to what Walker delivers in the coming months but after this part I think it’s safe to say that his name should be making his way onto a Real board very soon…
Fifteen years ago, Chris Carter uttered the famous words to Jason Dill ‘you know what the last part means right?’ At the time, Dill understood and evidently his best friend Anthony Van Engelen did too; who, as expected, rounds off Propeller. There is so much yet to be said about AVE’s part but I could leave it as ‘this is what skating like a man looks like’ and I’m quite sure I’d get a unanimous agreement from skateboarders the world over.
As if foreshadowing what the following four minutes will bring, a water feature explodes as AVE turns to face the camera, then powers his way into a schoolyard shut down. Ozzy bellows as AVE charges across the Los Angeles landscape and switch skating is in abundance, whether it be powerfully and pristinely flicking a kickflip across a grass gap (mid line…) or into switch nose manual with a surprising half cab out. I think simply, because of the expectations riding on Propeller, on the first viewing you may feel a bit too blown away to process it – I did. The thought that this is ‘the Vans video’ lingers during your first viewing that it’s so easy just to absorb the sheer ‘hammer factor’ of everything. However after that, it’s far easier to appreciate the more minute details like Dollin’s sunglasses cascading off as he lies battered from a handrail gone astray or the subtle dust dispersion that flies from under Gilbert’s wheels as he forcefully stomps down a flip trick. Even AVE’s body language of sweet relief is framed within a chain link fence for once brief moment after gapping to switch crook…before balance takes its toll and he plummets backwards towards the camera revealing a shirt blackened from slams. Furthermore, and this is applicable to other skaters in the video but more so with AVE, I find it refreshing to see more than one trick on the same spots throughout his part. Perhaps it’s more prevalent here as he’s known for having somewhat of an ‘it’s never enough’ attitude and has proclaimed ‘I feel my best when I’m absolutely fucking thrashed.’
His long-time partner in crime, Jason Dill, has a few tricks within his part. All are good, however it becomes disappointing considering just how good Dill’s brief appearance is – a full part could really have been something. Guy Mariano also appears for a guest trick which made me wonder, considering both have battled similar demons; after Mind Field being the comeback part, is Propeller to AVE what Pretty Sweet was Mariano? Going back to the level of switch skating here, it’s not just the frequency or straight balls to the wall switch skating we know AVE is capable of, but the complexity of it too. I came into this part expecting AVE at his best, what I didn’t expect was back to back to back picnic bench line consisting of a switch backside lipslide followed by switch backside noseblunt. If you’ve followed AVE closely leading up this, the majority of notable tricks he’s had as adverts over the last few years are here. Switch crook flip out on a picnic bench, perfect and the feeble, THAT meme-generating feeble, he backside 180s out of it! As this year goes on and we endlessly hear who’s ‘gunning’ for SOTY, those that watched Propeller will be sure that it doesn’t matter and will be stunned if he doesn’t take it this year. Encouragingly it won’t be from tiresome, energy drink clad ‘campaign trails’ that we see every other year, but largely on the strength of this part. Bringing a switchblade to the proverbial gunfight and walking away dusted, bloodied, blond hair filled with grit and victorious. Because as I said the start of this review – less is more.
If you’re holding out for the DVD release, don’t worry as it’s due to hit skate shops around June. Chris Nieratko has also interviewed the majority of the team which should be featured in a book that comes with it, which will also feature a few photos from our man Chris Johnson.
It doesn’t matter whether you don’t get hyped on stairs, transition, or you ‘can’t relate to it’: Propeller taps into that younger version of yourself, completely enamoured and in awe of what is playing in front of you. Funnily enough, for me, that video was the Greg Hunt helmed DC Video… Arguably, skateboarding has lost its bottle a bit over the last few years and with Propeller, it feels like skateboarding has grown a pair of balls again. And that isn’t down to people jumping down handrails for internet glory. It’s down to Greg Hunt and a hard-working, dynamic group of skateboarders busting their ass for five years to showcase what skateboarding looks like to them. Leave your ego at the door and get stoked.