Working Title: Inspiration

Last night I surfed through the list of Netflix movies looking for something different, something new, something that would engage me on a level a blockbuster or classic film wouldn’t. Thanks to whatever algorithm Netflix uses to offer me a recommendation I went from a documentary about the Le Mans 24 race (“Every Second Counts (2012)“) to a skater docu-film called ‘Bones Brigade, an autobiography‘.

Yeah, that’s what I thought too; “really?” Initially. But it appealed to me: I’d never been any good on a skateboard as a kid, even worse on roller-skates. I do enjoy watching things like the X Games and other (Red Bull) type skater/surfer/extreme sport films. I alsohave admiration for the things skaters could do, and for the things they’ve broken to try and master a trick or move. This documentary, about a group/team of skaters who redefined skating and what the ‘sport’ meant, was quite an emotional roller coaster for me: here were a bunch of misfits, goofballs, loners, outsiders, etc. who refused to give up when, in the early 1980’s, the sport and skate parks (their arenas) disappeared and were ripped up.

“When six teenage boys came together as a skateboarding team in the 1980s, they reinvented not only their chosen sport but themselves too – as they evolved from insecure outsiders to the most influential athletes in the field.” IMDB 

The individual characters were brought together for the team not because they were the most successful or had the most promise, they were not the best or even the worst at the competitions they rode at. They were simply the ones who were demonstrating time and time again a passion and determination for skating that was evident each time they fell over or broke something: get up and try again. When their own peers and heroes mocked them and made fun of the they carried on, simply because they loved what they did. The skaters who were part of the Bones Brigade loved their sport, they loved their skating, they loved the fun, they loved the pain, they loved the taking part:

“It wasn’t about winning, it was about showing up and doing your best.”

From the ruins came what we know as skating today: the urban playground of park benches, railings, steps, bushes, obstacles, and anything that could be jumped, ridden, ducked under, avoided (or not), and generally skated. From very humble beginnings in back yards, city streets, suburbs, warehouses, etc. came a force to be reckoned with: the sport gained popularity for many reasons I’ll leave for others to pick apart and dissect (both the film and the skating), but for me it (and this film) was about the changing times, the need for something new, the need for something that was not ‘normal’, and the need to be good at something, anything.


For me skating was part of the American culture I just couldn’t relate to. By the time all this was happening in the US I was getting into computing and gaming, sitting at home on my own, sometimes with friends, on my ZX81 or ZX Spectrum writing or playing games. If I wasn’t at home I’d be at friends house playing, writing, or talking computers. This was my skating. While I never went anywhere with the games or programming I knew I liked it and could at least hold my own in a conversation with others who were far better than me. Like some members of the Bones Brigade, I was not the star, I was not even the token clown. I felt, like some members of the Brigade, I was just along for the ride.

Fast forward 30 years and here we are. I’m a Learning Technologist. To some extent I’ve made a name for myself from blogging or tweeting my thoughts and broadcasting them to anyone and everywhere. This isn’t to everyone’s liking, but I’m lucky enough to live in times of social network explosion where voices are many and, for the moment, tolerated, welcomed, or ignored. I related to the story of the skaters in the Bones Brigade because I am not doing this for recognition, I’m not doing it to make a difference, I’m not doing it to change the world, and I’m certainly not doing it for the money (although every little helps!). I think I’m doing it because (a) I can, (b) I want to, (c) somewhere, it makes a difference to someone other than myself, and (d) I enjoy, like the skaters, pushing myself to see how far I can go to better myself.

Those of us who share and collaborate online through blogs like this, through Twitter, through conferences, through a shared interest and passion, are like the Bones Brigade at the beginning. They were shunned and ridiculed by their peers for being different (yes, I’ve had that in the past), they were mocked for trying new tricks or different materials or ‘playgrounds’ for ramps, pipes, jumps, etc. (yes, I’ve been mocked for daring to suggest different techniques or tools), and generally put down for questioning the status quo of a sport in decline. Just as those I respect on different social networks are aiding and abetting a cultural shift in how we view learning and  teaching, and education in general, so these teenagers changed the fundamental culture of what is is to be a teenager, not just a skater:

“The Bones Brigade didn’t just shape the physical act of skating, they aided in transforming the culture around it.” Beth Carter

The story of skating as we know it today, including the X Games, centers and originates from these daring, goofy, strange few individuals who just wanted to skate, nothing more. They didn’t set out to inform or change, to challenge or usurp, they set out to skate. The same, for me, can be said for how the understanding of learning and technology has progressed and been modified over the years by those (growing) few who continue to question the ‘normal’ and change perceptions through action. We are, of course, better placed to effect change as we have the advantage the Internet, and it’s assorted networks or tools, gives us. But I believe this has been a good thing in gaining a fuller understanding of what is involved, what’s at stake, and what is needed or what can be done to improve the world we live in and the world we are leaving to the children and students we work with.

I am not comparing myself to the likes of these skaters or leading thinkers on education, but I am making comparisons to the processes of questioning, pushing, and challenging the established. I have learned a lot in the last five to six years about myself and about the role and responsibilities from following people I look up to and respect. Like the new wave of skater (Tony Hawk, Rodney Mullen, Mike McGill, etc.) the seeds are sown and followers take up the mantle and join the challenge of thinking, pushing, questioning. Like the skaters in the Bones Brigade they become a focal point for a new movement, but this new movement is not limited to them or what they do, nor are they particular about who directs this movement – for them it’s simply about trying hard and doing what they love. It’s the same for me, it’s about learning, growing, and pushing myself to see what I can do. If anyone takes something from my journey or these scribbles, then I hope we’re both the better for it.

What about you? What makes you tick or what gives you the energy or drive? What films or documentaries or blogs or journals or books have taken you on a journey that you weren’t expecting (personally or professionally) and made you better for it?

Image source: Lee Bender by Andrew Hutchison (CC BY-ND 2.0)