Transworld SKATEboarding

I don't know from gnarly. My torso remains proudly free of body art. I have never executed a fakie nosegrind switch frontside 360, nor described a person, organization, object or trying set of circumstances as "radical, dude"--with the possible exception of the Pinochet regime.

Yet I find myself 100 percent sold on Transworld SKATEboarding, one of the few youth-leaning enthusiast titles that boasts both a brain and a creative pulse. Mixing a conversational, flippant tone with highly stylized design, the mag chronicles an over-analyzed subculture in a way that makes it feel fresh and unspoiled. It's the rare niche publication that can generate enthusiasm for its titular subject even among nonbelievers.

Okay, so maybe I don't plan on running out to buy a skateboard just yet, owing to a set of balance skills routinely mocked by kindergarten ballerinas. Nonetheless, what elevates Transworld SKATEboarding is its consistent ability to put a new spin on publishing clichés. For example, the May issue features a handful of Q&As--but displays answers to one of them as a series of post-it notes and litters another with questions like "have you ever seen Pat Rakestraw naked?" Fine, maybe they borrowed that last gimmick from The Economist's recent chat with King Mswati III. Either way, you don't see too many publicist fingerprints on any of the exchanges (and if you think these fellas exist entirely outside the purview of publicists, I'd direct you to the beyond-lucrative clothing lines they endorse).

The May issue culls its letters to the editor from a single population (incarcerated readers); its lists tend towards topics more often bandied about in e-mail exchanges between friends ("the top ten skate shoes that should be made new again but never will"). The title even ventures into political waters with "Are the Fries Still Free?," a spread chronicling French street culture accompanied by an essay referencing "the Tyrant From Texas." And while skateboarders have long railed against the tyranny of The Man, Transworld SKATEboarding tweaks perceptions with a multiple-page feature on board-happy cops, firefighters and EMTs.

Graphically, there does exist some homogeneity of image, as there are only so many ways to depict a skateboard dude soaring majestically over the Quik-E-Mart handrail. That said, Transworld SKATEboarding scores with its "9 Frames/Second" front-of-book spreads that capture the full execution of a switch frontside flip and a backside tailslide shove-it, both which sound like manuevers a nice girl would never, ever consider. Elsewhere, the mag arranges the letters of "Sightings" to resemble an eye doctor's chart and complements its "Street Heat" shot of a boarder on a cobblestoned Tribeca road with an elegant, menacing image of a car set aflame.

One could quibble with a few of the May issue's inclusions, I suppose. Engaging though they may be, the main features don't exactly shoot for depth; it'd be interesting to see what the mag's writers could do with a long-form profile. The ads blend a little too easily with the editorial content, but you can't hold that against the innovative art directors on both sides of the ball.

And while such quips likely contribute to the mag's credibility among the true disciples, the "Check Out" blurbs showcasing talented young 'uns veer into ugly stereotype. Case in point: if the world ended tomorrow, skateboarder Austyn Gillette would "try to f--- some fat bitches." Duly noted, fella. The mag's editors almost certainly have more interesting material from which to choose; they should leave the casual, throwaway vulgarity to the amateurs.

I doubt that many mag execs would deign to cast their steely glare upon Transworld SKATEboarding--because, gosh, what could these kids today with the skateboards and the hair and the loud music possibly know about publishing? I'd argue that their ignorance will likely cost them down the road, when the reader loyalty niche and enthusiast titles inspire carries them through hard times.

I can count on one hand the mainstream publications that couldn't learn a few things from Transworld SKATEboarding. Dismiss it as a mere "skateboarding magazine" at your own peril.

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