Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Roll Model - Skateboarding With Eric Tuma Britton

When third generation Dogtown skater, Eric Tuma Britton is your skateboard teacher, it automatically gives you an edge. Not only because he's been a professional skater for most of his life, but because he's right in there with the student, literally holding their hands.

Britton was born in Culver City and raised in Venice. More precisely, he was raised by skateboarding in Venice. He was given his first skateboard at the age of 5 by his father, and as it was a very surf and skate culture at the beach, he started skating a lot. A LOT. And making friends with the very legends who founded the sport, becoming a full fledged member of the Dogtown family by the age of 12. Britton still says that the highlight of his entire career was "turning pro for the legendary Skip Engblom," of Santa Monica Airlines (in 1991), and for whom Britton's respect is palpable.

Turning pro at a young age meant having a lot of freedom, a bunch of money, traveling a lot, not having much responsibility, and living a full-on punk rock lifestyle. For many around the country, it was a time of skating still being seen as unacceptable and rebellious, but at SAMO High, where Britton attended school, they were the cool dudes, skating in from the beach.

It was good times. Britton hanging out with all the legends (like Natas, my favorite, and who gave Britton a skateboard when he'd hang around on Santa Monica's Fraser Avenue with Kaupas), learning all the tricks, and being featured on the cover of Thrasher in 1992. It was all great, until Britton gave up skating for six years, neither the scene or Britton being that into it anymore. He did well at modeling - and partying - during those years, but when Juice Magazine moved to Venice in 2000, it brought both the scene and Britton back to skating. And skating HARD.

"It made me feel good. It brought my drive back to do something for myself, it brought the vigor for the sport back," reflected Britton on the scene at the time. Fellow pro skater, Bennet Harada had been teaching skate lessons to local kids. One day, Harada asked Britton if he could pass a lesson off to him, and Britton accepted. He found that he immediately connected with the kids, and that teaching came completely naturally to him. So much so, that now it has become a real business, with more students signing on all the time.

A big part of Britton's success (all word of mouth!) with teaching kids (or the young at heart, the midlife crisis, the bucket list, whatever) comes from his ability to be childlike himself. From his willingness to get in there with them, to have fun with it, to make them comfortable through holding them and letting them register how a move feels as he does it with them, and by really being ultimately more than a teacher to these students, but a mentor and a friend. At the skatepark, and in out in the world. Another reason that Britton is so good with kids might be that he is father to perhaps this town's most darling kid, Taj. Who is six, and has been skating most of his life ... just like Dad.

Testimonials from kids and parents alike all sing Britton's praises. "He has such patience!" "He has such a gift for this!" "I love Tuma!" "He's such an amazing teacher!" All true. When Britton hears those compliments, "My heart melts. It gives meaning to what I do." And you can feel the meaning behind it when he says that. I spoke to Louis Ryan (proprietor of Venice's Townhouse), whose eight year old daughter is a student of Britton's, to get his take on it. "Tuma is a natural teacher. It's not like a coach feeling, he made it fun. He gets in there and jogs next to her, and she did really well. You can see the respect he gets at the skatepark ... he's an amazing teacher. The style and grace that he teaches her exudes off her after her lessons ... and it's helped with her surfing too!"

Which is great, because that's the master plan for Roll Model Skateboarding. So many people want lessons that it's probably time to get a real warehouse facility, with means for other employees to help with the demand, skate camps, surf workshops, skate trips, contests ... all that good stuff. It's time.

It's time for Venice kids to get involved too! Britton told me that the majority of his students are from Malibu, the Palisades, and Santa Monica ... with only a few in Venice! (But awesomely, almost all Venice girls!) With our beautiful skatepark, and our legendary history as a skateboarding mecca, there needs to be future generations of rippers from Venice. Lessons with Britton are about as good a place to start as there is.

In speaking about Venice, Britton told me about how when he was growing up, it was the ghetto. It was unsafe. People either lived there or went there to get drugs, but with all that, there was still more community, more culture, more of a family feeling. "The poor artists are doing the most creative stuff. The monied people want to buy into that, and sanitize the area. That might be better for kids, but it's taken away that family feeling, and what bothers me is the families of color are being displaced." Yes, that bothers me too. Because we're better than that. And we know it.

"Skating has been my entire life. I kind of fell into teaching, but I didn't expect it to be so fulfilling and heartwarming," Britton told me genuinely. "You get back such a heartfelt response from the kids, you can see the gratitude in their faces when they get it." Those kids have sent him letters of thanks, and sent him new students so they can have skate buddies, and that's how it's all growing bigger every day.

"It helps kids keep on the right track. Skateboarding has done miraculous things in my life. I've had my struggles. Life isn't easy. It can be brutal. You're gonna fall down. You're gonna get hurt. But skating teaches you to persevere. To get back up. To push forward until you get it."

That can apply to everything in life, of course. What good lessons to learn as a little kid, while having a complete blast!  Like Britton tells the kids, "If you believe you can do something, you will. In skating, or in life." You. Will.

Roll Model Skateboarding can be reached at Tumanation13@gmail.com or by calling Tuma at #310.663.0365

*Photos courtesy of Eric Tuma Britton

Monday, March 30, 2015

Rebirth In Death Valley!

Sometimes you just have to get away from it all, and in California, about the most extreme place you can do that is in Death Valley National Park. I've been wanting to check that place out ever since I moved here, and when I read that there might be a wildflower "Super Bloom" this Spring, plans were finally made. Well, they weren't really made at all ... we just got in the car and went for the weekend.

The drive is pretty fast, about four hours from L.A. It gets increasingly hot as you go, and scrubbier and drier. We started to see some wildflowers along the sides of the road, and I started to get that excitement you get when you're almost at a place you've never seen before.

Death Valley is far more dramatic than I'd pictured, and a lot more mountainous. The Valley itself is in between mountain ranges that trap the heat in there, making it the hottest place on Earth at times (the high temperature ever recorded was 134, and they're very proud of that). It's gnarly. 

We arrived in the HUGE park in the early afternoon, and immediately set out to see as much as we could. There were surreal landscapes in every direction, but as we had only two days, we opted to look for flowers first, and the park's greatest hits second. 

There is a wildflower hotline that had said the day before that it was blankets of blooms like the person had never seen. The thing with Death Valley though is that it's so hot that everything changes every day. The superbloom of the day before had already shriveled up from the heat in one day. We saw exactly one hot pink cactus flower bush in the entire park.

With everything so spread out (like hours and miles between some landmarks), you have to use your time wisely. The information center lady told us what the coolest things were and where we were most likely to see flowers, and that's where we went. The rocks and mountains are multi-hued, as different minerals make up the landscape. You'll see red, green, pink, yellow in the stone, and one scenic drive is even called the Artist's Palette, as it resembles exactly that in the right sunlight.

It's harsh conditions in Death Valley. Very rough terrain and the ridiculous heat make it an excursion for at least the somewhat hardcore. I'd like to think that's me, but even I was reduced to tears at the end of the day, so bad was my head pounding from total heat exhaustion. 

The heat is seriously heavy metal, and not to be taken lightly at all. All the streets and sights are named for things related to Hell, and that's pretty apt. But an awfully beautiful hell.

Badwater Basin is the lowest point in the U.S. It is probably also the hottest. This is where I started to wilt. It's a giant salt basin, and you can feel your lips and skin chapping as you stand there. In the photo below, Paul was being honest, I was faking it.

When you turn around and look up, you can see "Sea Level" painted hundreds of feet above you. You're now under the sea, in a total Land Of The Lost environment. The fact that ANYTHING can live there is a serious miracle.

But things do. Little lizards, mountain goats, caterpillars, scorpions, snakes, spiders, hawks ... and those elusive flowers we were looking for.

A true highlight of the trip was running around in the sand dunes. They're real, rolling sand dunes, and someone told me some of Star Wars was shot there. 

I believe it, because Sand People are about the only people that it would make sense to be there. We watched sunset and moonrise there, and it was out of this world. Purple mountain's majesty in full effect.

We stopped in the village of Stovepipe Wells to get supplies and ask about lodging. As a slew of bikers (both spandex and Harley) came through for the weekend, there were absolutely no rooms at the inn. Anywhere. 

We ate an exhausted and marginal meal at the town bar, and geared up to drive another two hours back out of the park to find a bed to sleep (and recover) in. I thought I'd ask one more time before we left, and sure enough, someone was a no-show, and the nicest, cleanest, most welcomed bed was mine at the Furnace Creek Ranch, right there in the heart of the Valley. Praise Jah.

After being a dusty, sweaty mess for the entire day, the pool was about the happiest place on Earth. Floating on my back in water that was the same temperature as the air, looking up at the billions of low hanging stars and bright moon, it was like being suspended in the womb of the Universe. It was an out of body and deeply within my body sensation all at once. I was saying all weekend that the theme of the weekend was rebirth - I'd meant that mentally, but in this pool, it also felt physical. Spring is the rebirth of the planet too, but where most places it's rebirth from the dead of Winter. Here, it's life before the death of Summer, when the sun burns everything to a crisp. Trippy. Plus it's Easter time. Rebirth, Life, Death ... Timely.

We set the alarm to get up at 3:30 am to see the stars after the moon had set. The only place I've ever seen the stars better was at the top of Mauna Kea in Hawai'i. After a brief panic attack thinking our car would get stuck on this old mining road and I'd die in my pajamas and flip flops (dumb idea), I laid back on the hood of the car and watched the stars dance and shoot across the sky. It was magic ... until fatigue and the thought of another full day of heat in a few hours sent us back to our cool beds.

Back up and at 'em, we set out to look for flowers where they'd allegedly been spotted in the south end of the park. Another long and lovely drive brought us to a mountain pass that  had a field of yellow flowers reaching to the peaks, but we could almost see them slowly dying right in front of us. The rare bright spot of color and life is even more pretty than normal here, because the stark contrast against the brown and lifeless terrain. This was about the happiest yellow ever.

The whole place was founded on mining, which kind of wrecks it a bit for me, because it's an obvious sign of mankind messing with nature. People only ever came here for the mining, and then they needed more people to come once the mining dried up, so their inns and things could still be of use. 

They made it a National Park to get people to go to this outrageous place, and they've been coming ever since. You see people running - actually running - and wonder what the hell is wrong with them. It's insane.

A weird thing is that all the salt everywhere makes it look like snow and ice, so you're the hottest you've ever been, yet it looks like it could be tundra. Very bizarre.

We climbed another mountain to see another view, and this time, we made sure to be absolutely waterlogged to try and avoid the previous day's pounding, debilitating headache. I did much better.

This park is much less populated than other National Parks, so you can get the photos without other people in them. There's also a bit of a camaraderie among visitors, as you're all in the same boat, wearing the same spent smiles, and encouraging each other that they're almost at the pool at the top of the hike (lie).

Paul had a show at the Troubadour that night, so we had to hustle to see as much as we could, so we raced through our Sunday at Death Valley like greased lightning, but even with that deadline looming, Paul still had to get the shots (and still made it in time!).

There was a hike called Mosaic Canyon that was one of those really narrow slot canyons like in the movie where the dude had to saw his arm off to get free of a boulder. We didn't stay too long there. To be that hot AND stuck ... naw, thanks.

We didn't see quite the superbloom that I'd imagined, but we saw LIFE in Death Valley. We saw rebirth, and experienced a little bit of our own. It's always good to get away, and it's always good to unplug. I had no way of connecting with the outside world for two days (well, I could've, but chose not to) and it was great. To only think about what is right in front of you is one of the best trips you can take, and Death Valley will do that for you.

Existing under those conditions - even for just a weekend - makes you sincerely appreciate all the beachy breezes, abundant life everywhere you look, and the sheer convenience of everything in your life. That is one of the true joys of travel and exploration ... loving where you are when you return.
Thanks to Death Valley for reinforcing that lesson, and thanks to Venice for being that happy place to come home to.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Spring Fever!

We might not have the cherry blossoms in Venice, but we have these guys ...

You can feel the Spring in the step of everyone around. It's subtle here, and lacks the total relief of colder climes when the blossoms first appear ... but when the evenings get longer and the town bursts into color against skies so blue it makes your eyes hurt ... you feel it. Like in this gem, from e.e. cummings -

“sweet spring is your
time is my time is our
time for springtime is lovetime
and viva sweet love

(all the merry little birds are
flying in the floating in the
very spirits singing in
are winging in the blossoming)

lovers go and lovers come
awandering awondering
but any two are perfectly
alone there's nobody else alive

(such a sky and such a sun
i never knew and neither did you
and everybody never breathed
quite so many kinds of yes)

not a tree can count his leaves
each herself by opening
but shining who by thousands mean
only one amazing thing

(secretly adoring shyly
tiny winging darting floating
merry in the blossoming
always joyful selves are singing)

sweet spring is your
time is my time is our
time for springtime is lovetime
and viva sweet love” 
- e.e. cummings

Viva sweet love! Viva Spring! Wherever you are.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Robert Williams and Juxtapoz Magazine At The Barnsdall Art Park

Juxtapoz Magazine and its founder, Robert Williams, are throwing down a big art extravaganza at the Barnsdall Art Park, with their wild work on view to the public through April 19th in the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery. When it's foggy at the beach, we head out in search of discoveries around town, which led us east to this art mecca. After a quick stop for morning coffee and donuts at Kettle Glazed on Franklin (yum!), it was time for art. And more art.

I'd ridiculously never been to the Barnsdall venue, and it's great. No fog over there, and the grounds were full of friends and families enjoying a sunny afternoon. A piƱata was getting bashed for a kid birthday party, picnic blankets were set up all over, and some people simply napped on this Hollywood hilltop. But we were there for the art. Lots and lots of art.

This is a big show, extra dense, leaving us impressed not only at the scope of this Slang Aesthetics!/20 Years Under The Influence Of Juxtapoz show, but at the sheer amount of talent there is in this giant world. There are so many people doing so many cool things out there!

Robert Williams is the clear star of the show, with his vast collection of multiple genres of work lining most of the walls. I imagine he's a super interesting guy to talk to with all that imagination going on in his mind.

His art has a whole lot of range and styles, from eerie, cartoony sculptures, to little homespun drawings that would be right at home on a needlepoint sampler, with a whole lot in between.

There were a series of paintings that were a swirl of activity, but done in a more classic fashion.

There there were his pulpy paintings, all with his ever-present sense of humor ...

His cute little homespun ones, with pithy sayings ...

There were those crazy sculptures that look as though they might eat you ...

And ones that look like they might be rides (but were not).

There was so much going on in this gallery that it was all you could do just to take it in, never mind notating everything. Please accept this wall of credits as the credits, because I had my hands full just seeing it all.

I took a ton of photographs and barely scratched the surface of all that was on view, so there is still a whole lot for you to go see. This is merely a greatest hits of my favorites of the day. Like this one, for obvious reasons ...

I also loved this one featuring famed skate photographer, C. R. Stecyk III in oil.

This installation was kind of great, making you feel like you were spying on this guy in his seedy motel room. He was just kicking it.

Of course, coming over from the West Side, we were gonna love this one for sure.

This crazy cat took up an entire wall of the gallery...

While this cat like thing won my award for creepiest piece in the show - and that's saying something.

Actually, quite a few of the pieces were creepy, as that is an aesthetic that Juxtapoz has never shied away from, and in fact, celebrates.

This lady was pretty creepy ...

But for every creepy piece, there was just as much lovely.

There were big names featured, like Shepard Fairey and Shag ...

... but just as many artists I've never yet heard of, but probably should have.

There were fantastical pieces that would be great in a Game Of Thrones home ...

...And serious pieces (like this one from Kris Kuksi) that you couldn't even wrap your head around, so involved were they.

I've always been drawn to word art, so I loved this one ...

... And no one can be mad at a crazy pool full of color (by David Cooley).

I'm fascinated by what makes an artist make their choices.

Why a sculpture instead of a painting to express what they want to say? Why an accordion book of people instead of a drawing? How does the idea come to them and what makes them choose their materials? I love knowing all that stuff.

Of all the art we saw in this show, the one that moved me and made me love it the most was this one, by Tel Aviv based artist, Know Hope. Acknowledging The Missing By Missing. The older gentleman cradling his instrument ... he had me at hello. I looked it up and it said the artist "reflects on the blues and its shades." Rad.


After so much color and entertainment for our eyes, it was kind of nice to go back outside and reflect in a simple little chair. 


But only for a minute, as we were now starving. As we set upon our phones to look up east side delicious places to eat, we passed the La Luz De Jesus gallery on Sunset, and figured we'd better see just a little more art.

The gallery is in the back of Wacko, so it took us like an hour of goofing around and finding funny things before we got back there, because that dang store is packed with fun.


All of the art in LLDJ would go great with all of the art at the Barnsdall show. All whimsy, and edgy, and pointed, and good. A great companion piece for the day.

OK, now we were suffering from hunger, so the closest, best place that popped up was Grub on Seward. If potato chip chicken or crab cake sandwiches or blackberry pepper mimosas and a super pleasant room and staff weren't enough, Grub's rules (really just the 5th) ensured that we will return.


Make my funk the P(rince) Funk! 

Thanks for a great day, artists, curators, galleries and pit stops, and Los Angeles as a whole. You were all great.

Slang Aesthetic! and 20 Years Under The Influence Of Juxtapoz are on at Barnsdall Art Park now through April 19, 2015.