When did you start skating?
I was 12, I think. I never thought of it as something that interested me until some kids in my neighborhood started picking them up and I would see them skating in front of their house until it got dark out.
What was your first skateboard?
I saved up 60$ as soon as I could to buy a Nash from Sports Authority and wore that thing out really quickly. By the time I was done with it I had taught myself to ollie, heelflip, kickflip, shove-it all on a board that hardly rolled forward. My first real board was an Alien Workshop Spectrum slick with green based Grind King trucks, followed by Ray Barbee’s duck model from the Firm. I could go on, I made a coffee table out of my old broken decks and trucks etc. I love those things.
When did you stop or slow down significantly?
Probably like a lot of folks, in college. It was hard to find kids that wanted to skate and where I went to school it was hard to find places to skate. I was a decent skater but never that great. I made a few friends in college who were trying to learn how to skate but that was frustrating in one sense, and then a few other friends of mine were the kinds that wanted to fling themselves down 10 stair handrails–but I wasn’t too interested in that anymore at that point. Once I turned maybe 19 or 20, I was more interested in enjoying skateboarding but not pushing it. Injury wasn’t worth it because I was also enjoying trail running and surfing.
What do you do for a living?
I’m make photographs and photography based mixed media art, but the straight photography, mostly for magazines is how I earn my living–the art not so much. I’ve got my first book coming out soon with work I made in New Zealand, one of my favorite places in the world. I never photographed skating much though, I usually would rather be skating or needing to spend my money on a deck instead of film.
When you are not skating, how often do you think about skateboarding?
It comes and goes. This winter has been super long so I’ve been looking forward to getting out to the local park sometime soon. I love trail running too and since that’s a very solitary activity I’ve been drawn towards that more in recent years. Skating really did a number on my ankles and so I’m pretty careful about it now when I step on the board. Indirectly, I think of skateboarding all the time, really any time I look out the window. Once you get in the skaters mindset of wondering what you can do with a skateboard at whatever terrain you’re looking at–you never really lose that, or at least for me that’s the case. It’s helped me in photography a lot. The way I skateboard and the way I shoot photos aren’t all that different. In both you’re always looking for some kind of hidden potential in some place seemingly suited to a different purpose.
How did skateboarding affect the direction of your life?
Skateboarding was the first thing that truly taught me to think independently. It’s at the root of me being drawn to the people I am drawn to, the work that I do, the life experiences I am interested in, the music I listen to and the books I like to read. I’m not saying I couldn’t have ended up where I was without skateboarding because I can’t know that, but skateboarding came first in terms of teaching me lessons about the value pursuing the individual and the individually formed thought. To some extent, the people I met through skateboarding have also had an effect on my life, but by and large most people I knew quit earlier on. I practiced skateboarding like it was a discipline–I wasn’t really a skateboarder in the way that some of my peers were. I skated to get away from typical high school pressures, while a lot of the best skaters I knew mixed them all in to a certain lifestyle that I wasn’t necessarily interested in. I would go out and skate with them then go home while they’d continue hanging out. I’m still friends with a few people I met through skateboarding, but the friendships were built on other foundations.
When I was skating a lot I would bet that I skated alone a lot more than most people. More times than not I went to the skatepark on my own (and still do), skated flatland in front of the house for hours into the evening on my own…this taught me about the power of my own mind, lessons of persistence, concentration, meditation etc. When I was a freshman at a university in Milwaukee that I never really felt like I belonged at I used to blow off steam by heading out to skate on my own at about 11 pm or midnight and just explore. The banks and other buildings were closed down but lit up. I could hit up a ledge or a set of stairs without much worry. There were a lot of perfect spring nights that year and my board was a passport to exploring the city and some of my best memories of college. It may sound weird, I’m out on my own trying to nail a trick on a ledge while my classmates are out getting lit again, but that’s what skateboarding was and has been for me–a way to have a different experience.
There were a lot of things I accomplished on a skateboard that no one was there to see, and that was frustrating at times, but in other ways it was extremely rewarding and gave me an increasing confidence that I could build on. It let me know I was capable of something if I just refused to give up.
What is the connection between skateboarding and creativity?
The ability to question the most basic notions is a very important characteristic to me, one that I consciously try to nurture. How well can you look at a chair and see something that is not a chair? These basic “truths” create an implied structure to our lives and how we live them, but when we can break them wonderful things happen. Skateboarding taught me to question, more than anything else. Is that a wall or is it a pathway for me? Is that a curb or is that playground? Is that a rosebush in the sidewalk or is it a test for me?
More about Peter Hoffman
Peter Hoffman.com (Photography)