FOOTPATHS and terrace houses flash by, the bitumen is a black blur. Aidan Essex-Plath and Max Cooper’s metatarsals – the bones in their feet – make constant micro-adjustments to keep balance. But the skaters seem to barely move as they weave down the slippery roads, unflinching and unprotected against the world howling around them.
Aidan pushes hard on his back foot and leans back – driving the board sideways into a drift. Max crouches, his camera captures the spray kicked up by the polyurethane wheels.
This isn’t skateboarding, it’s longboarding. It’s not about tricks, it’s about finding the calm that hides near terminal velocity. This is how Hunter teenagers Max Cooper and Aidan Essex-Plath spend their weekends. They take turns as star and director, making passionate, short films that are all about the action, the feel.
“A year and a half ago we got properly into downhill longboarding and it just goes hand-in-hand with filmmaking,” Aidan says.
Together they produce the Youtube channel East Enders. Their cinematic style and skills have been in high demand from mountain bike riders, businesses, even brides seeking the perfect wedding video.
But, for Max and Aidan, it’s all about mastering the cinematic style that has taken root in the unlikely world of downhill longboarding.
The two were, in part, inspired by a scene from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty when the protagonist straps rocks to his hands and skates down a mountain in Iceland.
“So we walked around Newcastle and found rocks, and taped them to our gloves,” Max says.
“We did that for a solid two days, until the gloves wore through to the skin.”
To understand longboard films, it helps to understand precisely how and why it differs from the rapid-fire, trick-heavy skate culture that dominated the 1990s.
Skateboards first appeared in Southern California in the middle of the last century. The surfies, looking for a session, realised that even if the surf off Santa Monica was flat, the pavement was always up.
Longboards, flexible boards with longer wheel bases, emerged in Hawaii around the same time. In the early years cruising was cruising – it didn’t matter if you were in California or Maui, skating was just a backup for surfing.
But skateboarding was taking on a life of its own. It was unshackled from the tide and heading inland. In 1965 the first pro women’s skateboarder, Patti McGee from Santa Monica, showed Johnny Carson her moves on The Tonight Show. She was on the cover of LIFE magazine the same year.
Longboard riders in the 1970s took a liking to soft and “grippy” polyurethane wheels. The technological leap allowed them to maintain control while carving at the sort of high speeds that would cause a skateboard to break-up like a North Korean missile.
In 1984 a young Tony Hawk featured in a pioneering skateboarding video The Bones Brigade Video Show. While skating was reinvented, longboarding was refined.
By the end of the ’90s more kids skated than played basketball in the US.
Skating had become a world of its own: it had media, it had conventions, it had its own language, culture and ideology. Skate videos were all punk-rock and quick cuts of increasingly impressive, complex and perilous tricks.
It wasn’t until the mid-2000s that longboarders started to pick up the camera. By this time the skate video was so rooted in the skate-punk scene that longboarding needed to start fresh, create its own visual and audible language.
Maybe it was the connection with the spiritual, nature-loving world of surfing, maybe it was the relaxation that comes with carving a smooth, wide arc on a longboard, but videos quickly became a cinematic showcases of zen-like carving sessions in beautiful places.
It became about finding inner peace at 60km/h on a deserted road to the tune of Massive Attack. “I feel longboard videos are more cinematic,” Max says, adding that Newcastle is beautiful through the lens.
So beautiful that East Enders’ newest longboarding video is more backdrop than skating. “There’s not much skating in this one. It’s rain, birds, the train,” he says.
“The terraces, the beach – the backdrops of Newcastle are so much better than anywhere else. I find it really easy to film here.”
That’s the sensory language of longboarding: for East Enders, it’s an opportunity to explore and share the beauty of Newcastle.