Ted Barrow aka @Feedback_TS is one our favorite Instagram follows. He's a New York skater that has built up quite a following by having kids submit their videos to his account for an honest and sometimes brutal critique; occasionally a positive review is posted…occasionally. With no shortage of willing submissions, Ted's dry and witty delivery can be polarizing to some and may be an acquired taste to others, but we love it. If you're brave enough, you should submit your clips to him via Instagram (@feedback_ts) and see if you can make the cut. -TWS
Give me the background on why and how you started reviewing skate clips on Instagram?
Like all brilliant things, it came from a stupid inside joke in a group chat. My buddy Dean (@batcitylegend) sent us a clip of himself doing a heelflip at House Park in Austin, TX, and his trick choice complimented his clothing: light blue jeans and Vans Old Skool's. So I sent him a clip where I reviewed both, and realized that maybe more than our small stew of intense Texan skate nerdery would be into it.
The notion that skateboarding needs a critic is, of course, absurd. Skateboarding speaks for itself, and doesn't need a commentator. With Instagram, however, when we post skateboarding clips, we are, even if subconsciously, looking for feedback, or approval. That's why comments exist. I figured I would follow this condition to its logical conclusion, and nominate myself the critic. It's something I am uniquely qualified to do. I'm very good at bullshit.
How many submissions are you getting on a daily basis because you only review clips submitted to you, never just random clips?
I probably get at least 100/day. I wake up to 20+ DM's, as many message requests, and they keep flowing in throughout the day.
Do you think kids are bummed when you actually like their clips?
It either goes two ways:
1) They think I'm an actual critic who can offer them constructive feedback, and are confused when I don't (usually) do that.
2) Yes, they want to be roasted, and sometimes I find something sincerely praiseworthy to say.
Either way, it's a platform for them, and I think people are generally stoked that their clip got reposted, good or bad feedback. I should also reiterate that my judgment is completely arbitrary: I excoriate legitimately impressive clips, and I sing the praises of unequivocally terrible clips. My review's NEVER express whether I "actually like" their clips. How I actually feel about these clips is nobody's business, not even my own.
“I try to balance the good and the bad, but do find that harsh critiques tend to be more entertaining.”
How do you differentiate all the submissions to critique and which ones to pass on?
The image is of a grizzly bear looking at a stream that is roiling with salmon. I put my paw into the stream, and whichever fish is unlucky enough to make its way into my paw, that's the clip I review. The stream is my DM inbox, which I look into whenever I have the time.
Is someone trying to start a fight with you on pretty much every post you make?
Yes. Every fucking time. It's insane. No kidding.
Sometimes your critiques are a bit more mild than others, what determines how far in you'll go on someone?
Since my premise is that all critiques, good or bad, are satire, I truly believe that something good or bad can be said about any clip. Veteran pro, or been skating for 4 months, there is always something to say about it. Obviously, playing with the audience's expectations factors into what I decide to say. If it's a good clip, it's funny to roast it, to me. Similarly, if the skater isn't that good, it's not that funny to tell them that they suck. That just sucks. In fact, I've never told a legitimately unskilled skater that they suck and should quit, not to my knowledge. I try to balance the good and the bad, but do find that harsh critiques tend to be more entertaining.
Who are the biggest submitters? Has Stephen Lawyer ever sent one in?
Pros? Jerry Hsu, Koston, I've begged some Canadian friends for a Wade Desarmo clip, Chima, Ryan Lay, a few others. This really isn't about critiquing pros, but more about critiquing the habit of normal skaters to post their average footage on Instagram. Just what is it that impels us to think that anyone wants to see our average skating? It's weird, but I'm into it, I guess. That said, Stephen Lawyer has not yet sent a clip, nor has Tyler Surrey, and this fact alone makes me feel like this whole project is a complete failure.
“Worried? No. Resigned to the inevitability that I will die at the hands of one of my followers? Absolutely.”
Are you ever worried that someone is going to see you on the street and start actual shit with you?
Worried? No. Resigned to the inevitability that I will die at the hands of one of my followers? Absolutely.
What motivates you to do handfuls of these critiques each day? It seems like it could get exhausting.
Honestly: I love skateboarding. I've been skateboarding for 31 years, began as an enormous skate nerd, and continue to be an enormous skate nerd. I work a full-time job and am old as fuck, so I don't get to skate that often. This is a way for me to tap into that fountain of youth, and to engage with this thing that I truly love. People call me a hater, and that's valid if you're not terribly attentive, but this is me thinking about skateboarding when I'm not doing it, which is most of the day. It can be exhausting, but it's fun.
Best tactic for arguing with online trolls? Does anyone ever actually win?
Kill them with kindness. All they want is attention. They always win, however. Trolls have no principles, they stand for nothing, so any response is a victory to them.
What's the funniest thing someone has ever commented at you in terms of wanting to hurt you?
Ok, so there's this crew of skaters and rappers from Germany called the Dshii. They're like the weird offshoot of Stephen Lawyer, mixed with goth teen style and Hyun Kummer (@versace_plug). There are a few really talented, but affected, skaters in their crew, and I usually roast them because it is so fun. The skaters know that what I am doing is a joke, but it is hard to explain sarcasm and irony to german hip hop kids. Their minions, however, come at me hard. One of them coined the term #olehateass about me, and it's my favorite thing in the world.
Also this kid Daniel Kohler (@dahiel_kohlerrr) once complained to me about how rich his parents were and how they didn't understand how he was doing something amazing on his element flatbar in the driveway of his parent's mcmansion, and it literally had me in tears. Picture a 41 year old man alone at a bar, pint of Guinness in front of him, staring at his phone and laughing to tears, and that was me peaking with this Instagram account. Thanks Daniel.
What is the worst part about skateboarding right now?
Instagram! That's the entire point of why I'm doing this. Let me make this very clear: I am not critiquing the act of skateboarding. I am critiquing SKATEBOARDING ON INSTAGRAM: what we put out there, what we expect in return, the residual fame and dopamine that we get from posting our footage on this strange app. I'm also sort of making fun of Instagram art critics, who I think are equally appalling, like Jerry Saltz. Instagram is also the worst part about the art world right now.
Does the _TS stand for Tyler Surrey?
It did after his Brain Gone part, that's for sure. But no, the _ts is supposed to be enigmatic: Ted Sucks, Tailslide, Talk Shit, Tail Spin, Truculent Snark, etc. Could be anything. Honestly, I wanted it to look random, and sort of sketchy. I don't even know what it means.
Can you give me the different categories for your posts? 90s story, art critiques, etc…
Thanks for this question. I ONLY review, as in comment upon, skatepark clips. The reason for this is that nobody should film at a skatepark, but we all do. Back in the day, you wouldn't have skatepark footage in your videopart. So, filming at a skatepark is, from my perspective, inherently wack. I'd never roast anyone's street footage, which is why I tell #90spros stories. I sort of assume that the people who send me street clips are trying to stunt on me, so my ignoring their clip and telling an often disappointing story about my many accidental brush-ups with skateboard fame is my way of maintaining that rule. Art critiques come in when I'm tired of filming myself, and lately I've been doing these psychological readings of people based on their sticker choice and placement on their boards, which are brilliant (to me). I also encourage guests, mostly women, to roast my own footage, which is usually a very slow switch backside trick, on occasion. I think that's all the categories. These parameters exist to create a consistent format, but also to protect me from the flood of clips that end up in my inbox daily.
“The skaters know that what I am doing is a joke, but it is hard to explain sarcasm and irony to german hip hop kids.”
Tell me about working at Hot Rod skateshop in Los Angeles back in the day?
Well, to say that I worked there was pretty generous, though I did pick up a couple shifts with Chris Casey, Matt Solomon, and Tim Bruns in order to pay off my Stay Away tab. The "Stay Away" was the list of product that team riders and friends owed the shop. In true fake-sponsorship form, I had a pretty hefty list. This was summer of 2000, and it was mostly Iced java chip frappucciono's and Quizno's to alleviate the hangover. One of my favorite moments at Hot Rod, though this happened later, was watching Chico and Daniel Castillo try and tactfully avoid Daniel Haney inviting himself on a mission to the Chino skatepark. Haney wore cargo shorts with white socks and Wallabee Clark's. Imagine him riding in a car with Chico and Castillo to Chino. Imagine them squirming out of his feckless grips. I do quite often, and chortle to myself.
Did you ever see Jonah Hill come in?
No. But he used to come into this bar Black and White that I worked at in NY, when he was an NYU student, and would basically do stand-up while everyone else was telling serious stories about addiction. One weekend, I went up and told a story about how I used to jack off with my buddies in my car after skating—it was a brief period and I'm not going to be ashamed about it—and I totally killed with that story because it was so much better than all of the tough guy late 90's post-punk heroin stories that everyone else was telling. The next weekend, I was king of the hill in that room, until Jonah came up. Kid looked like Jack Osborne: cocked trucker hat, glasses, chubby, curly hair, but he SLAYED with a story about how he grew up on Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch. Whatever shine I had disappeared, whatever potential I had as a humorist was destroyed that night. At least I'm not still bitter about it 16 years later or anything, though?
Were you ever sponsored because you're really good? What videos did you have parts in?
Nope. Never sponsored, never really good. I filmed two video parts, one in a shop video in Texas, the other for Sam Salganik and Joey Gallagher's video called Lurkers 2. That's the extent of my career in video parts. Like a lot of skaters, when I was young, I wanted to be the best, and I think I got points for being one of the only little kids to be skating in my town. But early on, and I'm talking at age 12, I was already aware that I was not the best little kid. That kid was Zac Martin, and he was 2 years younger than me. To make matters worse, Jake Nunn went to my junior high, and he was always phenomenal. So, by age 14, I knew that I was totally average. I even quit skating for all of 9th grade. But I missed it so much. I hated playing soccer and acting normal. So, blessedly, my old skate friends came by my place at the beginning of the summer and said "we're greasers, you're a soce, and you need to hang out with us again." I started again, this was 1992, and I knew that I had already missed out on so much that I'd never be able to catch up, but that it ultimately didn't matter because fuck being the best. For me, it truly has always been about the culture, and the experience you have alone on your board. At 15 I knew that I would never be sponsored, and I would never deserve to be, but that I would skate as long as I could. Here I am at 41, never really sponsored, still skating. It is one of the only things I do where I am completely sincere, completely myself. For ¾ of my life, it has been my main focus, and that's truly a blessing.
“Let me make this very clear: I am not critiquing the act of skateboarding. I am critiquing SKATEBOARDING ON INSTAGRAM.”
What's your full time job?
I am finishing up my PhD in Art History, and have worked as a tour guide and a college professor, but I am currently a museum curator at a museum just outside of the city. While skateboarding has always been my main thing, it would be idiotic for me to do it all day at my age. When I was 19, I broke my ankle and spent the summer of '95 in bed, recuperating from surgery. I got into art, and studied art history in college. It's a nice pairing with the physical, immersive activity of skateboarding. Art is truly useless, serves no practical purpose, but is indispensable to human culture. I don't at all think that skateboarding is art, but I do think that the two are linked somehow, and putting all of my effort into these two things has given me a pretty wonderful, if a bit broke, life.
Where do you see Feedback_TS going in the future?
Honestly, what I put into is all I can put into it. I couldn't do a longform tv-like show, what I do only works in this format, and this is all the time I can devote to it. I appreciate that TWS is compiling my clips and putting them together, because I like the mixtape idea, but this thing just is what it is. It's a way for me to satirically reflect on how I feel about skateboarding each day, and that is enough. This is a way for me to collect my thoughts, get them out there, see what works, and ultimately keep it moving. The English novelist Julian Barnes once said that fiction is "the best way of telling the truth; it's a process of producing grand, beautiful, well-ordered lies that tell more truth than any assemblage of facts." Not to sound too high-falutin, but that's kind of what I'm doing with this feed. The critiques aren't serious, and should not be seen as such, but the devotion to skateboarding, both mine and the skater who I am critiquing, is vital, authentic, and very serious. I'm currently working on a couple writing projects, one directly related to my Instagram feed, the other a more literary account of skateboarding, and if anything this account is good for both staying in touch with the culture and for sharing ideas with a lot of people. My career as an academic and a curator in a museum are totally separate from this, and will go in a different direction, but this, like skateboarding itself for me, is a labor of love. A hateful, ridiculous, and easily-misunderstood labor of love. I wouldn't have it any other way.