(Vibeology is a song by Paula Abdul that was released in 1991; right around the same time that vibing entered skateboarding)
I didn't catch their names, but they knew mine. This was blisteringly clear, as my name was peppering their deadly invectives hurled towards my friends and I. As spot-on as their insults were, I have to admit: I was flattered. Sitting in a cluster on our skateboards, unwittingly engaged in a one-sided game of verbal dodge ball as two older skateboarders hucked blistering insults towards myself and my friends with ominous accuracy, I was both hurt and thrilled that these older guys at least knew who I was. Getting vibed at the skate shop was and is a rite of passage.
This, of course, was 1988. Vibing, not yet named, still had an aggressive, punk rock/80s hardcore anti-authoritarian edge. Imagine Ian Mackaye's voice, letting you know in righteous tones of anger what a new school squeeb you were with your pink wheels and kicktails. There was no subtlety to it, just straightforward, scathing insult.
Within a couple years, an entirely new landscape of vibing would emerge: it a novel language of coded irony to be learned and developed as quickly as technical street skating. As a matter of fact, the two are utterly connected in my mind. Here's why: our local freestyler was a guy named Andres Comacho. Supposedly he invented the pressure flip. While most Texas skaters on the contest circuit rarely went to California, many of us ended up in Arizona comps. In 1990, Andres returned with a confusing tale from the road. After performing his routine in what I can only imagine to be a baking hot Phoenix parking lot, Comacho was approached by none other than Mark Gonzales. "Nice freestyle run, dude," said the legendary father of modern street skating. "Thanks," said the diminishing freestlye champ. The Gonz walked off into infamy and Comacho's friend leaned in and said, "Dude, I think he was vibing you." And like that, our disgraced local freestyler returned with that withering story. And thus vibing spread like wildfire in the tumbleweed prairie of our local skate scene.
It's hard to overstate how important this moment was: not only had our local pro—who had semi-relevant tricks—been insulted by one of the gods of modern skateboarding (and this happened a year before the release of Video Days, mind you) but now all of a sudden it was verboten to sincerely cheer for anything. Seriously: an entire decade passed in which my group of friends didn't once congratulate one another on a trick. It was all vibing.
And, while I'm sure it disseminated amongst skateboarding's elite in contests and places like Embarcadero, Love Park, Copley Square, or the Venice Sand Gaps, local skate shops were the main nodes of negative vibes for the rest of us. Where else but a skate shop could you find that perfectly-calibrated mix of an embittered, saturnine staff of underpaid older skaters behind the counter facing off with annoying groms, clueless parents, and a hardgoods industry that revolved around creating heroes of freakish talent to endorse their useless wooden toys to a homosocial group of insecure children and young adults alike. Before the Internet, the skate shop was our forum, where magazines were pored through with reverent scrutiny, videos were watched and deconstructed, and testosterone-charged triumphs and insecurities dictated the discourse. That discourse was vibing.
Like any sport or subculture (whatever skateboarding is), there was a pecking order determined by skill and age. The skate shop staff was probably at the top of the pecking order. They were usually the oldest, sometimes the most-experienced, if not the best skateboarders. Most importantly, they had the most power, so the things they said hurt the most. The shop clerk mediated between your parents and you, you and your skateboard, and, to some extent, you and your friends. Getting vibed by the shop worker was the worst. One step down, amongst friends, the vibing pecking order was an ascent of age and skill level. Worldly older skaters usually had the best insults, and getting vibed by a younger skater who was better than you was always its own brand of sickening emasculation.
After a while, it was root hog or die: you either learned the ropes, and vibing stopped being insulting and started to be fun, or you quit. Once you understood that these insults were meaningless, and that you could dish out what you were served, the humble pie and steaming shit sandwich reciprocated within your crew became acquired tastes, like the new tricks you were learning.
But of course, like any language, your own group of friends defined the terms and parameters of vibing. Going to another shop, entering another scene was moving blindly into uncharted territory of locally sourced hostilities. Suddenly you found yourself on the outside of inside jokes. Before the dissemination of the lingua franca of 411 videos and a ramped-up production schedule of magazines, entering a new skate scene by way of a skate shop in a new city was a terrifying experience: you could get vibed and not even know it. I've written about this elsewhere, but one summer afternoon in 1992, I got what I thought was a pep talk from Mike York. Only later did I realize that he was actually vibing me.
The reason that I have spent this much time on describing what is, in the face of the Insta-approval modern state of skateboarding, an arcane, lost art (some may say good riddance), is because I still feel it. Now that I am perhaps the age of my parents when they first dropped me off in the lion's den of the skateshop parking lot, I am still filled with a looming apprehension whenever I enter a shop. It's a familiar feeling of sickening discomfort, of insecurity whether or not I look like a poser, or whether the clerk, now 20 years my junior, will even acknowledge me. It's as exhilarating as it is scary, and I can't tell whether it is what I hate most about skateboarding, or the thing that, after all these years, keeps it interesting and fresh.—Ted Barrow