Make-out montages, shaving cream bikinis, butt chugs. The reasons we watch Thrasher Magazine’s King of the Road. But now that King of the Road (KOTR) has gone to Viceland TV, things have changed a little. Some weren’t happy, but I am. All the bodacious and salacious stunts you’ve come to love are still a focal point of the show, but now, so are the people performing them.
Now that each weekly episode is 45 minutes on Viceland TV, there’s more of a narrative thread running through the teams’ trips and challenges. There’s more dialogue, there’s more interviews, overall there’s just more talking at the spots, in the van, and even in the sleeping bag. There’s a sharper sense of story, not just for each team, but for each team member. And, if you can sit down for the full 45 minutes once a week (which you really should), you watch your skateboard superheroes become human. You see Jamie Foy defeated by a handrail challenge. You see the Enjoi Team forget to have fun. You see Nora Vasconcellos sit sullenly while attempting to finish a giant cookie and a huge glass of milk. We usually watch these teams and skaters because they seem superhuman, but to see them reach their limits, to see them sometimes suck (like most of us), makes me like them even more, and it makes me even more pumped when seemingly impossible tricks and challenges are checked off in the infamous KOTR book.
And it’s not just the big failures, it’s the little flaws, problems, and peccadillos that are revealed in individuals, stuff you usually never get in a video or interview, that make it so worth it. For instance, Jamie Foy. He really struggles eating food he doesn’t like, like tomatoes, or even lettuce. He’s kind of like the little kid that only wants french fries for dinner. So when he has to eat a bug burrito, which the rest of the Deathwish team actually seems to enjoy, Foy throws up. Another Foy foible, he’s really squeamish about being close to other men. When he accepts the handcuff challenge to be cuffed to a teammate for 24 hours, it’s pretty entertaining. His partner-in-cuffs is Lizard King, and when Lizard has to pee, or has to take a shower, Foy gets really uneasy and nervous. This is the kid that’s currently cheating death on the handrails he’s been skating, and when Lizard threatens to take a numero dos and Jamie loses it, it’s pretty great. After surviving the entire day together in cuffs, and just needing to make it through the night, Jamie’s confronted with the final caveat of the challenge: he has to share a sleeping bag with Lizard. It couldn’t be better. Lizard strips down to his boxers, and Foy, fully clothed, is attempting to maintain as much room as is humanly possible between himself and another person in a sleeping bag, and it’s funny because it’s just not possible. He seems paranoid about the possibility of a middle school boy popping out of the bedroom closet and saying “what are you, gay?!”
What else? Mike Plumb, the Lizard King, Big Biz Liz, The Passion. He’s got a lot of nicknames because he’s wild and takes heavy drops. I always thought he seemed to be kind of a skeezy individual though. But now I know he’s awesome. Yes, he tries to make Jamie Foy as uncomfortable as possible when they’re cuffed together, but it’s Lizard giving Foy crap in the most playful way. And when Foy is really struggling with some massive rail and gap challenges, Lizard is there for him to comfort and console, to motivate, and to congratulate. Lizard’s still got the passion, not just when he’s on the board, but when his teammates are. While Lizard is traditionally known as the wild man, he provides some of the most honest and vulnerable moments in front of a camera. The guy that had almost killed himself with drugs talks about being completely sober now, about having a little girl that he wants to do anything he possibly can to support, (and he knows it can’t be through skateboarding for much longer). When a guy seems to contemplate the eclipse of his career, but is still passionate about it all, you can’t help but like that guy. And so later, when Lizard is selected to complete the make-out-with-someone-that-vapes challenge and he inquiries a cute girl vaping on the sidewalk and she acquiesces and they kiss, you feel kind of warm inside. And then when Lizard exhales a cloud of her vape to complete the challenge, but they still kind of hold hands, and then kiss one more time, you feel even more warm inside and it seems like the best KOTR kiss in history.
Another thing I really like: Michael Burnett’s meta-commentary throughout the whole trip. He’s the architect of KOTR and he knows the teams and the individuals on this trip more than some of them know each other. Even though Burnett has tailored a lot of the challenges to each team’s specific skill-set, sometimes the teams fall short. And sometimes it just seems like the challenge bar is just way too high, literally. Like when the Creature team had to air off a jump and over a bar set at nine feet at the Andy MacDonald ramps. Seeing a frustrated David Gravette unleash a series of profanity ridden rants at the most wholesome place you can be on a skateboard was memorable. And then watching Burnett fret over this was kind of awesome too. It’s like watching a soft-spoken Dr. Frankenstein lament his monster. I love it.
Back to skateboarders I had previously mistook for skeezy dirt bags: Blood Wizard’s Jerry Gurney. I was wrong about this guy and I love this guy too now and that’s why I love the new KOTR. When Enjoi forgets how to have fun, Jerry shows up, gets everyone dressed up like the band Kiss, and suddenly the shredding and fun commence. I never thought I would want a Blood Wizard board until I saw a shirtless and slightly overweight Jerry Gurney motivating Louie Barletta and Ben Raemers to have fun. A skate ad doesn’t have that kind of power over me. An interview doesn’t. Neither does a Push Part, lol. This new way of watching KOTR lets you focus on more than just the challenges, it lets you focus on the skateboarders. And when each individual is going through one of the craziest two weeks of their life, it’s pretty good to watch. A skate show that can get you to care about the individual, not just the sensational stuff they do, might be something that saves your favorite skateboard team down the line. And who knows, as skateboarding becomes increasingly competitive and commodified (2020 Olympic Games baby), maybe this is the kind of storytelling that will help save skateboarding.