Polanyians in Dogtown

Just saw a really cool movie, “Dogtown and Z-boys,” which is the documentary version of “The Lords of Dogtown.” It’s about the little band of boys in the 1970s who basically invented the sport of skateboarding as we know it . Calling it a sport is a bit of a misnomer. It’s competitive, but it’s not ultimately about winning, but about the beauty of human skill—or the skill of creating beauty. For the Z-boys, a skateboard was a way to surf when there weren’t any waves. They had a lot of free time on their hands, and there was a big drought in Southern Cal, so they roamed the neighborhood looking for empty swimming pools to skate in. Concrete waves.

One of the best parts of the DVD is a clip of some of these guys going back to skate at a schoolyard where it all started. One reason I liked this is that they’re all about my age, a bunch of forty-something guys, balding and grey. But they still had the moves; their bodies had them memorized. It’s a great example of the Polanyian concept of indwelling. The really good skateboarder pays attention to the move he’s trying to pull off and almost no attention to the details of how he does it. In his consciousness, the skateboard is part of him—he indwells it. Polanyi (you might remember Michael Polanyi is the subject of my thesis) also proved that freedom and community are critical factors in the process of discovery. This bunch of kids had lots of both. Minimal adult supervision had some bad consequences, too, but these guys shifted the skateboard paradigm. You might say it’s a life wasted on trivia, but I think the skill and physical grace they demonstrate is a work of art. There’s a bit of the image of God here, a bit of truth.


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