THE SLAPPY KIDS

Meet local skating’s renaissance posse

Text by Travis Hancock & Tomoki Kobayashi||  Images by Lila Lee

“Life imitates art, art imitates life, fucking go skate a curb, man.” – Jeff Grosso

“What’s goin’ on with your front slappies?” asks an incredulous voice from behind the camera. In the green-tinted night-vision shot, a skater named Steven rams his skateboard into a curb in a dark alley off Hotel Street and tumbles to the ground. Then another figure, Kelly, skates into the frame and crashes into the curb, gracefully popping up onto it and grinding his axles along its edge. Steven, still on his ass, looks on as late bus riders and street walkers pass by, unaware that the scene unfolding is in fact an ontological crisis. Kelly, Steven, and the voice behind the camera, Tomoki, are Slappy Kids. If one of them fails at their namesake trick—the divine “slappy”—the group’s identity is put in question—not to slappy, is not to be.

THE SLAPPY KIDS ORIGIN STORY, AS TOLD BY TOMOKI: “Although my group of skate friends has changed over the years, our desire to go explore the city and expand our session to outside the skate park has always remained the same. Supposedly, there are more things to skate in other states, but in Hawai‘i, most of everything is too crusty for a nice session. Painted curbs, however, aren’t that hard to find. My friends and I grew up skating a lot of curbs because that was always the one thing we could all skate without worrying too much about getting in trouble or not being good enough to skate it. As we got older, we made some older friends so our option for skate spots expanded, and drinking beer on the sesh became an option too, but ultimately our goal has stayed the same. We want to skate something new and interesting, something we can’t skate at a park.”

Eighties pro John Lucero invented the slappy in the parking lot outside the Slam City skatepark, after getting banned from skating inside with everyone else. So what is it? As defined by an early innovator, Danny Sargent, the slappy “is just crashing into a curb, going through it, and grinding, and it doesn’t really make sense.” The trick is foundational to skating, and the curb itself is a building block for all skaters, according to legendary pro Jeff Grosso in his Love Letters webisode dedicated to curbs, from which his and Sargent’s quotes derive. Before the flatground ollie that popped boards off the ground was popularized, the physics-defying slappy was the ticket to the top. 

TOMOKI ON WHAT HAPPENS WHEN SLAPPY KIDS LEAVE CURBS: “Sometime last year, we tried to film something in the neighborhood of Makiki and decided it was a good idea to skate someone’s car parked in front of their house. Troy was the most hungry for footage and down to shred the ‘spot.’ His first attempt at an ollie onto the hood made the alarm go off, and his next few tries left a noticeable indent. It was time to dip, so we all split and ended up at a nearby Safeway.”

In Tomoki’s film, Dumb Youth Skate Party, which debuted in last year’s HI Sk8 Films showcase, Steven gets his slappies back and life goes on, albeit at a strange place in skating’s broader mise-en-scène. In 2016, a year in which skateboarding—a “sport” nominated for the next Olympics—is dominated by corporate footwear and energy drink companies, a band of Dickies-wearing, late-teen local dudes have contented themselves with a grounded approach to skating that was obsolete before they were even born. But they’re not alone. As they rollick through the streets between Makiki and ‘Aala Park, bucking progressive trends along the way, the Slappy Kids tap into a wellspring of nostalgia usually reserved for skating’s retirees. But for them, skateboarding’s joyous childhood is still within reach.