Rodney Mullen And Daewon Song Made A Video That Changed Skateboarding Forever

January 16, 2018 - skateboarding

Illustration by Sam Woolley/Photos by Seu Trinh

The opening pretension credits for “Rodney Mullen Vs. Daewon Song” fly onto a shade like content in a calming PowerPoint presentation. The design is grainy, as roughly all VHS tapes were, and cuts rebound into any other instead of shifting with contemporary digital smoothness. The black credentials and white lettering is purify and simple; all is raw, clearly as many by prerequisite as by choice. No one concerned was perplexing to win an Oscar.

When a pretension finally hits, it arrives with a bell signaling a start of a initial round. It’s Song who opens a video and not Mullen, a some-more obvious skater during a time. The sound of samurai-movie swordplay evokes early Wu-Tang albums, and afterwards Song cruises into a design and pops a vast 360 kickflip over a mud patch during lightning speed.


“I was blown away,” Tony Hawk says about a initial time he saw a video. “I was blown divided that anyone could kind of gleam successive to Rodney.”

I ask him what that means.

“Because Rodney was such an conundrum and his tricks are so on-going and difficult, it usually seemed like no one could even hold him behind then,” Hawk says. “To see someone step adult and do and—I don’t wish to contend a same ability set, yet a identical ability set—use it in a totally opposite way, was unequivocally exciting.”

We get 3 mins of this. Three mins of Song blustering by schoolyards in Southern California with an corner and character so healthy and quick it creates magnificently formidable moves demeanour unchallenging. He progresses, joining tricks and origination lines. It is startling given of how easy it all looks.

And afterwards there’s another bell, and Mullen’s partial begins. He’s not utterly as seemly or as quick as Song, yet what he does is distant brazen of a time. It will seem new even if we don’t know a chronological context in that he was origination these moves. More impressively, it will demeanour new even if we do. Mullen takes what he polished on a flatland of freestyle and moves it to a some-more open area of street. He takes on boxes, tables, and ledges. His law flip tricks and ability to mix old-school tricks with a new universe of travel skating feels fresh, even and maybe generally due to a surrounding 1998 anti-aesthetics. A era of skaters who knew Mullen mostly as myth—he skated alone, and notwithstanding tools and even moments of astonishment in other videos, he had been occasionally seen given a finish of a initial World video, “Rubbish Heap,” 10 years earlier—were unexpected means to see and know usually how good a skater behind a fable was.

The second half of Mullen’s partial is filmed with The Doors “People Are Strange” personification in a background. He works his sorcery in public, in front of people and crowds, consistent in during initial and afterwards stepping out. People travel by and omit him as Jim Morrison sings “people are bizarre when you’re a stranger/faces demeanour nauseous when you’re alone.” At one point, a criticism unfolds in a credentials as Mullen works his flatland routine, display off his technical ability and shutting out a world’s distractions.


“I knew it would open his skating adult to a new assembly and a new appreciation,” Hawk says. “Because all of this flatland things before that, not that it was unnoticed, it was misunderstood or it was some-more incomprehensible. When he blending that things to travel that’s when people unequivocally took notice given that’s what they identified with, that’s what they understood.”

What Mullen was doing in his years divided from a throng was so distant out there it didn’t compute. He didn’t pierce play or sell rigging given he wasn’t travel enough. He wasn’t Andrew Reynolds popping ollies down outrageous sets of stairs or Hawk ripping adult vert or Danny Way drifting as high as anyone had ever dreamed. “It was some-more like, ‘Whatever he’s doing over there is crazy, yet it’s not what we’re doing,’” Hawk says. “Then he took that to a travel and it was like, ‘Oh shit, demeanour during him. He’s approach over anything we have ever imagined.’”

It’s formidable to exaggerate how many this video meant for both Song and Mullen. Friends argued over who won and who lost. The conflict was a contrariety in styles between identical yet opposite skaters, yet it was also a approach for younger skaters to see themselves in these dual virtuosos.


If we favourite speed and balance, we suspicion Song won and wanted to be him in any skateboarding video game. (He wasn’t in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater until Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland, a seventh diversion in a series, was expelled in 2005.) If we desired Mullen’s ability to flip and controls a board, afterwards we picked him so we could do casper, primo, and darkslide grinds, tricks Mullen invented and perfected, and that still boggle a mind. “Rodney Mullen Vs. Daewon Song” altered dual careers, and it altered a sport.

It roughly didn’t happen.

In 1997, Song had drifted divided from skateboarding. The foe had taken him from a disorderly home life and gang-banging in a severe partial of Los Angeles, yet gave adult on it and altered into an unit in Huntington Beach with a girlfriend, who was concerned with a Bloods. He stopped skateboarding for a year, and deliberate quitting.


Mullen, skateboarding’s theorist and premier innovator, was struggling with vast questions as well. He didn’t know where he fit into a landscape. He was struggling to figure out his mutation into a “street skater.” There was some-more income in a foe than when Mullen started, interjection to a X Games and a flourishing seductiveness in a sport. But Mullen was an alien to both, and World Industries, a transformation association he helped start in 1989, was on a margin of failure and losing a sponsored skateboarders in bunches.

“I did have a tough time with a exodus during World,” Mullen told me in an email. “Not usually did it bluster to put us out of business, it was many some-more than business. Bankruptcy lingered like an eventuality, yet a ramifications of it all… reached to my unequivocally temperament by what I’d built as a skater, that is some-more vicious and permanent than any business could or would ever be. Many [of a skaters that left] were friends, and it’s a tiny village that, of course, we treasure. So it all stung.”

One night, during one of a ritualistic late night transformation sessions for that Mullen had spin known, he told Song he’d know if he left for a new label. Mullen knew staying on World was a scapegoat as skaters began starting their possess brands. The dual had met 7 years before on a streets of Los Angeles, and Mullen gave Song his initial sponsorship deal. At a time, Mullen was a fable and Song was a teen from Gardena. Their possibility assembly altered Song’s life, and he wasn’t going to spin his behind on that. “Well,” Mullen remembered Song revelation him, “I theory it’s usually us, then.”


“That kind of steadfast faithfulness in a face of genuine consequence…has stranded with me ever since,” Mullen told me on a phone. “[It] fake a bond into an altogether unbreakable one, no matter what happens or how many time goes by.”

Song called a crony and started filming right divided for a successive World video, “Trilogy.” World was stepping behind from a margin and towards a renaissance, interjection in vast partial to a origination of dual animation characters, Wet Willy and Flameboy. The company’s play and sell became present successes. At a same time, Mullen and Song began brainstorming a transformation video some-more desirous than any they’d finished before. They started joking about a video where they “competed” with any other. Then they stopped joking and began filming.

Rodney Mullen things. (Photo by Seu Trinh)

Mullen started skateboarding when he was 10 years old. It was 1977 and he was vital in Gainesville, Florida. He’d seen his sister’s surfer friends production around on some play and motionless to try it. After origination a understanding with his father that he’d quit when he started high propagandize or after his initial vicious injury, Mullen got on his initial board. He became obsessed.


Many skaters have identical stories, yet Mullen happened to be a genius. He finished fifth in a freestyle foe during a 1978 U.S. Open Championship in Jacksonville, Florida and got his initial sponsorship. When his family altered to farming Florida, Mullen dedicated some-more time to perfecting his flat-ground technique on a concrete building of a family barn.

When he was 14, Mullen won his initial veteran competition, defeating Steve Rocco, who was deliberate a best flatland skater during a time. He assimilated Powell Peralta’s famed Bones Brigade, a now famous transformation group that enclosed a best and many successful skaters of all time: Tony Hawk, Mike Vallely, Steve Caballero, Andy Macdonald, Bucky Lasek, Brandon Novak, Danny Way, and Chris Senn. Through a 1980’s, Mullen determined himself as skateboarding’s premier pretence creator. He entered 35 competitions during that duration and won 34.

By 1989, skateboarding began to change divided from vert and freestyle competitions and towards travel skating, where skaters used bland obstacles as a rising indicate for new tricks and grinds. Mullen, ever a perfectionist, struggled to adapt. As World pushed this new call of skating, Mullen found it tough to fit in with a rest of a crew. Instead, he threw himself into a new purpose during World as The Responsible One, origination play and carting group members around, formulating new residence designs and dimensions, operative to enhance a shape, distance and continuance of boards. Mullen also began patenting his work on all tools of skateboards, including a trucks.


By night, Mullen skated around Los Angeles by himself. “I came from freestyle and they late my board,” Mullen says. “And, trust me, we was all for that. we had given up. we did not wish to be marketed as something that we am not, ever. we remember during that stage, Okay, well, I’m done. we would usually go skating around, perplexing to travel transformation a tiny bit for fun, like, Hey, it’s fun. It was a new experience. It wasn’t like ambition.” It was on one of those transformation odysseys, in 1990, that Mullen came opposite a immature Korean-American child skating in front of Adams Middle School in a southern partial of Los Angeles.

Mullen had seen a child once before, outward a church on Rosecrans Avenue that Mullen attended; on that day, a priest told Mullen that a hookers down a retard were still operative from a night before. When Mullen saw him that day, Song was pulling off a launch ramp.

Daewon Song doing Daewon Song things, in 2005. (Photo by Seu Trinh)

Song had seen Mullen, too. “I use to go to this church nearby my residence off of Crenshaw Boulevard. we would go there to transformation this launch ramp,” Song says. “And we remember one day saying Rodney come out of this church, given somehow he went to that church. He came adult to me and was like, ‘Hey, that’s flattering good.’ we unequivocally didn’t know who it was.”


Mullen skated alone on a tennis courts during a Adams Middle School, and Song would see him there when he and his friends would strike adult a glow hydrant in front of a school. They’d do tricks over it, contrast how high they could cocktail their play off a ground. One night, Mullen remembers saying Song do a backside 180 over a hydrant. “You could see him kicking opposite a parking lot, usually doing a integrate ollies, that is severely all it took,” Mullen says. “That’s how clever his present shined.”

At a time, Song’s home life was formidable and a severe streets of Los Angeles hold a dim allure. Song’s family didn’t wish him to skateboard, yet Mullen did. He offering Song a mark on World’s pledge group and started giving him giveaway rigging and decks. World was in a center of reinventing a skateboard industry, and Rocco, who’d founded a association and sole Mullen on investing in it, was going after a determined heads in a businesses. Mullen found himself personification a adult in a room by default, operative to rein in costs and bringing skaters H2O or food or new setups while a rest of a group drank and partied between transformation sessions. And then, while a celebration raged in hotels, Mullen would squeeze his residence and sensitively censor out into a dark to skate. Often, Song would follow.

“We’d go out in a parking lot and skate,” Song says. “I’d watch him do things and we would try things together and feed of any other, yet me some-more of feeding off of him, and exchanging stories too. Basically, articulate about how we grew up. Once we start joining with people, we share a lot of interests and things like that. It became this thing where we finished adult carrying this bond and became like brothers.”


Mullen was already a legend, yet he was perplexing to find himself. He’d always been different, yet now he was 30, and a master of a character that a universe had clearly left behind. Skateboarding by a inlet is a immature person’s sport; skaters contest and pull one another while jabbing any other any with insults during any turn, afterwards leave it behind for 9-to-5 jobs once a merrymaking and a falls spin too much. In a foe built on pulling boundaries, Mullen wasn’t pulling anymore. He’d invented all a tricks his peers were doing, yet he didn’t do them a same way. In Song, Mullen found both a playmate and an inspiration. Mullen took Song on as a protege, and Song passively started training Mullen—who was afterwards still releasing tools in videos and deliberate one of a best skaters alive—a new character of skating.

Rodney Mullen in 2004 doing something that seems utterly dangerous. (Photo by Seu Trinh)

“As we am training this stuff, [I kept] quiet, usually keep your mouth shut, and learn basics,” Mullen says. “I am doing my possess thing, of march we have my possess character or whatever. I’m throwing on, yet trust me, we am low. we am a pledge again. Daewon was an adult and entrance amateur, [and] in a approach we felt that approach too. You need someone adult here to sound things out, we got this; we got that, to inspire and afterwards to feel that encouragement.”


Mullen repaid Song by holding him underneath his wing. “He stood adult for me and did all this stuff,” Song said. “Man, when we got on a group and started removing things there were a lot of people in a industry, and within a same association we was presumably roving for, that didn’t unequivocally wish me on a team. But Rodney stood there and put a wall around me and said, ‘No one is touching him. we wish him to be detached of this and whoever doesn’t, we can usually walk, and we can’t hold him.’ That’s what we believe.”

“I consider there was a lot to be pronounced for removing Rodney’s curtsy of approval,” Hawk says. “From a hardcore side of it, yeah, he contingency be super good if Rodney thinks he’s good. we remember Rodney articulate about him, too. ‘I skated with this child Daewon, he does all this.’ we was like, ‘Gnarly.’”

Competition has always been a partial of it, yet skateboarding was built on a thought of freedom—the leisure to slice by streets as quick as possible, a leisure to bound fences and fragment dull pools. The income came once competitions were introduced, yet competitions weren’t how riders got rich. The approach to make income was by residence sales, that correlated with how cold their play looked and how good their tools in videos and repository print shoots were. There was no Instagram, YouTube, or Snapchat during that time. There was no genuine particular code by behind channels. Skaters got beheld for their ability, celebrity and persona.


To be cold is to be in balance with a trends in skateboarding. Tricks go in and out of conform and character is subjective, yet there’s a certain upsurge and transformation that sticks as trends shift. The usually approach to stay on tip of what was prohibited was to film mostly and be prepared for when your sponsors wanted to recover a new tape, that would hopefully pull sales and pierce a attention forward. Among his peers, Song was famous for his mania with filming and skating. The formula helped build his reputation. “He was always ahead, footage-wise,” Mullen says.

One of a people who would film Song was Socrates Leal, a associate Los Angeles native. The span were ostensible to contest one day on a ramp during a church that Mullen attended. Instead, they became friends; their career paths diverged yet ever utterly dividing. Socrates got his initial camera in 1990 and began filming during any giveaway moment, recording over aged fasten if he had to. Through Song, he got concerned with a World organisation and Mullen hired him to be a team’s cinematographer. Mullen began filming with him, guileless him with a tiny amounts of footage he was fine with releasing.

While Mullen navigated this transition, a mood during World started to fray. Riders started competing with one another and distrusting Rocco. “Guys would censor their footage given this man competence be satirical my pretence or satirical my mark or one upping in my spot.” Mullen says. “That had never had happened [before]. That’s not a mentality, yet it creeps in given it’s tellurian nature. We were put together that way.”


Skaters during World, and privately World’s Plan B sub-team, began stealing footage from any other. The sourroundings was toxic, and riders left to start their possess projects; Mike Carroll and Rick Howard started Girl, a many notable. Mullen and Song, instead, found themselves job one another about tricks they were operative on or landing.

“We had that singular bond of job and braggadocio and giving any other a tough time. He’d call me like, ‘I’m on this,’ or ‘I got it,’ or ‘I’m usually on it.’ I’d do a same, like, ‘Fuck, we attempted all day and we can’t make it.’ We support any other,” Mullen says. “And for me entrance from freestyle into that other world, we indispensable a crony in that way—where we can usually lay it all out. Very transparent, usually a genuine friend, and Daewon was always that.”

Daewon Song in 2004, doing what is overtly some flattering cool-looking shit. (Photo by Seu Trinh)

As World splintered, Mullen and Song satisfied that a footage they worked on was special and were psyched about it. They brainstormed and came adult with a foe between dual friends. They didn’t wish some lovey-dovey video about their indebtedness for one another. No one would have bought that. “It’s not a group sport,” Mullen says. “The teams are usually constructs to sell stuff, Your friends are who your friends are and it doesn’t matter who they transformation for. That should be what it is. That, to me, was a genuine pristine matter of what a relations are, what skating is, who we are. If we had eyes to see, we would have seen that bond, [which was] some-more than me and Plan B and maybe him some-more than World, nonetheless that was tight, that unequivocally was a team. It usually finished a many clarity to me… to not have anyone yet us.”


The thought of a foe between a span finished sense, it authorised them to uncover off new tricks and emanate a certain form of hype. It gave them a leisure to try their possess loyalty and try to uncover a other what they’d been operative on in a new way. They asked other skaters if they had fasten they wanted to contribute. Not a prevalent three-minute part, yet something short, like a teaser. Skaters bought in.

After a recover of “Rodney Mullen Vs. Daewon Song,” World Industries founders sole 70 percent of a seductiveness in a association to Kubic Marketing for $29 million. The association has been sole a few times since, including a full sale to Globe International for $46 million in 2002. Song started his possess wardrobe company, Matix, and mixed residence companies, initial Deca and afterwards Artifact. He reunited with Mullen to assistance start Almost in 2003. Mullen had spent a years between a sale of World and a start of Almost starting his possess residence company, Enjoi, and formulating Tensor trucks. The span expelled dual some-more “Rodney Mullen Vs. Daewon Song” videos.


Song was named Thrasher’s Skater of a Year in 2006; Mullen mostly kept to himself. He put his tools out, yet those hours of use and a successive falls took their fee on his body. In 2014, Mullen expelled a first footage of himself skateboarding in 9 years. The span have stayed tighten friends, though, even as their lives have drifted apart. Mullen has spin a sought-after open speaker, has been featured on TED Talks, and was a skateboard substitute for Ben Stiller in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Song still skates each day. “I get adult in a morning and I’m 42. we go to a skatepark and I’m like ‘What up, Kyle? What up, dawg? What’s up, Brian?’ And these [guys], one is 16 and one is 18 and one is unequivocally old—he’s 22. These are guys I’m skating with,” he says. “Everything we am surrounded by now, I’m surrounded by girl in skateboarding and things like that. And it’s one thing there is no tag to it; it’s usually get out there and suffer it. It keeps we immature as well.”

Paul Rodriguez was 12 years aged when he initial saw “Rodney Mullen Vs. Daewon Song,” in 1998, yet a video stranded with him. He’d borrowed it from a crony and watched it each day for a week before carrying to lapse it. He after bought his possess duplicate and kept examination it, memorizing each pierce and copping Song’s character of shiny, white leather shoes. Rodriguez also started scouring transformation shops for Song’s Menace shirt with a span of fighting gloves on it. He wanted to float a blank, timber pellet residence like Song; he wanted a whitest wheels he could find. He wanted to be like a legends he saw on film.


“I grew adult in LA, so examination them transformation all a fiberglass benches in a propagandize yards, like that was things we had entrance to,” Rodriguez says. “That finished me wish to go outward like, ‘Yo, a propagandize down a travel from my residence has those benches. we wish to go be like Daewon. we wish to go be like Rodney.’ Those are a form of obstacles we wanted to skate—putting a tables adult a stairs, down a stairs and usually messing with it.”

Rodriguez became a veteran skateboarder in 2002, 4 years after “Rodney Mullen Vs. Daewon Song” came out. He spent a years between skating each day, descending in adore with a sport. In 2011, he was named one of a 30 Most Influential Skateboarders by Transworld Skateboarding magazine. He’s skated around a world, including a possibility to grub a railings during Stamford Bridge, yet a aged transformation videos still keep their aged sorcery for him, even as skating has crossed a lines with high fashion, art and music. Nike and Adidas have transformation teams now; skaters expostulate Lamborghinis. There’s still an outlaw enlightenment to it, yet a foe has grown up, to a indicate where it’s tough to suppose a video like “Rodney Mullen vs. Daewon Song”—an inapt video thrown together by dual friends—might never come out again. For all a foe has gained given then, and for all a intensity that video unlocked, times have once again changed.

“People are approach too vicious these days,” Rodriguez says. “They would eat somebody alive for filming like that these days. But behind then, it was usually capturing them in a wild—raw, natural.”


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