In an attempt to stave off the Covid blues last year, I made a number of small personal-item upgrades (a few of which I’ve already written about in these pages), but none have been quite as satisfying as this fresh set of wheels for my skateboard. I ride a few times a week, usually for the consistently pleasant half-mile trip to the post office, but sometimes for the explicit purpose of grinding a curb, sliding a nose or simply manualing for as long as my internal balance allows.1 These Krooked Zip Zingers, in the 58 mm orange urethane model, provide the perfect balance of speed and control, and I’d like to tell you a little more about them.
First, though, let me explain my approach to skate gear: it’s purely aesthetic-driven. For the majority of my life, I picked out my skateboards, wheels, stickers, sneakers, ephemera and so on based on the simple metric of how cool they looked. I can recall a formative pre-teen trip to a skate shop with my mom, who offered to buy me a sticker of my choosing; after much deliberation I went with a classic Santa Cruz Slime Balls logo. I appreciated that design so dearly that the idea of sticking it in one permanent place was an unreasonably heavy decision. At the height of my teenaged skate activity, I mostly bought blank Powell decks due to their unbeatably cheap price, though the idea of their secondary use as a blank canvas for my stickers and spray-paint was always in the back of my mind. As an adult, I’m still mostly this way - when I got a new board a couple of years ago, I went with this Palace Hatman deck mostly because the guy at the shop pointed out to me that its paint changes colors when exposed to the sun, a gimmick too good to leave on the shelf. Did I inquire about its shape, width, weight and flexibility? No! Just gimme the cool thing. Come to think of it, this is more or less how I approach all of my life decisions.
With nothing but time over the last twelve months, however, I decided to step up my game and buy some wheels that didn’t merely look cool, I wanted the set that would work best for me, too. I learned that the hardness of the wheel makes a difference: softer wheels are better for rolling over rough terrain and gravel, but their smooth road grip can impede the success of flip tricks. As I’ve only ever made it as far as kickflips and heelflips, I’m okay with that. And while I admire those uber-tiny ‘90s-style flatland wheels, I knew that for the sake of not eating the pavement (or at least not eating it too often - I can show you the scars on my knees from last year if you want proof) I needed to go on the softer side, and for the sake of maintaining some speed, I needed to go larger in size. But not too soft, and not too large. With style in mind, I wanted to avoid the standard skim-milk-colored urethane in favor of something bright and hideous, true to the Slime Balls that captured my youthful heart. It was honestly pretty tough to find something that checked all of those boxes! The vast majority of softer wheels came in that generic plain color (which quickly turns a disgusting dirty brown in my experience), or they only came in massive, “cruiser” board sizes, which goes against my skate philosophy completely.2 One pair I saw early in my search fit my needs, the wheel itself a handsome minty green, at least until I noticed that it was embellished with a hailstorm of pot leaves on the side, which I cannot under any circumstance attempt to rep for fear of immediate banishment to Poseurtown.
It was a week or so into my search that I came upon the Krooked Zip Zinger wheels, a find that miraculously checked off all my requirements. Not the coolest design or name,3 I’ll admit, but with the way I ride the print on the side won’t last super long anyway, and the orange is perfect. I found them at SkateWarehouse.com, and being the smart shopper that I am, noticed that I had just missed a “20% off the entire site” sale. I wanted to keep that twenty percent in my pocket, so I followed them on Instagram, eager for the next sitewide sale. Much to my chagrin, it took like two months for them to do it again, and by this point, the Zip Zingers had sold out! So I did the only reasonable thing and immediately ordered them at full price from a different online skateshop (Cleveland’s Tristar Skateboards) and picked up a fresh pair of Bones Original Swiss Bearings from Skate Warehouse using the discount, the fancier (but not fanciest) version that I had never before ridden. The bearings themselves probably deserve their own post - they’re equally if not more responsible for the speed I’m getting - but my struggle was in finding the right wheels, and I couldn’t be happier with these. I truly glide over the mottled and uncared-for Philadelphia streets, noticeably longer and faster than what I was getting from my previous set (Spitfire 80HD Charger Classics), whose soft urethane shredded up quickly, even embedded with gravel toward the end of their brief life. Meet you at the Grays Ferry skatepark at like 9:00 AM one of these Sundays before the real skaters show up?
The South Philadelphia IKEA’s parking lot was a godsend for this sort of activity last summer. My pal Joe discovered a waxed curb behind it, and we’d skate for a few hours after work, listening to the Revelation Records In-Flight Program sampler CD on a small bluetooth speaker to help ensure the highest of ollies. The only thing missing was the ability to walk inside after a hot sesh and grab a $1 IKEA froyo cone, but that’s the pandemic for ya.
I realize skateboarding pretty much started as a hippie fascination, but to me it will forever be grounded in anti-authority (sub)urban youth expression, bridging punk and hip-hop cultures in the spirit of personal creativity and reclaiming the paved landscape not solely as a place to serve capitalism but as a playground of the body and mind. A definition which does not include tech bros riding a motorized longboard in Birkenstocks.
Are skate designs generally getting less cool and kind of babyish these days, or am I actually the nearly-forty-year-old guy that I am? When I look online, most of these companies are offering pretty sanitized designs, the Zumiez-ification of skate culture if you will, but maybe it’s always kinda been that way, or maybe they really do have to dumb things down to be sold at corporate chains in 2021. I can’t help but think about the first time in sixth grade when I saw an older kid wearing a t-shirt that said FUCT on it, and hope today’s sixth graders get to experience a similar transgressive exaltation from their skate gear.