The lifelong love affair Ian MacKaye has with skateboarding

CATEGORIES: SkateboardingIan MacKaye
PUBLISHED: April 06, 2023

Skateboarding and punk have always gone hand in hand. However, to deem the former as simply a sport and the latter as just a music genre does them a great disservice. They are overlapping ways of life that promote community, fulfilment and a non-conformist attitude that looks at the world differently from what is taught in schools. One man that's had a significant impact on the worlds of both skating and punk Ian MacKaye, founder of both Minor Threat and Fugazi and the head honcho of the world's ultimate independent label, Dischord Records. The man has had a lifelong love affair with both art forms, which continues to this day, even at 60 years old.

The de facto godfather of the hardcore scene, MacKaye's reputation precedes him. Since he broke through at the dawn of the 1980s, he's continued to make a positive mark on the world of culture with his bands, record label and the overall outlook that he promotes. His position as one of the founders of the straight edge movement demonstrates how ethics and music have always been inseparable for the Washington, D.C. native.

MacKaye's adoption of such a definitive perspective is nothing new. The artist's determination to stand for something started in his childhood. Raised by radical parents, who exposed him to countercultural thought from the get-go, MacKaye was receptive to the need for progressive thought and political action. This was compounded by the fact that he grew up in a city that he's described as a weird cultural void in the 1960s and 1970s, providing him with the time and space to form his own opinions and cultivate his own sense of self.

This was a Washington, D.C. that juxtaposed the symbolic and whitewashed home of American politics with a mainly Black population that had suffered at the hands of the establishment for years. These two opposing cultures of D.C. created a strange atmosphere and one that left white kids feeling kind of invisible. Nobody should have felt sorry for them, though, as MacKaye told Loud and Quiet, but rather it was up to them to find their own culture, which came via skateboarding and punk.

Looking back on how and when he got into skating and punk, MacKaye said: I started skating about 1975/76, and though I had met Henry Garfield, who became Henry Rollins earlier on – I met him when I was 11 – we really bonded over skateboarding. We had this gang of kids, and we decided to form a team, so we just formed our own skateboard team even though we had no sponsor – it was like a street gang for us. It was a tribe thing.

He continued: I think I deeply desired a tribe, and the skateboarding thing gave me really good practice on how to define the world around you… [then] what I got from punk was this sense of… a call for self-definition. That you can make your life what you want it to be, that you didn't need somebody else's approval and maybe even that you needed somebody's disapproval.

Whilst MacKaye's comments on the communal spirit of skateboarding are always fascinating, in 2013, when speaking at the Library of Congress, he provided his most lucid account of it. He opined: Skateboarding is not a hobby. And it's not a sport. Skateboarding is a way of learning how to redefine the world around you. It's a way of getting out of the house, connecting with other people, and looking at the world through different sets of eyes.