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Six Creativity Lessons From the Legendary Bones Brigade Skateboarders

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Though now recognized as skateboarding legends, back in the 1980s, Tony Hawk, Rodney Mullen, Mike McGill, Steve Caballero, Lance Mountain, and Tommy Guerrero started out as misfits who loved to skate more than anything else. As members of the Bones Brigade skating team, they let creativity and passion fuel their work, which led to the invention of new tricks and a new way of thinking about the skateboarding world. 

Recently, Stacy Peralta, a legendary skater of the 1970s now working as a filmmaker, produced a documentary film about the Bones Brigade, the legendary Powell Peralta skateboarding team that produced some of the biggest innovators in skateboarding history.

In watching the "The Bones Brigade: An Autobiography" documentary, I was as intrigued and entertained by their stories, passion, and creativity as I was back in the 1980s.

So, how do a bunch of skaters from the 1980s tie into today's marketing?

The creativity, passion, and fun that the young guys showed in their work back then still shine in what they do today. The creativity present in their lives today can be found in their creative past.  (Tommy Guerrero makes music; Tony Hawk regularly participates in demos and exhibitions around the world and hosts a weekly radio program; Rodney Mullen skates, gives TED talks about creativity and skating, and heads up the Almost Skateboarding company. Lance Mountain skates professionally still and also creates art. Steve Caballero still skates professionally and is a musician and artist. )

Here are a few lessons about creativity gleaned from watching the documentary.

1. Do what you love... and don't let the critics get you down.

Today, Tony Hawk is a legend in skateboarding. He is known for his signature technical style of skating, and even people who don't know about skating know Tony Hawk is a skater. He regularly participates in demos and exhibitions around the world and hosts Demolition Radio, a weekly radio program. He is beloved by skaters old and new.

In the 1980s, however, Hawk was routinely vilified by other skaters outside of the Bones Brigade.  As he continued winning more and more competitions, the hardcore skate crowd hated him. They called him names and ridiculed him. He was spat on regularly.

Despite the turmoil, he kept skating and doing it the way he loved best. At some point, he suffered burnout from the stress, but fellow Brigade skater Rodney Mullen helped him work through this difficult time and find his joy.

The lesson here is to do what you love and, when it stops being something you love, pause and see why the love has faded. What needs to be fixed? Cast in a new light?

2. Highlight your strengths.

Though now recognized as a skateboarding great, Lance Mountain was insecure about his role in the Bones Brigade. In the documentary, he mentions often that he was less naturally talented than the other members.

Instead of trying to be like the other guys, Lance seized opportunities that showcased his personality.

For example, when the Bones Brigade made ads, they did it differently than the usual "skater-holding-a-board" shot. The strange, nonsensical ads promoted an attitude more than a product, which meant some of the ad elements were a bit... weird. Lance, always feeling more of a misfit than the other skaters, stepped up when Caballero didn't want to do a certain ad.

"They asked Cab, 'Could you hold this dead dog for an ad?' He said, 'Aw, I don’t want to do it.' I said, 'I'll do it!' I was Mikey that got all the cool stuff that they thought was lame," Lance said.

Then, as today, skaters mention that he brought an everyman appeal to skateboarding. Kids would watch Tony Hawk and shake their heads at the impossibility of achieving greatness, but they'd see Lance Mountain's moves and think, "Hey, I can learn to do that." He inspired others by being who he is.

3. Respect your craft.

As the inventor of the Caballerial and other skateboarding tricks, Steve Caballero continues to skate professionally and also is an artist.

In the documentary, Caballero shares an insightful story about losing focus on what he enjoyed doing. He mentions Peralta pulling him aside at a competition and talking to him like a father would.

"It was the first time that I've ever had someone so serious and say, 'What's wrong with you? Don't you care about skateboarding?' I think I almost started crying," Caballero said.

Even though he lost his focus, he was able to remember why he loved skating and once again immerse himself in the joy of skating.

4. Ask yourself what you can do to contribute to your creative field.

Mike McGill, inventor of the McTwist aerial trick, now actively competes in Masters Competitions and designs Air-Speed shoes and skate products.

In the documentary, McGill shares that, as part of the Bones Brigade, he was very aware of the constant outstanding work of the members, so he consciously started taking inventory of what he could contribute to the world of skateboarding. He didn't just do it for fun... he wanted to create something influential.

So, he worked on a trick for a while then unleashed the McTwist (Mullen named the trick after seeing it). The trick is now routinely used in skateboarding.

5. Explore new facts in your creativity.

An influential member of the Bones Brigade, Tommy Guerrero always loved music. So, when his skateboarding career drew to a close, he embraced the musical side of himself.

"I‘ve been playing music since I was about 12 ... skateboarding since I was 9. You are what you are, and you are always that," said Guerrero.

Unafraid to branch out into new forms of creativity, Tommy Guerrero has built up an impressive list of recordings and receives raving reviews in Rolling Stone magazine.

6. Put in the hard work.

Rodney Mullen is known as the godfather of street skating. During the 11 years that he was a freestyle skater, he won every contest he entered except one (thirty-five out of thirty-six).  Later, as freestyle skating died out, he turned his attention to street skating and invented tricks that are staples of modern street skating. For example, he invented the flatground ollie, which transformed street skating, as well as the kickflip, the heelflip... and this list could go on.

How do you get to be this good? One reason is the constant practicing. Every night, he practices for two hours. No matter what. The habit of constant practice began when he was a child and now, he continues it. As he said in a Huck Magazine interview when asked about his two hours:
It’s not because I’m so structured that I have to be this way or that way, or that I’ve got to be better. That’s a huge part of it but the whole time thing, it’s more representative of ‘don’t be weak’. That’s how I look at it. It may be overstated but that’s a lot of who I am and what I expect from myself. Like, on a rainy day, or when you feel tired or a little bit sick, the guys I respect are the ones who go out and do it anyway. Not because I think I will get better – it’s just a commitment to what’s made me. Skateboarding helped me discover who I was and become who I always wanted to be. Just free. The time stuff is just a commitment to that.

Of the six legendary skateboarders, Mullen is the undisputedly most eloquent one. His thoughts about creativity were recently captured in a TEDx talk called, "How Context Shapes Content."If you have time, check it out below.

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Veronica Maria Jarski is the Opinions editor and a senior writer at MarketingProfs.

Twitter: @Veronica_Jarski

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  • by Simon Maselli Wed Jul 24, 2013 via blog

    Hey Veronica,

    Loved this article, it brought the memories flooding back of those skating movies that I used to watch so many times that the VHS tape would wear out!

    I agree with the way you have presented the personal brands and I like the way you have shared what they are doing now - thankyou


  • by Veronica Maria Jarski Wed Jul 24, 2013 via blog


    Awesome. Glad you enjoyed the article!

    I definitely watched The Search for Animal Chin, Future Primitive, etc. entirely too many times with skating friends... You should check out the documentary. It's done so well... It feels like you're hanging out with old friends.


  • by Matt Weaver Sat Jul 27, 2013 via blog

    This article brought back so many memories. Those guys were my heroes! I watched Search for Animal Chin over and over and over...kind of afraid to find out if I would still think it's good!

  • by Veronica Maria Jarski Sun Jul 28, 2013 via blog


    Hooray for skateboarding memories!

    The Search for Animal Chin is hilarious and, oh, so, terribly, terribly cheesy. At the time, the video was fun and amazing, but I haven't gone back to see it either. I'm afraid it'll be cringe-worthy, too. LOL

    Thanks for taking the time to comment! :)

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