Filming flatground with a clunky camcorder on that infamous sidewalk stroll, the 1990’s got a jumpstart the second Matt Hensley went to the store. The rockstars on their vert ramps with their flashy over-budget films had run their course... skateboarding was leaving the backyard and hitting the streets.
But as visionary as Natas and Gonz were with laying down the initial foundation, they were still products of a larger-than-life marketing mentality used tirelessly prior to pimp the likes of Ken Park and Rob Roskopp on unsuspecting 10-year-olds. Be it Gonz or Gator, there seemed to be no difference within Dorfman’s vision. Just slap a beret on it and call it “psycho”.
It’s actually our friend Ray and his fabulous Rubber Boys that would signal the sea change a few months prior in Public Domain; skateboarding was about to experience a shift toward the familiar. The everyman. Tired of being talked down to, kids were starting to want pros they could relate to. And every skate rat could relate to Hensley.
Truth be told, Shackle Me Not was barely more than a home movie... filled with tons of great street skating. But it gave us all a peek inside Matt's world, one that wasn't all that different from our own. He hated school and ate at McDonalds... he went to camp and even had crappy little ramps in his garage. He was just like us! You wouldn't find him lounging with Warhol and Marilyn in some metropolitan city, our guy was out sessioning a parking lot somewhere, fucking up his shins and slurping a slushee.
He just happened to be really REALLY good at skateboarding. So good that we all sat back and watched him progress to the point of damn near perfection by the time Hokus Pokus would arrive. The kid that had stolen the show in Shackle Me Not had become the show in it’s sequel. One-foot backlips, tre flips galore and that handrail 50-50 grab thing he always did... the age of the McTwist was over. The Kaupas/Gonzales seedling had finally sprouted and was bearing fruit, already forging new paths in a decade that would become synonymous with exploration.
But there was a method to it. What made Hensley's ascension so enjoyable to watch was that we got to see him combining tricks to create new ones right before our very eyes. Simple mathematics. Each month brought new magazines featuring Matt doing something else totally mindblowing... yet completely logical from his last feat. One ad would be a kickflip, the next month's a melanchollie... making the third month's ad pretty obvious in hindsight (he just needed to invent it first). It was all laid out right there in front of us. Every trick was added that one extra component... because he wanted to. Because he could.
Yet as his skating soared to new heights, he began to lose that relatibility that initially drew us to him. Through no fault of his own, the awe we experienced of his 360 one-foot tailgrabs and 540 ollies soon carried over to the man himself and Matt was put on a pedestal. All of a sudden, everyone had a shaved head and the Hensley look was born: chukkas, chain wallets, cargo shorts and those little striped socks. Cheeks were puffed-out on-purpose and the man grew uncomfortable. It had all become too much. Larger-than-life was never his style, he just wanted to skate. But the sun peaking through that stained glass window had become a little too bright and Matt was forced to look away.
In only just four years time, the quiet kid from Vista who left a king-sized footprint of innovation (even down to his “retirement part”) would be forced to go underground. Hensley would abandon superstardom at the height of his career in an attempt to reconnect with why he had started riding his board in the first place. Not for the industry and not for his fans but for himself. The man who had inspired so many by just being one of us wanted to reclaim that feeling again. To find that real skateboarding that he could relate to.
He’d be back. But on his own terms.