Matt Hensley absolutely embodies all that H-Street was and represented. Nobody else on the team quite summons the era and vibe as well as he does, although at the time the strength of H-Street seemed to lie in its army-like numbers. In retrospect, there are just a handful of H-Street alums who became absolute legends, but when it was at its peak it felt like Colby Carter, Steve Ortega, Brennan Schoeffel, Markus Wyndham and many of the others who didn’t were just as likely to as were Danny Way, Mike Carroll, Sal Barbier, Matt Hensley and the others who did.
One of the guys who obviously ripped during the Hokus Pokus days but wasn’t an obvious legend-in-the-making until after he left H-Street is Brian Lotti. Though they don't skate all that much alike, Hensley and Lotti seemed to come from the same place of an average guy skating an average parking lot and getting really good while doing so, like Chops said. Where Hensley was compact, almost hunched over, working hard and charging it, Lotti stood tall, moved fluidly, and never seemed to be in a rush. Again, you could see it in his H-Street and Gullwing (Full Power Trip!) footage if you were paying attention, but when he departed H-Street proper for the H-Street off-shoot Planet Earth and soon thereafter put out his monumental “Now N’ Later” part, you couldn’t not see if you tried.
As a whole, that video was great and represents what skateboarding in 1991 really looked like. Amazing skating. The huge power and finesse of Chris Miller, the obscure wizardry of Barker Barrett, the now near-forgotten speed of James Frazier and vertical stylings of Buster Halterman, and of course the OMG, out-of-the-blue, debut full part from Jovantae Turner, unveiling the leviathan of style that he was. But it was Brian Lotti’s part that still has people talking about it a full 20 summers later. A whopper-length part, especially for then, it was his masterpiece and what he is most remembered for. His graceful innovation on board is visible through the entire thing. The manual section alone set a wildfire that still burns today- that part seemed to be the first one to really highlight technical manual tricks in a serious way, and even though it was only four of them filmed in one session, the way they are presented in super slow-mo and the absolute ridiculousness (hi, Dyrdek) of them was enough. I mean, opening with a b/s 180 fakie manual fakie 360 shove-it? There’s hardly anybody today who could pull that off, and NOBODY else in ’91. For the evolution of manuals after that part, well, it said it right there in the song- things cannot and will not be the same. And he did it while wearing a Smiths shirt.
But for me it was his lines. These lines that just went on and on with tricks you’d be lucky to do one of. And he did them so effortlessly. What really stood out even then was that he seemed to be thinking about how the pieces of his lines relate as a whole, how the tricks that come before and after each other will look together. There was always a symmetry of movement, a conscious completion of a circle, or a mirror-image idea. What I mean is that the b/s 180 one-foot was immediately be followed by the switch f/s 180, completing the circle of motion. The bigspin would be followed by the fakie big spin. The 360 shove-it, the 360 ollie. It was artfully arranged. Nothing was choppy or jarring. Later, when most skating got even more technical and herky-jerky, he even managed to get it down to even more of the essence: his one line in the “Friends” section of Plan B’s “Virtual Reality” ran: kickflip, nollie flip, f/s pop shove, b/s pop shove, then the banger (f/s noseblunt slide nollie b/s 270 transfer). So simple, so balanced. His lines felt complete.
And then just when you thought he couldn’t get any better, he didn’t. His switch to Blind never realized itself with much footage, and then all of a sudden he was just straight absent. Disappeared. Poof! His sayonara came via a beautiful ollie executed in a yellow jump suit, and then he was gone. At the time, I gotta say he wasn’t missed immediately. Skating had changed a lot between ’91 and ‘93, and the way guys like Lotti, Hensley and Jason Lee skated had become overshadowed by the pop shove-it late double flippers. I’m sure Lotti could have done all that and made it look as good as humanly possible, but I’m glad he didn’t. It’s nice that he didn’t really demean himself with that crap.
I don’t think anybody knew why he split or what he was doing next back then. A few rumors here and there. Skating was evolving quickly and not a lot of attention was paid to anything “old” for awhile. But knowing now the reasons he left, I am nothing but impressed. He has said that he moved on because he realized he only knew how to relate to other humans through the lens of being good on a skateboard and he wanted to get past that barrier. He wanted to be more of a person. He wanted to be able to connect with other people on a deeper level. So he left what he knew behind to go explore. That’s heavy. His “existential quandary” lead him to investigate Zen Buddhism seriously for quite awhile. He moved to Hawaii to study it. He began painting more seriously. It’s all still kind of mysterious, but I think I get it.
Skating moved on. Girl. 20 Shot Sequence. Stereo. Eastern Exposure. Anti-Hero. Zero. Swishy pants. Muska. D3s. Lipslides on rails. The return of skull graphics. Tiltmode. And then in the fall of 2002, quite unexpectedly, On Video released sort of an ode to Lotti. His whole “Now N’ Later” part with a collection of some heavy-hitters talking about how important Lotti was. He had been resurrected. For those who had been there to witness and appreciate Lotti’s prime, it was gratifying to see that he had not been forgotten, that he would be passed along to a new generation. Another year or two later, and the man himself would re-appear (thank you Kenny Anderson!). But this time he was not armed with technical wizardry of the curb-height sort; instead he came with a simple vision. A reminder, really. Skating with your friends is fun. Enjoy the roll. Together.
Since then he has seemingly been content to dabble in skate endeavors, and that is just fine. I get the sense that he is where he needs to be in his life, that he is happy. And that makes me happy. At this point in my life I don’t need to see him out there killing it. I need to know that somebody who once brought me so much inspiration has found a place of contentedness in their own world. That’s what inspires me now. Thank you, Brian Lotti.
This concludes the maiden voyage of our little experiment. I can't thank Mark enough for taking the time to do all this. Truly an honor.
Regular Chrome Ball posts will resume on Monday. Thanks everybody.