In a skateboarding industry focused on eternal youth, Mr Mountain is ageing very gracefully.
“Is there a generation gap? No. There are like four generation gaps,” laughs Lance Mountain when asked how a forty-seven-year-old skate icon feels when shipped off on tour with kids barely out of their teens. “I can’t even ride with these kids. There is no point really. I’ve thought of going riding with them, but these guys are just too consistent.”
Despite recognising that he doesn’t match up to the current technical standards of other younger pros, Lance has cemented a place for himself in skateboarding’s archives. And if anyone is worthy of such a long-running career in the skate industry, it’s Mr Mountain. You see, proving the Darwinian theory that adaptability is the best means to survival, Lance has adopted many roles: a Variflex demo rat; a Powell-Peralta Bones Brigadier; a photographer for the likes of Transworld; one-time businessman and owner of his own skate company, The Firm; a celebrated artist; and a general behind-the-scenes odd-job man. Graft, it seems, is what it takes to still have a lucrative shoe sponsor (Nike SB) and your own pro model deck (on Flip Skateboards) when you’re rapidly approaching fifty. “To me, it’s all about ‘right place right time.’ But, sure, you’ve got to take advantage of it. There are tons of guys who just don’t want to do the work,” he says. “When I got married, I was earning $200 a month on Powell and had a full-time union job so I could be a pro skateboarder. When I got a family, all I wanted to do was provide for them. That’s the reason to do any of it. I think I might not have been so around in skateboarding if I didn’t have a family.”
Providing for a family is something that compels many people the world over to carry on with the daily grind. When you’ve worked in a particular industry for so long, it may not be possible to make a living any other way. But when you start to hit middle age, are you really doing it out of love or are you simply trapped by the only thing you’ve ever known? “You only feel trapped when you are stuck doing things that aren’t your favourite things to do, but you know that they are necessary to keep getting paid,” says Lance. “The ultimate goal is to break out of that and be in total control; do exactly what you want to do. You can’t ever do that completely though, you still have to play the game.”
Playing the game is something Lance is fully accustomed to, having spent more than thirty years “making other people fall in love with skateboarding” through touring, signing autographs, doing interviews and somehow staying relevant in an industry with a history of Young Turks challenging the established order. Creative outlets are often a sure-fire way for an ageing pro to still get column inches, and Lance is no exception. Most recently, he’s collaborated with artist Geoff McFetridge to design and build a Nike SB skate park at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and lent his own artwork to a series of Doughboy decks for Flip. The ‘legend’ tag may come with some professional pressures, such as these, but it also brings luxuries. “It’s actually no pressure nowadays. It means that younger kids know who you are without you having to prove yourself to them on their level,” explains Lance, with a trademark giggle. “The kids are thinking, ‘I know I’m way better than you. I could beat you in a game of SKATE any day. But you are supposedly somebody?’”
But beyond this, being a pro is still about spending a decent amount of time on your skateboard, and perhaps even filming a video part or two – like his impressive pool-based section in Flip’s 2009 film Extremely Sorry. The curse of ageing can put the breaks on such a physically demanding career, though. Lance, however, has got a handle on it. “I broke my arm four years ago and when it got better, I started exercising more, swimming and stretching and stuff. I realised I should have always done that. You’re just stronger. You wake up in the morning and you want to go skating,” he says. “If I don’t skate for three or four days, I feel stiff. I feel pretty happy and you just skate smarter, you cruise more.”
Lance seems to have made the transition into middle age with a certain amount of grace, while maintaining the propensity to ‘goof around’ that so characterised his video parts in younger days. It seems that playing on a wooden toy has kept this middle-aged man young at heart. “It keeps you immature for sure. I’m not sure that young and immature are exactly the same thing, but I giggle at life and skateboarding does that,” says Lance, his giggle once again peppering his words. “Physically it doesn’t keep you young at all. It hurts – it hurts a lot.”