Pushing one’s way through the crowds and the conversations (“No, no, no, we’ll need way, way more than five million for China,”) it was interesting, to note the people there to chat.
Take Tony Hawk, skateboarder supreme. The lanky American was much in evidence on the third day of the Summit, chatting amiably about his own charitable organisation, the Tony Hawk Foundation.
It’s been on the go for 12 years and in that time it’s worked with 500 separate projects and given away $5 million: “I never thought you could be successful enough at skateboarding to do charity work. Skateboarding was a small sport when I started, so doing it professionally . . . living a dream is an understatement. Creating the foundation – having some success in video games helped me to think I could make a difference. I grew up near one of the few facilities for skateboarding at the time and we wanted to help people avail of similar facilities in their areas. We went through a learning curve but we’re working well now.”
One of those projects is in what might be the least-skateboard-friendly place on the planet.
“So far we’ve been mostly based in the United States, but we’ve started international outreach programmes just this year.
“Skatistan in Kabul, Afghanistan, is one, and there are others in Cambodia and South Africa. I never imagined Afghanistan would be ahead of other countries in taking up skateboarding, and what’s strange is that it’s their only co-ed sport. Why? Because they have no preconceived notions about it, so it’s a small revolution.”
Hawk happily fielded questions about technology in skateboarding, apps which monitor skateboard movement, spin and rotation: “We’ve never had that data before in our sport, no-one’s looked that deeply into the science of skateboarding. That’s exciting that it’s at the forefront of technology and I know people are developing other projects — I rode the one wheel skateboard outside, for instance.”
All of that was well and good, but how about Hawk the skater? I leave to another day my thoughts on discovering that Hawk is two months younger than me, considerably leaner, and has no intention of quitting any time soon.
“I’m the one who’s pushing the limits of how far you can take skateboarding into adult age and be considered contemporary. I feel I’ll know when I start getting bad at it, and maybe stop doing it in public.
“Will I go on into my eighties? If I’m good at it I’ll do it, sure. If not I’ll do it on my own terms.”
As Hawk ended his Q & A session, though, a question was lobbed in which turned the encounter on its head.
A chap in a plaid shirt at the back of the room asked about the angle the great man favoured for his feet when doing a 1080 turn on his board . . .
The competitor in Hawk flared in his answer: “Well, I haven’t done a 1080, so I presume you’re talking about how you do one. Whatever you do, that’s what I’ll do.”
For a few seconds there we were all in a dusty park in California around 1985, with a new kid challenging the top dog as the evening sun slanted down, and the top dog coming back hard in response.
I don’t know if everyone, or no-one, has heard of The Moth, but it’s worth checking out (the moth.org).
It’s an American storytelling initiative which invites people to tell a ten-minute true story about themselves as though t hey were sitting on the back veranda at sundown with the moths fluttering around, hence the name.
I only discovered the phenomenon recently, in a book version of some of the best stories, and some of them are very good indeed.
One of my favourites was from A. E. Hotchner, an American writer who was friendly with Ernest Hemingway many years ago. Once when they were in Spain together Hemingway talked Hotchner into trying bullfighting.
It wasn’t an off-Broadway exercise. Hotchner ended up sharing a corrida with two of the biggest names of all time in bullfighting, Antonio Ordóñez and Luis Miguel Dominguín.
It was kind of like making your hurling debut as the third member of a full-forward line with Christy Ring and Nicky Rackard.
The way Hotchner told the story, he didn’t have much to do until the bullfight proper was over, and the two top matadors were being feted, carried around the stadium, with roses raining down on them and a storm of applause deafening everyone in the arena. At that point Ordonez hissed to Hotchner to pick up the shoes.
The American looked around and noticed that yes, there seemed to be quite a lot of ladies’ shoes strewn around the sand. He gathered as many of them into his arms as he could and rejoined his colleagues as they were driven back to their hotel. The wine had just started to flow in the bullfighters’ suite when there was a knock on the door.
Hotchner opened the door to find the most beautiful woman he had ever seen standing there.
“I came for my shoe,” she said.
A quick anecdote from the Web Summit. One contributor said that some of the most widely-shared social media images from the World Cup last summer came from a Fifa feed, which showed fireworks exploding over Rio one evening in an arresting sequence of pictures — starting at the bottom of a hill, the fireworks kept going off in sequence, higher and higher up the hill, above the favelas towards the peak.
During the tournament those pictures were apparently retweeted thousands of times by Brazilians.
Apparently the Fifa official who took the picture was unaware of what those Brazilians knew: that by looking at the image one could track the progress of a police raid as it climbed up the hill, because drug gangs set off fireworks as a warning when their patch is raided by the cops.
Helpful of him to indicate the cops’ progress up the hill by tweeting pictures of the fireworks as they exploded...
I see a new documentary about Muhammad Ali is about to go on release – I Am Ali combs through previously unheard ‘audio journals’ of the great boxer to create a fresh portrait of the most significant sportsperson of the last century.
Am I the only one suffering a little Ali over-exposure, though? Is there any image of the boxer we haven’t seen? One of those used in the trailer for I Am Ali is a clip from before the Rumble In The Jungle, with Ali throwing a few jabs at the camera, yet you’ve seen it in When We Were Kings, in adidas commercials . . .
One of the downsides of being one of the most famous people in history is that making your story fresh is always a challenge. I’m not sure some audio from 40 years ago is going to cut it.