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Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

The blues candle: Whitman skaters find new ways to express themselves

On a sunny Friday in March, seniors Zach Gordy and Tom Shellum were shredding curbs outside of North Hall. Gordy caught some air and then swung a wide curve into the street. “Car, car…” Shellum said, and Gordy stepped aside to let it pass.

Whitman skaters weren’t always such good citizens. There were some kids who graduated in 2014 –– Shellum and Gordy wouldn’t say their names –– who created traffic problems, and worse, left beer cans on the curb in front of North. The hooligans gave skating a bad rap and Whitman security cracked down.

In November of 2013, Gordy told Pioneer reporter Cole Anderson, “Historically, as long as we did not grind any ledges, we were allowed to skate on campus. This year that has all changed.”

Zach Gordy '15 performs a trick outside the Science Hall. Photo by Marra Clay.
Zach Gordy ’15 performs a trick outside the Science Hall. Photo by Marra Clay.

So in fall 2013, a group of about 10 Whitman skaters, Shellum and Gordy among them, tried to regain legitimacy through the creation of an ASWC recognized club. It never came together, but now Shellum and Gordy say they are glad it did not. Skateboarding, they feel, is independent and creative. It cannot be constrained by ASWC regulations.

“It’s really antithetic to skateboarding to organize very formally,” said Shellum.

Set free from ASWC control, Shellum and Gordy have let their skateboarding give way to other creative outlets. The friends are also architects, candle-makers and musicians.

Building the skate ramp

In August of 2014, Shellum and Gordy used Home Depot supplies to build a skate ramp in Shellum’s backyard. Their friend senior “Tall Paul” Eschbach helped out. The three builders didn’t really know what they were doing.

“We just slapped it together,” said Shellum. “It was experimental.”

Despite the amateur architecture, the ramp gets a lot of use.

“Random people in Walla Walla people have discovered it,” said Shellum. “I’ll come home and there’ll be people I’ve never met skating in my backyard.”

Shellum is happy to share the ramp. He even posted about it on the Walla Walla skateboarding Facebook page.

“We built it for everyone,” said Gordy.

Making candles 

It makes sense for skateboarders to build a ramp. But Shellum and Gordy think beyond the basics: They have also delved into candle-making to enhance their skate experience.

To do curb tricks, the curb needs to be frictionless. Any kind of wax, even the coating of a juice box, can help slick it up. While skate stores do sell specialized wax, Shellum and Gordy prefer candles.

However, the size they needed, Gordy said, was expensive.

“I realized that we should be making candles,” he said.

They messed around the kitchen of Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE), where Gordy is a member, trying out a few colors. They even found some people who said they would buy the candles.

Candle-making never really got off the ground, though.

“We chose not to follow through on this idea,” said Shellum.

Blues music got in the way.

Gordy displays his board. Photo by Marra Clay
Gordy displays his board. Photo by Marra Clay

Playing the blues

In February of 2015, Shellum and Gordy formed The Blues Collective. Shellum plays the harmonica and Gordy plays the guitar.

It started because of Gordy’s Christmas present to Shellum in December of 2014. While Shellum got Gordy candle-making supplies so that they could expand their candle program, Gordy branched out and got Shellum a harmonica.

“I was pretty much like, ‘Let’s do your thing,'” said Shellum.

“Sometimes I still make candles,” said Gordy. “But it’s just not gonna be a thing, you know? Sometimes you’re making candles and you’re like, ‘Oh fuck, I gotta sing the blues, and then it’s just like … ‘you never finish the candle.'”

Shellum and Gordy play the blues all the time.

“Tom and I are the glue,” said Gordy.

Otherwise the members of The Blues Collective change from day to day. “Tall Paul” Eschbach often adds percussion, and when the Collective plays at parties or on the TKE porch, singers, snappers and foot-tappers usually join in.

Although the Collective has only been around since February, in early March Shellum and Gordy estimated that they had played together over 20 times.

“We’re not just casually interested,” said Gordy.

“I’ve definitely played the blues when I should be working on my thesis,” said Shellum.

Gordy imagines Shellum practicing the blues at his house.

“He sits on the ramp and plays the harmonica to the moon,” he said. “Like a wolf … like a howling wolf.”

It makes sense that Shellum would play the blues on the skate ramp because for Gordy and Shellum there is little division between the blues and skating.

“You’ve got to understand that all these things connect. The blues thing’s part of the skating thing. Every aspect somehow permeates the other,” said Gordy.

However, Shellum wonders if their friendship is actually the only connection between the blues and skating.

“I don’t know if there’s something intrinsic that actually ties the blues and skating together or if their relating factor is shit that Zach and Tom happen to be into,” he said.

Gordy disagrees. He thinks that skating and the blues are similar art forms.

“The blues came from very simple roots,” he said. “A lot of blues sound the same. So it’s really about how you play versus what you play. In skating everyone does the same tricks. Like the Ollie … everyone does that. So it’s about how you do it.”

“The bottom line,” said Shellum, “is that we really like to use our free time for things that involve creative expression.”

“We think it’s really important,” Gordy added quickly.

For Gordy, both skating and the blues help him connect with people on a deeper level.

“I want to be able to communicate with my friends in a way that transcends words,” he said.

Sharing the art

Shellum is not the only person Gordy communicates with creatively. The friends are adamant about remaining open to anyone who wants to participate in either skating or the blues.

“We always make it clear to people that we’re not judging them,” said Gordy. “Like if they can’t sing and if they want to sing, who cares?”

“It’s the same with skateboarding,” he added. “You can really be bad at skating. I just want to ride around with people.”

The afternoon of the interview, junior Eric Underwood was skating in front of North too. He just started skating with Whitman kids last year. Shellum and Gordy frequently broke off mid-sentence to compliment his moves.

The friends are part of a group that skates in front of North almost every day from about 4 to 5 p.m. They emphasize that anybody is welcome to join them.

On Thursday before the interview with The Pioneer, Gordy was skating in the science building parking lot. A student made a beeline towards him.

“‘Is that hard? Can I see it?'” Gordy remembers him asking. “‘Can you do tricks?”

Gordy showed him some tricks.

“I’m gonna get a skateboard,” the student said.

Burning the blues candle

The Whitman epoch is drawing to a close for Shellum and Gordy. It’s clear, though, that skating, the blues and their friendship will live on.

When he graduates, Shellum will travel to China with the Whitman in China program to teach English at Yunnan University in Kunming.

“I’m definitely bringing my skateboard,” he said.

“And your harmonica,” Gordy reminded him.

Gordy will return to his dad’s home in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle.

“I’m probably going to work and skate and play music,” he said.

While Gordy’s plans may sound a bit amorphous, one thing is certain.

No matter what, he said, “There’s always a blues candle in my room.”

Gordy uses Olin Hall's loading dock to perform a trick. Photo by Marra Clay.
Gordy uses Olin Hall’s loading dock to perform a trick. Photo by Marra Clay.
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