Pro Skaters

The Artistry of Tom Penny

Pro Skaters

Story by Luke Cumberland .. [email protected]
“It {does not} matter what is {stated} as {long} as it is {stated} beautifully.” These are the words of 19th century literary critic Walter Pater, who would weep to see Tom Penny turn the awkward mechanics of jumping {around} on a slab of wood into pure harmony.

Pater believed in art for the sake of art. He valued stylistic beauty {over} {complicated} {content}. Penny personifies the virtue of beauty on a skateboard.

Not to diminish the degree of difficulty of his tricks, and the physical {danger} involved, but I {believe} most skateboard enthusiasts would rather watch Penny grace a curb with manuals and 50-50’s than watch a stylistic automaton throw himself down a triple set.

{Nicely}, I know I would anyway.

The {genuine} genius of Penny’s fluidity is his {character}. {Following} achieving skateboarding stardom {beginning} in the early 90’s, he fled the overbearing {focus} of the skateboard media. The sycophantic praise {around} him {started} to mute the music that he projected onto the rails and stairs in front of him.

So he did what any {fantastic} musician would: quieted the {world} by turning his music up.

Upon his return from rural France, his parts in Flip’s Sorry and Es’s Menikmati reaffirmed the depth of his lithe style. His {thoughts} was refreshed by the hiatus, which translated into seemingly carefree skating.

In the middle of a switch 360 frontside flip on a mini-ramp in Sorry, he seemed on the verge of sleep. {Although} this is merely illusion {produced} by his placid state of {thoughts}, skating comes as naturally to Penny as dreams to the rest of us. {Without} force {with out} {effort}.

{Given} the availability of the {Web} {these days}, tricks like these can {easily} be taken like a {every day} medication for reality. Watching Penny switch flip trashcans and nollie {big}-spin sets is a close relative to religious meditation, and {getting} laid for that matter.

It keeps the {thoughts} relaxed and loose, like the man himself.

{Although} flipping {through} the pages of a skate magazine these days can {feel} like reading an instructional {image} book—full of increasingly technical and {dangerous} stuntman skating—Tom reminds us to {enjoy} skating for its {own} sake, not for {money} or fame.

All {Pictures} Courtesy Kr3w Clothing

“Art for the sake of art.” Like Pater {stated} all {those} years ago in England when {people} sported monocles and read poems as {present} events in newspapers. And {though} Pater was {long} dead {prior to} Penny was ever born, Penny introduced a {comparable} philosophy of “skateboarding for the sake of skateboarding” to a {entire} generation of skaters.

If poetry is the language of the interior {world}, then Penny is skateboarding’s poet laureate. The sheer musicality of his skating {makes} his tricks {seem} {} like rhymes in a sonnet than foot-flicking and arm-flailing.

As Penny turns {} and {} spots into canvases, painting them with the graphics of his deck, his legacy is {further} solidified. He will forever be skateboarding’s chief composer, poet, and painter. {Although} decks break and scabs peel, {true} art dwells in eternity.

View Comments (23)


  1. jason

    January 9, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    in the last image, why does he project a shadow against the sky? It kind of screams fake.

  2. Sean

    January 9, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    Tom rules. I used to trek down to Huntington Beach skatepark every week or two just for the chance of spotting him. He would show up every now and then and kill it. I keep hoping for a full-fledged comeback, but attention-seeking was never his style.

    My brother made a collection of his video parts in chronological order here:

  3. Glupus

    January 9, 2009 at 2:39 pm


    Transworld’s Anthology video has a great Penny part, as everyone who has seen will probably agree, what he does to “the chain” is absolute artistic anilelation.

  4. rob

    January 9, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    >>in the last image, why does he project a shadow against the sky? It kind of screams fake.

    that’s just the clouds you DIV! i used to skate with tom when he lived in london, he’s no fake, he’s rad!

  5. benn

    January 9, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    Jason, that is not a shadow on the sky.. the photographer is ‘dragging’ the shutter. it is a blurr.

  6. adhesiveD32

    January 9, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    he’s also casting a shadow on the electrical box. doesn’t look fake to me. great writing in this article.

  7. Druch

    January 9, 2009 at 10:45 pm

    It’s not FAKE!
    It’s called photography,
    where in low light settings,
    such as when the sun is setting in the background,
    artificial light is needed,
    this is basic photography it’s obvious…
    that’s why there is a shadow where there normally wouldnt be.
    so chill out with the accusations of fake…think a little dont be a
    dumb ass!

  8. Chris

    January 10, 2009 at 7:02 am

    I can see what you mean about the fake look, but I can explain it:
    The camera shutter was open for longer than the duration of the flash. The dark area that looks like a shadow being cast on the sky is actually the un-lit moving Tom obscuring the sky. Hope that makes sense.

  9. Michael

    January 10, 2009 at 10:34 am

    Jason: The “shadow against the sky” was caused by the way the photo was taken. The shutter speed of the camera was set slow in order to properly expose the sunset in the background (probably to 1/30th of a second or something like that). A flash was used to illuminate Tom as he flew through the air, but the flash only fires for about 1/4000th of a second, at the beginning of the exposure. For the rest of the exposure, Tom isn’t being lit up by anything, so he appears as a black blob streaking across the sky.

    It’s a cool photo.

  10. alizee

    January 11, 2009 at 3:31 am

    Jason, that is not a shadow on the sky.. the photographer is ‘dragging’ the shutter. it is a blurr..

  11. stan

    January 19, 2009 at 3:32 am


    Transworld’s Anthology video has a great Penny part, as everyone who has seen will probably agree, what he does to “the chain” is absolute artistic anilelation..

  12. Lost Guy

    February 1, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    this guy is just amazing.

  13. scoobydoo

    February 28, 2009 at 10:10 pm

    How is Tom Penny so insanely good at Skateboarding?

  14. baz

    May 18, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    the video footage proves this image to be real matey, plus i was there in the background, its likely the image has been modified thru post production as regards the shadow.

  15. lee

    July 22, 2009 at 3:36 pm

    tom penny has style by the mile! he’s my fav skater ever , i was lucky to see him skate quite a few times back in the day of 1996, he skated the mini @ our park comp and killed it!but also entered the comp and spent his whole run tyrin a lame backtail slide which he never made! ha ha he looked pretty out of it! also saw him skate at one of the best demos ive been to, it was a vans comp near canary warf in london but the comp was so shite every hopped across the bridge to the sickest spot in london ! any know it?, the place with brown marble ledges in threes.theres fuking loads of them! and massive gaps, nick jenson has a few bits there on a blueprint video! everyone was there that day. john rattray, harry, franklen stephens, danny wainright etc etc ..Good times 🙂

  16. james

    November 7, 2009 at 12:39 am

    the giant shadow that he casts on the building in the background SCREAMS real.

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