Stoked: The Rise and Fall of Gator
September 1, 2002
Starring: Mark 'Gator' Rogowski, Tony Hawk, Jason Jessee, John Brinton Hogan, Steve Olson, Brandi McClain, Stacy Peralta, Lance Mountain, Steve Caballero, John Hogan, Kevin Staab, Michelle Chaves, Harry Jumonji, Carol Leggett, Kris Markovich, MoFo, Billy Smith, Tod Swank, Ed Templeton, Mike Valley, ,
If Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001) was a documentary that celebrated counterculture skateboarders of the 1970s, then Helen Stickler’s Stoked: The Rise and Fall of Gator (2003) shows the darker side of the sport. The focus of her film is on Mark “Gator” Rogowski, who, by age 14, was one of the most popular professional skateboarders of the early to mid-’80s. However, by the early ’90s, his style of skating was no longer fashionable and his behaviour became more erratic, culminating in a shocking murder conviction. Stickler’s documentary attempts to explore how Gator went from premiere skateboarder to convicted murderer.
The first half of Stoked parallels Gator’s rise in popularity with the resurgence in skateboarding in the early ’80s. There is plenty of vintage footage of Gator and his contemporaries in action mixed with recent interviews with many of his former friends and associates, like Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero, and Jason Jessee. Gator rose quickly through the skateboarding ranks because he had a distinctive style that set him apart from the rest and he had a cool, rebellious image that his fans admired.
Stickler’s film suggests that the catalyst for Gator’s downfall was when he signed on with Vision Skateboards and became a model for their Vision Street Wear line of clothes. While this merger launched his career and resulted in a lot of money, it was seen as selling out by his fans who admired him for being anti-establishment. Gator started believing in his own hype and began doing tours where all of his skateboarding was choreographed.
To make matters worse, his style of vertical skateboarding had fallen out of fashion in favour of street style skating. Gator started drinking heavily and couldn’t switch styles successfully. His long-time fiancée broke up with him and this was the last straw. What happened next was shocking and would affect the rest of Gator’s life.
While Dogtown had all sorts of celebrities and legendary skaters at its disposal, Stoked goes more for the gripping drama of one man’s life with the skateboarding scene of the ’80s as its backdrop. It attempts to examine the lives of guys like Gator and how they start out as kids just having fun and are quickly thrown all sorts of money and fame with no way of dealing with it. Some mature quickly and are able to handle it (i.e. Tony Hawk), others, like Gator, crack under the pressure and are consumed by their own self-destructive tendencies.
There is a timeline of Gator’s career as depicted in the film with key events linked to scenes from the documentary with additional footage (that includes vintage interviews, videos and an ad gallery). Of note is footage of Gator’s infamous arrest at large skateboarding competition for punching out a cop that cemented his legend as a rebel. All of this deleted footage is included in a separate section so you don’t have to go through the timeline to find it.
“Stoked Uncovered” is a featurette where director Helen Stickler is interviewed and how the documentary was received is briefly explored. She wanted to know how Gator could go from iconic skater to murderer. She also wanted to include Gator in on the documentary and recorded phone conversations with him from prison. Stickler was an outsider and initially a lot of skaters weren’t interested in talking to her because they didn’t know what her take would be on Gator. However, she gained their confidence and their participation helps flesh out Gator’s tragic arc.
Stoked is a fascinating documentary that doesn’t require one to be a fan of skateboarding to enjoy. While there is plenty of amazing skating footage, the focus is on the people of the sport, in particular, Gator and how he became a symbol of everything that was wrong with the ’80s-crass, self-important materialism. By the start of the ’90s that attitude went underground and he was unable to adapt. His story is certainly a cautionary one and a sobering flipside to glossy promotional skateboarding videos.