April 2020

Eric Koston Has No Signature Trick

By Jared Wilber

Whether you love him for his on-the-board prowess or hate him for his off-the-board deportment, you can't deny the impact Eric Koston has had on skateboarding. He pushed the boundaries of low-impact technical skating, was one of the first to get highly technical on handrails, and showed us the dark side of social media. We as skateboarders owe him a lot.

And while we can't easily assess Koston's impact to skateboarding directly, we can lower our standards (as usual) and focus on the data we do have: the tricks Koston does and the obstacles he does them on. By digging into this data, we'll appreciate Koston in a new light, and gain some insights into his skateboarding career.

Top Tricks

Many iconic skaters have their own sort of signature trick: Andrew Reynolds has the frontside flip. Erik Ellington has the backside bigspin. Tiago Lemos has the switch bs tailslide. And Todd Falcon has the Falcon flip (you know we had to). Yet, despite being one of the most iconic skateboarders of all time, Eric Koston has no obvious signature trick. This is reflected in his top tricks below, where no clear favorite exists, (although switch heelflip and kickflip managed to claw their way to the top):

Rather than doing a few tricks many times, Koston does many tricks a few times. This reflects at least two things. First (and fairly obvious): Koston is very good at skateboarding. He has a deep bag of tricks and doesn't repeat tricks often for the simple reason that he doesn't have to. He's not limited. Second: Koston puts a lot of thought into his video parts, and works to include as many different tricks in each video as possible. This calculated approach to video filming was likely a large driver for Koston's consistent progression. That and his natural talente. Probably mostly the talent, but yeah, you get the idea.

Top Tricks By Obstacle

Of course, we also want to know what Koston's most popular tricks are across different obstacles.Note that here too the values are pretty small, reflecting Koston's low-tendency to repeat tricks even at the obstacle level. Gleaming over the table yields some interesting insights. Five of his top eight flatground tricks involve a change of stance, something he often does in lines. When skating a ledge or hubba, Koston has a preference for bs tricks, yet no such preference appears to exist when skating rails. He has a preference for doing switch/nollie tricks down stairs or gaps. And, in an amusing, almost comical token to his skill, Koston does nollie heelflip noseslides on rails as often as he does bs or fs 50-50s.

Over The Years

The majority of professional skateboarders change the way they skate over time. Sometimes it's out of necessity - they get older and their body changes. Other times it's a choice - they find a new way to enjoy skating, or they just get over it entirely. Whatever the case, it happens.

We measure this change for Koston in the chart below, detailing the annual number of tricks he filmed on different obstacles. In the chart below, the number of annual ledge tricks serves as a rough proxy for his career output. Although the line is jagged, a clear trend exists: He starts out strong (he had three video parts in 1992 alone), and has a fairly constant output through the majority of his career, before seeing a gradual decline in output.

This chart also helps reveal peaks in Koston's career. He came on the scene strong, releasing nine full-length video parts in the nineties (woah, two nines together!). The early aughts saw the peak of his career, with video parts such as Menikmati (2000), Chomp On This (2002), and Yeah Right (2003). This timeframe also includes the majority of his handrail tricks, an indicator of both the trends of the time period as well as Koston's progression.

Koston wrapped up the first decade of the 2000's with the 2007 release of Fully Flared. From a data perspective, this part is arguably Koston's best. Not only were 98 percent of the tricks distinct (the highest for all videos with more than 21 tricks, see table below), but as the chart above shows, it had the most uniform distribution among ledge, rail, and stair tricks.

Video # Clips # Tricks % Distinct Tricks
101 - WWII Report (1992) 24 33 91.0
Union - Right to Skate (1992) 24 30 97.0
H-Street - Next Generation (1992) 90 105 90.0
101 - Falling Down (1993) 37 48 92.0
Girl - Goldfish (1994) 20 55 73.0
Etnies - High 5 (1995) 7 12 100.0
Transworld - Uno (1996) 15 17 82.0
Girl - Mouse (1996) 43 61 87.0
Chocolate - The Chocolate Tour (1999) 18 21 100.0
éS - Menikmati (2000) 54 51 88.0
Chomp On This (2002) 42 54 93.0
Girl - Yeah Right (2003) 74 78 86.0
Lakai - Fully Flared (2007) 48 53 98.0
Girl - Pretty Sweet (2012) 8 11 93.0
Nike - The SB Chronicles Vol. 3 (2015) 36 34 91.0

The table above includes all videos used for this analysis - they represent the core output of Eric Koston over the course of his skateboarding career.

The relationship between # Clips and # Tricks informs us about the composition of each video. Having more tricks than clips indicates that the video had a lot of lines. This occurs in all but two videos, Menikmati and Chronicles. On the other hand, having more clips than tricks indicates multiple repeat angles, which is itself highly correlated with slow-motion clips (the two videos that used slow-motion the most? Yep, Menikmati and Chronicles).

The % Distinct Tricks column tells us the proportion of unique tricks in the corresponding video part. That is, a video with a value of 100% will have no repeat tricks at all - at most one kickflip, one boardslide, one falcon flip (😉 ) etc. Koston, on the other hand, has an average value of 90.7%. A simplified interpretation of this is that, when Koston does any trick in a video part (such as a flatground kickflip or bs tailslide on a ledge), there's less than a 10% chance, on average, that he'll do that same trick again in the video, on any obstacle. Of course, Koston has a few tricks he's more likely to repeat than others, but the gist remains in line with what we concluded earlier: Koston rarely repeats tricks.

Video Breakdown

So how does Koston's skating differ across videos? Well, one way to find out is to compare the distribution of various metrics across them. So that's exactly what we did. Each block in the chart below is made up of one-hundred squares, each representing one percent. Click on the videos below to see the percentage of each metric in the selected video.

101 - WWII Report
Union - Right to Skate
H-Street - Next Generation
Girl - Goldfish
101 - Falling Down
Girl - Pretty Sweet
Etnies - High 5
Transworld - Uno
Girl - Mouse
Chocolate - The Chocolate Tour
Lakai - Fully Flared
Nike - The SB Chronicles Vol. 3
Girl - Yeah Right
éS - Menikmati
Chomp On This

Percentage of ...

Exploring the metrics for different videos is pretty fun, and some interesting insights can be gleamed:

  • Explore for yourself, and see what you find.

    Thanks for reading, that's a wrap for Koston. Hopefully it helped quantify why he is one of skateboarding's G.O.A.T.'s, and more importantly, that he has no true signature trick (sorry, fandangle).

    Data & Methodology

    Although Koston has had clips in many skate videos, the set of data was limited to include only his full-length video parts, as these are generally what we consider when looking at the "career" of a skater. Data in the first chart was limited to tricks with counts greater than four. Data was limited to counts greater than two in the by-obstacle count charts. Data in the time-series chart was limited to ledges, handrails, and stairs/gaps groups because counts for other obstacles (e.g. transition, manuals) had too much variance for meaninful narrative.

    The data for the analysis is available here. Code used for the analysis is here. Code for the charts here. For any questions or comments to the author, reachout: @jdwilbr.