“Tech has become so homogeneous, and the culture around it has become pretty stagnant,” says Holly, Mullen's primary mentor. “Media and products and brands are so easy to create that there's brand overload and media overload. So what people are craving is authenticity.” And that is a commodity that Mullen can provide like few others, for no one will ever question the significance of his contributions to a sport so steeped in cool. His true value to the tech world, then, may not be as a fount of novel ideas, of which there is already a glut in this era of social-media punditry. Instead, what he provides is much rarer and more precious: a way for Silicon Valley to validate its heroic narrative about itself. Like the lone entrepreneurial geniuses who loom large in tech lore, Mullen is an eccentric visionary who came west to seek his fortune and in doing so transformed an entire culture. Never mind that he did so as a skater rather than as a developer of software or gadgets; by claiming him as one of its own, the tech industry can bask in the sense that it still exudes an atmosphere of daring and constructive mischief. After all, if the most creative skateboarder who ever lived sees fit to spend time at your conferences and applaud your innovative spirit, then perhaps you aren't doomed to become everything you once reviled.
I grew up watching the X Games, playing Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, and skateboarding until I had to go to sleep. And out of all the skateboarders out there, Rodney Mullen was by far my favorite—he was in a league of his own.
The agility. The precision. The fluid movements from one seemingly impossible trick to another. This guy knew something that no one else did, and it was simply inspiring.