In the beginning, there was the steel wheel. Not big on traction, but definitely built for speed with a durometer that didn’t quit. As noisy as it was dangerous, the steel wheel was found on ancient roller skates. Enterprising individuals ripped the uppers off the skates and bolted the remainder onto two-by-fours and other bits of lumber, thereby creating primitive skateboards. The riding of these boards is considered by historians to be a lost art.
At the Community Concourse some brave souls attempted and actually made the central Corkscrew, but most were content to ride the less intimidating Outer Spiral.
Photo by Sandy Huffaker, Jr.
Evolutionary progression led to the clay or “rock” wheel. The day wheel offered slightly improved traction with a major reduction in noise, but it had two disadvantages. If one struck a pebble or cigarette butt on the sidewalk, a subsequent face-plant and irritating road rash were certain. The clay wheel also had a tendency to explode on impact during radical drop maneuvers. This disintegration factor did nothing for the popularity of the clay wheel.
The first skateboard I owned was a rounded wooden pin with suicide trucks and rock wheels. I rode off an 18-inch ledge, and as soon as I landed, a big chunk promptly fell out of the right rear wheel. This damage hardly affected the performance of the board, and I rode it as is for months afterward. I made steady strides toward mastery of the art and soul of skateboarding before the board was finally put out of its misery by a large American automobile.
In 1973, Frank Nasworthy and the Cadillac Wheels Company introduced a molded urethane wheel that revolutionized skateboarding. The Cadillac Wheel was probably the most radical innovation in skateboard history. Combining superb traction with a smooth, quiet ride, Caddies opened up a new realm of surface exploitation. Previously sketchy sidewalk runs and freestyle maneuvers now could be executed with a sense of security and style. Graceful carves and cutbacks became the standard, and skateboarding enjoyed a surge in popularity as aficionados everywhere took to the streets.
With heavy emphasis on vertical riding, Skateboard Heaven was the raddest local park yet constructed.
Photo by Sandy Huffaker, Jr.
Like thousands of other San Diegan youths in the early 1970s, I became addicted to skateboarding. With money earned from my paper route, I purchased a set of Chicago Trucks and Cadillac Wheels, which I promptly bolted onto a crudely shaped, homemade mahogany board. This was my primary mode of transportation, and I spent many afternoons cruising around the streets of Coronado with my friends in search of the ultimate terrain. Curbs, driveways, and short downhill runs were all fair game.
Sixth Street Hill was only two blocks from my house, and our downhill technique improved as we sped down the slope. I remember eating shit on one occasion when my wheels struck a slightly raised manhole cover near the bottom of the hill.
I entered Coronado High School in 1975 at 13. There I met other kids who were hooked on skating. After consultation with my new acquaintances, I purchased a pair of Bennett Hijacker Trucks and a set of Road Rider Wheels — Road Rider 4s with precision bearings, the latest technological advance. I still rode my own decks, which were cut and shaped from hardwood blanks in Coach Greene’s woodshop. The only reason I took woodshop in my freshman year was to bag the wood and fashion these decks. It made no difference that I was the world’s worst woodworker, so long as I had access to clean, virginal hardwood. My handmade boards were usually in vogue, but my toothpick holder, box, and cheesy magazine rack were horrible. Whenever Coach Greene inspected my latest shop project, he would shake his head, smile, and ask, “Whatcha makin’, Douglas, FIREWOOD?”
Not all boards were crudely cut and shaped from solid wood. My brother had an aluminum board crafted from sheet metal, while a friend rode a funky fiberglass laminate. Logan Earth Skis were popular among classmates, and several rich kids already sported the new generation of Gordon & Smith Fibreflex laminates. Color advertisements in early issues of Skateboarder Magazine described the G&S Fibreflex deck as being “a full six and a half inches wide.” The evolutionary expansion of the skateboard deck had begun, and truck widths slowly adapted to meet the new specifications.
During my freshman year, my friends and I often rode the bus across the bridge and skated the downtown Community Concourse parking structure otherwise known as Skateboard Paradise. Eleven stories of smooth concrete and an elevator ride back to the top. Some brave souls attempted and actually made the central Corkscrew, but most were content to ride the less intimidating Outer Spiral. Staggered runs were always fun, although two skaters could have a blast while riding in a catamaran configuration. A nearby bank building sported a five-story parking structure known as Off the Tops. Frequently, when kicked out of Paradise by security guards, we went to Off the Tops.
Police and security guard hassles were nothing new to dedicated skaters in the mid-1970s. Skaters had been hassled as far back as 1965, when dangerous street riding prompted a number of cities to outlaw skateboarding altogether. The resurgence of skating in the 1970s led to an increase in injuries and fatalities, and neither cities nor private property owners were willing to accept the liability associated with such accidents. Legislation restricting or outlawing the use of skateboards in certain areas became commonplace, with permanent board confiscation posing the ultimate threat.
This legislation did little to deter us. My friends and I were forced to exercise caution during our excursions. We were kicked out of numerous restricted areas and we gave fake names when confronted by authorities, but none of us ever had his board confiscated. Citations bearing fake names were later displayed to jealous classmates.
I remember climbing the fence at NASNI (Naval Air Station, North Island) to skate an asphalt trench roughly 100 feet long This spot was always dicey because it lay within sight of security headquarters. Whenever a military police jeep passed, we hid in nearby bushes or cowered in the trench. Impending confrontation usually inspired us to haul ass to the fence, where boards were hurled as we swarmed and scrambled for safety. Once over the chain-link barrier, we could laugh at the flustered MPs.
In March 1976, Sparks, Inc., opened the county’s first skateboard park at 6600 Palomar Airport Road in Carlsbad. For the first time, skaters could enjoy hassle-free riding at a facility designed exclusively for the purpose. Each skater paid $3 per day to enjoy this privilege. At around the same time Sparks Carlsbad Skatepark opened, film producer Scott Dittrich and skateboard star Stacy Peralta gave us Freewheelin', a movie billed as “the first professional feature film on skateboarding.” With the advent of the skatepark and the feature-length skateboard film, skateboarding was destined to become a mainstream sport and a multimillion-dollar business.
During the following months, my friends and I carefully monitored new trends. We faithfully pored over every issue of Skateboarder Magazine and marveled at the style of riders such as Jay Adams, Tony Alva, Waldo Autry, Bob Biniak, Arthur lake, Stacy Peralta, Lonnie Toft, and Gregg Weaver. Every effort was made to duplicate the style of these riders. In the winter of 1976, I purchased a G&S Peralta Warp Tail to replace my handmade deck. I also replaced my Bennett Hijackers with a pair of Tracker Trucks. I experimented with various wheels lent or given to me by friends, but I found no set worth retiring my Road Rider 4s.
In February 1977, Moving-On Skatepark opened at 4333 Home Avenue in San Diego. The park boasted a shallow reservoir and three color-coded runs that ranged in difficulty from
beginner (yellow) to intermediate (blue) to advanced (red). A $3 annual membership fee was required, but this included an identification card and free skating on one’s birthday. Admission was $1 per hour, and sessions usually ran for two hours. One could skate all day Monday through Friday for S3. Safety equipment could be rented for 50 cents.
Unlike the Sparks Carlsbad Skatepark, Moving-On was only 15 minutes from my house. I remember the first time I went there with my friend Greg Phillips. The park was fairly crowded, and some dick started to get in my face after I cut him off on one of the runs. Heated words were exchanged. When the other skater turned away, Greg planted a foot in the guy’s ass. The impact of the kick lifted the poor bastard several inches off the ground.
One month after Moving-On began, the National Skatepark of El Cajon opened at 1209 East Main Street. I never skated this park, but I heard it was a fun place to ride. As a 14-year-old delinquent lacking a driver’s license and rich parents, it was difficult to finagle a ride to such an exotic locale.
The park scene was cool but crowded, and there were times when I just wanted to skate with my friends. This meant searching for banks and drainage ditches suitable for riding. The ditch off Telegraph Canyon Road in Chula Vista was a personal favorite because it could be ridden for hours without any hassles.
The following summer, in June 1977, Skateboarder Magazine faced its first real competition when the premier issue of Skateboard World hit the stands. Skateboarder Magazine remained the rag of choice, but nobody could argue with increased coverage. Two mags meant more photos, and photos were sources of inspiration.
A new set of faces rose to prominence in the skating scene. Stylists Tom Inouye and Shogo Kuho blasted into the limelight, while local ripsters Steve Cathey, Dennis Martinez, and Doug “Pineapple” Saladino gained recognition throughout San Diego County. There were others who skated equally well, but these were the riders I remember best.
Improved safety equipment also appeared in the summer of ’77. Helmets and pads underwent dramatic evolutionary changes, while wrist guards. Rector Palm Pads, and Van’s custom shoes offered serious protection for the extremities. Skatepark operators recognized the potential for onsite injuries, and safety equipment (especially helmets) became mandatory for most park riders.
Superior gear flooded the skateboard market. I was riding a secondhand Zephyr stick given to me by a friend, but I trashed this in favor of a new Rockit Skateboard. An equipment update in the August ’77 issue of Skateboarder Magazine described the Rockit as “a new skateboard Tracker has developed to be extremely strong, light, and thin. This supersensitive top is made possible through a process in which hardwood veneers are laminated with a waterproof epoxy glue under tons of pressure.” A righteous stick it was, too. New Tracker Midtrack Trucks and a set of Yo-Yo Wheels designed by Steve Cathey completed the ensemble. With its 1/4" radiused outer edge, the Yo-Yo was the finest wheel on the market.
Also that August, Skateboard Heaven opened at 1020 Sweetwater Road in Spring Valley. With heavy emphasis on vertical riding. Skateboard Heaven was the raddest local park yet constructed. Its dominant feature was the Soul Bowl #2, a perfect keyhole pool designed with the aid of professional skaters. The Soul Bowl #2 incorporated key design elements of San Diego’s once heavily ridden Soul Bowl, a private pool in the College Area that was retired when irate residents trashed it with jackhammers.
The first time I went to Skateboard Heaven, I witnessed a gnarly accident. While resting between runs, I looked over and down just as two skaters collided at high speed in the bottom of the reservoir. I heard bones break as they collided. The two skaters lay groaning afterwards, one with a compound fracture of the leg and the other with some sort of abdominal injury. Neither moved until the ambulance arrived.
Growing weary of the crowds and bullshit attitudes involved with park riding, I scrounged wood from construction sites and built my first skateboard ramp in September 1977. It was a six-foot quarterpipe with beautiful transition and over a foot of vertical. Three layers of plywood laid across the frame gave this ramp a firm, fast surface. Simulated pool coping consisted of a wooden half-round tacked to the lip.
The smooth concrete driveway behind my back gate seemed to be an ideal location for the ramp, and after positioning and shoring it. I was finally ready to ride. I jammed down the sidewalk again and again, cut into my driveway, and flowed up and down the wooden face. I'll never forget the joy of that initial session. For the first time in my life, I rode my own vertical wall in privacy with no interference from assholes. No cops, no skate patrol, and no safety gear to cramp my style, lust a clean board, a righteous ramp, and pure, invigorating freedom.
I soon came to depend upon my beautiful wooden creation. As a 15-year-old junior at Coronado High, I was a full-blown drug addict with an anti-social philosophy. Coming from a broken home, I couldn’t relate to the rich, spoiled assholes I met in school. I had already put up with their bullshit for two long years, and I loathed the wankers with a passion. The academic side never gave me any trouble, and I spent most of my time in class daydreaming about my newly constructed ramp. Every day I lived for the moment when I could escape the asshole-infested campus and skate home for a session. Since my house was only three blocks away, I often rode home at lunch, opened the gate, skated for 20 or 30 minutes, closed the gate, and returned to school in time for Sixth Period.
The few friends I had began to join me for these sessions. My house was in the center of town, so it made a good focus for our skateboarding activities. We ritually assembled in my room to do bongs and suck beers before riding the wooden wall. The casual atmosphere promoted loose skating, and our sessions grew intense as we pushed each other’s limits. Grinders, edgers, and tail-taps were quickly mastered, while more difficult maneuvers became tests of patience and endurance.
Despite my desire to maintain a low profile, word of the ramp spread across town. The same assholes who had given me lip in the past began skating by my house and sussing out the situation. Some even had the audacity to ask if they could ride my wooden work of art. In this respect, the ramp empowered me beyond my expectations. Humble petitioners were permitted to ride for short spells, while arrogant idiots were denied. “The neighbors already called the cops,” “My brother needs to work on his car,” and other tactful lines of dismissal were employed when dealing with large or popular assholes. The gate would shut, the wankers would split, and five minutes later, after a round of bong hits in my room, my friends and I would open the gate and begin to ride again.
The first ramp lasted about four months. By the time it started to fall apart from hard usage, we had it totally wired and were ready for something new. We tore the damned thing to pieces and recycled 90 percent of the wood in the construction of a second ramp superior to the first. Another clean six-foot wall with a four-foot vertical extension, which meant ten feet of wooden perfection with five feet of vertical. Not a bad ratio when the surface is smooth and the action is hard and fast.
The second ramp proved to be a gnarly test of vertical skill. Like the first ramp, it was positioned in the comer of my driveway. One had to fully jam at speed down the sidewalk, cut left hard, and then draw the fine line up and down the face. The drop was even more radical than the ascent, and depending upon his stance, a rider who lost control at the critical moment either slammed into the wall of my house or struck a solid gatepost. I was a regular-footed skater, so I worked the post on several occasions. Goofy-footers who ate shit usually bit the wall.
I don’t think anybody ever hit the top of that ramp, but a few of us came damned close. I attribute this apparent failure to the piss-poor approach and the lack of space in which to maneuver near the bottom of the face. Even Doug Dickey, a superb skater with fluid style, couldn’t hit the top of that miserable ramp. Doug’s brother Art would later become famous for his one-footed, two-wheel carves in park pools. I only met Art once in my life, and I don’t feel qualified to speak of his achievements, but I can honestly say that Doug Dickey was a truly radical skater. Although he probably never knew it, his graceful riding style was an influence on my skating career.
After two months of heinous drops and major concrete rash, my friends and I decided to rework the second ramp. With a bit of creative modification, we transformed the ten-foot terror into a righteous seven-foot slice of perfection. Tired of making the cut on approach, we moved the ramp out onto the sidewalk during skate sessions. Long wooden beams and metal girders were used to shore the upper half of the ramp whenever it was in use. Within two days of modification, we built a platform for elevator drops. After two months of gnarly vertical, we found this third ramp a pleasure to skate.
In the spring of’78, white Yo-Yo Wheels appeared on the market and blew away the competition. Hal Jepsen’s movie Skateboard Madness appeared at the movies. In April, Oasis Skatepark opened at 2928 Camino Del Rio South in Mission Valley. I bought the wheels, saw the flick, and dragged my tired ass to the park. Radical maneuvers witnessed in the pools and halfpipe were later attempted on my wooden ramp with varying degrees of success.
The magazines began to go off, especially with regard to the park and aerial scene. My friends slobbered over photos of skaters getting air in new parks, while I preferred pictures of hardcore stylists carving, grinding, and tapping to the limit. The latest techniques gleaned from photos were immediately applied during ramp sessions. Long, drawn-out frontside grinders, backside microedgers, and extreme tail-taps were my favorite maneuvers.
My friends and I skated through the summer of ’78 — we skated ramps, we skated parks, and we skated drainage ditches. We skated to the beach to cool off, we skated across town to score drugs, and we skated uptown to get a tap whenever we needed beer. We skated everywhere, and I mean everywhere; we must have ridden down every stinking street in Coronado over the summer.
Nights were spent at the Rotary Bench and Home Federal building at 10th and Orange. There we alternately skated, partied, and engaged in our favorite pastime, the fine art of burning swabs. Skaters were universally regarded as hooligans, and swabs on liberty routinely approached and asked if we knew where to score drugs. We responded with astronomical quotes for weed, ’shrooms, sid, blow, etc. Money changed hands, purchasing runs were made, and a substantial amount of swab cash went directly into our pockets. After delivering the goods, we usually asked the swabs to buy us cases of beer, and we forked over the same bills they had given to us minutes before.
Sales were brisk on paydays, and we took turns making runs to our supplier’s house. One payday night, three swabs approached and told us they were looking for some weed. It was my turn to make the run, so I gave the usual rip-off rates in an attempt to deter the swabs. They were destined to get ripped off, however, and I couldn’t help smiling as they pooled their funds and gave me $400. I grabbed my skate and rode to the source, where I pocketed $100, bought a quarter of da kine for my friends, and blew the remainder on a bomb bag of shitty bud for the swabs. Returning uptown within ten minutes, I unloaded the bag of ragweed and sent the swabs on their way. Then I revealed the truth to my friends, who roared with laughter as I flashed the cash and the quarter of killer buds. I remember passing out tenners as an older local rode across the street to buy a case of imports.
On another memorable evening, we were sitting on the Rotary Bench when an impressive automobile entered the intersection of 10th and Orange. A well-groomed poodle was hanging out the shotgun window. The driver, a snobbish, elderly woman, suddenly turned left on Orange. Excessive centrifugal force was generated by her reckless turn, and we watched as her poodle was ejected out the window. We skated over to check the animal’s condition, and the woman went ballistic, misunderstanding our intentions. She shouted accusations until we turned away in disgust.
The technological advances made that summer by equipment manufacturers in the skateboard industry were significant. Following the lead of Dogtown pioneers Jim Muir and Wes Humpston, deck manufacturers began to produce a new generation of wide boards. Most of these boards were hardwood laminates, but there was one notable exception. In August 1978, Kryptonics, Inc., unveiled an innovative board that consisted of "a lightweight foam core wrapped in fiberglass and surrounded by a resilient urethane bumper.” This ultralight skateboard deck had an advanced $59 price tag to match its superior design. Skaters with limited financial resources could only drool over these boards before purchasing $30 wooden laminates.
Better boards, trucks, wheels, bearings, grip tape, and accessories boosted sales and promoted interest in the skyrocketing skateboard industry. Millions of eager American kids snapped up the choice equipment as quickly as it could be manufactured. The phenomenal growth in trade was matched by the rate of skatepark construction. The Guide to Western Skateboard Parks, published in 1978 by the Third Eye Press of La Jolla, listed over 120 skateparks across the United States. Kids from California to Connecticut were buying skateboards and hitting the parks in unprecedented numbers. Competitive skaters pushed the limits in red-hot skatepark sessions and contests. The general level of proficiency rose as new gear was employed in vertical terrain. Skateboarding had arrived in a big way, and everybody figured it was here to stay.
I entered my senior year at Coronado High in the fall of ’78. By this time, the only people I spoke to were social outcasts and skateboarders. I never went to school dances or other social functions, and I deliberately avoided participation in all academic organizations and extracurricular activities. I lived to skate and party with a handful of friends and acquaintances.
Darren Keating was a new student who moved into a house around the comer from mine. He and his skateboard were inseparable, and he could always be seen riding on the fringes of campus during break and lunch. Due to his long hair and wild appearance, the local kids called him The Wowman and gave him a hard time. Social outcasts were my stock in trade, and since we lived less than a block apart, we soon became acquainted. The Wowman and I regularly bailed from school to ride the ramp at my house. The daily lunch break was a prelude to the inevitable afternoon skate sessions.
One day the Wowman and I drank a half pint of Hiram Walker’s blackberry brandy and a full fifth of Seagram’s V.O. during lunch break. Then we skated uptown to bag some gum before returning to school. The alcohol was pumping through my bloodstream when I entered my sixth period A.P. biology class. I couldn’t understand a word of the instructor’s lecture. I finally stumbled to the door and made it into the hallway before I ralphed hard. The instructor followed me, nearly slipping in a large, purple puddle of puke. Two students took me to the school nurse, where I concocted some bullshit story about falling off my skateboard and banging my head while riding the I.B. Pipes on the previous afternoon. The nurse sent me to the local hospital, where a doctor diagnosed my condition and recommended that I go home, crawl into bed, and sleep it off.
Afternoon ramp sessions were occasionally filmed for posterity. One day we were riding on a rotational basis when a friend produced a cheesy Super 8 movie camera. I happened to be riding a 38-inch longboard that I had fashioned from an old water ski. The longboard handled well, especially during frontside grinders and elevator drops. After casually pulling a few ’vator drops, I decided to film my friend David Hall as he attempted the same maneuver for the first time. After some hesitation, he committed to the drop. He promptly ate shit, and I shot some beautiful footage of his head slamming the concrete directly in front of the ramp.
The Wowman had a visionary idea and insisted upon cradling the camera in his arm as he executed an axle drop. He placed his board on the lip and carefully stepped into position. Taking a deep breath, he leaned forward and rolled over the edge. He must have successfully completed this maneuver a thousand times in the past, but naturally he choked while holding the stinking camera. The subsequent footage showed an initially clean drop followed by a blur of elbows, sky, and concrete as the Wowman demonstrated a combat roll. Miraculously, the camera was undamaged, and the maneuver was not attempted again with equipment in hand.
Sometimes we had no camera when we needed one. I remember being blown away when I first saw Tom Duryea rip frontside and backside aerials with style and precision. Air was a relatively new medium, and any skater who could sail high above the lip was virtually guaranteed respect. Tom always was a fluid skater, and now he is the best glassworker and surfboard repairman in town. His family has run Du-Ray’s Surf Shop for over 20 years.
During another session, we were thrashing hard when a green Ford Pinto pulled up to the curb. A guy stepped out and introduced himself as a skater from Imperial Beach. His name was Robert and he seemed pretty cool, so we agreed to let him ride the ramp. He extracted a skateboard from his car, and we continued to ride. After a while, Robert asked if we wanted to burn a fat one. We told him to bring it, and we soon discovered he wasn’t kidding when he said “a fat one.” Pulling his stash out of his rig, he produced an enormous, six-inch spleef rolled with custom paper. It was only redhair, but there must have been a full quarter or more in that single joint We sparked the damned thing and gave it our best shot. I don’t think we ever killed the roach, but we certainly were ripped before that particular session ended.
Ramp skating was thirsty work, and during heavy sessions our mouths felt like the desert. After one rad grinding session, Greg Phillips took a long draught from the hose in the front yard. I’ll never forget his grimace: “That agua tasted primo for a second, and then it turned into hosewater.”
Our riding was not restricted to my backyard ramp. We still rode ditches, skated Paradise, and visited skateparks whenever possible. In addition to established facilities, new skateparks in La Mesa, Del Mar, Vista, and Escondido offered a range of vertical terrain. Situated at 15555 Turf Road, the Del Mar Skate Ranch was the biggest attraction. Clean pools and a smooth halfpipe were visible from I-5, and millions of commuters must have witnessed the action.
In December 1978, a deck even better than the Kryptonics model appeared on the skateboard market. Built by California Glass 8c Skate on Commerce Street in San Diego, the new Cloud was perhaps the finest deck available. Similar in construction to the Krypto board, the Goud possessed a design advantage with its superior shape. I don’t remember whether his was a birthday or Christmas gift, but the Wowman was the first proud owner of a Cloud in Coronado. I tested it on the ramp, and I must say it was a clean stick.
I bought a new board at the Spring Valley Swap Meet that winter. A 33" x 10" Sims Lonnie Toft deck with Gullwing Pros and Wings Wheels. I originally wanted a Sims Brad Bowman design, but I chose the slightly longer Toft model because the merchant gave me a deal. The entire board, German bearings and gnarly grip tape included, cost only $60, a reasonable sum in those days.
After I had adjusted to the length of my Sims skate, I decided to build another ramp to match my new board. I raided several construction sites and amassed a pile of lumber before carefully disassembling the existing ramp. Over the next two days, my friend Jon Richmond and I labored to produce a wooden masterpiece. We built a sturdy 11-foot ramp with 6 feet of beautifully smooth transition, 3 feet of vertical, and 2 feet of gradually curving overhang. Three layers of plywood gave this ramp a hard surface, thus ascents and descents were smooth and fast. This ramp was the finest ever built in my yard, and most local skaters agreed it was absolute perfection.
The new ramp was too big to move onto the sidewalk, so we rigged it in the center of the driveway and made a long, curving approach down the middle of the street Seven or eight kicks was enough momentum for a skater to hit the top.
Soon my friends and I were pulling wheelers on the overhanging lip. Within days, I built a platform for elevator drops and nailed a strip of simulated coping along the edge. A ’vator drop from the overhang was good for an adrenaline rush, while an extreme tail-tap and floating re-entry could be jointly classified as a religious experience.
My new board handled like a dream, and I systematically explored every inch of the overhang. Due to the ramp’s sweet transition, even mediocre skaters had no problem getting vertical. I decided to separate the men from the boys by cutting a 32” x 12” deathbox eight feet up in the center of the ramp. Riders who wished to rage on the overhang now were forced to carve over the deathbox. This development led to some stylish grinding and tapping, not to mention several spectacular wipeouts that occurred when uncommitted skaters lodged wheels in the dreaded box.
Sessions were enhanced by the placement of two speakers in my driveway; the stereo was a cheap one, but at least it worked and we had tunes. Some of my best memories involve rad sessions on the 11-foot ramp, Zeppelin blasting in the background and bong hits waiting on the table in my room. The ramp was a powerful attraction for local skaters, and many brought party materials in a collective effort to break the ice and secure a chance to ride.
The Wowman and I ditched class one day and skated the ramp by ourselves. We were thrashing to the limit when a swab walked by with a fishing pole in his hand. He stopped to watch us skate, and minutes later he initiated a conversation. He told us it was his day off, and he asked if we wanted to get high. We agreed, and the swab extracted a pipe from his jacket pocket. We sat down on the curb and ignited the howl, which was filled to the brim with opium-laced hash. The swab soon wandered off to his favorite fishing hole, and the Wowman and I grabbed our skates and proceeded to thrash once more. The sensation of riding a perfect ramp while under the influence of a powerful drug is absolutely unreal, like skating down the Great Wall while drifting on an asteroid suspended in a cosmic vacuum in a distant galaxy. After half an hour I felt lethargic, so I dragged out a chaise lounge and soaked up some rays as the Wowman continued his quest for enlightenment. He eventually gave up and skated home, and I spent the next six hours in a narcotic haze.
This perfect fourth ramp was too good to last. Police hassles ensued when our dick-smoking neighbors complained about the loud music and rowdy activity. Even though the ramp stood on private property, the Donut Boys bitched and moaned about our allegedly unsafe approach and exit runs. Their censure was unfounded, for we constantly maintained a vehicle watch and our safety record was impeccable. Unfortunately, the average local police officer possessed only rudimentary intelligence, precluding an understanding of basic physics.
We decided to relocate the ramp to avoid further hassles. We commandeered Jesse Newgard’s truck, hefted the ramp into the bed, and transported our illegally wide load to a preordained, covered hallway in the vacant Glorietta Elementary School. The surface of the hallway was wonderfully smooth, and there was just enough room for us to tap and grind beneath the high ceiling. We could even skate during occasional spring showers. Best of all, the ramp was hidden, and the Donut Boys were clueless about its new location.
The vacant school lay directly across the street from the Coronado Hospital. The ramp lasted one month before a Coronado Public Works crew tore it down. One month in a quiet zone isn’t bad, and I think of this grace period as a tribute to the nearly noiseless surface and solid construction of the ramp. Public Works crews are notoriously slow, and perhaps this particular crew lagged hard on the assignment. I heard it took an entire day to dismantle my wooden masterpiece.
I experienced family trouble in May 1979, so I bailed from my house and spent the following months with the Howard family in Coronado. My friends Roland and Jimmy Howard lived on G Avenue near the top of a gently sloping hill. The Howard House was a well-known refuge for skaters and other hooligans, and my arrival had little effect one way or another. With so many dedicated skaters under its roof, the house already was destined to become a focus of heavy skating and partying.
I was living with the Howards when I graduated from Coronado High at the age of 16. I was ripped from pounding beer all day, but I still remember doing bongs before skating down to the ceremony. I almost fell asleep in my chair as various idiots droned on. During that ceremony I swore I would never deal with any of them again, and I departed after collecting my diploma and shaking the principal’s hand. I’ve never been to any high school reunion.
A group of us decided to build another ramp. The driveway of the Howard House offered sufficient room to construct a halfpipe, but we first needed to secure the wood from the Midnight Lumber Supply. We scouted the neighborhood and finally selected a target site four blocks away. An ugly, three-story condo complex, with stacks of plywood and assorted beams just begging to be stolen. Using a giant transport rig created for the purpose, six of us hit the target at 0300 and loaded enough wood to build our ramp. The Maple Logs must have been fresh that morning, for the Donut Boys were nowhere in sight as we wheeled our cargo down the center of Second Street.
On July 4, 1979, Jon Richmond and Jimmy Howard toiled in the hot sun while the rest of us went to view the parade and pound cold tinnies at the beach. We returned to find a beautiful halfpipe in the driveway. Jon and Jimmy were proudly putting the finishing touches on their creation. A seven-foot wall sported coping on the lip, while the opposing nine-foot wall presented at least four feet of vertical. Solid framing and a smooth, firm surface indicated a factor of speed, while a decent interval guaranteed ample time for setup and recovery. After inspecting the craftsmanship, we all agreed the ramp was an excellent piece of work.
The next few weeks were characterized by intense skating and partying. We skated all day every day and partied every night. Vast quantities of alcohol and marijuana were consumed. The house was a litter of beer bottles, skateboards, and organic debris. The Howard brothers were casual about hurling stems and seeds onto the carpet, and during the summer several seedlings appeared as a result of frequent bong spillage.
Carol Howard, the hard-working, long-suffering mother, noticed the ramp’s proximity to a window in the house. We laughed when she expressed concern over the possibility of window breakage. Minutes later, the Wowman was riding and he lost control of his skate. We stood and watched as his board sailed through the air in slow motion, describing a perfect arc until it struck the window in question — dead center, of course. The glass shattered, the Wowman paid, and the skating continued nonstop. In order to avoid the jinx, no more was said about window breakage.
In a frenzy of skateboard madness, we invented a midnight variation of the sport. Between the hours ofO 100 and 0400, each participant carried a spare sheet of plywood to the summit of G Avenue. There we centrally positioned the skateboard beneath the plywood sheet, upon which we each sat or lay in corpse-like fashion before rolling down the hill at speed while ripped out of our minds. Loud, grinding turns and splintery collisions often occurred at the bottom of the hill. This popular mode of transport came to be known as “spaceboarding.”
Increased activity at the Howard House led to an influx of kooks and posers who wished to skate the ramp. We developed a system for processing undesirables. After being made to look like fools during brief halfpipe sessions, kooks were given bong hits of oregano and dismissed. When the oregano supply dwindled, we broke out the industrial tin of dill weed. Bongs loaded in the kitchen were usually ignited in the salon, where skeptical guests were shown buds reserved for our own use. These spicy bong hits must have been harsh, for we soon earned a reputation for smoking shitty weed.
A rich wank from Arizona once requested permission to ride. We let him skate for ten minutes while Roland and Jimmy devised a plan. Following their cue, we threw down our boards and invited the wank inside for a drink. Leaving his brand-new board near ours, he joined us in the cool interior of the house. While we entertained our guest with loud music and refreshments, Jimmy crept around the side of the house, scooped up the boards, and hid them in the tool shed. He rejoined us via the back door, and we waited five minutes before stumbling outside and angrily sounding the alarm. We ranted over the apparent theft and expressed slim hopes for the recovery of our boards. The dejected wank eventually split, and I watched the merry hooligans tear apart his board as they bickered like so many vultures at the kill.
The halfpipe disintegrated after months of hard usage, and the Howard House experienced a decline in popularity. By the time the autumnal equinox arrived, the Rise and Fall of the Howard Empire was already ancient history.
I was living with my family in the fall of ’79 when a friend discovered the skater’s ultimate dream: an empty pool behind the abandoned Coronado Club Apartment Motel at 707 Orange Avenue, just two blocks from my house. We immediately went to check it out, and we found a righteous eight-foot bowl with at least four feet of vertical. We christened it the Vertibowl and promptly began to skate. A high wall surrounding the pool kept neighbors and Donut Boys away, and for the next two months we rode the shit out of that place.
The Wowman was in heaven because the deep end favored goofy-footed skaters. Regular-footed riders had to draw a fine line, especially during descent on the right wall. High, arcing carves were necessary for one to even hit the tile. Jutting out three inches, the gnarly coping intimidated novices and experts alike. A fast drop from the shallow end projected skaters up the wall. Whenever anybody ate shit, the resulting face-plant sequence was usually painful and spectacular.
Many hard-core sessions went down in the Vertibowl, but one remains clear in my memory. I was riding a borrowed board, a Brewer deck with Bendependent Trucks and yellow Spyder Wheels. I was ripping fast tile carves when somebody called for a grinder. All skaters had studiously avoided the coping until that moment. Psychologically prepping myself, I gave a quick kick and dropped into the bowl. Riding hard and fast, I shot up the wall and initiated a full-on double grind across the coping. Time stood still, coping blocks flashed past, and with two wheels out I felt the heavy grinding vibration through the soles of my shoes. A loud racket echoed off the nearby cinderblocks, and then I began my silent descent. I almost lost it dropping down the dreaded right wall, but I made it into the shallow end before casually stepping off and reaching for a cigarette. One witness, Greg Phillips, said a cloud of coping dust was raised by the long, smoking carve. I'll never forget that timeless ride, the first double grind ever ripped in the Vertibowl.
The Wowman pulled a one-wheeler afterward, but the occasion was marred by his obnoxious boasts. Everyone knew he had a major advantage with the easy goofy-footer’s approach, and his vulgar proclamations were regarded with disfavor. Further braggadocio inspired some artist to draw a chalk outline of the Wowman lying in an unmistakable attitude at the bottom of the pool.
The pool-riding scene turned lame one day when the Donut Boys appeared and solemnly proceeded to take down our fake names. We were threatened with board confiscation and warned off the premises. The good officers regularly patrolled the property to ensure our strict compliance. The place became a bust and we turned our attention elsewhere, but not before I crept in one night and pried up a loose coping block as a souvenir. That coping block now lies somewhere in Huntington Beach. The Coronado Club Apartment Motel was demolished and replaced by an ugly new building, but the renovated Vertibowl still exists, full of water and proudly sporting fresh tile and coping. Perhaps someday the pool will be drained and a second generation of skaters will rise to grind the coping again.
Several months later, my friends and I learned that Home Avenue’s Moving-On Skatepark had
shut down. The park could still be ridden by climbing over the fence, and thus we began a long spell of skatepark visitation. The park was actually more fun after it shut down. No crowd, no mandatory safety gear, and no dicky skate patrol; just righteous morning sessions with close friends pushing the limits of style and speed.
At first, we just skated the park, shredding every inch of smooth, curved concrete. Then somebody knocked down a section of the fence with a four-wheel-drive truck, and local kids began to ride their bicycles down the runs. This looked like fun, so for the next session we brought our Schwinn Cruisers. A fine cruising tradition was born, characterized by graceful, high-speed carves and exhilarating aerial maneuvers. Whenever we visited the park in following weeks, we always brought the Three Bs: Bikes, Bongs, and Beers.
I remember the day we crammed six riders, four boards, three bikes, and two cases of cheap domestic beer into my old VW bus. Feeling like sardines, we crossed the bridge and arrived at the park before 0800. We proceeded to unload the vehicle and relieve our cramped bodies. I had a dual-chamber U.S. Bong in my backpack, and we burned the killer weed before we cracked the first tins and hastily sucked down the Breakfast of Champions. The beer and weed loosened us up, and a rad session ensued. I recall Gene Galasso soaring off the projecting point at the end of the red trench and catching about six feet of air before landing down near the bottom of the bowl.
The local kids preferred to log flight time between the blue and yellow runs. Striving for stylish tabletop cross-ups, they routinely flew out of the blue and into the yellow bowl. I saw one rider eat shit when he flew into the yellow bowl with his bars crossed. One handlebar gored his stomach when he slammed into the opposing wall. Common courtesy dictated that a rider who ate shit immediately cleared the bowl, but that guy took forever to drag his carcass over the lip, and he even left his bike behind for someone else to remove. So much for the circus bike scene. Severe injuries were nothing new at this stage of the game.
Much to our dismay, we showed up one morning to find the park ruined. Workers with jackhammers had torn apart the surface. Free sessions were over at Moving-On, and we returned to the ditch and ramp scene with waning enthusiasm. I built another six-foot ramp and several mini-ramps, but they were nothing compared to my former wooden masterpieces.
Occasional nocturnal jaunts to Paradise were enlivened by major alcohol consumption. We were pounding beers on top one night when a van pulled up and disgorged a half-dozen skaters. A full keg of beer was tapped in the van, and the skaters proceeded to get ripped before jamming down the spirals. On another night, some girl hurled a beer bottle off the top, and it exploded in a halo of glass when it struck the pavement 11 stories below.
Jonesing for excitement, three of us once searched for a rad downhill run in the South Bay. We finally found a bomb hill on the fringes of Chula Vista, a hill with a smoothly paved road and no dangerous intersections. After parking at the summit, |on and I tightened our trucks as lames donned his roller skates. I barely had time to offer a silent prayer before taking off with the others in loose formation. Two-thirds of the way down, we were pushing freeway speed when lames developed an ugly speed wobble. This wobble was accompanied by a horrible case of “sewing machine leg,” and I was certain my friend would eat shit and pick up some nasty road rash. He miraculously maintained control and made it to the bottom without a qualm. This was the same Berserker who declined safety gear before skating down Hill Street in Point Loma while peaking on mushrooms. Such behavior was considered normal, for we understood total commitment unto death led the true Viking into Valhalla.
The early 1980s evidenced a slow decline in the sport. One by one, local skateparks shut down — sad victims of lawsuits, insurance swindles, and skyrocketing costs of emergency medical care. Jon Richmond and I hopped the fence and skated the rad Oasis halfpipe shortly after the park closed, but some wanker with an interest in the property soon put an end to our free sessions. My passion for the sport subsided as it became difficult to find areas in which to skate without crowds or police hassles.
I rode at Del Mar for the last time in 1984. The park was full of screaming kids, and I felt like a geriatric case as I dodged loose boards in the halfpipe. A BMX rider stirred old memories by doing foot-plants on the fence. Local pros pulled funky new maneuvers in the pools, where simple carving, grinding, and tapping were obviously passe. I was beginning to loosen up and enjoy myself when my acquaintance dicked and broke his wrist in the halfpipe. I had to grab a bag of ice from the snack bar and transport the casualty to Coronado Hospital.
My final burst of banked skating occurred in the late 1980s in a flaring ditch off Imperial Avenue. Jon Richmond and I were willing to dodge stray bullets in order to ride this ditch, which was situated in a crime-ridden area of San Diego. At least the Donut Boys were too busy chasing criminals to stop and hassle two mellow, geriatric skaters. The ditch was ideally suited to the old style of riding, and high-speed carving runs were capped by lip slides and tail-taps. We rode the spot for several months, and then local residents began to go off. The ditch was eventually ruined by these irate wankers, and I finally gave up on the skating scene.
Two years ago, in an alcoholic haze, Jon Richmond and I decided to pay a nocturnal visit to Paradise. We crossed the bridge and parked the car a block away from the familiar structure. As we were heading toward the elevator, a security guard hailed us from the fifth floor. Riled by the sight of our boards, he threatened us with confiscation and warned us off the Concourse. Maybe we should have driven to the top, as in old days, but some gig was going down in the Civic Theatre and we didn’t feel like dealing with the lame parking scene. I haven’t been to Paradise since that night, except to park my vehicle during a Maniacs concert. A far cry from the Sex Pistols on the overhang.
I bought a skateboard for my seven-year-old nephew last year. A 1985 Micke Alba Tombstone Model with Gullwing Pros and Alva T.A. Naturals. I decided to break it in by doing a few tricks on the asphalt outside my house. Three-sixties, spacewalks, walk-the-dogs, and other obsolete freestyle maneuvers. I was enjoying the nostalgic footwork when four or five skaters approached from the west. They were cruising down the middle of the street, so I angled toward the curb and pulled over to let the younger generation pass.
“Freestyle, huh?” one said with a sneer.
Yeah, right, freestyle, you pathetic fucking moron. I was skating vertical before you were born, you pindick, so take your hip-hoppin’, street-rappin’, board-slappin’, wannabe-gang-flashin’, backwards-baseball-cap bullshit and BLOW IT OUT YOUR FUCKING ASS.
I paid my dues and had my fun, and now I must surrender the primary pleasure of my youth. I may give my nephew a few pointers down the line, but I don’t expect to ever seriously ride a skateboard again.
aerial — maneuver in which skater flies above lip before re-entry
axle drop — maneuver in which board is placed across lip with both trucks on coping; skater lifts nose of board and pivots on rear truck while dropping into pool, down ramp, etc.
backside — ass toward lip
BMX — bicycle motocross board —skateboard
bomb — large bowl — pool or similarly bowl-shaped riding area carve — long, drawn out turn derived from surfing catamaran — two skaters riding while seated, facing each other, with hands clasped and feet on each other’s board
concrete rash — similar to road rash, but incurred on sidewalks or park runs coping — rounded, protruding lip of pool, ramp, etc cut — turn
cutback — reversal of direction, also derived from surfing
deathbox— circulation vent beneath pool coping; hole cut in ramp
deck — skateboard top
double grind, double grinder — carving maneuver in which both trucks simultaneously grind across coping; maneuver can only be accomplished with two wheels already out (above lip) drop — rapid descent durometer — measure of hardness
edger — one-wheeler with mere edge of last wheel on coping
elevator drop, ’vator drop — maneuver in which board is placed straight out from lip with tail on coping; skater leans forward and rolls down face
face — surface of ramp, wall, etc.
face-plant — what happens when one eats shit; this painful maneuver is an indication that one’s style must improve
floater — four-wheel slide on overhang
foot-plant — maneuver which rider places foot lip before re-entry
freestyle — trick riding
frontside — face toward lip
glass — fiberglass
goofy-foot — riding stance with right foot forward
grind, grinder — maneuver in which one (usually the rear) truck grinds across coping
grip tape — rough tape applied to deck for better traction and foot control
halfpipe — long, semi-cylindrical trench or semi-cylindrical ramp designed m exclusively for skating
jam — haul ass
keyhole pool — pool in shape of keyhole
laminate — board made from layered plies of wood, glass, etc.
lip — upper edge of ramp, wall, pool, etc.
lip slide — stylish slide across lip
longboard — board a yard or more in length
nose — front end of board
one-wheeler, wheeler—maneuver with three wheels out and one wheel on coping overhang — surface beyond vertical
pin — board with pointed end
spinner — lame, lacking precision bearings — sealed, virtually frictionless bearings that made bearing cups obsolete
quarterpipe — ramp or wall curving upward 90 degrees ramp — structure designed for skating
re-entry — aerial or surface descent from lip
regular-foot — riding stance with left foot forward
road rash — abrasions, contusions, etc., incurred while street skating
run — chosen or designated course
session — period of skating activity
skate — skateboard skate patrol — skatepark employees
spacewalk — freestyle maneuver in which nose of board is lifted and moved from side to side without touching ground
speed wobble—loss of control at speed
stick — skateboard
tabletop crossup — aerial BMX maneuver with frame flat and bars crossed
tail — rear end of board
tail-tap — maneuver with four wheels out, tail still connected to coping
tile — decorative ceramic material beneath pool coping transition — surface curve between horizontal and vertical
truck(s) — hardware used to mount wheels on board board has front and trucks
two-wheel carve — carve with only two wheels (left or right side) still on coping
vertical — 90-degree surface
walk-the-dog — freestyle maneuver in which feet and board are transferred from end to end
8-wheeler — extra-wide board with four trucks and eight wheels
360 degree — rotational spin over one axle