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Simi Valley's Skateboard Museum

Wall-to-ceiling skateboard decks at Skatelab's museum.
Wall-to-ceiling skateboard decks at Skatelab's museum.

Say the high-brow word “museum,” and I’ll generally shell out any price to visit, but when the Ventura Visitor’s Center handed me a brochure that suggested a museum collection of over 2,000 skateboards, I did a double take and thought, “that’s different.”

Curious, I drove inland through the majestic mountains of Simi Valley and took an exit into sleepy suburbia. At the end of one street, the sound of snaps and cracks came from an ugly warehouse. Inside, Skatelab – which has been around since 1997 – proved to be an amazing tribute to the art and sport of skateboarding.

Video:

Simi Valley's Skateboard Museum

Tour of the Skateboard Museum in Simi Valley, California.

Tour of the Skateboard Museum in Simi Valley, California.

The entryway was filled with long and short skateboards alike from the last several decades. Turns out, skateboarding was invented in Southern California during the 1950s, taking its inspiration from surfing. At Skatelab’s upstairs museum, they display boards of all kinds, including a street luge.

An old '60s magazine is inside a glass case and opens to an interview with 21-year-old Larry Bertleman. Explaining that he used a skateboard when the waves were flat, Larry was credited with bringing his fluid style of surfing to the streets. His signature move was the "burt," which involved dragging his fingers or putting a hand on the ground and turning around it.

Skatelab also has plaques celebrating Guinness Book of World Records holder Guy Grundy, who in 1975 set the record of going 51 mph on a skateboard in Signal Hill, California, and Richard Carrusco, who in 2000 did 142 continuous 360-degree revolutions on a skateboard.

Wandering through the wall-to-ceiling boards (top), it’s hard not to notice that the decks of skateboards are splashed with modern art. There’s a history behind that. In 1972, a group of kids from Dogtown (a slum area in West Los Angeles) set up Zephyr Surfboard Productions. They took local graffiti and put it on their surfboards. Then, the Zephyr Team became well-known skateboarders, and a tradition started of putting graffiti-type images on skateboards as well.

Skatelab has a shop that sells wax, movies like Thrashin’ and skateboard wheels. That’s important too because before 1972 kids used to make their own skateboards, often using dangerous clay wheels. When Frank Nasworthy invented the polyurethane wheel, the ride became smoother. Skateboarding went mainstream after that.

But don’t hold your breath waiting for skateboarding to become part of the Olympics. Having started as an anti-establishment movement, style and innovation tend to be far more important than rules. All sorts of styles and tricks keep being invented – from the "vert" to Alan Gelfand’s 1978 "ollie" (created when he struck the back of his foot on the tail of his skateboard while leaping with his board into the air).

Skatelab continues to grow its collection of "everything" skateboards, and soon they plan to have a Skateboarding Hall of Fame. Best of all, in the multi-experiential fashion of today’s museums, Skatelab has ramps and quarter pipes for everyone to practice their own burts and ollies.

You can find the museum at 4226 Valley Fair St., Simi Valley, CA.

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Wall-to-ceiling skateboard decks at Skatelab's museum.
Wall-to-ceiling skateboard decks at Skatelab's museum.

Say the high-brow word “museum,” and I’ll generally shell out any price to visit, but when the Ventura Visitor’s Center handed me a brochure that suggested a museum collection of over 2,000 skateboards, I did a double take and thought, “that’s different.”

Curious, I drove inland through the majestic mountains of Simi Valley and took an exit into sleepy suburbia. At the end of one street, the sound of snaps and cracks came from an ugly warehouse. Inside, Skatelab – which has been around since 1997 – proved to be an amazing tribute to the art and sport of skateboarding.

Video:

Simi Valley's Skateboard Museum

Tour of the Skateboard Museum in Simi Valley, California.

Tour of the Skateboard Museum in Simi Valley, California.

The entryway was filled with long and short skateboards alike from the last several decades. Turns out, skateboarding was invented in Southern California during the 1950s, taking its inspiration from surfing. At Skatelab’s upstairs museum, they display boards of all kinds, including a street luge.

An old '60s magazine is inside a glass case and opens to an interview with 21-year-old Larry Bertleman. Explaining that he used a skateboard when the waves were flat, Larry was credited with bringing his fluid style of surfing to the streets. His signature move was the "burt," which involved dragging his fingers or putting a hand on the ground and turning around it.

Skatelab also has plaques celebrating Guinness Book of World Records holder Guy Grundy, who in 1975 set the record of going 51 mph on a skateboard in Signal Hill, California, and Richard Carrusco, who in 2000 did 142 continuous 360-degree revolutions on a skateboard.

Wandering through the wall-to-ceiling boards (top), it’s hard not to notice that the decks of skateboards are splashed with modern art. There’s a history behind that. In 1972, a group of kids from Dogtown (a slum area in West Los Angeles) set up Zephyr Surfboard Productions. They took local graffiti and put it on their surfboards. Then, the Zephyr Team became well-known skateboarders, and a tradition started of putting graffiti-type images on skateboards as well.

Skatelab has a shop that sells wax, movies like Thrashin’ and skateboard wheels. That’s important too because before 1972 kids used to make their own skateboards, often using dangerous clay wheels. When Frank Nasworthy invented the polyurethane wheel, the ride became smoother. Skateboarding went mainstream after that.

But don’t hold your breath waiting for skateboarding to become part of the Olympics. Having started as an anti-establishment movement, style and innovation tend to be far more important than rules. All sorts of styles and tricks keep being invented – from the "vert" to Alan Gelfand’s 1978 "ollie" (created when he struck the back of his foot on the tail of his skateboard while leaping with his board into the air).

Skatelab continues to grow its collection of "everything" skateboards, and soon they plan to have a Skateboarding Hall of Fame. Best of all, in the multi-experiential fashion of today’s museums, Skatelab has ramps and quarter pipes for everyone to practice their own burts and ollies.

You can find the museum at 4226 Valley Fair St., Simi Valley, CA.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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