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Trix Are For Kids
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 commonly 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.
Evolutionary progression led to the clay or "rock" wheel. The clay wheel offered slightly improved traction with a major reduction in noise, but it had two conspicuous disadvantages. If one struck a pebble or cigarette butt on the sidewalk, a subsequent face-plant and irritating road rash were absolute certainties. The clay wheel also had an alarming tendency to explode or otherwise disintegrate upon 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 eighteen-inch ledge, and as soon as I landed a big chunk promptly fell out of the right rear wheel. This damage hardly affected the overall performance of the board, and I rode it as it was for months afterward. I made small but 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 which revolutionized the sport. The Cadillac Wheel was probably the most radical innovation in skateboard history. Combining superb traction with a smooth, quiet ride, Caddies opened up a whole 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 order of the day, and skateboarding enjoyed an immense surge in popularity as aficionados everywhere took to the streets.
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 countless 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 one block from my house, and our downhill technique gradually improved as we repeatedly sped down the slope. I distinctly remember eating sh!t 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 the tender age of thirteen. There I met other kids who were fully 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 Wood Shop. The only reason I took Wood Shop in my freshman year was to secretly 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 hardwoods. My handmade boards were usually in vogue, but my toothpick holder, box, and cheesy magazine rack were miserable abortions. Whenever Coach Greene inspected my latest shop project, he would sadly 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 from Bahne. 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 of us 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, and vice versa.
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 U.S. cities to outlaw skateboarding altogether. The resurgence of skating in the 1970s led to a corresponding 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 from skating. My friends and I were simply forced to exercise caution during our excursions. We invariably gave fake names when confronted by authority figures. We were kicked out of numerous restricted areas, but none of us ever had his board confiscated. Citations bearing fake names were later displayed to jealous classmates.
I remember repeatedly climbing the fence at NASNI (Naval Air Station, North Island) to skate an asphalt trench roughly 100' 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 confrontations usually inspired us to haul @$$ to the fence, where boards were unceremoniously hurled as we swarmed and scrambled for safety. Once over the chain-link barrier, one could laugh with impunity 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 experience hassle-free riding at a facility designed exclusively for the purpose. Each skater paid $3 per day in order to enjoy this privilege. At approximately the same time as the opening of the Sparks Carlsbad Skatepark, 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 thriving multimillion dollar business.
During the following months, my friends and I carefully monitored new developments and trends in the sport. We faithfully pored over every issue of SkateBoarder Magazine and marvelled at the fluid style of riders such as Jay Adams, Tony Alva, Waldo Autry, Bob Biniak, Arthur Lake, Stacy Peralta, Lonnie Toft, Gregg Weaver, et al. Every effort was made on our part 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 sufficiently worthy to retire 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 which ranged 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 a mere $3. Safety equipment could be rented at a cost of 50 cents for everything.
Unlike the Sparks Carlsbad Skatepark, Moving-On was only fifteen minutes from my house. I remember the first time I went there with my friend Greg Phillips. The park was fairly crowded, and some d!ck started to get in my face after I cut him off in one of the runs. Greg rushed headlong into the argument and heated words were exchanged. When the other skater turned away, Greg summoned every ounce of his strength and planted a foot in the guy's @$$. The impact of the kick was sufficient to lift the poor bastard several inches off the ground.
One month after Moving-On began operation, 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 fourteen-year-old delinquent lacking a driver's license and rich parents, I was sorely pressed 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 traveling far and wide in search of 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 heralded further developments in the sport. SkateBoarder Magazine faced its first real competition when the premier issue of Skateboard World hit the stands in June, 1977. 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 coincidentally rose to prominence in the skating scene. Stylists Tom Inouye and Shogo Kubo blasted into the limelight, while local ripsters Steve Cathey, Dennis Martinez, and Doug "Pineapple" Saladino rapidly gained recognition throughout San Diego County. There were others who skated equally well, but these were the riders I remember best.
The rise of a more versatile breed of skater was aided by the proliferation of skateparks across the nation. Skateparks were hotbeds of activity and innovation. A well-constructed park such as the recently-opened, soon-to-be-famous Upland Pipeline was a godsend to skaters in general and locals in particular. I used to drool over Pipeline photos in the skate rags. The park was far too distant, of course, and my fantasies of riding at Upland were mere pipe dreams.
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 on-site injuries, and safety equipment (especially helmets) became mandatory for most park riders.
New and far 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 brand-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 undoubtedly was the finest wheel on the market.
In that same month of August, Skateboard Heaven opened at 1020 Sweetwater Road in Spring Valley. With heavy emphasis on vertical riding, Skateboard Heaven was easily 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. For those wondering about the number, the Soul Bowl #2 incorporated key design elements of San Diego's once heavily-ridden Soul Bowl, a private pool in the College area which met its untimely end 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, and it wasn't a pretty sound. The two skaters lay groaning in the aftermath, one with a compound fracture of the leg and the other with some sort of abdominal injury. Neither moved until the ambulance arrived and carted both away.
Growing weary of the crowds and bullsh!t attitudes involved with park riding, I scrounged wood from construction sites under the cover of darkness and built my first skateboard ramp in September, 1977. It was a 6' quarterpipe with beautiful transition and over a foot of vertical. Three layers of plywood laid across the frame gave this carefully-crafted ramp a firm, fast surface. Simulated pool coping consisted of a wooden half round tacked to the lip. All things considered, this first project was a fairly solid piece of work.
The smooth concrete driveway behind my back gate seemed an ideal location, and after positioning and shoring my ramp I was finally ready to ride. I repeatedly jammed down the sidewalk, cut into my driveway, and effortlessly flowed up and down the wooden face. I'll never forget the joy of that initial solo session. For the first time in my life, I privately rode my own vertical wall with absolutely no interference from @$$holes. No cops, no skate patrol, and no safety gear to cramp my style. Just a clean board, a righteous ramp, and pure, invigorating freedom.
I soon came to depend upon my beautiful wooden creation. As a fifteen-year-old junior at Coronado High, I was a full-blown drug addict with a hardcore antisocial philosophy. Coming from a broken and impoverished home, I couldn't relate to the rich, spoiled @$$holes I met in school. I had already put up with their ridiculous bullsh!t for two long years, and I loathed the wankers with a passion which is difficult to describe. 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 @$$hole-infested campus and skate home for a session. Since my house was only three blocks away, I often rode home at lunch, opened the gate, skated for twenty or thirty minutes, closed the gate, and returned to school in time for Sixth Period.
The few friends I had began to join me for these sessions. My house was in the center of town, so it made a good focus for our skateboarding activities. We ritually assembled in my room to do bongs and suck down beers before riding the wooden wall. The casual atmosphere promoted loose skating, and our sessions grew intense as we pushed each other's limits. Grinders, edgers, and tail-taps were quickly mastered, while more difficult maneuvers became tests of patience and endurance.
Despite my desire to maintain a low profile, word of the ramp slowly spread across town. The same @$$holes 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 grudgingly permitted to ride for short spells, while arrogant, egocentric [email protected] were completely denied access. "The neighbors already called the cops," "My brother needs to work on his car," and similarly tactful lines of dismissal were routinely employed when dealing with overly large or extremely popular @$$holes. 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 approximately four months. By the time it started to fall apart as a result of hard usage, we had it totally wired and we were ready for something new. We tore the damned thing to pieces and recycled ninety percent of the wood in the construction of a second ramp superior to the first. Another 6' wall with a 4' vertical extension, which meant 10' of wooden perfection with 5' 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 corner of my driveway. One had to fully jam at speed down the sidewalk, cut left hard, and then draw a fine line up and down the face. The drop was even more radical than the ascent; 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 sh!t 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 record-setting, 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 subtle yet graceful riding style was an influence in 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 10' terror into a righteous 7' 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.
I well remember the spring of '78. White Yo-Yo Wheels appeared on the market and blew away the competition. Hal Jepsen's movie "Skateboard Madness" appeared on the silver screen. 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 @$$ 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 countless photos of skaters getting air in hot new parks, while I preferred pictures of hardcore stylists carving, grinding, and tapping to the limit. The latest styles and techniques gleaned from photos were immediately applied during blistering ramp sessions. Long, drawn-out frontside grinders, backside microedgers, and extreme tail-taps were my favorite maneuvers. I vaguely recall a brief experimental phase inspired by a photo of Lonnie Toft shredding on his 8-wheeler.
My friends and I skated heavily throughout 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 invariably 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 cases of beer for us, and we shamelessly forked over the same bills which they had given to us only minutes earlier.
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. Alas, it was my turn to make the run, so I gave the usual rip-off rates in a futile attempt to deter the swabs. They were bound and determined to get ripped off, however, and I couldn't help smiling as they pooled their funds and gave me $400. I promptly 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 sh!tty bud for the swabs. Returning uptown within ten minutes, I unloaded the bag of ragweed and sent the swabs on their merry 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 distinctly 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 a large, impressive automobile entered the intersection of 10th and Orange. A well-groomed poodle was hanging out of the open 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 hapless poodle was ejected out the window. We skated over in an altruistic effort to check the animal's condition, and the idiotic driver went ballistic when she misunderstood our intentions. She shouted slanderous accusations until we turned away in disgust. I never did like poodles, and this episode only reinforced my dislike.
Such incidents paled in significance when compared to the technological advances made that summer by equipment manufacturers in the skateboard industry. 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 which consisted of "a lightweight foam core wrapped in fiberglass and surrounded by a resilient urethane bumper." This radical ultralight skateboard deck had an advanced $59 price tag to match its technologically 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 an equally rapid 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 dramatically rose as new gear was aggressively 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 I was thoroughly sick and tired of my classmates, and my antisocial feelings and tendencies soared to new heights. The only persons with whom I associated on campus 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 merely to skate and party with a handful of friends and acquaintances.
Darren K__ was a new student who moved into a house around the corner 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 hardcore prelude to the inevitable afternoon skate session.
One day The Wowman and I drank half a pint of Hiram Walker's Blackberry Brandy and a full fifth of Seagram's V.O. during lunch break. We then 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. My senses were reeling within minutes, and I couldn't understand a single word of the instructor's lecture. I finally abandoned all hope of intellectual stimulation, rose from my seat and stumbled to the door. I actually made it into the hallway before I blew chowder. The instructor followed and nearly slipped in a large purple puddle of puke. Two students were appointed to assist me to the school nurse's office, where I concocted some bullsh!t story about falling off my skateboard and banging my head while riding the I.B. Pipes the previous afternoon. The nurse sent me to the local hospital, where a reasonably competent doctor quickly 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 which I had recently fashioned from an old water ski, using the curved nose of the ski as a kicktail for the skate. Smooth, fluid style was the order of the day whenever I rode the longboard. It handled well, especially during frontside grinders and elevator drops. After casually pulling a few 'vator drops, I decided to film David H___ as he attempted the same maneuver for the first time. After some hesitation, he committed to the drop. He promptly ate sh!t, 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 long, deep breath, he slowly leaned forward and rolled over the edge. He must have successfully completed this maneuver a thousand times in the past, but he naturally choked and ate sh*t while holding the stinking camera. The resulting footage showed an initially clean drop followed by a blur of elbows, sky, and concrete as The Wowman demonstrated a John Wayne combat roll. Miraculously, the camera was undamaged, and the maneuver was not attempted again with the equipment in hand.
Sometimes we had no camera when we desperately 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. Tommy always was a fluid skater, and now he is one of my closest friends, as well as the best glassworker and surfboard repairman in town. His family has run Du-Ray's Surf Shop for over twenty 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 readily 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 promptly 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 my mouth often felt like "The Sands Of The Kalahari." Cottonmouth exacerbated this condition, and between beers I drank plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. Juices, sodas, and bottled agua constituted choice liquid fare, while large volumes of tap water were consumed during spells of poverty. Brave souls occasionally drank directly from the garden hose. After one rad grinding session, Greg Phillips took a long draught in the front yard. I'll never forget his grimace or his classic quote:
"That agua tasted primo for a second, and then it turned into hosewater!"
Our riding was not restricted solely to my backyard ramp. We still rode ditches, skated Paradise, and visited skateparks whenever possible. In addition to established facilities, newly-opened skateparks in La Mesa, Del Mar, Vista, and Escondido offered a wide selection 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 over the years the action at the Ranch must have been witnessed by millions of commuters. I only rode Escondido's Whirlin' Wheels Skatepark once, and I never had the opportunity to ride the parks in Vista and La Mesa.
In December, 1978, a deck even better than the Kryptonics model appeared on the skateboard market. Built by California Glass & Skate on Commerce Street in San Diego, the new Cloud was perhaps the finest deck available. Similar in construction to the Krypto board, the Cloud possessed a distinct 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 broke down that winter and bought a new board at the Spring Valley Swap Meet. 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. I took my new stick home and a brief period of adaptation ensued.
After I had adjusted to the length of my Sims skate, I decided to build another large 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, Jon Richmond and I toiled to produce a wooden masterpiece. We built a sturdy 11' ramp with 6' of beautifully smooth transition, 3' of vertical, and 2' of gradually curving overhang. Three layers of plywood gave this ramp a hard surface, thus ascents and descents were incredibly 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 easily provided sufficient 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 adrenalin 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 perfectly sweet transition, even mediocre skaters had no problem getting vertical. I decided to separate the men from the boys by cutting a 3 1/2" x 12" deathbox eight feet up in the center of the ramp. Riders who wished to rage on the overhang were forced to carve over the deathbox. This development led to some stylish grinding and tapping, not to mention several spectacular wipeouts which occurred when uncommitted skaters lodged wheels in the dreaded box.
Sessions were enhanced by the placement of two speakers in my driveway. Alas, 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' 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 promptly asked if we wanted to get high. We quickly agreed, and the swab extracted a pipe from his jacket pocket. We sat down on the curb and ignited the bowl, which was filled to the brim with opium-laced hash. The sh!t was Da Kine, and our heads swam as the drugs began to take effect. 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 narcotic 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 mellow, narcotic haze.
This perfect fourth ramp was too good to last. Frequent police hassles ensued when our d!cksmoking neighbors complained about the noise and rowdy activity. Even though the ramp stood on private property, the Donut Boyz 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 a rudimentary intelligence, which precluded his understanding of the basic principles of physics. Excessive Maple Log consumption fostered his piss-poor attitude, and patient explanation merely served to raise his hackles. Had Mother Teresa been on our side, we still would have received the sh!tty end of the stick.
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 with impunity during occasional spring showers. Best of all, the ramp was hidden, and the Donut Boyz were clueless with regard to 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 smooth, virtually 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 at 255 G Avenue, a modest dwelling situated near the top of a gently sloping hill. The Howard House was a well-known refuge for skaters and other hooligans, and my arrival as a carpetbagger 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 sixteen. 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 interminably droned. During that ceremony I swore I would never deal with those idiots again, and I promptly departed after collecting my diploma and shaking the Principal's hand. To this day I've never been to any high school reunion, and I have no plans to attend any reunion in the future.
The Howard brothers, friends, and I decided to build another ramp. The driveway of the Howard House offered sufficient room to construct a halfpipe, but first we 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 specially 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 Boyz were nowhere in sight as we wheeled our clandestine 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 in manifold states of inebriety to find a beautiful halfpipe in the driveway. Jon and Jimmy were proudly putting the finishing touches on their creation. A 7' wall sported coping on the lip, while the opposing 9' wall presented at least 4' 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 notoriously 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. Mere minutes later, The Wowman was riding and he lost control of his skate. We stood and watched as his board sailed gracefully through the air in slow motion, describing a perfect arc until it struck the window in question. Dead center, naturally. 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 an escalating frenzy of skateboard madness, we invented a midnight variation of the sport. Between the hours of 0100 and 0400, each participant repeatedly carried a spare sheet of plywood to the summit of G Avenue. There he centrally positioned his skateboard beneath the plywood sheet, upon which he sat or lay in corpse-like fashion before rolling down the hill at speed while ripped out of his mind. Loud grinding turns and splintery collisions commonly occurred at the bottom of the hill. Due to the bizarre sensations produced by this mode of transport, its popularity skyrocketed and it came to be known as "spaceboarding."
Increased activity at the Howard House inevitably led to an influx of rich kooks and posers who wished to skate the ramp. We developed a system for processing these undesirable elements. After being made to look like fools during brief halfpipe sessions, kooks were given bong hits of oregano and were subsequently sent upon their way. 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 initially skeptical guests were shown buds reserved for our own use. These spicy bong hits must have been harsh, for we rapidly earned a reputation for smoking sh*tty 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 toolshed. He promptly 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.
Such squalid scenes were commonly enacted throughout the Summer of '79. Alas, all good things come to an end, and that particular summer was no exception. 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 8' bowl with at least 4' of vertical. We christened it "The VertiBowl" and promptly began to skate. A high wall surrounding the pool kept neighbors and Donut Boyz clueless, and for the next two months we rode the sh!t 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 heinous 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 sh!t, the resulting face-plant sequence was usually painful and spectacular.
Many hardcore sessions went down in the VertiBowl, but one remains eternally clear in my memory. I was riding a borrowed board, a Brewer deck with Bendependent (Independent) 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 friend and 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 shortly afterward, but this occasion was marred by his obnoxious boasts to spectators. 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. A label and arrow left no doubt as to the identity of the missing corpse.
The poolriding scene turned lame one day when the Donut Boyz 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 insure 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 simply climbing over the fence, 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 speed and style.
We simply skated the park at first, joyfully 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 Four Bs": Bikes, Bongs, Boards 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 thankfully 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 tinnies and hastily sucked down "The Breakfast of Champions." The beer and weed loosened us up, and a rad session ensued. I recall following Gene Galasso when he soared off the projecting point at the end of the red trench and breathlessly caught about six feet of air (not counting the downslope) 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 sh!t 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 sh!t 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. Painfully 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 6' ramp and several mini-ramps, but these were mere shadows of 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 eleven stories below.
Desperately "jonesing" for excitement, Jon Richmond, James Knight and I once searched for a rad downhill run in the South Bay area. 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, Jon and I tightened our trucks as James donned his roller skates. I barely had time to offer a silent prayer before taking off in loose formation. Two-thirds of the way down, we were pushing freeway speed when James 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 sh!t 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 psilocybin mushrooms. Such behavior was considered normal, for we understood total commitment unto death invariably led the true Viking into Valhalla.
The early 1980s were marked by 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 increasingly 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 chock-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 d!cked and broke his wrist in the halfpipe. I had to grab a bag of ice from the snack bar (no charge for injuries) and transport the casualty to Coronado Hospital. So much for my last session at the Skate Ranch.
My final burst of banked skating occurred in the late 1980s in a smooth, 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 notoriously sketchy, crime-ridden area of San Diego. At least the Donut Boyz 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 eventually was ruined by these irate wankers, and I finally, wholeheartedly gave up on the entire skating scene. With the retirement of my board, my riding days were officially over.
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 olden 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. 360s, spacewalks, walk-the-dogs, and various other obsolete freestyle maneuvers. I was enjoying this 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 politely pulled over to let the younger generation pass. Unfortunately, this magnanimous gesture was wasted upon the callous youths.
"Freestyle, huh?," one commented with a sneer.
Yeah, right, freestyle, ya pathetic f#$&g moron. I was skating vertical before you were born, ya pind!ck [email protected], so take your hip-hoppin', street-rappin', board-slappin', wannabe-gang-flashin', backwards-baseball-cap bullsh!t and BLOW IT OUT YER F#$&G @$$!!!!!!!!!!! Curb-hopping is a far cry from floaters on the overhang, you ignorant subhuman f%*k. Crawl back into your narrow little world and pray that Daddy's checkbook doesn't fail you in your hour of need.
Yes, the glory of skating is long gone, but the memory will linger until I'm in my grave. Years of involvement in the sport left a permanent impression in my mind. I paid my dues and had my fun, and now I must try to gracefully 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. What else can I say? When I look upon today's pinner skateboarding scene, it reminds me of that cheesy old advertising jingle. How does it go? Oh, yeah... TRIX ARE FOR KIDS.
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