Vail Daily column: Skateboarding’s youth
In the early 1960s, my family was living in Hermosa Beach, California. Our friend Don Guild owned the local drugstore. Appearing one day in his front window was an 18-inch piece of wood painted red with a roller skate nailed to the bottom. On the top in big bright, white letters it said “Bun Board.”
A friend of his had been trying for six months to get Don to sell them in his store. Finally, Don took six of them on consignment. The boards were all gone in three days. I am not saying this was the first commercial skateboard ever built and sold, but it was my first experience with one. However, as a 10-year-old kid when the wheels began to wear out on my roller skates, I nailed them to the bottom of a 4-foot-long 2-by-4. On the front end I nailed an upright 1-by-4 piece and another piece of 1-by-4 as a handle across the top so I could steer it around the cracks in the sidewalk, were it would stop instantly.
In the 1960s, when those first skateboards appeared in Hermosa, every kid in town was getting their hands on one and they began to get sophisticated when someone invented the skateboard wheel and gave the rider much more control.
It didn’t take long before the government took control of skateboard riders. At 11 o’clock in the morning, the lifeguards made all of the people get out of the water with their surfboards so the very few swimmers could swim. Naturally, the surfers started riding their skateboards at 11:05 a.m. and then immediately started getting hassled by the local police. It was a win-win for the government and a lose-lose for the surfers.
About a year or two later, word began to spread that there was a storm drain in nearby Torrance with steep sides that the skateboarders could carve graceful turns along the sides. They also found unoccupied homes with empty swimming pools and rode their boards to a new level of high performance.
About this same time, the skateboard explosion occurred in Venice and Santa Cruz, California.
Within three or four years, someone opened the first commercial skateboard park in the world, located somewhere between San Diego and Oceanside, California.
They tried to operate it like a ski resort by charging riders by the hour or selling them an all-day ticket.
Ed Siegel from the ski resort management business was able to nail the job as general manager and had to improvise the rules as he went along. A lot of kids tried to ride free after-hours when the park had closed.
One of my company salesmen went down to the commercial park for the weekend and managed to break his leg. Almost immediately, his phone started ringing with contingency fee attorneys that wanted to sue the park for untold millions of dollars. Fortunately he didn’t, recognizing that he had to take responsibility for his own actions. It taught whoever built the park to have adequate insurance.
In about the year 2000, I decided that Orcas Island needed a skateboard park as I watched the kids ravage the grocery and drug store parking lots. I was very fortunate when the superintendent of schools gave us a quarter of an acre and so all we I had to do was raise the money to build it. In the next couple of years we managed to raise $64,000 from friends.
One day, Paul Garwood, who owns the local lumber yard, and I were sitting where the park would eventually be located and decided that if we dug the hole the money would start showing up. And it did, in big numbers.
We hired Monk Hubbard and Grindline Builders of West Seattle to build the park for us. Next was the job of convincing the potential island donors to help support the park. Using the reasoning that in every Little League game, nine children win and nine children lose, and thinking in terms that kids who are worn out don’t get into trouble, we were able to secure great support resulting in donations of $250,000 — $50,000 of which went into an endowment for upkeep of the park for the future.
The city fathers where most skateboard parks are built assume control from day one. Those active in the project on Orcas Island instead said to Grindline, “You guys are the best in the world, and we are not going to tell you what to do in any way, shape or form. You are the world’s best — surprise us.”
In roughly 2004, a Skateboard Magazine editorial said, “It’s one of the three best in the world.”
When we conceived the park idea, we dismissed two options. One, a roof so they could skate in the rain and, two, lights so they could skate at night. Both were much too expensive to consider.
Halfway through the summer, we purchased two sets of bleachers so that families and girlfriends could watch the skaters destroy their bodies gradually by rubbing them against the concrete when they crashed. Luckily the park was located very close to the medical center, the dentist … and the cemetery!
Near the end of the excavation, we realized we had not put a drain in the 12-foot deep bowl. That required a 1,200-foot-long drainpipe to have enough gravity and flow to empty it.
Paul Garwood used the axiom that it is better to apologize than ask because he knew it would take six months for a permit for the drain. (Our county has a ridiculous strangle-hold on building. I don’t think permits take as long anywhere else than they do here.) So he called a friend who had a pretty big backhoe, and they started digging just before dawn on a Sunday morning during the time they knew no building inspectors would be on the island.
Buried somewhere in the park are some ashes of Laurie’s late father, who used to sit by the hour and smoke his pipe and watch the riders and also some ashes of a world-class skateboarder and the son of close friends, the late Scott Stamnes.
During the summer months, van-loads of young people with skateboards come across on the ferry and camp out in nearby Moran State Park for $5 per night. In the early evening, Coleman stoves heat up and cook whatever they find at the market that works for camp food.
A month or two after we finished it, I watched a young man learning to skateboard while he was wearing a Spiderman Halloween costume. Though it was evident he was lacking in social skills, most of the older kids helped him with his moves. His mother told me that he was adopted but they didn’t find out until later that he was badly beaten as a baby. He was 9 years old and had never spoken a word, cried or uttered a sound of any kind.
She told me later that on the way home after a week in the skateboard park, they were driving through Sacramento when from the back seat came, “Dad, can I have a hamburger?”
He went to school for the first time in his life and is now in the proper class level.
I believe the cure for his being beaten as a child was in the freedom he found in the skateboard park.
Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years, and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to over 50 publications. For more of Miller’s stories and stuff, log onto WarrenMiller.net. For information about his foundation, The Warren Miller Freedom Foundation, go to http://www.warrenmiller.org.
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