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The Dog Days of Childhood


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Skate or Die

I grew up in Southern California during the 80’s, a sunshiney land populated by blonde-haired surfers and beach babes who said “Dude” a lot. While my description of California life is only a slight exaggeration, I wasn’t associated with either one of these groups during my formative years. Instead I guess I would have been categorized as a “TV Junkie”, spending most of my time absorbing entertainment through the “idiot box”. During my brief forays into the sunlight from 1986-1990, I did find myself exposed to the radical resurgence of skateboarding and I have a feeling you did too.

In the late 80’s, skateboarding was pretty inescapable in my neck of the woods. Everywhere you went you saw kids joining this growing counter culture by hopping on their boards and gliding around the urban landscapes. There is nothing quite like the sound of those wheels rolling across the asphalt, it’s almost like the calming roll of ocean waves. Keeping with the aquatic theme, the tidal wave of skateboarding paraphernalia washed over every inch of my daily existence in such a way that there was no way I could avoid its influence.


For example, when you went to the toy store they actually had a whole aisle devoted to the boards and independent skate shops opened up to serve the growing clientele. You could get your video game fix with NES games like 720, Skate or Die, California Games and my personal favorite, T&C Wood & Water Rage. Add to that movies like Thrashin’ and Gleaming the Cube (which was actually filmed at my older sister’s high school) and the evidence of skateboarding’s popularity was undeniable.

Skate culture really found a foothold in the suburban community I grew up in, although it always seemed to be the realm of kids 4 or 5 years older than me with attitude. For example, my neighbor, Sean was a 6th grade juvenile delinquent who resembled every bully you’d see in Hollywood movies of the time. Decked out with a buzz cut, earring, studded leather bracelets and a sandpaper voice laced with malice, I feared him and much as I was fascinated by him.

Sean usually had a Tony Hawk shirt on, which was a mythic name I always heard mentioned, but had no visual concept of. The scary bird skull logo seemed to indicate that he was a hardcore tough guy, who lived on the edge, but actual photographic evidence suggests otherwise. Maybe the bird was supposed to symbolize his chicken legs?

Adding to his image, Sean had posters from Thrasher magazine gracing his walls, featuring guys doing “Verts” and skating swimming pools. It was through these photos that he educated me on terms such as “Ollie”, “Grinding”, “Half-Pipe” and other expletives I won’t repeat. It was like my window into this world I never even knew existed and my parents definitely wouldn’t have wanted me to be a part of.

This kid was obviously trouble, so you may be wondering why I hung out with him. Well aside from the fact that he had a lot of Garbage Pail Kids stickers and M.U.S.C.L.E. toys, the  6 year old me was attracted to the danger of it all, thinking I could be “cool” too if I rubbed shoulders with a real skater. I remember the day that I was given the privilege of taking a ride on Sean’s board with him, a date which will live in infamy.

As we gathered at the end of the culdesac in front of my house, my Skateboardin’ Sensei instructed me to sit on the front of his “Deck” and hold on to the sides while he rode on the back. As we pushed off I was exhilarated by the rush of the wind and the vibrations of the wheels on the concrete sidewalk. I was finally getting my taste of the Skate or Die lifestyle and then….it happened.

While reaching down to get a better grip on the board, my hand reached passed side of my current transport and suddenly a shooting pain rain through my fingers. I screamed as Sean brought the board to an abrupt stop and I raised up my throbbing hand to see my thumb nail peeling off. Yep, the combined weight of an 11-year-old hooligan and a pasty shut-in had rolled over my fingers and caused some serious damage. But if you think that painful injuries put a damper on my desire to skate, you would be wrong.

After the weeks of “recovery” watching my nail grow back over the sticky goo that lies beneath, I decided that if I had survived that incident, I was ready to go solo. Solo in this case involved a skateboard with a handle bar. This rolling embarrassment was the pre-cursor to the Razor scooter of 15 years later or if you like, a skateboard with training wheels. It was basically the same concept as that toy Marty McFly stole from that 50’s kid and broke apart to make a skateboard during the chase scene in Back to the Future.

After a couple months of dweebing it up on my “Roller Scooter” I decided to bug my parents for an actual skateboard. If I remember correctly the deck art consisted of a neon green dinosaur wearing pink safety pads that looked ridiculous, but at least I didn’t have to hold on to anything. I really thought I was starting a new chapter in my life as a skateboardin’ punker.

The sad part was that once I got out to begin my wild ride, the wheels would hardly roll. I would push off and the board would go maybe a foot then come to a complete stop. It never occurred to me that board maybe needed some WD-40 or screws to be adjusted, so I just accepted my fate as a poser and left the thing in the side yard, never to be ridden again. Yeah, my 15 minutes in the world of skating came and went so fast that it didn’t even give me time to brag about it in school the next day.

That pretty much marked the end of my aspirations to be streetwise skater. Instead I had to settle for making action figure avatars like Mondo Gecko and Zed from Police Academy do wicked Kickflips and Half-Cabs. Believe me, Rufio from Hook could pull a sweet McTwist!

So did skateboarding make it to your neighborhood? What was your experience with skater culture?

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Vaporman87 Posted on May 01, 2016 at 01:14 PM

I can't remember much about my skateboard growing up, except that I'm fairly certain it had too much pink on it for my tastes. I was never proficient at skateboarding, but I managed to get good enough to stay on without busting my head open.

DirtyD79 Posted on Apr 30, 2016 at 12:03 PM

I still remember my skateboard from when I was a kid. It was a skinny yellow one. I really wanted one of the Vision Street Wear ones I saw at this one roller skating rink but that was not in the cards. Naturally being an 80s kid I never wore a helmet or pads same with riding bikes. Nobody in my neighborhood did. It's a miracle any of us made it to be adults. lol

NLogan Posted on Nov 25, 2014 at 03:47 AM

Gleaming the Cube was awesome. Tony Hawk is the guy with the Pizza Hut truck.

I always wanted a Powell Peralta Skull and Snake McGill board, or the Tony Hawk Skull board but never got one. I had a relatively obscure Bob Reeves Airbourne deck with a dragon on skulls with Independant trucks and either OJ or Slimeball wheels. At one point I had Gull wing trucks. Before that I had a Nash board from either K-Mart or Shopko I can't remember. I drew all kinds of skate designs on my school folders and had stickers in my locker. I sprained my ankle getting a signature from Tony Hawk at a vert demo. I always wore either my checkered vans or my black ones. I never did get into the MC Hammer skater pants though. My little brother turned out to be a way better skater than I ever was. I bought him a Zero board with three skulls on it and matching helmet and knee pads.

Vaporman87 Posted on Nov 08, 2014 at 11:20 PM

The documentary on our local crazies is called "Skatopia: 88 Acres of Anarchy" which is also available on NetFlix. Prepare to be disturbed. lol

Hoju Koolander Posted on Nov 08, 2014 at 09:42 PM

@Vaporman 87: Glad to hear that your board was functional ;) of course now we all want to know how to catch a glimpse of this band of skate hooligans that terrorizes your town annually. My brain imagines them skating at each other like a joust and meeting in the middle exchanging punches to the face.

@pikachulover: Yeah I grew up in Irvine, which is right next to Newport Beach. I think 75% of skaters are posers (the fashion is definitely a big draw), but the hardcore 25% that hone their skills are really impressive. Skater girls are always cool, whether they skate ot not.

FYI: There's a lot of great skateboarding documentaries on Netflix right now, my favorite is "Bones Brigade", which covers the era I wrote about here.

pikachulover Posted on Nov 08, 2014 at 03:34 AM

@ Hoju
You're from Newport right?
My dad grew up in the Valley as an adolescent and he surfed and skated. In the 1960s and 70s. I grew up in the valley too; the San Gabriel Valley. :P
I never skated, but it had a stronghold on my high school in the late 90s early 2000s. I think I've been on a skateboard like 4 times in my life. I was more proficient on in-line skates and 4 wheeler skates. The skaters used to think I was a poser because I loved skater music, but I didn't skate. I also really liked skater fashion. Wallet chains, wide legged pants(which I still wear today), crop tops for girls, and of course skate shoes.
It was funny in high school there was a surfer teacher from Long Beach and he used to say "Dude" a lot. We would make fun of him for talking like that.

Vaporman87 Posted on Nov 07, 2014 at 10:30 PM

It did indeed make it's way to my neighborhood. I myself was not immune to it, and had my own board. It wasn't anything fancy, that's for sure, but it did the job.

I got good enough to keep it moving, but that was it. I just didn't have the time or inclination to learn much more than that. I had my bike, and my roller skates and that was good enough for me.

Now outside of town, we have a skater culture that you wouldn't want any part of. It's a place where the worst of the worst come to make messes, punch each other, and drink until they can't breath. It's awful. Thankfully they only convene once a year for their biggest stupidfest. And you always know when that's coming, because you see them buzzing to and fro... they are unmistakable.

There is a documentary on this place, but I'm not promoting here as I've already mentioned it more than it deserves in the forum some time ago. Last time they had their "thing", a camera crew with a giant black Winnebago and a van with a bumper mounted camera was following the "ring leader" of this bunch into our local department store. Hurray.

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