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Skate or Die Generation

By: NLogan
In the early 1980s my dad introduced me and my twin brother to skateboarding (or sidewalk surfing as he called it) when we found one of his old boards in the basement. We took turns riding it around and scooting on our butts with it or being pushed on it while standing.


It was a 1970's Free Former Banana board from ALS Industries.


But it wasn't my dad's first board. I went to visit my dad to get pictures of his boards and find out more about his skateboarding history. My dad had cousins who lived in California that he visited in the summers of the late 1950s and into the 1960s. They taught him how to take a 1950s strap-on Rollfast roller skate pair to make a skate board.


He took the skates apart (they were adjustable sized with a sliding bolt) and took the square wheel base and bolted them (with help from my grandpa) to a plank of wood. That was the first skateboard he had. "We didn't have money for anything, we made our own toys." Well someone had to have money to buy the skates in the first place, but go ahead dad finish the story. He told me they rode barefoot to grip the edges of the board with their toes.

Here is my dad at 6 years old with a home made skateboard in Los Angeles in 1958.


I asked him about scooters with handles on them like in the movie Back to the Future. He told me, "Yeah I saw them, they were for girls". He even got grandpa to try out the skateboard who immediately announced it needed a handle. If anyone calls my grandpa a girl we are going to have words. When he was alive he was a Golden Gloves Boxing champ. Plus girls were obviously the more intelligent using boards with a handle to hold onto. Grandpa being an Engineer in the military and a welder obviously saw the benefits immediately of not falling face first by having a handle to stabilize yourself with. Plus this pic proves they were for everyone... just not my dad who considered them wimpy.



By the 1960s my dad had made his own board again after the pattern of his surfer cousins in California and become a sidewalk surfer. There was no concave to the board and no nailed on fishtail like in Back to the Future (an anachronistic movie invention). All steering was done by leaning and in fact most rode on the very fronts of their boards over the front wheels surfer style. It was all street skating, with downhill for the foolhardy. As is shown in this photo from Time Life in NYC in the '60s.


The boards looked like mini surf boards and surprisingly have not changed much, evolving into today's longboards. My dad's board currently has Nash trucks and possibly Kryptonics wheels (they were so worn and dusty I couldn't read them). At one time it had been painted yellow. He told me the original wheels were long gone, having worn out, so the wheels came from a broken skateboard from the early to mid-1970s. That blew my mind since I was born in 1977 and cannot for the life of me picture my dad skating in his early twenties. Then again maybe I can based on his 1970 hair cut in high school.


Here is my dad's board he made. When I was young he sanded the top and put car detailing stripes on it. Notice it is not laminate, it is just a plank of wood.




In 1984 my dad got us our very own skateboards. They were Nash Red-Line Buzzsaw Tuf-Tops. My brother had a blue one, and I had a yellow one. They had no graphics at all on the top or the bottom of the deck, just the buzzsaw cut out of the grip tape. They had Park trucks. It was my first time with a skateboard that had grip tape. It made it uncomfortable to sit on. My dad told us it was to help us stand as his old boards had none and any crack would stop the skateboard cold if you were not going fast enough causing you to slide right off the end. We were 7 years old. We rode them to death.


My main accomplishment at the time was rolling down a slanted sidewalk and landing still on the board coming off the curb into the parking lot while standing up. Most of the time, after remembering the skinned knees and wipe outs, we did it sitting down which wasn't much of an improvement with a bone jarring thump landing on your tailbone. Add that to our most common trick of jumping and turning to switch feet and you had our entire trick arsenal at the time.

My dad, wanting to ride with us, got out his own homemade skateboard and we all rolled down the street together! He still has his board!

Our next boards were birthday presents that were department store skateboards. Possibly from Sears or K Mart. We were big time posers. My brother had the1985 Nash Executioner with a dragon on it sitting on a pile of skulls.


I had the 1985 Action Sports Reaper with the Grim Reaper on it with scythe. They were our first boards with rails on them. Not that we were good enough to rail slide with them. I used the tail brake quite frequently until it broke. The real reason for rails we surmised, was that they protected the graphics on the bottom of the deck from getting all scratched up, well sort of.


Because these boards had actual tails and were more concave, we mastered wheelies and boardwalking i.e. standing on the nose and tail and walking the board forward sideways. Skateboards became our main form of transportation to and from friends' houses with bikes being the alternative for longer forays. The steady gravel crunching noise of the pavement zipping by with the wind in our hair replaced the flip flip machine gunning of the cards clothes-pinned to the wheels of our bikes, or the sound of the rumble of the plastic wheel of our big wheels on concrete when we were younger.

When I was in the sixth grade I had a crush on a girl named Molly (incidentally she was the first girl I awkwardly slow danced with at a school dance). She lived in the same apartment complex as us near the tennis court. Why there was a tennis court at the apartments is a mystery. The pool made sense. It got used. We regularly scaled the fence to the tennis court and pretended it was the Danger Room from the X-Men, but I never saw anyone actually play tennis there. Now-a-days it has been replaced with a fancier playground than the one we had and a concrete basketball court. Anyways, the girl had a long haired older brother who was a skater.

One day as we were playing speed with cards, listening to her boombox and sitting cross-legged in the tennis court, her brother Ben zipped in on his board, scattering our cards to tease his sister, and  then made his getaway by jumping the net on his board. We were all up on our feet. While his sister screamed at him, me and my brother were dumbfounded. He had somehow magically flown through the air, over the net, and landed on the other side knees bent absorbing the shock, his butt nearly hitting the ground as he laughed and sped away.

Over the next few weeks we tried over and over again to even get our boards off the ground with no success and plenty of injuries. We couldn't figure it out. How had he jumped without a jump? We made jumps out of plywood but learned quickly that you would nearly kill yourself trying to land so we always stationed ours at the end of the concrete at the edge of the grass. More launches than jumps, we landed and rolled in the grass.

We generally steered clear of the older kids so as not to get pantsed or chased but we had to know how he did it, or at least see it again. We knocked on his door and were greeted with a, "Whaddayawant? She ain't here!" We asked if he would do the jump again. He laughed and slammed the door. We retreated with our boards to the tennis court, moping around and deciding if we should just go play guns at the fields across the canal. Suddenly he came barrelling out throwing his board down just past the welcome mat of his front door and smoothly landing on it in one motion. He swooped in and repeated the magical jump. It was like 3 feet at least (although he did it in the middle where the net sagged). We were amazed. No one knows why he pitied us that day. Maybe he was bored and none of his friends were around to see it. He taught us patiently how to ollie by kicking the tail down hard and sliding our foot up towards the nose. We could not do it on level ground at all at first so he had us move to the sidewalk with our wheels in the crack to stabilize us. By the end of the week we were jubilant at achieving one inch of flight time with each of us taking turns lying on the ground to see under the wheels to verify that we had indeed lifted off and cleared the deck! He also showed us a skate key tool he had to tighten the trucks which were so wobbly by then it was amazing we stayed upright at all. He said that was half the problem right there!

Achievement unlocked - ollie!

We saw him regularly after that, but only if his buddies weren't around. We considered him a skate god when we saw him rail slide down the railing on the stairs of the junior high without killing himself. His goal was to be able to clear a VW bug and we believed he would do it one day (he didn't, but could ollie onto the hood of a car). This is a picture of my Junior High School and the rail we saw Ben go down.



We also found out that he liked comic books when he suddenly took renewed interest in us upon discovering us reading them one day. He said he had books too and we were suddenly pulling out our longbox and showing him our favorites. Eventually, upon his finding out that we had some serious books, he wanted to trade. We followed him back to his room. It was covered in comic books stuck to the walls and ceilings with tacks through the plastic sleeves as well as record album covers like the Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd. He showed us his collection of comic books. He was mostly into Batman but had a good assortment. I apparently had a book he needed to fill a hole and he wanted it really bad. After some difficult and complicated negotiations and what seemed like hours of back and forth, we came to a gentleman's agreement. We shook on it with no take backs.  I am sure I got the lesser end of the deal. In the end he got several of my books, some real hard ones to let go of. I got a few of his books including an early appearance of Wolverine that I wanted and a few books for my brother that he wanted to trade for at a later date, a promise of a kiss from his sister (when she found out she was none too pleased and flat out refused!), and what I secretly wanted most... his worn out skateboard!

It was a 1989 Bob Reeves Airbourne with an android looking dude with the "laugh now cry later" masks on it. It was my first pro board - my first real skateboard. I somehow thought it would make me a skate god like him. It didn't, but it was mine. Little did I know he already was planning on getting a new board and would have given me his old one for free.



Eventually we did learn how to manual (nose wheelie) and rail slide from him. Since we couldn't ollie high enough we had to be content to watch him 50-50 grind, rail slide, nose slide and tail slide on this piece of coping pipe he had that was welded with feet at angles that put it about 5 inches off the ground. We took turns, with us skating up and popping the nose up to rail slide the pipe, and him grinding or whatever, finishing with a kick flip or heel flip when he came to the end of the pipe to land.

By the early 1990s we were in junior high. We had moved, and had a little brother born who was 14 years younger than us (products of my mom's short lived second marriage), and had gotten a whole lot better at skating (at least in our minds and also a product of the marriage as we never were home to avoid the situation, instead we were in the streets).



We wore checkered Vans shoes and had swooping hair with a wave in the front. Here I am looking eerily like my dad with a wave hairdo.


We could never afford the tight parachute pants of nylon material that breakdancers and some skaters wore.


We never wore the baggy style muscle pants with colorful designs although some of our friends did. 



We thought they looked like clown pajamas or MC Hammer pants and, well... U Can't Touch This.



We wore baggy acid washed jeans with either gathered legs with an elastic on the bottom or we pegged them, or camo pants from the surplus store because we couldn't afford Vision Street Wear.



We wore T-shirts from surf companies like Maui and Sons and Town and Country even though we lived in a land locked mountain state, having never surfed. Incidentally, both companies also made skateboards.



We drew skate logos on our notebooks at school and plastered stickers everywhere and on our boards like the Santa Cruz Screaming Hand or the Winged Bones Brigade logo. We got the stickers at the skate shop where we also got our boards.




My brother had a 1986 re-release of the 1983 Powell Peralta Tony Hawk Iron Cross board opting for the more classic image rather than the more current 1989 Tony Hawk Bird Claw.


He had OJ wheels and Independent trucks.




I had a 1987 Powell Peralta Ripper deck drawn by my favorite board artist Vernon Courtland Johnson or VCJ for short.


I had Slime Balls wheels and Gull Wing trucks.


VCJ also drew some of my favorite boards, like this Ray Bones Rodriguez Skull and Sword. Notice the Powell Peralta logo on the hilt of the sword. Or this Per Welinder Nordic Skull.


VCJ did the art on the Mike McGill Skull board that was the same one Christian Slater used in the 1989 movie, "Gleaming the Cube", which by the way was a rad movie that showcased freestyle (tricks on flat ground), pool skating in empty pools, and street skating. It had most of the members of the Bones Brigade at the time in it - like Rodney Mullen, Mike McGill, Tommy Guerro, and Tony Hawk who worked at Pizza Hut and drove a delivery truck.



Another cool '80s skater film was 1986's "Thrashin'" that had Josh Brolin (big brother Brand off the Goonies) in it along with pro skaters like Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero, Tony Alva, and Christian Hosoi. It featured downhill skating, half pipe skating, and street skating.


We only did street skating. Until seeing the films or checking out Thrasher magazine, we were unaware there was any other kind having grown up far from the California skating scene. That is, until one of our buddies invited us across town to his friend's house. We didn't know him because he went to another school, but his dad had built him a massive half pipe in his back yard. There were different kinds of boards back then, now they are all pretty much the same shape unless it is a long board. We had street boards with fishtails. He had a vert board that was lozenge shaped. We watched him drop in and pull off cool moves. We tried in vain to drop in and ended up sliding on our knees to the middle more often than not. We probably would have gotten the hang of it, but we were only there once and a few hours was not enough time to get it down. We left disappointed with bloody knees as none of us had knee pads (or helmets for that matter) at the time. We were still posers.


We tried to find places to practice vert skating and even checked out the local underground canal that opened up to the sky every few blocks. It was mostly smelly mud and cobwebs as you passed underground, with a trickle of water in the center. The sides of the aqueduct were more square than slanted so it ended up not being vertical at all. Back then, at least in our area, there was no such thing as the local skate park.

So we stuck with parking lots, schools, and skating down the middle of the road in the small hours of the night when there were few, if any, cars out.


One thing we tried stupidly was bizzing (sometimes called skitching). We would try to skate up to a UPS truck and grab hold of the handles on the back. The UPS driver saw us in the mirror and slammed on the brakes causing us to slam into the bumper and back of the truck. Another time led to the "Bug Off Blunder", as it came to be known - a huge debacle.

My brother had a red shirt that had BUG OFF on it spelled out in huge black letters made of tiny bugs. He happened to be wearing it one day when we, along with a friend named Wayne, decided to grab the back of an acquaintance's car to biz to a basketball court to play ball. The older kid with the car decided it would be cool to peel out and floored it. I got scared and immediately let go, trying to stop fast twisting my ankle. My brother and Wayne did not let go. They began to develop serious speed wobbles with their boards whipping back and forth until they slammed into each other, locking the trucks together, twisting, and dumping both of them catastrophically.  Wayne's board shot backwards pitching him forward into a nose dive where he landed face first and broke his collar bone. My brother's board shot forward launching him backwards to land on his back and skid for about 20 feet. When he stood up I thought he was okay, but the back of his red shirt was gone... replaced by a raw, red, and bleeding back that I didn't notice at first. I remember the two of them sitting on the couch at Wayne's house waiting for his mom (who was a nurse) to come home and get them to take them to the emergency room. Wayne came home with an arm sling and bandages for his gnarly road rash. My brother came home with a bandaged back after they played douse him with iodine and operation, picking the gravel and rocks from his back with tweezers - truly epic roadrash . I was the lucky one with only a twisted ankle. Little did we know it was the beginning of the end.

Once we recovered we went back to our usual skating routine, skating at the local Circle K parking lot, moving the parking block to rail slide down it. My brother, trying to land a trick above his pay grade, landed 50/50 on the parking block straight down instead of grinding. It stopped his forward movement cold. His board shot out from under him while he pitched backward onto his can. The board unfortunately sped like a missile right into the street and under a passing pickup truck. We heard the audible crunch as the plywood deck splintered under the wheels in tandem with my brother's scream of disbelief and horror. His board was demolished. With no back up deck, zero funds for a replacement, and tiring of taking turns on mine, we gravitated inside to play arcade games.


Eventually we stopped skating altogether when my board was stolen and never replaced. We were then, and sadly probably always were, posers. The only skating we did then was playing Nintendo games like:

Skate or Die! NES 1988


You guys remember that one right? Pool Jousting against Lester, the son of the Skate Shop owner, or downhill racing in the park, or city jam. Incidentally we learned most of our skating terms from this game, including "goofy foot" and "vert" along with such classic quotes as, "No posers try walking"!



720 NES 1986


California Games NES 1987


Town and Country Surf Designs Wood and Water Rage NES 1988 was probably my favorite for playability next to Skate or Die (although it was insanely hard). For the skateboard part, I always picked TikiMan.


Our Skating career was over, but one good thing came out of it... my little brother. Literally, he was good. When he was 10 years old I took him to the local skate shop to pick out his first deck as a present. I bought him a 1999 Zero Team deck with Lucky bearings, Bones trucks, and Spitfire wheels. I also got him a matching Zero helmet, and Pro Tec knee and elbow pads. He took to skating like a duck in water.


Here he is as a beginner! I had him send me some photos of photos. Unfortunately this is as big as I can get them without being totally blurry because I don't have the originals.  Notice we moved a parking block for him to practice on just like my good ole days!


He quickly mastered moves we only dreamed of pulling off as kids, and also much to my dismay, immediately ground off the graphic from the bottom of his board by boardsliding (notice it is no longer called railsliding as modern boards have no rails). We took him to skate parks and he practiced non-stop.



We watched him pull off tricks we had never even seen before that he learned from playing Tony Hawk Pro Skater on N64 that my twin brother got him that same year like. Tricks like  impossibles, 360 kick flips, varials, kick flip to Indy, etc. Playing with him, I learned of new skatingboarding companies, tricks, and the names of the current professionals while unlocking boards and finding hidden tapes. I always played Bob Burnquist. Just as in real life, he dominated me in the game, skating circles around me.




As he got older he got even better. When he came to my apartment I was amazed at him riding switch (goofy in my day) while doing a nollie backward fakie doing a 360 shove it with his body rotating, landing opposite of takeoff in regular foot down a flight of stairs without ending up in a coma! It was insane! Or landing a sex change kick flip with his body rotating to the other side of the board over stacked boards or helmets. He was always trying to perfect a hard flip where the board goes vertical between your legs but I don't think he ever did. He has children now, proof that not too much damage was done in his many attempts.

My mom got him Tech Decks fingerboards, ramps, rails, and a mini half pipe that he played with constantly whenever he was indoors and unable to do the real thing. He would be tricking with his fingers on the backs of the pews at church, desktops at school, etc.


My favorite fingerboard he had was a Tony Hawk Birdhouse.



In 2001 my twin and I took our little brother (11 years old at the time) to the Zumiez Tony Hawk Vert Demo. My wifey also came because she is cool like that. It was held at the Fashion Place mall parking lot and featured a bunch of skaters, but the ones I remember most were, of course, the Birdman himself Mr. Tony Hawk and his then 15 year old protege skater phenom the Flying Tomato, who would grow up to be the Olympic gold medalist in snowboarding that you know as Shaun White!


My brother took photos of them on the half pipe.


It was crazy watching them trick over each other and cool finally seeing our heroes in the flesh doing insane tricks and monster vert. We watched Tony do tricks like the Kick Flip Mc Twist kicking the board spining 360 degrees while doing a 540 degree backside spin with muted grab, 720s, frontside 540s, and one called Christ Air.


To get them pumped up, posters and shirts were thrown into the crowd. We managed to catch one of each. The shirt was an adult large however, so my little brother couldn't wear it. So I kept it. I bought him a Tony Hawk book instead.


I still have the shirt and wear it once in a while, but it is older now than some of you reading this.


We got to meet Tony Hawk and I got his book signed for my little brother.


As the Birdman was leaving, my twin gave him a high five! He got photo evidence to boot. This was before any of us owned digital cameras or cell phones and selfies were unheard of.


My little brother is now grown up, with a family of his own. Sadly, none of us became pro skaters. My dad, an original skater in his youth, gave up quickly when we were small, realizing that adults don't heal rapidly. But at least he got us started. My twin and I remain posers. But we had fun in our day. My little brother in his prime was legit. But soon basketball took over as his main interest and he ended up playing college ball. But as a family during the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and early 2000s, we lived by the mantra, "Skate or Die Man!" At least in our own way.



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Hoju Koolander Posted on Jan 15, 2019 at 01:59 AM

Wow, the generational angle of this article is unbelievable. I totally relate to being a poser, but I never even got my Nash board moving, something was wrong with the wheels and without an awesome older neighbor guru to get them rolling I just moved on to comics and action figures. My favorite part of the story is your crush's awesome brother showing up out of nowhere as the God of the ollie, so fun.

NLogan Posted on Jan 14, 2019 at 03:38 AM

Also the high school kid that we skate hitched (skitched or bizzed) a ride from kept the basketball when he peeled out. He didn't stop to help us. Maybe that was his intention all along.

NLogan Posted on Jan 14, 2019 at 03:32 AM

@benjanime I once went to a skating rink and couldn't believe that there were more scooters on the rink than kids in skates. It was during your scooter craze.

@Ravenloft I tried to get a picture of Doom drop from Google maps it is either gone or from the angle you just can't see how much it dropped. I also tried to get the stairwell that M went off but the same problem, street view you can only see the top, satellite view you can't see them at all just lines. The Circle K is now a KFC and the Shopko construction site where we skated is now a Costco. You can see the canal but it is full of water.

Ravenloft Posted on Jan 14, 2019 at 02:53 AM

Back in those days we never wore helmets for skating or bikes except the one time we tried BMX. Helmets weren't a thing and nobody's parents freaked out about it. That said, one of our elementary friends died in a header on his bike. Funny how when we were gearing up our little brother elbow/knee pads and helmet were the first things we bought. We also found a natural jump made of two upturned concrete sidewalk slabs that made a perfect steep upside down V. We foot stomped for all we were worth trying to gain speed to launch, eventually we took turns with a bike rope tow to get truly impressive (for kids) distance. Also a sidewalk in our apartment complex went down a hill to a 2 1/2 foot drop off into the parking lot and it was the defacto launch for the entire neighborhood. We called it the doom drop. I think it was a handicap accessible thing because the sidewalk lead straight to an wheelchair apartment. No one launched a skateboard off that thing and survived a landing although we tried for years, but with bikes and scooters we could do it. The scooters with the mini bike tires not the lame scooters with the rollerblade wheels-those things would highcenter as soon as the front wheel went off the doom drop causing the kid to attempt a full front flip or die.

Benjanime Posted on Jan 14, 2019 at 02:23 AM

being an artist the skateboard designs always intrigued me, though i never got into skateboarding itself. it wasn't until 2002 that i got a scooter though and i think i rode it up until 2004 when the scooter craze was starting to slow down.

Ravenloft Posted on Jan 14, 2019 at 02:23 AM

My brother forgot to mention what we did while we were grieviously injured from the car tow dumb idea: sprained ankle for my brother, broken collarbone for my friend, and complete coverage severely bleeding road rash on my back, we sat on the floor to avoid blood on the couch and played nintendo while waiting for his mom to get home to take us to the hospital. Our mom didn't get off work for several more hours. We didn't call anybody, first of all cell phones were unknown to us then in those days and car phones were only for rich people and calling your parents at work was never done by kids voluntarily anyways unless mandatory such as when you got home from school. We could have knocked on a neighbors door to find a responsible adult or even called 911, but nope it never even entered our minds to seek help. We just play NES and waited while I ruined a blood soaked towel from my friends closet and we silently (except for the occasional groan or sniffle) played video games.

NLogan Posted on Jan 14, 2019 at 02:18 AM

@Vapor I know right? Regular access to skateparks, the helmet and knee pads allowed my brother to do insane things that we shunned or only dreamed of due to instinct of bodily preservation. My boys have boards but since we live on the foothills of the mountains don't skate much. Too steep. They play video games instead.

@vkimo Whoa! Brother a pro skater that is rad! My little brother played THPS to death and unlocked everything. I managed to finish a few boards. Can you find my board that was stolen from me? Thanks in advance!

vkimo Posted on Jan 14, 2019 at 01:09 AM

Nice piece! Brought me back to my short lived skateboarding days. My older brother was a sponsored pro back in the 90s and rode for Anti Hero and Real Skate teams. I believe he was in Thrasher magazine at one time.

My first foray was in the form of a little blue cartridge on the N64 - THPS was such an integral part of my video game days. I would also get the CCS catalog and look at all the cool decks from World Industries to Hook Ups...I read that bio you got signed for your brother, nice read.

I still have my Element Deck with Venture Trucks, Quickies bearings and Kryptonics wheels.

Recently I picked up an old 80s skateboard at a garage sale, listed it on Craigslist only to be contacted from the original owner who said it was stolen from him as an adolescent. Crazy story, but I gave it back to him.

Vaporman87 Posted on Jan 14, 2019 at 12:20 AM

An epic piece as usual. What an amazing look at how skateboarding was a sort of "rite of passage" for your family for decades. I wonder if your boys have any interest in it?

I had a couple boards growing up. We had an extremely long concrete driveway to practice on, but the divisions in the sections of concrete made it hard to enjoy unless you had some really good speed going.

I think of some of the dumb things we tried (tame in comparison to what you attempted to learn) and all can imagine now is breaking every bone in my body. LOL. Funny how our physical limitations progress and affect how we even imagine performing crazy stunts.

This all puts me in mind of our local skateboarding utopia, Skatopia. I wonder what those maniacs are trying to come up with as we speak. Living only a few miles from that place is not far enough. LOL

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