Monday, July 13, 2009
OMG! I'm a Middle Aged Skateboarder!
I found this awesome article on the San Francisco Chronicle's website...www.sfgate.com. The article is by Mark Simborg and really captures what skateboarding is for me as a 35 year old. I too have experienced skateboarding in the 70s,80s,90s and today. Funny, because when I started back up again in 2004 when I hadn't really skateboarded since 1991, I thought I was the only one, so I went scouring the web for other older skaters like myself to really help myself get over the awkwardness I felt by going to the skatepark as this 30 year old with a wife, 2 kids and a mortgage trying to skate with the 14 year olds...this voice in the back of my head kept telling me I was "crazy" and that I was too old for this childish activity. But I could not resist, I craved that feeling again, the feel of the board beneath my feet, the feel or an ollie or landing a trick and rolling away...it just feels so good and comfortable and all is right with the world when I am on my board....it's hard to explain....maybe it's just a return to a time in life where you didn't have to worry about bills or keeping a roof over your head or putting food in your belly. A time of less stress....it certainly is addicting and I found can be dangerous if this escape is used so often that you really have escaped the reality of adult life and responsibilities. So be careful that you balance skateboarding in your adult life with everything else otherwise this de-stressing activity of your youth could end up causing more stress. So check out the article below, it is awesome and will make you want to grab your board and go skate....heck, it makes me wish I still had my old Hosoi Hammerhead deck from the 80s. Dear Santa, please send Hosoi Hammerhead Reissue this Christmas! :) Ha! Oh, by the way, if you read my last post about the Screaming Hand Skateboard Flashdrive....my Mom and Dad read the post and decided to purchase it for me! Thanks Mom and Dad! You are the Best! :)
In which we chronicle midlife skateboarders and their return, to be schooled by 6-year-oldsArticle from www.sfgate.com by Mark Simborg
On a brilliantly clear Sunday morning in June, an SUV pulls into the nearly empty lot of the Pacifica Skatepark. The ocean crashes a mere 300 yards away, across Hwy. 1, close enough to hear its rumble, and taste the salty air. By Pacifica standards it is a good surf day: warm, sunny, waves 3 or 4 feet high and not yet blown into a crumbly mess. Surfers dot the water like an army of seals. They jockey for position, waiting for the perfect crest to float their way. Back at the skate park, Bob Gardali steps out of his SUV. He goes to the back, opens it, unzips a large black duffle full of skate decks, some with wheels, some without - all tanks by today's standards: big, 30-inch-long, 8-inch-wide boards with flat noses. He grabs some pads, and then, smiling, rests himself on the bumper and begins to untie his shoes. He is 41 and he is about to score the best waves of the day - crowd-free, wetsuit-free, no bone-chilling water or sharks or heavy equipment. The Bay Area, after all, is now full of perfect waves. All you need are some wheels.
Gardali is a member of skateboarding's newest legion: men in their 30s, 40s or even 50s, married or unmarried, with or without kids, from every type of professional background, who grew up in skateboarding's early days and now find themselves, besides aging fast, in hog heaven: a time, unimaginable in the '70s or '80s, when new, government-sponsored valleys of carveable cement transitions topped with slick metal coping open every week. What else to do but take it up again?
"In the '70s it was always skating in the street or the driveways," said Gardali, a lieutenant commander in the Coast Guard. "Now with all the new parks, that's the reason why I've kept it up. At my age I have no desire to skate driveways or fight with cars in the street."
Gardali grew up skating in San Mateo but quit around 1980. "Life," he said, when asked why he stopped. "I was in high school, playing other sports, girls." A few years ago Gardali saw the movie "Lords of Dogtown," which portrays the "Z-Boys" - a group of Venice, Calif., teens who revolutionized skateboarding by taking it to the drained pools of the 1975 drought, essentially inventing modern-day skating - and decided his skating days weren't over yet. "That final scene, when they're in the Dogbowl? I thought: 'I can do that!' I dug out my old original '78 Dogtown skateboard and went to a park."
Gardali typifies today's older skateboarder: started when he was young, dropped it in his teens or early 20s, started back up again recently thanks to the plethora of skate parks. His equipment is old school - original or reissued decks from the '70s or '80s and trucks by Tracker or Independent. His terrain of choice? The skate park, of course, where the fast freedom of "Dogtown" carving is so readily attained.
"(The parks) keep getting better, with Pacifica and Sacramento being far better than anything in the '80s that I ever rode," said San Francisco resident Michael Wehner, 50. Wehner skates a reissued 1980s Powell with skull and crossbones graphics but actually started skating long before the original version of his reissued board came out. "In my generation the boards didn't even have graphics," he said.
Wehner said he returned to skateboarding about seven years ago when a friend invited him to skate a local park. "It was pretty crazy. I've had to teach myself things over again."
All over the Bay Area older skaters like Gardali and Wehner are pouring back into the scene, creating a strange demographic loop in the parks. "That whole middle ground is definitely missing, the twenty-something skaters," said Ross resident David Schaeffer, 31. "It's either us or the little guys."
A breezy Saturday morning found Schaeffer standing atop the sprawling San Rafael skate park, surveying the activity from a picnic bench area. "I wish I were good enough to ride even half of it," he said. "I come here and just get schooled by 6-year-olds."
Schaeffer skateboarded as a kid but stopped in high school. "I started snowboarding when I was 14 and got completely addicted and thought it was silly to slam onto concrete when I could fall on the snow," he said. Earlier this year, Schaeffer discovered a skate park only minutes from his office in the East Bay (he is product manager of Outerwear at North Face) and with a co-worker decided to hit it up as a lunchtime tension reliever. Now, skating parks has become a weekly activity. "I'm not leaning on any skateboarding skills because I really don't have any," he said. "I'm leaning on snowboarding skills." Schaeffer's wife doesn't exactly approve. "She thinks it's silly, but then she thinks a lot of the stuff I do is silly."
The midlife-crisis angle is not lost on today's older skateboarders, or their wives. Said Gardali: "When my wife finally accepted me skateboarding, she said, 'Skating's a lot less expensive than a twenty-something blonde.' "
"We spend a couple hundred on boards instead of Ferraris and extramarital affairs," added Gardali's friend, Kieth Plymate, 45, who regularly skates the Pacifica park with Gardali.
But outside of midlife angst, what would inspire a person in their 30s, 40s or 50s to pick up a skateboard? To understand this it would help to look at the rough history from which the sport has emerged. Rewinding 20 years from Gardali's inspiration, the Z-Boys, we arrive at the first skateboarders: 1950s California surfers looking for the same sensation on pavement for their surfing downtime. Nobody knows who did it first, but at some point a wooden plank was mounted onto roller skate wheels, and presto - the first skateboard.
The popularity of skateboarding surged in the early '60s, with manufacturers building decks shaped like surfboards and SkateBoarder magazine publishing its first issues, but in 1965 "safety experts" came down on the sport, urging shops to stop selling skateboards and parents not to allow their children to skate. Skateboarding died almost overnight.
Then came urethane, an oil-based composite that provides a satiny ride compared with clay, and by the early '70s skateboard manufacturers were back in business, mounting their decks on these translucent wheels that didn't jam stop at every pebble and also gripped the pavement, allowing for high stability and serious carving potential. At the same time the Z-Boys (Z for Zephyr, the name of their surf and skate team, which itself came from the name of a local shop, Jeff Ho Surfboards and Zephyr Productions) were just beginning to take their wild, low-riding surf style to the pavement. The drought of 1975 led to empty pools and, thanks to the Z-Boys, the birth of the "vert," or vertical, skateboarding era. The first skate parks appeared in the late '70s and were largely private endeavors. Derby Skatepark in Santa Cruz - a long, snaky ditch caked with graffiti - is one of the few remaining parks from that era, as most were shut down in the early '80s thanks to orbital insurance premiums and landowners cashing in on escalated real estate values.
While skateboarding originated in Southern California, it was Northern California that would come to be known as the sport's mecca. In the '80s, San Francisco was home to some of the most unwittingly delicious urban skateboarding terrain on the planet (it still is, though some of these spots have since been skate-proofed): the stage and steps of the Embarcadero's Justin Herman Plaza, Hunters Point Dish, the embankments of Fort Miley, the steps and ledges of Pier 7, the steps at Hubba Hideout, the wide, mellow-sloping avenues of the Sunset - if you made it to San Francisco as a skateboarder, you had made it to the promised land.
San Francisco was also home to one of the country's largest skateboarding subcultures, and this subculture would produce some of the decade's finest skaters. The beginning of a 1985 skateboarding documentary, "Future Primitive," shows San Francisco's Tommy Guerrero carving, ollying and sliding his way down an avenue in the Sunset District to the chords of a bluesy skateboarding ode: "Well I'm a Future Primitive, and I skate to live."
The film was the second of a series produced by Z-Boy-turned-entrepreneur Stacy Peralta and his partner George Powell (creators of the powerhouse skateboarding brand Powell Peralta), featuring a group of skaters known as the Bones Brigade. Another member of the Brigade was San Jose's Tony Caballero (Cab), whose backyard ramp in the '80s attained an almost iconic status among Bay Area skaters. "Dude - I heard he skated Cab's ramp," was a common refrain.
Nothing else quite captures the tumultuous ride skateboarding took through the last two decades of the 20th century as well as the history of Bones Brigade member Tony Hawk. In 1983 Hawk was a 14-year-old skateboarding phenom, a vert-ramp specialist who was the first to pull off any number of tricks, including the 720 (two spins in the air; in 1999 he would also be the first to land a 900). By 1986 his name was synonymous with high-flying skateboard mastery. But in the late '80s the skateboarding industry crashed again, and this crash was followed by a major shift in the sport - from vert to street. Suddenly, Hawk's specialty was out, and street skating was in. Hawk suffered financially and went through a divorce. Succor arrived in 1995 when the X-Games thrust vert-skating back into the spotlight. Media attention continued to refuel the sport's popularity, and by 1998 skateboarding had begun to move into a place most skaters never thought (or maybe even hoped) it would: the mainstream. Hawk is now, quite literally, a multimillion-dollar industry unto himself, and skateboarding is being considered for the 2012 Olympics.
Something else happened in the late '90s: California passed AB1296, which declared skateboarding in a public skate park a "hazardous recreational activity" if the skateboarder is 14 or older. While it didn't completely let skate parks off the hook liability-wise, AB1296, renewed in 2003 as SB996, significantly reduced cities' insurance exposures and set the stage for an unprecedented period of skate park construction. Today there are nearly 100 in Northern California alone, most of them built over the past five years.
Fairfax resident Robert LeCussan, 33, lived the end of the first skate park era and the beginning of the second. "Basically, the only park available at the time was closed," he said. "It was a park built by some kids on the second floor of an abandoned building in South San Jose. That was the only fun place to skate." At 18 LeCussan stopped skateboarding seriously, but started up again when the indoor Milpitas park opened in 2001 (now closed). He now skates the San Rafael park every weekend.
On a Saturday evening in June, LeCussan, a transpersonal psychologist, kick-turned around the edges of the San Rafael park, steering clear of the raucous group of tweens attacking one of the park's centerpieces: a four-way ramp surrounded by banks. As a kid, LeCussan sprained his ankle attempting an ollie when his front foot slid off the nose of his board. It's why he now skates a "popsicle stick," the upturned nose of which makes this practically impossible, and also why he wears full pads: for the wrists, knees, elbows and, of course, the head.
"As long as I'm padded up, I'm still willing to get back into it," he said.
Gardali is also no stranger to injuries, though his have come in Phase 2. In December 2005 he cracked two ribs trying to drop in at the Pacifica skate park (for the record, he returned in March 2006 and did it). He has also cracked two helmets since his triumphant return to skateboarding. If it wasn't for today's pads, Gardali said, he might not have gone back to the sport. "The pads are so good that you don't feel anything."
For Schaeffer, skateboarding is nothing short of petrifying. "It's concrete, not snow - there are consequences," he said. For this reason Schaeffer is perfectly happy leaving the tricks to the younger guys and focusing instead on carving. "I just want to get that juice, that feeling, from skateboarding, the same feeling I get from snowboarding."
Schaeffer's sentiment is illustrative of the other gap: the gap in endeavor. Where new-schoolers tend to focus on tricks, old-schoolers are more intent on surfing the transitions, reaching that high carve that will give them the feeling of plunging down the face of a wave or arching a turn in 3 feet of powder. With such dissimilarity one might expect friction between the groups, but the dynamic is one of mutual respect.
"I'm learning so much from kids who aren't even 10 years old," Schaeffer said.
From the kids' perspective, the old-schoolers are a welcomed addition to the parks.
"They rock!" said Colin Dallara, 11, from Lagunitas. "They remind me of the Z-Boys; they're really good at axle stalls."
"They can go really high on bowls and they're practically touching the top but they're not," added Dallara's friend Nicholas Tribble, 10, from Petaluma. "They look like they're flying."
"And they have big wheels," contributed Alex Hartford, also 10 and from Petaluma.
"Bend your knees!" Hartford and his friends called to Schaeffer as he tried to negotiate one of the San Rafael park's quirkier features: a down-sloping series of bumps followed by a steep embankment.
"You can go down and roll over the bumps and then ollie off the lip," Tribble told Schaeffer a little later, as they waited their turn. "I can't ollie," Schaeffer replied matter-of-factly.
"Is that an old-school board?" Dallara asked, pointing to Schaeffer's deck. To any old schooler the board's unique hammerhead shape would have made it a dead giveaway as a Christian Hosoi. In the '80s Hosoi rivaled - even bettered, by some estimates - Tony Hawk's aerial wizardry, but his life would take an even more dramatic fall than Hawk's when vert skating lost its popularity in the early '90s. A 2006 film, "Rising Son: The Legend of Christian Hosoi," documents Hosoi's plunge into bankruptcy and crime, and subsequent resurrection through Christianity.
"Yes it is," Schaeffer replied.
"Awesome! Can I try it?"
"Yes you can."
"Hosoi used to bust fat airs on that board," Schaeffer muttered as Dallara kick-turned around, commenting on the board's smoothness.
In fact, Hosoi still busts fat airs on that board. In 2004, within weeks of release from a five-year prison sentence for drug trafficking, he got back on his deck and returned to high-flying vertiginous grace. Last year Hosoi signed a deal with Vans for a shoe featuring the same Rising Sun graphic found on his debut pro model skateboard, released with Sims Skateboards when he was just 16.
Perhaps LeCussan said it best: "There's something about skating that's a unique feeling - something about taking a fall and getting back up that's like nothing else in life. It makes the little troubles you have in real life a little easier to deal with."
-- Video: For more skateboard action, check out SFGate.com/magazine. To see an excerpt from "Future Primitive," go to sfgate.com/ZBEB
-- Video: For more skateboard action, check out SFGate.com/magazine. To see an excerpt from "Future Primitive," go to sfgate.com/ZBEB
Mark Simborg is a San Francisco freelance writer. He is still searching for Animal Chin.
This article appeared on page P - 12 of the San Francisco Chronicle