Category Archives: Memories

I Don’t Ollie (or, why ‘Vert’ Skating and Street Skating are pretty much the same thing)

 

IMG_7

In 1978 a couple things happened in skateboarding I’d like to tell you about. The first is the invention of the Ollie by Alan Gelfand.  The Ollie is a no-handed trick in which a board is popped into the air. Initially a vert move, first performed in a Florida skatepark, it eventually became a flat ground trick that fundamentally changed skateboarding.

The second thing happened in a skatepark on the other coast.

I don’t know about you, but skateparks really do it for me – and every time I went to one I’d get really amped. I’d think of the runs I was going to do, and the pools I was going to skate, and the moves I was going to try. One summer morning in ’78 as I was headed up to Winchester Skatepark in San Jose, California, I was thinking hard about some moves I wanted to go for.

I started on the ‘Washboard’, a set of moguls you pumped through that propelled you up this huge beautiful wall – it was like skating toward the sky. After that I hit the half pipe, where I pushed myself to go higher and higher until I reached that spooky weightless feeling at the top.

Then I headed to the pool.

Back in the day it was all about pools and aerials. Skateboarder Magazine always had some pro on the cover, like Peralta or Alva, flying through the air above the coping of a pool. I had yet to do an aerial – but I dreamed of them over and over.

When I rolled into the pool at Winchester I decided today was the day I caught air. I started pushing myself harder and harder, pumping the board for the momentum I’d need to leave the pool and shoot up past the lip. And on one particular run, when I knew I had the speed I’d need, I arced up and over the coping – just like I dreamed I would – and floated back toward the pool to touch back down. But a truck on my big Powell deck caught the lip as I re-entered. As I left my board up on the coping and fell backward toward the bottom of the pool, I stretched out my right arm to break my fall.

My fall is not what broke.

When I looked down my right forearm was bent into a shape that’s hard to describe. After surgery to straighten it back out, and a week in the hospital, and months in a cast (all spent not skating) I started to drift from skateboarding. Pretty soon I was working as much as I could to save and buy a car – and then girls came into the picture in a pretty big way and skateboarding started seem like a kid thing to me. And at that age I was trying to be anything but a kid.

Eventually I finished high school and joined the Service. Then I went to college, started a family, found a career and got a mortgage – pretty much in that order. Life was busy, a little too busy to skate. But whenever I saw a kid on a board I’d stop and watch for a minute, you know?

In the year 2000, when my son Charlie turned eight, I bought him a skateboard for his birthday – and something rad happened: once I had that board together and stepped on it to ‘show him how’, I didn’t want to get off the thing. It was like part of me – a part I’d put away – came back. That part of me that lived to skate rolled over from his long ass nap and said “Hey, where’s my board?” So I bought a new-old-stock Bahne Rocker, onto which I mounted Indy’s and OJ’s (just like I coveted back in the day) and Charlie and I started skating parks together.

But things were different now – skateparks were different.

The first thing I noticed at the parks? There was no one my age, at least not that I ever saw. And there were few, if any, pools. The parks instead featured odd structures like rails, and steps, and, well, more rails. It’s like they were trying to clone what already existed on streets rather than create that unique undulating terrain found in 70’s skateparks.

The boards were different now too – they were shaped like popsicle sticks – with a ‘kick’ on both ends. (Hello?! They’re called kick tails for a reason people!) And now it was all about tricks and flips. And what was up with those weird little wheels? They were the size of golf balls and almost as hard. Gone were the days of big wide decks and sweet soft urethane. Gone also were the days of pools and half pipes.

Vert was dead.

But now it’s 2016 and things are better, at least to this old skate rat. Parks have pools again, and popsicle decks are now occasionally seen with big soft wheels on them. I’m even noticing board shapes evolving (devolving?) back to what they looked like in decades past. But here’s something else I’ve noticed: there’s a sort of rift between old school and new school; between ‘vert skaters’ and ‘street skaters’.

And I don’t like it.

You know, if you want you can get all hung up that “skateboard” now means a popsicle deck. And that “longboard” refers to just about everything else (even if it’s 27”) OR… you can remember that it’s all skateboarding – and age, or skating style, aren’t really divisive elements.

Why is it people think the way they do things is the way things should be done? Is that human nature? Maybe – or maybe it’s just one of those ideas that grow from distrust or fear. Well the best way to erase a fear is to face a fear – and I faced one recently. Okay, maybe not a genuine fear, maybe more of a shortcoming. A hole in my skating repertoire, so to speak.

You see, I don’t Ollie.

It’s not that I don’t want to – it’s just that I don’t know how. Really. No one ever showed me and I never tried to learn. I left skateboarding the year Ollies came on the scene, and was away for over two decades – that trick was a rite of passage for a different generation of skaters. I think my own prejudice made me see it as somehow ‘not really skating’, and, I hate to admit, the symbol of a change skateboarding had undergone that I didn’t like.

But one of the cool things about being my age, is that life’s become easier to figure out. I mean hell, at this age there’s very little I haven’t already done, so how hard could fixing an old prejudice be?

Maybe not as easy as I thought.

I figured I’d need instruction, so I went to my local skateshop, Lighthouse Skates, down by the beach here in Santa Barbara and enlisted the help of Naren Porter-Kasbati, a street skater who runs the place. Naren agreed to help, so we met up at the skatepark a few days later. His offer was, if I could learn to Ollie, he’d also teach me to kick-flip.

I had high hopes – I really did. I thought, “How hard could it be, right?” Naren said just pop the tail with one foot then push the board with the other. Really? A two-step process and that’s it? Dude, I thought, I’ll be rockin’ these things in no time. I mean sure I’m getting older, but I’m still athletic. Just last week I rolled my longboard 27 miles in under 3 hours. So I’m going to pop a board into the air and land on it?

Big whoop.

An hour – and gawd knows how many pop/push combos later – and I still hadn’t done what you would call an honest-to-goodness Ollie. I mean, like I could get the front wheels off the ground, and I’m pretty sure a back wheel even came up a time or two, but a real Ollie, where the whole board is up a foot or two (or even a few inches!) off the ground? That wasn’t happening.

IMG_16

Now Naren is a nice kid, and the whole time he kept a great attitude, saying things like “Good job!” and “You almost had it that time!” But a John Gavin Ollie was turning out to be like the Loch Ness Monster, or Donald Trump’s sense of decorum – nowhere to be found.

So what did we do? Moved on to the kick-flip! Which, by the way, you have to be able to do an Ollie to even attempt. But you know what? It wasn’t that bad. In fact, it was fun just trying. Soon Naren and I were trying to do them side by side – and by ‘trying’ I mean he was actually doing them and I was actually not (though one time my board did rotate half way ‘round and land on its top – and I’m calling that a win).

Here’s the truth: It was a blast giving those tricks a go – and I laughed my ass off more than once, even while landing on my ass. Am I any good at them? Well, no. But you know what? I was skating. At a skatepark. With other skaters. And I freaking love that!

We’re all skaters, right? Yes, yes we are. We do this thing because we love rolling a board along, and the feeling it gives us. For me, that means pushing a longboard a long way and careening down the occasional hill. For others, it means trying and mastering crazy new tricks. But it’s all skateboarding.

All of it.

So get out there and get your skate on. If you’re older and a kid Ollies past you, show some camaraderie and say “Hey”. And if you’re younger and some geezer like me is in your way? Remember that, if you’re lucky, you’ll be where I am someday too: just enjoying the stoke (even if it sometimes comes with the aroma of Icy-Hot these days).

Next, I think I’ll give downhill/sliding a try – I mean, how hard could it be, right?

IMG_21

#skateboarding #Ollie #vert #streetskating #skateboard #skatepark #downhill #skater #skatelife

Advertisements

The Color of my Memories

Gold is the color of my memories

They’re in soft focus, tinged in orange

And they smell of sage and honeysuckle

I go there a lot, more than I should

But I’m comfortable there, because I know what happens

There are no trick endings, plot twists or uncertainties

I know how everything turns out

But not everything turns out

Some of my memories aren’t finished yet

Maybe I can still make those ones turn out

Make them turn out gold, with a tinge of orange, smelling of sage and honeysuckle

Tagged , , , , ,

What will you build today?

Image

When my Dad first came to America from Ireland he didn’t yet know how to build a life here.

He was a farm boy from a poor family in Ireland who saw America as the promise land, based on the stories he’d heard about how good life here was from the US Army Soldiers stationed near his village. It was just after World War II and his Uncle Walter, who lived in California after emigrating from Ireland himself, had sponsored Dad’s entry into the country.

Part of the sponsorship agreement was that the new immigrant had to find a means to support himself – and soon – or run the risk of being sent back home. But because it was the years just after the war, when a lot of GI’s were still returning home and re-entering the work force, jobs were scarce.

So Dad had to get resourceful. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , ,

Beach Town Blue


I rode down to that beach town to meet a woman.

She was from L.A. somewhere (south of the Grapevine it’s all L.A. to me) and was looking forward to seeing me – as I her – but it didn’t go all that well. I mean how could it? We really knew nothing about each other aside from the pics we exchanged and the divorces we talked of.

When the weekend was over I rode off knowing I’d never see her again. I’m sure she drove off thinking the same. But the funniest thing happened as I headed back north across the streets of that sleepy little beach town. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Paper and Pen

 

 

 

I write right?

Sure I do, but why? I mean why write when I could just talk, or run, or a myriad of other activities that do not tie me to paper and pen.

Some people never write. They have no interest in it. But me, I have to write – even when I have no interest in it. I’ve got this funny brain that, well, seems to have rubber walls – stuff keeps bouncing around inside those walls until I open a door and let it out. Continue reading

Tagged , , ,

Secret Life of Boys

When I was little I traveled to Ireland every few years or so.
My parents are from Ireland and took me and my brother and sisters back there during summers to stay with our grandparents. One morning, at Grandma Tierney’s house in Tipperary, my brother Brian and I decided to head down the fields in search of adventure. At the time I would have been about 12 and Brian maybe 10 or so. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

A Stab at Friendship

I once stabbed a man through the foot.

And the worst part of it was – well the worst part for me, for him the worst part was the actual getting stabbed through the foot part – the worst part of it for me was he was a friend of mine.

Have you ever done something you didn’t mean to, but you did it anyway, and the outcome was so crappy you wish you hadn’t done it – and you almost sort of pretend, at times, that you maybe didn’t do it, or try to forget the fact that you actually did do it? Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

I Was Afraid to Write this Column

The kids in the neighborhood I grew up in had a certain fearlessness about them.

Well most of them did – there was this one kid named Shawn Reilly who seemed to be afraid of everything. And because fear was such a big part of his daily life it kind of set him apart from the other kids. In fact even now when I think about the kids in the old neighborhood his face doesn’t always pop up. He was a bit player. Sort of like a lesser character in a favorite movie of yours – you don’t always remember right away that he was even in it. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

The Truth about Flying

When I was a kid I loved airplanes.

The truth is I still do – and have my whole life. But when I was a kid I thought I wanted to fly them. You know how when you’re a kid you approximate, to the best of your kid abilities, those things that you think you want to do when you grow up?

Well my way of approximating piloting an airplane was to build models of them. And oh did I build a ton of model planes. Big ones, little ones, ones that I hung from my bedroom ceiling and ones that I used to simulate fiery crashes in my back yard (don’t tell my mom, but I discovered at a young age that model glue was a handy, and highly flammable, co-conspirator when re-enacting crash scenes from war movies). Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Are You Experienced?

When I was younger I wanted to own my own business.

At about 36, when I’d already been part of the work force for 20 odd years, I saw the opportunity to start my own company. I was in sales at the time for a window manufacturer in Sacramento. One of the accounts I called on was a glass and window contractor in Vacaville, which is where I lived back then.

That contractor had formerly worked in San Francisco, and was talking about going back there because he was more familiar with, and did better in, that business climate. I suggested to him that he sell me his inventory and vehicles so that he could get back there.

He agreed and I started scraping together the money to meet his asking price. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , ,