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Summer of '76

This article was written for DansWORLD by our friend Michael Brooke.
If you like this, check out Michael's Skate Geezer Page!

Summer 1976. The Bicentennial. Elton John. Chevy Vans. Skateboarding...

For movie trivia buffs out there, you may know which film had this promotional tag line: "Where were you in '62?" Well, I wasn't even born in 62, but I guess a lot people reading this article weren't born in 1976. But that's the year I started skateboarding. I was 11 years old.

Strangely enough, I can still remember my first ride on a skateboard. The board belonged to some kid who had traded a knife for it. My neighbourhood wasn't rough, but this kid wasn't from the neighbourhood... Anyway, I jumped on thinking that I'd crash bigtime and was amazed I didn't fall. That was it. I spent about 5 minutes fooling around on this skate without knowing how much impact the sport would have on my life.

My first board cost about 15 bucks and was a birthday present. The dimensions of the plank were about 6" x 24". Needless to say, the board was great fun and the only drawback was the clay wheels. Clay wheels? Yes, wheels made from baked crud. Mighty slippery and guaranteed to get your knees and shoulders shaking! I think in the end I painted the board gold and took apart the wheels and trucks. It was high time to move on up and get into plastic.

Ah, plastic. Believe me, going from clay to urethane plastic wheels was like moving from a Lada to a Lexus. I went through a series of boards and in hindsight, all were equally poor in construction and design. All had loose ball bearings - precision bearings were too difficult to find. Despite all the lame boards, I kept practicing.

Back in the 70's, freestyle skating meant tricks. Handstands, 360's, nose wheelies. Radical meant pulling a "coffin" at high speed. What's a coffin? Well, jump on your skate, lie down on your back, put your hands together like you are praying and your doing a coffin. Ollie North was probably stuck behind some desk in Iceland shredding documents. It was only 1980 that the word ollie as it relates to skating would enter skating vocabulary.

In 1978 my world changed with my parents trip to Oregon. There at an appropriately named shop called "California Pro" they picked up the Rolls Royce of skateboards - a Gordon and Smith Fiberflex with Bennett Pro trucks and Road Rider Wheels. How did I know this was the ultimate? Well, Skateboarder Magazine for one thing. Each magazine had slick ads and editorial featuring all the pros riding this equipment. There was also a guy in my hometown who had picked up a board with same the setup and it was a dream board compared to my plastic crud My first run out with this board just happened to coincide with the entire neighbourhood receiving a fresh face of asphalt. Needless to say, it was as close to nirvana as a 13 year old skater could get.

People often ask me what is the worst accident you've ever had skating. Well, apart from the near misses from cars and bikes (which would have ended my career pretty effectively) the worst accident was when one of my trucks broke while I was rolling down a hill. I land right on my tailbone. I was in quite a bit of pain but got so bored waiting in the hospital emergency department that I just got up and walked out. A few days later I was back on the board.

Of course, in the 70's one way to avoid cars and pedestrians was to go to a skateboard park. Of course, you had to live near a park and many states were blessed with several. Unfortunately, it would take until 1979 until they put wooden ramps in a hockey arena near my house. In fact, I was even a member of the freestyle demo team and we went to shopping malls to perform. I went to a few parks in Toronto (one was across the street from Honest Eds!) and they were amazing but small. II do want to mention my mindblowing time at "Skatopia" on a 1978 trip to California. Imagine a skatepark with landscaping to rival any golf course - including a waterfall. Of course it was the lengthy half pipe and snake run that were outstanding.

As with any sport that is not mainstream, it evolves quietly yet forcefully. Although I was into punk and new wave, I missed out on the crucial connection of hardcore and skating. Thrasher Magazine and all the music that was a part of the scene was not really happening in my small hometown. It was only when I moved to start university in Toronto in 1983 that I got seriously back into skating.

Back in 1983 skating started to take off bigger than ever before. In Toronto, there were very few places to get skateboarding stuff. However one shop called Rudy's stocked everything. It was here where I saw a video on the new freestyle. Skinny decks with tiny trucks and wheels. A guy called Rodney Mullen was pulling off tricks I never thought were imaginable. Four years later I would get a chance to meet Rodney at a demo. Live or on tape, he is probably skateboardings most impressive freestyle skater. Nice guy too.

Over the years I met a lot of people skateboarding. The best part about being older than the current generation of new skaters is when I hop on a board and pull a nose wheelie for 50 meters. There is a mutal respect between two generations. I can't believe some of the tricks kids are doing and they can't believe an older geezer like me can actually skate.

Before the Internet started taking over my life, I once tried to coordinate a freestyle pen pal service. It received mention in both Thrasher and Transworld Skateboarding. It had some success but the postage was murder. Now, once I have time, I may just reactivate "Freestyle International" via the Internet.

Although I've ridden ramps and halfpipes, I remain first and foremost a freestyle skater. This is probably due to the fact that ramps and halfpipes are not as accessible as a driveway or tennis court. As I enter my 20th year of skateboarding, there is only one thing I'm really looking forward to: teaching my baby girl g-turns. Hey, at my age, you're allowed to get sentimental! If there are any other geezers out there who remember the 70's, send me a note at michal_brooke@edu.yorku.ca.

Michael Brooke

ps: the movie was American Graffiti


DansWORLD Skateboarding - Dan Dunham (dan@cps.msu.edu)