The Dogtown documentary doomed us.
Don scored us a couple of tickets for an advanced screening. There was a beautiful sense of excitement before the film, hanging out in the morning fog of downtown LA, standing in the very spot where Jon Fante starved and typed and wrote about starving and typing in Ask the Dust. And the documentary was good. A lot of cool, old skating footage, anyway.
That’s what Don and I talked about afterwards: the skating footage. We didn’t talk about the part in the movie when the filmmakers chose to show a map of Los Angeles and put a star on Paul Revere High School, thereby alerting filmgoers everywhere to the exact location of one of LA’s best kept secrets. The fuckers who showed the map were the same fuckers who talked about beating up anyone who gave away their secret skate spots. So be warned, Stacy Peralta: if I ever see you in person, I’m going to punch you in the head. Because, sure enough, the week after Dogtown and the Z Boys was released nationally, an eight-foot high fence was constructed around the Paul Revere parking lot, a twenty-four hour security guard was hired, and signs promising to arrest skateboarders were hung intermittently.
I wasn’t much of a skateboarder prior to moving to LA. I did have a skateboard. It was about forty-five inches long. When I lived in Cocoa Beach, I used it to ride down to the beach and check the waves. Sometimes, I’d ride it to a downtown bar or to the library.
The move to LA changed things considerably. For one thing, I was painfully poor that first year. Todd Taylor and I were trying to get Razorcake off the ground. Nearly every cent we had, we poured into the magazine. Nearly every cent we earned, we turned back into the magazine. One of the strange side effects of this poverty was that I started getting fat. The Mexican joint around the corner sold huge burritos for three dollars. And, when you’re surviving on about thirty bucks a week, six-for-a-dollar packs of Top Ramen seem like a good idea. So, yeah, you gain weight. Skateboarding seemed like a good way to counteract a cheese- and corn tortilla-heavy diet. The problem was, I was too poor to buy skating gear.
Don took care of this.
You may know Don as Donofthedead, a legend of the Razorcake record review section. But Don is more than a guy with fifteen thousand records in a back room in his house. He’s also the unacknowledged skating guru of Razorcake’s early days.
Don solved the problem of my longboard skate. He passed on to me a deck that allowed me to maneuver the high banks of Paul Revere without breaking my neck. I put my big, soft longboard wheels on that deck, and Don again took pity, scoring for me a set of harder, faster wheels. When he saw me fall one too many times, he passed on a set of camouflage knee pads, a little cracked on the left knee but nothing shoe goo couldn’t fix. When he ordered a pair of Vans that were too big for him, he passed them on to me instead returning them. Thus, I was inducted into Team Donofthedead.
In that first year of Razorcake, we skated Paul Revere nearly every weekend. Todd and I did. Don came along most weekends. Various other Razorcakers joined us occasionally. The first time I skated there with Don, he still had a cast on his wrist from a spill he’d taken several weeks earlier. At least I think he did. (If Don’s wife is reading this, then I stand corrected. Don never skated with a cast on his wrist.) Shortly after he got that cast off, he took another spill and broke the other wrist. He wouldn’t admit that it was broken. We had lunch at a noodle shop after the session. Don worked his chopsticks with fingers that were turning blue, just past a wrist that was swelling to three times its normal size.
Paul Revere was a great place to get back into skating. It was basically a parking lot cut into a hill. On three sides of the parking lot, the hill was paved going up about twenty feet. There was also a road coming in from a higher parking lot, so you could roll down the road and gather enough moment to ride up and down the hill as if it were a ten-foot wave. After about twenty yards of this, you ran into another paved, ten-foot high hill that you could roll up, kick turn, roll down, and ride the wave back to the road. It’s hard not to love a place like that. We showed it love in a way antithetical to the image of punk rock skateboarders. We brought push brooms and swept away the stones before skating. We picked up any trash that might be in our way. We left the place a little nicer than we found it. Then, that bastard Stacy Peralta made his self-aggrandizing documentary and Paul Revere was a bust.
Next, we started skating at an abandoned pool out in La Habra called the Jungle Bowl. It was a frequently graffitied spot. Whenever the skateboard wheels hit fresh graffiti, the surface would get slick and you’d slide. Sometimes this was fun. Sometimes, it was painful. We told Razorcake photographer Dan Monick about the spot—an abandoned pool cut into the high-priced hills of the LA suburbs, weeds and new growth taking over when a house had once stood and burned down, everything east to Riverside visible on clear days. Dan wanted to come with us and take photos. The spot was as picturesque as Dan pictured it, and he started snapping right away. Unfortunately for him, he expected Todd and me to be like those X Games skaters. The only time we caught any air, it was accidental and ended with a splat. Not great for photographs. Lucky for Dan, two other skaters showed up midway through the session. One of them was pretty amazing. He performed feats worthy of Dan’s camera.
We skated Jungle Bowl for a few months. I tried and tried without success to get enough momentum to carve above the pool light. I found a line that would get me just below it. Before I could find that new, perfect line, local high school kids started partying out at Jungle Bowl on weekends. Cops started noticing. The property owners repaired the break in the fence. They posted no trespassing signs. The cops added the spot to their regular patrols. Rumors circulated about skaters getting arrested. Jungle Bowl was a bust. We started heading to city skate parks.
Don taught me how to drop in at the San Dimas skate park. He taught me to power slide at the skate park in Whittier.
By this time, Razorcake was up and running a little more regularly. Money wasn’t quite as tight. We had a little leeway with regards to ad space in Razorcake, so we started making trades with Mike at Beer City Skateboards. I got a Duane Peters deck, wide trucks, new wheels, the works. I passed the deck that Don had given me on to Razorcake illustrator Art Fuentes. In that way, he joined Team Donofthedead.
For a while there, it seemed like I was spending a fair amount of time with Team Donofthedead. We hit a number of parks from Pico Rivera to Montalvo. The city of Duarte put in a new park right alongside the 210, and we explored a little less and skated there a little more. We spent a lot of time at the Whittier park, too, because Art lived around the corner from there.
Don was a little less stoked about the parks. He liked the hidden skate spots. One weekend, he and some friends hit an abandoned pool somewhere on the west side. He took a nasty spill and landed on his back. The next weekend, Don and I skated the park in Brea. Don took one spin around the bowl and decided to sit out the rest of the session. I took my turns, but mostly hung out and chatted with Don. He kept talking about the spill he’d taken. His back was still hurting from it. A week later, he had to have back surgery. His skating days were over.
Todd, Art, and I talked about this a few weekends later at Whittier: Todd with Don’s old trucks and wheels under his deck; Art with Don’s old deck and wheels; me with Don’s old knee pads and shoes. It was a sad moment. It was the real beginning of the end.
The skate park in Upland is gnarly. It has a huge half-pipe going into a full pipe and ending in a bowl. You can drop in from the top or roll in from a four-foot-high ledge. I’d been having a good day rolling in from the ledge and riding the half pipe into the full into the bowl and back. Then, this old guy came along and started tearing shit up. He made dropping in from the top look so easy. I couldn’t resist.
Just before dropping in, I said to Art, “I don’t know why I’m trying this. It doesn’t matter if I can do it. It does matter if I break my arm.”
I dropped in. It worked. I carved up and down the half pipe and thought, damn, this is fucking awesome. I made it into the full pipe with way too much speed. My trucks started wobbling. I tried an ill-advised power slide while about twelve feet up a wall, ended up taking the short cut to the ground and snapping a wrist bone in half.
Before my cast was off, Art blew out his knee at Whittier. Before Art could walk again, Todd broke his leg in two or three places at the park in Glendale. Team Donofthedead was done for.
Now, when I think about the early days of Razorcake, I think a lot about Team Donofthedead. I think about it mostly when I ride home from work and pass the new onramp, where a retention ditch has a road that runs alongside a bank paved into a hill. It looks like another Paul Revere carved alongside the freeway. I sometimes spend the last five miles of my commute imagining Team Donofthedead climbing the fence and riding that ditch in a world where cops won’t kick us out and our bones and tendons are young enough to take the impact.
These days, I mostly go surfing alone. Maybe it’s not quite as fun, but wipeouts are way more forgiving.
Author’s note: This is the sixth chapter to a collection of Razorcake columns I wrote. It originally ran in Razorcake #50. For more information about the collection, read this post.