The Western Surfing Association’s first local skateboard championship held last Sunday was a roaring success. Kate Sessions Park in Pacific Beach was crawling with fearless kids, anxious parents, leering media people, and a sprinkling of manufacturers’ representatives. The only disappointment was the lack of skateboard groupies; maybe these micro hardbodies had gone off to South Mission with their big sisters to ogle Von Hagen and the rest of the participants in the same day’s volleyball tournament.
Without the equipment and organizational skills of the W.S.A., the skateboard meet would have been a nightmare. W.S.A. is the West Coast arm of the International Surfing Federation, the surfing organization which puts on world contests like the 1972 contest in Ocean Beach. But Ray Allen, executive director of the W.S.A. explained that he purposely did not advertise this meet outside the San Diego area just to see what kind of talent could be mustered from a show of “locals” only. All in all, over 50 skateboarders in four classes went through three events without a hitch.
In describing the danger of skateboarding, Jan and Dean were probably most accurate in their “Bust your buns, bust your buns, now” chorus of the 1965 classic “Sidewalk Surfin’” (nothing against Jan and Dean, but their song seems to have been pirated from “Catch a Wave” off the Beach Boys’ second album). One of the contest’s winners Sunday had blood soaking through the side of his levis and both hands looked like he had been playing catch with a couple of bricks. Another kid had a super strawberry on his shin, and there were lots of others with tertiary road rash. But even if the pavement isn’t the safest place to play, there is everything else — from Pop Warner football to bicycle motocross — to put that ashen look of terror on mom’s face. Better to have a kid take the chance in a supervised contest than in a dare-me trip down Tourmaline Hill.
There are two sidewalks on the hill in Kate Session Park: one steep and the other very steep. The giant slalom and regular slalom were run on these walks, with pylons used for gates. Helmets, footwear, long-sleeve shirts and pants were required for these events. A man of average prudence would not attempt either course in anything less than a full set of moto-cross leathers and a total-coverage bell helmet.
According to Chris Yandall, overall slalom winner, the secret of his success was “tight trucks.” The boards used by most competitors consisted of a wooden plank (usually homemade), eighteen to twenty-four inches in length, with the front and rear wheel assemblies, or “trucks" from a regular roller skate. The trucks enable the board to turn by the use of a rubber mounting which turns the axle carrier in the direction the board is leaned. This mechanism can be adjusted; the looser the truck, the easier it is to turn the board. However, as the skateboard becomes easier to turn, it becomes slower and will eventually develop nasty handling characteristics. Yandall said that most of the bad wipeouts in the slalom were caused by “loose trucks.”
Whereas the slalom events were all high speeds and vicious wipe-outs, the free-form event demonstrated that there can be considerable grace in the sport. (You can see the inspiration for the highly acclaimed “Skater Dater,” a short movie of a few years ago.) The range of tricks was incredible: “720’s" (two complete pivots on the front or rear truck), “wheelies,” nose-riding, walking the board uphill, over-the-curb kickouts, and “G-producing turns” (turns so tight one could touch the pavement with the same hand. There was even a “limbo” bar on the course, and some competitors went under it on their backs, “coffin” style, while the more fool-hardy ones jumped over the bar and landed on their boards (or on their butts).
The real star of the free-form was Richard Boyden of Oceanside, who dazzled the crowd with a 100-yard handstand. This display of reckless abandon brought a “Wave of the Day” comment from the judges.
In the middle of the free-form events, a Junior League-Baja La Jolla type matron got her car on the course while a competitor was heading downhill straight for her. She seemed justifiably confused by the reaction from the large crowd and the reprimand from the PA. system.
Jay Adams, competing in Men Under 14. drew a large round of applause for his repeated attempts to clear the limbo bar and land on his board. (He made it on the third try.) When cornered after the event, the young man admitted he was also a nationally-ranked surfer, having taken a second in the 3A Open at Santa Monica. His bare feet looked like he had walked back from Santa Monica.
The contest was co-sponsored by Bahne Skateboards and Cadillac Wheels. Though most of the boards are homemade, almost everyone rides on Cadillac Wheels. Advances in wheel technology have been to skateboarding what the short-board revolution was to surfing. The wide eurathane (clear plastic) wheels provide enough grip to make those “G-producing turns”, and all of the Bahne skateboards (the other co-sponsor) have Cadillac wheels. The Bahne skateboards have built-in “flex ,” Allen bolts and Air Craft nuts — all of which would seem to justify the $30 price tag of the boards. Bahne claims that he has a shop demonstrator still in use after having been run over by a truck. I understand that the models sold in becalmed Coronado are fitted with special rubber washers under the trucks to keep down the noise in that quiet community.
As we were leaving, someone pointed out a small competitor with regulation long blond hair, saying “that’s the kid from the Cadillac Wheels ad.” He patiently explained that the kid's picture was in all the glossy surfing mags doing some outtasight tricks on the wheels. I realized that this kid today has more recognizeability than any of the new kids in the White House, at least among the masses of Southern Californians who buy the mags.
It may have been a contest for “locals,” but Hal Jepson. the surfing cinematographer, did cover most of the meet on 16-millimeter film, and Bahne seemed to be talking sponsorship to some kids as I left. The locals must be pretty hot.