I was skating with Buster Halterman and Nick Rinker in Buster’s barn one afternoon and Buster asked me if I wanted to go along with them to a sports camp the following weekend about two hours away. They were riding in a demo at this camp during the BMX nationals. Some bike pros were going to ride vert and we were going to cruise along and fill out the session.
Nick Rinker Image: Graham
I went along and it would ultimately change the course of my life. Woodward Camp is a world famous gymnastics camp and — at the time — one half was made up of gymnasts from all over the planet, while the other half had a small BMX / skateboarding program. It was run by a skateboarder from Florida and his name is Mike Speranzo.
Mike Speranzo Image: Graham
I went to Woodward Camp with Buster and Nick that day. I met some really cool people. I’m pretty sure that Chris Guilfoose and Mark Podgurski were there. Rob Randolph and Alan John were there as well. The camp had an outdoor street course with quarter pipes, pyramids and mini ramps. There was a massive vert ramp connected to a seven or eight foot medium ramp as well. All of the outdoor surfaces were covered in blue steel. There was an indoor building called the Morton Building. I believe it was the manufacturers name. Anyway, it had a great mini ramp and amazing bowl built out of wood and surfaced in masonite. Legendary ramp builder Tim Payne had built some of the new stuff at Woodward. We arrived that day and just started skating all over the place. Everyone was super nice and cool. They fed us and took very good care of the crew the entire time. I thought, “What kind of place is this?! Here… in the mountains of Pennsylvania?” I was in awe.
Chad Vogt Image: Graham
Mike Speranzo told me about the early days at Woodward. “In 1989, Gary Ream contacted Vision. I was going to go Pro for them. Vision sponsored a contest there in 1989 and I was sent there. Tim Payne had built a ramp for a skate camp in St. Louis and Gator and other skaters were teaching kids skateboarding. I didn’t have anything going on in Florida and I thought it a really good opportunity.The idea of teaching skateboarding appealed to me. I went to Woodward. It was a BMX camp and Everett Rosecrans of Vans would come with riders. Greg Flowers built the first Woodward vert ramp for the bike riders. It was kinked but rideable. We ended up helping build the street course snowplow and other stuff to skate. We repaired the kink in the vert ramp, drilled steel all day and layered everything with steel sheeting. Skate camp started with fifteen campers the first session. In the spring of 1990, Tim Payne built the outdoor vert ramp, the spine and Morton bowl and mini ramp. The BMX Nationals were that May. That is when you came up with Buster and Nick. Over the years, it grew pretty well. The industry changed and the campers coming were different. Street took front stage and it all changed and was strange. I just remember the ‘Golden Hour’ sessions on the vert ramp with my friends. The cornfields, nature, the mountains. I always think of those things. We all grew up there in those summers at Woodward. We became better people.”
During the upcoming year, I kept in touch with Mike Speranzo. I got to see his band ‘Out of the Blue’ perform in State College / Penn State a couple of times. When it came time to hire some staff, I applied and Mike hired me as a cabin counselor. I think it was Buster Halterman, Brian Patch, Andy Macdonald and a few others. We each had a cabin full of frothing skaters, ages 12-17 years old. There was no air conditioning and many of them didn’t want to shower. It was a hotbox of nastiness, filthy pads and farting children. The skaters would arrive on Sunday morning and Sunday evening we would set up stations around the skate park. Each was numbered. 1- mini ramp, 2- bowl, 3-rails, 4- street course, 5- micro ramp, 6- vert ramp, 7- ledges, 8- pyramid etc etc. There were 12 stations and each one had an accomplished staff skater that would evaluate each camper. Mike would plug all this information into twelve groups of beginner, intermediate and advanced skaters. Monday morning, we’d separate them into groups and go from station to station for thirty minutes to an hour. That way, every camper would move through the camp working on different aspects of skating with staff assistance. It worked pretty well and I know of many skaters that learned a great deal with this system.
Tom Boyle R.I.P. and Paul Zitzer
Tony Magnussen Image: Graham
Mark Podgurski Image: Graham
Summer to Fall. The leaves changed and all things with it. Snow came and covered the camp and its ramps. Nothing moved in the frozen spaces. I walked the narrow path between the camp cabins and marveled at how unusual it was to be here only a few months earlier with a thousand people living a dream… the time of our lives. Now… ice and the sleepy season. Life will be life. Summer was the destination and Woodward Camp became the driving force in my life for awhile. I met with Gary Ream that day and we talked about me helping as assistant to Mike Speranzo that coming summer. Spring found me drilling masonite sheets, moving lumber and hiring skate staff. Every second of every day was accounted for. It was the Woodward way. The kids were coming. As skateboarding changed from transition skating to street skating, Woodward evolved with it. The owners – Gary Ream and Ed Isabelle never flinched when it came to building ramps, ledges, banks and — in some cases — buildings full of stuff to skate. They trusted the people that gave them advice and those that rode. They saw the summer numbers increasing. They made money. It was working well.
Tony Hawk Morton Building Bowl Image: Kanights
Woodward Camp Image: Kanights
Campers Lunch – Think Team / Wade Speyer/ Greg Carroll / Brian Howard
Tom ‘The Rock’ Boyle R.I.P. Image: Kanights
Tim Payne and a crew were frequently at Woodward from March until June. Many of its early skatepark additions were Tim Payne’s craftsmanship. In those days, Woodward had visiting Pros each week. It was a general rotation. Sometimes a team would come through for a few days. I started working with people I knew to get the Pro street riders that I knew campers would want to see.
Neal Hendrix Image: Thompson
Tom Rock Boyle R.I.P.
I spoke with Neal Hendrix and the people at Giant and other guys who lived in California. They helped me a great deal. I remember working on getting Willy Santos, the Think team, Jamie Thomas, Salman Agah, Kris Markovich and others during the rise of the street skating period.
During this time, wheels became smaller, pants became bigger and skateboarding changed into something hideous. Looking back on it, skateboarding needed to do what it did in order to evolve. I understand that. Street skating had become the big thing and I watched in disbelief one summer as skateboarders ‘focused’ other skaters boards. (focusing a board is intentionally breaking the board in half). Campers didn’t really care about vert or transition in any way and the industry felt it. There were no contests and few demos. Pro vertical riders were relegated to the dustbin. Campers routinely called the fast forward button on a video the ‘vert button’.
Christian Hosoi Image: Kanights
Matt Dove Image: Kanights
Mike Speranzo started a long held tradition that vertical skating would always have a place at Woodward Camp. With all the blood in my body, I upheld that tradition after Mike had moved on to work on his music. For those with short memories, for awhile, Woodward was the only paying gig a vert Pro could get. No one knew at the time, but the first X Games were right around the corner in Rhode Island and they drew many of the original vert riders from Woodward Camp. We can thank Gary Ream, Ed Isabelle and Woodward Camp for this. I believe in my heart that this one fact led to some of these guys having a career further into the late 1990’s.
Woodward’s owners opened the door during the Inline craze which — thankfully — didn’t last too long. It made the camp a great deal of money, but it was hard to watch those kids every week…. I had my brother Dave come up and assist me on the skateboard side, as things were growing by leaps and bounds. We had something like five hundred campers a week. The bike program was big with an epic bike crew like Matt Condor Hoffman, Superstar Joe Rich, Dave Mirra R.I.P., Jay Miron, Taj Mihelich, Kenan Harkin, Sean Dorton, Nate Wessell and a bunch I’m forgetting. I loved the bike guys. They were always solid. Always stoked. As camp grew, I became more of a dick. I’m not a cop and I felt like one. It was hard policing that many campers and staff. I had to make sure the girls and boys didn’t mingle inappropriately, I had to keep everyone safe, I had to enforce the rules… I barely even rode my skateboard in the summer. Ultimately, I didn’t like who I became. I’m sure there are those out there that didn’t like me either. However, I always tried to make each year bigger, with new stuff for campers and Pros to ride, I tried to give paying jobs to my vert friends and I really hoped people were stoked. I may have done a few things the wrong way, but — from this vantage point — I think the good I did, outweighed the bad. One last thing: for all of you skaters out there enjoying Woodward and to those that have visited a Woodward Camp… remember that it was a bunch of vert ramp skaters that made that place happen. WE built the foundation of what it grew into. Believe it. Peace – Ozzie
Thank you to Woodward Camp. Thank you Gary Ream, Ed Isabelle and all of the people I worked alongside. Thank you to all of the riders I helped hire and ride with. Thanks to the campers for coming. Thank you to Pete Thompson, Bryce Kanights and Geoff Graham for images. Lastly, Thank you to Buster Halterman, Nick Rinker and Mike Speranzo. I’m not sure I would’ve ended up where I did if it wasn’t for you guys.
Mike Crum, Me, Brian Howard, Neal Hendrix