Unburdened

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The dust billowed up and drifted sideways in the wind. I banked the wheel of the Explorer sharply to avoid a narrow gash in the road. Photographer -Lucia Griggi sat beside me. She asked me to slow down. I smiled and complied. “Yes, Captain.” Skateboarding legends- Brian Logan and Tony Alva were in the vehicle directly in front of us as we cut through the countryside  in the long grueling ride south into Baja. The clustered homes and buckled concrete of Tijuana’s gritty streets lay far behind us, where crime oozed like a contagion. Poverty was at every bend.  Grim-faced men eyed us hungrily. Finessing a tangle of off ramps, we drove the toll road south. Skeletal half-completed hotels and condos grinned vacantly. The ocean was dark and looming directly west. At times, we saw fishing boats. Fog obscured the hillsides at higher elevations. The hours spun away behind us and America seemed so far away. With a sense of unreality, we sliced down through a narrow valley. Tiny shantytowns spilled over the hillsides in dirty clumps. Colorful houses of bright blue and cornflower yellow contrasted sharply with the dull and drab existence that the people seemed to share. The land and its people were in rewind. Tick tock. Clocks stopped. It seemed that despair was ubiquitous.

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Giant cactus rose up from the desert floor. Sharp spines  and pain were found in their arms. Defensive and strong.  We pushed past. We had driven for an hour in silence. The homes and villages were left behind and the desert landscape opened up to us. We felt it growing hotter. The searing sun welcomed us in a low painful voice. “Come…” Its embrace was primitive. Desiccation. Lucia opened up a package of hummus and some crackers from the cooler. Coconut water completed our mobile snack. I was the melancholy one at times. I could always count on Lucia to keep things positive and light.  She wiped a hand across her mouth. “I can’t wait to surf. It’s going to feel good to be in the water again and spend a few days just getting some waves.” I nodded and grinned as she went on to describe our ultimate destination: Scorpion Bay. “I’ve seen the place in videos and articles. It is really quite lovely. There are seven points and I’m pretty sure that all of them are mellow, peeling waves. It’ll be perfect for you to learn on.” I laughed. I was a total beginner, on my first surfing trip ever and I was heading to Scorpion Bay in Baja. At least I was in stellar company, as the three of them were accomplished surfers. It was exciting and I hoped I could get a few waves on the trip.

 

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We slowed to a crawl. There was a narrow gorge that cut to our right and meandered precariously as far as I could see. If we weren’t paying attention, it was a long way to the valley floor. I shifted down and we inched forward. Punch. Punch. Punch. The front shocks shuddered. Stream beds — long dry — ran away from us below. Smooth river rocks sat idly in clumps awaiting the river that never came. Salt flats glimmered in the distance and vultures wheeled darkly above some grisly feast. I shook my head to remove the mental image I was forming. Force quit.

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We finally limped into Guerrero Negro, a town about halfway down into Baja. Guerrero Negro is known primarily for its salt mines and took its name from an American whaling ship – ‘Black Warrior’- that ran aground in the 1850’s. Exhausted, we ate together and kept close to the small motel. Dawn came too early and coffee couldn’t drive away the misgivings we were feeling about climbing back into the four wheel, torture chambers for the long drive ahead.

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We pierced the morning much in the same way we had before. Small villages, taco stands, people on horseback, trash, dilapidated cars from a bygone era and a sparse countryside spilled past our windows. Several hours south, Brian pulled into a small town. We fueled up. Brian approached. “We need to let air out of our tires. The road is completely unpaved from here on out. Get ready for a bumpy ride.” We did as he instructed. Tony Alva smiled towards us and handed us a cookie from a package he held. “You may need this…” Munching on raisins and oatmeal, I realized that he was right. One can always use a cookie.

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As we wheeled slowly through the town, an imposing church lay ahead of us. It was old. Hundreds of years old. Gargoyles and gothic ornaments dripped from its roofline. Draconian. The windows were sullen and an atmosphere of unreality loomed. I pulled over and climbed the huge stone steps, leaving everyone behind. Hard wooden pews and wrought iron railings greeted my eyes. Christ hung like a promise from his lonely perch. The cross. Sacrifice for love and humanity. I saw a brown leather Bible on a wooden pulpit. There was a roadmap for living in its cabbage-colored pages. Life. The place was pregnant with antiquity and I found myself touching my forehead to the floor. Dominus Vobiscum. God go with us…

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The remainder of the day was desolation. Gravel and sand led us to the pristine bay. Isolated. Perfect. We stopped above the town of San Juanico. The seven points of Scorpion Bay jutted like jagged teeth in the mouth of morning. Waves peeled back like silver zippers. Hypnotic and true. We smiled together as we watched some surfers paddle into the set waves that stacked, shimmered, then meander across the long bay towards the next point.

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Camp was set. The RV canopy spread shade. Tony Alva slipped past in his black neoprene wetsuit. He grabbed an Alva Surfcraft six foot surfboard. A smile spread across his weathered face. “Did you see that last set wave?” He asked hurriedly. He didn’t bother waiting for a response as he began the climb down the rocks from the nearby bluff where we camped. In minutes, he was paddling out to the point. I smiled to Lucia and Brian. “Waste no time.” I mumbled more to myself than anyone. Brian told me that on the drive down, Tony had let him in on the fact that there was a secret skate bowl somewhere nearby. Brian stabbed a finger towards the point where Tony was waiting for a set wave and murmured, “It looks like both of you are going to get the best of both worlds. Surf and skate.”

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I nodded and turned my eyes toward the distant fishing village. Old trucks. Old fashioned values. Older ideals. The houses were thatch and stucco. Everywhere I turned, I looked on a simpler way of life. Gone was the hurry of my modern world. The ocean spread out before it all. Majestic and uncaring. I watched Tony Alva paddle into his first set wave. He dropped down the green face and tore through a bottom turn. His board balanced at the top and dove deep again. Style and presence.

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The ocean shimmered and moved into us all… its time, its rhythm. Those first few days were silver and green. All life was colors. The ocean ruled our thoughts. It had a mandate all its own. We had an RV and two tents. A fire pit completed the camp. There were several small encampments and RV’s on the black bluffs nearby. Sun-split rocks sprouted from the barren shore and the ocean licked eagerly at them. We surfed several times a day and became friends with the varied people that made the long journey to this desolate place. School teachers, attorneys, surf shapers, skateboarders, antique dealers… the backgrounds and origins were astonishing. It really didn’t matter though, where someone was from or exactly what they did. In the water, they were all the same.

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A fire sparked between the tents and the RV. A star fell and I watched it burn its way briefly across the sky. Hopes and wishes were being hung on it. We were having a get together with some of our new-found friends. Tony Alva sat nearby, a dreadlocked sillhouette. He played acoustic bass as people talked around the warm flames. Glen and his wife were Baja regulars. They’d been coming to the area to surf for decades. Glen was talking with Redondo Beach attorney David about the predicted upcoming swell that was to arrive here. “The swell has already hit Tahiti and should be here by Saturday. The seven points here are all fairly close. A few are surfed regularly. If a big swell comes in, people can actually connect from point to point.” He saw my questioning look and looked toward the darkness below. The ocean murmured against the stones as if listening. He continued, “Sometimes, a person can ride from one point and carry straight through… the surfer can actually ride the same wave past several points, making for one long ride.” Tony Alva stopped strumming and interjected, “I’d love to connect. It is one of the things I’ve always dreamed of doing.” Others nodded in agreement. It certainly sounded exciting. The evening was spent in good conversation. Libations were poured. Friendships cemented. Good people. The stars glittered and sleep soon took everyone away to their beds.

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The next afternoon found us on a dusty road. Brian stopped the truck. “I know that it has to be close… it has to be right near here.” He turned the wheel and started down a narrow lane. We were looking for the hand build private skate bowl that one of the Baja surfers had fashioned. The local surfer that built it told Tony that he made it to strengthen his legs and help his surfing. It increased his stamina for those times when the swells came in. “It helps me connect…” We saw palm trees to our right. An enclosed yard. A noted landmark. Tony and Brian stopped to look.

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Peering through the fence, they saw the bowl. A figure eight, peanut-shaped bowl spread out in the yard. It was assembled painstakingly in concrete pie slices. Each pie slice was formed and molded. The entire thing was amazing and was an obvious labor of love. Stacks of old car tires walled off the sides of the abandoned property. A ramshackle wooden house sat rotting in the sun. Roof beams sagged in the heat. Trash and refuse were everywhere. It smelled of neglect. We saw a few locals and spoke to them. We were allowed a session. Tony flew about the place with style and power. With each turn, he proved why he is one of the greatest pioneers that skateboarding has ever known. I took a few runs and the local skaters dripped surf style. Lines were drawn. Carving and speed were of paramount importance. The session could not have been any better.

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We returned to the bluff overlooking the bay. Brian Logan paddled out and pulled some extraordinarily long rides across the bay. After three days of struggling, I paddled and stood one up for the long ride in. Elation. It was late afternoon. The sky was the color of candy. Pink and purple. A huge bird winged across the rocks. Its cry went unanswered. We watched surfers paddle into set waves and take the long ride towards land. The ocean pushed and pulled like some giant who’s vision is so tall and far above us, that it’s unaware of our pathetic scrambling and nonsense. It can trample us and never know or care. We are its guests. Someone nearby remarked that the waves seemed to be increasing in size. I peered toward the horizon and saw long black lines of waves darkening. Could this be the much anticipated swell?

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I sit in a small camp chair and watch. Time has ceased to exist. Sunrise, ocean, waves, sun, waves, food and sunset. All this blends into one long, silky thread as day follows day. Peace reigns. There are no worries. Strife and conflict were left behind. The tyranny of the human face has disappeared. Unburdened. We are in the rhythm of the sea. The swell is indeed arriving. Excitement lends a commotion and bustle previously unnoticed. A group gathers as larger sets peel and rumble across the bay. Surfers paddle out and smiles are seen all around.

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We took the long road south to get to this place. We took our burdens and left them behind. There is a long toll road that was installed in north Baja. It makes the drive easier. Is easier better? Sometimes we need to travel the difficult road to find out exactly what we’re made of. In this land of isolation and unfinished business, perhaps we must move further away from those nearest to us, to become closer to ourselves. Discovery. The good in all things. Local Baja legend Mama Espinoza stated that, “Good roads bring all people and bad roads bring good people.” I think she was on to something. Thank you to Brian Logan, Tony Alva and Lucia Griggi. – Ozzie

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Jay Smith

Jay Smith – Marina

Powell- Peralta. The Bones Brigade. I recall that team & its formation much like everyone else. ‘Skateboarder’ magazine  was soon to be a cherished memory. D.David Morin changed it to ‘Action Now’ magazine but the bicycling, sandboarding, rollerskating & the rest of it sort-of nauseated most die-hard skateboarders. Its life was short lived. Like all things  in skateboarding at that time,  everything exploded hot & heavy. It was  quickly undone. Vertical skateboarding was changing just as rapidly. Surf styles, lines & powerful flow became usurped by technical maneuvering. It became a sport of trickery. Jay Smith filled me in on the details of this time. His time. 1979.

Jay Smith hails from Canoga Park out in the San Fernando Valley. He started skating in 1975.  Jay stated- “I was really just a street skater. This was before parks and magazines in a way. All my friends rode motorcycles and skated. That was what we were into back then.  Eric Grisham and I rode pools together in the valley.” Jay then told me an interesting anecdote regarding his early pool skating barges.  ” The Sunset Pool company had an office with concrete demonstration pools on site. This was right next door to where ‘Skatercross’ was being built. They had two pools there. One was empty. We would sneak in and ride  even while the park was being built next door. It was the first time I hit tiles & I recall looking over at ‘Skatercross’ and wanting to ride the bowls there when it was completed.” Jay became addicted to the speed and vertical like so many of us.

Jay – lapover – San Fernando Valley

He recalled riding pools all over the area when he was young. Jay told me how they would constantly look for things to skate. – “My friends and I would ride all over the San Fernando Valley. From Encino and Woodland Hills all the way over to Glendale… everywhere. There were so many pools to ride. We hopped the fence at –singer–Barry White’s & were riding his pool one morning. He walked out but was really cool about it. He had his maid come outside and they watched us for awhile… he was pretty nice to us considering the situation. Lucille Ball had a house out in the Valley and it sat empty. The pool was a ‘go’ for quite some time. We also rode at this place in the Valley. It was a zoo or animal park. It had these bowls and stuff that were empty. The place was closed down. We rode the reservoirs  that the animals had used as a natural habitat type of thing. It was pretty unreal.”

Jay talked about the early skate park scene. He was a local at Skatercross. Jay told me that he rode with Eric Grisham, Arthur Viecco, Shane Reed & Jerry Valdez. He told me that those guys were a bit older though. “My early skate influence was probably Shreddi Repas. I loved to skate with him. He was stylish, fast & powerful. Eventually, I rode for Lonnie Toft & Sims. I skated with the whole Santa Barbara crew. Doug de Montmorency, Jack Waterman and other Oxnard and Skatercross riders.” Jay told me that he was really into flow and speed. -“I really love to go fast!” It would be at Oxnard where Jay had his first photograph taken which ended up in the magazine. ” Bill Sharp took a photograph of me doing a tailtap on the corner. I was stoked. I couldn’t believe it!”

Things started falling into place for Jay. He was skating some of the hottest parks & pools. His speeding, low-slung, rubberman  approach to skateboarding was rapidly winning him respect & admiration. Jay then told me how he was put on the Powell Peralta team that Stacy had just formed. Jay is a wealth of historical skateboard information. After all, he was on Powell Peralta before he was 18 years old. These were formative years for Jay. He continued- “I was riding for Sims but they already had Bert Lamar & Brad Bowman. Those guys were both super riders & Sims wasn’t really doing anything for me. Powell Peralta & Sims were both out of Santa Barbara as well. It was odd. When Stacy approached me at Marina del Rey and asked me to ride for him, I was like- “Oh hell yeah!” It was immediate.”

Jay told me that the Bones Brigade started as- Stacy Peralta, Ray Bones Rodriguez, Mike McGill, Alan Gelfand and then he was added.  I asked him about the ‘Powell Peralta Class of 79’ advertisement.  Jay stated that Stacy  chose the best he could find to represent all areas of the country.  ” Stacy added Mike Jesiolowski & Jami Godfrey from Cherry Hill right after I was put on the Bones Brigade. He also added Rodney Mullin & Tim Scroggins from Florida, Steve Caballero & Scott Foss from Northern California, Teddy Bennett from Big -O and David Zakrzewski from Oasis. That was the original Powell Peralta team.”

Jay remembered early contests with Powell Peralta and stated tersely- ” Contests just weren’t my thing man! They’re just too organised. That goes against everything I am. I just loved partying and riding pools with my friends. Stacy was super nice though. He bumped up our confidence. If I remember correctly, I actually turned Pro at the Bakersfield contest before I was on Powell Peralta. Once I was on the Bones Brigade, I waited for awhile before I received a model. I think we all did.” Steve Caballero & others told me that some of the riders kept their AM status & continued to build contest standings & placings. They developed new tricks and worked on their overall skating. This way, they created a demand for a model rather than just having one put out for them.

Jay- FS Air – Pipeline Combi

Jay Smith himself was soon ready for his own model. He originally rode Powell Peralta Double Beamers. – “I wanted the Double Beamer to be my model but they were having lamination problems.” Jay asked me if I remembered the rivets in the Double Beamers.-  “Of course.” He laughed & continued-  “Back then we would do long boardslides and the top- most layer of black fiberglass would become ground down. The rigidity of the deck was affected and it would snap. Rib Bones were then made larger to compensate for this.  Caster made my boards for awhile. The first Jay Smith ‘Splash’ deck was made by them. I think that the Caster boards were more expensive though. They were really good & had concave. Powell Peralta finally ended up making my boards from Brite Lites but they were definitely flatter than the Casters were. ”

Jay- Andrecht at Marina

Jay went on & discussed the early punk scene and its influence in his life. He loved the fast music, motorcycles and anarchy.  ” It went along with what we were doing. The music and clothing added to it. It was crazy, fast & fun. I really didn’t care. I just wanted to rip and have fun….  no worries.” Jay told me that Stacy liked him on the team with his long hair & all. “I was just rebellious. I was actually a long-haired surfer kid. Then, I made an anti-christ kind-of change. I cut all my hair off. I was back east with Glen Friedman. We were going to Cherry Hill, Staten Island, Apple & other parks. We would go in & cut the skaters hair. It was just to be obnoxious…  the kids were so cool.”  Jay said that he was really into heavy rock-n-roll like Zeppelin & early Van Halen but the punk music was too hard to resist. “Bands like The Buzzcocks, Discharge, 999 and others soon fueled all of our sessions.”  Jay told me that he will always have a fondness for Marina del Rey & Cherry Hill skateparks. “They were the best things I ever rode.”

I had heard various stories regarding Jay Smith over the years.  One quote – “He was the epitome of punk.”   Another – “Jay would take a contest run and he’d just carve in circles throughout the entire time… smiling.” Whatever the case may be, Jay Smith was hard to miss. He was a standout. Glen E. Friedman & Jay became pretty good friends and would hang out quite a bit back then. Some of the great Jay Smith images that we have were from Glen and this period in time. Style. Timeless perfection.  Glen told me about Jay Smith- ” The bad uncle (to Stacy’s good father) of the Bones Brigade, his awesome girlfriends, his insane risk taking driving, The most stylish layback and frontside carve in existence, and a heartbreak of an injury that sent him for a loop. I took him to see the Bad Brains play a club in NYC (when they first moved here), with less than 30 people attending the show. We drove across the country together to do a skate tour and he tweaked his ankle on the first stop, so it was ‘Jay’s Barber Shop Tour’ instead. That’s just off the top of my head– 30 years later.”

Classic Skateboarder Magazine centerfold by: G.E. Friedman

image courtesy- Glen E. Friedman

Jay Smith and his life have been shrouded in myth & legend for decades. I was at the ‘Old School Skate Jam’ in 2000 and I remember seeing Jay Smith attending the event. There were just as many people crowding around Jay as  there were with Tony Alva. He has immense popularity & appeal. Jay is one of a kind. I asked him about his  disinterest in skateboarding & subsequent walk from it.  He readily replied- “I didn’t dump skating! I became kind-of bored with it. Tricks were becoming wall-to-wall and mechanical. It took away from the speed,  flow and beauty. If you take away the beauty of it, it’ll lose everything. That is what drove me from skateboarding. The ‘power & finesse’ is what made it rad for me. That is what Powell Peralta embodied. Stacy encompassed all of this. Jay lists Duane Peters, Eddie Elguera, Shreddi, Steve Caballero &  Scott Foss as being a huge influence to him & his skating.

King James Cassimus sequential of Jay Smith layback

Jay told me that he continued riding into the mid 1980s but motorcycles & racing took up more of his time. Eventually he stopped.  He saw Richie Carrasco at a show & Richie kept after Jay to go skating. Eventually he caved in. Jay- “Richie took me out and we went slalom riding. It was so rad. Pretty soon, I was riding vert, doing airs and laybacks, I slammed though and was hurt pretty badly. It hurts more… and for a longer time these days.”  I asked Jay if he skated recently. He went on to tell me of a dark day a few years back. A day he will never forget. He was riding his motorcycle in the rain. Almost night. The black greasy ribbon of wet freeway reflected all of the lights.

” I was in a motorcycle accident on the 101. I slammed into a car. I had a few drinks & it was raining. I got on the freeway and found myself behind this woman going 55 mph. I got pissed and went around her. I really gunned it. Then I saw why she had been going only 55 mph. There was a car directly in front of her going slow. I saw it at the same moment that I ran up into the back end. I hit her so hard that I broke both my legs. I got tore up! I was in the hospital for a few weeks. I haven’t really skated because I have plates and screws in my legs. My movement just isn’t there. No flexibility.” I was quiet for a moment, digesting all the tragedy that Jay had just laid bare. The thought of Jay Smith skating without flexibility was intolerable. It was like Picasso without a paintbrush. I groaned inwardly.  Jay quietly went on – “Ozzie, you know what ? It was all worth it. Skateboarding. I am stoked on my skating time and how it all went down.”  So are we Jay…. so are we.

Thank you to Glen E. Friedman for the –previously–unpublished Jay Smith images. Thank you to Jay Smith, Steve Caballero, Glen E. Friedman & Jami Godfrey for their memories. Thank you to King James Cassimus.  We’ll just thank them all. Jay wants to thank Dave at Skaterbuilt for all the support. Skate- Ozzie

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Lasekland / Last Stand

Lasekland R.I.P.

I need to live life
Like some people never will
So find me kindness
Find me beauty
Find me truth – Portnoy

Lasekland. Some have called it the worlds biggest vert ramp. Others have spoken of it in awe. Still others wonder what strange Gods would build such a thing and to what purpose. “Surely a mind of madness would be responsible for such a monstrosity.” No such thing. Bucky Lasek willed it into being several years ago…  the answer to his need for large transitions, bowled corners and the comforts of having such a thing in his own backyard.

Bowl Lord and Master Bucky Lasek

Lasekland has hosted sessions, BBQ’s, parties and more than a few skateboarders have walked up the dusty hill, only to take one look and walk back down it, never to take one run. Lasekland was intimidating. Yes, I said Lasekland WAS… past tense. Bucky sold his house and the keys turned over to the new owner yesterday afternoon at five. FINI. I think back over the sessions I’ve witnessed. The kindness of the people there. Bucky and his friends were always hospitable and stoked. The vibes were always good. Forever etched : the beauty of Bucky floating huge ollie to fakies through the corner and Chris Miller with his freight train line that stuck him about ten feet above the deck frontside into the far corner… majestic. Peter Hewitt, completely out of control, yet somehow not.

Darren Jenkins

Peter Hewitt

Scott Taylor

Zach Miller

There were so many good things to see in any session. The bowl made you up your game. One had to ride it with authority and power. It made everyone that rode it, a better skateboarder. That is its truth and that truth is now gone. Bucky gave so much to skateboarders and skateboarding itself. The BBQ parties with giveaways, raffles, food and fun. What a spectacle. The charity food drive to help others. The constant elevation of the bowl riding game itself… We owe him and his family a collective “Thank you”. Thank you to William Sharp for the images. Skate – Ozzie

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The Skyline

Skyline June 13, 2017

Johnny Altieri at Skyline Summer 1976

June 12, 2017. Los Angeles. I left my place in West Hollywood and drove to work. Santa Monica isn’t that far away but it took a long time to get there. I drove across Sunset Boulevard into Beverly Hills. Cars cluttered the intersections and the sidewalks were full of people coming and going. The sun was white and the sky clear and blue. A day just like any other. This was Los Angeles. I worked at several properties on the west side and then worked my way back up into Bel Air. I decided to take a break and run up by Bruce Lee’s house where he once lived just off Mulholland Drive. I stretched out and put a few miles in, following the route Bruce would take. The huge pine trees wound up the hillsides and I ran in the shade, content with the strain on my body and the feeling of running in the footsteps of the Master. I love tradition but I’m not bound to it. I have been heavily influenced by Bruce Lee all of my life. From fitness and martial arts, nutrition and even my reading interests. Bruce was inspiring in many ways. I find it comforting to go back to where he once was…  my soul connected in some way.

Driving back across the spine of Mulholland Drive, I stopped by Skyline to eat lunch. The rusting fence was overgrown with ivy and Bougainvillea. The gate hung slackly on one hinge. Others had been here recently and pulled it loose. Last time I had been to Skyline, I had to crawl over the top… I slipped inside and sat down. A thin rivulet of murky water ran down a concrete gash in the center and trickled into a storm pipe. I could hear it gurgling in the stillness. The concrete was rough. I mean, if any part of my skin touched this surface in any way, I was going to bleed. I sat and ate an apple. Ghosts spoke to me. They told me about the summer of 1976. Skyline. Thin Lizzy, Led Zeppelin, Blue Oyster Cult, UFO and Ted Nugent grooved from eight track tapes and huge speakers in the back of cars parked nearby. The sweet smell of Thai stick hung over head. Skaters sat along the top edge of the huge catch basin on its flat surface as they would take turns carving down and across its super steep surface to carve through the end corners…

The heavy players were there regularly. Tony Alva, Kent Senatore and his brother, Jerry Valdez, the Altieri brothers, Marc Smith and Dave Ferry put some serious lines in. The catch basins and reservoirs of the Hollywood hills were an early proving ground. Pools were already being regularly explored and new terrain was being conquered daily. As all things must, the Skyline is now in disrepair and mostly unusable. Many years ago –in late 1977– the city of Los Angeles Water Department put a three inch layer of black asphalt across the entire bottom of the place. It was rendered useless as a skate spot. I sit and think. In the same way I visited with Bruce Lee, I visit with these pioneers at Skyline. My soul reaches out and I left the place…  connected and in gratitude. Thank you to William Sharp for the images. Skate – Ozzie

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Three Corners

As a kid in Pennsylvania, the only thing I wanted to skate were pools. There were none. At least none where I lived. If I wasn’t in school or working, I skated. While I was doing those things, I was daydreaming of California and pool skating. I would eventually be running Woodward Camp in the early 1990’s and would visit California several times a year. I’d meet up with Steve Alba and he’d take a crew of us to some backyard pools. Those days will be seared into my memory cells until I am no more. THIS was the skateboarding I always longed for. Steve would roll into the deep end and do frontside grinds in the shallow end. He’d then go over every obstacle. I remember being completely in awe of how he and the pool skaters we were riding with would simply absorb the small transitions and obtain speed from every radius in the pools surface. It was a completely different experience for me. I’d push in, grind the facewall, run over the drain, almost die and then slam into the shallow end and that was that. At one point, Steve threw a truck wrench to me and said, “C’mon dude. Loosen that shit up.” It was humbling and exhilarating all at once. After I moved back to California permanently, I started looking for pools everywhere I went. This was in the pre-cell phone satellite times. You had to drive all day…  dead lawns, HUD homes, real estate open houses, ghetto neighborhoods… prowling alleys and hopping fences. There was no “gimme gimme”. One had to put in serious work and money. More importantly, it took a huge block of time. Over the years, I’ve found a fairly large number of pools. When people ask how many, I don’t really have a number. I’m not wired like that. I recall certain tricks or milestones…  certain sessions with people. I love finding the odd-shaped pool. There are so many shapes and sizes of pools out there. It is quite amazing.

Recently, Rick Stine and I located a new pool. It had a Rossmore shallow end and a deep end with two carvable corners. The transitions were amazing. We both realized its potential immediately. The lady gave us permission to drain it and we did it that very evening. The cancer was depressing. It was roughly seventy percent of the surface. We decided quickly that we’d patch and paint it. We spoke with the owner who was more than happy to have the pool kept empty and her landscaping done. A long road lay before us. Rick said, “How does one eat an elephant?” I looked at him blankly. “One bite at a time.” So it was.

tree trimming

Ardex is your friend

Rick – preparations

Me / First corner Ardex

We trimmed all of the vegetation and trees close to the pool. We scraped the entire surface and cleaned it and then we let it sit for a week. We came back and Rick rolled through it. Even with the cancer, he could keep his speed deep to shallow and back. We smiled. Once patched, we knew that the pool would be fast. We fixed the homeowners back deck, did landscape work and bought supplies. Ardex, paint, rollers, trays… Rick and I would meet up and do a section at a time. We finished the first corner and brought Charlie Blair and Brad McClain by one Sunday. We told them it was rough. We felt the pool was worthy. Both Charlie and Brad were definitely stoked on the round corners and big transitions. They attacked it and pieces of crumbling plaster billowed up above them as they crushed the poor thing.

Brad McClain

Charlie Blair

I was injured for almost two months and couldn’t skate. Rick and I continued to work on the pool at every opportunity. We’d scrape, Ardex patch and go eat tacos. The elephant became smaller… We decided that the drain was right in the way of the double double pretzel line, so we filled it with gravel and a locking system, then cemented it in. We began painting the pool with flat white Kilz primer as well. The pool was starting to look fantastic.

Drain game

too many kooks in the soup

Kilz

We finally finished the entire pool and left it sit for a few days. We wanted it to bake in the sun. I knew from experience that –with so much surface cancer– we’d be having minor repairs after each session for a while. This proved to be the case. We were prepared though. We bought an extra bag of Ardex, had duct tape ready for any immediate quick patch and extra Kilz primer on hand. After a session, we’d simply clean off the duct taped areas, scrape them, whip up a batch of Ardex and fill them in. Our first big session happened to be a real hammer. Jeff Grosso, Peter Hewitt, Eddie Alioto, Lance Mountain, MRZ, BLKPRJKT, Rick Stine and I got into it pretty heavy. The surface took a beating, but held up fairly well.

Rick Stine

Me

The pool is pretty unique. Conventional lines won’t work. Each skater that has been there is perplexed at first. Once they ride, everyone starts working it out and seems to love the corners. The cost to repair the pool came in at a bit under four hundred dollars. MRZ, Bulldog, Andy and others have helped with the funding. I thank them here and now. Rick and I shouldered the rest. We’ve kept it pretty tight thus far. KB, Chris Reilly, Robbie O’Connell, Arto, Roche, Tom from San Diego and Howie got some turns, as those previously mentioned.

Arto Saari

Robbie O’ Connell

The homeowner likes to watch us and we recently had a BBQ at the pool. She sat and smoked cigarettes and drank beer while Brad McClain cooked up some burgers for us. I can’t recall ever patching a pool to this degree. We put five weeks worth of hard work into it. As far as Rick and I are concerned, it was worth every minute. Thank you to Deville, Arto and MRZ for the images. Thank you to Rick Stine for the endless help. To those concerned, (you know who you are) don’t barge other skaters permission pools. Find your own. Make your own scene. Work hard and give something back to skateboarding. Skate- Ozzie

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Smoldering

 

The fire started in a dry riverbed just east of San Diego. Smoke blackened the sky and when one looked up, it seemed for certain that the end had come. The death of dreams. Finality. The fireman arrived as residents were leaving. The lonely battle. The uncommon dark. Helicopters. The crackle and hissing… Smolder. Afterwards, the media pointed its fingers. Who? How? Does there have to be a reason? Sometimes the world simply breaks. It gives us things to do… Houses were gutted and the dead black earth slept. A man on a nearby hillside looked over the remnants of his property. Ash colored his world. He kicked at a charred photograph album and decided then and there to build again. Spinning on his heels, he walked towards his truck. He passed by the huge Blue Haven cement swimming pool and noted that it was the only thing left virtually unscathed.

 

Fast forward forty years. A small ranch house now stood on the lot. The long rolling hills and sun-split boulders stretched away unimpeded into the distance. Neighbors were still a rarity and the area remained desolate. Remote. The dusty road leading to the house was festooned with rusting barbed wire fences. It stated clearly: No Trespassing. The old man had rebuilt after the fires, his kids had moved on and started families themselves. He grew old and eventually passed away.  The property changed hands. The house became a renter. It fell into disrepair and occupants cared little for the home. They squandered long nights with their crime in their veins. Vice. They had long ago given up on doing any real good in this world. They moved through life in a vacuum.  Rent was spent on escape. The owners saw no way out. The property suffered. The house soon became a bank foreclosure.

Seven months later, Billy Green sat by the side of a country road and looked at the list in his hand. He shook his head in annoyance. Turning the truck around, he soon pulled in at the start of a long meandering dirt road. It arced up and out of sight. “I guess this must be it…” He drove slowly. Billy cleaned up foreclosure properties. It was his job. He skated pools and did the best he could do. Don’t we all? He saw the house as he pulled to the top of the hill and looked over the recent foreclosure that had come his way. He slowly walked the property. It was a mess. Seeing a long dark wooden fence, Billy spotted pool tiles!  He rushed forward. “All the way out here!?”  He looked at the pool as it spread out on the back of the property. He couldn’t believe it. The pool was actually bigger than the house. Strange. The Blue Haven was deep in black water. Frogs were in the water and it reeked from a few feet away. The transitions looked massive. Billy made some phone calls. He would need help.

Billy Green – crail

John Torchia – method

Tyler Martin – lien melon

Kyle Berrard- gets in on a secret session and gets a one-up on the jacuzzi lip

Billy called in some friends and the cleanup began in earnest. Brian Fick, Riverside Shawn, John Torchia and Mike Lopez all joined Billy in the draining mission. The pool was a mess. To all appearances, it hadn’t been used for its intended purpose in a long time. Decades. The crew laughed as the water and muck were pumped away and the pool’s secrets were revealed. It was stellar. They kept it to themselves and rode it for a few months. The area is virtually uninhabited. They were left alone. Eventually, it needed paint and the crew gave her a fresh new skin.

The pool was a secret. It was kept that way. The big Blue Haven sat so far out in the wilderness that it was a journey just to get there. The crew rode it for a few more months then it sat again. Neglected. Wasps and frogs moved back in. The house squatted there… the years moved by.

filthy lady

Ripperside Shawn and I crawled through the mist in my truck. It was winter and the mountains were cold this early in the morning. The Blue Haven lady waited. We drove up the long dirt lane. Shawn was going to check the pool for the first time in a few years. I had never been there. As we approached the house, we saw a car in the driveway and a trailer parked nearby. Surprise. Defeat. “Damn!” I frowned into the morning…  Shawn said little but his disappointment was evident. “Well, lets go… its gone.” I told Shawn to wait a minute. I wanted to –at least– look at this pool that I had heard so much about.  I got out of the truck and as I approached the house, I saw a man walking towards me. I smiled and waved. As it turned out, this man had bought the property. We told him the story. Pools. Skating. He seemed intrigued. He let us drain it then and there. He shared in our stoke. The pool was thrashed. Elements and neglect had taken a heavy toll. Shawn and I spent several weekends draining, sanding and painting the pool. We rode it and kept the crew tight.

Ripperside Shawn- putting in the work.

Ripperside Shawn, John Torchia and Pepper… painting.

Ripperside Shawn- feeding the bird

the original crew reuntited

We decided to get some pals together after we painted it and have a fun little session. We got the original crew together and had Billy Green, Brian Fick and the others all in for some fun. Sometimes…  you can go back and do it all over again!  One day the owner said that he knew nothing about skateboarding but he knew who Tony Hawk was. Surprise? Since this man had shown us so much kindness, I made a phone call. Tony Hawk, Josh Stafford, Brian Fick, Lance Mountain and Kevin Staab all rolled out together. The owner was so happy. He couldn’t believe it.

Tony and Lance

Josh Stafford – hanging one high

Tony- front rock

The session was fun. Everyone fought to keep their speed on the big transitions and there was quite a bit of laughter to be found. Tony Hawk didn’t play around. Rock-n-rolls, backside airs, tailblocks and ollies were thrown down in quick order. Lance rode like a champ. Inverts and loveseat frontside airs went into the books. Stafford killed it all day… We rode for a few hours and it was inspiring to see Staab, Stafford, Hawk and Mountain all rolling around in a backyard pool. I must admit that I was very pleased to have had a small part in making such a thing happen. In the end, good things went down. The sun dropped over the hillside and the wind picked up. Everyone left in good spirits. In the past, there was a bit of bad juju associated with the property. Fire. Loss. Drug use and neglect. Skateboarders flipped it all on its head. After sessions like these, we can make things right. Karma debt is paid. Peace falls once again over a quiet San Diego hillside. The birds are free and they run these grounds….

Lance- invert on a tall wall

Kevin Staab – crail

Tony Hawk- tailblock

Thank you to the original crew. Thank you to Chuck for allowing this to happen. Thank you to everyone involved and special thanks to Brian Fick for the images. Skate- Ozzie

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PIT

Bulldog and Andy laughed as Rick Stine, Marlon and I kept up a running dialogue during breakfast. “You see, the California pool scene is probably way different than it is on the east coast.” I muttered. Marlon interjected, “Yeah…  California has pools that you can actually ride!” Andy quipped, “Didn’t Farmer say that a pool is good if you can get over the light?” “Yeah…” I answered. “Yeah, he did say that.” The Gospel according to Farmer. Heavy source. Deity. Make no mistake…  If Farmer said it, it must be so. We sipped our coffee and talked about legends, heroes, bros and zeros. We ate our breakfast and moved into our day. Pools awaited us. They always do. Rick and I had found two or three new pools for Bulldog and Andy’s visit. One was an old Anthony kidney. It looked like a pit, but it was something new to roll around in. We drove by and spoke with the owners. Interestingly, he and his wife didn’t think the pool was rideable. We laughed. I heard someone tell the wife, “If we can get over the light, the pool is good.” I smiled. Lesson learned.

Rick Stine

We each took a couple of tries in the thing. The left wall pinched hard and flattened out. The right wall wrapped tight and it sort-of funneled you and the waterfall ate your speed. The shallow would’ve worked but it was a struggle to even get back up to… Pain pit. The facewall had a few steep feet of vert which was topped by some buck-toothed Anthony. I had much better things to do with my time and thought of the other pools on the days list. Rick Stine had the goofy-foot advantage and zipped onto tiles… a few dollar bills dropped from pockets and everyone urged him to grind this beast so we could leave with honor. As long as someone put trucks on… We were good. Fourteen dollars and a nudge and up he went. The best part of that pool is that we never have to go there again. I don’t mind riding a pit once in awhile. I think it helps. But in this case, I was happy someone took us off the hook and took one for the team. Thanks Rick. I heard someone recently talk about pool skating and they said, “If you aren’t breaking the law, you aren’t doing it right.” I personally think that person is confused. If you aren’t having fun, you aren’t doing it right. Thus endeth the lesson. Thank you MRZ. Skate- Ozzie

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