12 Days of Christmas #8
This post is actually inspired by an episode of the Branded in the 80s podcast (Thrashin’ & Trashin’) that aired over the summer. In the episode, which you should check out whether you dig skateboarding or not, Shawn dives into his childhood submersion in skate culture, his Mike McGill deck and his ultimate acceptance of the fact that he was a poseur. It’s a good episode.
Some elements of his story mirrored much of my childhood, though the outcome was a little different. I’ve previously shared another important moment in my Christmas history, but this is probably one of the biggest for me. As a kid in the 80s, I too was obsessed with skateboard culture. It was everywhere, from the TV to the big screen to the way-cooler-than-me older kids that would thrash a homemade ramp out in the middle of the street listening to what I now in retrospect have to assume was DRI or Suicidal Tendencies.
I got my first kind-of-skateboard in the summer of 1988, for my 10th birthday. It was a Nash penny-style board. It wasn’t a Vision or a Powell Peralta, but it was good enough for me. That’s not the important Christmas present though.
By 1990, at 12 years old, I was absolutely immersed and obsessed with skateboarding. Even though the sport was, for the moment, on its virtual deathbed, I was all in. And my plastic Nash was not cutting shit any more. I needed a real skateboard. I really wanted a Vision Psycho Stick, but it was hard to convince my parents at that time that skateboards were worth all the money they cost. So I found what I considered the next best thing: a department store Valterra skateboard. I can’t remember for sure, but I assume this thing came from K-Mart or something. By 1990 standards, it was pretty much a relic to begin with.
Sure, this was not a Psycho Stick, but with the skeleton and the top hat and all that shit…in my mind, it might as well have been. I didn’t really know it was a shitty board. It was definitely a hell of a lot better than the plastic thing I’d used for the past 2 years. And I imagined that those handles on the side would be integral to learning how to do 10 foot Christ airs on a backyard halfpipe. So I’d showed it to my parents at the store and that was that. It was waiting for me on Christmas morning.
Somewhere in my parents’ house there is a video of me, with my bent up glasses and longish, greasy hair, proudly holding up the skateboard and subsequently pushing around on it in the alley behind our house. I wish I could find that video because it would enhance this post by a whole whole lot.
I skated the shit out of that board (to the best of my ability). I actually learned how to ollie on it. I eventually took all the plastic off it and put some stickers on it and tried to make it look more official. After about a year or so I got a hand-me-down Santa Cruz Jeff Kendall Graffiti deck and that was pretty much it for the High Roller (at least for a couple decades). I assume the original skateboard ultimately made its way to the trash, probably by the time we moved in 1992.
Now, I do not know how other kids around me perceived me when it comes to skateboarding. No, I’d wager they probably called me a poseur at that time. But the thing is, I know that I wasn’t. I busted my ass (like, as in worked hard, not literally fell on my ass, though I did that a lot too) on that cheap-as-fuck skateboard every day after school in front of our house. Sure, despite my best efforts, I did not look as cool as the guys I watched every Saturday morning on SK8 TV. I did not thrash as hard as Corey Webster. I did not gleam the cube as well as Brian Kelly. But I tried and I had fun. And skateboarding became not just a culture I obsessed over as a kid but something that was ingrained in my life for decades after. By about 1993, the hand-me-down Kendall had been traded in for one of those newfangled skinny boards with tiny wheels. I skated every day. I got pretty okay at it.
Somewhere in my 20s, skating definitely took a backseat to life and my board was in my car more than it was under my feet and at some point it wasn’t even in my car any more. After about an unintentional 6- or 7-year hiatus, when I was around 32, we knew we were going to be having a baby. As my thoughts turned way more introspective than they had in probably ever, one thing I would always go back to is, what from my life do I want to share with my son (and now sons)? And skateboarding was such an obvious answer. So I pulled out my busted-to-hell shop deck I had been skating last and started pushing around on the area of asphalt outside our house…not much different than when I was 12 years old outside my parents’ house in Texas.
By the end of that summer, with a couple months left before our first son would be born, I had a brand new setup and was skating in some ways better than I ever had. I did not have all of the tricks I once did and some of them will seemingly never come back. But skateboarding is even more fun now, even though it’s usually me by myself on my lunchbreak at work or on the paved trails near our house, instead of with a dozen or so friends at a skate spot. Our sons are now 5 and 2 and they’ve both got the recent Santa Cruz Star Wars decks. Our 2-year-old isn’t there yet, but I did take our older son out skating over this past summer, and man was it fun. I know I had fun. He seemed to have fun too.
If my 20+ years of skateboarding all culminate in one day my kids thinking it’s cool that their old man can do a kickflip…well, that was time well spent.
But somehow I have digressed from that department store Valterra. That was the point when I started writing this, the skateboard I got for Christmas in 1990 that I no longer had by 1992.
Around 2012 or 2013, I was looking around at old skate boards on eBay like I do, and I came across a listing for that exact skateboard (except with some white plastic instead of black). I shared the link on Facebook for fun and that was that. And then on Valentine’s Day, Joanna asked me to get something out of her car and you know what it was?
THE MOTHERFUCKING HIGH ROLLER!
She had grabbed the skateboard from the auction I shared as a Valentine’s gift. How fucking rad is that (she’s always fucking rad!)?
This past summer, every comment on the Ecto Cooler re-release was that “it tastes like childhood”. That’s what standing on this skateboard felt like for me. It felt like a weird version of home I didn’t really even know I was homesick for. And it felt like a weird completion of a cycle. So much of my life has changed since Christmas 1990 (whose hasn’t…) and skateboarding has changed and my relationship with skateboarding has changed and gotten even tighter as I’ve grown older.
Since I don’t have that video I mentioned above on hand, and damn how I wish I did, here’s a consolation prize. My friends and I filmed this video on Christmas day 1994. I got a new Ray Barbee The Firm deck for Christmas (circled in a CCS—then known as California Cheap Skates—mini catalog and ordered by Mom, probably by fax). Some things in this video make me cringe…but I am really glad it exists.