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Growing up a land-locked kid with a cheap plastic Free Former skateboard in the 1970’s, I could often be found gawking at amazing pictures of longhaired sun-charred California kids riding smooth concrete waves in Skateboarder Magazine. Everything screamed RADICAL in those glossy pages...everything seemed “Surf Culture” to a google-eyed, dust-covered, Midwestern-poke. Those kids that were lucky enough to make it into print were very likely to be as adept in the water on a surfboard as they were on a skateboard. Nearly 40 years later, that is probably not the case today. However, there are quite a few old men from my generation that still make, at the least, a subconscious connection between skateboarding and the wave riders that inspired the craft.
The earliest skateboard practitioners mimicked what was happening on the waves. Kids as far away from the salt water as Kansas were walking to the fronts of their little skateboards as gracefully as possible to hang all ten of their toes over the nose of their splintered wooden skateboards, imagining themselves to be Mickey “Da Cat” Dora. Knees were dropped and Cheater Fives were stylish. They crouched under overgrown shrubs as they clattered down neighborhood sidewalks in Ohio and envisioned themselves enveloped by curling blue waves. The first skateboard teams were scraped together by surf shops such as The Hobie Surf Shop, Jack’s Surf Shop and, subsequently, the infamous Zephyr Surf Shop. As documented in the Dogtown and Z-Boys film, it was these types of surf rats that continued the evolution and began to re-create the latest shortboard moves that surfers like Larry Bertlemann and Buttons Kaluiokukani were blowing minds with in the water. Larry’s trademark slash atop breaking waves with his lead hand dragging through the water were epic. His hands-on-the-surface style set the surf world on fire and beach kids took those turns to the schoolyard banks on their skateboards…and The Bert Slide was born.
Even the concrete skateparks of the 1970’s evolved with the ocean in mind. Early attempts at piquing the young skateboarder’s attention often incorporated concrete areas that mimicked lulling swells like a giant washboard, if seen from above, or choppy Gulf of Mexico styled obstacle courses. As things progressed, the concrete waves started to form into elliptical shaped embankments. Over time, they grew larger and eventually formed a full size wave that went to vertical and had smooth curling lips on the top. Those soft lips soon became hard, unforgiving pool coping as skateboarding began to come into its own. With time, a California skatepark became the first to incorporate a huge concrete fullpipe and skateboarders were truly getting barreled on a regular basis. Though the inspiration for including that pipe might rest somewhere buried in a mountain, the skatepark itself gave a nod to a famous Hawaiian wave and called itself: The Pipeline Skatepark.
As skateboarding and surfing grew separately and to degrees of RADICAL unimagined in the 60’s, their connection was still undeniable. In the 1990’s, the hulking surfboards that had all but disappeared when the shortboard turned the world on its head in the early 1970’s, made an unexpected return. Some surfers added a longboard to their quiver while others became full time nose riders. Interestingly, the same thing took place in the skateboarding world and the longboard skateboard became an industry of its own. Even those unfamiliar with surf lingo or skateboarder jargon can easily see the connection. After all, what is a concrete transition if not a wave frozen in time? What is a Layback Slide if not a respectful nod to the timeless Layback Snap? …and what is a skateboard if not a way for us landlubbers to go surfing??