Skateboarding began in the first half of the 20th century, when some genius nailed a steel roller-skate onto a 2 X 4. For years only brave pioneers dared to try it: rescuing a piece of firewood, attaching the skate, carrying the contraption to the top of the highest nearby hill, hopping on, picking up speed, and wiping out all over the place five or ten feet later. Eventually the word reached Roller Derby and in 1959 they marketed the first-ever manufactured skateboard. More than 50 million of them were sold within the first five years, but those early skateboards were hard to ride — their clay and steel wheels slipped on pavement and lots of people got hurt. Skateboarding went into a recession until, with the introduction of urethane wheels in the early ’70s, it took off again with a vengeance. Skateparks started popping up everywhere. On their new urethane wheels, skaters were going faster — “catching air.”
Even so, whenever a lot of people get on skateboards, a lot of people fall off. In the ’80s, liability insurance became so expensive that skateparks could no longer operate and recession number two began. Once again, the age-old problem of “eating ‘crete” had robbed skateboarding of its momentum.
But in this age of extreme sports, it has gradually regained popularity and is now bigger than ever. Recently it was legally recognized as a “hazardous activity,” which prevents people from suing one another for injuries sustained while skateboarding, and cities are building new skateparks to keep the growing numbers of skaters off the streets.
Cityview Skatepark in Alameda is definitely a righteous place to rip it up. It has a variety of concrete obstacles and transitions (or “waves”) to ride, a great view of San Francisco, and there are always other skaters on hand to socialize with. If you don’t wear a helmet, keep your eyes peeled for the fuzz (only rookies give tickets). The city of San Ramon also has a park with waves and a figure-eight bowl (a concrete crater built for skateboards complete with a drain and a metal edge to “grind” on). San Ramon’s park has lights for sessions after dark; the place stays open till 11:00 p.m. Berkeley’s skatepark is still under construction.
Schoolyards are also good places to street-skate away from the noise and threat of traffic, if you can get on campus. Berkeley’s Arts Magnet School (on Milvia Street between Lincoln and Virginia) has benches and tables for advanced skaters to slide and grind on, and embankments for doing “ollies” and other stunts. The edges of the schoolyard at Albany’s Marin Elementary School slope up to a vertical wall, making this a great place for “wallriding.” (Insider tip: It’s all in the hips.)
And then there are pools. In the ’60s, a few really brave souls began skating in empty swimming pools. Pool skating has always been a bit of an underground enterprise because it usually involves trespassing, puddles of rainwater, and the ever-present threat of injury, yet some riders are so good that they make pools look like they’re actually better suited to skateboards than swimsuits. The widespread fire that charred the Oakland Hills in October 1991 consumed many homes with swimming pools. While the insurance claims were pending and homeowners put their lives back together, skateboarders drained and skated in over twenty different pools with nicknames like the Cancer Bowl, the Bowling Pin, Black Bottom, and the Hot Dog. Now, nearly ten years later, there are still empty lots up there reminding pool skaters of those weird old times.
Skateboarding has had its moments in the spotlight, but ESPN will probably lose interest eventually. That’s how it goes. But if you want to grab your board and go sidewalk surfin’ — as Jan and Dean sang in their 1964 hit — head for 510 Skateboarding (2500 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley; 510-843-1863). You’ll never have to fasten roller-skates onto 2 X 4s again.
— Jacob Tillman