How We Roll
Take an awesome ride with the innovators, shapers and supporters who help carve
our local skateboard culture.
Palos Verdes is missing something.
The four seaside cities on “The Hill” (Palos Verdes Estates, Rancho Palos Verdes, Rolling Hills and Rolling Hills Estates) seemingly have it all: lavish golf courses with ocean views aplenty, tennis courts, soccer fields, hiking trails and arenas for every breed of equine imaginable.
But there’s one thing The Hill doesn’t have: a public skate park. And any self-respecting South Bay skate rat will tell you the Peninsula needs one.
“There’s just nowhere to skate,” says Hudson Ritchie, a team rider for Maki Longboards. The 14-year-old skater and surfer is spot-on. Skating on sidewalks and streets in some parts of Palos Verdes is illegal and can carry a stiff fine of $90. Other areas only allow skaters on streets, where they have to compete with traffic.
So what does a skater to do if he wants to shred some concrete banks and launch a few heelflips in a hassle-free skate park? “You go all the way to Hermosa,” confesses Hudson.
That’s where Ellen November comes in.
Her grown children didn’t skate much when they were younger—and she’s quick to admit that she’s not much of a skater herself, but the founder of the nonprofit organization Skatepark PV is passionate about bringing a safe skating environment to the Peninsula.
“I’d see these kids finding creative, out-of-the-way places to skateboard,” says Ellen. While going about her daily routine, she’d often see neighborhood teens skateboarding in public areas, only to be promptly chased away by private security or police. “So it occurred to me: Why don’t we have a skate park?”
Ellen estimates that there are several thousand skateboarders on the Peninsula without a legitimate place to safely skate. She set out to remedy that and build a proper park.
To help do this, she enlisted the aid of a number of local skate shops, skateboard companies and pro skaters, including Kenny Anderson, who skates for Chocolate Skateboards. Kenny will oversee the design process of the proposed 10,000-square-foot skate park, which he notes will be constructed to be as green and environmentally friendly as possible.
“It’s the right thing to do,” says Ellen, “These kids shouldn’t be marginalized.” Ellen and her supporters hope to start building in Ernie Howlett Park in the city of Rolling Hills Estates, but for now, they’re concentrating on funding. And the greater South Bay skating community—a vibrant scene that’s been alive and ripping since the late ‘50s—is working hard on that front.
Kimberly Robinson and Randy Kowata of Vanguard Surf & Skate in Torrance have always wanted their shop to be one with a lot of soul—that particular kind of local sanctuary where skaters and surfers of all ages can seek refuge and talk about the latest tricks, videos and contests without repudiation. Once Kim heard about Skatepark PV, she knew Vanguard had to be a part of this youth-centered, community project.
“It’s about giving back,” shares Kim about their funding efforts. They’ve hosted a number of themed skate events at their shop (which is one of the few in the area to boast a half-pipe) in order to assist Skatepark PV. In July, they hosted a Midsummer’s Day Skate Jam that featured Dogtown skater Jay Adams signing autographs and drew more than 300 people. A portion of the shop’s sales during the event were donated to the park.
“When I learned about Skatepark PV and I got to know Ellen, I felt like she had really great intentions of doing something fantastic for the community and the kids,” says Kim. “I just really wanted to support that.”
Vanguard isn’t the only one that’s lending a hand. Other businesses, including skate companies like Girl Skateboard Co. and Globe, are also providing support in the form of publicity and skating gear.
Like Ellen, both Kim and Randy concur that PV skaters need a place to skate safely—where they won’t be labeled as potential juvenile delinquents. “They’re just normal kids with great attitudes,” says Randy.
But skateboarders weren’t always looked upon so favorably.
Despite its current regal status as a multi-million dollar industry with its own distinct (and global) subculture, skating’s origins are surprisingly humble. It began as a creative outlet for wave-starved surfers during the ‘50s in beach communities throughout California.
If there wasn’t surf, surfers turned to a skateboard—usually constructed from a single piece of two-by-four and a set of clay wheels from a pair of roller-skates—to practice their cutbacks and nose-riding skills.
“If the waves weren’t good, you filled the void,” remembers Cindy Whitehead, a professional skater whose career spanned the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. (She rode for a variety of sponsors, including ET Surf and PUMA Shoes.) Cindy has fond memories of witnessing the rise of the skate scene in Hermosa and throughout the South Bay during the ‘60s.
“Back in 1966, the South Bay was already a mecca for skateboarding,” notes Cindy. While Santa Monica—and its famous Dogtown skaters like Jay Adams, Tony Alva and Stacy Peralta—often receives credit for launching modern skateboarding, the South Bay had a hand in shaping the sport’s early years.
One of the first skate films, Skaterdater, which premiered in 1965, was filmed throughout the South Bay, in Torrance, Redondo Beach and, yes, even in Palos Verdes. The first official skateboard contest, sponsored by Makaha Skateboards, was held in Hermosa Beach in 1963.
By the time Cindy started skating professionally in the ‘70s, the skate scene in the South Bay was already comfortably established—and growing. “Hermosa Beach itself is one of the premier places in California,” she says. “You hear about Dogtown, and you hear about Santa Monica, but Hermosa was actually skating at the same time or before. I’m not saying it originated in Hermosa, but it was one of the first places with a strong skate culture.”
As skateboarding departed from surfing, it truly came into its own, developing a distinct personality and culture. Local South Bay skaters like Kevin “The Worm” Anderson, Rodney Mullen and Steve Rocco were among the many in California trying to advance what was possible on a skateboard. They were challenging the basic principles of gravity, which inevitably led them to pursue new testing grounds: a surge in skating’s popularity gave rise to the skate park. Skaters were also testing the limits of their boards and bodies by riding empty swimming pools—Cindy recalls getting busted by the police a few times for trying to sneak into pools. “I always talked my way out of it, blamed it on the boys,” she notes with a bit of laughter.
However, things went sour in the early ‘80s. Insurance issues and general mismanagement caused many skate parks to shut down. With no venues to skate, many skaters took to the neighborhoods, thus giving rise to aggressive street skating. The free-flowing, freestyle moves of the ‘70s were long gone. Now skaters were concentrating on pulling new-school tricks like ollies, kickflips and grinds.
Armed with lighter boards and stronger trucks, skaters looked to test their skills anywhere they could. In the South Bay and elsewhere, that meant stairs, curbs, benches and any other piece of adaptable public property in their new playground. “Destruction of public property be damned” was the skater mantra. But that kind of attitude came with consequences.
“There was this huge anti-skateboard movement right around that time,” says Jani Lange, Volcom sales representative for LA and the Central Coast. “Literally, skateboarding was a crime.”
Jani grew up in Hermosa with memories of watching the nearly superhuman Rodney Mullen practice his tricks. “Shit, he’s one of the technical pioneers of skateboarding as we know it—and he was just so cool,” he confides. “We’d all watch. That was another level of awareness.”
Jani was instantly sucked into the scene, but not without some ill effects—he and other skaters were often chided by teachers and local police. “At 12 I got pulled over by some police officer, and just ‘cause I have a skateboard, one of the cops called me an FFA, `future felon of America.’”
The unruly demeanor of street skating intimidated an older generation that just didn’t understand the sport. “It was so unconventional,” Jani adds.
“It wasn’t basketball, and it wasn’t baseball. It was so against the grain—so it freaked a lot of people out.”
But many local skaters didn’t quit. James Lang, founder and owner of South Bay Skates and the South Bay Skates Museum (which boasts a collection of hundreds of multi-colored vintage boards), kept skating.
“People got discouraged,” says James of the massive closure of skate parks during that time. “There were serious skaters who were getting paid, you know, making money, and all of a sudden the rug got pulled from underneath them.”
But skating persisted. Many skaters, like James, drove hours to surviving parks in Upland and San Diego or skated homemade ramps in the South Bay. These skaters, spurred by an adrenaline-fueled punk scene that boasted bands like Black Flag and the Descendants, created mind-blowing, new tricks. Local shredder Mike Smith invented the Smith Grind, one of the basics of the new-school movement.
THE NEW GENERATION
Riding this momentum, a new generation of skaters began to rise. Jason “Wee-man” Acuña, professional skater, TV host and actor known for the Jackass movies and TV show, still remembers the first time he was introduced to the sport. “Once I got on a skateboard, it was 100% freedom. I could go anywhere and do anything I wanted.”
Yet even when Jason started to skate in the middle to late ‘80s, the sport still had a negative reputation in the South Bay. Skaters were the kids who weren’t going to amount to anything, back then.
But riders like Jason kept at it, and by the early ‘90s, skating’s popularity was growing again, mostly due to the X Games and focused marketing of action sport companies. Skating went full circle—from an underground movement to a worldwide sport, and as a direct result, the once-ailing skate park began to recover.
Part of the reason why the skaters of today are progressing so rapidly is the reemergence of skate parks. “It’s making kids progress better,” says James. “There are kids that are 10 or 12 that are doing tricks on skateboards that took years for pros to learn.”
Parks, which boast ideal conditions and constructively efficient environments, push skaters to focus on improving their skills. The result is a new generation of athletes whose potential for revolutionizing the sport is nearly unfathomable—especially for the original modern skateboarding pioneers.
“I think all of us from that generation have talked about this,” says Cindy. “Where does it stop?”
The answer, to be honest, is no one really knows. The sport will inevitably continue to evolve. Tricks will become more complex. Equipment will become more advanced. Professionals will start at an earlier age. And the concept of what’s even possible on a skateboard will continue to amaze. But skate parks will play a vital role in how quickly that progression occurs.
Could the next Tony Hawk come out of Palos Verdes? We’d sure like to find out.
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