My first skateboard was a blue plastic banana-style skateboard. I would ride in the alley on the side of my house. It was mostly just a toy though. Something I’d mess around for an hour or two every couple of weeks. This was when I was 7.
I got my first “real” skateboard in the 4th grade. It was a hand-me-down Vision “Gator” Rogowski pro model. My Mom’s friend had given it to me, it had belonged to her son. It was super 1980’s. Gull-wing trucks. Plastic rails. Plastic lappers to protect the trucks. Skid plate. Nose guard. Grip tape laid down in a custom design of wavy stripes and dots with a solid piece covering the tail.
I would ride that thing up and down 20th from 65th to other end of the 20th bridge. Always wearing my bicycle helmet. Sometimes I would skate with Milo. He had a more modern skateboard with the double tail. A Wu-Tang symbol sprayed in silver onto the grip tape with a stencil. Milo was really good at skating, even back then when he was a 6th grader. He could ollie and kickflip. The first thing I did the day I got my skateboard was ride down to his house to show him.
“Where’d you get that relic! That thing is ancient! Didn’t that dude like murder his girlfriend and chop her up and bury her in the desert in a surfing bag?”
“Yeah, that fool Gator snapped and murdered his girl.”
“Oh, I didn’t know that.”
I frowned. Milo laughed and pushed away on his skateboard and did a 180 ollie in the middle of the street, kept rolling and did a fakie kickflip before riding back up to me.
I would skate the curb in front of Milo’s house hoping Milo would see me and come out and skate. Sometimes it worked. He taught me how to ollie in the grass by the sidewalk in front of his house. Soon I was ollieing on the concrete. But I couldn’t ollie while I was rolling that well. I could sort-of ollie up curbs. I managed that through sheer force of will combined with the large wheels and the plastic lappers on my trucks. So I’d ride up and down the curb and tic-tac around in the middle of the street. That was my repertoire. I also thought kicking down on the tail and catching my board when I dismounted was a trick. Another one of my specialties was standing with my skateboard upside down on my feet and jumping up, kicking the board back on to its wheels and landing on it. Sometimes the board would land on its side instead, and I would land on the sides of the wheel and fall backwards onto my butt.
I kept skating. In the 6th grade I finally got a “modern” skateboard. A Chocolate Mike York pro model. My dad would drop me off at SeaSk8 early in the morning on summer days. The old SeaSk8 by Memorial stadium. The really old one with metal ramps. The sun would heat up the metal ramps and if you fell on them it felt like you might burn yourself. I didn’t know anyone there. Everyone seemed much older and tougher. One guy had praying hands tattooed on his neck, and he was flying around the skate park. I ran up the pyramid ramp in the corner. I stood there for about three hours in the blazing sun, terrified to skate. Terrified to fall in front of these older kids. I just watched. A couple of dudes stood next to me and smoked a joint. I still hadn’t smoked weed yet. I just watched. One of them had his septum pierced, two pieces of metal poked out his nostrils like tusks on a boar. He spoke to me,
“You going to just stand here all day or what?”
“Uh..I don’t know.”
“You brought a skateboard, didn’t you?”
“Well why aren’t you skating?”
“I’m not that good, I don’t want to look like an idiot.”
“You’re not getting any better standing here, are you? You need to sack up and just skate.”
I rode my skateboard down the bank of the metal pyramid. I really had no idea what I was going to do once I got to the bottom. I didn’t have a clue how to ride on ramps with transitions, so I just kept going in a straight line towards the chain link fence. Prayer-Hand neck almost collided with me. He jumped off his board to avoid me, and I crashed into the chain link fence stopping myself with my hands. Prayer-Hand neck screamed,
He picked up his board and threw it at the fence. His skateboard bounced off the fence and fell to the ground. He walked over to me.
“FUCK, Why don’t you watch where the fuck you’re going, kid!”
He picked up his skateboard and skated off, exclaiming,
“People think this place is a goddamn daycare center!”
A bunch of older skaters laughed at his remark.
I reclaimed my spot on top of the pyramid. Over the course of the next five hours I managed to roll down the pyramid three more times. This time around I tried to time myself better so I wouldn’t collide with anyone. I still crashed into the fence every time to stop myself.
The sun set on the city. I sat in the parking lot on my skateboard waiting for my dad to pick me up. I stared at the parking sign with a tag on it. The tag said,
INNER CITY MAFIA
The tag looked so cool. I wondered who they were. I didn’t know who they were. But I knew I wanted people to look at my tags and think of them the way I felt about that tag.
Pearl Jam donated a bunch of money to the city and they replaced the crummy metal ramps with a brand new concrete skatepark. It opened in the summer. Opening week was a big deal. Franco and I would get a ride down to the skate park every day that week from Franco’s mom. His mom drove a sea foam green Subaru station wagon that we dubbed the “Penis-mobile” because of the cars phallic shape.
Eek-A-Mouse played on the tape deck. Ganja Smuggling was the song. Franco’s parents had way better taste in music than my parents I thought.
“Franco. Your dad and I bought you a perfectly good helmet and you never wear it.”
Franco adjusted the strap on his khaki-colored Mariners hat. One of the hats they gave away for free at Safeco field at some games.
“MOM! Nobody actually wears helmets! They look hella gay. We’re not going to fall on our heads.”
“FRANCO. There is nothing GAY about wearing a helmet. If you guys started wearing your helmets, maybe other kids would see you wearing your helmets and start wearing their helmets. Then wearing helmets would be COOL!”
Franco rolled his eyes at me.
“Mom, it’s too late now. We’re already here.”
The car was stopped at a red light two blocks from SeaSk8. Franco started to get out. Mrs. Samuels turned around,
“FRANCO, WE’RE NOT EVEN THERE YET! YOU COULD GET HIT BY A CAR!”
Franco got out of the car.
I paused before following him and said,
“Thanks for the ride Mrs. Samuels.”
I got out of the car and joined Franco on the sidewalk. Mrs. Samuels rolled down the passenger side window.
“You guys be safe!”
“I love you!”
The light turned green. Mrs. Samuels beeped the horn twice, waved, and drove off.
“My Mom can be so wack sometimes, dude.”
I shrugged. We got on our skateboards and rolled over to the brand new skatepark. The sky was blue. Queen Anne hill stood out against the blue sky in the near distance. A monorail car full of tourists pulled out of the Seattle Center whizzing along its short route to Westlake Center less than a mile away. The EMP music museum sparkled in the sun. It looked like a piece of metal paper crumpled up with pieces of broken glass stuck in it.
It was ten in the morning and the skatepark was already packed. I was more confident on a skateboard at this point, but I wasn’t as good as Franco. Still, I was able to assert myself enough to get some runs in on a regular basis throughout the day.
The stars of the skatepark that day were Corey Lane and his little brother Cal. Two Native American youths who powered their way through any obstacle that got in front of them on their skateboards. The park had just opened that morning. They had the whole place dialed by noon. Going high up on the vert wall. Board sliding the rail on the fun box. They were better than I could ever hope to be. Corey was the same age as me and Franco. Cal only a year or two younger.
I had seen Corey at other skateparks around Seattle. The first time I ever saw him was at the indoor skatepark at the YMCA in Bellevue. He was tearing it up then too. Dropping in on a quarter pipe then doing crooked grinds on a metal ledge at breakneck speeds.
A local TV news crew was there doing a piece about the opening of the park. They interviewed Corey and his brother Cal and filmed them skating the vert wall.
I had tagged the grip tape of my skateboard. Corey noticed it.
“Hey, what do you write?”
He pointed at my grip tape.
“Who me?…I write VORK.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a stack of stickers with his tag on them. The stickers said DAM. Not only was he good at skating, he was better at tagging then me. His tag was simple and sick.
“Yo, put one of my stickers on your board.”
He handed me a sticker. I went to put it on the middle of my board, but Corey stopped me.
“Don’t put it there dumb-dumb, it will just get scratched off when you do a board slide. Here, let me do it.”
I gave him back the sticker. He carefully put the sticker next to my back truck between the wheel and the truck. Close to the base-plate so the sticker would not be destroyed by the bite of the wheels.
Corey skated off.
Franco skated up the ramp and came up to me. He pointed at an older dude skating around the park and said,
“You see that dude over there? Thats THINKER.”
“The dude in the red camo cargo pants?”
“Really? That’s THINKER? That dude is so up.”
“Yeah I know, right?”
“That’s crazy that’s him.”
We both got back to skating.
Corey’s brother Cal was more friendly. Franco and I ate lunch with him at McDonalds. Dollar menu hamburgers and water cups. I went to use the bathroom. Someone had pooped in the sink. The whole bathroom was disgusting. Franco and I hit tags on the outside door of the bathroom stall with a snot-green paint pen.
After a few days Franco and I were pretty friendly with most of the the other kids in the park. Franco had brought a small joint with him for us to smoke. We were standing next to Corey and some other kids by the deck of the big bowl watching some older skater skate the bowl. Corey and Cal were the only kids our age who could actually skate that monster. Corey was sweaty from skating, not wearing a shirt and drinking a Jones Soda. He was leaning on his skateboard. Franco asked him,
“Yo, you trying to come smoke this jay with us, Corey?”
“Yeah right! Drugs are for losers! I’m going to be a pro skateboarder, I’m not about to let anything get in the way of that.”
Franco and I frowned, I think we were both surprised he said that, I know I was. Franco said,
“That’s cool dude.”
We smoked the joint in the stairwell of a parking garage a few blocks away, the cold concrete steps a relief from the hot sun. Then we went and ate some burgers and drank waters at the McDonalds before heading back to SeaSk8 to skate some more. Skated until the sky turned from blue to fire orange to dark purple. Skated until Mrs. Samuels pulled up in the sea foam green “Penis-mobile” and honked her horn twice outside the skatepark.