The Day the Z-Boys Came to Town

 

Urethane wheels came to Ventura without fanfare. There was no advertising campaign, or word of mouth. They just showed up like a gift from heaven and changed everything.

It was after school in November of 1973. The sun was out and we were playing skateboard tag in front of the Big T supermarket on Pierpont when Ross Keck came gliding across the parking lot on his skateboard. Ross was older and had great style, but it wasn’t his smooth arcing turns that had us gaping; it was the late afternoon sunlight glowing through his wheels.

We chased after him, yelling, “Hey Ross, wait up. Wait up, man.”

Ross jumped off the board and held it over his head as the four of us surrounded him begging to see.

“Okay, back-off,” he said. “Back off and I’ll show ‘em to you.“

We stepped back and he lowered the board. “They’re called Cadillac’s,” he said, “I just got ‘em in Santa Monica. They’re made of urethane.”

We touched the hard rubber wheels.

“Okay, now you’ve seen ‘em, I gotta go.”

“Not yet, you gotta let us try ‘em Ross.”

“Come on, just for a second.”

Ross frowned. “Oh, all right, but hurry it up, I don’t have all day.” He handed the board to Stevie.

Stevie pushed off and we ran along side him desperate for our turn. Dan pushed Stevie off and jumped aboard for a few turns before Cameron wrestled it away. I was excited to go next, but Ross called out, “Bring it back now, I gotta go.”

Cameron carved back around towards Ross while I ran along side. I grabbed his arm. “Come on man, let me try it, quick.” I pulled him off and jumped onto the loose board cutting back around.

“Dammit, bring it back, NOW,” Ross hollered.

The wheels were fast and smooth with traction like I’d never imagined. Reluctantly, I came back around and handed Ross his board. “These wheels are unreal.”

Ross snatched the board back. “Yeah, you’ll be able to get ‘em at the shop soon enough.” He dropped the skateboard to the ground and glided away. Just like that our composite wheels were relics. Ross said the Cadillac’s cost two bucks each. That was a lot of money, but it didn’t matter; we would do what ever it took to get a set.

* * * *

It was after Christmas before our local surf shop, William Dennis, got the Cadillac wheels in, and when they did we were there. The wheels came in four colors, blue, red, yellow, and the translucent gold. Dan, Stevie and I got the gold, Cameron got yellow just to be different. Right there on the shop floor we took off our composite wheels, spilled out the ball bearings and slid on our new Cadillac’s. Carefully we dropped the ball bearings back in one by one, tightening the bearing nuts until each wheel spun smooth, then we headed to the four-story Holiday Inn parking lot to try them out.

From that day forward the term sidewalk surfing took on a whole new meaning. New concrete and asphalt waves seemed to turn up everyday.

Then miracles started happening. The city paved the mile and a half road to the cross on the hill. The Cross, originally erected by Padre Junipero Serra in 1782, served as a signal to ships at sea that they had reached the Mission of San Buenaventura. But now, for us, the road to the historic landmark was twenty-minutes of countless silk-smooth turns on a winding slope.

A few months later St. Bonaventure High School paved a ten-foot embankment around the northeast corner of their football field creating an asphalt bowl. But School officials didn’t like us skateboarding on their property and they called the cops forcing us to scatter, only to return the second they were gone. Within a week the school installed rows of asphalt speed bumps and that very night we came in with crowbars and shovels and removed strategic chunks of the still warm berms. Surprisingly, the school put down more speed bumps, and we came back with more crowbars and shovels, this time littering the football field with the asphalt debris. Nothing could keep us from that smooth static wave.

Soon, William-Dennis had a skateboard counter. Kids were coming in who didn’t even surf to get the urethane wheels. If we were hanging out, Bundy, the shop manager, would let us install the wheels for customers. The sport was growing; people everywhere could now get the sensation of surfing without having to get wet.

In January of 1975, word was out that a skateboard contest was coming to town. Some newly formed skateboard association out of Los Angeles had arranged a contest at our Cross Road. Naturally, our first thought was to sabotage the event. The idea of a bunch of Southers coming to town and creating a circus at our sacred spot seemed blasphemous. Unfortunately, Bundy at the surf shop was on board, and even giving out entry forms. He encouraged us to enter. “Come on man, you guys are experts on your skateboards, why not show the world what you can do?”

No way. The idea of an organized event with rules, regulations, and time slots went against our nature. We pledged to boycott it.

As the event neared, talk of it grew and a lot of people we knew were signing up. It was becoming a big deal. But, Dan, Cameron, Stevie, and I stuck together and would have none of it.

On February 22, 1975, the four of us gathered at the beach like usual. The waves were flat and we couldn’t resist looking up at the Cross every now and then to see how the crowd was growing. There was an energy in the air we couldn’t deny. “It couldn’t hurt to just go up there and check it out,” Dan said.

“Yeah, we can hassle the Southers,” Cameron added.

We stashed our surfboards at the surf shop and made our way up the hill. We could hear people on megaphones calling out orders. The hillside was buzzing with skateboarders and spectators of all ages. We were surprised at how many official teams there were with matching t-shirts, a couple even had whole sweat-suit outfits, talk about lame. The amount of organization was staggering. There were people bellowing on megaphones, others setting up cones for the hundred-yard long slalom course. Flaggers at the starting line communicating over walkie-talkies to people with stopwatches at the finish, and everywhere there were people with clipboards.

A megaphone called for all contestants in the boys slalom event to check in. We cut across the course and continued to the top of the hill. Up there the ground was flat and all around guys and girls on skateboards were practicing tricks: nose wheelies, 360’s, spinners, as well as stuff we’d never seen before like jumping over a rope and barrel jumping. There was even a guy who clutched the nose and tail of his board with his toes and leapt over another guy laying on the ground, it was a circus.

Snickering our way through the crowd we ran into Brad Linscheid. Brad was a well-respected surfer in Ventura who’d had his picture in both Surfer and Surfing magazines, which was the ultimate. Brad flashed his ever-present smile, but he looked nervous. “Hey man, any of you guys want to take my place in the freestyle event? I can’t do any of the stuff these guys are doing.”

I felt a surge of opportunity, but didn’t give in. “Ha, no way man, not us. I’m sure you’ll find somebody, though.”

“I’ll do it,” Stevie said, “can borrow your skateboard?”

Steve Monahan was two years my junior and over the past few months we’d become great friends. “What are you talking about?” I sneered.

Stevie smiled, “I’m gonna enter.” He looked at Brad. “What do I need to do?”

I felt a shiver of envy. Stevie could skate okay, but he could barely do a 360.

Stevie and Brad hurried off to get things worked out with the officials as Dan, Cameron and I watched in disbelief. Dan scoffed, “Man, what the hell got into him?”

“Well,” Cameron laughed, “things just got more interesting.”

Someone on a megaphone announced the start of the boys slalom event and we went over to watch. We saw Richard Vanderwyk standing on the sideline. Richard was a great surfer and skateboarder. He had a classic style that made everything look effortless.

“Hey Richard, what’s up,” I asked. “Are you entered?”

“Yeah man, I’m in the men’s slalom and the freestyle. Are you guys?”

“Pfff, hell no,” Dan said.

“Stevie is,” said Cameron. “He just took Linscheid’s spot in the freestyle.”

Richard smiled. “Good for him. You guys should be in it man, you should be representing Ventura.”

“No way,” Dan said, “we’re not contributing to this Souther circus.”

Richard shook his head. “Hey man, I know where you’re coming from, but they’re here and it’s happenin’, I say we show ‘em what they’re up against when they come to Ventura.” Richard held up his skateboard and pointed it at the crowd. “Look around man, you guys are way better than most these guys.”

“Well, it’s too late now,” I said. I turned to Dan and Cameron. “Come on, let’s go find Stevie and see if we can help him. Good luck, Richard.”

“Hey,” Richard called, “tell Stevie to check out the guys on the Zephyr team, some of those guys are really good, especially a kid around his age named Jay Adams. He’s the one beat.”

“Okay, we’ll tell him.”

Suddenly there was a commotion as a Rolls Royce came up the only road that wasn’t barricaded off for the contest. All eyes watched to see who it was. The Rolls stopped and the driver got out holding a skateboard. He opened the back door and out stepped Ty Page. We recognized him from skateboard ads in the surf magazines.

“What a jack-ass,” Dan said. “Now the circus is official.” We shook our heads and went to find Stevie.

We spotted him in the thick of the mix practicing jumping over a rope someone had set up. The rope was about thigh high and we were surprised to see him make it over twice. “Hey Stevie, that’s radical man, how’d you learn that so quick.”

He grinned wide. “It’s easy, even you guys could probably do it.”

Steve’s confidence was up and I was glad to see it. “Hey, have you seen the Zephyr team?” I asked.

Stevie shielded his eyes from the sun. “Yeah, they’re over there, I’ve been watching ‘em. They look pretty good. You can tell they all surf.”

We looked over and about fifty yards down the road was a group of guys all wearing navy blue Zephyr shirts skating around. We recognized Allen Sarlo and snickered. He was a famous surfer known for his aggro-maneuvers, but his style of surfing wasn’t anything we wanted to emulate. Of the Zephyr team all the kids around our age looked good, and after watching for a short period we knew which one was Jay Adams. He was about thirteen and had bleached shoulder length hair. His style was natural and smooth and he had a killer Bert (a hard low backside cutback named after a surfer everyone wanted to emulate–Larry Bertleman).

“I need to borrow a different skateboard,” Stevie said, “Brad’s board is too small.”

We went to search the crowd for a better skateboard for Stevie to borrow.

The contest was a two-day event and today was the preliminaries. Stevie was entered in the boy’s freestyle and since he was a late addition he was slated to go last. This was good because he’d get to see everyone else’s routine and would have a good idea of what he needed to do. But he also had the added pressure of having to watch and wait.

When the event got under way it became obvious a lot of these guys had practiced routines, and to make matters worse, there were literally hundreds of spectators surrounding the area cheering, sneering, laughing and clapping, depending on the skaters fate at any given moment. I was worried for Stevie.

When Jay Adams finally entered the ring he quickly set himself apart with his natural style and flow. He walked the nose arching back, then crouched low into a sweeping frontside turn, jumped the rope and laid into an aggressive, yet graceful, Bert. The crowd hooted and hollered. I looked at Stevie to see if he was nervous. He smiled and without taking his eyes off Jay said, “He’s good.” Stevie seemed to be getting a contact high.

Jay finished to a huge applause, and now it was Stevie’s turn.

He came out shakey. He missed his first attempt at the rope then blew a power slide. Gasps rose from the crowd. Stevie attempted the rope again and this time made it. The crowd cheered and he smiled and bowed, then broke into a string of tricks: nose wheelie, coffin, spinner, his own stylish Bert, and again the rope. With each success his confidence seemed to grow. By the end he looked as polished as anyone there. The cheers were loud and Stevie proved to be a contender, and Jay Adams was the one to beat.

* * * *

The next day the contest was interrupted by a hundred, or so, Hells Angels roaring through on their motorcycles. Apparently they had a wedding to attend at the end of the road by the Cross. Their rumble left a tangible edge in the air and anything seemed possible.

The downhill events wrapped up first. Ventura swept the boys slalom. Rick Dunn first, Scott McBroom second, and Ron Wheat third. The men’s slalom went about the same, except Tom Sims from Santa Barbara took third, ahead of him were Don Andre first and our friend Richard Vanderwyk second.

Now was the boys freestyle. The line up had changed and now Jay Adams would get the final go after Stevie. This was it, everyone would push to the limit: handstands, daffney’s on two skateboards, nose wheelie 360’s. Stevie would have to amp up his performance from yesterday to win, and who knew what Jay Adams had up his sleeve.

We watched as Paul Constantineau, another Zephyr team member, ripped through an impressive performance. Stevie was up next and I was nervous for him. “You have anything new?” I asked.

He smiled, ready to go. “I’ve got something,” he said. “You’ll see.”

His start was clean and he looked relaxed, everything he did was tight and fast, but with no new tricks he’d have to win on style points. He pulled off a nice power slide into a 180 turn, then seemingly stopped his routine and rolled over to the judge’s table. The crowd went from cheers to murmurs as Stevie asked the judges to move their paperwork. He then jumped onto the table, put his skateboard down, rode the table’s length and went right off the end landing perfectly on the board. The crowd erupted. Stevie did a few more turns and just before his time was up he jumped back onto the table and did it again, just to prove he could. Again the crowd erupted. Stevie waved and skated out of the ring to the cheering crowd.

Jay Adams followed without a flinch. He ripped through his routine nailing every maneuver. But he had to go off the table, and he knew it, not a big a deal to a guy with his talent, but the pressure was on, and sure enough he missed his first try. Ooh’s and ahh’s rose from the crowd. Jay pulled off his second attempt, but it lacked the spontaneity and the contest was Stevie’s.

When it was over James O’Mahoney, the man behind the contest, would snatch up Stevie, Richard Vanderwyk, Tom Sims, and a few others to round out his newly minted Skateboard Magazine Team. The magazine’s first issue would debut a few weeks later with Steve Monahan on the cover.

Stevie and Jay would face each other several more times over the coming year, almost always a classic duel for first and second place. But the skateboarding landscape was continuing to evolve, and in June of that year Ventura High School drained it’s pool, and that, again, changed everything.