That night down at the lake after eating hot dogs off the grill and watching the red, white, and blue fireworks in that bicentennial summer of overblown patriotism, I borrowed another kid's yellow plastic banana board and rode a skateboard for the first time in my life. On the nearby tennis courts I pushed an glided and felt the freedom and thrill of rolling. The isolation of the Colorado mountain town I lived in hadn't stopped the intrusion of skateboarding into the collective consciousness; it was inescapable and promised pure fun. Skating was a new trend and I was as susceptible to the fads of the time as any other nine-year-old in 1976. I made it clear to my parents that I desperately needed a skateboard and got to pick one our at the local bike shop. It was a seven-inch-wide GT Woody with three strips of grip tape and translucent red wheels. I rode it every chance I got on the tennis courts and the streets, learning how to lean and turn, tentatively trying to do three-sixties.
I had long brown hair, corduroy bell-bottoms and stoner aspirations. Besides trying to act cool despitey glasses and braces while navigating the social complexities of middle school, I lived and breathed skiing. In the summer skating was the closest thing to skiing available. Instead of being a surfer who skated when the waves were flat I skated when there wasn't any snow. Three thousand souls inhabited Estes Park on the continental divide, surrounded by the Rocky Mountains and the aptly named Never Summer Range. Denver was seventy miles away but it might as well been on a different continent. For all intents and purposes Estes Park existed in a zone far removed from contemporary civilization. News of any kind of excitement got around quickly and on a dry, hot, day not long after the Independence Day festivities I heard there was going to be a skateboard contest at the local Holiday Inn, where my friends and I often snuck in to play Foosball and carouse in the pool until we got kicked out. There was a short slalom course and some freestyling—daffys, nose-wheelies, and people doing more three-sixties than I thought possible. An MC announced, girls with cutoffs and layered hair rode tandem and the guys had longer layered hair. It was a classic scene of the 1970s, one that could never be recreated despite the nostalgic efforts of present-day aficionados of that decade. I felt like I was witnessing something important that was connected to a world I had only heard rumors about. I knew intuitively that it had something to do with California.
Later that summer my father took me to visit our relatives on the peninsula south of San Francisco where I rode roller coasters at an amusement park and took a tour of the eccentric widow Winchester's Mystery House. I also learned that there was a skateboard park nearby. The Winchester skatepark was like nothing I'd ever seen, a huge expanse of undulating concrete forms stretching off into the distance. There were snake runs, extremely deep and rough halfpipes that looked terrifying, two pink pools, and the "washboard" with three rounded waves leading up to it. I wore smelly, sweaty, rented pads over my jeans and a faded green T-shirt with an iron-on of the words "Physical Graffiti" above a picture of a shirtless, barefoot skater. I repeatedly tried to go down the mellowest snake run but kept picking up way too much speed after the first turn and jumping off, walking back up to wait my turn and obsessively hurtle myself down again while my father and aunt watched from the spectator walkway overhead. The heat and combination of excitement and culture shock put me into an almost hallucinatory state of mind. I was agog at the sight of hundreds of teenage Californians carving down the snake runs at high speed and doing slides and tricks beyond my comprehension. There was an intoxicating odor of sweat, urethane, dust and pot smoke hanging in the air. To me these benighted people were living in a utopia. I went back to Colorado filled with envy and longing and tales to tell of the Promised Land.
My two main pursuits up to that summer were skiing and swimming, though I was getting tired of the daily three-hour regimen of swim practice. The realization that I was never going to make it to the Olympics had me on the verge of quitting after five years of continuous training and getting up at 5 a.m. to carpool to meets down in the valley. Skiing was where it was at for me, it had the juice, it was still radical and exciting and not entirely bourgeois. Probably one of the most eloquent summations of this period is in Robert Bingham's Lightning on the Sun, in which a character says "This was in the great Scott boot era of late-1970s Western skiing, you know Rocky Mountain High, the whole thing." What I was participating in and witnessing at our local ski area was extreme skiing before the term was coined. Back flips off of ten-foot kickers with red, white and blue mirrored I Ski sunglasses on, hiking to hidden bowls for virgin powder, skiing close-knit trees, tucking to seventy-five miles an hour on the Columbine run and doing helicopters (a three hundred and sixty degree aerial spin) into forty-five degree steep couloirs. The invincible Ingemar Stenmark was the best slalom racer ever and Steve McKinney was breaking the one hundred and twenty five miles an hour barrier. It was an experimental and free time before skiing turned corporate and ceded its outlaw status to snowboarding.
I tagged along with my two older sisters and their skiier-stoner friends who were ten years my senior and some of the best skiiers I have ever encountered. They were part of the era's confluence of drugs and rock and roll with freestyle and out-of-bounds skiing. Around them I felt cool smoking pot in vans with teardrop windows listening to Some Girls in the parking lot before hitting the slopes for blizzard condition powder days. I went from the fifth-grade uniform of Toughskins and cheap blue sneakers with the three white stripes to bell-bottom jeans, flannel shirts, hiking boots, and the mandatory puffy down jacket. I saw Van Halen, was handed my first joint in the summer after fifth grade at an Eagles concert attended by sixty thousand people, painfully tried to smoke cigarettes out in the woods, tried chew and snuff, and sought out any available alcohol. Our town was awash with drugs and boredom and to alleviate the latter by indulging in the former was something I aspired to and did, because everybody around me except my parents was using every mind-altering substance they could get their hands on. Hanging out with the older cool people gave me a certain self-consciousness and distance from my own age group that was to have repercussions later. I was starting to subconsciously register and despair of the inanity and conformity of small town life. Something was definitely starting to come to the surface by the eighth grade when I began vandalizing school property more than usual and laughed out loud with glee when our art teacher nervously told us that President Reagan had just been shot.
I'm sure a rankling disgust and boredom with my town and with my peers' dazed and confused mentality had a part in the epiphany that came during my twelfth year. One day my friend Aaron and I were in the bookstore where my mother worked looking at the magazines. By then the fad had passed and our skateboards were gathering dust in our garages. Between the favorites I could look at, Car and Driver, Cartoons, Mad and Cracked and to the left of Playboy, which I desperately wanted to take down but couldn't, was one forlorn copy of Skateboarder. It had a blue cover with a picture of somebody named Brad Bowman flying above a ten-foot-high plywood ramp somehow attached to his board without the use of his hands. The image was immediately and forever seared into my memory. I opened the magazine and entered into an entirely new universe for which I had no frame of reference. The glossy color photos showed people on boards much wider than any I'd ever seen with different-colored coned wheels riding in deep pools and doing totally incomprehensible moves above them that looked like one-handed handstands. I was mystified, excited, and intrigued. There was something about how the skaters looked and the graphics on their boards that was creepy and slightly subversive. One graphic that particularly made an impression was on the Powell Peralta Ray "Bones" Rodriguez board that Alan Gelfand was navigating through an ollie on his ramp in Hollywood, Florida. The board was an unnatural neon yellow with a skull holding a sword in front of itself, looking like an evil cadaverous wizard. Something about this new stimuli and a latent wish to rebel against Estes Park's constrictions galvanized Aaron and I. We got religion. We were going to skate again.
Looking back I can see that my revived fascination with skating had some simmering causes that I couldn't have articulated at the time. I was a devoted skier and swimmer but these two pursuits that are fundamentally different from team athletics are more often than not about a quest for mental transportation from daily reality instead of beating another competitor. In swimming you raced against a clock, and judges or times don't measure real skiing—it's about getting radical beyond quantification. Skiing and swimming were both inherently solitary and that's why I liked them so much. I was a dreamy child who lived a mile from a paved road and spent a lot of time alone amusing myself. These predilections for shunning competition and organized activities dovetailed with my growing awareness of how much I despised team sports. I had played flag football good-naturedly and enjoyed shooting baskets but I didn't really like teams and the whole regimented sports scene—at an early age institutionalized jock mentality and all its attendant boorishness was bothering me. In that first look at Skateboarder I saw some glimmerings of a way out through a physical activity that seemed to encourage a diametrically opposed lifestyle.
Deciding to embrace skating went against all the prevailing winds in our town, skating was passé and nary a skater was in sight. I got the GT Woody out and started pushing around our garage, turning and grinding the back truck on the wooden edge where it ended and the dirt of the driveway began. There wasn't much to skate aside from the garage, the flagstone walkway by our house, and a shuffleboard court at the closest house to ours two hundred yards away. Besides that, my immediate surroundings were a beautiful vista of snow-covered peaks, pine trees, rocks, and no cement. Our two-man retrograde movement made the big leap beyond Estes Park when we got Aaron's mother to drive us to the skatepark thirty-five miles away in Boulder. The park was in a desolate field across from a bowling alley and had a huge keyhole-shaped pool and various bowls. This was the world shown in Skateboarder brought to life. People were riding the bowls on ten-inch wide boards with pink and green wheels doing the tricks we had only seen in the magazine. That first time we must have looked like religious pilgrims staring in disbelief and wonder at the magnificence of the holy shrine.
The first day, I rolled down the seemingly insanely steep slope of the mellow egg-shaped reservoir without any control over my direction or speed and didn't know what to do when I barely got to the other side. After a few trips to the park we started getting the hang of it and began to attempt kickturns and berts. We got subscriptions to Skateboarder and convinced our parents that we desperately needed new boards. My parents didn't see why because the GT Woody was in fine working order; they didn't understand the necessity of a wide board. I purposely abused the GT Woody to the point that I "accidentally" broke it so there wasn't a choice. I got enough money to-gether to buy a used board from a park local named Jack Lovell. He sold me a Kryptonic "K" sticker-covered snub-nosed board outfitted with Gullwing Trucks and green Kryptonics wheels. I also got a yellow Protec helmet and some Rector knee and elbow pads. I was set. We built primitive ramps in Aaron's garage by leaning eight-by-four-foot pieces of plywood against sawhorses and practiced kickturns and mini-handplants on them. I spent an inordinate amount of time on my bed with my board to my feet pretending to do skate moves.
The park was a magic kingdom away from the boredom and conformity of Estes Park and whenever we could we spent the whole day skating there in the summer sun. The pro shop was a bazaar of desirable board models and wheels: bone-colored Gyros, Green Sims Pure Juice, and red, green, and blue 70mm Kryptonics in the glass cases. There were also the T-shirts with company logos and pads with plastic caps to make knee sliding possible and shiny padded Mad Rats shorts made out of tough synthetic material with their distinctive diamond-shaped Mad Rats logo of a rat on a skateboard. The original cinnamon-colored Vans high tops had just debuted and were the first shoe made specifically for vertical skating. The smell of the pro shop was the same intoxicating mix of new urethane, odorous pads, and (for lack of a better term) teen spirit that I had first encountered at Winchester.
The focal point of the park was undoubtedly the keyhole pool. When I first saw the huge eleven-feet-deep by forty-feet-across concrete pit situated on a rise above the rest of the park, surrounded by bleachers, I was filled with wonder and dread. It was a while before I had the nerve to venture into it. Overcoming my trepidation and making sure nobody was watching, I scurried down into the shallow end where the walls were over my head and the gaping abyss of the deep end yawned before me. I took a deep breath and rode down the waterfall from shallow to deep, across the wide expanse of flat bottom toward the huge static overhead wave that was blocking out the sky. I slowed down the higher I ascended and felt weightless at the apex of my trajectory during that first slow motion backside kickturn and then down, down, down. The effect was of more adrenaline and excitement than any amusement park ride had ever provided. After getting used to it I started rolling in from the top and going much faster. I learned how to grind backside, scraping my truck on the coping and then the long drop down the transition to feel the G forces going up the other wall. Gyrating back and forth from wall to wall was a transcendental experience that brought me calm and focus. Like the batter who can discern the seams on the baseball as it flies toward him I had entered a zone of heightened awareness and concentration bordering on trance.
The park locals dressed and acted differently than anybody I knew and they didn't fit into any of the available Colorado teenage cliques of jocks, stoners, or rednecks. They were cultural revolutionaries for their time and place. Jack Lovell skated extremely smoothly, doing frontside carves at high speed before blasting super stylish tuck-knee frontside airs. He was good-looking with slightly raffish blond new wave hair and had some local notoriety for skating past a girl on the sidewalk in a television commercial for a Denver record store. Vince was tall and wore brightly-colored Converse Chuck Taylor high tops and besides doing all the modern tricks tried five-foot-high backside airs on the face wall of the keyhole. I don't remember him actually making any but just seeing him fly that far out was mind-blowing considering that a year before the highest anybody in the world had gone was a little over two feet out. Billy Fox and Billy Wolfe were both good skaters—Billy Fox had a purple Protec and did layback airs, a move that was a not quite upside down frontiside version of the handplant. I once saw Billy Wolfe drop in the keyhole barefoot, a feat that astounded me. There was Richard Condet, who everybody called Weazer and had a big nose, did aerial axle stalls, and had a white Flyaway helmet that I coveted. A short, Mexican, sixteen-year-old hellion named George was the obnoxious park jester who would get obscenely drunk and yell profanities at innocent bystanders. The way he did backside airs confounded and mystified me, just going up and floating two feet out and barely touching his board before landing so easily and smoothly. These skaters had punk and new wave leanings at a time when such proclivities guaranteed immediate social ostracism and invited frequent physical intimidation and violence. The mellow hippies and stoner rednecks who made up Colorado's youth population (along with most of the adults) were really offended and troubled by anything that upset the status quo and punk rock was more unsettling than anything they had ever come into contact with.
One slightly older local named Bart made the others seem mellow by comparison. He was a natural insurgent against what was considered normal and sacred at the time. He had short, spiky, blond hair, wore leopard skin cut-off T-shirts, and was very punk rock. He simultaneously scared and fascinated me. Bart was one of Colorado's best skateboarders but had decided to concentrate on roller skating. This might seem like something to disparage but in fact it was just the opposite. Roller skating heel to heel in the "frog in heat" style while riding pools doing aerials and inverts is something that demanded respect then and still does. His black girlfriend lounged by the side of the pool and that was more radical to me than any of the moves he did. One incident that really made an impression was when I saw him fall and a large clump of snot flew out of his nose and landed on his arm. He licked it back into his mouth. Years later I heard that he became a Christian youth counselor for troubled teens in Denver. With anybody else that might appear to be a tragic capitulation but with what Bart had been and done it seems somehow appropriate.
Something about hearing "Roxanne" by The Police blasting over the P.A. system and watching a guy carve by at speed while singing the lyrics was magical. Later I heard his retort to an older skater who was complaining and saying how he "used to be good." The singing skater snorted "It's always ‘used to be.'" But everything was new then for me, those idyllic summer days were the first taste of what would become a life-long obsession and a way of life. I entered the subversive netherworld of skateboarding and reveled in hanging out in the pro shop, ogling boards and wheels, poring over Skateboarder, watching people skate the pool and then trying to imitate their moves in the banked slalom run.
That summer of rediscovering skating coincided with my father taking me to the Peninsula again and this time there was only one thing on my mind. I made the three-hour roundtrip bus ride through the grimness of pre-silicon San Jose to Winchester every day for two weeks. I had my own board and pads and skate T-shirts now and instead of being a visiting rube from the provinces I was an accredited member of a genuine underground. The park was a lot less crowded than it had been during my first visit and I could make it down the snake run and grind the washboard and the little pink clamshell where people were doing screeching rock and roll boardslides around half the pool. Fueled by candy bars and soda I skated to exhaustion all day before reluctantly heading back to my grandmother's house to arrive late and annoy my father by disrupting the dinner schedule.
I got to meet kids my own age who were totally immersed in skating despite its fall from grace. We skated together and watched Steve Caballero, Scott Foss, Kennedy Brown, and the other local rippers. Our admiration wasn't really star worship because we were actually around the "stars" and there really wasn't much of social hierarchy. To ask for an autograph would have been preposterous. At the time skating was so small that nobody really put on airs and pro skaters were just people who were good, got free equipment, and made a little money. As long as somebody wasn't completely onerous they were part of the scene just by having the perseverance to skate. Still, at that age it is hard not to emulate pro skaters and I certainly did. I remember one kid saying to me "Maybe Steve [Caballero] will see me doing my invert on the washboard."
After coming home and regaling Aaron with tales of nirvana we entered a contest at High Roller. We weren't up to the pool competition but in the thirteen and under beginners division in the reservoir I fell a lot and succeeded in doing some slides and carving around. There was something so uncompetitive about the whole thing, nobody seemed that concerned with winning or taking it too seriously but everybody seemed to genuinely have fun and all the participants got a board or shirt or some wheels. It was the polar opposite of organized team sports with their belligerent fathers and screaming coaches and crying kids.
The next year there was a pro contest at High Roller. We spent the whole weekend there at the park, sleeping in the pool after repeatedly sliding in from the top in our sleeping bags. There were about twenty pro skaters and a hundred spectators. It was incredible to see all the skaters we knew from the magazines—Bert Lamar, Dave Andrecht, Mickie Alba, Duane Peters, Brad Bowman, Eddie Elgurera and others. I bought some wheels from Andrecht and was a little jealous of my friend John who smoked pot with Duane. Eric Grisham was trying huge backside airs and holding on to slam hard most of the time and Mickie won, which cemented my admiration for him since he was only a year older than I was. Duane had four different-colored patches accentuating his bleached crew cut and unveiled the acid drop for the first time in a contest, charging straight into the pool from the platform to drop down five feet to the transition. Duane's nickname was "The Master of Disaster" and watching him acid drop was enough for me to believe.
Back home we were riding everything we could in spite of the minor problem of skating being illegal in Estes Park. The usual conviction that skaters are a menace to society had us on a constant lookout for the police and since our town was so small they knew who we were. There were scattered chases and a few tickets. One night I got chased through the bushes and leapt over what turned out to be a gully with a barbed wire fence running down its middle. I bounced back as if I had hit some invisible force field, a little bloody but uncaught. I skated the less populated roads and the smooth tennis courts, carving around and doing flatland berts and other slides. The one real spot in town was a rough asphalt bank about five-feet- high and fifty-feet-long next to Woody's Car Wash, behind the Holiday Inn's kitchen and its greasy effluent. There was a curb at the bank's drive-up teller and also a bump in a parking lot by the bike store. The store's owner Doug was a ski patroller which made him a wintertime enemy but in the summer I could overlook that and hang out listening to his stories about seeing David Bowie during the "Great White Duke" tour. I was starting to listen to my sister's records and began to share her unhealthy obsession with David Bowie. Scary Monsters had just come out and I sat by the record player reading the lyrics and drinking in its post-Berlin spacey decadence. With my estrangement from local society, Led Zeppelin and Blue Oyster Cult were starting to seem stale. Names like the Ramones, The B-52s, The Stranglers, 999, The Clash, and the Buzzcocks were becoming familiar to me from Skateboarder and its more punk-friendly successor Action Now, even if I hadn't heard them yet.
We hardly had any spots, the police were on our case, the park was too far away and anyway it would be three years before I could drive. Then we met Mike, a twenty-two-year-old guy who still skated and was much better than us though his serious skating days were behind him. He had short hair by our town's standards and worked at a turquoise jewelry shop where the aura of cocaine use was palpable. He had been on a team in the glory days a couple of years before, doing demos on a portable halfpipe which he somehow inherited after the team broke up. He was nice to us because we were the only kids skating and promised to give us the ramp, causing us to go into shock over this unexpected dream come true. Mike had the ramp assembled at his friend Todd's house and we went over to this secret location to watch him do edgers and handplants with his hand just below the top. When Todd was at work I would skate there, though half the time I was in his unlocked house furiously studying his collection of Playboys, alternating between being titillated beyond belief and freaking out and running to the door to see if Todd was coming home. I don't know why I was so scared—I'm sure he would have condoned my browsing.
During the winter I went to look at the snow-covered ramp a few times and dreamed of what I was going to do on it. The big problem Aaron and I hadn't resolved was that we lived ten miles away from each other and there wasn't any place in between where we could put the ramp. We both knew that whoever got it would be much, much happier than the loser in the deal. Then my father came home one day after giving Aaron's brother Sam a ride home from skiing and nonchalantly said "Did you know the ramp is over there?" I did not. I was dumbstruck that Aaron had tried to clandestinely steal the halfpipe. I called immediately and confronted him, crying with rage. He tried to be apologetic and conciliatory and said "I was going to tell you," but the damage was done. Outside of skating we had been hanging out with different people at school and our friendship was slipping. Now it was definitively over. For the two more years I lived in Estes Park we didn't speak a word even though we saw each other every day in school.
Possession is nine-tenths of the law. I couldn't see a way to get the ramp back. Despair over the theft overshadowed every other problem in my young life. I seriously considered running away from home and living at High Roller. It was a dilemma that combined the abrupt end of a friendship with a huge hurdle to my skating addiction. Even though I knew that all the pools in town didn't have rounded transitions and were filled with ice I wandered around snooping at the closed for the winter motels hoping for a hidden miracle pool that I could secretly skate to resolve my situation and spite my new enemy.
In the spring Mike and I went over to Aaron's for the showdown. We avoided eye contact, arms crossed after years of playing together, trying back flips off of a kicker we made behind his house, being teammates on the swim team, and five years of being inseparable best friends. The ramp was still in pieces since it's move from Todd's house in the winter. Mike explained that it needed to be reassembled on a flat surface, but Aaron's father had picked a slant behind their house as the only place the ramp could go and refused to let the slope be leveled. I tried to conceal my glee as I saw the loss in Aaron's eyes, not quite believing how my luck had changed in a matter of minutes.
We loaded the ramp parts into our family's red pickup and drove them over to my house while Mike sang "On the road again, moving halfpipes with my friends" to the tune of the Willie Nelson song. We set it up at the bottom of a sloping meadow not far from our house next to lichen-covered rocks and Ponderosa Pine and Juniper trees that provided a home for a badger, a skunk and an occasionally prowling Mountain Lion. I now had my own skating paradise. Todd and Mike skated a couple of times and then lost interest, but before they faded out they goaded me into trying to drop in. Tail dropping in is how every skater starts a run from the top of a ramp, setting their board perpendicular to the coping with their back foot on the tail of the board. Then the front foot is put on and the skater weights down to plummet from vertical to the transition. Doing it for the first time is a rite of passage and I hadn't done it on anything that high yet. I hunkered down over my board and then over-anxiously hurled myself into space to land in a heap on the flat bottom, traumatizing myself so much that I didn't get up the courage to try it again until six months later. Aaron rode the ramp a couple of times when he thought I wasn't there and then gave up and got into ten speed bicycle racing before eventually going to France as an exchange student. For the rest of my time in Estes Park I skated alone on the ramp and the streets.
Losing my best friend increased my estrangement from Estes Park society and I focused my attentions on a rarified world I had only read about that was happening in London, New York, and Los Angeles. Punk rock and skating were my obsessions and they were starting to go hand in hand. In 1981 Ronald Reagan was in office, there was a recession, unemployment was high, and the Cold War was at its height, filling my adolescent mind with hyper-realistic nightmares of nuclear annihilation. The popular culture I was exposed to was overwhelmingly boring, conservative and unwilling to address the ugly realities of life. Music was the domain of over-bloated rock bands whose time of innovation was twenty years past. It was grim. Skating was an outcast activity and it was becoming increasingly connected to the even more subversive and iconoclastic punk rock movement, particularly the brutally fast American offshoot of punk called hardcore. Punk rock then was actually a movement of substance and importance, not the watered-down artistically bankrupt genre it is today. It was new and scary and against everything that was the establishment. The music was alien—speeded up, aggressive, and genuinely strange. The lyrics dealt with things of real import that weren't talked about in the culture at large. What the bands were saying was edifying and I took them very seriously, imagining real changes and revolution. A whole world of radical politics and intellectual questioning that was completely absent in the discourse of the day was revealed to me. Skateboarding and punk rock changed my life.
The new music was dynamic and against everything sacred, its ideas forged my rebellion against Estes Park and society at large. I didn't know about punk's debt to Dada and the Situationist International and other precursors, all I knew was that it was new and really, really different. From the B-52s and David Bowie I branched out into increasingly inflammatory material. The record store in Boulder had a tiny new wave section and I found myself smelling the vinyl and the cardboard and examining the records like they were exotic archeological finds. My first real punk rock purchase was the ten-inch EP Black Market Clash by The Clash. Right after I got the Sex Pistols' Never Mind the Bollocks and the Dead Kennedy's Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables with the cover photo of police cars on fire. This triad ranged from the dub and punk rock and roll forged from the pre-Thatcher riots of The Clash to the liberating shock and visceral blast of the Pistols to Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys "singing" at a hundred miles an hour about Pol Pot, stealing people's mail, and lynching the landlord. I listened to these LPs incessantly and was profoundly affected by their engagement with and denunciation of many of the world's ugly truths. It was as if a curtain had been ripped away to reveal the grotesque machinations of a perverted adult world. Then there was Let Them Eat Jellybeans, a compilation with D.O.A., Flipper, the Feederz and the Bad Brains and other bands from the extreme margins who illuminated and reveled in the dark side of America. Flipper had a Vietnam veteran guitarist and played tragically funny dirge music, hardcore punk on Quaaludes, the Bad Brains were Rastas from D.C. who played faster than anybody else, and the Feederz had a song about being sodomized by Jesus Christ.
These and the other bands I discovered offered a dizzying variety of opinions, stories, declamations, rants, and manifestos, from the existential surf music of Agent Orange and the suburban despair of the Adolescents and Black Flag's rawness in California to the eclectic hardcore bands featured on the Flex Your Head compilation from D.C. and the Boston scene's Unsafe At Any Speed, some of whom extolled the straight edge ethic of no drugs, no alcohol and no promiscuous sex. The spectrum of subjects covered by the bands under the general umbrella of punk and hardcore included but was not in the least restricted to, anti-vivisectionism, the joys of cunnilingus, child abuse, the Boer rebellion, the corporate takeover of the world and many, many fiery indictments of organized religion. It was thrilling to hear these things even mentioned, let alone set to sounds that touched a deep chord.
Along with the change in my musical tastes and nascent political consciousness, my wardrobe went from surf-skate style Town and Country shorts and Ocean Pacific shirts to my uncle's hand-me-down army pants and combat boots and striped work shirts requisitioned from my father that I painted band names and logos on with house paint. I was really into argyle socks because they were about as uncool as you could get. I cut the sleeves off of a T-shirt and spray painted the anarchy A symbol on it, tied bandanas around my wrist and sometimes around my ankles. The real break came the last day of eighth grade when I took a copy of Action Now to the barber and showed him a picture of a pro skater named Steve Olson staring into the camera with a grown out crew cut. It took some cajoling to get him to do it; he kept repeating "Are you sure you want this? I haven't given one of these in twenty years." It was truly unprecedented in Estes Park. My new clothes and hair were a direct provocation to the town and they really worked; I was looked at as weird at best, and at worst seriously demented and somebody to be shunned.
I skated alone every day with just the sounds of nature and the rhythm of the wheels on the ramp. Often when I fell I would yell curse words at the great outdoors in frustration. Other times I would lie there for a long time pondering the sky and the trees. Then I would look over to the meadow and see a bull elk with his harem of cows calmly eating grass and contemplating my folly.
In 1982 High Roller shut down but remained intact and unguarded for one last summer. Jack, Vince, George, and most of the other locals disappeared, I heard later that Weazer went to the Marines and Vince joined the Army. There was a feeling of post-apocalyptic desolation at the abandoned park, of unsupervised freedom along with the imperative to skate as much as possible before the bulldozers came. Since I was too young to drive I would take the bus down to Boulder and basically live at the park until my money ran out. I was starting to carve faster and translate the tricks I had learned on the ramp to the huge pool. I could ride the shallow end with its abrupt transitions well because it was like the ramp. Once I did a rock fakie in the shallow end and Billy Wolfe said "Yeah." That meant a lot to me.
My older sister was in Texas but her ex-boyfriend lived in Boulder so when I went down there I would show up unexpectedly at his apartment to stay with him, which he didn't seem to mind too much. I lived frugally and once found myself at the International House of Pancakes with exactly eighty-nine cents imploring a cashier to sell me a single pancake. The disgrace of how déclassé skating had become was clearly revealed to me one afternoon by the park as I skated by a booming roller skating rink and a foxy fourteen-year-old girl looked at me and said with utter contempt in her voice, "Dude, don't you know four wheels are out, eight are in."
At night I'd go down to the mall in Boulder and skate the small banks there and hang out at the arcade playing first-generation video games like Asteroids and Galaxian with the young stoner wastrels. One night I was skating back to the ex-boyfriend's and grinded a curb on a dark street until I came to a stop. An instant later something hit me from behind and I went flying onto the hood of a car. It was a bigger teenager pummeling me with his fists while his friend ran off with my board. I started running after them but gave up after a few blocks. Often I would run out of money and couldn't take the bus home so I would hitchhike back to Estes Park—this was in the days when hitchhiking wasn't considered totally irresponsible. I would skate along admiring the snow-covered peaks waiting for the one car that might come every half-hour. That would drive right past. Then another half-hour. Sometimes it took the whole day to get the thirty-five miles back home.
I was driven by the park after it was bulldozed and forlornly stared at the chunks of concrete and coping bits that were all that was left of that amazing place. There were probably twenty active skaters scattered in the whole state and I felt lonelier than ever in Estes Park. Besides the ramp and Woody's I revisited the municipal pool that I knew so well from my days on the swim team. In the winter it was drained and I would sneak in to skate the banked section in the deep end, watching the snow fall outside through the big windows, with the only sounds the hollow echoing of my wheels in the pool.
Because there was nowhere to buy the records I had to have I ordered them through the mail and anxiously awaited the slip from the post office announcing their arrival. Six dollars plus a dollar for handling for would get me an LP, an update and a lifeline to the outside world. Most of the records were put out by the bands themselves or on small labels dedicated to the cause who had no intention of ever making any money and printed five thousand albums at the maximum. Often these records were accompanied by handwritten notes from band members. One I got was from Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat apologizing for the delay in sending their Out of Step EP. Not being patient enough to wait until I got home I would take these records directly from the post office to the public library and listen to them on their archaic phonograph with headphones. There was also an explosion of do-it-yourself publishing abetted by advances in cheap photocopying technology and I started getting small handmade zines from all over the world. Beyond The Pale, Smashed Hits, Attack! Phenis, Rip, Shred & Tear, and bigger productions like Ripper, Maximum Rock and Roll, Flipside, and hundreds of other manifestos filled with handwritten record reviews, personal tirades against society and poorly reproduced live band photos. Like the music these zines covered a full range of subjects and opinions, all extremely personal and heartfelt and often truly iconoclastic.
I started making my own, Revenge Against Boredom, gluing and pasting pictures and doing all the writing myself. The first issue was three photocopied pages that grew to fourteen pages by the time I discontinued it after issue number five in 1984. I made five hundred copies of it and sent it record stores and other zine makers. My sister was living in Berlin so I got her to distribute there, people wrote from Yugoslavia and Australia for it, and I got a letter from Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore that said "Dear R.A.B., Please send me your zine. I heard it's cool." It was a labor of love without any ulterior motives except to be a part of a community and trade information about the underground. It was fun, creative, and something to do instead getting high and listening to Judas Priest.
Just how important it was to connect with a fellow punk or skater was illustrated by the time a guy in town named Jason (who didn't really skate but seemed to think I was on to something so he hung out with me occasionally) called and told me that there was somebody down at the arcade with a Black Flag shirt on. I immediately got on my bike and rode down there to find Richard Waltz who was with his parents on vacation from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. We bonded immediately and that one afternoon led to a correspondence that lasted for years. I put pictures he sent of his friends on their ramp in R.A.B. That was when the brotherhood was at its strongest. The slightest interest in skating was enough to cement a friendship.
My only skater friends were John Baron and David Fuller from Boulder and Joe Johnson in Ft. Collins. Making long distance phone calls was still a big deal so we only talked to each other when absolutely necessary. I would spend the weekend at Joe's and we would talk into the night about Joy Division, The Birthday Party, The Fall, Fun Boy Three and especially Public Image Limited, who were the most innovative combination of dub and perverse disco dirge that has ever happened, led by Johnny Lydon, née Rotten, of the Sex Pistols. These bands were completely underground in the United States and sonically unprecedented—they weren't hardcore at all but their melding of strangeness, noise and art was starting to really appeal to me. We would listen to records and then skate Joe's ramp in the cold, surrounded by flat plains with the mountains in the distance and llamas grazing nearby—Joe's father was an eminent veterinarian who specialized in the South American ruminants. The halfpipe was pink, thirty-two-feet-wide and had a channel. Joe was doing caballerials, a three hundred and sixty degree fakie to forward ollie invented by Steve Caballero, and high frontside ollies, skating as good as any pro. The biggest session there was five people. We dreamed of California.
I finally got to see some shows in Denver by finagling rides with some older guys with new wave inclinations who were working in town for the summer. The Dead Kennedys played at the Mercury Café in Denver which was a crazy scene—the place was packed to the rafters and supposedly Jello Biafra's mother (he was originally from Boulder) fell through the ceiling during the show. I didn't see that because I was jumping up on stage and running into Jello before diving into the pit and then struggling out on my hands and knees getting pounded by feet and bodies. It was invigorating—my ears rang for days and at my job clearing rooms of dirty laundry and trash at the Twin Owls Motor Lodge I stared at my boss blankly when he spoke to me. There was a great Denver hardcore band called Bum Kon with a charismatic singer named Bob McDonald who opened for the Dead Kennedys at another show I attended. There the slam pit was more like a riot than anything else—people flying all over the place, fights starting, total craziness.
In Estes Park I was a total freak. My peers and skiing idols looked at me askance as if I'd contracted leprosy. I was still totally immersed in skiing but a lot of the locals didn't seem to be that into it anymore so I mostly roamed the slopes alone or with my father. I had voluntarily cut myself off from society in our town and got a mohawk which my mother strenuously objected to so I shaved it off and started tenth grade as a skinhead. I would take my brown bag lunch down to Fish Creek behind the football field where I had smoked pot and done snuff back in middle school. My parents worried about my antisocial leanings and tried to get me to go to dances and other school functions but I wanted to stay home and work on Revenge Against Boredom. Minor Threat and the other D.C. bands inspired me to go straight edge, a reaction to all that was Estes Park. I stopped smoking pot but still hung out with the stoners sometimes as they weren't that judgmental.
Punk and skating informed everything. They were both new and incredibly exciting and life-affirming—they proved that there was something of interest and value out there in the world. Every issue of the new and very underground Thrasher magazine had somebody doing a new trick or airing higher and every record I heard had sounds that had never been made before. It was a call to arms, a call to skate, to ask questions, to rebel, to think. It was an education and initiation.