Dogtown Days: Memory of a Skateboarding Youth
I was 10 years old and Dogtown-obsessed. And though I’d yet to actually step foot on a surfboard, I’d seen Super Session twice and had Gerry Lopez’s tube-riding stance so deeply etched in my brain that the vision of a plum tree hanging over the sidewalk at the end of our street was less flora and concrete to me than it was the Banzai Pipeline. My two older brothers and I skated Toe Nails, the Toilet Bowl and the abandoned Jungleland on Logan Earth Skis, Bennett trucks and Road Rider 4s. We listened to Zep, Nugent and Peter Frampton. We wore Vans, OP cord shorts and long-sleeve tees deliberately frayed and oversized because that’s what Alva, Jay-boy, Biniak and Shogo wore. We were middle-class Valley kids trying to look poor, and our scabby knees, puka-shell necklaces and sweat-matted hair parted way off to the side were badges of defiance.
On weekends, while my mom visited her twin sister in West L.A., we’d get dropped off at Kenter, Revere or Bellagio — schools with wavelike banks and hostile locals. We’d made a pact that, should anyone ask, we’d say we lived in Santa Monica. I still remember my well-rehearsed response: “26th and Wilshire. I go to Franklin, my bros go to Lincoln.” It was disastrously uncool to admit you were from the Valley.
But there was another, equally depressing issue gnawing at me, and this was the fact that I’d never skated a pool. Kevin had once, Steven had sort of, but for reasons related to orthodontist appointments, fishing engagements or After School Specials that had seduced me at precisely the wrong times, I’d always missed out. Pools were like good waves — they’d happen for a fleeting couple of hours. If you were there, you scored. If you weren’t, you had to hear about it for weeks on end. And while classic surf sessions are generally killed by boring stuff like onshore winds or shifting tides or dropping swell, our pool sessions came to abrupt, dramatic finishes that often involved irate homeowners, fang-bearing German shepherds and billy-club-wielding cops — huge street cred on the elementary school campus, in other words.
Finally, though, I was getting my chance. My older cousin Jeff, who surfed, smoked pot and was slated for a “Who’s Hot” in next month’s issue of Skateboarder was taking me to the Box Pool, which was located in the backyard of an abandoned house off Sunset, not far from the Playboy mansion.
We rode the Wilshire bus to Westwood, skated across UCLA, scurried along a dangerously narrow and curvaceous back street and arrived at the bottom of an ice-plant-covered slope.
“Right up there,” said Jeff, pointing to a mesa of eucalyptus trees.
Like most of these pool assaults, it was a backdoor entry. We crawled through a hole under a chainlink fence, bushwhacked through a forest of weeds, then parted the foliage to see what looked like a scene straight out of Dogtown and Z-Boys. Shirtless, suntanned, stringy-haired skaters traded runs in a blindingly white, rectangular pool with turquoise tile. A giggly blonde in Dittos and a sun hat rolled joints and sipped Heineken. Aerosmith’s Get Your Wings played on an 8-track tape deck.
I entered sheepishly. Cousin Jeff coached me into my first run, and I roared down the slope, up the transition, into that weightless, astronaut-like sensation of “getting vertical,” kick-turned, then out of the transition, up the slope and back in line behind my stringy-haired peers. I felt euphoric, at least three years older. Adrenalin coursed through my veins, serotonin washed about my head, and a newfound confidence spiraled in my belly. I thought of Larry Bertlemann in Super Session: “Anything is possible!”
On my second and third runs I got progressively higher, and by my fourth I got two wheels out over the round hole where the light had been, which I used as a kind of target. I heard cousin Jeff announce to our fellow skaters, “And this is his first pool!” which meant everything.
On my next run I got even higher; so high, in fact, that I felt like I was floating, which I was — my rear wheels were literally in the light hole.
The next couple seconds are hazy, but according to Jeff’s colorful recount, my trucks locked in the light and I went spilling down headfirst. I remember seeing stars, a huge bump on my head and a throbbing right thumb. And then in the calm, be cool manner that would define the era, I remember cousin Jeff picking me up, hoisting me over his shoulder and carrying me out of the deep end and onto the steps, where the giggly blonde suddenly turned all maternal.
Cousin Jeff’s next move was straight out of the Dogtown handbook. He borrowed the Heineken from the girl and told me to take a big gulp. Then he borrowed the joint and said something like, “Suck it in real deep and hold it in for as long as you possibly can.”
The next few hours were by far the most surreal of my entire 10 years. We went to a matinee showing of King Kong at the NuWilshire Theatre. I remember slurping from a big, ice-cold Coke, then passing out. The next morning, head still throbbing, right hand heavily swollen and black-and-blue, my mom took me to Cedars-Sinai, where I was diagnosed with a mild concussion and a fractured thumb. And while the following three weeks of having to wear a cast and not being allowed to skate have vanished from memory, that split second of weightlessness between kick turn and disaster are still vividly with me.
Writer/photographer/filmmaker Brisick now spends his time in L.A., New York and Brazil.
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