In 1988, skateboard parks across the country were few in number. Astroskate in Texas, and Mt Trashmore, near Virginia Beach, were the only two we encountered on my part of the tour. There had been an era in the early 80's when a good number of parks had been built, but one by one they succumbed to two big bean counting problems. First, skateboarding is dangerous, and injuries are unavoidable. The liability of being responsible for what happens in a skatepark can be astronomical. As the insurance actuaries realized the facts of the situation, premiums grew until no skatepark could afford to pay them. The second problem was the parks didn't really make business sense, since there was little to sell, except access to an arena.
In an amusement park, you buy a ticket, somebody straps you in, and go on a ride; and it's safe, and you pay for every cycle of contrived thrill. In a skatepark, the skater creates the ride, and provides the vehicle, and powers it with his own energy and it's not safe. The safety is mostly a factor of the skater's skill, and self-awareness about his own limits. The park simply provides the topography. Most skateparks then, were never going to be money makers, and their creators had to be people who cared about skating and were willing to put up a sizable chunk of capital and real estate in order to launch something that would be big fun, but economically, a slowly sinking ship.
There weren't many skateparks by the time JW and I came into the scene, and it was our amazing good fortune that it was so (foggy day silver lining). If there were skateparks everywhere, the mobile ramp would have not been necessary, and there would never have been any reason for me to be driving across the country with the Bones Brigade. The first time we set up the mobile ramp on the road, it was in the parking lot of AstroSkate. It was an interesting oddity to the local skaters, but what they really wanted to see was the team tearing it up in their own familiar local skatepark, to watch them expand the possibilities of what could be done in the place they skated every day. In a world with skateparks everywhere, the pro tour wouldn't need Joel, Sledge, Peter and me, and this expensive cumbersome "portable" folding halfpipe.
Back in California, before the combination of "Rad One" and the team van, the company's professional demos were done using elements they could load onto the top of George Powell's old station wagon (gray). One of them was a launch ramp. It was an excellent launch ramp, but to the company it had become obsolete. Storage space was scarce. Joel asked me if I wanted it. Oh yeah. I loaded it in our little Datsun pickup and took it home. This ramp became one of our favorite ways to entertain JW's cohort of Carpinteria skaters. It was large and heavy, but was just small enough that I could load it in the truck, by myself if need be, to take it around to various cul-de-sacs and parking lots, and the grounds of the High School. Once we got it out of the truck, of course, we could put it on a skateboard, and dolly it around easily.
A launch ramp is one of the basic devices to advance one's skating skills. It allows you to get your chops together to hit an element with enough speed to catch a little air and land, without the risks of dropping in on a halfpipe. Launch ramps can be too small, too tight a radius, and too lightweight to be hit at high speed without tipping it over or making it slide. The team launch ramp that Joel had given us was just right. The radius of the transition was 9 feet, the ramp itself was about 8 long, and it was too heavy to make skid by skating into it. You could launch and catch a little air.
Just as the small American towns where we did our demos, local skaters could put together a rudimentary temporary skatepark by collecting small launch ramps in a parking lot or playground to make a little scene. But there was no way to include a halfpipe into the mix. While there were plenty of places to go street skating, and launch ramps could make any flat pavement into an arena, there weren't a lot of places where you could go to experience vert skating. You needed a confluence of fortunate circumstances to bring a backyard mini-ramp into existence. Usually, it was a set of skateboard-enlightened parents with the property, the patience, and the money to put into their kid's obsession. It also took the willingness to stick their necks way, way out, as far as the liability for injuries. They were risking everything to make their kid's dreams come true. These kinds of parents were the heart and soul of skateboarding at a time when there were few retail or municipal skateparks to make that kind of skating accessible. This is known in skateboarding history as the era of "backyard ramps."
Typical of the state of skateboarding in the late 1980's, in Carpinteria, there was one such set of parents in the Delwiches. They had an avocado ranch on the backside of Rincon Mountain, with enough room for a mini-ramp, and the big hearts and courage to let a little skate scene happen. JW happened to be in the same classes at Carp High as their son, John, and by their junior year, JW and his usual skate buds were regulars up there. The basic halfpipe was small: 6-foot radius transitions up to 5 and a half feet high, not quite vert, 16 feet wide. JW got his photo in Thrasher, skating that ramp.
I don't quite know when we first came in to contact with "Team Effigy". It was probably when Mike Taylor came back from Tahoe to find his mini-ramp missing. He followed the clues and ended up in the back yard of the Horton Building. "Ah-hah!"
Santa Barbara has a long history in the skateboard world. Besides Powell's early aluminum and wood laminated Quicksilver Skateboards; Sims Skateboards and Barfoot Skateboards and Snowboards all were conceived of and being manufactured in the Santa Barbara area by the late 1970's. Of the loosely knit tribe that called itself Team Effigy that we got to know, most had worked for, or with, one or more of these skateboard companies, or were on their sponsored teams. Mike Taylor, Jeff Pixley, Robbie Olhiser, Mike Kresky and JB Baxter all fit into that category. They had been building ramps and putting on skate events long before JW and I showed up. By the time our efforts at Powell began to materialize in the SkateZone, they regularly volunteered as ramp builders (and clowns, of course).
© 2017, 2022 John Oliver
All Rights Reserved