Slug Gone Bad
Still, our Carp brigade was limited to scenes around our local area.
The Bones Brigade odyssey as portrayed in Animal Chin was just for fun. These summer tours had some sense of that, but these guys were working; working really hard. I got to see them over an extended period of time, earning their keep. Back in Santa Barbara, you might think that there would be people working at the Powell manufacturing facilities who would resent the kind of money the professional riders were making. At this time, Tony Hawk was making over $100,000 a year, mostly from getting a cut of those hawk skull logo decks sold. I'm not sure that George or Stacy were drawing that much. But nobody among my friends at Powell begrudged them their situation at all. We all had steady reliable incomes doing jobs we knew we could continue to succeed at. The riders had to compete for the creds that would help them sell their boards, and they were doing something physically very dangerous. A major injury could happen at any moment, and up and coming talented younger competitors were getting harder to beat, and for those and innumerable unforeseen reasons, that record size royalty check they got last month might be their lifetime highpoint, the beginning of a downhill slide. What pressure. It was obvious that their fame and glory came with an uncertain future and great risks on many levels.
Two of our professional skaters, Tony Hawk in vert contests, and Rodney Mullen in freestyle, were unbeatable for years, their competitors only shooting for second place. For each of them, that fact took a lot of the fun out of it. No reasonable person at Powell begrudged our pros' paychecks at all. Heck, no, those guys were risking it all, more power to them.
So I wouldn't recommend being a pro skater. It's hard work, with uncertain payoff. For a skater, it was probably a better deal to be a worker bee in the Powell factory beehive in Santa Barbara. Maybe the best deal of all was JW's deal: son of a bee in the Powell beehive. Sweet. Access all areas. No pressure.
I had gotten to know Chris Iverson around work and when we briefly shared shop space. Chris did the hands-on engineering of decks and wheels. We had collaborated on making elements for the Ver-Cal event, like the 100-foot rail slide, and the assembling, then the dismantling of the halfpipe and moving it to the Horton Building. I started bringing JW around on weekends and after school to help work on the ramp, and he got to know Chris and all my new friends.
The thing is that JW's skating skills were very strong and constantly advancing and he just happened to be the company's target demographic: 17 years old, avid skater and surfer, competent on street and ramp. While I had expected to be able to get JW skating equipment at a big employee discount, I was surprised one day when Chris started providing him with experimental decks. He never had to buy a skateboard again.
Beyond the measured technical testing methods like the guillotine, R&D needed products to be tested by skaters in their real world. The deal was that JW would go out and ride a new deck for a certain amount of time, then exchange it for another, reporting what he liked and didn't like about it. It also gave Chris a way to examine the effects of real life wear and tear. The shapes of skateboards were morphing rapidly during that period. Generally they started out mostly flat with a wide kicktail and a rounded nose. While we were there, Chris was experimenting deeper contour pressings for a number of different combinations of concavity. Finally it came to what seems obvious in hindsight; the double kick perfectly symmetrical deck with no nose and tail. JW was one of the very first to ride that shape.
JW got the same deal with wheels. Chris was tasked with creating and testing different shapes for the wheels: widths, diameters, edge contours. George was coming up with new formulas of urethane to provide skaters different choices of hardness or softness, springiness, durability. All these products needed to be tested.
Chris started joining our skate safaris. He knew all the cool ditches and parking lots, and as we ranged farther and farther south, he was able to gain us entry into some places we could never have gotten to.
After I went to work at Powell, I realized I didn't need a pickup anymore, so I traded it for a dark blue Dodge station wagon we called “Midnight.” With a super dependable easy to work on slant-six engine, it was our bus to all these skate adventures. I was the driver, a scout, and the photographer. The early trips took us to the San Fernando Valley, to known locations of ditches and banks; an abandoned house with an empty swimming pool in Sepulveda, and on east out toward San Bernardino to Mt Baldy Dam.
The destination was a big spillway that had a very skate-able full pipe coming out of the base of the dam. It was about 20 feet in diameter. You had to cross a wide dry river bed and climb through some fences to get down into the big rectangular drainage channel, then walk maybe 75 yards up to the full pipe.
One day I was up there, I forget who was along that time; it could have been Chris, Ves, Jesse, Nashia, Judd and JW of course. I was sitting there changing the film in my camera, when "SMACK!!! WHIZZzzzzzzz." Something hit the side of my leg and buzzed off. It really hurt. I pulled down my Levi's to get a look at the spot I was hit on my left leg, just above the knee. There was a welt on the side of my leg, puffed up with a bloody spot in the middle. We had seen some kids with a .22 rifle out plinking when we were crossing the riverbed. We started shouting for them to stop shooting, their ricochets were hitting us, and after awhile they poked their heads over the fence above the full pipe and said, "Sorry, oops and good-bye."
You know, sometimes I think I'm too easy going. It wasn't until we were sitting in a restaurant in Uplands a few hours later that I felt any anger toward those kids. If that had hit me or someone else in the side of the head or the eyeball, it would have been a far more serious event. It wasn't, and I had just laughed it off. Now, the swollen jelly donut throbbing, I realized; the normal reaction would have been to get mad.
Looking through the photographs of that day, there was an odd phrase and cartoon in the graffiti on the wall: "Slug Gone Bad." Yep.
Can anybody read what this sign says?
I'm pretty sure it doesn't say no skateboarding.
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