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Chapter 19

The Taj Mah Wall

     All along, the company had been moving our different departments and functions into the building right on the heels of the construction work. As each bay was completed and signed off for occupancy, Facilities would truck the production machinery and workstations out from Gutierrez Street.

     The bays that were to become the indoor SkateZone were a low priority, having little to do with production and making a buck. Our ramp-building posse got together when we could to build a few improvements for the Parking Lot SkateZone, always keeping in mind how they would fit into the new space. Finally one day, the inspections were all completed, occupancy granted and the SkateZone could move inside.

     I don't have a clear recollection of who was in charge of designing the SkateZone. George Powell approved the big picture, and Chris Iverson brought down George's decisions. I don't recall ever having any disagreement about the design and construction of any of that stuff. It must have been Iverson who had the call ultimately, but all designs seemed to come together by consensus. JW had the edge in design since not only had he studied all the parks on the West Coast, taking notes and making sketches, and he had skated all these elements to judge them in a way only a skater could. He could make drawings to communicate what he had in mind in a way that another skater could recognize as something he would want to skate. JW got his first paycheck from Powell Corporation for his SkateZone drawings.

     The team for building all this stuff was composed of skaters that worked for the company like Ves, Chris, and Jamie, who and donated our time to be a part of it and most of Team Effigy: Mike Taylor, Robbie Olhiser, Mike Kresky, Jeff Pixley and JB Baxter; plus JW and me, and a character named Scott Graham who went on to build his own skatezone in Arkansas. In the whole process I didn't design any part; I just consulted on to how to build what the brain trust of skaters had come up with, though I think I had some part in instigating the Taj Mah Wall. It was a re-creation of something we had seen in one of Moose's skateboard videos. Some contest in a beach town south of LA where there was a giant quarterpipe set up at the bottom of a steep street where the skaters had an easy way to build up their speed. It was an easy sell. It was the first major permanent feature in the SkateZone. The rest of the ramps had been recycled from the parking lot configurations. As the biggest element we had built so far, the Taj Mah Wall would be too big to move. It dominated one end of the first bay, floor to ceiling, like half of a vert ramp.

     By this time Jamie Johnston had become Chris Iverson's assistant in R&D and was becoming a key player in the SkateZone rampbuilding. In our travels and our examination of these wood-framed ramps, it would be hard to miss the most characteristic failure and figure out what to do about it. A soft spot would appear after the ramp was in use for a while. Looking underneath you'd find that the 2" x 4" joist in that spot had split along the grain where it was end-nailed or screwed. Well, you could jack it back up into place and then screw a block of wood to the bulkhead to hold it. But if the soft spot were too close to the ground, you'd just have to jam some blocks under it. We came up with the idea to pre-empt that kind of failure by putting a little 2" x 2" piece of scrap plywood under each joist as a mini-ledger. We dabbed the block generously in a puddle of Titebond carpenter's glue and screwed it in place. With the glue block there, the split in the joist never gets started. By the time we got to working on the Taj Mah Wall, glue blocks were our standard procedure.

     When you cut the bulkheads for the transitions, naturally you figure out how to get two bulkheads out of one sheet of plywood. Your leftovers turn out to be football shaped, and happily, the convex match for the same radius you're cutting the concave transitions. This is a big help when you go to bend the 3/8" plywood sheeting into place for screwing to the joists. Different strategies were employed to wet the plywood first, to help soften up the wood fibers without saturating them. Even so, trying to press the curve into plywood by standing on it, you were likely to have it break. But if you pushed on it with a curved press, the bending would happen over a larger area and not be concentrated enough to crack it at one line. With the football shaped left overs we rigged up something that looked to us like a rickshaw because of the long 2" x 4" extensions we used to brace it in place while we climbed on it to do the bending.

     The second big feature we made for the indoor of course was a roll-in ramp with a crow's nest at the other end of the room to build up initial speed for a run at the pyramid or the funbox in the center of the room, or the banks and wall rides on the south wall, or the Taj Mah Wall.

     In the early days of the SkateZone we had to maintain an official scenario that what we were creating there was that was not a public skatepark but a training facility for our amateur and professional team riders, which it was. Training for what? Training to have more fun! Its second official function was that it was R&D's testing ground for company products, which it was. The third function was to be our laboratory of the arts of skatepark design and construction, which it definitely was. With these guidelines mollifying Powell's liability insurer, we could go on doing our thing. More and more categories of skaters were included: pros from other companies, amateurs from other companies, employees of Powell, family of Powell employees, ramp building volunteers; the list got looser and looser. Finally a membership plan was formulated along the lines of Kevin Harris' system, and even that system got increasing looser.

     It turns out, that little of that posturing is really necessary. Skateboarders are not the type to blame somebody else for their injuries. In fact I don't think you can find an example of a skateboarder's lawsuit; these people know the risks they are taking and own that. Skaters exist in a complex and chaotic arena with no prescribed pattern or rules. Even so, there are surprisingly few times when they run into each other. Like ants in a frenetic anthill, they sort out potential crossing paths with a heightened sense of being able to assess the trajectories of others. You could walk across that busy skatepark, the whole 120 feet with your eyes closed, and never have a skater collide with you. I've tried this. In fact it would probably be safer with your eyes closed. Most skater/pedestrian collisions result from a pedestrian trying to get out of the way. The skater likely has more control than the walker imagines, and the best he can do is to keep walking at a steady pace.

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