It had seemed that my skateboard period was over in 1991, and it was, for about the next six years. JW had kept working at Powell, moved back into the Lemon House and was part of the crew that managed the SkateZone as a retail business until it was dismantled in 1994. JW began to make his way in the world as an action sports videographer, following the bliss he had found in his high school class; making skate movies.
Well, by 1997, he and our old buddy from Powell, Mike Taylor, had been contacted by people who wanted to build the ultimate indoor skatepark in Ventura, and wanted to hire JW and MT to design and build it for them. And to my great thrill, they asked me to help them pull it off. MT and JW would collaborate with the two young entrepreneurs/skaters on the overall design, and when they came to a specific conclusion about what, JW would draw sketches, confident I could figure out how to build it.
People who actually skate have to be the ones to make the call about where and how high and what radius the transitions should have. I was pretty hip about ramps but being a non-skating carpenter, I was just the enabler, the structural consultant.
I moved back to Southern California for the duration of the project. I needed a simple place to stay and I lucked out. Legendary snowboard maker Chuck Barfoot had his house in La Conchita, and in the front yard he had a little housetrailer that he rented out. Best landlord I ever had. I didn't need much, just a place to shower, sleep and set up my computer. I could open the door of my trailer and see the break at Rincon through binoculars. It was a surfer's dream location, except I didn't get in the water the whole time I was there. It was pretty much 12 hours a day, 7 days a week for me, coordinating the irregular schedules of the revolving crew at SkateStreet. I like it that way; obsessed with my own sport and wanting to be there for every turn of a screw.
This was an ideal confluence of factors. There was an adequate budget. It was being created by partners Tim Garrety and Roger Thompson, with Erik Payne their main hands-on guy, in conjunction with a Christian youth group. They had a backer who financed everything and worked with them on a vision of how the park might be self-sustaining: with retail space, a cafe on a mezzanine overlooking the skating, advertising space on the walls. The building had smooth concrete floor, high ceilings, few posts, and plenty of room. Construction was to be done by JW, Mike Taylor and myself, supervising Erik's revolving workers from the youth group and whatever friends JW, MT and I could round up; Robbie Olhiser, Mike Kresky, Jeff Pixley, Jay B, Shane, and even Doug Hechter and his son Jake.
My old pal Ves came back into my life. He had reinvented himself this time as a cowboy poet musician. He wore a big cowboy hat and had gotten pretty good on the guitar. We got him hired at Skatestreet.
Work on the retail spaces was handled by local contractors and I had nothing to do with that, except that I did come into contact with the building inspectors. They did a little head scratching about how the building code applied where things were not designed to be safe in the normal way. You can't have railings along every side of the platforms, for instance; you're supposed to go over the edge, on wheels no less. In the end they concluded that we were building "recreational equipment" and that it was none of their business. I think they had us extend the fire sprinklers under the vert ramp rollouts that we had enclosed for storage of the templates and tools, but that was it.
Tim and Roger wanted nothing but the most excellent skate facility anywhere, so somehow they found Mike and JW, and pushed them to pull out all the stops.
We got to scheming about how to take everything up a notch. We were going to have to cut curved bulkheads out of 3/4" plywood, lots of them, with all different radiuses. Typical in the rampbuilding world was to cut the transition bulkheads with a jigsaw, or even more crudely, a Skilsaw. This method leaves irregularities in the radiused edge that within limits are deemed good enough since there would be a surface of plywood and a layer of Masonite that would bridge the imperfections. This is where my Deming mindset found its highest application. I had become accustomed to using a big 1.5HP router and pattern bits to cut large architectural elements in my projects up north. It was an easy choice in this circumstance. Following a template we would make those curved edges very smooth.
Ordinarily a ramp builder would find a way to draw an arc with a pencil and a long stick with a nail in it. He'd make and draw a pattern on a piece of Masonite or plywood and use that over and over to mark out his bulkheads. It always worked well enough, for most purposes, but we were tasked to go all out. The Santa Barbara Mill and Lumber was known to me to have a big CNC router setup. CNC means Computer Numerically Controlled. They can feed a 4' x 8' sheet of any material and cut out the parts of complicated woodworking projects...cabinets, furniture, whatever, and mass-produce identical parts. So the decision was made to have them do our very simple radius templates with a precision difficult to achieve by other means.
We could get a different radius cut into each side of a sheet of HDF particleboard. We called them our "dogbones" and treated them like precision instruments. We only used our dogbones to carefully make secondary router templates, and then stashed them back in the dogbone closet. With the hundreds of repetitious cuts to be made, the templates would get dinged many times and repaired with Bondo until they would need to be replaced, and we'd bring out the appropriate dogbone again.
Accomplished skaters have little problem skating on irregular surfaces. In the process of learning how, they've rolled over every kind of hard surface never meant to be skated on; streets, sidewalks, ditches and rubble, where a pebble or crack can send you tumbling. They've skated on ramps with a bump here or a soft spot there and learned how to compensate, but if they had their druthers, they would want it to be as close to perfect as possible.
The first major thing we were going to build was the full vert halfpipe. If there was anything we would want to be geometrically perfect, this was it. This would be the most high-performance, high-speed element in the building; where skaters pushing the limits of the possible would be able to depend on the ideal predictability and uniformity of the surface, and concentrate in their own moves.
The big vert ramp was going to need a lot of identical bulkheads of 3/4" plywood. After seeing the CNC dogbones being produced, we decided that, for this one ramp, with over 100 3/4" plywood bulkheads to be cut, we would have SBML do them perfectly. It saved us a lot of hard, tedious work; it saved us a lot of time; and gave us a good head start knocking out one of the major centerpieces.
The rest of the vert ramp's construction was pretty much standard. We began to use a pneumatic pin nailer to hold the glue block joist ledgers instead of screws, holding them in place until the glue dried. It was faster and you didn't have to fight the screw trying to rotate the block. Pneumatic staples would probably be even better.
One of the most challenging and unique elements of SkateStreet was the repurposing we did around the building's loading dock at the room's northeast corner. Its lower level was 20 feet wide to accommodate two trucks, side by side, through the big roll-up doors; and it sat 4 feet lower than the skatepark floor. We built a big quarter pipe, a la SkateZone's Taj Mah Wall, beside the pit so a skater could go up the wall, down into a halfpipe with no flatbottom that filled the loading dock, gain even more speed, and launch up and over an odd element reminiscent of a giant Darth Vader helmet. Altogether, you had to call it the "Taj Mah Hole."
The very first thing we built in that room was a rectangular platform in the far northwest corner, to be used as a stage for music groups, etc. Eventually we would incorporate it into the ramp topography to become a skateable bandstand. JW set up his drawing table there with a panoramic view of the room, and his camcorder to document the action. All the time, I was taking pictures, and JW was drawing pictures; and now he was making videos.
SkateStreet was meant to be a park for all ages and skill sets. A second shorter less intimidating halfpipe was planned, next to the taller vert ramp, and a separate protected beginners area of the park for the smallest skaters, with adjoining seating area for parents.
As we began to fill up the room with different banks, Mike and JW's grand strategy came into focus. The "parallelomid" was a six-sided irregular truncated pyramid in the middle of the floor. Each face was parallel to the face of the opposite ramp, bank or roll-in across the floor from it. Roll-ins came from the corner of the vert ramp that shot you down toward the parallelomid, which you could attack in any number of ways. One goal was to have it so that with the momentum of the first drop, a skater could make an entire circuit of the room, pumping on the transitions, and never pushing off with his foot.
A marvelous thing was happening while we were getting the skate elements built. As we finished each, Roger's Mom, Elain, began painting murals on the walls behind them. Behind the vert ramp, she painted a cityscape of tall buildings that gave you the impression that the ramp was on a rooftop among them. Facing that wall you were facing in the direction of the Los Angeles suburban center and its skyscrapers. Behind the smaller halfpipe she painted a snowscape with a snowboarding halfpipe that seemed to be an extension of the Masonite one. Looking up that snowy channel you were facing northeast toward the slopes of the Sierras. On the north wall, snow covered mountains blended into the green hills of the Ventura skyline, the same as you would see in that direction outside. On the west wall, of course, the green hills came down to the ocean and our familiar coastline with the Channel Islands in the distance. Appearing to extend out into the ocean from the stage in the northwest corner where JW made his drawings was a depiction of the Ventura pier. The rest of the west wall was to be the backdrop for our final masterpiece. A long wall was to be an element that would appear to be a breaking wave, with a section of over vert, behind which Roger's Mom would paint...a breaking wave. I couldn't be prouder of anything I was ever a part of building. The whole room was a masterpiece of her murals.
The Wave Wall; there it was: A sunny day in Pohoiki; a stationary perfect wave in plywood, Masonite and steel. Mission accomplished.
By the time we had finished this skatepark, I felt that I had finally satisfied the dream of being part of something like the Animal Chin Ramp that I had felt was the ultimate back in 1987, only 11 years before. Down the rabbit hole and back.
JW enrolled in formal professional training in state of the art videography next door to SkateStreet at the Technology Development Center, taking those skills up a significant notch. In the following years there, working with those same SkateStreet guys, he created a surfing video, Follow the Leader; and three skateboarding videos highlighting skating at SkateStreet: Welcome to Paradise, Return to Paradise and Time Machine. By this time his artistic and computer tech skills converged into some astounding motion graphics.
I went back to Northern California, and moved in with Carol. That's where I am today in 2017, 20 years later, trying to write some of this down.
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