Anti Gravity Device Company
When you need a job, congratulations, you've made it to square one of a new adventure.
We arrived in California in 1986 and located ourselves in the little beach town of Carpinteria, my hometown, just a few minutes down the coast from Santa Barbara. JW enrolled in the local high school, where I had graduated in 1961, and my Mom, too, in 1930. I needed a job fast. Since I didn't know anybody in Santa Barbara, I would have to start from scratch. I was following up any newspaper ad that I remotely qualified for, but not much was popping up in the way of construction. Then there appeared an ad for a screen-printer, right in Carpinteria...Hmmm, I can do that.
JW and I had done some simple silkscreen printing in Hawaii, where we carried our photo emulsion-coated screens outside in the noonday tropical sun and removed the tarpaper cover for a timed interval to expose them. J.W. had various dragon motif screens, and I made some shirts for Gaughen's Emporium and when we were leaving, a "Tankers Can Fly" depicting a transcendent longboard surfer leaving Earth, from the Big Island, in the distant background.
The screen-printing plant was about a block and a half from my grandparents' house where my family had lived off and on from 1944 up through High School in 1961. The company's name was Shirts, Inc. and it was housed in one of the old lemon-packing houses next to the railroad tracks that we used to crawl under as part of our childhood "short cut" to the beach. It wasn't shorter but since it was forbidden, it was preferred. They had a proper darkroom for burning screens, a battery of hand printing stations and a big rotary autopress. I picked it up really quickly and by the end of the 9 months that I worked there, they were offering to make me a production manager, and run a night shift.
JW was the new kid in town and in the evenings after he convinced me that homework was done, he'd go out on the streets with his skateboard to make friends and work on his skating skills. After a while, he had a group of buddies that liked to surf and skate together: Alfredo, Christian, Nashia, Judd and Jesse. I stayed involved by providing the transportation for their expeditions. There were some decent surf spots right in town; Tar Pits and Jellybowl, but there was occasionally world class surf at Rincon Point about three miles down the coast and a reliable shorebreak at La Conchita, a couple miles more, and a point we used to call Knickerbockers a mile more.
Shirts, Inc. participated in the bi-annual Action Sports Retailers trade show, usually held in Long Beach, California, city of my birth. The company had a small exhibit there. When I realized what it was, I arranged for JW and I to be included. It was the venue where all manufacturers of boogie boards, surfboards, sneakers, snowboards, sunglasses, suntan lotion, skateboards, swimwear came to display their wares for the retailers that would be stocking and selling them, By the time the second ASR show came around, I had come up with a strategy that would get JW and I in every time. All you had to do was come up with a trade name, subscribe to their magazine, Action Sports Retailer, and you were in. So I came up with a name, "Anti Gravity Device Company" (code for skateboard ramps), checked the box "manufacturer," listed myself and JW as president and vice president, paid the $35 for a yearly subscription, and we were in. Obviously, there was a world of livelihoods in the creating, manufacturing, selling, promoting the products and lifestyle of action sports; California, youth culture, the beach, the snow, the surf; and now, the asphalt and concrete, plywood and Masonite. I was looking for a way to get us in the game.
The surf around Carpinteria is sporadic. The Channel Islands, 20-30 miles offshore protects our coast from most south swells, and Point Conception where the coast turns from east-west to north-south, juts out just enough to shield the whole Santa Barbara oceanfront from the predominant swell from the northwest. It's the rare West swell that fills the channel with energy and brings out the best of our coastline. JW grew up surfing the warm, clear water and abundant swells of Hawaii that California could never match. There wasn't enough surf to keep JW occupied, so to stay involved myself, I would take JW and his pals from Carpinteria on little excursions around the area looking for both surfable surf and skateable terrain: Walls, ditches, downhills, backyard ramps.
Flashback: I spent my high school years and a few years after that in Carpinteria. Besides having beautiful beaches, the fun shore breaks, and Rincon so close that you could hit the surf before school, Carp had another amazing resource; the beach camp. During the summer months, the camp was loaded with families camping, most of them from Los Angeles or Orange Counties. With them, of course, were their teenage daughters, away from their usual boyfriends, hoping to have some fun, and primed for short-term summer romance. My Mom, who had graduated from high school here in 1930, reported the same phenomenon when she was young. Young people of her age, boys and girls, characteristically put their school year relationships on hold for the summer months to take advantage of the situation, and paired up again in September.
There was a rectangular cruising circuit from Highway 101 down the main drag, Linden avenue, to the Main Beach, then left to the Beach Camp, left up Palm Avenue back up to 101, now known as Carpinteria Avenue, left to Linden, and back down to the beach…or the other way around. Invariably, girls would be walking to town in pairs, looking for something to do. Now there was one factor that might have seemed not quite so perfect on the surface. In the early summer, up through July, it was about a fifty-fifty chance that the whole town was enveloped in a cool fog on any given day. To the vacationing campers from L.A., fog was a bummer. To some of us beach town cruisers, this was good news as much as a sunny day if you shifted gears. The girls would be bored, and extra ready to hop in a car with some local boys with a fun idea. There were lots of things to do that just required a car and some local knowledge.
Montecito is about 7 miles up the coast from Carp. It is where the rich and famous had, and still have, fabulous estates. Up one of the back roads, there was an abandoned estate we called The Tea Gardens. There were large iron gates attached to substantial stone pillars, a smaller gate, and a small stone building, possibly a sentry post, next to the entrance. The gates were always chained shut, but it was no problem to find a way in. There was over, under or around. Once in, the road wound uphill, through a dry oak, manzanita and toyon forest left wild, through an amazing set of features. The property had been developed as a hedonist's pleasure park. An enormous concrete waterworks, starting with two reservoirs at the top, fed through concrete channels down to large swimming pools. These were no ordinary swimming pools. They were huge, and lined with platforms for lying about, Greek-looking columns and at one time statues, though my memory is hazy about whether the statues remained in 1961. All of the pools and reservoirs were bone dry, due to cracks in the concrete and decades of neglect. The plot was, however, to entertain and enjoy our new friends in this truly exotic environment in the dusk and early evening with wonder of the surroundings and ghost stories, and have them back at the beach camp by 11:00 or so. That's the "foggy day principle," that a silver lining may be found in life's apparent gloom. That might be another of my good luck charms, watch for it: "Foggy day? What amazing good fortune!"
Back to the point: To my surprise, twenty-five years later, the estate was still abandoned, and these empty pools and reservoirs had become an accidental skatepark of crumbling waterworks. The largest reservoir had been dubbed "Tea bowl," and higher up at the very top of the hill, a dry shallow reservoir with the lumpy bottom was appropriately named "Moguls." All decorated with skaters' graffiti art.
There are several ways to categorize skate-boarding. It can be broken down into Freestyle Skating, Street Skating, and Vert Skating. At least those were the categories of skate contests.
Freestyle skating is done in a small area of flat ground and consists of techniques of gymnastics and board manipulation with the hands and feet. It is the purist form of skating in a way. It is the laboratory of what can be done with a human body and a skate-board. It is focused, intellectual and technical. It serves as a proving ground for what can be done while in the ballistic motion in the street, and what can be done while in the weightless state of vert.
What is termed street skating should be considered the highest form of the art, in the sense that the terrain is the least contrived. The skating surfaces are "found art;" the accidental topography of sidewalks, curbs, pavement, swales, banks, drainage ditches, flood channels, reservoirs, dams, tunnels, stairs, railings, planters; in short what we in construction call "hardscape." In the mind of a skater, all this urban hardscape becomes an elaborate ski slope; a free form rollercoaster, a concrete and asphalt amusement park, and all the rides are free. Your ticket to ride is this simple device: a skateboard, trucks and wheels and your own skill and courage in riding it.
Street skaters don’t need the world to be created for them; they create it out of what is there, in the moment. That’s what they had at the Tea Gardens. Heaven doesn't need to be built. Heaven can be found. It is spread upon the earth and pedestrians do not see it.
Vert skating is the most dramatic form of skating and most akin to flying. Vert skating was the outgrowth of skating empty swimming pools during an extended California drought (foggy day principle...No water for your pool? What amazing good fortune!) Having a skating surface that curved up smoothly to a vertical plane began to create possibilities of an extended weightless state; flying. Recreating the geometry of swimming pools out of plywood were the early halfpipes. It was discovered that the addition of an expanse of "flat bottom" allowed the skater to have two opportunities to finesse his momentum by pumping twice: once the transition from vertical to horizontal, across the flatbottom, once on the transition from horizontal back to vertical. More speed makes more weightless time, higher flying. They are called halfpipes, but they would be more accurately be described as two quarter pipes connected by a flatbottom. That’s your basic halfpipe dimensions: radius of transitions, the height that the transitions are cut off, or if they go all the way to vertical, then the amount of vertical, by however wide you want. If the transition is cut off before it reaches vertical it's called a mini ramp. If the ramp goes all the way plus some vertical, it's called a vert ramp.
So there you go:
HALFPIPE + SKATEBOARD = ANTI GRAVITY DEVICE
Then there's the idea of skatepark skating; where every form of skating can be created, combined, idealized and maximized in one location. When I was younger and imagining how my building career might proceed, I had a dream to build an actual wood timber roller coaster, like the Cyclone Racer at the Long Beach Pike, or the Sea Serpent at Pacific Ocean Park in Santa Monica that I enjoyed as a kid. Over the years my dream morphed into the desire to build a skateboard park.
What a roller coaster does is to provide safe thrills for couch potatoes, strapped into a rolling couch sent through a rigidly defined loop. A skatepark is a roller coaster for the skilled and the brave, careening through a unique path in the moment.
© 2017 John Oliver
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