Among the seminal moments in skateboarding's history is the time Tony Alva caught air above an empty pool's coping, then rode his board right back down into the deep end. The full tale, with all its expansions and contractions, is captured in Surfing Heritage & Culture Center's (SH&CC) cool and collected exhibit "Surf 2 Skate: From Liquid to Asphalt."
But it's not all about the Z-Boys. Apocryphal stories differ on who the first person was to nail metal roller-skate wheels to a 2-by-4, but curator Dale Smith gives credit to La Jolla surfer Peter Parkin in 1947. He routinely rode the rickety plank downhill to his favorite break, carrying his surfboard. So entwined is the history of the two action sports that surfboards are lined up beside the hundreds of skateboards on display—as well as relics from roller skating's heyday, photos by Craig Stecyk or pulled from the archives of surf and skate families, gear, fliers, stylish four-color ads, and videos.
Toy boards were eclipsed by the early creations of Hobie and Makaha, a Santa Monica company whose moldings were made in Santa Ana. My own exultant childhood skateboarding moment came rushing back as Glenn Brumage, executive director of SH&CC, helped me remember the brand. While Gidget surfed Malibu, I rode my aqua Makaha in a smooth U-turn at the street corner during the "Sidewalk Surfing" era, when kids all over the country zoomed through their neighborhoods to the sounds of Jan & Dean and the Challengers. The national mania was incredibly lucrative—until the industry pushed it too far past the fad.
The next innovation roared in on Cadillac Wheels, made from a brand-new substance. "We had ridden wheels made of Flintstones technology for so long," says Stacy Peralta, in a display called Skateboarding's Big Bang. Then he tried the urethane wheels. "So I got on [his friend] Kevin's board and pushed out of my driveway and did a leaning, hard-left turn onto the sidewalk, and the wheels gripped. They didn't slide out; they gripped like nothing I'd ever ridden. They rode over cracks, they rode over dreaded pebbles, and they rode over bad concrete. . . . We could do anything now—and thus the real revolution began."
Bigger trucks furthered this maneuverability, and then the trespassing began: in drained pools; the Escondido reservoir; and schools such as St. Catherine's in Laguna, where Brumage skated the sunken playground's asphalt banks, which were shaped just like an ocean wave.
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Skateparks were built to halt the rampages, then liability insurance shrunk the sport again. Today, you skate at your own risk. "It's so popular across the world," says Brumage, who doesn't foresee another contraction. "You go to Sao Paolo, and every kid skates—and plays soccer. It's a ubiquitous and mature sport."
Alva's aerial back in the '70s was inspired by surfers he idolized; the acrobatics that ensued led to snowboarding, which became an Olympic event long before skateboarding's upcoming debut in 2020 at the Tokyo summer games.
The timely exhibit, an easygoing staff and the international visitors you'll meet warrant a visit to the museum's warehouse locale high on a hill in San Clemente. And, if all goes as planned, SH&CC will soon have a new home as the centerpiece of Dana Point Harbor's revitalization.
"Surf 2 Skate: From Liquid to Asphalt" at Surfing Heritage & Culture Center, 110 Calle Iglesia, San Clemente, (949) 388-0313; surfingheritage.org. Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Through January 2018. $5 suggested donation.