Longform

Ollie Rides Again

Page 3 of 7

One skater, a guy named Kurt who looks to be about 40, is making this a "snake run," skate-speak for cutting in line. He drops in about three times as much as anyone else, eliciting the occasional look of disgust on the face of a skater he's cut off. "Kurt's a dick," Gelfand declares. "He comes here and skates for, like, 20 minutes, kicks all of our asses, never says anything, and then he just leaves." Kurt is talented, but his techniques (handplants, aerials), his apparel (tight, cuffed, denim shorts), and his hairstyle ('80s ponytail) reveal his age, while his attitude makes him unpopular with the other skaters. The older guys present are mostly grown-up surfer dudes with casual demeanors, floppy hair, baggy clothes, and an eager speaking style that relies heavily on the word "like." The younger skaters tend to keep their mouths shut and just skate. But Gelfand says he's desperate to find good skaters to skate with, so he tolerates Kurt's antisocial behavior. "I skate by myself most of the time," Gelfand complains. "Here I've got this great ramp, and no one ever wants to skate it. I love to skate with any good skaters."

Gelfand and many of the others are just getting back into skateboarding after, in Gelfand's case, a 20-year absence. "A lot of these guys who were dominators in their youth are coming back," Bruce Walker explains.

Walker, young-looking at 51, was around when the early, early skaters skated on clay and sometimes even steel wheels. "Bruce Walker? He's like Yoda. He's the Stacy Peralta of the East Coast" is how Robbie Weir, a once-pro skater who lives in Miami Beach, describes the Melbourne Beach resident. Walker's Satellite Beach office could double as a museum of Florida surfing and skating history. His desk is covered with stacks of magazines for the two sports, and posters and pictures of the famous athletes he's worked with dot the wood-paneled walls. Just outside his office is a warehouse lined floor to ceiling with surfboards. Walker himself looks very much the part of the surfer/skater/businessman. Tall and lanky, he is broad-shouldered and wears T-shirts and shorts to work at Walker Surfboards, where his employees are dressed the same and sport multiple tattoos and piercings.

When Walker first stepped onto a skateboard in 1963, enthusiasts like him were used to shaving their own decks from hardware-store wood planks and dismantling roller skates for the wheels. Back then, nobody knew what skateboarding was supposed to look like, so squeaky-clean competitions yielded prizewinners with Eddie Haskell haircuts who typically wowed judges by doing handstands on their boards or skating on two boards at a time, one for each foot. But the standard clay wheels couldn't grip the pavement, the trucks were too tight to steer, and the slab-of-wood decks were simply clunky. Outside of the competitions, skateboarders -- or sidewalk surfers, as they were often called -- found themselves dodging cars and pedestrians, not always successfully. By 1965, 20 U.S. cities and Norway had banned skateboarding from sidewalks and streets. When Army brat Walker moved to South Florida in 1969 to start college and skate across campus at the University of Miami, the fad of skateboarding was considered dead. "In 1969, there were no skateboard shops, no skate parks. All the skateboard companies from the 1960s had gone out of business. You'd say 'skateboard' and people would say, 'Isn't that like the yo-yo? Isn't that like the Hula-Hoop?'"

On campus, Walker was constantly being stopped by people wanting to try out his board and asking where they could get one. So in 1972, he and a partner opened Fox Surf Shop on Fifth Street in South Beach. One year later, they moved the store to Ocean Drive. Walker says his biggest worry was having enough skateboards to sell, but he lucked out, finding a toy distributor in Miami who had been stuck with hundreds of skateboards after the fad had died in the late '60s. "I tried not to act too excited and made him an offer and bought them all from him. He was thrilled, because no one else wanted them." Walker sold two models of Super Surfer boards, for $4.95 and $7.95 each.

Just as Walker was about to sell out, Frank Nasworthy, a Virginia Beach resident who would later open (and close) a skate park in Pompano Beach, invented the urethane wheel, inciting a second boom in the sport. Urethane allowed the rider to grip the pavement and move at higher speeds than ever. With clay, a pebble could lock the wheels and put the skateboarder out for a week to recover from injuries. With urethane, the rider just kept rolling. Nasworthy called his invention Cadillac Wheels; after a slow start, he was soon selling them faster than he could make them. Credited as the biggest single innovation in skateboarding, the urethane wheel resurrected interest in the sport. Riders who had given it up in the early '60s were again buying and riding skateboards.



KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Rebekah Gleaves