The Ride 8th Grade Dreams Are Made Of…
Like myself, Peter Dinklage is an early 40-something, touched by Jersey surf culture. A culture that was blossoming in Dog Town when him and I would have been no older than a nickel. My parental home on Linden Rd. in Fair Haven NJ, is the place of my earliest childhood memories. It was atop the penultimate skate hill — a quiet suburban street with just the right steepness and ample flat bottom for a thrilling pavement cruise.
Earliest memories were of that universal board sport rush of letting go of control and enjoying the breeze. Of doing tandem rides, where you sit on your board and put your feet on each other’s board, and ride down the hill like a Catamaran; of riding the hill like an excited child on a waterslide with my beloved dad and wiping out triumphantly/painfully/joyfully.
Skate culture never took a backseat circa 1978 when my parents divorced and dad moved to a nearby ocean side condo in Sea Bright called The Fountains. Where I spent every weekend with him. As we frequented surf and skate shops, the classic wide boards from Dog Town began to emerge. The Alva, The Vision Gators and the Powell Peraltas. All of which made the thin pieces of plywood we bolted roller skate wheels to, look like child’s play.
Enter Wes Humpston. He had about 10 years on me and Peter. He took a piece of graffiti that his friend made, the infamous Dog Town cross, and made it into a brand with an über cult following.
He hand-screened, sanded and rigged boards, creating an assembly line in his backyard. He was a pool pioneer. Wes, so I’ve read, has serious beef with Stacy Peralta. Claims he takes all the credit for Dog Town and the guy wasn’t even there. (He met him once on an El Segundo pool-riding mission).*
The ultimate play days had ended when my dad’s wealth, a new wife, and a baby on the way moved him away from the beach, where I so loved to surf, metal detect, fly kites, play Frisbee, fish, camp, walk, skip rocks and play pinball and video games at the many seaside arcades.
A stockbroker, he afforded himself a big house on the hill. He was there physically on weekends but the relationship strained him as his new family and new mortgage exerted more and more force. Now the only time we spent together was doing yard work.
Cut to 1980. My forever-in-school/working psychologist mother, was on her own journey into singlehood. She couldn’t afford to buy me the fatty skateboards other kids had, which left a hole I’m still filling.
I even got 7th-grade-duped out of $30, a small fortune at the time, which I remember begging my mom for. I bought it off an upperclassman, who made a plausible resemblance to one of these Cadillacs of the sport in wood shop. It turned out to be unusablely bad but it just had that width and that thick shape. The look that went away for so long, as the ollie craze consumed skateboarding…their shape not available for purchase until the reissues emerged.
Cut to now, being aged 43. geeking out after a Baja surf trip inspired me to look on eBay for a vintage skateboard. I came upon 7plyskateshop, who sells over 40 vintage/reissue decks. After a ton of deliberation, I chose the Wes Humpston Big Foot(The Christian Hasoi Hammerhead was a really close 2nd) . Then the hard decision making process of the ultimate setup began. For something this filled with childhood meaning, I spared no expense (and still got it for under $300).
Ok, so that means, I’m going to need extra wide trucks, Independent 210s, check. “The board’s too wide” the guy emails me. (I begged for a customer service phone call but it’s against policy.) “We only have 10inch wide grip tape in black and clear and the board is 12 inches wide.” Ok, I navigate around first major roadblock to Big Foot by thinking to create a 3” stringer of clear and have black on either side. That worked out great (check.)
For the initial setup, I took it to a skate shop and gave the guy $20. During which, everyone in the shop, shoppers included were agog by the board that was coming together before their eyes. There was a particularly cute gal there who acted like she was about to ask for my autograph because of the new board I was brandishing. And I gave her one of the classic Dog Town stickers it came with, which she attached to the tail of her comparatively diminutive board.
On 7ply’s eBay store, I picked out a set of wheels — neon-green 60mm Slimeballs, but they sucked. They were really loud on the West Village pavement (Like Peter, I’ve lived in NYC since graduating from college.) and it felt slow. I replaced them at a skate shop a week later with 60mm pink swirled OJ wheels, and they’re quiet and fast and just have a music to them when you’re coasting down the street. They’re the live-the-dream wheels. Check.
Two skate dude people recommended the Red bearings. They’re cheap but they’re the fastest. So really strong reco there. Check.
Ok, the eBay guy sent me these ½ inch risers, which are the pieces of plastic that go in-between the wood and the truck. They come in different sizes. The eBay guy didn’t have the ¼ inch ones, which keep your push leg closer to the ground, so you can get more power and comfort, but you can get these at local skateshops for $5 and they’ll put them on for you. (They made my board so much more rideable.) Check.
There’s also something called Bushings. The Independent Trucks came with super soft ones, so the board has more maneuverability but wayyy less stability. I had to replace these with the hard bushings (check) because I am accustomed to a much more rigid turn. To make sharp turns, I prefer to lift up the nose as opposed to leaning on a wobbly board.
But with all of this, my quest for my 8th grade dream board was not over friends. It was rails, tailbone and nose guard time, the things that protect the integrity of the board’s sticker-n-graphic-tattooed wood. Rails are good for jumping curbs, or going from street to sidewalk. The tailbone ads protection to the tail, a way to hit the breaks, and a little bit of leverage when kicking the board to standing, so you don’t have to bend over to pick it up.
These were highly coveted accessories on the streets of Maplewood NJ, where I lived with my mom during the week, a handful of towns over from where Peter grew up. I originally wanted all neon green to go with the wheels. But when I bought the “Mint” tail guard on ebay the guy sent me a pink one even though a neon green one was pictured. He later explained that he meant “mint” as in condition. I was so excited just to see a Tail Bone, and not being one for delaying gratification, I opted to keep it. Check.
The noseguard off eBay came next. It was a forrest, not a neon green, and it just wasn’t jelling with the other colors or the design. When a girlfriend was trying the board she picked it up and it fell-off, so I went back to 7ply and bought a better quality Powell-branded bright yellow one. It comes with hardware and screws that drill all the way through. I would say check but it hasn’t arrived yet.
So, nothing matches now but in a glorious way. Though the board’s still not complete, last night, for a brief moment, before the noseguard fell off, everything was in place, and alright with the world. I had achieved the elusive board I coveted in 8th grade and craved to reconnect with.
For its maiden voyage, I drilled it down the bike path of the West Side Highway, it was so lovely and just had that perfectly poetic sing to it. It was such a cruiser. One push and it felt like you could go for miles. I thought to myself, “people should know about how good this is.”
Right then I nearly died as I went to make the turn to get off the path and cross the highway, a black guy on a black bicycle was coming in the other direction. It was a fright but everything was triumphantly/painfully/joyfully ok.