Blame it all on Michael J. Fox

Every story has to have a beginning, and this is mine.

The year is 1985. My parents take my brother and I to the movies pretty frequently, and so of course we went to see the blockbuster Back to the Future. It’s a pretty fun movie. If you are a science geek like my mother was, you appreciated all the sci-fi imaginings that the film provides. If you like a classic 80’s good-versus-evil narrative, you have your clear good guys to root for and bad guys to loathe. And then of course there are the 80’s pop songs that defined the film: Huey Lewis, who couldn’t get with that?

But my brother and I became focused on one of the more peripheral elements of the movie, Marty McFly’s skateboard:

Images from Back to the Future courtesy of Pintrest

The skateboarding that occurs in this movie is pretty silly. The protagonist is a slick dude who gets from place to place “skitching” on the back of cars on his Madrid Valterra skateboard. Marty also has this really amazing trick: when he gets to his destination, he steps on the tail of his skateboard and it magically pops into his hand.

Anyone watching this movie with contemporary eyes won’t be able to understand its effects on me (age 14 at the time) and my brother (age 11 at the time). When we saw Marty McFly’s skateboarding escapades, we had to have skateboards. What we saw on the movie screen was so mind-blowing that we had to get involved.

I should note that Back to the Future was not our truly first introduction to skateboarding. In the late 70’s skateboarding had a craze period in which my older cousins participated, and for some reason my mother decided to see if my dad would go along for the ride. At the local Sears and Roebuck she purchased a “Big Red” skateboard for my father:

Now as you can see the Big Red was a very different skateboard than the Madrid Valterra. Its deck was made of extruded plastic and also served as the baseplate for both trucks. It had no griptape on top, just the slightly-rough large Big Red lettering. Weirdly these kinds of skateboards are still sold; who can understand why.

Looking back at the purchase of the Big Red is kind of instructive. First of all, you have the purchase, which was classic my mom. She loved buying things, particularly things that seemed to be at some cutting edge. I can imagine that she thought that the Big Red was pretty cool. And then there was my dad. He was only in his mid-thirties at the time, but the thought of him riding the Big Red was then and still is now kind of comical. My dad was highly athletic, but I think that the Big Red would have caused him to sustain serious injury.

Like good kids my brother and I had made sure that the Big Red did not go unused, and we used it infrequently over the years to bomb the mild hill in front of our house at 56 Grandview Street in Huntington. The Big Red was a gateway drug, but it took Marty McFly to get us hooked.

I don’t exactly remember where we obtained our first real skateboards, but I have the vague memory that it might have been in the downtown Huntington skateshop where I would later spending my after-school afternoons working. Somehow my brother got the replica Valterra from Back to the Future and I ended up getting the less trendy Variflex Vectra:

Variflex Vectra images courtesy of Skateboarding Magazine.

Mine was orange and it had the full complement of mid-80’s plastic attached to it: nose guard/grip, rails, and tail guard.

Okay, so it is clear that Back to the Future got me into skateboarding, but how was this the beginning of it all? Well, skateboarding set off a cascade of events that would eventually turn me into a full-fledged punk (although it would take me many years to ever embrace that term). The short version is that after seeing Back to the Future, my brother and I would get increasingly involved in the Huntington skateboarding scene. This was a moment not created by Back to the Future; the movie was literally skitching on the back of a trend, but as little suburban kids we needed this mainstream entré ino this growing underground world.

As we started getting more and more into skateboarding, we began to meet more and more skate kids that listened to hardcore, rap, and punk music. There was a kid in my homeroom named Jesse Johnson who skated way before I did, and suddenly the bond of skate stoke connected us. Jesse would wear Suicidal Tendencies shirts to school, and created my first awareness that there was a musical side to skateboarding. It took awhile to become a part of the larger Huntington skate scene (and there are many stories to be told on that front), but eventually I would come to work at the local surf/skate shop with Jon Soto and Richie Krakdown. Knowing them sent me to my first CBGB’s matinee and got a whole lot of the hardcore punk stuff rolling. But maybe none of it would have happened if not for Michael J. Fox?

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