Losing a skate brother…

For those of us who have skated at Pier 62, Angus and Duncan McGillivray-Smith were total fixtures. A little bit of their brilliance is captured here:

Brethren. from Kyle Matthew Hamilton on Vimeo.

I was really saddened to hear of Angus’s recent death. As a person who grew up going on skate adventures with my own brother, it is hard for me to imagine losing my brother, especially at such a young age. My condolences go out to Duncan and the McGillivray-Smith family.

Nude Bowl, Spring 1990

My first year of college was a pretty good one. As a kid I had gotten to travel a lot, but I had always lived on Long Island. So it was pretty amazing to arrive at Pomona College in Southern California in the Fall of 1989. The entire environment — ecologically and culturally — was different.

I was lucky to find “my people” at Pomona pretty quickly. There were only about 1600 students in total at the college, so I encountered everyone. And back then the punks and the skaters stuck out pretty clearly, so it wasn’t long before I found some co-conspirators. My closest friend became Hassan Abdul-Wahid, a skater and punk from Los Angeles. We were pretty much the only two students who skated seriously that year at Pomona, and I think we were lucky to find each other. Hassan had a friend from high school named Rey Castro who went to Pitzer College (another one of the five Claremont colleges), and he introduced us to Dag Yngvesson, another Pitzer student and a pretty serious skater. Our skate crew was born.

The years 1989-1990 were lean times for skateboarding. The last of the skateparks were going under and skateboarding — well, at least vert — was waning in popularity. We all had the bad luck of arriving in Claremont the Fall after the Upland Pipeline was bulldozed just down the block. Every skate spot was underground or a bust. We skated the Mt. Baldy fullpipe, a variety of school yards, and a weird ditch that used to be a water feature in front of a defunct restaurant.

At some point in the Spring of 1990 we took a trip out to the desert to skate the Nude Bowl. I know that Dag had a friend from home named Corey who was visiting at the time, and I am not sure why Rey didn’t join us, but we headed out east on the 10 Freeway in Hassan’s rickety Volkswagen Squareback:

Dubbed The Coffin, Hassan’s car was a bit of an adventure on paved roads. I really have no idea how The Coffin made it up the rutted dirt roads leading up to the bluff on which the Nude Bowl sat. It’s really hard to convey what a weird, desolate location hosted this rather incredible pool, so here’s a picture that starts to capture the environment:

As the story goes, this pool was the last remaining infrastructure of a once-popular nudist resort. Whatever happened to this resort must have been dramatic, because all that remained were the brick shells of its outer walls… and, of course, this crazy large pool.

Skaters weren’t the only people attracted to the lawless, free, open space around the Nude Bowl. As we skated there the sound of automatic gunfire could be heard just over the hill as gun enthusiasts used a bluff for target practice.

I don’t have a lot of direct memories of this day. I know that I skated quite a bit, which impresses me as I look at these pictures: the scene just looks kind of intimidating and exclusive to me now. I am imagining that while there clearly was a “cool guy” vibe at this pool, there was also the acknowledgement that anyone who managed to find their way to this remote and desolate location was obviously committed enough to skating to deserve some level of respect.

It probably didn’t hurt that Dag was in our crew. Dag was a serious ripper who could hold his own in pretty much any skate session, and he had a self-confidence and composure that augmented my own sense of belonging in these somewhat exclusive, somewhat scary skate situations.

To my memory this is the only trip that we made to the Nude Bowl. It was pretty far away and pretty hard to get to, but it was also pretty amazing to skate, so I don’t fully know what prevented us from returning.

There was something really personally transformative about skating these sorts of spots at this time in my life. The desire to skate terrain that was really hard to access during this era led me to some really sketchy and wild spaces. And there’s something really confidence-inducing about belonging in these spaces. That feeling of being able to handle places that would scare your parents and most of your friends would later give me the confidence to explore the crusty punk spaces that would define the remainder of my youth.

Here’s a complete set of images from this day:

FDR Skatepark, 2012-03

I love skateparks. They are such a triumph, for me as their visitor and for their very existence. And there really isn’t anything more impressive than the do-it-yourself skatepark. You probably have heard of the original, Burnside Skatepark in Portland (Oregon), a skatepark that’s almost as old as my skating career. I have also been to Washington Street Skatepark in San Diego, a pretty impressive beast of DIY evil genius. But to me FDR Skatepark in Philadelphia will always be the DIY skatepark that got me into skating big, messy skater-made parks.

One funny thing about DIY parks is that they are often extremely difficult to skate. This is in part due to the fact that they are put together in a fairly unplanned, hackneyed manner. They also usually feature rather inconsistent concrete, especially when compared to the professionally-built skateparks that are now a common feature of so many towns and cities across the nation. So you kind of need to learn how to skate a park like FDR, and I don’t think that’s a mistake of the builders: part of making a DIY park is that you do so to create a space that’s not going to be overrun by every person who owns some rolling device with two-to-eight wheels attached to the bottom of it. There’s quite obviously a very strong connection between DIY skateparks and DIY punk shows: both require a bit more from those who participate. You need to be ready for a bit of a mess and little bit less safety to enjoy the DIY versions of what can now be enjoyed at manicured concrete parks and in manicured concert halls.

This “selfie” was shot at FDR pretty recently on a trip to Philadelphia visiting my pal Adam Goren. Adam has accompanied me on FDR runs going way back, and with every visit the park has expanded. Do I know how to skate FDR? Not really, and that is why I know well enough to show up relatively early in the morning, the hour for the kooks among us.

Cold Man Jam, November 2012

JJ Rudisill was a big part of my most recent skate renaissance. Back when I lived in South Brooklyn, I had a 24″ dirt jump/park bike and I used to ride it at Owl’s Head Skatepark.  This was probably 2008 or 2009. There were these guys my age there skating the pool, really old-school and pretty stoked. And it turned out that they lived in the same neighborhood as me. Eventually I got clued to ditching the bike and getting back on my board, and JJ was a big part of that. My first new board was a Funhouse and JJ gave me a bunch of advice on where to skate and what was going on skate-wise in NYC.

This photo is from one of JJ’s “Cold Man Jam” events at Pier 62. You can see me in the back with my winter helmet liner on (if there’s a corny bit of gear that you can own for some occasion, I own it). The welcoming spirit of these events is a big reason why I got back into skating in New York City.

Obviously I didn’t take this photo, but I am not sure who did… sorry if I stole your image!

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?