|Not me...but pretty close|
In recollecting all the shenanigans and illuminations surrounding my first ever quarter pipe session in Jimmy Wallace's driveway, I forgot to mention that I learned my first skateboard trick that day: The Bomb Drop. By today's standards the bomb drop might not be considered a trick at all, even in '88 it was already out of date for most skaters in the know, but for me, back then, it was the first thing I learned that looked like a trick and, more importantly, that felt like a trick.
And, to me, it was the most awesome thing I had ever done, on or off a skateboard.
I had just spent the aftrenoon skating a quarterpipe for the first time ever, culminating in my first magnificent pushes on a "real" pro model skateboard: Danny Pike's Sims henry Gutierrez with Gullwings and Rat Bones. After Danny re-possessed his board, I loped away and half-heartedly looked for my pathetic set-up, which I had flung it off into the aether of Howard Subdivision, oblivious to where it landed, the moment I had gotten the green light to try out Danny's complete. I was not really too pumped to step back on my Variflex anyway, so I wound up sitting down in the grass next to the quarter pipe scanning the munchkins circling the driveway to see if one of them had copped it, but none of them had. To my surprise, It was one of the BMX kids who had commandeered it.
This was not surprising. Skateboarding and BMX were hopelessly intertwined in those days. A lot of BMX riders had messed around with skateboards in one way or another before discarding them for the much more acceptable, functional, and accessible BMX bike, some dabbled in both activities simultaneously. At first I thought he was picking it up just to look at it. Maybe he was observing what a junky piece of crap it was and was going to toss it away. Instead, I watched him weigh my board in his hand for a moment, then grip it little tighter, and, instead of turning up his nose and flinging it away, he broke into a quick run up the driveway, then leapt into the air and onto my board. For a split second, he was off the ground, mounted on the deck, flying through the air. When the four wheels made contact with the pavement again, he rolled forward with the momentum of the jump, rolling away clean.
I felt an earthquake ripple in my brain.
Now, At this pint in my embryonic skate life I was certainly familiar with a number of tricks... I had groped at the ollie, I had seen pictures of boardslides, curb grinds and slides of all types, I had seen pics of all the launch ramp tomfoolery of the mid 80's... I had a basic understanding of the state of the art of contemporary skating. That bomb drop wasn't some mind blowing bit of technical wizardry, and I knew it, but seeing it was more important than seeing some ripper pull a move straight out of Thrasher: The Bomb Drop looked like something I could actually do, even on my shit Variflex.
And it looked cool.
To understand how important that was you have to understand that the only way we had to learn about skateboarding was through the magazines...there were very few journeyman skaters in our neighborhoods, no older siblings or neighbors with a bag of simple tricks we could emulate. All we had were the mags and what we saw in them was the cutting edge: the 540's, the stalled Andrechts...10 foot high methods off jump ramps at the Venice Pavilion... Even the trick tips in Thrasher were for moves two or three steps up the ladder from anything we could do. For me and my friends there was only the basic dead end simplicity of carving and kickturns that we saw in our driveways, and the pro level shredding of our heroes we saw in Thrasher and BMX Plus...everything in between, everything we might be able to access, was invisible.
But here was this crazy skateboard jump trick going down in front of me, and I thought I could really do it. Something new to do on my board...a real trick.
I didn't just charge over and re-posess my board from the BMX kid, even though I was itching to. I was patient. I knew he'd probably head off on his bike for a smoke break or something pretty soon anyway, so I watched him do a few more drops, praying he didn't break my board. Sure enough, about five minutes later my raggedy Variflex was back on the ground, forlorn and forgotten.
What he could possibly have ben doing that was more important or more fun than that bomb drop, I certainly didn't know, but After he left, I ran over and grabbed my board, completely forgetting how terrible it was, amped to give that trick a go.
It seemed like a simple thing, yet, in practice, I was bit baffled. I couldn't quite remember how he had grabbed the board. Grabbing the outside rails with my strong right hand seemed awkward, It shifted my body sideways, and I usually ended up kicking my board away instead of sucking it up under my feet. Grabbing the other rail required me to use my weaker, left hand, although it made mounting the board seemed more natural, smoother. It provided a longer bit of "hang time" in the air with the board under my feet. Still, I wasn't quite getting it with my left hand on the rail either.
I decide to choke up and grab the nose with my left hand and kind of jump on it straight-on. It felt good. I stuck it and kept rolling. It didn't feel like I was really sticking that "hang" in the air with the board under my feet and I wasn't getting as high as the guy I had been watching, but, still. It felt good. I stomped down three or four more in the driveway.
This was good. This was really good. Even better, I wasn't thinking about the fact that I was back on my shitty board after my ever so brief roll through the real skateboard promise land on Danny's board. I was focused, no, fixated, on jumping on my board, over and over.
I kept jumping up higher in the air. When I'd hit the ground there was a resounding clap and rattle from my board taking the impact and the rails and tailbone vibrating against the wood. I started running faster and then really slamming them down, rolling away better.
I started looking at my surroundings. I started looking for things to jump off of.
I've talked about how that day of skating made me cross the line from being a kid with a skateboard to being a "skater", but it was at that particular moment though, sticking that the simple bomb drop, that the operating system of my brain was ever after re-formatted into skater mode.
If there is a core of skateboarding, a single idea at its heart, a baseline philosophy, it is not the joy of the roll or the carve or the turn, it's not even the imperative to "have fun". At the heart of our culture is this: the alteration of the physical environment that surrounds us via the skateboard. The skateboard is not a toy or a tool, it is a device to transport you into a parallel reality, a reality where everything around you is up for grabs in an endless game of re-definition and re-appropriation. That curb is not just for keeping your car from rolling up the sidewalk anymore. That staircase is no longer just something to get you to the entrance of a building.
Now I saw that the step leading to the stoop of Jimmy Wallace's house was not just a way to get on the porch, it was a launch pad. I picked up my board, ran through the yard and boosted off the edge of the step. I flew through the air and slapped my feet on my deck as I flew. I hit the ground hard and fast several feet away from where I'd launched, but still rolling.
It was the nearest I had ever come to flying both on or off a skateboard.
It was amazing.
What ensued for the rest of that afternoon, for the rest of that month for that matter, can only be described as a spastic orgy of jumping off things with a skateboard. Porches. Car bumpers. Planters. Over bikes. Over skateboards, over skateboarders. I bomb dropped off everything. Picking up my board, breaking into a run and then hurling myself through the air and landing on it was the most awesome thing I had ever done. And I did it a lot. Rolling on my board, whether it was in a driveway, a parking lot or the rattling, gravel filled streets of Terre Haute, soon became nothing more than a pretext for finding things to bomb drop off of.
And I got good at them too, for whatever getting good at a bomb drop was worth. I came up with some variations: grabbing cross hand and spinning the board around in what I would later learn was a varial. Turning my body 180 when I jumped, footplanting off walls... One of my favorites was grabbing by the tail and swinging the board up under me with an underhand motion as I jumped . This didn't look as good as the other techniques, but it sucked my feet right onto the deck the best, giving the longest hang time and the greatest illusion of flying.
I quickly got to the point where I could start from a roll, pop the board up into my hand, take a few steps and bring one down without stopping my stride. I could do this at speed and jump off obstacles, boosting myself into the air to what felt like ridiculous heights. That was when the trick really started feeling like something.
One of my earliest memories of skateboarding is rattling that claptrap variflex down the brick sidewalk of Wabash avenue in downtown Terre Haute. My mom had driven me and one of my friends down there because she had some sort of errand to run. It was a strange thing because, back then, there was almost no reason to ever go downtown in Terre Haute for anything. Where she was going, I have no idea, but she let me skate around while she did whatever she had to do. So, my friend and I started rolling around, pushing and exploring in this area that almost looked like a real city, and we hit the strip of Wabash avenue. We were pushing down the sidewalk as fast as we could with no real destination. I remember seeing a bench in front of us, and kicking off, flipping the board up into my hands, jumping up on the bench running across it's entire length and leaping off the end as high as could.
In my memory it feels like I flew a hundred feet and hung in the air for a thousand moments before coming down, perfect, and rolling away clean.
I don't even remember how I learned that that "trick" was called a bomb drop. But that's what it was. My first trick. Just a bomb drop. A stupid bomb drop. But learning it made me feel like I was finally really skateboarding, pro board or not. Everything great in skateboarding was there when I launched off that bench downtown...The spontaneous moment: a few seconds where a forlorn bench on a forgettable street was elevated into something else, and I was elevated too, into the air, into a memory that endures 30 years later.
Tricks have changed, friends have changed, but when I get out my skateboard I'm still basically doing what I was doing back then. That corny maneuver was a first step, but it was also the last one that really mattered.
I'll repeat myself here and say that skateboarding isn't important; But it's not important in the way that art and poetry aren't important. It's only as important as flying through the air like a 14 year old maniac, and feeling for a few moments like your are doing something momentous. Only as important as a feeling that never quite dies.