Nasworthy, who has thrown in his lot with Bahne, one of the largest manufacturers, says that skateboarding has the potential to endure because "It's a real sport now." He assists Bahne and Hang Ten in their joint promotional efforts, specifically the hauling of a 10-ton skateboard ramp from town to town.
The ramp is 12 feet high, 24 feet wide and 150 feet long, with electrical timing gates and slalom courses laid out side by side. Two competitors, wearing crash helmets, skate the courses in two heats for the fastest total time, the idea being to forward the causes of safety, uniform competition and, of course, Bahne, Cadillac and Hang Ten products.
"There are 200 manufacturers in the business right now," says Nasworthy. "In a year or so there will probably only be five. The big ones."
At Steve's South Bay Sporting Goods store in Torrance, Calif., four adolescents, ages 12 to 17, gathered around a glass case filled with wheels and trucks the other day. Overhead hung samples of fully assembled boards that ranged in price from $10 to $40, depending on their components. This day nobody was buying. Marty Edgely, 15, had a bent axle and wanted to know if Steve Urman, the shop's owner, was going to replace it free. Greg Myers, 12, was looking over trucks while standing on a skateboard fashioned from a sawed-off cross-country ski made, probably decades ago, in Auburn, Maine. Greg did not know what a cross-country ski was, or where this one came from. All he knew was that it flexed dramatically, and he had fitted it out with X-Caliber trucks and Roller Sport "Stokers," the largest and apparently most popular wheels. As Greg glided out the door on his errant ski, Marty Edgely watched. "Look at him on that goofy-lookin' board," he sneered.
Brent Hedgecock's axle was bent, too. He said it was from "riding pools." Skateboarders talk a lot these days about riding pools. Most of them have never done it, but they have watched it in skateboarding movies and have absorbed the experience as their own. Pool riding is a spectacular stunt. It requires an empty swimming pool, the kind where the walls curve up from the bottom, and the skill to sweep seven or eight feet up those nearly vertical walls and hang for a second, face down and horizontal, before flashing down again into a recovery as breathtaking as the ride itself.
One of the most celebrated pool runners is a seraphic-looking 14-year-old, Greg Weaver of Encinitas. Weaver and 17-year-old Glenn Woodruff, another rider of the horizontal persuasion, perform exhibitions wearing the colors (T shirts) of Hobie boards of Dana Point—the ubiquitous Hobie of surfboards, catamarans and radio-controlled gliders. In exchange, the boys and the rest of the Hobie team—or the Bahne-Cadillac team or the Logan Earth Ski team or any of the others—receive free equipment and a whole lot of glory.
It is the new, softer, polyurethane wheel that has made pool riding and a dozen other stunts possible. "The wheels are smooth and quiet, and when you turn they grip the ground," says Steve Urman. "It used to be that if a kid hit so much as a cigarette butt he and the board would go flying in separate directions. Urethane can roll right over a rock because it displaces, it spreads the weight evenly."
With the new wheels one would assume that skateboarding in its reincarnation would be a safer sport. But this past June, Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles treated more fractures than it had during any month of its 74-year history, and the majority of them were skateboarding injuries. San Diego and several smaller cities have banned the board from streets and sidewalks, and the city of Los Angeles wiped out the already legendary Toilet Bowl, an enormous storm drain basin high in the foothills above Universal City, by laying concrete speed bumps across its surface.
As always, though, the kids have a step or two on the city fathers. They talk of a 14-mile run in Palos Verdes where someone was clocked at 47 mph. They whisper of a long, winding downhill called Spyglass that passes through a housing development where the residents, so far, have not complained. There is the Funnel, a concrete roadbed leading to a concrete riverbed, in Gardena. There is Big Blackie, the low, blacktopped slope that rings the playground of Paul Revere Junior High in Pacific Palisades. It is said that in San Diego skateboarders even fly down the circular ramps of multilevel parking garages.
Skateboarders, both in California and along the East Coast, where the fad began to take hold about three months ago, tend to be junior high and high school students, most of them too young to drive. Skateboarding is not only their avocation but, combined with city buses, their transportation. A board has advantages over, say, a 10-speed bike. It can be carried into a movie or stashed under the stool at a hamburger stand, and it is considerably less attractive to thieves.