To the organizers, this mass of adolescence must have created quite a problem, but to the campus skateboarders who held a high estimation of their own talents, the scene was overwhelming. The invaders even had their own language: fakey frontsides, rocket drops, lip slides, nose wheelies, space walks, duck shoots and apple turnovers were all standard topics of conversation. Next to these splashy teenaged veterans, the FPC students seemed as out of place as touch-football players at the Super Bowl.
The result – not to delay the obvious – was that once the contest started, very few of the FPC students were winning the little trophies. In fact, out of the 60 trophies awarded, the teenaged invaders snatched up and carted off all but two. Not that the older amateurs cared – they were more amused than disappointed – but every once in a while a student would survey the scene and scratch his head as if to say, “ Where did all these kids come from?”
The answer appears to be “everywhere.” The old fad has returned with new energy, lots of money and a feverish desire for the title of “sport.” In addition to the millions of fanatical teenagers, there is already an International Skateboard Association (ISA) and a code of contest regulations; some skateboarding visionaries are even talking about competing in the 1984 Olympics.
Of course, many observers (including this one) aren’t so sure the bottom won’t fall out again – leaving yet another layer of sedimentary skateboards for some future generation to unearth – but those involved are saying that this time skateboarding won’t fade out. In fact, it could become the stickball and marbles of the coming generation. On the other hand, it may be as dead as the hula hoop in a few months. No one knows. But whatever happens, nobody can deny that – for the moment, anyway – skateboarding is the hottest thing on wheels.
All this renewed interest is generally credited to improvements in the vehicle itself. In its first incarnation, in the mid-‘60s, the skateboard had wheels made of metal or clay, and all one could do on them was rattle down concrete hills and driveways. The breakthrough came in 1974 when a young Californian, Frank Nasworthy, discovered that polyurethane wheels would not only make a skateboard ride down slopes more smoothly, but also (because they increased friction, and thus “holding power”) enable it to go up: up ramps, up the sides of pools, up and around banked turns, and so on. Soon, interested skateboarders (many of them holdovers from the sport’s first life) added other improvements: ball bearings, flexible fiber-glass boards, and heavy-duty axle assemblies. Before long, the skateboard was a sophisticated – and expensive – little machine, and as enthusiasts rushed to test its new capabilities, the sport took off in novel and unexpected directions, involving empty swimming pools, skateboard parks, and huge pipes. Skateboarding’s “new age” had begun.
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“Hills are a drag,” a helmeted teenager tells me as we sit on the edge of an empty pool. “They don’t offer any challenge; you just weave down and then walk up. It’s just not very creative. No one’s into hills anymore.” What skateboarders are into, apparently, is pools. And this afternoon, a warm day in late April, a large part of the local skateboard crowd is either down in or around this municipal pool on Rindge Avenue in Cambridge.