Skateboarding Memories (1976-1980)

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It was the long hot summer of 1976 and skateboarding was the latest craze. I was 11 and my brother Keith was 10. I can’t remember where we saw it but I guess it must have been on the TV and in the papers. It wasn’t long before Keith and I had sawed an old roller skate in half and attached this to either end of a plank of wood about 1” thick and still covered in gloss white paint! Needless to say this thing was a death trap and I still vividly remember coming off it when a stone jammed under the wheel. I had a massive graze all the way from my elbow to my wrist!

Soon after this we persuaded our parents to let us cash in some of our premium bonds and we got our first real skateboards from Alpine Sports in Brighton. We each had a Grentec Coyote GT, the undisputed king of the polypropylene boards! The Grentec seems so tiny now at only 5.75” wide and 24” long, I’m not sure how we even managed to skate on them. These particular boards were responsible for shattering the Christmas dreams of many a young child that year. We had gone to visit our cousins in Great Glen, Leicestershire, for bonfire night. We took our boards with us and all the local kids were desperate for a go, most having a skateboard at the top of their Christmas list. However, soon after stepping on one, my 7 year old cousin Justin came off and broke his arm. Oh dear… At the fireworks party that night there were lots of glum faces as loads of parents decided there was no way they would be buying one of these dangerous toys as a Christmas present!

Grentec Coyote GT top
Grentec Coyote GT 3-bolt truck
Grentec Coyote GT bottom

Grentec Coyote GT II Skateboard

Skateboard petition Most of our skating in those days was done in our home town of Edenbridge. Just about every kid had a board of some description and we used to play on the local housing estate in an enormous group (shown with our petition for a skatepark for Edenbridge, right). It was all about wheelies, daffy ducks, 360s, slalom and racing. The racing was done either singly or in pairs – that style where you sit sideways on your board holding the ends, facing your partner, and rest your feet on your partner’s board. They did likewise. Half the time you crashed in a tangle of arms and legs as the two boards drifted too close or too far apart. Of course, while most of us were riding polypropylene cheapies, there were already a few children who had nice stuff like Paul Wadham who had a Reflex fibreglass board fitted with the latest green Kryptonic StarTrac wheels.

Keith and friend Michael Wood, Apr 1978The craze continued to grow in 1977 and Skateboard magazine started up in August of that year. This was when us and some of our friends started to make a succession of home made decks in woodwork class - it made a change from fruit bowls and candle holders! Early home-mades were solid mahogany or solid oak.ACS truck advertMy first home made deck was fitted with ACS-651 trucks (right) and OJ slalom wheels, later replaced by some 70mm blue Kryptonics of the second generation variety with the rounded front lip and recessed lettering. Keith’s was fitted with Lazer Slaloms and 70mm blue Kryptonics, later replaced with 65mm red and blue Kryptonics (left). As time went by the solid wood decks were replaced with lighter plywood home-mades and I upgraded to Tracker Full Track trucks. A lot of our time was now spent scavenging for pieces of wood on industrial estates so that we could build our own ramps behind the factories. Our main skating friends moved to Tonbridge and we would skate there frequently now. They lived on a ½ mile long hill with a gradient of 1 in 10. While it was a main road there were many roads running parallel to it with even steeper gradients. Buttboarding, power slides and speed wobble were the order of the day. At this point, despite our earlier petition, there were still hardly any skateparks in England and none within easy reach of us. This would soon change…

Me riding the ramp Me doing a tail stall on the ramp Keith on the ramp

A Ramp we built on the local industrial estate

Mad Dog BowlIn 1978 we visited our first skatepark, the recently opened Mad Dog Bowl in the long-closed Astoria cinema on the Old Kent Road, London. We spent most of the day playing in the moguls, the snake run and the large freestyle area. However the park also contained a large pool and a half pipe. Both were pretty extreme with the pool being 18 feet deep and just 12 feet across meaning it had lots of vert and a tight transition (unknown rider pictured, right). Tony Alva visited this eponymous park that year and was heard to say that ‘this fucking pool is going to kill somebody’.  Needless to say we didn’t venture in to either of these things!

Soon parks were springing up all over the place and we also visited Gillingham, which I can’t remember at all, and The Barn in Hove, Sussex, which opened in spring 1978. The strange thing was that the parks were appearing but skateboarding was already going in to decline. The mad craze was over and it was now only the hard core skaters who were left. You knew pretty much everybody who skated in your home town. This might explain why The Barn was so empty when we visited. Apart from us there were only a handful of other people. The Barn had a bowl and a pool.  The  pool had loads of vert and coping, the bowl was more mellow and didn’t reach vert. It also had a half pipe inside the actual barn on the site and a large freestyle area.

Barn bowl, Kadir Guirey Barn bowl, Tim Dunkerely Barn Pool, Mark Baker

Skateboard Magazine images of the Barn

We didn’t visit any of the above parks more than once, however there were two other parks at which we would spend a considerable amount of time, these being The Cage in Brighton and Skatestar in Guildford.

Cage blue bowlThe Cage was really cool. This was an indoor park underneath the arches on Madeira Drive (the seafront). My Dad was working in Brighton at the time and this meant that, in the school holidays, we and our mates could get free lifts to and from Brighton, spending the day messing about on the streets and at the Cage. The Cage squeezed a lot in to a small space. There was a big blue fibreglass bowl (left, from Skateboard Magazine), 2 fibreglass half pipes (right, Marc Sinclair), a ¼ pipe, a switchback and one of those crappy metal vert ramps that seemed to sit unused in a corner at all skateparks in those daysMarc Sinclair, Cage half pipe. The whole place was dominated by the rumbling of the bowl when people were in it, the sound reverberating around the damp brick walls. We would hardly ever ride in the bowl as it was usually full of shit-hot skaters which made it too intimidating for us! The switchback was great fun, starting on a platform, going down through a dip, up over a crest, through another dip, up a ramp that went almost vertical, then back again. There would frequently be a ‘train’ of riders on this piece of equipment. The ¼ pipe was great for learning and this was where we learned how to fakie, do drop-ins, axle stalls etc. The two half pipes sat right next to the pavement and the public could look in through some iron bars that ran from ground level to the top of the arches. Nice and smooth, and very forgiving when you fell off, these were also a favourite ride. By this time I had my first commercial deck, a second-hand Slix 9.5”x29” fitted with my trusty Tracker Full Tracks and a set of G&S yellow YoYos. I never liked the YoYos much – they felt very hard (even though they weren’t, 88A I believe) and they felt quite slow too.

Skatestar was our favourite park of all. Situated in Guildford, our only means of getting there was on the train. And we went there a lot. Skatestar had a small indoor area with a wooden half pipe (conventional old style with no flat bottom, just like The Cage) and a banked freestyle area. The freestyle area had a sharp transition and a shallow wall at about 45 degrees. It was pretty horrible and nobody really rode it except in the wet. Outside there was a large freestyle area called the reservoir, 3 bowls and a massive half-pipe. The smallest bowl was the Blue Zeppelin, an oval bowl whose long axis was inclined so that one end was flush with the ground and the far end was about 6ft high. Because of this design, this bowl didn’t have any vert at all except for on the far wall, and was great for learning new tricks in. This was a very popular bowl. The Peanut Bowl was actually two bowls joined together by a channel. The first bowl was concrete without coping and went to vertical, the second was a pool with a hard smooth surface and coping. We used to like the first bowl but not the second. The Gold Bowl was a monster, very deep with loads of vert, coping and a dodgy transition. Sogo Kubo, Skatestar, Aug '79This thing was just hard work to keep up your momentum and very few people rode it much. I can remember falling from the top to the bottom and landing so hard that the strap on my wristwatch broke – when I went to put it back together I discovered the pin that goes in to the watch body had ripped right out, gouging a lump of metal from the watch so that it was now useless! The half pipe was another monster. It was very long with an inclined flat bottom (used for slalom racing). The shallowest section had coping and was the only place people regularly rode. The further down the pipe you went the higher it got, and the less people rode it. We were there in August 1979 when Shogo Kubo (right) came to the park and everybody was amazed when he skated along the top of the pipe, dropping in at the highest point. One of the locals tried to copy him and almost came off, much to Shogo’s amusement. Our friend Lawrence got Shogo’s autograph on the bottom of his Z-Pig deck and promptly taped it over to try and preserve it indefinitely.

Skatestar Gold Bowl Skatestar Gold Bowl Skatestar Peanut Bowl

Pictures of Skatestar that I pinched from another site

During this period my old yellow YoYos got replaced by Alva single conicals and I later upgraded the deck and trucks to a BenjyBoard Marc Sinclair Meanwhile Madness fitted with 8” Lazers. Keith was running a Santa Cruz Steve Olson fitted with 8” Lazers and orange double conical YoYos. Conical wheels were the latest thing and the shop at Skatestar used to do a roaring trade in putting a conical on to flat back wheels – they did this using a pillar drill to hold the wheel on a threaded rod, and then taking a sureform to it while spinning it in the drill-chuck. The setup of choice these days was usually a wide deck, Independent 169s and Gyro hub wheels.

Skateboarding was by now almost finished in the UK. Skateboard magazine published its last issue in Feb 1979 and the parks were closing down everywhere. The Cage and Skatestar closed in late '79 or early 1980 (I can't remember the exact dates, think the Cage went first). We went to Skatestar after it closed, scaling the fences to get in and skate. Other people carried on even longer, skating after the bulldozers had started to demolish it. With nowhere left to skate apart from the streets we lost interest and the boards were consigned to the loft. And this brings me to the end of my skateboarding tale. Almost.

1979 Santa Cruz Steve OlsonLate 2006 and I was up in my loft and came across some of my old boards, the Slix and the Marc Sinclair (below). I sent Keith up to his loft and he came down with his Steve Olson (right). It was this which prompted me to do a spot of googling. The net brought back all the memories but I found it very hard to find many pictures and dates, so that encouraged me to write this little piece as a permanent record. Marc Sinclair Meanwhile MadnessOne of the interesting things I found were price lists from Alpine Sports and Surrey Skates. The boards that we were using in 1979 cost over £50 which, using a retail price index calculator, is the equivalent of nearly £250 in today’s money! At the time all I got was pocket money and a paper round in the school holidays. Mind you, would you believe that the Steve Olson has turned out to be an investment? Skate and Annoy’sEbay Watch’cites two examples being sold in the last few years, a scruffy one for $700 and a better one for $1400!!! I also stumbled across the Middle Age Shred website and couldn’t believe it when I made contact with an old skating friend from 30 years ago! I intend to refurbish the two boards as the bearings are stiff and the truck rubbers were perished. However, before I did that I couldn’t resist a quick visit to a local ‘skate park’ (if you can call them that these days) with my 6 year old where I had a go on a ¼ pipe while there were no youngsters round to see me! I don’t think I am likely to start skating much again, but I wouldn’t mind the occasional ride…

Surrey Skates proce list page 1 Surrey Skates price list p2 Surrey Skates proce list p3 Surrey Skates proce list p4

Surrey Skates Price List 1979

Apline Sports Spring newsletter page 1 Alpine Sports Spring 1979 newsletter page 2 Alpine Sports Spring 1979 newsletter page 3 Alpine Sports Spring 1979 newsletter page 4

Alpine Sports Newsletter and Price List Summer 1979


If anybody has accurate dates for the skateparks mentioned here please let me know.  Also, I have pinched a few photos on here from other websites but I forgot where I got them from.  If you would like credit, a link, or want the photos removed, please let me know.