By the early 80s, Skateboarding, an activity known to attract the odd balls and outcasts of society had left me still feeling a bit out of place. The few skateboarders at the time were either leftover classic rockers or “Skate Rock” punks. My tastes leaned more toward post punk as I discovered Joy Division and Gang of Four. Then on my first visit to John Grigley’s ramp in St. Petersburg Florida I let local Bruce Whiteside listen to my walkman with my mix tape in it while I skated. The ramp was really good and a welcome change from the poorly built or nonexistent terrain of the time. Suddenly Bruce pulled off the headphones and declared “Finally someone with musical taste!” The session ended abruptly as we headed to his house to spin records that would become touchstones in my life….. About a year later I jumped at the chance to move to the Tampa/St. Pete area to work with Paul Schmitt as he started making skateboards. So thus joining some of the square-ist pegs I’d ever met….. I felt right at home….
This whole scene was possible due to the ever evolving ramps in John’s (and a bit of a few neighbors) backyards. The fact that John lived in the poor part of town made it all possible and offered it’s own set of challenges. It started very crude, virtually something from nothing…… no money, no tools. Locals John, Bruce and Cleo Coney were eventually joined by Paul who actually had real tools! Their ramps started to get better….they had to all the parks had closed. This became more than a place to skateboard though. It became a Warhol like factory with skateboarding as a fuel source. John was not only redefining handplants he was reinterpreting art…. Paul and I were pushing skateboard construction to keep up with ever increasing level of skateboarding on the by now state of the art ramp. We were listening to the first singles of bands that became legends and had mountains of thrift store clothing that any hipster would sell their soul for. The crew just kept growing … Bill Procco, Walter, Haircut, Mike Daly, B-Rad,D-Rad and myself. Pro’s like Monty Nolder, Billy Beauregaurd, Chris Baucom and Mike McGill all frequented the ramp to train. A skate zine was a must to keep the scattered skateboard scene connected….. So they made “Just For Fun” zine…. Paul developed film in his bathroom then John, Bill and Thom would staple and xerox it to life….. In a few years time John’s backyard went from a tattered oasis of skateboarding to the main stage for skateboardings rebirth. Eventually the St. Pete Ramp jam would gather the entire skateboard universe in a small dirt alley in the ghetto. It was the first time all the lost Skateboard tribes left over from the great attrition of the 70s gathered to re-stoked the sacred flame and declare “this is far from over”
Thom “Haircut” Nicholson
This all happened because some miss matched band of friends tried to make things suck a little less. We spent most of our time hurling razor sharp sarcasm at each other that would cause most friends to fight but just made us fall down laughing. It truly was the best and worst of times….. and the Skateboarding……. I’ll never forget the Skateboarding or the life long friends.
Our first trip of many to the Nude Bowl. Thanks to Kelly Bellmar for taking us there and bringing along a video camera. We skated early in the morning to beat the heat. The crew was Mark Burnbeck, Chicken Deck, Rick Kosick, Kelly Bellmar, Chuck Hults and Marty “Jinx” Jimenez with his wife and new born son with him. The start of many years of adventures at the Nude Bowl.
Before anyone else could even do a backside smith… Monty did them easily in challenging terrain like the abandoned Flying Wheels park in Gadsden AL. photo by Hults
The Backside Smith Grind…. one of the most revered tricks in skateboard history. It doesn’t matter where the session is, pool, ramp, rail, ledge or dumpster.
You throw a gnarly back smith and the tails start slapping and the hands start clapping. Whether it’s just some neophyte who laps over without a clue learning
kickturns, or Bob Burnquist, one footed on the Mega Ramp Rail….. the results are the same….. skateboarders like Backside Smith Grinds, especially real skateboarders who
understand the compromising situation that a committed backsmith puts you in.
But it’s not just the fact that it’s a hazardous endeavor that makes it appealing. I think it’s because that by some wonderful alignment of physics and human anatomy,
it’s almost impossible to Backside Smith without looking good…. style makes it happen …… you don’t do one, you give yourself to it……you must control the out of control. Trying to force the issue will just will leave you on your back gasping for air.
The “Smith” in backside smith grind comes to us from Mike Smith. You see Mike decided he was going to take the lapped over grind (frontside) that beginners and slash masters
had unintentionally done for years and just stop at the most critical point and flaunt his complete mastery of every other skaters worst fear. I’m not sure who was the first to lock in and grind frontside in the modern sense (first time I saw it was Cab at the St Pete ramp jam)
But when it comes to the locked in sliding and grinding “Backside” Smith we all love, I haven’t any doubt who was the first skater to achieve this gift from the skate Gods.
MONTY NOLDER! ….. and believe me Monty had many other feats of innovation and power that few will ever understand.
I was lucky enough to witness when Monty threw himself for the first time into skateboarding’s no mans land and emerge unscathed. You see every skateboard trick is part of
an evolutionary chain. Some of the links are huge and strong like Mike Smith and Monty Nolder, others are small almost invisible, even accidental. That trick your friends tell you your doing all wrong, or maybe the dorking moves your local skate crew does on a parking block that makes you all laugh your lungs up, might just crack open a door that someone else will kick down. You see I’m one of those small little accidental links ….because when I learned of Mike Smith’s “Smith Stop” , I attempted to learn it. At the time all I had to skate was a 4′ high 1/4 pipe in the skate starved town of Naples Florida. But try,try as I might I couldn’t tame Mike’s new move. At some point the frustration and Florida heat got to me and I decided to attempt it backside.
Much to my surprise I started to make a few, giving my friends a few good laughs as I sketched about the place. I even learned to do them on the vert ramp we built shortly there after.
Thing was, whenever I did one most people just thought I did really, really bad backside kickturns. Then one day when we were having a vert contest in Lakeland Florida, in between heats Monty and I were riding this little 1/4″ pipe Schmitt had brought along. During our goofing session I did my little backside lapper, only Monty didn’t cringe, he said “do that again” and when I did, he gave it a few tries and within a few minutes could do it better than me. Fast forward two weeks and we’re pulling up to a vert ramp contest in Gainsville and Monty is making a beeline to our car.
He excitedly grabbed my arm and pulled me to the ramp, he dropped in and locked into a perfect 8′ long Backside Smith Grind and pulled it spotlessly clean. At first I was in shock,
“HOW ON EARTH DID HE JUST DO THAT?” was all I could think. I was snapped back to reality by Monty’s smiling face as we celebrated his achievement and discussed it’s ramifications.
I’ve still never learned to lock in and slide Backside Smiths very far. I pretty much do them as I always have. What was an evolutionary dead end for me was a whole new species for Monty and the future skaters…… Skateboarding is a huge think tank full of some of the most creative humans to ever live……. We’re trying to find all the possibilities for a devise that has limitless potential. It’s an impossible task we willingly undertake. You can’t win skateboarding….. it’s not some prize, participation is the reward. Simply by joining in you add one more link to limitless ideas.
Skateboarding shows how doing things “your” way can sometimes lead others to somewhere you weren’t even going. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to plant my flag of discovery firmly in the land of the Backside Smith. Like some sort of antimatter particle in an alternate universe the Backside smith came into existence at the same time as the frontside version. Every new skating technique has a yang to it’s ying that’s usually much less inviting than it’s counter part. Rock-n-rolls, feebles and blunts are perfect examples of this, lots of skaters can do them backside, yet attempting them frontside requires much more skill and commitment. Thankfully Monty didn’t take the path of least resistance and just do frontside smiths like everyone else. He marched into the dragon’s lair, cut off it’s head and held it up for us all to see. In a perfect world the Backside Smith would be called the “Monty” grind, but we know it’s not a perfect world….. although the “Monty” grind just might be one of skateboardings perfect maneuvers.
I didn’t think much of this photo of myself trying to work out the Backside Smithstop when it was taken….. now I’m stoked to have it. photo by Mark Smith or Tommy Kent?
In the January 1978 issue of Skateboard World magazine there is an article entitled “Mt. Baldy Remembered”. It was penned by Stuart Swinson and featured Stan Sharp photos of Jerry Valdes, Curt Cortum, Gregg Ayres, Rodd Saunders and Mark Smith. As a young Skateboarder living in rural Georgia, I studied the photos for hours dreaming of ridding the “Skateboard Mecca” that Mt. Baldy pipe was in my mind. Even as the author touted superior skatepark terrain as a reason why Baldy wasn’t being skated, I still yearned to roll in the birthplace of pipe skating. Besides in Georgia there were no good Skateparks to speak of and a full pipe was just a pipe dream. Mr. Swinson went on to describe the water damage, $500.00 fines and multiple applications of tar that seemed to regulate my hopes of someday Skateboarding in the Mt. Baldy pipe to my dreams forever.
After relocating to California in 1985, I was pleased to learn from the brothers Alba that Baldy could still be skated if you had some soft wheels and didn’t mind the ruff bottom and leftover tar patches. My reply was a swift “When do we leave?” The feeling I had the first time I walked into the concrete cylinder of my childhood fantasies has never been duplicated in my life. I’ve had quite a few sessions at the Baldy pipe over the years and I too began to lose my passion for the old pipe with its harsh surface and it’s hard to reach local. Then on the first year of the new “Go Skateboarding Day” holiday, some coworkers and I were thinking of where to celebrate “GSD” (on the clock) …. I suggested the rumored to be resurfaced (by skateboarders) Mt, Baldy pipe! All agreed and we headed to the womb of Skateboarding to be reborn. It was radical! I sampled the new surface on my hard wheels and it was fantastic! I never even put my pads on…… I felt like a kid inside….. I was feeling what it must have been like for the privileged early skateboarders I’d seen in that article all those years ago.
Skateboarders are still making memories at the hallowed hole in Mt. Baldy and if it ever becomes truly unskateable it will be remembered.
There are so many social networking devices and applications that one can call into play these days it’s hard to know which one/ones to indulge in. Although I resisted them at first I must admit I’ve enjoyed reconnecting with old friends and family, sharing childhood photos and tales as well as updates on our current lives. Yet even “Saint Jobs” himself never possessed a more powerful social networking tool than my skateboard. It connected me to all my best friends, provided me with a trade, influenced my taste in music, art and fashion. It’s my personal trainer and my shrink. It influenced me to learn photography, graphic art and woodworking. I live where I do because I skateboard. I even met my wife at the first Warped tour after having snuck in riding a skateboard through the athletes gate while pretending I was in the demo.
For me a skateboard is the most powerful search engine on Earth.
In the very early 80s I was living in my Granny’s old house in Ft. Mead Fla. It’s a very small town that still only has one stoplight to this day. I’d always been a dog person until this stray white female cat wandered in our house. She took a like’n to me so I named her Spike and bought some cat chow. Spike turned out to be quite an talented cat ……. she brought me a few squirrels and learned how to skateboard. After leaving my board on the wood floor in my room Spike, completely on her own would pounce on the skateboard then glide across the room while clawing at the front wheel as it spun. She repeated this to and fro for hours. I just started keeping my deck in her favorite spot. I tried to tell my friends about it but they thought I was bullshitting. In this day and age I’d just put Spike up on youtube and she would have been in the Rose Bowl parade.
Then one day I came home from work and my friend Randy had been waiting for me in my room so we could go skate. Randy charged out of the house and proclaimed “Chuck your Mother F’n cat skateboards”!!!!! I laughed and said “I told you guys that” But Randy could not hear my words. He said “You don’t understand!!! “Your Mother F’n cat skateboards”!!!!! He repeated this many times until I just gave up and listened.
Spike didn’t care who knew she skated …. she just liked the feeling. Self satisfaction is really what skateboarding is about. Sure it’s great to hear everyone hoot when you pull a trick …… Yet sometimes they’re cheering while inside you know that you’re not satisfied with how it felt …… You know the feeling of when it’s done your way and won’t really be happy with less. But when you do execute a maneuver just how your physical being yearns for …….. It’s matters not who’s observing the event ……. The feeling lingers longer than any applause.
There are two great feelings in Skateboarding. The first and more obvious being, rolling away from a perfectly executed trick and feeling the satisfaction of control and flow. The other happens when you find yourself in a very unsure and unsafe situation ……… with no easy way out. You want to bail but you know that will only make things worse. Survival instinct takes over ….. muscles act preemptively before the mind can consider a veto …… disaster is certain. Then right as you brace for the impending pain …… you roll away! Your jaw drops open, eyes widen, friends laugh and say “No Way!”
Marty Jimenez captured one of these moments when I put a little too much mustard on a frontside grind at the San Juan pool. It would be two years after the photo was taken before I would see it. At a party John Lucero says “I have a slide of you doing a crazy edger Chuck” …… I was shocked to see just how lucky I had gotten and was reminded of the sketchy footing I had as I roll by the drain.
In the past two years my family and I have been living a life not unlike the edger in the photo. The future looked petrifying at best …… Survival mode was in effect. Bailing was not an option. Yet just like the grind gone wrong it was where I wanted to be …… my choice …….. my responsibility ….. full commitment. Thankfully it payed off and we’re rolling away …… our footing is a little sketchy …… but we’re still here!
I’m sure there are times ahead when I’ll take the slam ….. in skateboarding and in life. Luckily I’ve learned from Skateboarding to hang on tight and if that doesn’t work to get up and try again.
“If at first you fail your deed …. try again ’til you succeed” UnderDog