Skate or Die
Skateboarding was everywhere I looked in the late 70s, especially Venice Beach. On weekends, my father would take me to rollerskate around the crumbling Venice Pavilion, and I would dodge the long haired skateboarders flying by. I would see the same guys from Venice climbing the fence of my elementary school and taking over the yard. While I put on my skates and made careful circles around the track, they surfed the asphalt banks. They were rough and wild, and on their boards, they looked totally free. I was a little afraid of them, and completely fascinated. I have been ever since.
In the 1970’s and 80’s, Venice Beach did not look like the glossy postcards sold on the boardwalk The “ghetto by the sea,” as it was known, was a seedy circus of street performers, hippies, gang activity, and like almost anywhere, boys looking for something to do. A rough band of Venice locals tore skateboarding out of the hands of the clean-cut sidewalk surfers, and made it their own. They didn’t have much, and came from a neighborhood with one of the most feared gangs in Los Angeles. Life was tough, you could see that in the intensity with which they approached skateboarding. They operated like a gang, and had a singular purpose – to skate. They didn’t skate to win contests; they skated for their lives.
Today the crumbling Venice Pavilion has been replaced by a beautiful new skatepark. The same guys from my childhood are still there, older and mellower, skating alongside a new generation of clean-cut locals that are showered with free shoes and boards. On the surface, the Venice skate scene looks more polished now, but when you watch the intensity of the skaters, and their dedication to each other, it’s clear that the gritty soul of Venice skateboarding hasn’t changed at all.