In 1959 my Sister Pattie worked in a ice cream parlor next to the Standard gas station across from Mayfair Market on Sunset Blvd in Pacific Palisades. She was a student at Santa Monica Junior College off of Pico Blvd. During this period she met Con Colburn. Con would come in all straggly, wet, and sandy from surfing and try and talk her out of an ice cream cone. She gave in most of the time and they became great friends. Their friendship lasted four or five years and during that period she helped with bookwork and painting signs for his fledgling surfboard business, Con Surfboards. She also would accompany him when he would pick up blanks from the Hobie shop, because at that time Con was not making his own blanks. Con’s shop in 1959 was located on Olympic Blvd. in Santa Monica. As Pat was my surrogate mother she would take me along on her visits, so I spent time at the shop as well. The smell of resin and fiberglass and the sound of Con sanding and shaping the boards is still with me. On many occasion Pat and Con would go to surf movies at the Santa Monica Auditorium. These were rudimentary 8 and 16 millimeter home movie style surf films that were projected on a screen and usually the guy who shot it would narrate over a public address system.
My other sister Laura was asked out numerous times by Miki Dora. She refers to him as the Bad Ass Blaster. She says of her Malibu days in the summer of 1962, that Miki would approach her on the beach saying, “Hey pretty baby, let’s go out?” Her high school friend, Mandy Pryor had crushes on the Aaberg brothers, Steve and Denny. Once, Mandy dove off the Malibu pier just to impress them. Laura said the more intellectual surfers played chess on the beach while the others like Lance Carson and Johney Fain duked it out on the waves. Needles to say we had some of the top surfer walking up our driveway and knocking on the front door, Ah the lure of young girls.
It was sometime during 1964 that I constructed my first skateboard. Cub Scouts was the latest activity that my parents had me involved in and this particular day my mother delivered me to the weekly gathering which was at Philip Cleary’s home on Alcima in the Pacific Palisades. Phillip and I were grammar school mates and his mother had the troop set up in the garage. During these meetings we made all sorts of stuff like key chains glued to cracked marbles, gifts, and whatnots. Today the boys had a box filled with old garages sale steel roller-skates and boards from Philip’s father’s lumber yard (Palisades Lumber and Materials). In no time we disassembled the skates by removing the center wing nut with pliers. The next step was to flatten the heel and toe guards with a hammer so that the skate would lay even on the boards. It was a wonder that no fingers were smashed with all the racket we made with those hammers. Next was to attach the skates to the boards. We used flat head nails, hammered in, and bent over. It was trial and error to find the ideal location for each skate, front and back, after all we were treading on virgin territory. Finally the first to flip their board over and ride were sorely surprised. Those that had nails sticking through the top had to bend them over or risk bloody feet and those that nailed the skate on crooked would fly helter-skelter off into the bushes. It was pretty comical to watch a bunch of hyper kids in Cub Scout uniforms careen down the sidewalk. These skateboards with steel wheels made the sound of a roaring jet going by. They also made a funny white trail as the wheels crushed the concrete pavement.
Commercial skateboards did not exist for me. At ten and eleven I was fairly self reliant and continued to make my own with up graded wheels and board shapes as did others. The kids in the neighborhood were wise to skates, for most of us participated in the Friday night roller skating at Palisades Park. Where you could rent skates with wooden wheels, skate inside the gym to you favorite rock ‘n roll music on a record player that spun 45’s, and maybe have a game of dodge ball afterwards.
Surf music was prominent on the air waves and we were hep to it. AM statioins such as KFWB and KRLA played a mixed Duane Eddy, Dick Dale and the Deltones, The Ventures, The Beach Boys, The Sufaries and numerous other surf bands on regular rotation. I had a Sufaries album with yellow trim and a picture of surfers at the Malibu wall on it which I thought was totally bitchin’. The big fender reverb sound was everywhere.
Most of the kids that were skateboarding in the Palisades had a intimate relationship with the surf. We grew up on the beach either learning to body surf, skimboard, raft, bellyboard or surf. We were all good swimmers too. My sister Laura loved to swim out beyond the big sets and then call me to follow. It was pretty gnarly to swim out and dive under six and seven foot waves. I had to grab on to the sand under the water and then push off the bottom after the wave broke over me. I learned fast how to take a wave, get tubed and duck under the wave just when it broke and pop out on the other side. Back then we didn’t use fins. At Bel-Air beach, Tower #5, where we hung out most of the time, the ocean wasn’t that deep so we could still bob off the bottom on big wave days.
Bay Street, State Beach, Sunset Beach, Topanga, Malibu, Zuma, and Trancas, were all familiar local spots. But in fact, in the early sixties most all beach break were excellent spots for surfing, along with many of the jetties that dotted the Santa Monica Bay. Decent left and right breaks were common. I was a goofy foot so I preferred left breaks. It wasn’t until the mid seventies when severe storms swept through the bay changing the wave breaking profile from then on. It seemed all that was left were shore breakers.
In 1964 I was also playing little league baseball on the Panthers team along with skateboarding. More and more kids were skateboarding and began congregating at the massive inclined parking lot at Palisades High School. It was fairly loose knit group, mostly crazy youths hauling ass down the parking lot then climbing back up along the wire mesh that was put down to hold the ivy and bank from sliding, and then we’d haul ass down again. At that time bikes and skateboards were our main mode of transportation. (Mine was the ever-popular Schwinn Sting Ray, purple with a sparkle banana seat with semi sissy bar, butterfly handlebars, and a slick for the back tire.) Friends and strangers were beginning to showing up regularly at the top entrance of Pali’s parking lot. So it goes with kids, boredom beget, friendly competition. Going down the incline became monotonous. So we went down in new ways. Instead of standing, we sat on the board, laid on it, stood on trash cans, anything we could think of and got good at it. As our competitive nature grew so did the more outlandish tricks. Kids began imitating surfer with maneuvers such as, “Paul Strauch five”, walking the nose, hanging ten, hang five, and pirouette. As things progressed the skateboarders developed there own terms like kickturns, curb jumping (either off or on), and kick outs. Pretending you were surfing was standard practice. We knew how to be stylish from Miki Dora and the likes. Accidents turned into tricks like having the back wheels slide out when bearing down on a turn. When kids finished zooming down the incline they would kick out into the ivy but sometime they would flip their boards up and catch them and that would turn into how many flips could you do before you caught the board. Like anything kids did, showing off was always in the mix. Soon people were there just to watch and take pictures. Tricks got more inventive like kick-outs had spins added, kick turns turned into the frog walk or a 360, walking the nose turned into nose wheelies then into heelies, the combinations simply multiplied.
Next in progression was to set up an exhibition or contest. Teams were talked about and teams began. Several of us, Terry Keller, Burke Murphy, Chris Picciolo and Tim Keller formed a team. Tim became our manager and arranged match contests between us and other teams to take place at the Pali parking lot. One on one runs down the horseshoe incline. Judges would score the runs with the best overall scoring team winning the contest. Tim had been on another team called "Sunset Skateboarders" and enjoyed taking on the duties of managing our team.
Pali was not the only spot skateboarding took place. Any and all asphalt paved school playground areas with sloped sides were fair game, because they were built into hillsides, producing a slope much like a wave in the ocean. The more familiar schools were - Marquez Elementary, Palisades Elementary, Paul Revere Jr. High, Bellagio Elementary School, Brentwood Elementary School, as well as the parking lot in front of Palisades Medical Center. At the height of what I’d call the first wave of skateboarding there were numerous newspaper articles depicting kids as trespassing vandals. There would be photos of kids climbing school fences and squeezing through locked gates of private school property. Gee, when has that ever happened before? Kids wanting to get into school instead of wanting to get out. The bad press that skateboarding received at the on set, say mid sixties, helped to perpetuate a rebellious image that carried on into the 70’s. We skateboarded everywhere taking our boards where ever we went. I remember skateboarding along the old boardwalk from Santa Monica Pier all along Venice down to P.O.P. (Pacific Ocean Park) and hanging on to the trolley for a free tow.
The prevalent consciousness of the day was that Skateboarding was all a fad that would fade soon. But little did the public know, except those in the know, that skateboarding would someday become a commercial rage and climb to the esteem of an Olympic sport.
Around this time the YMCA was offering a program called “Surf Caravan”. This program consist of several “Y” buses that transported a slew of kids, a few adult chaperones, some YMCA officials, and bunch of surfboards down to Tijuana and Ensenada Mexico. The plan was to camp on a fabulous expanse of beach on the Ensenada coastline and let those kids surf until their hearts content for about two weeks. I went as did several of my friends. It was great. There were lots of super beach breaks and the water was warm and we were even turned loose in Tijuana for a day to learn the art of bartering. I was using a Bing board at around this period.
The Palisades Skateboard Team got started in 1965. Several members were actively pursuing a sponsor. I approached a long time family friend, Mr. Don Burgess. He was the owner of Don Burgess Pools and live on El Medio in the Palisades. Don show interest and said he would get back with me. On another front, Tim Keller had approach Laguna Sportswear and they also show interest. We may have been impatient and perhaps should have lined up three or four sponsors to choose from but as it turned out we decided to go with Don Burgess Pools as our sponsor. Shortly after accepting Don Burgess Pools as our sponsor, Tim turned down the offer from Laguna Sportswear, who would have probably boosted us to the sponsorship and visibility level of other high profile teams such as Hobie and Makaha. But a commitment was a commitment and so now we had an official team.
We got down to business creating a logo and team emblem. Tim was the eldest of the team members and, thus, de facto manager or organizer. He spoke with his father, Jack Keller who sketched out a skateboarder in silhouette doing "Paul Strauch" maneuver on a skateboard. This was used for our team patch, applied to back of black nylon windbreaker with broad white horizontal competition stripe. Tim posed for the patch figure while his father drew it. A patch using the Don Burgess Pool logo was created for the left front side of the jacket to indicate the team’s sponsor.
The sponsor would be responsible for providing team members with supplies of skateboards, wheels, bearings, team jackets, and transportation to contests, entry fees, etc.
Don was very involved with the team. Out of his house Don began manufacturing custom boards that the team members would test ride and report back. By this time a new type of clay wheel had been developed. Don was very inventive and used ideas from pool design and introduced them into skateboards. He developed a resin mixed with sand for a non-slip grip surface around pools...then applied it to skateboards in competition stripes in various colors. The board shape was solidified and Palisades Boards began production. Not only did members receive a new board but they were sold at local stores including Palisades Hobby Shop.
The team started to grow in two areas. First was new membership. The roister included; Peter Burg, Barry Blenkhorn, Burke Murphy, Shane Murphy, Tim Keller, Terry Keller, Don Mike Burgess, Ricky Burgess, Rick Percel, Chris Picciolo, Tod Elmergreen, Jerry Giancola, and Susie Rowland. At the time, Susie was only one of a handful of talented girl skateboarders. (Others would be Collen Boyd and Wendy Bearer, who was the sister of Danny Bearer both on the Hobie Team. Wendy appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show skateboarding around in a circle to some current song of this period.) Most of the team members surfed on a regular basis as well.
The other area was the development of new tricks, such as hand stands on a moving skateboard. I began experimenting by holding the board on the pavement, moving slowly, then kicking up into a hand stand. This finally evolved into skating along, going down into a frog stand, then pressing into a full handstand, coming back down on the board, then standing up right while the skateboard was still moving. Other tricks such as 360s turning into 720s , 1080s and on, one footed heelies and wheelies, jumping over school benches tuned into jumping over a bar at a measured height, head stand into hand stand, and of coarse the stall, where you lean the board back on its tail end and drag along the ground, used as a break to slow down, were being perfected by other team members.
The world of skateboarding exploded then and teams popped up every where. Televised contests such as the National Skateboard Championships held at the La Palma Stadium in Anaheim, May 22 and 23, 1965, Anaheim Street at Harbor Boulevard, Anaheim, brought the world of skateboarding into the living rooms through out the world. There were 280 boys and girls that show up from Mexico City, Dallas, Phoenix, Berkeley, and Southern California to compete in this rally sponsored by the Vita-Pak Super Surfer Skateboard team. Wide World of Sports even cover it. There was a clip of myself executing my run in the flatland slalom. Our team finished third to Hobie and Makaha. John Freis won over all, Torger Johnson second over all, both from the Hobie Team. Torger was by far the most radical and most fluid skateboarder in the contest. In the 11 and under age bracket, Don Mike, eight years old, was third over all, placing third in figure eights and the flatland slalom. I was fourth in flatland slalom and fourth in trick riding. Both of us received finalist medals.
More contests followed; First Annual South Gate Open Contest, July 4, 1965, Palisades-Malibu Jaycees Skateboard Tournament 1966, and a contest between Brentwood’s Ventures and Palisades Team 1966. So many friends were skateboarding at that time it’s hard to remember all but the Hiltons (Stevie and Davy), George Trafton, Jay Henderson, Kevin Jones, Bob Janis, Scott Kelso, Pat Hunt, Scott Archer, and Dona Cash are some.
Our sponsor, Don Burgess, was avid 16-MM amateur movie maker. He shot numerous films of the team at various contests. There is one of me, during a group exhibition going down Pali incline, where I did a hand stand, veered off into the ivy, and crashed into a sprinkler head. I receive a sever cut on the hand and had to be taken to the hospital to get several stitches. Many of these films may still be available through Don Mike Burgess, Academy Award-winning cinematographer (Forrest Gump, etc.).
While all this was going on I spent many days during those summers walking to and from Bel Air Beach. There was a trail through the private club down the ice plant hill which dropped you onto the PCH. There you had to cross the high way at your own parole. We had a great group of kids in bikinis and jams that hung around lifeguard tower #5. Frank Barnes was the lifeguard and he was the coolest. Before becoming lifeguard Frank played water polo for San Jose State. On many morning I used to meet him at tower #5 and together we would jog up and down the shoreline. We all literally looked up to him, at 6’4” he was an impressive dude. One day I dragged my sister Laura down, introduced her to Frank and as it happened they fell in love and later were married.
Speaking of sisters, another sister of mine, Melissa, just a year older, was spending time with Torger Johnson. She was in the seventh or eighth grade at Corpus Christy and Torger was in the ninth grade at Paul Revere Jr. High. They were sweet on each other and it was very cool to have Mr. Skateboarder himself saunter up to the front door for a visit. Oh! by the way, Torger was a phenomenal surfer in his own right.
In July of 1967 the Hormel company planned to shoot a commercial, jumping on the band wagon, using a theme with skateboarders. Mr. Don Burgess was contacted and auditions were held and four members of the team were chosen for actors. Myself,
Barry Blankhorn, Don Mike Burgess, and his younger brother Ricky were to be in “The Not So Hot, Hot Dog” commercial. I was chosen over teammate Terry Keller, in regards to a height issue. There was a photo shoot for stills which ended up plastered on the Hormel trucks that drove around various cities. The commercial ran for about a year and we were compensated handsomely and all collected residuals as well. The event put us in the realm of professional skateboarders and was one of the very early commercials using skateboarders.
As the summer wore on I finished up playing baseball with the Pirates (Pacific Palisades Boys Baseball Association) and spending time surfing at State Beach. Some time around this period I bought a new Hobie 8’ 2” clear coat board. It was beautiful board and I also purchased a plastic nose guard to fend off dings, along with an O’Neil wet suite. The new smaller boards were just making a presence. Our group of young surfers spent the days learning to play penny ante poker, smoking cigarettes, and trying to impress girls. I was surfing allot with Irv Hannsen, and spending time with Terry Macris who was a poet /surfer. He was Frank Barnes’s room-mate at a house in Santa Monica on Fist & California Street and Frank introduced us. Actually Terry’s Parents owned the house. Terry was much older, 24 so I was more like a mascot and tagged along. He took me surfing many times in his totally bitchin’ ‘67 Chevy Impala. We would get up early for donuts and just cruise the southern beaches, Venice, Playa del Rey, El Segundo (El Stinko), and as far south as San Clemente. Once, while surfing in San Clemete, I stepped on a sea urchin and had to pull purple spikes out of my heel. State Beach had lots of great surfers hanging out, Da Cat, Johnny Sugerman, and Corky Carol. You could always catch someone shredding.
As with everything, change is inevitable. During the later part of the 60’s I began a life long involvement with rock ‘n roll. I found a new passion, the Guitar.
P.S. This photo was sent to me by Michael Sammons of a Palisades Skateboard Team Logo and sticker from a Don Burgess Skateboard. Notice the grip colored sand applique.
Don Mikael Burgess turned up this 1965 picture of me at the National Skateboard Championships.