Skate Away

Why do thrashers flock to this West Dade back yard? Gather ye nosebones while ye may.

Q: Tell us, in your opinion, what the American dream is?
A: There is no dream left. The world's ending. There's nothing more, no new ideas. Everything is getting old, nothing left. Back in the Fifties, my dad owned two houses before he was 22, and nowadays you can't even buy a house until you're like 30. You can't do anything. You have to be a loser your whole life, so who cares? It's ruined, destroyed, everything's corrupted. People are just horrible, and I don't even want to be a part of the human race. I would just rather skate...and not worry about anything. Do you want to kiss later?

- December 1989 TransWorld SKATEboarding interview with nineteen-year-old pro skateboarder Jason Jessee

Yeah, right. That tongue-in-chic nihilism doesn't swing it here on No-Name Ramp, South Florida's newest sanctuary for skateboard outlaws. The ramp, an open-end half-cylinder the size of two railroad grain hoppers, went up March 12 beside the Tamiami Trail at 125th Avenue. Out here on the suburban verge of the Everglades, it's all sun, sweat, skill, bruised hips, and positive energy.

"A lot of people have misconceptions of us," says seventeen-year-old Jose Gomez, coming off a blinding combination of fakie rock-and-rolls, axle stalls, and gay-twist nosebones. "They think we're like, death-oriented - skulls and killing. That was the first wave of skating on the West Coast. That's not us. But whenever we walk in a 7-Eleven, we get the big camera eye. We have long hair and we're sweaty. We wear baggy clothes. One time the cops tried to arrest us for leaving our trays on the table at Burger King."

While Gomez talks, motorists on the Trail honk and whoop. Cops cruising past salute with their sirens. The fourteen-foot-high ramp, built of two-by-fours, Masonite, and steel plates, is the most striking piece of architecture on a landscape littered with ranch houses, gas stations, and traffic. Add to it a dozen helmeted thrashers - skateboard devotees - engaged in airborne ballet at upwards of twenty miles per hour, and one catches sight of a truth hidden in the bones of mankind: The Wright brothers never gave a hoot about helping society. They just wanted to fly. Period.

As many as half the thrashers who gather here in the afternoon are street skaters who would naturally prefer the endless variety of sidewalks, parking lots, and concrete byways. But favorite street-skating sites such as Bayfront Park, Coconut Grove, parts of Metrozoo, and Coral Gables have been officially banned by municipal administrators, and thrashers who ply those grounds risk confiscation of their boards by police. A now-legendary skate ramp near the Falls was dismantled in May 1988 after complaints by homeowners in the area. Of approximately fifteen commercial skateboard parks in Florida, none is within a three-hour drive of Miami. One bright spot on the horizon, the month-old Police Athletic League skateboard facility at Flamingo Park in Miami Beach, is viewed with great suspicion by the West Dade congregants. They doubt it will last. It seems too good to be true, a mirage. And if you're older than eighteen, as most top skateboarders are, you can't use it.

Driven before a tide of nettlesome laws and uptight adults, a small band of Dade thrashers pitched in together three years ago and built a ramp to rival some of the best in America. But the No-Name (so called because of a local superstition against naming good skate sites) has had its own problems. Before March, it stood near SW 130th Street and 98th Avenue, a more secluded site than its present one. "Some old lady complained," recalls twenty-year-old Dean Lucas, the original designer and nominal owner of the No-Name. "There was no way it affected her, but I guess she had nothing better to do. We had to move it up here."

Miraculously, the ramp has endured nearly five months of high-visibility use here, in its third location. Nineteen-year-old Jacob Forni thinks the large American flag he draped over one side helps put the cops in a good mood. Forni's mom, an insurance agent, says she makes all the thrashers sign liability-release forms. His grandma, behind whose spacious house the structure squats, keeps an eye on things and shoos away kids under age sixteen. The No-Name, which at first appears to have been erected on private property, in fact stands on a twenty-foot swath of public right-of-way at the edge of the Tamiami Canal. Convinced that any effort to get a building permit for the structure would be futile, the thrashers didn't even bother trying.

Forni's uncle believes the No-Name's days are numbered. "Something will happen," he says gloomily. "It's a totally illegal structure built on public property, no permit, nothing." But the professional and amateur skateboarders who use it are more hopeful about the renegade ramp. No one who has witnessed the magic of a good double gay-twist nosebone could ever condemn this newly hallowed thrashing ground, they say. For the moment, still joyfully a step ahead of the law, the thrashers are tinkering with the notion of putting up some floodlights, the better to fly by night.

 
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