By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
In March 1999, the Dogtown story was the subject of a Spinmagazine article, which inspired a widely acclaimed film documentary released last year called Dogtown and Z-Boys. Skateboarders all over the world lined up outside theaters to see it. Now out on DVD, it's a home-theater mainstay, where skateboarders young and old gather to play and replay the scenes that show their heroes performing jaw-dropping tricks. In short, the Z-Boys are now codified in the casual history of skateboarding. But playing second fiddle to California, just as they did twenty-odd years ago, the Florida boys received scant mention in the film. Perhaps it's because they don't have a cool name like the Z-Boys and don't come from a rundown surf town. Hailing from Hollywood, Kendall, Delray Beach, Gainesville, Jacksonville, Tampa, Melbourne, and a few other parts of Florida, these kids never had the skate-and-destroy, harbingers-of-disaster image popularized by the West Coast riders. Clean-cut kids with honor-roll grades, they tended to obey their parents and get their homework done. None of the top Florida riders spent time in jail, and most now boast successful, professional careers. Some, like Gelfand, still claim to have never so much as puffed a joint or sipped a beer. But charged by the success of the Dogtown film, these now-middle-age skateboarding innovators have come back to the sport, a little older, a little softer, and often accompanied by their own teenage children. They say they want credit given where it is due.
"Those guys were really pushing things, and they were ahead of the curve," says Bruce Walker, who is considered one of the sport's early heroes. "In California, they were innovative, sure. At the same time, we weren't waiting around for them to introduce us to things."
On a recent Friday night at the 39-year-old Gelfand's new "Olliewood" ramp in Hollywood, the Cars' "Best Friend's Girl" blasts through the speakers of a boombox in the corner. Yet even at top volume, the song is scarcely audible over the hum of dozens of urethane wheels on Skatelite, a modern wood-based material used to build smooth skateboard ramps. Olliewood, the ramp, is nothing short of amazing. Forty-eight feet long and ten-and-a-half feet high, it covers an area roughly comparable to half of a basketball court and yawns up toward the concrete rafters of the warehouse space. Gelfand and a friend bought the warehouse solely to house the ramp, which was finished in early summer. He estimates that in all, they have about $250,000 invested in the space.
In clusters, skateboarders of various ages begin to arrive. With little hesitation or conversation, they mount the stairs that lead to a platform on top of the ramp. There are platforms on both sides, but the skaters all stand on the left side to take advantage of the fans there; the temperature inside the warehouse is in the eighties and climbing. One by one, they drop in, skating solo. At first they move cautiously, dipping from one side back to the other, riding conservative crescents at rhythmic intervals, like pendulums. Soon they begin to break out their tricks, each skater silently pushing the next to try something harder. Handplants and aerials draw the most applause from the old-timers while the younger guys present, those under 30, cheer loudly for anyone trying a switch-stance run.
The crossover between surfing and skating is obvious. At Olliewood, the skaters carve like surfers, zagging horizontally across the ramp before breaking and descending. They ride up the steep vertical sides, then flatten their boards on the edge of the platform, letting the metal trucks grind against the metal coping before dropping back in to carve the ramp again. Close your eyes and the hum of the wheels on the ramp sounds just like the roar of the ocean. And, just like surfers, skaters stop a run only when they crash. For this they wear kneepads, helmets, and wrist guards. Eventually a misplaced hand or a misjudged grind causes each rider to skid down the sides of the ramp on his knees; boards fly to the left, to the right, and toward the ceiling, sometimes smacking against the rafters before slamming back onto the ramp.
One skater, a guy named Kurt who looks to be about 40, is making this a "snake run," skate-speak for cutting in line. He drops in about three times as much as anyone else, eliciting the occasional look of disgust on the face of a skater he's cut off. "Kurt's a dick," Gelfand declares. "He comes here and skates for, like, twenty minutes, kicks all of our asses, never says anything, and then he just leaves." Kurt is talented, but his techniques (handplants, aerials), his apparel (tight, cuffed denim shorts), and his hairstyle (Eighties ponytail) reveal his age, while his attitude makes him unpopular with the other skaters. The older guys present are mostly grown-up surfer dudes with casual demeanors, floppy hair, baggy clothes, and an eager speaking style that relies heavily on the word "like." The younger skaters tend to keep their mouths shut and just skate. But Gelfand says he's desperate to find good skaters to skate with, so he tolerates Kurt's antisocial behavior. "I skate by myself most of the time," Gelfand complains. "Here I've got this great ramp, and no one ever wants to skate it. I love to skate with any good skaters."