By Chuck Strouse
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Scott would spend hours watching Robbie or circling the ramp on his go-cart. "He was always cool about it, even though it was something he couldn't do," Robbie says. "And it made me better. Like if I fell and hurt myself, I could hardly complain knowing what Scott deals with every day."
Scott, whose condition makes speech difficult, says simply: "When Robbie started skateboarding, it was cool. I liked to watch him. I still do."
There was something else to the allure of skateboarding, something Robbie couldn't articulate at the time. "It required some focus, and it was kind of an escape that way," he says. "You had to pay attention to what you were doing, to sort of lose yourself in it. I had a happy childhood, but I've always been a bit of a worrier."
Robbie and Scott could sense danger like a shark smells blood in the water. They knew skateboarding had potential to be perilous and exciting. They just couldn't figure out how to unlock it.
"I needed speed," Robbie says. "Freestyling in the street was fun, and little homemade ramps were okay, but there aren't any hills in Miami, and I couldn't ride it off the roof. Although I did think about that."
Then Robert Rodrigues took him to a place where the kinetic possibilities of a wooden deck with plastic wheels could be realized.
Robbie began junior high school in 1978, the same year Runway Skate Park opened off Quail Roost Drive in Cutler Ridge. Robbie and Robert Rodrigues were regulars from opening day.
"Weekends at the Runway were great," says Nick Hutchinson, a former South Dade kid the same age as Robbie who skated the Runway in the early days. Nick, now a 39-year-old freelance writer in Denver, says Robbie competed with the older kids and clearly excelled. "There would be 100 or maybe 200 kids, mostly high-school-age kids, hanging around," he remembers. "It was like Dazed and Confused in the parking lot, with people blasting music and sneaking beer and smoking joints. But there was a core group of kids like Robbie who were superserious about skating. They pushed each other and skated hard to try to do something they hadn't seen before."
There was a lot of novelty to the skating style practiced at the Runway. The park had two twelve-foot-high bowls and two cement half-pipes that catered to vertical, or "vert," skating. Boards had become shorter and wider to accommodate the new style, and skaters were experimenting on both coasts with new tricks that involved improvising at the lip of the bowl or ramp.
"Some guys did mainly lip tricks, grinding along the edge and dropping back in," Hutchinson says. "Other guys, like Robbie, tried to fly out over the lip, up into the air, and then come back down onto the ramp without falling off."
One older kid immediately caught Robbie's eye.
"Monty Nolder could skate the half-pipe and come over the lip and all the way up to a brick wall six feet above the ramp," Robbie remembers. "It was awesome."
Then fourteen years old and a West Kendall skate rat, Nolder had an aggressively physical style. Now a heavyset mechanic in Gainesville, the older skater remembers the Runway vividly. "We were like brothers," Nolder says. "There was a whole bunch of great guys who skated that park."
Hutchinson remembers Robbie and Nolder as the Runway's leading lights. "They had real different styles," he says. "Monty did everything big and, like, attacked the ramp, and Robbie just looked like he floated through it. He has a real graceful style."
Robbie skated the Runway three or four times a week. "Robbie always took it seriously, and I was always proud of that," says dad Robert Weir, a minor-league shortstop in the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system before a bout with diverticulitis forced him out of pro sports and into piloting commercial aircraft. "He took care of his body and really worked hard at conditioning himself."
By the time Robbie was ready to enter Miami Sunset Senior High in 1980, he'd mastered the emerging art of vert skating. Up in the air, he felt like he was flying. "It was great, partly because I was good at it," Robbie remembers.
Other South Florida kids were catching on to the phenomenon, which was inspired by California skaters like Tony Alva and Stacy Peralta. In the late Seventies, those West Coasters transformed what had once been a surfer's hobby into guerrilla recreation. Alva et al., whose exploits were memorialized in the 2001 documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys, broke into Los Angeleno back yards in search of empty swimming pools, where they pioneered the vert skating style that evolved into today's ESPN fare. Their style was caught on camera and printed in skate magazines; Robbie and his crew became intimately familiar with it.
South Florida skaters got an early start thanks in part to Bruce Walker, a University of Miami graduate who set up a surfboard store on Ocean Drive after graduating in 1972. "I, like, scoured the city for skateboards. You couldn't find them anywhere until I finally tracked down a toy store that had 'em in stock," says Walker, spitting out his characteristic rapid-fire chunks of dialogue. Walker, who owns a skate/surf shop near Melbourne, is the godfather of modern South Florida skating, and he loves recounting, in great detail, the birth of the scene. "I bought the entire stock of boards from this skate store, and they started selling at the surf shop, like, the first day I ever displayed one," he remembers. "People thought skateboarding was dead, but there were people out there who were really happy to find a place to buy skateboards."