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
The event at Peacock Park in Coconut Grove had all the trappings of the flourishing skateboard culture. Big, well-marketed names promoted X Games videos and apparel. BMXers were doing tricks everywhere. Skate heroes like Lance Mountain and Mike McGill casually sauntered through the crowd.
For Robbie, it was Heaven and Hell. He was in better shape than many of his thirtysomething contemporaries. "I guess I didn't realize how much it all still meant to me until I got the invitation to participate in the Legends Competition," he says. "I got so anxious; even though it was just for fun, I felt like everything depended on it. Like if I did well enough, it would make up for me not turning pro."
Standing on the top of the ramp, Robbie resorted to an old technique he used before competitions in high school. As he watched the first skater, Mike McGill, perform his famous 540 McTwist, Robbie shoved his hands into his pockets, clenched his fists as tightly as he could, and then relaxed them. Clench, relax, clench, relax. Before he knew it, it was his turn to drop in. He carved across the finished plywood and launched into an invert, crouching and grabbing his board as he flew through the air. Next he slid on his board's tail along the ramp's lip. Then he dropped back in and caught front-side air.
The crowd was standing and cheering. When the ten-second alarm sounded, people yelled for him to do a layback air, and Robbie went for it. The crowd went nuts.
"I felt like I'd been on hiatus for fifteen years, but now I was home again," he says.
"He was great," says original Walker Team rider Alan Gelfand, the South Florida skater who invented the "Ollie," or no-hands aerial, and was at the competition. "I've seen Robbie skate a lot in my life, and he was truly great on that run."
"Robbie was on, as on as I'd ever seen him," Nolder says. "First time I'd seen him in twelve years, and he looked the same and skated better."
Then it was time for the second run, and Robbie's anxiety had disappeared. "I sort of felt like I was going to win," he says.
While the wind whipped the trees around and the spectators crowded the ramp, Robbie dropped in and immediately began grabbing grinds and fall-back airs. As he was sliding along the lip, about to drop back in, he felt a jolt. "My board got caught," he says. "I went in head first, twelve feet straight down."
The crowd went deathly silent.
"It was serious," Gelfand remembers. "People thought he was really badly hurt."
Robbie shattered his shoulder when he used it to brace his fall. "It was that or break my neck, I guess," he says.
One of the competitors, a skater named Todd Johnson, described the fall on Floridaskater.com: "We all took three runs except for Weir. He broke his shoulder hanging on a roll-in. We jumped in to help him and [someone] thought it looked like it had popped from the socket, but there was something preventing them from yanking it back into place. Lucky he was too, because it was a fracture and they almost started pulling on his arm."
Robbie would later write about the fall as well: "They opened the emergency hatch at the bottom of the bowl, and when I looked up, the first person I saw was Monty [Nolder]. It appeared as if a door was being opened to a place where dreams never come true."
Robbie argued with the paramedics, saying all he needed was a painkiller and a sling and he could skate again. His friends forced him into the ambulance. "I tried to keep it in its proper perspective, but it was difficult," he wrote. "Especially when I witnessed the event getting smaller and smaller as I was looking through the rear window on my way to the hospital."
Based on his only run of the day, Robbie placed seventh in a field that read like a who's who of all-time skating greats. "I don't know how to explain that day," Robbie says. "It had all the highs and lows of my whole life wrapped up into a few hours. My shoulder was thrashed, but I felt like a weight was lifted. Like I could go back to my life."
Clomp, clomp, clomp.
This is the sound that passes for applause at Olliewood, Alan "Ollie" Gelfand's skate park in Hollywood. Thirty years after the invention of vert skating, the etiquette is well established. Drop in if you're sure no one else is about to. Try not to take anyone's head off with an errant trick. When someone does something good, give him a whistle or just lift the tail of your board with your foot and let it drop on the plywood. If he does something great, let it fall two or three times skateboarders' applause.
The park is actually a warehouse just off Dixie Highway where Gelfand has constructed a huge bowl out of specially treated plywood and surrounded it with couches, coolers, and a serious stereo system. On a recent June night, it echoes with the rumble of skateboards and the din of Bad Religion. There are five skaters present, all in the customary garb. Robbie has a matte black helmet and pads to go with khaki cargo shorts and a black T-shirt. Resident photog Charles Lillo wears a light blue "Grind for Life" T-shirt and camo cargos. Chris Griffiths sports green cargos and a black T-shirt. All the skaters are thirtysomething, except Robbie. He is slimmer than the others, many of whom look better built for an offensive line than a skate ramp.