Australian Skateboarding Culture Over The Last Thirty Years:
It seems like a million years ago since I first tried to ride a skateboard - my life has changed, as I have, in so many ways that each new phase of life brought new attitudes and ways of being that were often radically different to those which preceded them. However, most of these changes were more of a gradual evolution than a sudden revolution, and sometimes the changes I was going through were almost imperceptible to me. This is almost exactly how skateboarding has changed over the years from the flowing, surf orientated style of the early 1970's to the way that people skate today.
I have learnt so many tricks that at some stages I did not believe I could ever learn, as well as others which I could not even conceive of in earlier times. Skateboarding has evolved because of skaters unstoppable desire to push everything to extremes. Tricks that were once never even thought of, or were considered to be pretty well impossible to land have now become a reality. All the tricks are steadily being taken to higher heights, at greater speeds, and all while skating on new types of skate terrains.
We used to skate at as many as half a dozen spots a day on the weekends, spending an hour or two at the best ones. Loud music, unreal tricks, unruly behaviour and a lot of fun was had by all. No harm intended. Toronto High school was another one of the most frequented, radical spots in the whole of Newcastle before there were any skate parks. It had manual pads, sets of 2 or 3 steps, small benches and the basketball court banks - they were 3 flat banks with slightly different slopes. The list of tricks that everyone was trying here was expanding all the time. All kinds of boneless ones, ollies, early grab airs, shuv-its, kick flips, and slides were being attempted.
People from Newcastle were starting to gradually catch up to the Americans - who had always been a million light years ahead of us because they started the whole sport / culture and were pushing all of the limits, all of the time. They had a huge Pro-Circuit and the largest skateboarding population and industry in the world - they still do. Aussies were like their little kid brother who looked up to them and wanted to be like them because they were cool and they could do things that we weren't able to do.
The Most Popular Skate Gear In The Late 1980's and Early 1990's:
In the mid to late 1980's there was an explosion in the number of brands that were available for all your skating needs. Powell-Peralta; Vision skate gear & Vision Street wear; Santa Cruz boards, wheels and accessories; Alva; Venture; World Industries; G & S Skateboards and accessories; Schmitt Stix boards, clothes and wheels; and Australian brands like A.T.S, Burford Blanks, Cockroach, Righteous, Borgy, Universal, and Bonzer. There were many other smaller brands who had their supporters like Skull Skates and a few others - many of them have vanished from the scene. Skulls and Skeletons became hugely popular on decks, wheels, helmets, shorts and T-shirts.
For a few years there were a lot of really cool designs coming out and some truly atrocious ones as well. In the early 90's the skull had become old and boring and the whole look of skaters started to change. The skate shoes at this time were all high tops which gave good protection for your ankles and feet, but they didn't completely eliminate ankle sprains or occasional bruising. They really went to town in the colours and the art that they used on skate shoes - there have never been shoes used for any other purpose that were as colourful or decorated. One version of Vision Street Wear shoes had Blowflies printed all over them, and the Australian company Cockroach Wheels printed their wheels and T-shirts with Cockroaches all over them.
The influence of Hip-Hop culture and Hip-Hop street wear started to appear in skateboarding culture in the late 1980's, and at the time a lot of skaters did not like it at all. Heavy Metal, Death Metal, Thrash, Punk, and Rock and Roll had always suited skateboarding. They all had a lot of energy, and skaters everywhere listened to this high energy music to "psyche themselves up" to attack and destroy skate terrain. The early 1990's saw Hip-Hop culture blending into skate culture even more - the clothes that skaters wore started to be "over-sized"; Hip-Hop language started to be used by skaters; and people were increasingly "psyching up" with Hip-Hop and Rap instead of Metal and Punk music.
The Most Famous Skaters Back Then:
Since the mid 80's all of the skaters for Powell-Peralta were extremely popular because their team covered all types of terrain and could skate everything so well. They included Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero, Lance Mountain, Tommy Guererro, Kevin Harris and Mike McGill ( who
invented the McTwist ). The other team that was right up there was the Vision Team - Jeff Phillips, Mark Gonzales and "Gator" Rojowski - they skated clean and sick like the Powell team and could skate just about everything equally well. Santa Cruz sponsored Rob Roskopp, Clause Grabke, Keith Meek, Natas Kaupas, Christian Hosoi, and a couple of other unreal skaters who were amongst the best in the world.
Alva was another hugely popular brand with a Legendary "underground" team including Tony Alva ( one of the first skaters, EVER !!!), Bill Danforth, Craig Johnson, Chris Cook - who ripped at Street, Jeff Hartsell, Eddie Ratugie and a couple of others who I forget. Again, here was a team who could rip on any kind of terrain and these guys were picked because they were rebels and weren't trying to live like athletes. They were dirty, party hungry skaters who were proud of what they were. They were loud, unruly and they skated for the purest of reasons. They were addicted to adrenaline, they loved to skate with their mates and meet other skaters, and they pushed themselves to breaking point to do something radical.
Gordon & Smith ( G & S ) was a brand of surf wear that also used to make boards and skate clothes, and they had a team of Pro skaters who were some of the best vert skaters in the world at the time. Another brand which was big in the mid to late 80's was called Variflex. They sponsored one very smooth, radical, absolutely world class vert skater called Allen Losi - he skated against the likes of Caballero, Mountain, Tony Hawk, Jeff Phillips, Christian Hosoi and Chris Miller and often beat some of these guys.
Variflex also sponsored Lee Ralph - he was an all round ripper from New Zealand who was a progressive street skater, ripped on launch ramps, and tore it up on vert. He eventually must have had enough exposure while visiting America to turn Pro for Team Vision. He ended up getting his own pro model with them.
Lee actually lived in Newcastle for a couple of months in 1985, and he used to regularly skate at the Ridge Street Ramp - a ten and a half feet high vert ramp in a back yard in Merewether. This guy would just blast the biggest, most powerful, smoothest, most stylish airs of any type; he had all the inverts in his bag of tricks at full power; he did the best floatie ollies - all the basic ones for back then, but really high or long; and he could skate the coping with a big variety of tricks and consistency. He was a down to earth person too - he just wanted to skate hard and he wasn't letting the notoriety change his attitude or his personality. He made people want to learn to skate Vert because he made it look so good - he got me and all of the new recruits keen on Vert. Weekend day trips to skate Vert in Sydney and Forster became a necessity for all of us.
The Music Popular In Skate Culture Back Then:
Musical influences were heavily slanted towards Punk music, Thrash and Heavy Metal from the early 1980's onwards. These styles of music suited the attitude people had towards their skating at this time and where they thought skating was headed. Whether we like it or not, some marketing guru decided that to capture the attention and the purchasing allegiance of youth culture. Our lifestyle / sport / religion was branded with the tag "Extreme" - a term which I heard a Roller-Blader say ( in a Television interview ) was created to separate their style of riding from that being done by people who "Fruit-boot" for exercise only. Back in the mid 80's we wanted to attack the terrain we were skating, to ride with speed and power and to dominate our boards and whatever we were skating. We wanted control, and we wanted it right now. Emotionally heavy and fractured beats are what we wanted to listen to before, during and after we skated. The more rebellion and anger relayed by the singer and the band the better - just plug it into your skateboard and away you go. Pre-programmed annihilation, fresh out of the can.
Skating was following a similar path to the one that surfing was taking - people wanted to go out and do something progressive & aggressive, and they wanted to get "psyched up" so that they could perform at their best. Suicidal Tendencies, The Sex Pistols, Peter & The Test Tube Babies, Screwdriver, The Dead Kennedy's, S.O.D, The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, The Circle Jerks, The Germs, Devo, Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Morbid Angel, T.S.O.L, Guns ' N ' Roses, Black Flag, The Hard-Ons, and Mass Appeal were some of the most popular bands having their effect on skaters lives all over Australia from the mid to late 80's.
Most of the people I skated with back then listened to all of these bands (and lots of other bands too) and some adopted the punk ethics and dress code and took it very seriously - they wore studded "Battle Jackets"; dyed their hair abnormal colours; and either shaved all their hair off, or grew mohawks - "Kad" even had a 2 colour "Tri Fin" at one stage, which was three narrow mohawks with completely bald spaces separating them. Some of my mates used to put wood lacquer in their hair to make their mohawks stand up, and when they got in the car their hair bent over as it hit the ceiling. Mainstream society stared at them when we drove up to a skate spot or walked around the streets, but it was all about releasing some energy and having a lot of fun.
More Skate Images To Be Uploaded Soon:
More old school skateboarding photographs will be uploaded to this site in the next couple of weeks. If you are a skater that has some old but good quality photos of skating that went on in your skate scene, why not send them via e-mail so they can be put up on the web. To send in your photos click on this link: Contact Me
Click on any of the images on the right to view an enlarged version.