“We kind of lost focus of what we originally tried to do,”said Eric “Arab” Groff, one of the organizers of the Old School SkateJam. After the success of the first OSSJ last year, the CaliforniaSkatelab skatepark in Simi Valley, California hosted the follow-upevent this past February with another packed house. Late in theevening, as the crowd made its way out to the parking lot tocontinue mingling and catching up, Groff explained the concept ashe helped the staff clean up. “If you had a pro model in the 70s orearly 80s, or were a pro in the 60s, you were going to be invited. Itgot kinda hard because there were so many people who played sucha big part in skateboarding’s history. So one thing led to another,and the next you knew we had like 1,000 people here this year.”
Organized by Groff, Brad “Barleye” Ellman, Ed Economy,and Skatelab’s Todd Huber, the OSSJ was hosted by and entirelypaid for by the Skatelab. “It’s all about honoring the legends ofskateboarding,” said Groff, and the OSSJ II did as good a job of it asthe first one. Like last year, top skaters from the past four decadeswere reunited–many for the first time, skated together, and caughtup with one another.
“Bruce Logan, Danny Bearer, and Cliff Coleman, and SteveEllis were here,” he said, mopping up some beer that one of themmay have spilled. “Steve Ellis is 51 or 52, and he tears the bowl topieces. They all skated in the 1965 World Championships inAnaheim, California, and to have those four guyshere–man–that’s what it’s all about.”
The success of the OSSJ depended on not only findinglong-lost legends, but creating an event that would draw them fromthe far corners of the globe. Much of the research and contactingwas handled by Barleye, who tracked down some people throughother old-timers, some via the Internet, and kept in touch witheveryone through e-mail and the OSSJ Web site he created andmaintains (oldschoolskatejam.com). “Last year gave us a little bit ofcredibility,” he said as he shook hands with some guests who werealso at last year’s jam. They were appreciative and thanked him foranother great time. “Last year was kind of a fluke because peoplejust showed up. It had never been done–that’s the funny thingabout it–and people were kinda stoked on that.”
Most of the excitement, once again, centered on the bowlsession. The Skatelab bowl is a birch-surfaced nine-foot square poolwith a bowled pocket on the right that forms a sharp hip betweenthe shallow and deep ends. Just like last year–as well as in the 70sand 80s–guys were dropping in four at a time, the last man standingwinning the ride. Even though many of the riders had spent theafternoon skating the infamous Pink Motel pool during the Deathboxexpression session, the snaking went on all night as the average agein the bowl maintained a steady 37 or so.
While it’s been amazing to mingle with Tony Alva and Eddie”El Gato” Elguera two years in a row, we guests shouldn’t take theOSSJ for granted. Number three isn’t yet planned, and it may not bean annual event any longer. “If it’s every year and a half, they mightcome every time,” said Barleye of the few invitees who didn’t makeit this year. “This place went off tonight. I don’t see how people whoremember how they’re feeling tonight wouldn’t want to come outevery year.”
“I think we should hold off now,” said Huber, whointerrupted saying good night to his guests to answer a fewquestions. “I think the only reason it worked out two years in a rowis that a lot of people missed it last time.”
Estimates regarding the next OSSJ range from eighteenmonths to a few years, depending on which organizer you ask. Butthe Skatelab boasts a year-round skateboard museum with hundredsof boards dating back to the 50s, so skateboarding’s history is ondisplay there every day.
Culled from his personal collection, Huber said parentsoften find the Skatelab museum more interesting than their kids do:”They (kids) walk right by. But the moms go, ‘I told you I used toskate. There’s my old board right there. You didn’t believe me, butthere’s the board, with metal wheels, right there.’ Now the parentscan almost look cool to their kids.”
The only kids at Skatelab for the OSSJ were the sons anddaughters of guests, and most of them were busy sharing theSkatelab street course. Names like Godoy, Peralta, and Olson wereout there taking after their dads, making the OSSJ not only acelebration of our past, but a glimpse into the future as well.
Like every party, though, the aftermath had to be cleanedup, and Skatelab employees and the OSSJ organizers continuedworking through the night to restore the park and its modernterrain to its usual self ahead of the Sunday crowd. “These guysstarted six days ago with (replacing) the birch on the bowl, and theywent the last 48 hours straight non-top, then they stayed for theparty,” said Groff. “So the whole staff is just beat. But we have togive credit to Scott Radinsky, Todd Huber, and his wife Jenniferbecause they’re the ones with the money and the support. Considerhow much money they lose closing the skatepark on a Saturdaynight, plus the money they put up for the event without acceptingany donations or sponsorship. How many people do that in thisindustry? Not many without big corporate money behind them. Itcomes from their love of skateboarding and the history of it. Themuseum here at Skatelab shows that.”
What the museum doesn’t show, and what the Skatelablocals miss, are the personalities who have made skateboarding’shistory so colorful and more than just a collection of steel-wheeledrelics. Hats (helmets?) off to Barleye, Groff, Economy, Huber, andRadinsky for an event to remind us of that, and an event thatreminds the perpetrators themselves that their crimes against thelaws of gravity and convention haven?t gone unnoticed.