Wednesday, July 1, 2015

THE BIG BEAR SKATEBOARD RAMP 1978-1980




By Hanson Meyer

 
Vintage Black Knight Skateboard
Since I was born only a few blocks from the beach in Hoag Hospital, Newport Beach, and I spent my adolescent years playing on and around the beaches in the area, I was among several of my friends to own a Black Knight skateboard at the age of 9 in 1973.

The board was a flat piece of wood with no kick tail or grip tape and it had a black knight on horseback painted on the top surface. The trucks were better than their other early predecessors in the 1960s, but my board had the same hard, clay wheels. Although it is now considered a dinosaur, it was my symbol of status at the time as I was the first kid on the block to have one.

I remember using it as my primary mode of transportation in my neighborhood, riding down the sidewalk trying to make sure I skated over every crack at an angle and avoiding anything resembling a pebble.
Clay Wheels and Loose Bearings
I learned the hard way that those old clay wheels didn’t roll easily over small imperfections on seemingly flat surfaces. It wasn’t just me though… I remember riding behind friends at a good clip when all of a sudden someone was thrown from their board and would go into stop-drop-and roll mode in order to avoid serious injury. But no matter how careful we were, we all bore the battle scars of road rash at some point.
 
I’m not sure if it was from my mother feeling sympathetic to my bumps and scrapes or if it was from my constant nagging and begging for new urethane wheels that had just become available, but I soon found myself riding on a new set of clear but amber in color, extra-wide “Stoker” wheels in the back and the standard sized Roller Sport urethane wheels in the front. I remember the difficulty I had the first few times I attempted to keep all the loose bearings together while I put the wheels on the trucks. During this early time I had friends who also received new boards and wheels from their parents. I remember thin aluminum boards with Cadillac wheels, Bonzai boards with burgundy urethane wheels and others.

It was also about this time my mom took me down to our local Vans store on Newport Blvd to purchase my first pair of original Vans deck shoes blue in color and patented waffle soul. They had a "stickier" feel and gripped those early boards before we had grip tape.
 
I don’t remember what happened to my original board, but suspect it ended up in a garage sale before I moved from the beach area up to the mountains of Big Bear. When I first arrived in Big Bear in the spring of 1976, I found that there weren’t any sidewalks to ride on and most of our neighbors had cabins that the owners only visited every so often, so I had to resort to riding a bicycle to meet up with my new friends. That winter, I learned how to ski and enjoyed some of the other sports that winter had to offer.
 
When the snow finally melted, me, my friend Scott Boyd and a host of other buddies, bored with the lack of summer activities in Big Bear, found ourselves searching for something that would give us a new form of adrenaline rush. With none of us yet old enough to hold a driver’s license, we all relied on our bikes for transportation as well as a form of entertainment. Bicycle motocross was becoming popular and Scott was becoming better at jumping and doing tricks so we decided to create a ramp on an elevated edge of Big Bear Lake which we used to jump off of and into the water. We would judge each other on height, distance, and extremeness of the trick. But we were soon bored with it and the water was really cold.
 

Sims Laminated Board and Pure Juice Wheels

It was around this time that along with all of the publications displayed regarding skiing, we noticed Skateboarder Magazine tucked away at the far end towards the back of the rack at our local liquor store. My new friends had grown up in Big Bear and weren’t exposed to what had been going on at the beach the way I had. My parents once again succumbed to my badgering and they bought me another skateboard. This time it was a Sims laminated board with Gullwing trucks and Sims Pure Juice wheels. It didn’t take much time before my friends were scanning the pages of Skateboarder Magazine yearning to learn how to ride with me. Soon they all followed suit and we all had new skateboards and were riding up and down the storefront sidewalks at Interlaken Shopping Center near the Stanfield Cutoff at the easternmost end of Big Bear Lake. We were seen jumping off of curbs and seeing who could grind their trucks the furthest on the edge of the curb pretending it was coping.

SkateBoarder: How To Build Your Own Ramp
In Skateboarder Magazine, we took notice of all the skaters at the time starting to ride in empty swimming pools, in massive water pipes, and in brand new skate parks. We didn’t have any of those things anywhere near us, so we just made ourselves a nuisance at the shopping center. The one thing that my skateboard lacked that I definitely needed was grip tape. For some reason, the early skateboards lacked this necessary feature and we didn't have any up in the area so I had to improvise. I thought of gluing sandpaper to the deck, but then I found something that would work in the Big Bear Lake Marina hardware store... It was something for the deck of a boat, but it worked. I liked my Sims board, but compared to the skaters’ boards in Skateboard Magazine, mine seemed a little plain... It needed stickers. Unfortunately, skateboard stickers were unavailable in our little mountain community, so I did the next best thing… I cut out logos from the magazines that I had, laid them out on the bottom of my board, and then laminated them with a thin coat of resin. It was the best that this little 13 year old skater could do.
 
Hanson Meyer
Over the winter months in late 1977 and early 1978 when we had periods of heavy snow, we just skied and kept reading Skateboarder Magazine dreaming about living near the beach. One of the issues in the spring of 1978 had a section in it on how to build your own ramp, so one of our classmates, Greg Espinoza, built a small, portable, three foot ramp at his house that he set up at the end of his concrete driveway. We all headed over to his house one day after school and rode the ramp until it was dark outside. It was at that point that Scott and I decided to build a ramp at my house.
 
My family built our own house there in the mountains at an elevation of 7,500 feet. It was at the very end of Bow Canyon Road in a community of Big Bear known as Moonridge and Scott, with problems at home at the time, had moved in with my family. Although it wasn't official, he became my sort of "foster brother".
 
Scott Boyd
Our home was backed to national forest and we had very few neighbors. Every spring construction companies would enter the area building cabins and spec homes on open lots and so we made it our daily ritual to scan the work sites for extra lumber on our way home from school… A 2x4 here, a sheet of plywood there, and before long, we had built an initial ramp eight feet wide and five feet high (eventually became 8 feet high) positioned across the street from my house facing our driveway. We had a long steep driveway made of concrete at least ¾ of the way down where it turned to asphalt just before it met our narrow street. The asphalt was a bit perilous as the road hadn't been paved in quite some time and every winter, large trucks would dump little rocky cinders on the ice to help cars with traction and these little rocks would just build up around the roads over the years. Scott and I could have opened a janitorial service with the amount of sweeping experience we built up at that time. Even though we were very thorough and we managed to get most of the objects off of the road, it seemed that we always missed one little item that one of us would inadvertently discover with one of our front wheels on the way to the threshold of the ramp.






 THE BIG BEAR RAMP

The Big Bear Ramp as it existed in September of 1979. It was 8' high and 8' wide.
 
In the interest of minimizing the amount of asphalt we had to ride across, we positioned the ramp so that it encroached on the road by about three feet or so. We rode the ramp that whole summer but as we became a bit braver with every run and were backing up further and further up the driveway, we decided that it just wasn’t high enough and decided that we would build it higher the next spring in 1979.
My house at the end of Bow Canyon Road in Moonridge, Big Bear. Scott Boyd getting ready to head down the driveway and hit the ramp across the street.
 
Spring finally came and we went back to work on the ramp. We built it up to a formidable 8 feet in height. We even found some thin wood paneling that we used to resurface the entire face of the ramp. And although it was just shy of being vertical at the top, it was now as smooth as any pool surface and every skater within a 30 mile radius came to my house to showcase their level of expertise.



THE FIRST PHOTO SESSION SEPTEMBER, 1979 

  
 Most of these shots are of my best friend, Scott Boyd (RIP).

Scott Boyd Hitting The Ramp

Scott Boyd Getting A Little Air On The Ramp


Scott Boyd

Scott Boyd Landing It On The Ramp


Hanson Meyer On The Ramp


Scott Boyd On One Wheel



Scott Boyd
 
Scott Boyd with a Handplant

Scott Boyd

Scott Boyd

Scott Boyd

Hanson Meyer



Scott Eats It... Hit a Rock on the Asphalt...

Scott Boyd getting brave... only wearing shorts!
  
Scott Boyd
 
Sun Just Going Down



 
It was also around this time that my dad took me on a trip to visit some family friends who lived in Mission Viejo located in Orange County. They had a son named Jeff Barnes who had a skateboard… so of course I brought mine along for the trip. While I was there, Jeff’s mom took us to Big-O Skatepark in Orange. It was an amazing place with one of my skateboard heroes, Duane Peters, from Skateboarder magazine actually skating there… all this while I heard all my favorite music being played through the overhead PA speakers. I wanted to live there so badly… these were my people!
 
Blaise Ugolini
In early 1980, two new skater kids who were brothers had moved up from Los Angeles, Blaise and Cam Ugolini. Blaise had been skating semi-pro for team Variflex but unfortunately, he had to give it all up when his family moved up to Big Bear. They both had the wider pool boards that were just becoming popular and they were completely set up with "grab-air" rails, nose guards, coping guards... everything. Blaise even introduced us to a new brand of grip tape called "Pizza Deck". It was brick red in color and had what I remember as big chucks of black broken glass in it. Your feet did not come off your board, but it was really bad if you wiped out and the deck of your board raked you across the leg or arm.

I had another family friend named George “Lefty” Lumsden from San Diego who grew up surfing and skating there and started riding for team Gullwing. His family came up to visit us that summer and hearing that I had a ramp, he brought a couple of skateboards with him. He rode the ramp with me and my friends and when he left, he gave me one of his Gullwing pool boards. It was a blank 10.5 inch wide board with Gullwing trucks and Sims Snake Conical red and yellow wheels. It was awesome. I hand painted the bottom of it with yellow and black checkers and a large yin and yang symbol in the center. Eventually I added a nose guard, grab air rails, new truck risers and a new kick pad. It became my pride and joy. I also remember adding coping guards for doing curb grinders when we were skating at the shopping center.  

 

Blaise Ugolini drew this depiction of me on my Skateboard in June 1980.



THE SECOND PHOTO SESSION 

IN SPRING 1980

 
By the spring of 1980, we had pretty much completed the ramp, making repairs and adding everything we felt necessary. We even paneled the sides to make it more presentable to our neighbor across the street who we sensed was growing weary with the sight of the ramp blocking part of his front yard and driveway whenever he came up on weekends. The only additional change we made came after this photo session in the form of an 8 foot long piece of PVC pipe which we attached to the top edge to emulate the coping of a swimming pool.

For the remainder year, it became a daily ritual that Scott, Blaise, his brother Cam and a number of our other friends would come over and we would take turns riding the ramp. 

I photographed this particular session the same as the previous with a small Kodak 110 camera. Unfortunately, because I was the one behind the camera I never ended up in front of it for this session. Although there were many who rode the ramp, nearly all these photos are of Scott Boyd and Blaise Ugolini... but we weren't bad for a bunch of kids in a remote mountain community on a homemade ramp and with limited equipment over 35 years ago.
 

Blaise Catching Air... My sister, Kirsten in the background next to the truck
  
Blaise with One Wheel on the Ramp. Note the newly finished paneled side.

Scott Boyd Setting Up the Hand Pland
 
Blaise Catching Air

Scott Boyd

Blaise Ugolini Preparing to Land an Arial.

Scott Boyd
 
 
Blaise takes flight again

One of the girls, Janine, tries her hand at the Ramp... I don't remember her pulling this off.

Blaise with a Hand Plant

Scott Launching into a Hand Plant

Blaise Ugolini at the top of the Ramp. His brother, Cam, watches along the side. My sister, Kirsten on her horse behind the truck.

Close-Up of the Last Photo


Scott Boyd Landing

Another Arial from Blaise

One Last Arial from Blaise


Scott Boyd Catching Air off the Top of the Ramp

 
After we had our fill of the ramp, we would all tighten the trucks on our boards as much as we could, line up at the top of Bow Canyon Road, turn our skateboards around backward and then sit down on them. We tucked our knees to our chin, put our feet on the tail, and then used our hands to push off the line as quickly as we could to try to secure the pole position. After enough speed had been gained, we would firmly grip the sides of our respective boards to enjoy the one mile downhill ride to the bottom of the canyon… A sport we referred to as “Butt Boarding”. We did manage to pick up a lot of speed and since the road was very narrow, we all prayed that there wouldn't be a car coming up the canyon around a blind curve. Scott and I actually did make a downhill board that we cut out of a 4 foot long 1 inch thick plank of oak that we set it up with some extra tight trucks, old wheels off of one of our boards, and extra grip tape. During one of our butt boarding melees, one of our buddies drove just in front of the pack with Scott out in the lead on the downhill board. He was clocked going 42 mph... faster than any one of us had gone before. For that one time that he made it down safely, he had at least a half a dozen previous nasty wipe outs. We all had our share of wipe outs from high speed cases of "the wobbles" and I remember that we all had worn holes through the bottoms of our shoes from using them as brakes.

This is a view of Bow Canyon Road on the way up to my house. It was steep, narrow, had a number of sweeping turns, and was just under a mile long from my house at the top down to the bottom. Knowing that we were going to be riding our boards down it later, we did a lot of road maintenance removing small rocks, pebbles, twigs, etc. during our daily walk home from the school bus stop at the bottom.


Another view of Bow Canyon Road a little further up and closer to my house at the end.
Finally, near the end of summer our neighbor who owned the house across the street from us was tired of the ramp in front of his house and made a strong request to my parents that we tear it down… that, unfortunately, was the end of the ramp.
 
I did end up moving back to Newport Beach in 1981 and my Gullwing team board again became my main form of transportation taking me from home to school and from school to work. Once I finally saved enough money, I bought myself a 1971 VW Van and got a new job a lot further from home. I worked with a woman who had a young teenage boy who saw me carry my skateboard into the building one day. He went on and on about it to his mother for more than a week. She finally told me that she was going to buy him a board, but her son wanted one exactly like mine and she wanted to know where she could buy one. I told her that mine was a one of a kind, hand painted team board but she could probably find one that was comparable and be good enough for her son. You could see the look of disappointment and that she was going to have to be the bearer of bad news… It was at that point that I went to my car, retrieved my skateboard, walked back to her desk and handed her my board to give to her son… That then closed my chapter of skateboarding.


This is dedicated to one of my closest and best friends from my youth, Scott Boyd... R.I.P.

 

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