Skateboarders Roll Over Barriers

Ashcraft is a Chatsworth free-lance writer

On Castle Peak Drive in Canoga Park, skateboarders often climb over a fence to skate in a large, semi-oval cement basin. Scribbled over the "No Trespassing" sign in black marker are the words "Valley Skate Punk: skate and destroy."

Dressed in brightly colored jams and T-shirts bearing their favorite surfing or skating logos, skateboarders in the San Fernando Valley will go anywhere in search of ditches, large pipes and empty swimming pools.

Peter Ducommun, 24, owner of Skull Skates, a skateboard manufacturer in Van Nuys, explained why skateboarders love the sport. "It's exhilarating, like some kind of drug or like runner's high, except you can feel it immediately. You go into a different state of mind. "

But Valley skaters often find it difficult to find places to skate and are continually in search of new ones. And some of them don't really care who might own the property.

Don Jayne, 24, a sandy-haired Chatsworth resident, is a veteran at finding skating spots, especially empty swimming pools. Valley skateboarders have been known to empty pools in abandoned houses with buckets.

Spotted Empty Pool From Airplane

The location of empty pools often is passed along at skateboard shops. Skateboarders will cruise neighborhoods in search of abandoned houses. Coming into Los Angeles International Airport one time, Ducommun spotted an empty pool from the air. By noting surrounding landmarks he was able to track down the home.

Dressed in jams and a red tank shirt, Jayne joined two friends recently to skate in the pool of an abandoned Sepulveda house. He and his friends, Vince Kitchen, 19, and Adam Peltz, 18, say they are willing to trespass to experience the surge of adrenaline they feel riding up pool walls.

"You're pulling off things that are impossible for people to comprehend," Jayne said. "They'll see it and won't know what to think. It looks impossible."

Kitchen, a blond youth with his hair cut short enough not to bother him when he skates or surfs, demonstrated one of those tricks. Skateboarders call it an "air."

He skated from the shallow end into the deep end and up the wall, grabbed the deck with one hand while pulling the board--his feet still on it--away from the wall, whirled around and glided to the bottom and up into the shallow end.

Police Patrols Deter Some

"I was sketched-out," he said in skateboarder's dialect. Translation: he almost fell.

Although about 10 skaters usually use the pool, only four showed up that evening. Kitchen attributed the low number to increased patrolling by Los Angeles police.

Despite the risk, the skateboarders continued to roll across the pool, from the shallow end to the deep end, up the wall and back again, simulating the motion of a pendulum.

When skateboarding was popular in the 1970s, Southern California was blanketed with skating parks. Skatercross in Reseda provided Valley skaters one such place.

But nearly all those parks closed with the eclipse of skateboarding in the late 1970s. Now only two skating parks exist in California, neither in the Valley.

Many skateboarders have built their own ramps for the ultimate in "vertical skating," skating perpendicular to the ground.

Kevin Thatcher, editor and art director of the skateboarding magazine "Thrasher," attributes the revival of skateboarding's popularity in part to the construction of better ramps.

"The kids are taking it back into their own hands. They don't have to wait anymore for skateboard parks to open up."

And it's at the ramps that the skateboarding subculture can be seen most clearly: Skateboarders have deep tans, are muscular, seem to speak another language and are almost exclusively male.

All the best skaters in the Valley congregate at the ramps. There, names such as Don Szabo and Charlie King rule.

"I like ramps," said the 19-year-old Szabo, whom many consider the best skater in the Valley. "They are the most challenging. Anybody can do good on little banks. This is real."

The blond, blue-eyed skater explained that, although he does very well on a ramp--and one doesn't doubt him after seeing him skate--he doesn't risk injuring himself. "I like to play. I don't like to get hurt."

Just "playing" seems to include jumping about four feet in the air above the 10-foot-high ramp before rushing down its slope and up the other side, only to repeat the performance. "That was some serious air, man," one skater marveled at a Northridge venue that has become known as "Billy's ramp."

Apparently, other skaters are less "playful." After crashing twice on the ramp, hurting his arm, hip and knee, Jason Shelfow, 19, complained, "I'm going to be sore tomorrow."

Liability Is Problem

Why does he do it then?

"Because I want to be like him," Shelfow said, pointing at Szabo.

Other skaters had different reasons for continuing after acquiring battle scars. "If you quit after you wipe out, you'll never get into it again," Kitchen said.

Liability is a problem for ramp owners. The parents of Billy Spann, the 16-year-old owner of "Billy's ramp," require riders to fill out release forms. The 75 skaters who have signed forms must also wear kneepads on the ramp.

Billy's parents support his ramp riding. "It was better for us to know that our kid is here skating than roaming around the streets," said his mother, Pat Spann.

Although Kitchen's father is supportive of his son's skateboarding because he thinks it keeps him away from drugs, he closed his son's ramp after two years. "I started thinking I spent my whole life getting a house and all it would take is just one kid to ruin it," he said.

Since pool skating is usually very transient, and ramps are few and far between, skateboarders have looked for other locales.

Skaters, always eager for a "radical" place to skate, find city-owned drainage pipes and waterways all over the Valley and skate in them until authorities stop them.

Possible $1,000 Fine

Stephen R. Powers Jr., senior assistant city attorney, said skateboarders who trespass on Department of Water and Power property are treated like any other trespassers. It is a misdemeanor, and the fine is up to $1,000 or six months in jail.

One of the most popular and now most controversial of the waterways is in Pierce College's parking lot. In spite of the fact that they are notified regularly by campus police that skating is not permitted in the ditch, skateboarders continue to use it.

Campus police Officer J. D. Burch said that the devotees of skateboarding are evicted because it "is not a recognized, organized sport. It is dangerous. So they have to go." Pierce College may post "no trespassing" signs, he added.

Skateboarder Pete Schiess, 21, disagrees with the community college's policy. "I have never seen anyone get really hurt here, and they don't thrash the place, so I don't see what it's really hurting."

His friend, Don Simpson, 13, complained, "Every time you find somewhere to skate, they throw you out."

Minutes later, a security guard told both of them not to skate in the waterway.

Less conflict surrounds a ditch in Canoga Park's grassy Knapp Park, run by the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks. Skateboarders freely use the ditch because "there's nobody there to really enforce the rules," said Ed Bates, director for Woodland Hills Recreation Center. Knapp Ranch Park does not have a regular park official.

But Bates guessed that the first liability suit will end the unmolested skating.

A gully overseen by the county Flood Control District in Valencia near the Magic Mountain exit of Interstate 5 is popular with skaters because of the incline, and they say authorities don't interfere with their skating there. But Jack Dourian, manager of El Torito restaurant across the street, promised to have authorities prohibit skating there when his restaurant opened last week because, he said, the skateboarders are "annoying."

Three unconnected, seven-foot-wide waterways near the end of Rinaldi Street off Tampa Avenue provide skaters with a place to practice. It has become known as "Tampa Land."

Alongside San Fernando Road, near Balboa Boulevard, 18 pipe sections provide another venue. The pipes, about 12 feet in diameter, are fenced on Department of Water and Power property, but skaters can easily climb the fence.

Skateboarder hangouts bear their mark--graffiti. Painted on the sides of the ditches and pipes are the names of favorite skateboarding companies, drugs and punk bands, as well as anti-social messages.

"Graffiti is one of those things that's to be expected and there's not much we can do about it," explained Bates, referring to the paint in the Knapp Park waterway.

But those ditches, pipes and pools weren't designed for skateboarding, and enthusiasts complain that the transition--the distance from where it begins to curve to where it reaches its steepest point--is too small.

On the streets of the Valley another form of skateboarding has evolved: street skating. Street skaters coast along a road using curbs, benches, railings, anything in their way on which to jump, hop or do any number of tricks.

But this type of skateboarding can be dangerous. In Los Angeles, skateboarders may neither skate in the street nor skate "with disregard" for the safety of pedestrians on the sidewalk, a Los Angeles Police Department spokesman said.

Tickets for violations can run as high as $65, but often police officers only give warnings.

To curb skateboard-related accidents in Burbank, City Council recently passed an ordinance regulating skateboarding. The ordinance does not permit skateboarders in the street, and they must yield right of way to foot travelers on sidewalks.

Officers in the Burbank traffic bureau said several skateboard-related accidents sparked passage of the ordinance. The most recent occurred in April when a 13-year-old boy was hit and killed by a driver who didn't see him.

Burbank deputy City Atty. Carolyn Barnes supported the ordinance and views it as a steppingstone to further regulation.

Some Burbank skaters, however, are outraged by what they call excessive city control. King and Dan Garcia, both 20, said they would rather use their "common sense" than be prohibited altogether from riding roadways, especially if vehicles rarely use the street.

Barnes disagreed. "That's like saying it's all right to cross a street on a red light when no one is there," she said. "We make laws for a reason."

Although Garcia supports the sidewalk measure, he said he will continue to skate in the street. "Sorry," he said. "That's where I do most of my tricks."

Despite the problems skateboarders feel they face, they say they will "board to death," as the tire cover on the front of Kitchen's orange van proclaims. He said it means that he will skate until he dies.

Valley skateboarders say they prefer skateboarding over football, basketball and baseball because of its individual spirit.

"Football has too many rules," Kitchen observed. "Plus, if your team loses, you're a loser. In skateboarding you can't lose."

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