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CHASING DOWN THE MUSE:Thrills on a homemade skateboard

Summertime and the living is easy. Well, at least for the kids.

Tanned bodies and T-shirts flying, pre-teens and teens whoosh past on their sleek skateboards.

Who can help but feel a sense of joy remembering the delectable freedom of the months between the school years? And the curious sense of security provided by a strong band of friends.

The skaters roll down the streets and ramp up and over the railing. I watch with amazement as they kick their boards into the air, spin their bodies around and land back on their rolling transportation. Wow!

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I envy their acrobatic skills and the accompanying wild abandon. And maybe even their boards.

They have no idea that once upon a time, skateboards were not available in a store.

In the early ‘60s, creative spirits were attaching wheels to boxes and flat platforms as an alternative sport to surfing on wave-flat days.

What you couldn’t buy was a manufactured skateboard, but you could build one from scratch, which is exactly what my 11-year-old self set out to do.

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My younger brother and I sat on the garage floor and pondered what tools were available.

There were a few sheets of leftover plywood from one of my father’s construction projects.

They were a bit ragged, but with a saw and some sandpaper, I figured we could make something work.

We dragged sawhorses out of the garage and set one of the plywood pieces on top.

Gly held the wood while I “screech-scraw” pulled the hand saw back and forth cutting through the laminated layers.

We got the board down to a smallish rectangle, maybe a foot wide by three feet long. The corners remained square even after much hand-sanding.

Since we only had one pair of skates, we cut just one board. I knew we could try and convince Mom to buy another pair when she saw what we had made. At least I hoped so.

With hammer and pliers in hand, I banged and pulled and banged again. Finally, I yanked the round metal wheels from their base and laid them on the plywood.

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We didn’t have screws, but we had some of Dad’s long nails. Together, Gly and I pounded a handful through the tiny plate holes and into the wood.

Some of them went all the way through, so we bent them over on the other side, and pounded them flat against the grainy surface. A few poked up a bit, which meant we were not going to ride this board barefooted.

We tested it a few times around the asphalt by the garage, taking turns pushing with one foot and trying to hop on with both feet. Our “skateboard” was wobbly, but it rolled OK.

Both of us looked at the driveway, which doubled as our street, Fayette Place.

From our vantage point, it looked long and very, very steep. Not a particularly good place for a trial run.

Instead, we headed over to the vacant lot to the south and into the new Dunsmore tract that was being built adjacent to our house.

Construction hadn’t begun on the houses yet, but curbs had been laid in and the streets had been paved.

Windsor Place was a cul-de-sac and reasonably flat all the way to the turn at Dunnegon Drive. We took turns pushing and riding and pushing and riding.

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Finally, bored with the easy flat, we turned the corner toward Dunnegon Place. No houses marred our ocean view, and dusty vacant lots lined the downward sloping street.

To our young and inexperienced perspective, it seemed as steep as Third Street.

My brother said I couldn’t do it. He said it was too scary, which was about all the encouragement I needed.

I planted my right foot just a bit beyond the middle of the board and took a deep breath. With a gentle push from my left foot, I was off, flying down the hill.

I was going much faster than I expected. The wheels were wobbling, and the board was rocking side to side. For a minute, I was sure I was going to crash. There was no way to control the speed or the direction.

I crouched down, grabbed the sides of the board and held on tight until I hit the curb and went head over heels into the dusty dirt. I rolled a couple of times, kicking up dust and sputtering for air.

I saw my brother running down the hill, his face filled with horror, and I started to laugh. Nothing hurt, and nothing was broken. When he saw me laughing, he went for a turn, but only from the middle of the hill "” a much wiser choice.

The Dunsmore tract is long built-out, remodeled and built again.

Skateboards have designer names, designer competitions, magazines devoted to the sport and heroes with clothing endorsements and fat contracts.

We’ve come a long way, but it’s still the easy days of summer.


  • CATHARINE COOPER loves wild places. She can be reached at coopercatharinecooper.com<252>

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