The two helmeted boys, one following the other, shot quick glances in my direction before launching off a curb near the former Wells Fargo building and onto Commonwealth a few yards in front of my car Tuesday evening. Because mine happened to be the only engine-powered vehicle in sight and was moving slowly, their actions weren't as perilous as they might have been. The kids had taken calculated risks, finished their jumps and moved to safety quickly enough. My thought process was more along the lines of "What fun they're having!" than "Shame on them for being so reckless."
We have a 50-year tradition of kids riding skateboards on our streets, after all. The sport gathered speed in La Cañada in June 1960, according to Valley Sun articles from that month.
"It's time we viewed something with alarm here in this valley so I have taken as my topic for today 'The Skate Board Craze,'" wrote Joe DuPlain, the paper's longtime editor and publisher, on June 23 of that year. "For generations roller skates have been a perfectly normal part of the paraphernalia of youngsterdom. People bought roller skates for their children and encouraged them to use them. But now the youngsters themselves have taken the roller skate, divided it in half, and put one half on the front end of a board 12 to 18 inches long and the other half on the rear end. This is a crude description of a skate board which you use on some kind of a hard surface slope by pushing off with one foot on the ground and one on the board. After a little momentum is achieved, the other foot comes up onto the board and you sail along, full of the joie de vivre, unless, by some misfortune, your sense of balance abandons you. You then make a drag foot landing and survive or hurtle off into space and break your little neck. It's a good solid American sport, proud and perilous. After all, the American public condones the Indianapolis automobile race every year where we know in advance that the racecourse will be strewn with the dead and the dying before the day's proceedings are terminated.
"Now I don't want to take a position of unyielding opposition to skate boards because fun's fun and all that. But until the fad wears off, we'd better establish a few ground rules."
It seems the "fad" came to DuPlain's attention because a sixth-grade student at Palm Crest Elementary had the week before sailed down a ramp on her homemade skateboard and wound up with a fractured kneecap and broken collarbone.
Earlier in this decade the city opened its first skate park on Cornishon Avenue, in hopes of finally getting local skateboarders off the public streets and sidewalks. An old sports court on the former Foothill Intermediate School campus was made available through a joint-use project with the school district, which owns the property. Not long ago some BMX bike ramps were added. At about 11 a.m. yesterday I drove over, curious to find out if anyone uses it.
The park was empty, save for Sara Hunsucker, who teaches at PCC and works part time for the city monitoring the venue. Stating the obvious, she said, "It's been really slow."
But the park doesn't always sit empty. "We can have 20 people, or we can have no one," Hunsucker said, explaining that the peak use is on Saturday mornings when beginning skills are taught through the Community Center.
I'm pretty sure that had I looked further, I could have found some skateboarders careening along neighboring streets while the park sat empty. Some crazes become traditions, and some traditions die hard. I think there's something to be said for a good, solid American sport — providing one survives it.
CAROL CORMACI is managing editor of the Valley Sun. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.