I push off and head down a makeshift plywood runway, compressing as I roll over the edge and into the Technicolor graffiti of the drainage ditch. The transition between the banked wall and the flatbottom has an abrupt kink in it, enough to send you to your face if you're caught sleeping. I take some weight off the front end and try to maintain my speed as I pump into the opposite corner and carve the far end of the ditch where there's an over-45-degree wall that runs behind what my friends and I call the "death pit" a gaping cutaway in the bottom of the culvert, five feet deep, filled with broken glass, and frequently used as a urinal. Since I'm at the apex of my backside carve, up a wall 10 feet above last week's Miller Time, I'm jolted by the crackle of a loudspeaker:
"You are trespassing. Leave the area at once or you will be arrested."
My concentration shot by the sheriff's announcement, I jump off my deck and over the chasm at the base of the bank, barely clearing the skater's version of a Vietnam tiger pit, and land on the rough concrete beyond the edge. My board bullets straight in, though, so I've got to lower myself gingerly into the mostly dry detritus and rescue it before my friends and I jet out of the spot and into the manicured back nine of Pleasanton's Castlewood golf course. We get to the car, throw the boards in the trunk mine has a "Skateboarding Is Not a Crime" sticker on the bottom and head to the next spot, a ditch called the Rat Trap.
The year is 1987. I'm 16, in high school, and living with my parents in Fremont. The scene plays out over and over in much the same way: a drainage ditch, a nicely painted curb or ledge at a shopping center, the occasional backyard pool, and night sessions at the Tar Banks, a set of embankments around a loading dock with curbs at the top. It's an underground railroad of repurposed architecture, none of it designed with a skateboard in mind but all of it highly skateable.
Taking the $4.7mil Cunningham skatepark. Video by Jarrod Allen, www.jarrodallen.com
Every weekend my crew hits as many spots as we can, and the constants shape up like this: urethane, aluminum, Canadian hard rock maple, concrete, and asphalt. Maybe blood, maybe beer we're teenagers after all but nearly always: cops.
Skateboarding may not be a crime, but it sure as hell feels like one.
Flash forward 20 years. I'm with a different crew as I pull onto a street in suburban Redwood City, and I'm no longer rollin' in my mom's Plymouth Sundance, but my own truck. The other thing that's changed is the number of wheels per head. There are four heads to eight wheels, and we're here to ride the Phil Shao Memorial Skatepark. On bikes.
The park does not disappoint. There are a million kids trying tech ollie flip tricks around the perimeter of the park, but the bowl is what I'm about. Big and shapely with almost burlesque hips poured into her concrete, I'm in love as soon as I roll in.