That feeling of overcoming fear and doubt by jumping a little farther, a little higher, the rush of nailing a trick, or carving a bowl, hasn't changed in half a century. The legitimacy lies in that feeling, behind your breastbone, and it doesn't change as you get older. Your wrists hurt, your ankles hurt, and your back hurts, but the feeling is the same. Kid's bike? Hell yeah, it's a kid's bike.
It's not as though I was blissfully unaware of a beef between bikers and skaters that day in Redwood City. Ask any BMXer to tell you a story of friction between the two and four-wheeled sets, and it's not going to take them long to come up with something.
"When I was 12 years old, a skateboarder threw my bike out of the bowl at Ripon skatepark," says Jackson Ratima, now 19, a Daly City rider sponsored by Fit Bikes. "He was, like, 20 years old or something."
Tim "Wolfman" Harvey, 21, another up-and-coming pro, tells a similar story about a visit to the Bay Area from his native Massachusetts, when a local skater hassled him at the Novato skatepark. "I didn't even know anything about California. It was my first time out bike riding, period. The guy was giving me all kinds of crap, yelling at me."
Ironically, Harvey, as friendly and easygoing a guy as you could hope to meet, almost turned pro for skateboarding before an ankle injury made it nearly impossible to ollie, an essential trick in street skating. He now lives in Petaluma and is a member of the painter's union in San Francisco, where he's a familiar face at street spots, but now on a bike. Back then, though, he "thought California was a scary place."
The Bay Area and SF in particular may be the worst place for bikers seeking a vibe-free session. "I've never experienced hostility like it is out here," Ratima says.
Smoldering after the Redwood City incident, I began to fixate on the "Skateboarding Is Not a Crime" slogan from my youth. Originally a bumper sticker made by Transworld Skateboarding magazine in the mid '80s, Santa Cruz Skateboards currently makes a deck with that written on it, so the skate community has gotten a lot of mileage out of being oppressed.
"Skateboarding isn't a crime?" I'd ask myself. You're damned straight skateboarding isn't a crime: it's the law. BMX is a crime. There isn't a biker alive who rides transition who hasn't rolled into a taxpayer-funded park and had a knee-high grommet point to the sign and say, "Bikes aren't allowed."
Not allowed, huh? Son, I skated my first pool when you were doing the backstroke in your papa's ball bag.
Look: I love skateboarding and always will. Both skaters and bikers are doing the same thing, copping that same feeling rolling over the same terrain. The war makes no sense.
"We have religion and race and class dividing us. I refuse to be divided by what type of wheel size I have," says Jon Paul Bail, a local at Alameda's Cityview skatepark.
Bail, 40, is the artist and pundit behind politicalgridlock.com. Through the Home Project, a program run through the Alameda Unified School District, Bail helped raise $150,000 to build the park, $8,000 of which came directly from his company's coffers. He helped design the park, and he helped pour the concrete in the park, which opened in 1999. Mixed sessions of bikers and skaters were going down for six months with minor tensions but no major incidents when thenCity Attorney Carol Korade advised City Hall that mixed use was too dangerous, and shut the bikers out.
My call to Corinne Centeno, Redwood City's Director of Parks, Recreation, and Community Services, got off to a rough start: "I understand [the Phil Shao Skatepark] is not bike-legal, right?"