Old School Skate Jam II

“We kind of lost focus of what we originally tried to do,” said Eric “Arab” Groff, one of the organizers of the Old School Skate Jam. After the success of the first OSSJ last year, the California Skatelab skatepark in Simi Valley, California hosted the follow-up event this past February with another packed house. Late in the evening, as the crowd made its way out to the parking lot to continue mingling and catching up, Groff explained the concept as he helped the staff clean up. “If you had a pro model in the 70s or early 80s, or were a pro in the 60s, you were going to be invited. It got kinda hard because there were so many people who played such a big part in skateboarding’s history. So one thing led to another, and the next you knew we had like 1,000 people here this year.”

Organized by Groff, Brad “Barleye” Ellman, Ed Economy, and Skatelab’s Todd Huber, the OSSJ was hosted by and entirely paid for by the Skatelab. “It’s all about honoring the legends of skateboarding,” said Groff, and the OSSJ II did as good a job of it as the first one. Like last year, top skaters from the past four decades were reunited–many for the first time, skated together, and caught up with one another.

“Bruce Logan, Danny Bearer, and Cliff Coleman, and Steve Ellis were here,” he said, mopping up some beer that one of them may have spilled. “Steve Ellis is 51 or 52, and he tears the bowl to pieces. They all skated in the 1965 World Championships in Anaheim, California, and to have those four guys here–man–that’s what it’s all about.”

The success of the OSSJ depended on not only finding long-lost legends, but creating an event that would draw them from the far corners of the globe. Much of the research and contacting was handled by Barleye, who tracked down some people through other old-timers, some via the Internet, and kept in touch with everyone through e-mail and the OSSJ Web site he created and maintains (oldschoolskatejam.com). “Last year gave us a little bit of credibility,” he said as he shook hands with some guests who were also at last year’s jam. They were appreciative and thanked him for another great time. “Last year was kind of a fluke because people just showed up. It had never been done–that’s the funny thing about it–and people were kinda stoked on that.”

Most of the excitement, once again, centered on the bowl session. The Skatelab bowl is a birch-surfaced nine-foot square pool with a bowled pocket on the right that forms a sharp hip between the shallow and deep ends. Just like last year–as well as in the 70s and 80s–guys were dropping in four at a time, the last man standing winning the ride. Even though many of the riders had spent the afternoon skating the infamous Pink Motel pool during the Deathbox expression session, the snaking went on all night as the average age in the bowl maintained a steady 37 or so.

While it’s been amazing to mingle with Tony Alva and Eddie “El Gato” Elguera two years in a row, we guests shouldn’t take the OSSJ for granted. Number three isn’t yet planned, and it may not be an annual event any longer. “If it’s every year and a half, they might come every time,” said Barleye of the few invitees who didn’t make it this year. “This place went off tonight. I don’t see how people who remember how they’re feeling tonight wouldn’t want to come out every year.”

“I think we should hold off now,” said Huber, who interrupted saying good night to his guests to answer a few questions. “I think the only reason it worked out two years in a row is that a lot of people missed it last time.”

Estimates regarding the next OSSJ range from eighteen months to a few years, depending on which organizer you ask. But the Skatelab boasts a year-round skateboard museum with hundreds of boards dating back to the 50s, so skateboarding’s history is on display there every day.

Culled from his personal collection, Huber said parents often find the Skatelab museum more interesting than their kids do:: “They (kids) walk right by. But the moms go, ‘I told you I used to skate. There’s my old board right there. You didn’t believe me, but there’s the board, with metal wheels, right there.’ Now the parents can almost look cool to their kids.”

The only kids at Skatelab for the OSSJ were the sons and daughters of guests, and most of them were busy sharing the Skatelab street course. Names like Godoy, Peralta, and Olson were out there taking after their dads, making the OSSJ not only a celebration of our past, but a glimpse into the future as well.

Like every party, though, the aftermath had to be cleaned up, and Skatelab employees and the OSSJ organizers continued working through the night to restore the park and its modern terrain to its usual self ahead of the Sunday crowd. “These guys started six days ago with (replacing) the birch on the bowl, and they went the last 48 hours straight non-top, then they stayed for the party,” said Groff. “So the whole staff is just beat. But we have to give credit to Scott Radinsky, Todd Huber, and his wife Jennifer because they’re the ones with the money and the support. Consider how much money they lose closing the skatepark on a Saturday night, plus the money they put up for the event without accepting any donations or sponsorship. How many people do that in this industry? Not many without big corporate money behind them. It comes from their love of skateboarding and the history of it. The museum here at Skatelab shows that.”

What the museum doesn’t show, and what the Skatelab locals miss, are the personalities who have made skateboarding’s history so colorful and more than just a collection of steel-wheeled relics. Hats (helmets?) off to Barleye, Groff, Economy, Huber, and Radinsky for an event to remind us of that, and an event that reminds the perpetrators themselves that their crimes against the laws of gravity and convention haven?t gone unnoticed.