In terms of skateboarding's hallowed grounds, it doesn't get much more legendary than Kenter. Simply put—It was one of the first official skate spots ever. Between 1963 and 1967, skateboarding's first wave was launched by a crew of young surfers in the Pacific Palisades and West LA. This first wave (later to become the Makaha and Hobie teams) initially began meeting up and riding down the hill in the parking lot of Palisades High School. Not long thereafter, in search of more "surf-like" terrain they then branched out to make the schools with banked walls in the area—Kenter Canyon Elementary, Paul Revere Middle School and Marquez Knolls Elementary in the Palisades, Bellagio Elementary in Bel Air, Brentwood Elementary, and Mar Vista Elementary in Palms—their concrete waves of choice.
Perched high above Sunset Blvd. in Brentwood's lavish residential hills—Kenter's downhill campus and flowing banks were absolutely perfect for sidewalk surfing. After the first wave died out at the turn of the '70s, the second wave (rising up after the arrival of urethane in '75) made Kenter theirs too. As depicted in the documentary, Kenter and West LA's trinity of skateable schools would become ground zero for the rise of the Dogtown and the Z-Boys—serving as the backdrop to some of the most famous Stecyk and Friedman photos and footage of TA, Stacy Peralta, Jay Adams, and the rest.
Having moved into a house near Kenter and Sunset in the summer of '78—Eric Dressen would grow up with the school as his backyard skatepark—even somehow coming up on the campus master key. For many of us who started skating in the '80s, Eric's part in Speed Freaks ('89)—in which Eric skates the Kenter campus from top to bottom in a single line—would be our first introduction to the school. Along with Natas Kaupas and his footage in Streets on Fire ('89), Eric would serve as the critical bridge between the '70s Z-Boys era "surf/skate" style and the rise of '80s and '90s "streetstyle".
Heading into the '90s, Kenter would go on to be featured in anything from Video Days ('91) to Mouse ('96) before some campus remodeling in the late '90s limited the schools skateability. Today celebrating some 50 years—half a century—as a skate spot, here is a Kenter campus walk-through (illustrated with my #skatenerdstarmaps posts to date at the school) from the Pony Boy himself.
What was the first skating you saw there?
Dressen: I moved down the street from Kenter in the summer of '78. So that was like the full-blown Dogtown era there. My dad and I lived on Kenter Ave., just south of Sunset Blvd. So we would hitchhike up or walk up to the school then skate back down afterwards. I skated there with Stacy Peralta and all those guys. We just grew up there. It was a pretty popular spot at that point. In the same area though we also had Brentwood Elementary over on Bundy and San Vicente, I went to 6th grade there but no one else liked the Brentwood banks. Then from 7th grade to 9th grade I went to Paul Revere in the Palisades.
What did you skate at Kenter in the '70s?
Back then we would just do speed lines. Pretty much just pretend you were surfing it. Powerslides and stuff. Trying to emulate the Bertelmann's that we saw Stacy (Peralta) doing. In the early days people mostly skated the bottom banks. Nobody liked the top part. In the ’70s I would skate there and there would be all these unknown Dogtown surf skaters ripping. It was more just surf style. Gyrating and getting speed. Getting tubed and maybe going off the lip. It was a go to back then because there were no parks or pools. If you didn't have a pool, you would go to Kenter.
The Keys to the (Kenter) City:
My friend Carl, when we were in 6th grade there was getting suspended and he ended up stealing the principle's key. It was like the master key to Kenter and even most other LAUSD schools. So we had that and we could just open the lock on weekends and walk in straight through the gate. He was a bad kid. But we would go skate and then use the key to go get chocolate milks and stuff from the cafeteria (laughs.)
Birthplace of skateboarding:
Kenter was one of the first spots in the '60s. But before Kenter, right in the early '60s, people would go skate the hill at Pali (Palisades High School). They would skate the parking lot that came down the hill there. That was where some of the first Makaha riders would go skate. There were no banks there but people would just skate the hallways.
Surf names for banks:
That was a total 70s thing. Naming the banks after a surf spot. It was just sidewalk surfing then. (Ed note: According to Danny Bearer, Paul Revere was "Sunset Beach", Brentwood Elementary was "Malibu", Bellagio Elementary was "Waimea Bay", Marquez Knolls Elementary was "Bonzai Pipeline", etc… No word as to what Kenter was called.)
Eric’s legendary Speed Freaks part, 1989. Kenter footage starts at 4:35.
Speed Freaks ('89) part:
For my part in that, Tony Roberts just came by place and was just like, "Let's go skate." I would go to Kenter all the time by myself at that point. So Speed Freaks was pretty much just me doing my warm up line there. The one in the video was just a one-time thing. We went up there at like 9:30 in the morning and filmed that. I tried to pay homage to the old Go For It! movie where I put the two benches up and make the tube. Go For It! was one of the first surf movies that had like a big skate part in it.
I wanted to pretty much do a Kenter walk-through following your line in Speed Freaks ('89). So starting with the top banks.
Let's do it.
I think those started getting skated more around '87 or '88. More around when the street skating days came and the ollie and all that, because you could set up a bench. It had the one big long bank all the way at the top that had a bunch of cracks, and then the little bank along the side where everyone started putting the bench on top of it. That was where Natas (Kaupas) and Julien (Stranger) would always go skate. They had the footage in the Santa Cruz videos there. That part got grassed over at some point in the late '90s.
Yeah, you would jam down the hallway and there was a two-stair I think and then maybe a three-stair. And then you would get to like the a little drop bank that turned into the two walkways that went down either to the right or left.
The Tree Bowl:
Around that first tree right there right when you got to the bottom section there was this little bowl around the tree called the "tree bowl". You could do little ollie pops out of that. I hit that in my part.
Alley wallride spots:
About halfway through the middle hallways, if you went to the west most side of the campus it had like two wallride spots. The one you could just wallride and the other one had the part you could grind.
Guy roof gap:
I remember looking at it (the roof gap) when we were filming for Speed Freaks. I remember looking up there but just being scared to try it (laughs.) I went up there to look at it but it was at such a weird angle. I remember sitting there going "I should really film this for my part." I blew it left and right.
The middle courtyard stairs with the bench down it:
The stuff we filmed there was kind of after we were done filming. I think that I actually did hit the camera.
There's a crazy photo of Jesse (Martinez) doing a huge kick off the fence there. Right at the beginning part by the corner. He's just way up there. I don't even know how he got up there.
Cracked banks and remodeling:
I think right around my Speed Freaks part, you can see it in the footage—that was when it started getting a little chewed up and cracky. I think they repaved it later on. Right around when Ray Barbee filmed something there. I haven't been up there really since they built the new stairs and all that on the main banks.
That was the main place people skated. Then in the late '80s people started bringing a launch ramp there too. I shot my first Indy ad doing a wallride off the launch ramp on the handball court wall. Chuck Katz shot that one.
All the way at the bottom, after the fence, there was the little curb cut bunny booster thing too. There are some photos and video of maybe Julien (Stranger) and Natas skating that.
Tony Roberts Follow Filming:
Back then nobody really did follow filming. At least with me. And Tony was a rad surfer and rad skater so he could keep up with me. I think that was kind of why from the beginning we decided to do the speed lines there. Just because he could keep up with me.
I never had anybody give us trouble but I heard back in the day stories of the cops showing up and people getting in trouble. I never got in trouble skating there.
Minor Threat Session:
I was probably in the 9th grade then. We were skating there a little bit then but that was when skating was kind of dead (1982). One of my friends went up there that day. Somehow he knew that Ian (MacKay) was going to be there but he didn't tell me (laughs). He told me the next day and I was just like, "Son of a bitch".
I skated there with everybody—Hosoi, Scott Oster, Jay (Adams), Pat N'Goho, Natas, Julien… everybody. That was just the go to spot. It was guaranteed you could skate there. Those were good times.
This article is dedicated to Eric Dressen and every generation of skateboarders that found theirs at Kenter.
Kenter Canyon Elementary: 645 N. Kenter Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90049.
Natas’ Streets on Fire part, 1989. Kenter footage starts at 2:31.