Local skate shops are such a pillar of skateboarding. They provide a safe place, community, family, your local skate shop is where you learn of everything that’s going on, meet up to skate, meet new family members. Without a local skate shop, you lose the skate scene, you lose the connection, we don’t have family, we only have ourselves.
I remember driving into downtown Bethesda, my mother searching for street parking, we drove by East of Maui skate shop twice before we found a spot. I remember walking in, a ten year old, anti-social, semi-feral forest kid, my mother had to be my translator. We came into a narrow hall of clothing and a counter, immediately I panicked, there were no boards! This was all in vain!
I nudged my mother to whisper, “There aren’t any skateboards…” The man behind the counter nods a friendly smile, “How’s it going?” My mother exchanges some pleasantries before asking, “You guys sell boards, right?” The man smiles, “Just head straight on back.”
Passing the glass counter my eyes drooled at the stacks upon stacks of stickers. The narrow area was full of clothing, protruding from the walls and circular displays, I was still too short to see over it all to the back wall. My mother scans and glances around the shirts and atmosphere of the shop while I start to see the doorway to the back. I can’t figure it out until we have a clear shot and walk into large open and unfinished area. It had the smell of a garage and raw construction wood.
There were racks with videos and magazines on the left. Straight ahead, a counter full of wheels, bearings and trucks. The back wall was lined with boards. To the right was an area with flat and angled bars, one of those boards that sits truckless on a roller.
Another man was standing behind the counter with a big grin and happy demeanor, “Hey! What can I do for you guys?” I stare deadpanned as my mother looks down to me and then back to the man, “My son’s really getting into skateboarding, he’s been using a board we bought at Sports Authority and his skills are starting to outgrow it.” The man slapped the counter, “The works! Okay…” he looks to me, “What do you know about skateboarding?” Distracted by the magazines and videos I shrugged, “I can ollie and stuff, but I didn’t know you guys were here or anything.”
At the time, skateboarding belonged to the weirdos, fringe members, freaks, geeks, outcasts and those who felt like outcasts. The man behind the counter could see my discomfort, he was a skater too. He chuckled with a kind laugh and told me, “Hey, we all have to be taught, I remember when I didn’t have a clue, but you learn fast.” I think that even made me smile, which, I doubt I ever did outside of my comfort zone before. I felt safe enough to step out from behind my mother’s side and get closer to the counter.
I couldn’t speak though, just stared at the wall, the trucks, bearings and wheels, behind the counter, into the man’s eyes, over to the videos and magazines. Finally my mother grins, “Where do we start?” The man, whoever he was, knew life, he pointed over his shoulder, “I’m guessing picking out a deck is going to be our hardest decision with all those graphics, so let’s start with trucks.”
I remembered Mike’s board. The deck was black(an alien workshop, but it took me a year or so to realize) looked like it had some sort of old school arcade pac-man graphic, black and dark blues. His trucks(what turned out to be, Venture Featherlites) I remembered well, green bushings, the shape and design of the hangers. I was too nervous to speak though, I even saw them in the display. My mother asks, “What are the best?” He gave the answer we all know, whether willing to admit, “If you want the best, you’re gonna want to go with Independent. But Thunder and Venture are really decent too.” My mother looked to me as I stood flabbergasted and turns back to the man, “What’s the price for Independent?” He looked away, “Run you about thirty bucks after tax.” She nodded, “Yeah, if they’re the best.” He slid the back panel of the display counter open and leaned down, “Alright then.” and grabbed the shimmering pair of trucks with orange bushings.
“What’s next?” my mother wondered. “Bearings.” I pointed to a box, due to the graphic of the Swiss Flag. My mother nods, “What about those?” He reaches in, “Bones?” I nod as he brings them to the counter, “That’s the best, good eye.” My mother can see the same graphic issue on the wheels, “What else other than wheels and decks?” The man thinks, “Uuuuh, griptape, Black Magic is what you want, it’s free with a complete.” My mother nods while she darts her eyes around the counter contents, “What else?” He points in the top shelf of the display counter, “Bolts, Silverados are good, seven black bolts and one silver, so you can know the nose or tail.”
“Nose or tail?” I asked only knowing my Nash, Switch Stance deck. “Yeah, the nose is bigger than the tail, but not always by a lot, so you can cut a line in your griptape, go by your eye, or use bolts that have one different than the rest, just starting out, you’ll want to make sure you ride the board right, plus cutting lines and shapes into your griptape or having one different bolt are kind of fun to think about, right?” I chuckled and shrugged, “Yeah.”
Then we came to the hard part, “Deck or wheels next?” Having been staring at the decks since I walked in, “Deck.” My mother asks, “What’s a good one?” Honestly, I only remember two, he told us, “Personally, I only skate Think.” They had two models. One was what I remember to be a Drehobl, two very cartoonishly(Freedumb style) drawn bunnies having sex, and, a calligraphy-styled Logo graphic, black lettering with a blue shadow and cream colored background, red-dyed top ply with a white and black logo above the back bolts. My mother giggled, “Well, you know which one I’m voting for.” It was an 8.5 by 32, I was barely a hundred pounds.
“All that’s left are wheels.” he reminds us. I say nothing, staring at the display case. My mother asks again, “What do you suggest?” The man winces, “Well, despite the name, if you want to represent the east coast and skate a really good wheel, you’re going to want Nicotine, I know the name is harsh, but the wheels are really the best, and have nothing to do with tobacco, per say.” My mother begrudgingly nodded along, “Yeah, I get it, it’s an interesting name, but it’s not me I’m worried about.” The man awkwardly smiled as he swept his hand to the display case, “We also have, Spitfire.” I saw the big fat teeth of the smiling flame logo as my mother protested, “No, no, we live in the east, as long as it’s quality.” He assured her, “I only ride, Nicotine.” My mother folded her arms, “Okay.” He bent down for a set, “Fifty-eight millimeter is a good size, more room to wear down.” Plus, big wheels were the trend, and practical when it came to mid-nineties east coast skating.
“Do you want me to set it up for you?” I nodded. I watched him use the bearing press to pop them into the wheels, barely blinked while he gripped the board, rubbing down the sides with a screwdriver, the sound it made, so piercing, abrasive and jaunting. Then taking the razor blade to slice off the excess. He used the same bearing press to pop the holes in the grip for the bolts. I watched while he grabbed a skate tool and screwed in the bolts, the wheels and then told me, “These are new bushings, so keep your trucks loose.” as he unscrewed the kingpin a bit.
I remember when it was complete, I remember him grabbing the middle of the deck and handing it over to me, “Here you go, enjoy, man! Hope to see you again!” I don’t even remember my mother paying. I don’t even remember the drive home, no more than images and moments of staring at this glistening new board, my first real board, the knowledge I learned, the things I saw, all represented and held within this skateboard.