Zitzer: The Great Bowl Resurgence – Part 1

By Paul Zitzer

The Dogtown and Z-Boys documentary has for better or for worse become the definitive history of the birth of what you might call real skateboarding. Sorry Salba. It can be summarized as follows: In the late 1970s, when Jay Adams, Tony Alva, et al. grew tired of standing on the beach, surfboards in hand, staring disappointedly out to sea when the waves were flat, they took apart roller skates, nailed them to two by fours, and went and made believe that empty swimming pools were waves they were surfing while more than likely flipping photographer Glen Friedman the bird. They had so much fun fake surfing that they barely realized that they were actually having fun skateboarding.

 

From there skating caught on and soon skateboard parks that were loosely modeled after swimming pools began popping up all over the country. It looked to be fun while it lasted, but all good things must end, and after that initial wave died down (pun!) due to high insurance costs and the excitement around roller disco, the skateparks followed suit. From there, die hard skateboarders took the DIY route and built back yard vert ramps that mimicked the bowls that mimicked the swimming pools that mimicked the waves. This too would pass.


Bob Burnquist, Switch Flip Indy Fakie at Bondi Bowl in Australia

In the 90s skaters got heavily into freestyle tricks, big clothing, hip-hop music and hating on everything that happened in the 80s (mainly vert). They would have hated on the 70s too but the Dogtown movie wasn’t out yet so they had no idea.  Regardless, the vert ramps disappeared, pools were used exclusively for swimming and bowls were used for salads. There was however, a crucial exception, one that cannot be over-emphasized in its importance, and that was Portland’s Burnside project. A do-it-yourself cement bowl concoction that was at first resisted, then grudgingly accepted, and later embraced by that fair city. More on this later.

 

All of a sudden it’s 1995 and this is where you come in. You’re sitting in your living room waiting for Wheel of Fortune to come on when flipping through the channels you see the Birdman skating in a neon shred riot called the Extreme Games. It’s déjà vu time and skateboarding becomes popular all over again. But this time it’s on TV and your parents see that you can make money doing it, so instead of being all faddy and here-today-gone-tomorrow, it sticks around and becomes a bona fide sport, and you already know that sports require places to train, and this requirement happily coincides with a booming economy and a general willingness by cities to shell out your parents’ tax dollars for shred zones. You’re stoked.


Alex Perelson, Huge F.S Nose Bone at the ProTec contest in 2010

So again skateparks start popping up all over the country to the point where only the worst cities don’t end up with shredtastic terrain. And the second time proves to be a charm for two reasons: One, they’re not being privately owned which frees them from the need to make money to stay in business and two, roller disco has already proven itself to be sort of whack so no risk in being displaced by it again.


Rune Glifberg at Bondi Bowl in Australia

But who was actually constructing all of these public skateparks? Well, naturally the people that had experience building them, which were the guys that built Burnside and the guys that were inspired by the guys that built Burnside. And their fledgling companies, with names like Grindline and Dreamland and Team Payne, weren’t fantasizing about flat bars and wedge ramps. These guys were old school and they liked their cement curved and they liked it gnarly, and that’s what they built. The results being that in many places the only really good things to skate were these new skateparks with transitions for days. Of course the kids adapted and learned to ride them, and suddenly backside smith grinds came back in fashion, kids flipped up the brims of their hats like Duane Peters did in ’81, and colored wheels began selling again for the first time in 15 years.

Check out Part Two of Zitzer’s The Great Bowl Resurgence