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written by Norm:
John Nippolt
The First Skateboards
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            The same students always come into my classroom just before the first morning bell rings, or at the same time the bell is ringing. The most brazen stride in purposefully late. What is interesting about this daily routine is that none of them are in my first period class.
            They all look the same in their quest for non-conformist nirvana: hats on backwards, t-shirts that are never tucked in or long enough to cover their brilliantly patterned boxer shorts. Their pants are forever hanging about the rim of their buttocks but firmly covering their underwear. I don’t know how all those pairs of trousers manage to stay up there on those skinny-butt kids, and whenever anyone asks me about that phenomena my stock reply is “By the aid of cleverly placed mirrors.” I digress.
            I know most of the skaters at the high school where I teach because I was introduced to them at my first teaching assignment: a middle level school which was a feeder school to my current one.
            I don’t really get introduced to the new faces. They just show up like their predecessors, and figure that since the word is that I am in the “know”, everything has to be on the up and up. Because of recent school laws I have had to inform the newbies that I can no longer take care of their boards during school hours or I will get into trouble, not them. Still, they try to explain who they know to me, so they will fit under my umbrella of good will and understanding; after all they know I’m an original: I was there at the beginning. This is so, I was.
            I can recall the first time my credentials were checked by some young members of the tribe because they were unbelievers. “Him?” They would question, “Not him!” The historian of their group approached me and he had his question gun loaded, both barrels.
            “Roscoe says you said you invented skateboards”. Here it comes. I look at the young kid standing there who can already do more maneuvers on a skateboard than I ever dreamed of, but this doesn’t bother me. My look tells him we are on mutual turf here and all things being equal I won’t brag even if I want to.
            “Rosco told you the truth. There were more than a few of us that were in on that piece of inventing though.”
            “Whaddayamean?”
            “Have you ever been with a group of your friends in a circumstance that demanded you come up with a solution to remedy that situation and a couple of you hit on the same answer at once?”
            “Yeah.”
            “That’s what I mean.”
            “So you didn’t invent them?”
            “That’s not what I said.”
            “Well, did you?”
            “Yes, but I wasn’t the only one.”
            “Whaddayamean”
            “Necessity is the mother.”
            “Huh?”
            “Inspiration is the reward.”
            “What?”
            “I mean there were other people solving the problem of what to do when the surf was flat at the same time I was. I lived in Southern California and I had just started surfing; it was the summer of 1957.”
            “That’s the right place and the right time frame”, my young inquisitor interjected.
            “I owned a scooter that I’d built a year before I started learning how to surf. I put my scooter together by nailing an old orange crate on top of a two by four. I had a narrow strip of wood nailed to the top of the orange crate that stuck out past the edge on both sides of the crate and that worked as my steering bar. I took one of my roller skates apart and attached the separate pairs of wheels to each end of the two by four. The vision of what I had to do was pretty easy when the time came. All I had to do was knock the orange crate off the two by four. It worked bitchen.”
             “Bitchen?”
            “Except for the wheels.”
            At this, the boy nodded his head with understanding and took the words out of my mouth. “They were made of metal.”
            “Hey, you’ve done your research. Yeah, they were made of metal alright, and they were nothing like anything that even approaches what you guys have today. If you hit a crack in the sidewalk, or a pebble or a small twig, you’d get,,,”
            “Launched.”
            “Launched was not the word for it. Two weeks after my invention spread throughout our neighborhood you could not count on both hands the number of broken bones, sprains, cuts, or abrasions the kids were sporting. I was not a popular kid among the mothers of our small community.”
            “So how come you aren’t rich, mister?”
            “We weren’t thinking like that back then, we were just curing what ailed us.”
            All my facts seem to align properly with the knowledge base of the young skater in front of me. His questions spawned great memories for me. I could see me and my pals riding the bus with our boards in hand, heading off to some park with hills and turns (long before the ‘NO’ signs that permeate today’s parks were in place) that were perfect for our new toys. We made long boards (a longer two by four) so we could practice walking, doing spinners and 360’s.
            I knew a final question was coming and I had one hell of a story ready to go.
            “Did you ever eat it, mister, I mean really eat it?”
            “We have all really eaten it one way or another, haven’t we?” I replied and then relented.
            Most of the times I recall eating it came about from a dare and this tale is no exception. I was 13 years old and I was getting pretty good at skateboarding. This meant I could hit most cracks, etc., without taking a serious spill. My balance was excellent and I could hold my trim at pretty high velocity. We had Signal Hill and Long Beach State College to name two of the more demanding tests of speed and stupidity, but there was one hill nobody had ventured to take on until I got the dare: The Linden Beach hill, an incline one city block long and consisting of a 30 degree grade with a 15 foot leveling off space halfway down. This was also the entrance road for the once famous Rainbow Pier, a semi-circular road built upon a breakwater that acted as a boundary for the Rainbow lagoon, which rested at the foot of the lawn that surrounded the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium. At the entrance to the pier on the beach side, (Linden Beach) you could be entertained by the many debates that ensued all day long every Saturday and Sunday at the Long Beach Spit and Argue Club. At the exit of the Rainbow Pier you went past the entrance to the now defunct Long Beach Pike, home of the once thrilling Cyclone Racer. It was there where we collected empty soda bottles or begged coins off sailors to go ride that terrifying giant of a roller coaster.
            So it was early one Saturday morning that I was going to pull off the most daring run of my life (so far, anyway). I walked up and down the hill several times, checking for any serious holes, cracks and the general condition of the different concrete levels I would have to encounter. Fortunately for me there were no dangerous uplifts that I could spot and I was ready to go.
            I pushed off and I knew I could make it. Once I reached bottom it would be off a 3-inch curve onto rubbery street asphalt (the entrance to the beach parking) ending at the foot of a sandy beach. If I went into a fall, I would pull into a well practiced forward roll, so it would only be wrists and elbows before I would be up and running until I could slow down on or near the sand. I could make it.
I started to change my mind about the outcome when I reached the halfway mark; I was going way too fast!
            Then, everything turned into slow motion. A screen door was just starting to open as I hugged the wall of connected buildings lining the sidewalk. I hardly had time to yell because I was already screaming. I hurtled through that black mesh barrier barely missing a blur of a person trying to step back into the safety of the doorway to his shop. I was in the air and totally out of control as I watched my skateboard move on down to the bottom of the hill unscathed. I won’t go into detail about the incredible string of invectives delivered my way by that person in the doorway until he saw my face.
            I had a bump or two on my head and my hands were torn up pretty bad, but as I say, it was my face that stopped him. Forehead to chin, nose and both cheeks were thoroughly laced and embedded with a network of wire screen. I had tiny square patches of red that connected with each other into an overall patch of blood that covered my entire face. Yes, eat it I did.
            My father was very unhappy with me at the time and a little longer. He was especially angry at the prospect of fixing that shop owner’s screen door. I must add though, the memory of my screen face always brought a smile to my father’s face long after that fateful day and up until the day he died. He never did take my skateboard away from me.
 
 
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