Growing Up in Alameda: The prototype skateboard

Growing Up in Alameda: The prototype skateboard

Dave LeMoine

We were in need of a new challenge. Someone remembered the old orange crate coasters we built as kids. Why didn’t we improve on that concept? Let’s take a piece of 2’x4’ and an old steel shoe skate, merge them, and try balancing.

Well it kind of worked, but there were no hills in Alameda, so off we went to the Oakland Hills. Instead of a gradual hill, of course we went straight to Joaquin Miller Park. Big mistake. Gravity does work but not always to one’s benefit, as flatlanders would soon find out. At that time in history, bloody, holey Levis were not in vogue.

Mom had to buy new pants for her stupid teenager; we decided to let someone in later years develop a better skateboard.

The Coaster

Not done with the hills quite yet, we started a new project in Budda’s garage: four soap box derby wheels, some plywood shaped onto a 2’x4’ platform with a 1”x2” trim piece around the front and two sides, an apple crate backrest, and rope steering. Looks great! The only problem was that we tired easily pushing our creation on flat streets.

Hmmm, maybe the Oakland Hills would work better. Off to Redwood Road. Dean got his dad’s truck (hotwired or legal, I’m not sure). Off to the hills, what fun!

At the top of Skyline and Redwood Road, we decided, “If we go one at a time on the coaster, it’ll take all day. Why not try two?”

Budda sat in the back with the rope steering in hand, then Red sat down between his legs. That looked good … but wait, maybe three could fit, so I, having donned my football helmet (as if that would make any difference), slipped between Red’s legs. We were ready!

Looking back now, it’s hard to believe we were that stupid. The picture, again, is three senseless 170-pound boys sitting on a 2’x4’ piece of ply with ball bearing wheels, between each other’s legs, my heels hooked over the lip of the coaster, toes extending off the front, knees in my chest. Oh crap, has anyone thought to install brakes? Not!

At that moment we let go, and gravity took over. Dean and the guys were following at first, but then we start to pull away. Dean said later that we were separating at about 50 miles per hour. Coming into the first turn, centrifugal force took over. I knew we had made a big miscalculation; we were in the oncoming lane and, when Budda tried to pull us back, we went up on two wheels.

I saw a car coming toward us and we couldn’t do anything but careen toward it. Luckily, they saw us and ran off the road, or I would have been facemask-to-grill, buried in an auto wrecking yard instead of a graveyard.

Budda got us back on the right side of the road. But now I saw an oak tree the size of a four-story building rapidly approaching and thought, I really, really love my life. Now I thought, we made it past the two big turns. What’s ahead? Big Bear bar and store with all kinds of cars not really looking for three nuts, six inches off the ground, nearing the speed of sound with very little steering, no horn, no brakes, no toilet paper, and no sense. Another deep breath as we passed by.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw three people with the strangest looks on their faces, as if they couldn’t believe what they were seeing: Three boys sitting between each other’s legs, floating somewhere between 60 and Mach One. As fast as their eyes focused and their brain perceived, we disappeared around the corner and they were not sure what they just saw.

Again, as I had time to think, I was relieved that no slow moving cars were in front of us, as I would become the first five-mile-an-hour impact bumper before they had been invented. Soon we begin to slow, and Dean caught up with us. We were heroes for the day.

Later, others tried the steeper side of Skyline by Devil’s Punch Bowl and beat our speed record while I drove the truck. Finally, we tried the reverse direction on Redwood Road, which was more windy, and our truck soon fell behind. Coming around a turn, we met an oncoming car; the driver, a woman, was looking back with a terrified expression. That’s not a good sign!

One more turn and I saw Budda before me, lying face down on the white line, that lovely 2’x4’ platform with shiny, red ball bearing wheels free spinning in the sunny morning sun. Heater was lying face up in the ditch semi-conscious, and Red was 100 yards ahead, his nose redder than his hair, hugging his knee and rocking back and forth in great pain.

Apparently, the speed and the tight turns had gotten the best of Budda’s steering ability. Rounding a turn into the oncoming lane, they came face to face with that car, veered back into their lane, and centrifugal force had its way. As the coaster lifted into the air, Red flew off the front, trying to run at somewhere near 55 miles an hour.

Red was lean and fast, but not that fast. Picture the roadrunner, legs spinning, but body gaining ground until, eventually, it made a three-point landing, nose and knees. Heater was groaning, “How did I get in the ditch?”

And Budda was mumbling, “I’ve never tasted white line before. Why is the coaster riding me?”

I don’t know what happened to the coaster after we hung it in Budda’s garage, but we lived – somewhat scarred up – to adventure yet another day.

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