Grab your board and go sidewalk surfin’ with me.
— Jan and Dean
I’m not sure how The Beach Boys’ flop, “Catch a Wave” morphed into Jan and Dean’s hit single Sidewalk Surfin’, but it now seems appropriate. The beat of each song was identical, while the lyrics were different to accommodate the two types of joyful movement, one over water, the other over concrete. While both songs, especially “Sidewalk Surfin.’” seem corny now, they illustrate how inseparable the two sports were in the beginning.
Sidewalk surfing, or skateboarding, as it would become known was probably invented by La Jolla surfboard builder Peter Parkin in the late 1940s. These crude death traps were really nothing much more than steel wheeled roller skates fastened to a board, which was often little more than a sawed off two-by-four. Next came clay wheels, which were a great improvement, but could still offer a trip to the ER if you hit event the smallest pebble. Skateboarding at the time was done mostly on flat surfaces, or down hills. The moves were all surf-inspired, and the skateboard offered something to do once the afternoon wind hit and blew out the waves. It wasn’t until the invention of the urethane wheel that it all changed and vertical skating was born in empty swimming pools. Original pool skaters like Tony Alva, Jay Adams and Stacy Peralta were all surfers, and so they continued riding concrete waves and, as Jan and Dean said in “Sidewalk Surfin’” continued to “do the tricks the surfers do.”
Skateboarding remained surfing’s little brother until skaters began flying out of pools and doing tricks that no surfers had ever thought of. Skating had repaid its debt to the surf world, and surfing has tried, in vain, to catch up ever since.
While currently many good skateboarders are also great surfers, and vice versa, I can’t think of one pro skater who is also a pro surfer. In fact, some surfers don’t skate at all, and some skaters don’t surf. They are now different sports with different risks and rewards.
No surfer will ever know the thrill of launching 30 feet into the air, and no skater will ever be completely surrounded by water without being wet. Surfers may collide with rocks, reefs and hard sand bottoms, but there are very few bones broken after slamming into solid objects like there are in skateboarding. Then again, skateboarders have little fear of drowning while riding the deep end of a pool.
I last tried skateboarding, or sidewalk surfin’ in my case, about five years ago, after former Gravity Skateboards owner Michael Bream gave me a downhill skateboard. I had wobbled my way to Cardiff’s Glenn Park, where I figured I could ride the paths that are surrounded by soft grass. If I fell, I would simply roll over on the turf. But even that proved difficult after not stepping on a skateboard for 40-some years. Taking a breather, I walked to the parking lot, only to find the legendary lifelong surfer/skateboarder Skip Frye (who is seven years my senior) riding his skateboard. I’ll give it another shot, but it sure is nice to land on water rather than concrete. Then again, I’ve always wondered what it feels like to fly.