Hard on the heels of the surfing craze of the 1960s, skateboards started showing up. I think there may have been commercially made boards, maybe in California. In Iowa you couldn’t get them. If you wanted a skateboard, you had to make it yourself. So I grabbed myself a 1 x 6 a couple of feet long and an old steel sidewalk skate, the kind that used skate keys.
I cut the board in the shape of a surfboard, shellacked it, and adorned it with black racing stripes and an Iron Cross. I had to take the skate apart, then I screwed it to the bottom of the board. The skates were steel and didn’t have the best bearings to begin with. The wheels were only about 1/2” thick and the track of the entire skate couldn’t have been more than about 3 inches. Not a very stable platform. The skateboard below looks almost exactly like the one I made, but it doesn’t have the racing stripes, etc.
Equipped with my new board I skated down the driveway learning the basics of starting, turning, and dismounting. Only problem, our drive was only about 20 feet long before it emptied onto a pea gravel apron, guaranteed to stop a skateboarder on a dime. I even got so I could hang 10, hanging all my toes over the front of the board.
So, once I had my technique down I was intent to try it out on a big hill. Just such a hill was one block away on Shaeffer Drive. It had a steep beginning, then it sort of leveled out for a nice run, then got real steep again for an exciting finish.
Outfitted in my cutoff shorts and bare feet I headed for the hill. Pushing off, I started to pick up speed and was sailing along nicely. Reaching the flatter section I had some fun coasting along, slowing down a little. I got to the really steep part and started to pick up speed again. As I got going faster and faster I noticed the board was becoming less stable. Soon the sloppy tolerances in the wheels made them wobble a little. With greater and greater speed, that little wobble started to become more pronounced and eventually evolved into a nearly uncontrollable fishtail effect.
At this point, I started questioning the wisdom of undertaking this adventure almost naked with only a pair of cutoffs between my skin and the cruelly abrasive pavement that whizzed by at an ever increasing rate. I couldn’t jump off, I didn’t have any shoes on and that would have resulted in the mother of all stubbed toes. To continue meant that I would be going even faster. I began to feverishly search for a grassy stretch and found one a lot or two further down the hill. Just as the board was about to self-destruct I steered it into the curb and jumped just as it struck. I must’ve rolled and escaped unscathed. It’s funny how you retain little or no memory of an actual incident. I know I didn’t try that kind of stuff again without being fully clothed with a good pair of shoes. And not on that hill either.