Back to Black - A short story

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Jack Smith
Morro Bay Skatemuseum
Morro Bay Skatemuseum
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Location: Morro Bay, California

Back to Black - A short story

Post by Jack Smith » Fri Jun 09, 2006 8:34 am

He had stood in this same spot thirty years earlier. From the summit, the road stretched out before him, a mile long, downhill stretch of smooth asphalt. It almost seemed steeper now than it had back then, was that possible he thought to himself.

In 1975 he was the fastest skateboarder in the world, approaching speeds of close to 50mph on what was then state of the art gear, a 24” Bahne fiberglass deck, Chicago Trucks and Cadillac Wheels. He rode in long pants, slip on Vans and no t-shirt. His safety gear consisted of his yoga training, self-confidence, a helmet and most important of all, the immortality one feels at the tender age of nineteen. He would never fall, it just wasn’t possible. Death never even crossed his mind.

He was the fastest skateboarder in the world, yet had never entered an official race. Oh, sure he had won many informal Sunday afternoon races on the fresh black top hills of Box Canyon. Going fast was something that came naturally to him, first running, then surfing and now skateboarding. When the new urethane wheels started finding their way onto skateboards throughout Southern California, he was lucky enough to be working for a surfboard manufacturer who saw there was money to be made, and quickly switched their production to fiberglass skateboards equipped with these new wonder rollers.

He progressed quickly from the sidewalk slope in front of the shop to the long, black, sweeping hills of the numerous housing tracts spread across the hills of northern San Diego county. He soon discovered that he was very comfortable going fast. At first 30mph seemed fast, but as the weeks passed his speeds continued to climb, 40mph, then 45mph. Soon he was knocking on the door of 50mph. He was never scared, it became his special place, a place others had yet to discover, a place he felt totally free. It was almost as if here he were flying, the wind rushing past, the tears welling in his eyes, the total concentration…nothing else mattered for those few seconds when he felt the bonds of gravity fall away.

He was good. He was lucky. It was a fall afternoon when some guy with a fancy Nikon camera showed up at Box Canyon. The guy began shooting photos as he made run after run from higher on the hill, pushing harder each time, straining to make his tuck tighter and more aerodynamic, trying to milk every possible mile per hour from the hill. When he was finished for the day, the photographer walked over and introduced himself as the photo editor of Skateboarder Magazine, and asked him a bunch of questions about his skating. The shooter asked him to sign a photo release before he left and then told him to keep an eye out for the next issue of the magazine.

Everything exploded over the next few months. He did watch for the next issue of the magazine and was surprised to see himself in a two page center spread. The following issue, he was featured in a “Who’s Hot”, which was followed by cover shot and interview in the next edition. He was soon being called the “fastest skateboarder in the world”. The photo editor had become the editor. As their friendship grew, the editor became Cosell to his Ali.

It all came at him fast, endorsements, travel, consulting jobs, announcing gigs and even the occasional skate groupie. He was a professional skateboarder, paid to play, a dream come true.

And just as suddenly it was over. A mid-week practice session at Black Hill, he wasn’t even going that fast, maybe 25mph. The kid just stepped off the curb right into his path, no time to turn, so he just jumped off and tried to run it out. The first step was fine, the second wasn’t. He felt his left knee give way in a twisting, burning flash of pain, even before his body hit the ground he knew his ride was over.

This was in the days before arthroscopic surgery, the ACL in his left knee was shredded. The surgery was seven hours, the scar was nine inches long and the rehab took was more than a year.
By the time he could even stand on a skateboard again, everything had changed, no one cared about downhill or slalom anymore, the skateboarding world’s focus was vertical. His wasn’t. The ride was indeed over, it was all gone.

As he stared down the hill, he couldn’t believe that this new generation of skaters even knew who he was. The first call had come a couple of years ago, not from a young skater, but from an older one, close to his age. The skater who was now a race promoter wanted him to be the announcer at a race being held on Catalina Island. The promoter told him of how “the world’s fastest skateboarder” had been his first skateboarding hero, how he tried to skate like him, dress like him and even wear his hair like him.

He readily agreed to serve as the announcer and over the next two years he provided commentary for numerous races, a few even ended up on Fox Sports and ESPN. Racers both young and old treated him with great respect, somewhat like a tribal elder. Slowly he began to skate again, venturing into the canyons that surrounded his high desert home. The new equipment was amazing, the wheels fast and smooth, the trucks stable and the deck firm. He was scared at first, the knee had long since healed, his confidence hadn’t. He began with small hills and lots of turns, as the pounds fell away from the uphill walks he moved to bigger hills with less turns, more speed. It felt good, it felt the same.

He knew where it would take him, he didn’t even try to pretend. One morning he woke up before dawn and as he sat drinking his coffee, glanced at the framed center spread on his living room wall, he knew it was time. Packing his gear into his car he felt incredibly calm, with each passing mile he drew closer to Black Hill, with each passing mile he wasn’t quite so sure this was a good idea. And then he was there, the sun coming up over the ridge, chasing away the cold. He sat in the car for a few minutes, just remembering…wondering.

He was glad he had come early, the road was now lined with mini-mansions, a far cry from the halcyon days of his youth, when you could skate for hours, with your only company being hawks and coyotes. These days he wore pads and a helmet, he slowly pulled them on, then checked his trucks, spun his wheels and set the skateboard on the ground.

Now he was rolling, upright at first, then sinking into a hands forward tuck, the way he did when he first began going fast so long ago. As his speed picked up, he positioned his arms along side his body, hands trailing behind him, his back flat…the magazine had called it the “new fairing” when he had unveiled it. It was still the standard thirty years later.

The first curve came on quickly, his line was perfect. And now into the short, steep chute his speed was approaching 40mph, the big left was coming on fast, a quick air brake and he settled in for the final straightaway. It felt like he was somewhere in the neighborhood of 60mph, he felt good, he felt in control again. And then a movement a few hundred feet in front of him caught his attention, a dog coming down one of the yards, maybe he’ll stop before the road he hoped. It did, for a moment and then it began moving again, out onto the street. He began to gradually move his line to the other side of the road, another few seconds and he would be past the golden retriever. The dog cocked it’s head, hearing the sound of spinning wheels, and then it turned and saw the speeding skater. It sprang forward, all it saw was something to chase, something to play with.

It was too late, he was moving too fast, their paths were destined to collide, he started to come out of his tuck, but realizing that there was no way he could run this one out he reached down and grabbed his rail. He had only recently learned Coleman slides, but had never attempted one at more than 30mph. His grip was firm, he brought the board around, dropped his trailing hand onto the asphalt, he saw the dog flash by inches away. He was slowing, probably 45mph now, he was home free. He never saw the manhole cover, just felt it as the sliding stopped and his flight began. He was sailing through the air with his back parallel to the ground and his head facing downhill.

It was quiet, quiet for too long. Long enough to see that your life does really flash before your eyes in situations like this. His parents, his ex-wife, his sons, one of who had died much too young, they were all there. Weddings, friends, surf sessions, skate sessions, old teachers…the quiet was much too long. Am I already dead he thought. Is this what death is? Silence, with a never ending loop of life playing in your head.

And then with the noise and pain he had his answer, he wasn’t dead. He was sliding on his back, praying he would stop before he hit the curb. He didn’t, he felt the impact, heard his helmet shatter. Then nothing, just black and the quiet again. Then wet, lots of wet, but it wasn’t blood. The golden retriever was licking his face, he was alive, hell he didn’t even think he was hurt that bad, nothing seemed broken.

Now the dog was being pulled away by a beautiful woman with long blonde hair and the most incredible blue eyes he had ever seen. She kept asking if he was okay, and saying that she was so sorry the dog had caused him to crash. He was now sitting up, his head beginning to clear. Her face was now in focus, he had seen this woman before. He looked across this street and saw a blue convertible sports car with it’s door still open. “Yours”, he asked? “Yes” she replied. He pointed to the dog, “yours also”? “That’s Boomer”, she answered. And then it came to him, where he had seen her before. At the marina, where he would spend the day wandering the docks looking at sailboats, dreaming of someday owning one, sailing away with no plan. He had seen her at the marina. Maybe he had even seen her on one of the sailboats. By now he was recovered enough to steal a glance at her left hand, no ring. He smiled, she asked again, “are you sure you’re okay”? “How about a lift to the top” he said. She smiled back, “Sure, my name is Cathy by the way”.

Once again this hill had changed his life. Today’s ride would be the last. He knew it was over the moment he saw her, the moment he got lost in those blue eyes.

As she drove him back up the hill, she turned to him and asked, “aren’t you a little to old to be riding a skateboard”? Before he could reply, she smiled and said, “Just teasing. Sorry, sometimes I can be a real smart ass”. He turned and looked back down the hill, and then at her, this time he knew he was going the right way.

Joe Iacovelli
Posts: 1089
Joined: Mon Sep 16, 2002 2:00 am
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Post by Joe Iacovelli » Fri Jun 09, 2006 2:27 pm

Is this a true story?

I met Shufly on my first trip to Avila. He couldn't have been nicer to me. It was one of the highlights of my trip. I was 12 yrs old all over again.

Nice job Jack.


Robert J Herten
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Location: Jersey

Post by Robert J Herten » Fri Jun 16, 2006 6:55 pm

Somebody posted this video over on the S&B forum too, so I thought people would like to see it here as well:

Very cool story and video to match. For a (relatively) young guy like me, I can't imagine doing 60 mph on tiny narrow trucks like that.

Jack Smith
Morro Bay Skatemuseum
Morro Bay Skatemuseum
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Joined: Fri Aug 23, 2002 2:00 am
Location: Morro Bay, California

Post by Jack Smith » Fri Jun 16, 2006 10:35 pm


Parts of the story are...some of it is fiction.

Jani Soderhall
ISSA President 2011-2020
ISSA President 2011-2020
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Post by Jani Soderhall » Sat Jun 17, 2006 12:57 am matter what, it's one fine story.

Thank you Jack!


Rick Floyd
Pink Floyd Skates
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Post by Rick Floyd » Mon May 28, 2007 6:07 am

As someone who is just getting back into skating at age 45 after 22 years, and who is single, it resonates...maybe I'll go skate by the marina this weekend...hmmmm. :-)
"All the money in the world can not buy sharing the excitement of life with other people. Nothing else matters."

- Jason Mitchell (Criddlezine Interview)

Eric Brammer
Posts: 324
Joined: Sat Sep 25, 2004 4:48 am

Long story, short hill...

Post by Eric Brammer » Mon May 28, 2007 8:38 am

D.S. was also on my wall, as a poster, back when I lived on the plateua above my village as a kid. I'd see that tuck, well poised, blurred a bit, and head out down Watering Trough Hill, thinking maybe this time my tuck would be clean enough to go on by the TownHall 1-1/2 miles away. I did exactly that (with blue 70mm Kryptos) one nice day in early June of '78, maybe 3-4 days after School had let out. Due to the next set of hills, I didn't stop for another 3/4 mile. Went right on by my friend's house in the village, didn't even break my tuck-form to wave, just flew on by...

When Schwippy was hanging out at the Worlds after the racin', I met with D.S., grabbed Adam's newer Roe, and asked him to sign it. Schwip might not know exactly who's name that is, but damn straight, I DO! :-)
"Surfin' these Old Hills since back in The Day"

christian black
Posts: 1
Joined: Fri Jan 01, 2010 6:19 am
Location: USA

hi hellow

Post by christian black » Fri Jan 01, 2010 6:22 am

Great Forum!! I'm Cesar and I'm new here, just browsing for some good stuff and informative posts..
Christian Black

Duca Suzu
Posts: 6
Joined: Mon Aug 01, 2011 11:19 pm

Re: Back to Black - A short story

Post by Duca Suzu » Mon Aug 01, 2011 11:26 pm


Michael Stigall
Posts: 1
Joined: Wed Oct 05, 2011 5:00 pm

Re: Back to Black - A short story

Post by Michael Stigall » Wed Oct 05, 2011 5:06 pm

That's a nice story, Jack. Thanx for sharing.
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