Legendary Dallas Skateboarders, Rebuffed By The City In Their Efforts To Build A Public Skatepark, Go Underground And Build Their Own.

It's old folks' night at the skatepark, and the dinosaurs are out. Sporting Vans and board shorts, faded tattoos and thinning hair, they drop into the bowl on loose old boards, one by one in some unspoken order. Each cuts his own certain route around the outdoor bowl, but a typical run on this mid-July Tuesday night is a rush across the bowl's shallow end, screaming through the deep end and up the far wall-and then aloft, into the thick summer night for the briefest taste of air. A camera flash, a pivot and a grab on the board, then it's over-a few inches to recall the glory of the old days, and back down to earth in under a second.

Sure, there aren't many guys past 50 who spend this much time airborne without earning frequent flier miles-but here at the Guapo Skillz Center in the Cedars, it's about even more than a rush: It's a holy rite, a ritual inversion connecting each new run to the 40-year chain of sublime weightless moments that came before. It's the history of elite skateboarding in Dallas, replayed with less altitude or fanfare than in, say, the '80s, but with many of the same folks cheering from the sidelines.

Craig Johnson, the greatest living legend of Dallas skateboarding, is one of those cheerleaders tonight, leaning on a cane, in a T-shirt and baggy shorts with his left leg strapped inside a massive black brace. He bit it skating at Guapo in May, needed a knee replacement, and doctors tell him it'll be at least a year before he rides again. Some of them figured he'd never get back on a board. Jon Comer, one of the finest bowl and ramp—or "vert"—skaters to come out of Dallas, and the first pro skater with a prosthetic leg, is up here too, giving pointers to his 12-year-old son. Crouched across the bowl with a digital Canon, Jeff Newton snaps shots while skaters mug for his fisheye lens as they run up over the bowl. They've been doing that for Newton's camera since the '70s—he's the guy whose photos and articles in Thrasher magazine made international stars from among the early Dallas skate scene. His company, Zorlac Skateboards, once defined the "Skate and Destroy" attitude Texas skaters were known for—crashing Southern California skate contests, riding and dressing to reflect their place as outsiders in a subculture of outsiders. Newton's homegrown "Shut Up and Skate" contests became the underground scene's biggest draws across the state, and Zorlac made professionals of guys like Johnson, sponsoring events from local contests to world tours.

Each of these legends left skateboarding behind to pursue lives in the grown-up world of business and industry. Some would falter, stumbling so hard they couldn't recover; others would rise up in the real world. No matter how divergent their paths, they'd each be commonly shaped by the revelation they came to know as boys: the power and freedom you feel on your board, the feeling that gravity itself is at your mercy—and the corollary suspicion that off your board, other supposedly immovable forces might be negotiable too.

One force that has refused to budge, at least so far, is City Hall. Unlike the suburbs of Allen, Lewisville and many other bedroom communities, Dallas has no public skatepark, save for a small prefab park in Lake Highlands shunned by most of the old pros. Al Coker, an old-guard Dallas skateboarder turned real-estate developer, became the driving force behind a prolonged political effort to give Dallas the kind of skatepark he and his brotherhood of aging skaters thought the city needed. Not some mainstream suburban park that baby-sits kids while Mom buys the groceries, but something carved out of their own skater histories—a low-maintenance public recreation space, where city kids can grasp the fiery still-beating heart of old-school Dallas skate culture, and aging skaters can, as Coker suggests, "pass along the stoke and the vibe."

"If there was a park in Dallas, I wouldn't skate at Guapo all the time, I'd go over to the park, just like...everybody else would," Coker says. "The tribe that we have really passes on the knowledge and the stoke. There's a lot of really giving people out there."

So far, Coker and his minions have had no success, running up against obstacles from the public sector and bias from the private sector. Although he's still fighting the fight, Coker took his vision for a boarder's paradise to an empty warehouse in the Cedars, near where Akard Street dead ends at Corinth in a collection of DART tracks, empty lots and anonymous industrial misfits. Now, since it opened in late 2008, Guapo is the place where mangled old ex-pros drop in with tremendously talented kids who flat-out fly around the bowl but who, out of respect to skater culture, gladly play the grommet—the low man on the totem pole—in the presence of boarding royalty.

Guys who long ago pledged allegiance to the board can go to Guapo—by invitation and for a fee—and ply old tricks, down a few Tecates and reminisce. Most of the week, they scatter to skate the big new public parks in the suburbs and a handful of semi-secret drained swimming pools. Tuesday nights, though, this warehouse in the Cedars and the skate bowl beside it, guarded by loops of concertina wire, marked by a pair of skate shoes strung across the power lines, is the living, breathing soul of Dallas skater culture.

"This is like a little getaway that nobody knows about," says Glenn Bukowski, one of the skaters Coker picked to help assemble the park. "It's our own private little Nirvana."

It's a very different scene from the gleaming new parks in Lewisville, Allen and Irving, where a national wave of public skatepark building created multimillion-dollar custom concrete magnets for a generation reared on Tony Hawk, X Games and the YouTube'd daredevilry that have helped skateboarding grow so popular in the last decade. The parks in Allen and Lewisville are tucked within mammoth sports complexes on the outskirts of town, where kids get dropped off to skate a manufactured cityscape of ramps, rails and steps otherwise rarely seen in the suburbs.

After the sport bottomed out in the mid-'90s, the X Games sparked a resurgence in popularity beginning around 1996. In 1998, Texas' Hazardous Liability Act cleared the way for cities to open public skateparks by protecting them from lawsuits over skating injuries on city equipment. "Around 2000, you really started to see public skateboard parks hit Texas," says Carter Dennis, a board member of the national group Skaters for Public Skateparks and a longtime skater in San Antonio.

"It's changed a lot. Now it's something that's socially acceptable, and you've got parents involved," says Dennis, who counts 160 public skateparks in Texas today. "It's becoming a family sport."

Greg Stubbs, a Guapo regular and one of the most vocal members of the old skate scene, laments the turn he's seen in popular skateboarding, down the same hypercompetitive path of youth baseball and soccer. A remarkable skater on a ramp used to draw a cheering audience of dozens of fellow skaters; now, Stubbs says it's about kids running skate drills on their own until they nail a given trick. A 43-year-old legal consultant, Stubbs remembers his early skating years in Oklahoma City, when riding a board was just about having fun and breaking a few rules. "Skateboarding has gotten so accepted. It's a P.E. elective," Stubbs says. "I was out at the skatepark in Allen and there was a dad literally screaming at his kid, 'Do your frontside grind!'"

The man who's once again become a caretaker to the Dallas skater tradition is easily old enough to be that yelling suburban skater dad, if he weren't so dedicated to the old boarder's mantra: Above all, have fun. Streams of morning sun light up Al Coker's short-cropped ghost-white hair this Tuesday in late March. He has a surfer's perma-tan and build, and an easygoing manner that seems to shave a decade off his 56 years as he settles into a chair in the Al Coker and Associates office, a stylish three-room suite in the Travis Walk complex near Knox Street. Appointed with abstract sculpture and painted decks, it reflects his mix of skater roots, the art degree he completed when he left the scene and the square life he's led in his day job as a condominium and high-rise loft developer.

"In the '80s if you were a skateboarder, you were stone-cold, worse than a gangster rapper. You were scum." Coker says. "Skateboarding has always been on the outside looking in."

Coker, though, has been skating since before the sport took on that outsider's tradition. In 1962, there was no Tony Hawk to emulate, and Coker wasn't projecting punk moodiness—he was just a 7-year-old kid who liked cruising fast and getting away from his folks for a while.

When he was growing up, his father's engineering job took the family to Venezuela, and after trying out a friend's board he begged his father to bring one back from the States. "It was just rolling—that sense of freedom," Coker says. He and a friend would spend whole days taking turns on the board, riding its noisy metal wheels until it fell apart. "And we'd put it back together and keep skating."

Coker later moved with his family to Florida, where he spent a few years soaking up the surfing lifestyle, then in 1971 came to Dallas, far from the waves but surrounded by concrete; he discovered a new city ripe for riding. Construction sites, parking lots and drainage ditches became his playground, and though a skateboard was still a rare sight around town, Coker says his board attracted plenty of interest wherever he took it. He became one of the city's biggest skateboard evangelists at a time when the sport was about to explode.

First made with metal wheels, then clay, skateboards had been hugely popular as a fad in the '60s that quickly fizzled out again, like the hula-hoop and the Frisbee when they first arrived. In 1972, though, Cadillac Wheels began selling wheels made of urethane, which was not only quieter but forgiving enough to ride on previously unskateable roads, and at ridiculous speeds. "You could hit a rock and not go flying off the pavement," Coker says. "All of a sudden the level of performance went up dramatically."

Coker recalls a friend of his came back from California with a set of those new plastic wheels in 1973. "After that, it was all over. I'm like, 'I gotta get some of these,'" Coker says. "We'd go down to Port Isabel and South Padre, and the surf shops were just starting to carry skateboards." He'd ride around Dallas and people would ask where they could buy a board like his. With a few friends, Coker says he began buying extra boards to bring up from surf shops on the coast. "And that ended up becoming my skateboard shop."

Launched with capital from Don and Elaine Singer, a pair of Dallas' first skater parents, the shop Coker ran was named simply The Skateboard Shop. Tucked into a triangular subterranean nook below the food court, it became a cultural anchor in the hip stoner haven of Valley View Mall. From 1975 to 1977, Coker and his co-manager David Derth ran not just the shop, but the Dallas skate culture that mushroomed out of it. Old skaters recall the shop as a place to score not just their boards, but T-shirts, Tiddies sandals and pot, along with tips on the latest spots to ride.

Sunday afternoon skate sessions in the mid-'70s drew hundreds of kids to the gold buildings on Northwest Highway at Central Expressway, where they'd ride around parking garages, showing off handstands and 360-degree spins. Coker was a ringleader then, a shirtless pied piper with long dark hair and a handlebar mustache. "Everybody completely had the fever. You had girls there, and you'd be riding two people on a board. It was just all kinds of wacky—it had a real fun innocence about it.

"We started skating drainage ditches, and that really felt like surfing. And then the next progression from there was like, we heard about people skating pools, so we just started going crazy trying to find swimming pools."

In land set aside for the D/FW Airport construction, behind a burned-out house off State Highway 114 and Belt Line Road, they discovered the pool that became legendary as the Rat Hole, a "a weird-looking pool," Coker says, with corners and rounded Roman ends that fired the imagination of the young skaters who begged to come along.

Craig Johnson was one of those kids, a young teenager with budding punk sensibilities who'd just discovered the Sex Pistols, and lugged his board to Valley View Mall hoping to fall in with the big-time skaters. "I just wanted to hang out," Johnson recalls. "But there was no 'hanging out.' You were nobody, you were a grommet." One day, Johnson says, "They were like, kid, you know how to roll a joint?" His best attempt, he says, became his ticket out to the Rat Hole.

It was also the era of the first wave of private skateparks in the late '70s—broad, undulating expanses of concrete like the park at Bachman Lake, Wizard skatepark in Garland and Freeflight in Carrollton. They became full-day summer camps where kids explored new possibilities on their boards, deconstructing tricks they'd seen in magazines.

Through the sport's early years, Skateboarder was the monthly record that spread the latest news from coast to coast, but as the magazine broadened its focus to include other street sports, skateboarding's fiercely devoted core calcified around a new magazine, Thrasher. From its first issue in 1981, Thrasher became the bible of the skate scene's bruised and bleeding edge, embracing the sense of rebellion that lured so many boarders to the sport.

A well-known freestyle boarder who worked at Freeflight, Jeff Newton would do more than anyone to trumpet Dallas' place on the global skateboarding scene, catching its budding stars in midair with his Canon T-90 camera, selling the photos to Thrasher beginning with the magazine's second issue. Newton wrote stories to go with the photos, too, building a mystique around Texas skate prodigies like Craig Johnson and Jeff Phillips, who often beat icons like Tony Hawk in competition.

Newton's biggest legacy, though, is the skateboard company he opened in 1976 in his mother's garage: Zorlac. Branded with dark, elaborate images of skulls and bats drawn by the punk artist Pushead (famous for his Metallica and Misfits album covers), Zorlac grew into one of the most respected brands in skateboarding and one of the largest outside California, sending top skaters like Johnson across the world on promotional tours.

In the lean years after the first private parks closed around 1980, Newton put 250,000 miles on his '76 Datsun pickup, towing a skate ramp across the state to meet-ups with star national skaters. "We would drive to San Antonio to skate the afternoon and drive home. That's stupid. But everybody wanted to skate so many things, all the time," Newton recalls. "A quarter-million miles with no air conditioning. But we didn't know any better."

Newton and Zorlac were in prime position to take advantage when skating took off again in the mid-'80s, endorsed by Jeff Phillips, who cemented a place as the top boarding talent in Dallas. He thrilled crowds of cheering kids at the Blue Ramp (later known, after a new paint job and an expansion, as the Clown Ramp) at Bachman Lake with his signature trick, the "Phillips 66," a 360-degree inversion with a blind backward approach. Stories spread about the contest Phillips won riding sky-high on acid—and he was one of the sport's good guys. Flying above the ramps in a helmet topped with a fake mohawk, Craig Johnson was the underground skate scene's dreadlocked cult hero.

The wave of popularity that Zorlac and the rest of local skate culture rode through the '80s, cresting at the end of that decade, crashed hard in the early '90s. In 1986, Newton partnered with a group of California businessmen hoping to keep Zorlac running and expand its reach, but the deal never panned out the way he'd hoped. After the brand reached its peak, Newton says the Californians shoved him aside and mismanaged the company finances in his absence. For years, Newton was left without control of the signature Texas brand he'd built. He and the investors are still locked up in a trademark dispute.

Buckling under the tough times, the latest wave of skateparks shuttered, the skaters set loose on the streets again to explore the urban landscape. "Vert" skating gave way to a street style, and a whole new crop of skaters grew up with a very different vision of the sport, brushing aside many of their old "vert" idols. By then, Phillips wasn't just a pro boarder; he was a skatepark owner too, running the Jeff Phillips Skatepark—along Stemmons Freeway at Northwest Highway—with his business partner, fellow Zorlac skater Billy Smith. Phillips, like Newton and Coker before him, had become an anchor to the local skate scene; the treehouse he built above his home near White Rock Lake was a major skater hangout. As he faced another round of uncertainty in the sport he'd built his life around, skaters recall that by late 1993 Phillips had fallen into a detached haze. On Christmas day, loaded up on alcohol and Valium, Phillips shot and killed himself at home. Just a few years before the X Games reinvigorated the sport, Dallas skater culture hit a low point, without the old parks that had anchored the sport, and without its greatest skating legend.

"He was the most likable guy you've ever met. You look at what's going on, you figure, 'Oh, he's on top of the world,'" Newton says. "It was pretty bad. We'll never know why he did it."

Skaters like Jon Comer and Mike Crum, who skated Phillips' park and the Clown Ramp as kids, grew up during this lull, and were ready to ride the sport's next big wave from the X Games. A new generation of kids grew up watching Crum compete against Tony Hawk and other skate stars on ESPN. Old ringleaders like Coker and Newton fell out of the scene, setting aside their calling to pour their efforts into new ventures.

In 2007, while the plans were being proposed for the Trinity Strand Trail, a 7.8-mile hike-and-bike path past Stemmons Freeway at Oak Lawn Avenue, Coker decided it was a good fit for a public skatepark. He says his motivation was simple. "I love skateboarding, and it has done a lot of positive things for my life," he says. "It just seemed like a travesty that the eighth-largest city in the U.S.A. did not—and still does not—have a skateboard park."

Coker teamed with his friend Peter Benati, who runs the Dallas-based marketing firm TractorBeam, and quickly rallied support among old boarders. Plans drawn up by Grindline, a Seattle-based custom skatepark builder, proposed a large, irregularly shaped street course including a few small bowls, surrounded by trees and small ponds. Coker says he lined up a donor who'd post a million-dollar donation to build the course in the future Stemmons Park, at the point where the Katy Trail would connect to the Trinity Strand Trail.

"As the process moved along, it came to the point where the friends of the Trinity Strand Trail had to endorse the idea of a skatepark," recalls Willis Winters, assistant director of the city's Park and Recreation Department. "It was put to a board vote, and they decided it would not really fit into their plans for the connection, and at that point it went away."

Just why that happened depends on who you ask. "They balked because Trammell Crow held them hostage," Coker says, repeating the popular story that circulated among the skaters: Folks at Crow Holdings became wary of having a public skatepark—and the spray-painting punks in hoodies sure to come with it—close to its new headquarters in the Old Parkland Hospital, and they threatened to withhold selling certain pieces of land to the city if the skatepark were built.

While the story's become a kind of creation tale uniting the skaters at Guapo—the stodgy old folks still trying keep skateboarding down because of their old stereotypes—trail planners say the skatepark was just one of many options that were considered and shot down on their merits. "It's just not something we thought was consistent with the project at that time," says Crow Holdings' Steve Bancroft, who sits on the board of the Trinity Strand Trail. Bancroft recalls a few presentations about the skatepark, made directly to Crow, and guesses he drew the most attention because Crow owned so much land around the trail. In the end, though, he says, "I didn't write a position paper on it. I don't remember killing it myself."

Rebuffed at the Trinity Strand, Coker and Benati took their plans directly to the Park and Recreation Department, where Winters says he thought they'd found a home at Fair Park, not far from the DART station. But Coker says the Friends of Fair Park had other long-term plans for the land. Another prospective location at Bachman Lake wasn't big enough. Months of running in circles, Coker says, sapped the energy from the project and chased his donor away. "You know, the city squandered an opportunity," Coker says. "Like how many guys are walking around with a million bucks saying, 'I'm gonna give you a million bucks to build a skatepark?'"

While support for Coker's public park was derailing, the city built a small skatepark in East Dallas' Lakeland Hills neighborhood, a prefabricated, off-the-shelf park with movable ramps and rails. It felt like a slap in the face to Coker and other skaters who'd been pitching their own design, though Winters says the timing was pure coincidence. "Some of the kids that lived in the Lakeland Hills Park neighborhood approached us and we directed them to their council member," he recalls. Back in 2007 each council member had free rein over a discretionary fund to spend in his or her own district, and Leo Cheney, who represented District 7, put $250,000 toward improving Lakeland Hills Park, including the addition of a $100,000 skatepark.

It's not just the timing of the park the skaters objected to, but the prefab park itself—"playground equipment" they call it, when they're being generous. Carter Dennis, the skatepark advocate, is familiar with Lakeland Hills, and remains opposed to prefab parks. "We're trying to convince cities to do it the right way," Dennis says. He advocates a "permanent, poured-in-place concrete skate park," with room for custom routes around the park, and landscaping to help it fit in with the neighborhood.

In 2008, Houston opened a $3 million, 30,000-square-foot downtown skatepark, and plans to open a 50,000-foot skatepark in North Houston next year. San Antonio is opening four new parks this year, Dennis says, and Austin is breaking ground on a large downtown skatepark as well. "You're seeing all these big cities moving forward on this, but in Dallas we haven't really seen anything," Dennis says. "Dallas is notorious for being behind."

"There's a lot of poor kids, a lot of lower-middle-class kids—their parents don't have time to freakin' take them to a park," Coker says. In an urban setting, a public skatepark with easy DART access can open up the sport to kids who just need a place to ride.

Winters says Dallas' Park and Recreation Department is doing all it can just to maintain the facilities it's already got after years of budget cuts. Ideally, he says, he'd like to see Dallas build a network of small skateparks anchored by one major park near a DART station, which could be run by an outside operator. "I still think Fair Park is a good site," he says, envisioning a park within a $2-3 million extreme sports complex that could host the X Games. "We need more of these facilities around the city. I can't tell you how many times we have a conversation about a major skatepark."

Without a major urban skatepark, the old skater core has splintered out into the new suburban skate complexes and weekend trips to a select ring of backyard pools. Ronny Ripper's "Texas Pool Sharks" message board was an online clearinghouse for tips about backyard pools, but Ripper folded it earlier this year as the chatter migrated to Facebook. At Guapo, old skaters say braving a ride at public parks is like stepping into a lawless Wild West, every skater for himself—a crush of scooters, bikes and boards—with none of the behavioral norms you'd get growing up inside a skating culture.

"The thing kids aren't getting at the parks that are just open—where the parents slow down to 20 and drop 'em off—is that when we skated, when you're the grom, you learn that there's a hierarchy. You learn that you don't drop in on people. You learn that people take turns...I got tired of going to parks and bailing because there was somebody on a BMX bike," Coker says.

It was a brush with disaster one chaotic afternoon at a park in Grand Prairie that convinced Coker to open a private park of his own. After getting clocked in the side of the head by a passing bike in 2007, Coker recalls, "I said to Greg Stubbs, 'I'm done. We're gonna find someplace, we're gonna get just us, a bunch of old guys and we can skate with who we want to. No more Razors, no more diving out of the way of bikes.'" Stubbs told Coker that the Havik skatepark in Arlington was about to close down, and the owner was looking to sell its ramps, rails and bowl. "So six minutes later I bought a skatepark. And then it was like, 'Oh, crap. Where are we going to put it?"

After the roundabout search for a public skatepark site, Coker said it was refreshingly easy to land warehouse space from megadeveloper Jack Matthews. It wasn't long before he had expert skate ramp builders installing a street course with ramps and obstacles plucked from Havik and rearranged inside the low-ceilinged building. "Our landlord, Matthews Southwest, is so accommodating and nice. They view the skatepark as an asset for the Cedars."

When the park opened in late 2007, it had the rare underground cachet of the old skate spots, a legend that beat the greatest new backyard pool discovery. Videos trickling onto YouTube fueled the excitement, but it was never advertised. You had to know someone who knew someone who could see about bringing you in some night. The name Guapo was a joking reference to times down at Coker's surfing house in Mexico, where old women in the town told his wife how guapo—handsome—her husband is. "I'm the big hit with women in their 70s," Coker says.

Craig Johnson, of course, knew all the old skaters, but he was only clued in by a chance mention of the park one night he was out drinking. "I hadn't seen Al in years. I'm down at Lee Harvey's, and I hear there's a skate park right down here," Johnson recalls. He went immediately to the park and found Coker. "He said, 'I didn't even know you were alive.'"

Guapo became the little getaway that only insiders knew about, a private piece of heaven with admission guaranteed if you had the right skater cred and could afford the monthly fee.

"The atmosphere reminds me of hanging out at Jeff's old skatepark when I was a kid," Jon Comer says. "It's like a high school reunion every time I go out there."

What unites the brotherhood at Guapo is the devotion to the meaning they got from skating as kids. None of this is lost on Coker, who—among guys who've settled into post-skating jobs as handymen and white-collar grunts—is the most plugged-in, not just the eldest but the most adult of the old skatepunks. "I'm like Peter Pan, I don't really ever—well, I'm probably a little more like Captain Hook, because I have a lot of people that sort of follow me blithely into this mess that I create."

Guapo may only be around thanks to Coker's losing fight with the city, but he's still hopeful for an urban public skatepark that can entice the dinosaurs and challenge kids who are still learning. "If I opened that park [Guapo] to the public, it would be full every day, but I would be so paranoid of being sued," Coker says. "That's why all the parks close. It only takes one person, and it's never the skater. It's like some skater's parent thinks, 'Oh, what a good idea. It's your fault that my kid fell.'"

Coker says he hopes to parlay Guapo's success into a renewed push at City Hall for a series of pocket-sized parks in its image. "We would be able to show them Guapo and say look, this is what we've done privately, and it's been in operation for three years. We could provide the technology, the technical expertise," Coker says. "I think we're gonna be successful this time. I really do."

At the same time, Guapo's landlords just raised the rent—Coker says it costs $3,000 a month for rent, utilities and insurance. To help balance the books, Coker's asking new members to pay monthly dues up to $100 (original members pay $50), and plans on opening the park to the public two or three times a month, beginning later this year. He is looking at other novel fundraising options too. On July 24 Guapo hosted an open house, charging $20 a head. Fliers publicizing the event read: "Help keep the skill center open...and come skate with legends."

Darkness settles in around Guapo, shop lights strung above lighting the way across the expanse of the bowl.

A black Lexus wagon with a Guapo bulldog sticker on the back pulls into the parking lot, and Coker climbs out. Ascending the steps to the bowl, he finds Johnson at the top, checks out the brace on Johnson's leg and asks how he's been.

"I'm stoked, I'm stoked," Johnson says, showing off how far he can bend his knee after a month of physical therapy.

Coker dives into the bowl on his board, just crossing across the deepest spot in the pool before losing his footing, squirting the board out to the side and planting his face into the far wall.

"That was not a very good warm-up run," he says.

Coker drops back in for a second run—given a free pass from waiting his turn—skating high up the far wall and coming back around to grind across the coping past the skaters gathered around the shallow end.

"Yeah Al!" one of them shouts. "You eat your Wheaties this morning?"

Johnson turns with a conspiratorial air, hushing his voice as he gestures at two kids crossing the parking lot toward the bowl. It's Holland Austin, a 22-year-old skater who rides with a local skate crew called the JACS. "You are about to experience greatness like you have never experienced in your fucking life," Johnson says. "He's a punk-ass motherfucker. I won't ever tell him he rules. But he rules."

With him is Anthony Padilla, a long-haired kid whose retro skater looks aren't lost on Coker. "We look like we were separated at birth back in the '70s," Coker says. Padilla broke his leg on his first run inside Guapo, but not before impressing Coker so much with his skating that he earned his own key to the warehouse.

"We're all fuckin' old, we're just old guys. If all of us keep hanging out, who knows how long we'll be doing it?" Stubbs asks. Austin drops into the bowl, speeds across the shallow and pops straight up over the edge halfway to the deep end, soaring into the air before landing on the wall and speeding across the bowl. Stubbs shakes his head. "Youth is where it's at," he says.

As Austin finishes his flying circus act around the bowl, Coker and Johnson are watching too. "Fuck," Coker says, "Youth is wasted on the young."

"I'm hobbling through my life, but I come here, these motherfuckers aren't saying 'You're 45, what are you doing riding a skateboard?'" Johnson says. "I'll come in, do a kick-ass fucking backside grind and I'll say goodnight. That's it."

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Patrick Michels
Contact: Patrick Michels