Longform

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

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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.

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Patrick Michels
Contact: Patrick Michels