The first time I saw them, the clattering speed reeled me in like a greyhound to an electric rabbit. I had to do it. The riders started on the steep section of Church Road, then after thirty yards, screeched hard left onto the main two-hundred-yard run down Newfield Road. It was fun to watch but I was thirsting to try it myself. Nige was my classmate and lived close to the run.
“Can you show me how to make a board like yours, Nige?”
“Yeah, it’s easy. You find a bit of wood like mine. Cut it this long with your dad’s saw. Then you get a roller skate, bash the top flat with your dad’s hammer and nail the board on top of the skate half way along.
On the way home from school, I found a six-inch wide piece of fence plank, went into the garage and got to work cutting it to length. It wasn’t as easy as Nige said. We were both eleven years old. I think his big brother, Ian, had made his board while Nige watched.
My board was ready. The plank was not quite straight on the skate and a little loose. Never mind. It would do.
Next day after school, I retrieved my new board from Nige’s back yard and we walked to the top of the run. I sat on my converted fence plank with my knees bent in front of me, my hands gripping the thin wood and pushed off. I had three tries at the left-hand corner and crashed off the sidewalk onto the road, cutting my knee and spraining my wrist.
“You gotta lean over,” said Nige. I leaned over so only two of the metal wheels were on the paving stones but still crashed.
“You gotta press down on the front of the board when you get to the corner so the back can skid round.” It worked. I screeched around the corner at speed and launched onto the rest of the run.
The board accelerated quickly. Riding was different than watching. I gritted my teeth and hung on for dear life as the board reached maximum velocity.
Like a car rattling over train tracks, my board careened over the paving stones, my fingers white and aching anchored me to the board, two inches above the ground. The vibration tingled upward like electricity, blurring my vision, and making it hard to keep on course. The clatter of the small metal wheels careening over the paving stones was amplified by the solid row of brick houses either side of the street and echoed like the staccato chatter of machine gun fire. A man walking his dog toward me became alarmed by the horrendous racket and the small-bodied projectile hurtling toward him and hastily stepped out of the way.
As the street began to flatten out, the ride slowed and finally eased to a halt. I started to breathe again.
After completing the ride, you sat drained, but satisfied, and watched other riders make their descent. To make more noise, we tried three of us on the run at once but it detracted from the beauty of the sole rider swooping down alone.
The best to watch was Big Beechy: Michael Beech was only thirteen but almost six feet tall and quite rotund. Everything about him was big except for his school hat, which didn’t come in large sizes. He had a Saint Bernard dog, which followed him everywhere.
Beechy sometimes had problems with the left turn, but once around the corner, he was exciting to watch: His larger size and the grey flapping raincoat overlapped the board obscuring his means of locomotion. He hurtled down the paving stones at above average speed, one hand alternating between clutching his bobbling hat and gripping the board. The large Saint Bernard followed in hot pursuit, barking voraciously the whole length of the ride, splattering faint spider-web trails of slobber in his wake and leaving a lingering aroma of big dog.It livened up an otherwise dull street.
The resilient residents of Newfield Road never complained. Perhaps it reminded them of when they were eleven years old having fun.
Later, in the sixties, rebellious youth in spiffy Lycra-cling-clothing, riding glossy, store-bought fiberglass boards garnished with grip tape, alloy trucks, and polyurethane wheels, claimed California as the home of the skateboard. But us Newfield Road Riders, we knew differently.