TIMBER, STEEL AND CLAY

1974

 

SIDEWALK SURFING SWEEPS THE COUNTRY

Skating was quickly transformed from being an offshoot of the well established local surf scene to a fully fledged movement in itself.

 

Just prior to the “craze”, around the time I began skating in the summer of 1973/74, equipment had remained essentially unchanged since the mid 60’s. The only skateboards commonly available were Surfer Sam (pin tail timber deck with rubber wheels and wobbly, pressed metal trucks ) or G.T. – a locally made iconic product of only slightly higher quality. The GT had a heavy, cumbersome flat solid ash deck with vertical geometry slush cast metal trucks, crudely caged bearings and “clay” or “chalky” wheels.

 

These boards were just barely rideable.

Any bump, crack or ledge in the riding surface would stop them dead and send you flying.

The basic design fault behind this dangerous characteristic was the very low profile stance, with tiny, rock hard wheels and a protruding kingpin that would snag on any obstruction. Skating rapidly got a reputation as a dangerous pastime, but realistically, most of the blame for this could be laid at the feet of the inherently unsafe skate equipment of the time.

 

EARLY 70s SKATE EQUIPMENT

Spurred on by the introduction of the poly-urethane wheel (credited to Frank Nasworthy of Cadillac wheels) in ’73, skate equipment rapidly evolved beyond the cheap, surf related toys of the 60’s. Current equipment of the time would have comprised an Australian made fibreglass or nylon composite board with varying degrees of flex, smoother double action trucks from the U.S. and soft, grippy urethane wheels.

 

One thing that is a stark contrast to today’s skate set up is the time and effort involved in maintaining a board for peak riding performance. You could easily spend 2 –3 hours every couple of weeks dismantling and completely re-building a board to get it running right. Remember, there were 16 loose ball bearings per wheel to be cleaned of rust and grit, plus tiny axle hardware with super fine threads. Throw in the fact that you probably didn’t have the right tools for the job anyway, and it became quite a task.

 

Unfortunately demand for virtually any skate product far outstripped supply.

Tons of completely bogus skate equipment was sold to the unsuspecting masses.

The Condor board was a prime example - a brittle, clear poly– propylene deck, rattly primitive caged bearings, spongy urethane wheels and junky trucks crudely screwed into the plastic deck. Later versions were even made with nylon substituted for aluminium on the truck hanger! Massive return rates for breakage didn’t stop these being a huge hit throughout ‘75 and beyond.

 

The discerning local skater shunned such rolling garbage, and was soon on the look out for “precision” bearings to replace the loose ball type most commonly used, along with faster, resilient wheels. A tiny trickle of imported U.S. equipment had started to making it’s way into the country, but legit retailers who actually knew something about their product were few and far between.

The prime equipment changed quickly. Power Paw, Metaflex or Stoker wheels, Sure Grip, Chicago or Excalibur trucks were the top shelf items, mounted on a carefully crafted, home made deck with sanding sheet grip and perhaps a rudimentary kicktail.

 

A Sydney-based brand called Saurus was making some of the only truly rideable local equipment - featuring double kicks, wide shapes, precision bearings and grippy Landsurfer urethane wheels. Despite the higher performance of this type of set up, the vast majority of skate equipment sold through the mid 70’s was definitely of the “toy” variety.

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