Melbourne Underground Session
photo: Neil Durram
Melbourne’s Underground Loop was a favourite spot to hit after a day’s session at Pond. The enormous 25 foot diameter pipes ran for several kilometres around central Melbourne, but the rare skateable sections had to be re-charted with each session as construction slowly progressed.
The Underground system could be accessed relatively easily by skulking into the shadows off the end of Jolimont station’s rail platform.
Often wet, muddy and always lit like a cave, the huge pipes were marred by a ledge for cabling which ran right along one side at about the 30 degree mark. Rumours abounded about ledge - free rippable sections, but I can’t say I actually ever saw one.
With a reasonable run up, however, you could get to 50 or 60 degrees.
But the real thrill had more to do with the outlaw feel of riding somewhere so obviouslt off limits and a guaranteed bust.
Teams of skaters were repeatedly chased out of this admittedly highly dangerous building site, often hotly pursued by the giant yellow construction graders , going full “light and siren” to scare us off. A couple of the Noble Park boys apparently ended up spending the night in the lock up after one of the less than successful Underground missions.
On one weekend mission to uncover new rideable sections, we jumped a fence in Fitzroy Gardens, only to see a yellow jacketed rail worker guarding the manhole entrance. Having been separated earlier, we thought Wedge and cohorts had been busted and went back to wait in Wedge’s car.
Several hours later, after a full shake down search by the cops (who thought our loitering pretty suspicious) we finally worked out that the "guard" was only a uniformed dummy - a sort of "skater's scarecrow".
A lot smaller, but infinitely more rideable were the Hawthorn pipes. Only about 12 foot diameter, but very smooth, they quickly became a Melbourne hot spot, particularly as you could skate pipes even when it was raining! There were dozens of individual pipe sections, meaning enough for everyone to ride at once. One of the unique dangers of small diameter pipes is that , if you kick your board out, it automatically does a couple of el-rollo loops and drops from the roof to spear you in the back or head. I once saw John McGrath absolutely hammered at some similar pipes in Chadstone, when a board was kicked out from a long ways back, hitting John square in the side of the head, just about knocking him out.
Paul Fletcher - Hawthorn Pipe
The major hurdle to be crossed before you could skate a small pipe was how to get started without a run up. The only literature around that mentioned anything about this was the “lost”edition of Skateboarder mag, with Stacey Peralta’s “How to Fakie” article at Desert Pipes.
None of this presented a problem to Wedge, who had an unusual “throw your board onto the wall and start kickturning” approach. Unfortunately, this was a bit beyond the rest of us. Before long, we did eventually get the hang of fakies, and many locals were soon doing “forevers” well past the vert mark. Frontsides were quite a bit tougher in such a small pipe, but there were always oddballs like Tony Mead who’d surprise you with some pretty high lines backhand as well. Although they were often really sketchy, hell men like Tony Mead and Andrew Tennant always pushed the limits and made the local Melbourne scene competitive and fresh.
Al Miller - Geelong Pipe
THE DRIVEWAY RAMP
MARYSVILLE ROAD TRIP
A skate spot which lasted the blink of an eye was the Marysville pool, several hours drive into the hills East of Melbourne. I think the Hills must have found out about it first from Peter Rowe, but once the word was out , it was just a matter of who got up there to ride it. Our rode trip turned out to be an eventful one....
The only guy we knew that drove was Murray Cantwell, one of Bret Connely’s mates. His car was a way- cool Fairlane yank tank with mags and a guzzling V-8, which soon ate up our lunch money. It was also a shit box, and somewhat predictably, over heated going over the Black Spur. Being young and gullible, I volunteered to remove the radiator cap, just about losing the flesh off my forearm in the process.
Anyway, we finally turned up at Marysville to find a big, square Hotel pool, about 6 or 7 feet deep, but with 45 degrees bank / vert transitions. It wasn’t exactly unrideable, but it definitely wasn’t the mecca we’d been building up in our minds either. After screwing around for ages concerned about the possible bust, Craig Connely and I jumped the fence and had a few rides. We got in maybe 10 minutes riding and were just clipping the tiles backside before some oaf came running down from the hotel, bellowing at us.
We took off and so far as I know, that was that for the Marysville pool.
AND THE MARCH OF PROGRESS
As skating continued to evolve rapidly in the late 70’s, so too did board design.
Skate equipment was progressing fast, spurred on by a California - led industry expansion from back yard manufacturers to “big business” operations, with fairly sophisticated advertising, slick new products and regular technology breakthroughs.
Although the mid to late 70’s saw many dubious “alternative” truck geometry designs emerge, (Gullwing’s split axle was one of the best of these, but Mattel, Pittsburgh, Stroker and Speed Spring churned out a bunch of the worst) wheel performance and deck design were definitely surging ahead.
Decks had quickly gone from solid oak or ash construction with angle - cut, glued on kicktails, through water ski – type vertical laminates and finally to five or seven ply, compression molded construction.
Board outlines, which had been loosely based on heavily tapered surfboard shapes, gradually filled out, with 7 inches, then 8 inch width becoming the norm for a “functional” bank or vert board. More thought was given to maximising width under your feet, rather than just creating a pleasing outline. Nose, tail and wheelbase lengths evolved to match the new terrain and riding styles. Full coverage grip tape became the standard, and several U.S. companies were experimenting with different grades of grit and backing tape materials.
The local scene was a little different ...
Due to the fact that there still wasn’t any volume importation of skate equipment into Australia, home made boards were actually far more common than U.S. made, imported decks. There were the backyard timber scientists like Rob Baddeley or Peter Cullivass who treated the construction of each new deck like a small scale NASA project, and then there were the Radlanders. The Noble Park crew tended far more towards the purely functional. A typical Radland set up comprised a squared off or roughly shaped timber deck with a “foot trap” vertical block kicktail.
These boards were simple, disposable and far more affordable than anything us "down south" wankers were slaving away at.
Grip tape was always harsh silica or aluminium oxide sanding roll from the local hardware, glued on with contact adhesive. I bought so much Selley’s Quik Grip, the local hardware must have throught I was an addicted sniffer. Riser pads would commonly be 1⁄4" rubber sheet from Clark Rubber or just a thin piece of plywood if you weren’t too anal about board rattles.
Eventually, a few guys experimented with warping plywood to create kicktails.
Wedge in typical cave-man style, just chucked his board in the pond for a couple of days to soften the ply.
But most boards were cut from standard issue 3⁄4 inch pine. Pine decks weren’t very durable, but board shapes were progressing so fast, you probably wanted to change shapes every month or two anyway.
Wheels had already been through a stage in ’76-’77 where “bigger was better” and had finally settled on reasonable dimensions of 60-65mm height by about 45-50mm width. This sounds fairly large by today’s standards, but the average urethanes of the day were fairly soft and not particularly resilient. Large diameter wheels at least meant less revolutions, equalling a bit more speed. In 1978, Krytonics, Sims, Powerflex, Traknology and a few other U.S. brands managed to create newer, high resilience urethane formulas which represented a huge leap forward in both speed and wear.
Somehow, I always ended up riding the oddball wheels, trying to get a speed advantage which never quite seemed to eventuate. In short succession, I tried out Tunnel Rocks (super hard, 95 duro, but only suitable for super smooth surfaces) Emotion wheels – 50/50 rubber outer edge and urethane core – these were actually pretty good, but tended to chip badly, and Tiger Trak 4’s – these had a far bigger diameter bearing with an internal spacer to fit standard axles. Not much chop, really, but the translucent green color was absolutely awesome.....
Trucks weren’t much of an issue - after a brief run in ’77 predominantly on Bennett’s, virtually everyone rode Tracker Haftracks, and then progressed to Midtracks, at least until the rapidly increasing board widths required an equivalently wider truck.
Mark Daniels with homemade stick
Peter Crae's Ramp
LOCALS ON THE TELLY
THE DRIVEWAY RAMP
GFI Guys Superb Trannies 1978
One spot that was only rideable for a very short period during’78, was a 15 foot diameter plywood pipe mould at Heidleberg’s Repat hospital. Only ridden by a lucky few, this was probably the first local vert spot with fully rideable trannies and a smooth, skateable surface. Unfortunately, the ply dropped back a layer (about 2 cms ) just as you hit the vert, so attempts to wheel it often led to a painful hook and slam. Luckily suitable treatment was closeby if needed.
After extensive fakie practice at Hawthorn however,
you could go “wheels out” on both sides if careful.
As more and more pre-existing Melbourne skate terrain was discovered, the U.S. mags had begun to feature a lot more ramps, from the garden variety driveway ramp, right up to huge stadium - sized demo vert ramps. The first locally built ramps were kinked out and treacherous, with shoddy construction, mis-matched joins and a ton of loose nails, set to gouge the unwary. As safety gear was still virtually unheard of, there was quite a bit of this went down.
Glen Waverley and Noble Park quickly emerged as the centres of ramp construction, with loads of 1⁄4 pipe driveway ramps being built, torn down and organically extended month by month. Many early constructions failed to grasp the correct transition to vert proportions, but each new ramp was a learning experience and we eventually figured it out, regardless. Since no one really had money to purchase ramp building materials, construction site theft was a common way to obtain the necessary lumber.
One early ramp, built out the back of Bret Connoly’s rancid Hawthorn flat , was constructed entirely from timber stolen in the wee hours of a Saturday night skate rampage. The ramp lasted all of about 8 hours, and was just about rideable when the local Hawthorn cops came around and busted Bret’s younger brother, since Bret was too lily- livered to own up to the theft himself.
LOCALS ON THE TELLY
Derek Stuart 1978
Don Lane Show
In early 1978, John McGrath’s appearance with U.S. teen pop idol Leif Garrett on the Don Lane “Variety” TV show (i.e. - a Rove equivalent from the 70’s, for readers too young to know who Don Lane is/was) once again brought skating into the limelight on mainstream television. I think John may have pulled a small backside air at or below the lip on the studio – built 7 foot 1⁄4 pipe, but the ridiculous camera angle utterly failed to convey what was actually going on.
Regardless, the fact that one of our mates was featured skating on one of the most prominent Melbourne TV shows acted as a massive spur to the Melbourne skate scene.
John obviously wasn’t the only local skater capable of riding vert, and virtually overnight, there were numerous ramp projects underway across Melbourne.
Derek Stuart 1978
Don Lane Show
At about this time Greene's pool became known to a privileged few friends.
A tight but fully rideable right hand kidney pool, a bit over 8 feet deep with maybe 3 feet of transition in the better spots. Brothers Andrew and Evan Greene were well known to those of us that traded in recently imported skate product.
They had a virtually constant flow of up to date skate equipment coming in from the States.
The fact that they were willing to let a few friends skate the family backyard pool was something of a surprise, but one we definitely made the most of. Early attempts at skating Greene’s were hampered by the positioning of the ladder, slightly blocking the goofy foot entry line to the bowl, but it was quickly discarded once the “invite only” sessioning commenced.
As expected , Wedge pretty much ruled the place. Glenn Gustke was alone in being able to work “forever” kickturns across the bowl and John McGrath could wheel the love seat pulling freefall backide airs on the face wall. The rest of us were content to carve tiles or even clip the masonite cover which plugged the death box. One great session I was at was attended by three of Adelaide’s top riders, over to check out the larger Melbourne scene. These guys were definitely good skaters, but definitely weren’t in the same league as Wedge or Glen.
Getting to skate at Greene’s was something of a task in itself, often requiring a series of shmoozing phone calls and a bit of greasing in preparation.
Although only a handful of local skaters ever got to ride Greene’s during the late 70’s, the pool came to the fore in 1989 , when Christian Hosoi, Lance Mountain, Jeff Grosso and Sergie Ventura dropped by to session during one of the big Hardcore pro tours.
When I got there, Christian was just carving tiles and Sergie was bitching about his heels hurting from bailing onto the tight transitions. I smugly told them that their current high lines had been easily beaten by a bunch of Melbourne skaters over 10 years earlier, and Evan Greene showed them some of the abundant photographic evidence.
This was enough prompting for them to really pull out the stops and show some bona fide “skate legend” ability.
Inside an hour, Christian was throwing frontside canyons across the love seat and Lance was slash grinding the face wall.
Very solid skating indeed, (see the photos from 540 mag included here) but sadly probably one of the last times this pool was ever ridden.
LOCALS ON THE TELLY
MELBOURNE'S FIRST RAMP COMP
THE SKATE TEAM PHENOMENON
After Johnny’s variety show TV appearance, it seemed every half way reasonable skater wanted to be a teen star.
Virtually overnight, 4 or 5 skate demo teams were formed across various Melbourne suburbs and between them, did quite a series of TV and community event appearances. Corporate sponsorship was pretty much unheard of, but Sparx (a sports shoe offshoot from Bata school footwear) backed a sizeable skate team put together by early skate entrepreneurs, Peter and Stephen Hill. On Sparx, as well as the Hills, there was Bret Connoly, myself, and a bunch of other mates. John McGrath joining the Sparx team briefly, but much later on.
Noble Park’s Radland team naturally inherited the Don Lane show ramp (building a demo ramp and it’s associated moving costs were the biggest costs for all the early skate teams) and eventually gained limited sponsorship from Surf Dive n' Ski Melbourne. Aside from John McGrath, the Radland team included the late Terry Probin (a smooth, naturally stylish skater), Ching, “Sac” Reynolds and his brother Dean, Lee “Maddog” Fueler and resident clowns like Norman Edwards and Kelvin (who by reputation seemed to have an aversion to the telephone).
Not to be outdone in ripping off the Dogtown cross logo, the GFI Radlads team was formed in Mount Waverley. Unlike the other teams, the GFI team was more like a local athletic club, prompted along and backed by Peter Bradford’s father. Standout skater on the GFI team (yep, it stands for Go For It) was Andrew Tennant, a barging powerhouse who was pulling hefty, free falling 21/2 foot frontside airs not long after the trick was first invented. Other talented Waverley locals were Brad Smith, Peter Crae, Martin Kent and Tony Mead.
Along with these three primary teams, there was “Fluid Air” from Springvale/Noble Park and a ton of small local groups throughout the Western suburbs.
Strangely enough, the rise of ramp skating actually served to segregate skating even further, as skaters became more heavily centred on their own small local scenes.
The Sparx and GFI teams did quite a number of TV spots, including the Early Bird show and Hey Hey it’s Saturday. Although we took it fairly seriously ourselves, the finer points of skating were pretty much ignored as long as you got a laugh by grinding Tony the Tiger’s nose.
MELBOURNE'S FIRST RAMP COMP.
Wedge had already bailed for Sydney, and although John McGrath was clearly at the top of the local field, each of the major Melbourne “skate suburbs” boasted a couple of hot, competitive skaters. Although there was never a fully rippable Aussie pool, the explosion of ramp building activity quickly bought the most talented local riders to a standard which was only about a year at most behind the avante garde from the U.S.
As a thriving Melbourne vert scene emerged, fierce rivalries between the various regional skate “factions” intensified. Although this stuff never actually ended in blows, there was certainly plenty of chest beating and a ton of almighty fibs about which riders were making edgers or airs, who’s ramp had the most vert, etc, etc.
The Noble Park “Radlanders” were particularly good at truth expansion, and if all their stories were taken at face value, the rest of the Melbourne skate scene was already consigned to history.
In late ’78, the first major skate competition for several years was held at an indoor venue in Broadmeadows, and served to shut a few of the loudest mouths for a while. Peter and Stephen Hill walked away with top spots in the vert comp, perhaps aided by “local knowledge” of the Sparx ramp, which was a foot or so bigger than the standard quarter pipes of the time. Many of the serious boasters never even entered, a particularly piss-weak effort, since this was the only legitimate competition in years.
1978 - You are here