DAWN OF THE PRO ERA
Peter and Stephen Hill had been active, motivated ramp builders during the early 80’s, and one day in mid ’85 , they began talking about building a “super ramp”, along the lines of what was then being built in the U.S.
Through the mid 80’s, Transworld Magazine in particular was quite an advocate of ramp construction. TWS promoted, via it’s editorials, the fact that backyard ramps had re-vitalised the U.S. skate scene which basically died when the commercial parks closed up shop.
We combed the mags for tips on the best layout, size and tranny building techniques and eventually arrived at the final design.
A group of old skater mates had been recruited to help with the construction, including myself, Hugh McCaig, Bret Connoly and Rob Baddeley.
We all pitched in a few hundred bucks, and began work on what was
definitely the biggest, most advanced ramp of it’s time in Australia.
The ramp as built was 7 1⁄2 feet high, 24 feet wide with spacious decks on either side and a smooth roll –in section. We carefully hand-shaped the hard wood coping, which was much better than the PVC pipe most commonly used back then. We did err in the inclusion of “rolled lip”, but this was at least useful for learning roll ins, if not much else.
Although the ramp was built at the Hill’s rental house in Kew, it was concreted into the ground in 36 places, and was as solid as the proverbial brick shithouse.
This was to come back and haunt us later.......
The neighbours were more than a little interested in what the hell we were up to with all that timber – apparently they were under the impression we were building a boat.
As we’d begun construction in late Winter, there were a few delays due to the weather, but the ramp got finished in about 5 or 6 weeks. The opening day session was understandably manic, and we skated until it was so dark you couldn’t see anything at all. I drove home with my pads still on, and on getting out of my car, immediately collapsed with the worst leg cramps I’ve ever had. I spent the next half an hour on the ground, trying to straighten my legs enough to pull my pads off, much to the amusement of my house mates.
A SHORT LIFE SNUFFED OUT
Soon after the ramp was finished, the inevitable row with the neighbours prompted a TV news story on Day By Day about the noise problem generated by the rowdy sessioning. This was eventually to spell the end to the ramp, although it was later resurrected indoors at a rented factory in Abbotsford.
While it lasted though, the ramp was ridden by some of Melbourne’s top riders including John McGrath, Russel Morrison and Tony Hallam. Adrian Jones came down from Sydney for a skate, and demonstrated high airs, ollies and new school moves (for then) like backside boneless ones.
Having our own invite-only private ramp was rad.
But the day finally came when we had to cut the sucker into three sections to be transported out on a flat bed truck. This involved some inventive use of angle grinders, power saws and chain saws to clear the over hanging trees. John McGrath showed us how it was possible to chain saw through the branch he was hanging off, and walked away mysteriously unscathed.
The grubby panel beater’s warehouse where it eventually ended up definitely lacked the same atmosphere, but allowed unlimited all weather and night sessioning.
The Hills had meanwhile begun building a fledgling skateboard import business.
The heavily revised and re-built ramp was later to be covered with Variflex logos to promote the brand.
VARIFLEX TWISTIES COMP
One of the landmark events which lead to the full scale resurgence of Melbourne vert skating was the Twisties/Variflex comp held over
Moomba in March 1986.
John McGrath - FS Air
The Twisties comp was the first full-scale skate event since the early eighties, and the entry list was stacked with all the old familiar names as well as a swag of as yet unknowns.
By this stage, there were several other wood and steel vert ramps in existence, in Mordialloc, Beaumauris and Rye. A new generation of vert grommets was snapping at the heels of the older fellas, and learning all the latest tricks direct from the pages of Thrasher and Transworld.
Melbourne’s new guard of vert riders included a bunch of up and comers who were headed for bigger things such as Gary Valentine, Jason Ellis, and Chris Paine.
Within months, Victorian skating was being re-energised by the first of many visits from New Zealand legends, Gregor Rankine and Lee Ralph. Both were light years ahead of anything going on locally, in terms of tricks, height and style. Gregor had toured the states extensively, and won the Ams section at a major competition at Lake Tahoe in ’85. Lee was a styling powerhouse who showed massive potential, going on to a successful pro career with Vision in the late 80’s.
THE FUSE IS LIT
Prior to the first of many U.S. pro tours and pro competitions in the mid to late 80’s, the Kiwis provided new momentum to the Melbourne vert scene. Well above the standard of any of the locals, Gregor, Lee, Spittle, Warren ---- and Morrie passed on much of their collective skate knowledge to Gary, Ello and even the generation beyond, with the (as yet pre-teen) Pappas brothers.
The arrival of Allen Losi in early ’87 fairly set the skate scene on its ear as many of the top vert riders of the time will be happy to tell you.
Losi’s style was super smooth but powerful, with a strong array of handplants, ollies, high airs and long, styling smith grinds going either direction. A rockstar skater in the mold of Hosoi and co, Losi lapped up the crowd approval throughout a series of high profile demos in Melbourne and central Sydney.
The Hills promoted the Losi demos well, and he got plenty of media coverage at each appearance. Losi was just the first of a flood of touring U.S. pros to visit Australia. Virtually every big name rider from the U.S. made it to Oz in the years that followed, culminating in legendary demos at the Sydney opera house in front of a crowd of 10,000, and the nationally televised ’89 Ramp Jam , where more than 45 U.S. pros were in attendance.
All of this tended to move the spotlight away from the local talent to some extent, as there always seemed to be a pro tour doing the rounds somewhere....
During 1986, several local “fanzine” format skate mags emerged to help promote the local scene. These were Poznut’s “Perfect Transition” and the fairly similar but slightly more polished “Skate On” put out by Merv, Glen Gustke and Russell Morrison.
Almost as big on political comment and attitude as skate info, these mags had support from the local skaters, but were soon overshadowed by the debut of a full color mag out of Sydney – John Foxx’s Skatin’ Life.
Strangely enough, the guts of the text you’ve been reading was originally planned as a “Vicco retrospective” for Skatin’ Life, to be run across 3 or 4 issues in late ’89.
The rapid rise of street skating put paid to those plans , as vert skating quickly lost favour, and it’s ancient history became less relevant than ever.
Mags like Skatin Life and Slam covered the whole national skate scene from ’87 onwards, professionally and in glossy color. As such, I figure the archives of these mags are probably best placed to carry on the story of skateboarding’s rollercoaster rise and fall history through the appalling early 90’s to skating’s mainstream prominence today.
The essence of Melbourne skate history revolves around a small, committed group of riders who skated pretty hard on what were generally far from perfect skate spots.
The stoke that drove everyone then was derived from finding and mastering any new terrain, and being amongst the first people in Australia to skate vert, learn to ride pools and pipes, making airs and so on.
Whilst the photos and early skate history recounted here may seem a stoneage drop in the ocean if compared to modern skating’s widespread popularity and status, it was the newness of it all and skating’s seemingly endless potential that kept us all from chucking it in long ago.......