Something about the words “Dude Ranch” smacked of an unhappy conflict. And so it was. I had to be the only person who said the word “dude” on this ranch somewhere deep in the Santa Ynez valley. I’m sure it was beautiful, but my god, dude, it was boring, oppressively so.
So every chance we could get, my cousin and I snuck off to town on little drives. On one such drive to Santa Ynez, I learned boardslides on ledges. Not curbs, I had those down, but an actual ledge. Like five bricks high, planter-height, dude.
Wasn’t waxed, rails were cut, so I remember slicing my used Vision Gator Mini Street Model past the grey underply to the naked second ply. My board was officially thrashed, and this meant that it was finally time to start pining for another plank.
The next day, we drove to Santa Barbara listening to X on the cassette deck. Compared to the Dude Ranch, Santa Barbara was the big city. Boasting shops like Crazy Shirts, that featured insane T-shirts in pastel colors with contrasting graphics of sailboats and seagulls on them, this was the real deal. Of course, I made a beeline to A Skater’s Paradise on State Street. On a previous visit, the year before, I drooled over crisp Boneite. This time, the bright colors and radically square shape of Mike V’s “Barnyard” deck held my attention in its brightly-colored grip like a cow locked in a vice before the captive bolt pistol delivers its deadly blow. I wanted that board so bad. I knew nothing, I cared not about Vallely’s vegetarianism. All I knew was that I had never seen a shape like that, those colors, which were both cute and subversive in equal measure. The big pink pig on the tail, this popsicle precursor, the naughty thrill of all of it was simply too much for me.
I’m not going to lie: I expected my 19 year-old cousin to buy it for me, and he simply could not. I sulked all the way back to the Dude Ranch. The only exchange I remember having with my cousin was this:
“You’re really hell-bent on that board, aren’t you?” said my patient cousin.
“That board…is…HELLBENT,” I groused, illogically.
Which was my way of saying: You couldn’t possibly even know.
Of course I got my way, and I eventually got that board, and though we didn’t have time to set it up in Santa Barbara—we were driving back to Texas that afternoon—I was granted the right to hug and sniff my board to my heart’s content.
Well, my heart was insatiable, but my health wasn’t. If you’ve made it this far, you don’t need me to remind you that those early Primetime World boards were toxic: a thrilling, intoxicating, board-huffing high that was a sickly-sweet smell of varnish and paint, nauseatingly chemical.
More honesty: I may have licked the thing. Who’s to say? Over the course of three full days of driving through the sun-drenched American Southwest in a Dodge minivan with no AC, hugging a deck of radioactive neons and toxic stench, 12-year-old me may have licked it. I couldn’t skate it, and sniffing it was giving me a headache, so I might have licked it. Let’s say I did.
Let’s also say, in all candor, that I got sick. Very sick. Stomach flu, nausea, vomiting, 'rhea.
I returned from the Dude Ranch in California after three days, a desiccated, pallid, road-weary skate puke, still clinging to that deck with trembling clammy fingers. Still the same mongo-pushing spoiled brat that groused until he got what he wanted from his parents, but now one who had been infected with the headrush of neon colors and toxic varnishes that was what those World boards brought to the table. And I was hooked. This was one of many "Barnyard" decks I’d ride over the next 18 months. Slowly, my desire for earnestness and innocence in skateboarding transformed into a snide, sarcastic venom. Focusing was a thing. Making fun of tricks that were “cut.” This became how we expressed our love for this thing, by making fun of one another and ourselves for doing so. It’s like that varnish and glue sealed our fate, though we wore colorful clothing with ridiculous cartoon characters, we did so as young men, not children. Things got nasty and street skating was born.
This was long ago. Things have of course changed, and the world itself has gotten nastier.
Sean Cliver and I may disagree about many things, but one thing we seem to see eye to monocled eye on is that skateboard graphics should remain both arcane and puerile. Let’s acknowledge that the graphic legacy of head shop posters—the imagery of Rick Griffin and his ilk has cast a long, neon-speckled shadow across the history of skate graphics, like the toxic haze of a radioactive mushroom cloud seen from the shores of Malibu. Let’s also acknowledge that, just as I didn’t necessarily subscribe to the tenets of Mike V’s hardcore vegetarianism in 1989, I could get down with that graphic. And similarly, though I may not love the Dead (for a deep-dive into my mixed feelings regarding that band, see the zine), it’s okay to love their graphics.
…and their smell. The board smell, not the Dead smell. The Dead stink in every sense of the word.
I’m no wall-hanger. I’m a board sniffer. I’m not collector scum, but I’ve licked a deck. And these Screaming Squeegees-produced popsicles are the madeleine to my Proust: the exact same smell, the exact same world of associations, as intoxicating as skating itself.
Don’t collect it. Skate it. Skate and Destroy: that’s my ethos, and it was sold to me by a brand that emblazoned that slogan on many collectible items that I wish I hadn’t destroyed today. Through our desire to embalm and collect, or thrash and annihilate, skateboarding touches upon the strange love of what it means to engage with the world. We touch, we smell, we skate, we move. Buy the board. Hang the board. Skate the board. But don’t lick the board. Let’s acknowledge that was a bad idea. Dude. —Theodore Barrow