TORRANCE — Skateboarding and wind-surfing are both outgrowths of surfing, the quintessential South Bay sport.
Skateboards--small plywood boards with wheels--allow landlubbers to hang ten on concrete. Wind-surfing or sailboards--surfboards with a mast and sail--allow surfers to move over the water even if there are no waves.
It was probably inevitable, then, that someone would combine the two for a sort of "sail-skating" on concrete, as some South Bay youths have done. And it was probably inevitable that someone would ban the new sport, as Torrance did this week.
The City Council unanimously approved an ordinance that will make it illegal to ride a skateboard (or "wheeled conveyance" as the city put it) equipped with sails on city streets, in parks or on other public property. Violation of the ordinance, which will take effect 30 days after its second reading next week, is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in County Jail and a $500 fine.
Sail-skating has yet to become very popular, according to skateboard and sailboard industry officials. None could be found this week at Columbia Park or along the beach, where Torrance officials say sail skaters sometimes practice.
Most sail skaters are wind surfers who have erected old sails on skateboards to practice on windless days, industry officials say. Parks with hilly, winding paths and vacant parking lots are ideal places for runs because they provide ample room.
Officials of several other South Bay cities said they had not received any complaints and are not considering similar action. Torrance and other cities, however, have had problems in the past with skateboards, and one Torrance police official said pedestrian safety was the main reason for seeking the new ordinance.
Skateboarding reportedly was born in the South Bay in the late 1950s when surfers, looking for something to do when waves were slack, nailed steel roller skates to the bottom of boards.
The sport died in the mid-1960s, but was revived in the early '70s with the development of a polyurethane wheel and a sophisticated axle. The soft wheel provided a better cushion over rocks and cracks, and the new axle allowed for better maneuverability.
Youngsters were soon skate-boarding along streets and sidewalks and competing with bicyclists and roller skaters for space along beach boardwalks. Pedestrians complained of runs-ins and near-misses with the skateboarders, who zipped along with little control over their boards.
The number of injuries related to skateboards climbed nationally, reaching a point in 1977 when they passed football and came in second only to bicycling, according to a study by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Several South Bay communities, and others throughout the country, began passing ordinances banning skateboards on public property or restricting sites where they could be used.
Skateboard parks with slopes and other runs sprang up. Skateboard World in Torrance, for example, spread its runs over three acres and drew as many as 300 skaters a day, each paying a $3 membership fee and $2.50 a day.
But a year and a half after the park opened in 1978, the fad started to die and the park closed.
Skateboard manufacturers say sales are beginning to rise again after dropping since 1978. None of them could point to anything that is creating the increasing interest, except to say fads generally come in cycles.
A South Gate skateboard distributor, Harry Ball of Sure Grip International, estimates that sales of skateboards will surpass 1 million this year, nearly double last year's amount.
"Sales started to pick up last year, but I don't expect it to get big like in the '70s," said Bob Laursen, owner of Surf Side Bike Shop in Manhattan Beach. Several South Bay skateboard and sailboard manufacturers said they did not know of any firm or individuals selling skateboards with sails.
Increasing skateboard sales were not a factor in pushing for the new ordinance, said Gene Barnett, Torrance Parks and Recreation director. He said there have been no reported sail-skating injuries, but he said city officials do not want to wait for one to happen before outlawing the sport on public property.
Torrance Police Sgt. Jim Papst said a patrol officer spotted a sail skater at Columbia Park during the summer and clocked him with radar at 40 miles per hour. He said pedestrian safety is the main concern.
"There is no steering with those things except by leaning," Papst said. "There are no brakes on those things, either."
Papst said few sail skaters have been seen since the end of summer, but he sought the ordinance now in preparation for next summer.
(Torrance has a habit of nipping potential problems. In the past, the city has outlawed nude and topless bars, although there had not been any in the city for many years, and put controls on how and where satellite television antennas could be installed before they became popular.)
George Beard of E. T. Surfboards in Hermosa Beach said he is not surprised that Torrance banned sail-skating on public property ("they would ban anything."), but he said the ordinance may not have been necessary.
"I think it might get a little more popular, but I don't think it is going to set the world on fire," he said. "It's kind of an expensive sport."
Beard said a good skateboard costs about $120, a sail about $150 and a mast about $100.
Still, Torrance officials want to take no chances.
"It's the speed element," said Bill Klement of the Torrance Parks and Recreation department. "People are trying to walk on the sidewalks and here comes this guy skating along at 40 m.p.h.
"It's not that any of this is real evil. It's just that these sports tend to grow. They do seem to capture everyone's imagination."