On Castle Peak Drive in Canoga Park, skateboarders often climb over a fence to skate in a large, semi-oval cement basin. Scribbled over the "No Trespassing" sign in black marker are the words "Valley Skate Punk: skate and destroy."
Dressed in brightly colored jams and T-shirts bearing their favorite surfing or skating logos, skateboarders in the San Fernando Valley will go anywhere in search of ditches, large pipes and empty swimming pools.
Peter Ducommun, 24, owner of Skull Skates, a skateboard manufacturer in Van Nuys, explained why skateboarders love the sport. "It's exhilarating, like some kind of drug or like runner's high, except you can feel it immediately. You go into a different state of mind. "
But Valley skaters often find it difficult to find places to skate and are continually in search of new ones. And some of them don't really care who might own the property.
Don Jayne, 24, a sandy-haired Chatsworth resident, is a veteran at finding skating spots, especially empty swimming pools. Valley skateboarders have been known to empty pools in abandoned houses with buckets.
Spotted Empty Pool From Airplane
The location of empty pools often is passed along at skateboard shops. Skateboarders will cruise neighborhoods in search of abandoned houses. Coming into Los Angeles International Airport one time, Ducommun spotted an empty pool from the air. By noting surrounding landmarks he was able to track down the home.
Dressed in jams and a red tank shirt, Jayne joined two friends recently to skate in the pool of an abandoned Sepulveda house. He and his friends, Vince Kitchen, 19, and Adam Peltz, 18, say they are willing to trespass to experience the surge of adrenaline they feel riding up pool walls.
"You're pulling off things that are impossible for people to comprehend," Jayne said. "They'll see it and won't know what to think. It looks impossible."
Kitchen, a blond youth with his hair cut short enough not to bother him when he skates or surfs, demonstrated one of those tricks. Skateboarders call it an "air."
He skated from the shallow end into the deep end and up the wall, grabbed the deck with one hand while pulling the board--his feet still on it--away from the wall, whirled around and glided to the bottom and up into the shallow end.
Police Patrols Deter Some
"I was sketched-out," he said in skateboarder's dialect. Translation: he almost fell.
Although about 10 skaters usually use the pool, only four showed up that evening. Kitchen attributed the low number to increased patrolling by Los Angeles police.
Despite the risk, the skateboarders continued to roll across the pool, from the shallow end to the deep end, up the wall and back again, simulating the motion of a pendulum.
When skateboarding was popular in the 1970s, Southern California was blanketed with skating parks. Skatercross in Reseda provided Valley skaters one such place.
But nearly all those parks closed with the eclipse of skateboarding in the late 1970s. Now only two skating parks exist in California, neither in the Valley.
Many skateboarders have built their own ramps for the ultimate in "vertical skating," skating perpendicular to the ground.
Kevin Thatcher, editor and art director of the skateboarding magazine "Thrasher," attributes the revival of skateboarding's popularity in part to the construction of better ramps.
"The kids are taking it back into their own hands. They don't have to wait anymore for skateboard parks to open up."
And it's at the ramps that the skateboarding subculture can be seen most clearly: Skateboarders have deep tans, are muscular, seem to speak another language and are almost exclusively male.
All the best skaters in the Valley congregate at the ramps. There, names such as Don Szabo and Charlie King rule.
"I like ramps," said the 19-year-old Szabo, whom many consider the best skater in the Valley. "They are the most challenging. Anybody can do good on little banks. This is real."
The blond, blue-eyed skater explained that, although he does very well on a ramp--and one doesn't doubt him after seeing him skate--he doesn't risk injuring himself. "I like to play. I don't like to get hurt."
Just "playing" seems to include jumping about four feet in the air above the 10-foot-high ramp before rushing down its slope and up the other side, only to repeat the performance. "That was some serious air, man," one skater marveled at a Northridge venue that has become known as "Billy's ramp."
Apparently, other skaters are less "playful." After crashing twice on the ramp, hurting his arm, hip and knee, Jason Shelfow, 19, complained, "I'm going to be sore tomorrow."
Liability Is Problem
Why does he do it then?
"Because I want to be like him," Shelfow said, pointing at Szabo.
Other skaters had different reasons for continuing after acquiring battle scars. "If you quit after you wipe out, you'll never get into it again," Kitchen said.