Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

SOCAL P.O.V. / DEANNE STILLMAN

Free to Ride to the Sound of Their Beating Hearts

May 02, 1999|DEANNE STILLMAN

"Paper or plastic?" has replaced "love or money?" as the big question, one more nail in the coffin of deep thinking. For me, the answers are love and plastic, which is why I'm happy to be on the planet in the 20th century, long after the abolition of debtor's prison and the discovery of oil. Of course, in the love or money equation, most people choose money, toiling their lives away at unsatisfying jobs.

Evidently, so many people find themselves performing work they do not enjoy that there is now network advertising for an online site, called http://www.monster.com, that features cool jobs. The pitch is to the demographic that is not happy with how it makes a living, to those who have resigned themselves to discontent, but wish they hadn't. It features children expressing what they want to do when they grow up. A little girl says, "I want to be paid less for equal work." Another says, "I want to be underappreciated by my boss." A little boy states that he hopes he's downsized by a big conglomerate. Remember what you wanted to do when you were a kid? the ad subliminally suggests. Monster.com will help you do it now.

At a time when one's value to society is increasingly set by net worth, I take note whenever I meet someone who has chosen to follow instinct rather than cultural pressure. Over the last few years, I have been lucky enough to meet several people who have turned joy into a living--and are damn happy about it. Indigenous to Southern California, they were encouraged every minute by earth's every signal to listen to the beat of their own hearts. Now in their late 20s and early 30s, their lives still revolve around that sound, and so do their livelihoods. They do what they love and love what they do, and it shows.

*

Brothers Greg and Steve Fawley are founders of Freeride, an up-and-coming skateboard company that is challenging such skateboarding establishmentarians as Sector 9 and Split. As the classic song goes, the story of Greg and Steve is a testament to being true to your school. They grew up in Riverside, where they rode BMX bikes in the chaparral. Then, as newscaster Jerry Dunphy would say, it was "from the desert to the sea"; after their parents divorced in the mid-1970s, the brothers spent six weeks every year with their father in Long Beach. "We used to paddle our boards across Alamitos Bay and walk down to the pier in Seal," Greg tells me one afternoon in his skateboard design office in Seal Beach. "That's where I learned to surf." As for skateboarding, Greg reiterates a time-honored regionalism: "When you can't surf, skateboard."

Greg never was drawn to the thrasher style of ramp skateboarding that became popular in the mid-'80s, a money-driven affect that had everything to do with scoring points by doing certain moves on the contest circuit and then making endorsement deals with skateboard companies and showing off free equipment.

What was going on in the world of sidewalk surfing paralleled what was going on in the world of surfing, and Greg and his brother preferred an old school style, which was simply about riding a board in a clean and simple way. It was a sensibility that resulted in the founding of their company. "I had just come back from a three-month trip to Europe," Greg says. "I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with my life. My brother picked me up at the airport. He had his Sector 9 longboard. I skated it in the airport, and I decided it was time to make our own." Drawing from their life experience, as well as work they had done for their father, an inventor who developed the oxygen system that an American team took to Mt. Everest, they repaired to their garage and designed the boards of their dreams.

*

Their designs invoked the basics, using variations on a classic longboard style of maple and birch wood, with simple yet expressive trademark artwork that combined elements of Keith Haring, aboriginal imagery and beach culture. The name "Freeride" was suggested by friend Hank Wise, a swimming instructor and lifeguard who offered the term as a way of describing the life he and his childhood buddies had cultivated. "Freeriding," Greg says, "is the pure and soulful freedom that allows riders to express their individual styles on all kinds of terrain."

On Valentine's Day 1996, Greg got a call that --appropriately--took Freeride from storyboard to reality in a heartbeat. "It was my brother," he recalls. "He needed samples by 6 the next morning for a trade show in Japan. A week and a half later, he came back with an order for 100 boards. The check said 'Freeride,' but I didn't even know how to cash it."

Greg and his brother have moved the business into larger quarters, displaying their skateboarding heritage with an impressive collection of boards through the ages. Greg shows me his father's old chipped plywood deck, circa 1958. For a second, as I hold the relic, I think I hear the metal wheels racing across a once-and-future two-lane, heading for the sun, carrying the rider on its appointed path. "My grandmother saved this," Greg says. The baton has been passed.

*

Patt Morrison is on assignment. Her column returns next month.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|