Back in 1975, photographer Hugh Holland was driving up Laurel Canyon when he saw a strange sight. Bobbing bodies off to the side of the road.
When he moved closer, he realized that they were skateboarders using a drainage ditch that was mostly below street-level. Their figures rose and fell as they glided by. Holland was fascinated by this display of speed and grace. He parked, took out his camera and approached them.
"As soon as the skaters saw the camera they perked up. I was immediately welcome," he tells interviewer Steve Crist in "Locals Only: California Skateboarding 1975-1978" (Ammo: $39.95). "In those days, there were far fewer cameras around, so the camera was my 'in.' "
With that invitation, Holland went on to hang out with skaters all over Southern California, taking action shots of their spectacular feats in drainage ditches, empty pools, schoolyards and skate parks, in places such as Hollywood, Balboa, Reseda and Del Mar. "Locals Only" is the result — Holland's big, oversized, glorious photographic tribute to what skateboarding was all about in the pre- Tony Hawk, pre-extreme sports days. Skateboarding wasn't about video game or clothing endorsement deals, it was about scrapes and dirty feet, about risk and getting to know gravity in a very personal way. There were no rolling waves of water under you if you fell — only the street. Forget surfing. Especially if you were a kid growing up far from the beach, had no way to get there and couldn't afford it, surfing was just a pipe dream. But you still had your skateboard.
"Locals Only" offers fantastic images of flexibility and balance — there's Danny Kwok doing a handstand on his board at Balboa and an unidentified kid shooting past two bikini-clad girls on a sidewalk in Huntington Beach. Holland's book also captures the mood of a brief time period — his photos span just three years in the middle of a decade — and that special feeling of freedom you felt if you were fortunate enough to find yourself in the late afternoon at the top of a hill with, say, half a mile of smooth asphalt ahead of you.
Any fortysomething who still gets out there with the kids might feel like a traitor to don a helmet now or to hear sensible questions popping into his head: What's the best way to fall to avoid spinal injury? What if I pull a hamstring? No one in Holland's book probably sweated over these things — like Trey Hall, whom Holland photographs wheeling up to the coping of a drained swimming pool. Awesome.
Holland explains that he used ultra-wide lenses to "capture the drama — using the slight distortion to advantage — with the limbs flying out and the boards flying everywhere. The drama was outstanding."
"Locals Only" is a celebration of youth. Muscles, wiry bodies, long, tangled hair. A kid might have been in one of the most awkward stages of adolescence, but when he was sailing around an empty pool, Holland reminds us, he was something else entirely. He was perfection.