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  • 40 miles east of Los Angeles,

  • in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, is a pipe.

  • Its job is to funnel water

  • from this dam

  • into this channel,

  • which borders Los Angeles County.

  • This pipe might look like any other

  • scattered across the West,

  • but in the world of skateboarding,

  • it's a mecca.

  • One time my dad drove

  • my friend and I there, but we didn't

  • really know where we were going.

  • And we finally came to a spot that

  • looked like it was probably connected

  • to Mount Baldy,

  • and we were told that we had to leave.

  • If you don't know, that's Tony Hawk,

  • one of the greatest skaters of all time.

  • This year he finally made it to the Baldy Pipe.

  • It's a mission.

  • You gotta hike around.

  • You've got to try to dodge anyone you see,

  • that might try to kick you out,

  • because there's plenty of patrols there.

  • And then there's this legendary gap

  • that sort of rite of passage.

  • You have to jump over it if

  • you're going to be a true Baldy participant.

  • I jumped the gap for the record.

  • The Baldy Pipe is one of hundreds,

  • if not thousands of legendary skate spots

  • around the world

  • that are hidden in plain sight.

  • This is the story of how places like this,

  • became this.

  • It's America's newest sport, and it's called skateboarding.

  • In 1965, skateboarding was a full blown fad.

  • The fad raced from west coast to east,

  • and soon there was skateboarding in Central Park.

  • The first big wave of skateboarding is as a surf related activity,

  • in California,

  • but also in Florida, also in Australia.

  • There's a great similarity between the sport of

  • skateboarding and sport of surfing.

  • And it's basically people pretending

  • they're on an ocean wave.

  • Iain Borden is an architectural historian,

  • and author of this incredible deep dive

  • into skateboarding history.

  • The big milestone is probably the

  • introduction of polyurethane wheels to

  • skateboarding in the early 1970s.

  • In the 1960s, skateboard wheels were

  • typically made from metal or clay,

  • which limited the breadth of maneuvers

  • skateboarders could do.

  • The grip provided by polyurethane wheels

  • revitalized the sport and opened it

  • up to more adventurous terrain.

  • By the mid 1970s, skateboarders

  • were constantly on the lookout for bigger

  • wave-like structures. And empty pools,

  • drainage ditches, and gigantic pipes quickly

  • became skateboarding's most coveted spots.

  • The moment you find bits of architecture

  • that look a bit like an ocean wave,

  • the architecture changes,

  • that bit of asphalt is no longer a bit of asphalt,

  • And skaters start to do things that you

  • couldn't do on a surfboard.

  • They do no-handed airs,

  • they do invert airs,

  • they do rock 'n' rolls.

  • So there's a cultural shift there as well.

  • Los Angeles skaters found a small

  • reservoir in the Hollywood Hills they called the Viper Bowl.

  • And Wallows, a ditch that cut through a

  • neighborhood on the Island of O'ahu in Hawaii.

  • It was pretty notorious because a lot

  • of the 70s skaters rode it when they went to Hawaii.

  • Or, Hawaiian skaters were riding it.

  • And, it's this drainage ditch that just keeps

  • going down different shelves.

  • There's no drainage ditch really like that.

  • Paved school yards situated in the

  • Los Angeles hillsides became a

  • proving ground for young skaters too.

  • The banks at Kenter Canyon Elementary,

  • right here, were frequented by skaters since the 1960s,

  • and by the 1970s, it was one of the most

  • widely seen backdrops for

  • skate photographs and videos.

  • One of the things the skaters found

  • is that in various places, particularly out in the Arizona desert,

  • they'd find these great big full pipes.

  • Most of these pipes were from the Central Arizona Project,

  • a massive water management initiative

  • that began construction in 1973.

  • For skateboarders, it was paradise.

  • And then there was the Baldy Pipe,

  • which skaters first discovered in 1969.

  • Images of skaters riding its 15-foot cavernous walls

  • turned this pipe into a skateboarding landmark.

  • It wasn't just photos, the Baldy pipe was

  • also featured in skate films, which were rising in popularity.

  • Just to get there you have to cross

  • a 20 foot deep pit on an old log.

  • So video becomes very important in this.

  • It's how something exists in history as told in video.

  • Around 1976 investors saw a huge opportunity

  • to build parks that mimicked the ever growing list

  • of sought after skate spots,

  • and started building them around California,

  • the country,

  • and the world.

  • This may seem an odd place to be,

  • the middle of an empty swimming pool,

  • but this isn't just your ordinary everyday swimming pool.

  • This is the infamous Dog Bowl, a skateboarder's paradise located in Marina Del Rey, California.

  • Skatopia, one of the most popular parks in California, is big business.

  • There were full pipes, and pools,

  • and winding concrete slalom courses

  • that mimicked drainage ditches.

  • But it wasn't perfect.

  • Soon after these huge skateparks were built,

  • the insurance needed to run them skyrocketed.

  • And then skateboarding crashes.

  • After skatepark numbers dwindled,

  • skateboarders were back to square one.

  • In the eighties, it's mainly much more of a

  • fewer number of die hard skaters.

  • They continued to discover more and more empty pools,

  • like this one in the middle of the California desert.

  • That used to be an old nudist camp,

  • and that was the pool that they had.

  • And somehow, whenever the nudist camp went bust,

  • I don't know how else to say it.

  • the pool was skateable and some people found it.

  • It was discovered around 1982,

  • and was rightly dubbed the Nude Bowl.

  • In the Arizona Desert another incredible location

  • was added to the list: The Love Bowl.

  • It was actually two giant white backdrops

  • from an abandoned TV studio.

  • But skateboarders also did something else.

  • People started to build their own ramps.

  • They started to build ramps with walls

  • that emulated pools,

  • but with flat sections.

  • And that became the half pipe.

  • 1987's The Search for Animal Chin is a skate film

  • that illustrates the natural progression

  • from ditches and pools to half-pipes.

  • In the opening scene the skateboarders take on

  • Wallows, that Hawaii drainage ditch.

  • Yes, that's a young Tony Hawk.

  • And on one of the very last scenes,

  • I hung up going down one of the shelves,

  • and basically sprawled onto the flat

  • and got chewed up on my elbow,

  • and I got a staph infection.

  • So the rest of my Hawaiian vacation

  • was spent in a hotel on antibiotics.

  • Later on in the film they end up at a

  • motel pool in Southern California.

  • Uh do you have a pool?

  • Yeah, we have a pool, but you know

  • it hasn't been filled in two years.

  • Do you mind if we check it out?

  • But, in the final scene, they discover this ridiculously

  • large wooden half pipe in the middle of nowhere.

  • It was especially made for the film,

  • But a replica today exists today at a

  • skate facility north of LA.

  • Wheels of Fire is another skate film from the late 80s,

  • and it featured both the Nude Bowl and the Love Bowl,

  • but the most lasting scenes

  • of this video were of Natas Kaupas,

  • a pioneer of street skating,

  • transforming his neighborhood into a skatepark.

  • All of the footage of Natas in that video was groundbreaking.

  • People thought, wow, you can skate curbs like that?

  • You can skate benches,

  • you can skate fire hydrants,

  • like the whole world is skate park now.

  • So suddenly you didn't need to be in California

  • or in the Arizona desert or in,

  • you know, or in Florida anymore.

  • You could be anywhere.

  • Which brings us to this fire hydrant in Venice, CA.

  • In 1989, Natas Kaupas did a 720 degree spin on it.

  • It's just a perfect scenario, too,

  • because there's a pole next to it,

  • so he kind of can push off and start himself spinning.

  • And also brace himself as he comes off.

  • Doesn't make it any easier.

  • The move became so iconic

  • the trick is now called the Natas Spin.

  • If you look at skateboard magazine covers

  • from the 60s through the 90s

  • one thing will quickly become clear -

  • Skateboarding's biggest spots

  • went from pools and pipes, to street spots.

  • Namely giant stair sets and ledges.

  • And there's one plaza that was the center of it all:

  • The Embarcadero in San Francisco.

  • It was a famous skate spot because of all the surroundings.

  • There were all these ledges

  • and different features that you could skate around.

  • And that was the hub of skating in San Francisco.

  • And there was one specific spot

  • that became notorious because

  • another pioneering street skater,

  • Mark Gonzales,

  • ollied it.

  • It's no longer there,

  • but here it is captured in a Thrasher Magazine feature

  • called Spot Check.

  • The gap itself was something that you

  • wouldn't have seen necessarily as a challenge.

  • I think a lot of people that came there never even

  • realized the potential until Gonz got there and jumped it.

  • This footage shows just how big the gap was

  • and the only way to cross was gaining a

  • massive amount of speed,

  • launching into the air,

  • and somehow keeping the skateboard right under your feet.

  • Rightfully, the spot was dubbed the Gonz Gap,

  • and quickly became a hub for serious skaters.

  • It's both a place and a moment and a skater.

  • It's when Gonz did that particular move.

  • Yeah, you don't mess around with the Gonz Gap.

  • If there's one thing that hasn't changed

  • in the 60 years of skateboarding,

  • it's that school campuses often have the best skate spots.

  • In Video Days, 1991's milestone skate film

  • directed by a young Spike Jonze,

  • Mark Gonzales grinds a bench at Kenter Canyon Elementary

  • And in another scene,

  • ollies a short but incredibly deep set of four ledges

  • at Wallenberg high school in San Francisco.

  • Over the years, skaters have proved their worth by landing more

  • and more complicated tricks at Wallenberg.

  • Another famous school spot is Hollywood High 16 stair,

  • which is the most geotagged location on campus.

  • And then there's El Toro,

  • a 20-stair set that has tormented skaters

  • since Transworld Skateboarding published this image

  • of Heath Kirchart board-sliding the center rail.

  • The rail no longer exists,

  • but that hasn't stopped anyone from hurling

  • themselves down the empty stairs.

  • But, perhaps the most iconic location

  • is one that's no longer there:

  • The Carlsbad Gap.