All photos by Glen E. Friedman
A few months ago, I told you about the Cedar Crest Country Club and the importance it played within DC’s skate punk scene. The political climate of the capital in the early eighties inspired a revolution significant of the times, one that would continue to influence underground culture up until present day. And we have Ian Mackaye to thank for much of it.
The origins of skateboarding are rooted in Southern California surf, but many can say its attitude came from DC punk. Bands like Government Issue, Bad Brains, SOA, and of course Minor Threat, brought a much needed edge to the sport, substituting the sunny beaches with grit and concrete. The only issue was, in DC there was nowhere to skate. So, the punks had to improvise. Later in 1986, the ramp at Cedar Crest Country Club opened, a steel halfpipe oasis just an hour outside the city.
In October 1983, Ian MacKaye, founder of Dischord Records and frontman of Minor Threat, Fugazi, Embrace, and Teen Idles, penned a “scene report” for skateboarding magazine, Thrasher. The article, set to describe the skate vibe of the nation’s capital, characterizes Ian not as a hardcore punk legend, but rather as a DC kid who lives to skateboard. The young MacKaye was a member of ragtag boarding crew Team Sahara, along with another punk forefather, Henry Garfield (now known as “Henry Rollins”). Ian’s piece is a nice little snapshot of the spirit of skate culture during the era; his feature goes on to describe the team’s favorite ramps, a legendary wipeout by Rollins, their first empty pool, and an infamous team session at the Annandale halfpipe. Also in the issue is a photo spread of vertical sequences, a story on a Swedish skate camp, competitions in Del Mar and Oceanside, and a music piece on a punk band called The Faction.
Read Ian MacKaye’s article in Thrasher magazine, along with a complete transcript below:
D.C. 1977-77. A tight-knit gang of city skaters decide to go official and form Team Sahara. There’s absolutely no meaning behind the name (except perhaps a reference to the heat of D.C. summers), but the 10 to 12 skaters rally behind it. No sponsors, no clubhouse, no park, nothing but skateboards and black and gold mesh jerseys that unfortunately are 100 percent nylon. Nylon shirts are (1) hot, and (2) will melt into your skin when you kiss the street at high speed. But they wear them everywhere…or should I say we wore them everywhere? To the suburban contests we always took by storm; to the crowded Georgetown streets with the human slalom-poles; and to the 4 a.m. visits to various pools, banks and tennis courts in the area.
Now a special mention to our ramps: the Monster, the Gordon Ramp, Church Ramp, Garage Ramp, Skateporch, and of course the wooden skatepark, Police Station. This was an actual abandoned police station parking lot in which we set up three ramps (all quarterpipes, mind you - there weren’t halfpipes yet). One was a throwaway, one was a huge patchwork of wood 20 feet wide by 12 feet high and the third was the first curved wooden ramp we’d ever seen. It was four feet wide, about six feet high, and flush with a 50-foot brick wall. Many people came to skate it, and the rides got more and more insane (four-brick frontsides and fakies may not a lot now, but then…) and naturally there were the injuries that seem to slide away on plastic caps these days. I for one did a flying head dive and was a babbling idiot for a day. Just when we started to make really elaborate plans, a halfpipe inside the huge lighted police garage, they came and took it away. Now it’s condos.
It’s far to say that late night was a time for action. Out of sun, out of heat, away from people and away from cars. A.M. raids for wood were a favorite pastime, as was running from the American University campus police. But the best thing about late night is the open roads, which brings us to a story.
Let’s say it’s 3 a.m. John, Ian and Henry are kicking off at the top of a half-mile-long downhill. “Goodbye, John,” Henry yells as he whips past John. “Goodbye, Ian,” Henry yells as he whips past me. Maybe it was the just-on-the-market Kryptonics he had, but whatever it was, he was blazing. At the bottom of the hill one finds the pavement switching from smooth to coarse. Henry found this out when he reached the bottom of the hill. His wheels grabbed and slowed but he didn’t. A 20-yard imitation of Raggedy Ann, over and over he flipped, finally landing on his feet, stood for a second, and then just fell flat. John and I were horrified. We ran up to him, expecting some serious injuries, but we found him with no more than a good case of mesh-melt and laughing.
Of course our first pool was special. It was square, 15-foot diving well at a prestigious country club in Maryland. We’re talking about five feet of questionable transition and 10 feet of vertical. On a cold day in January, Sean led us over the fence to the pool. We had no idea how to skate it but Sean immediately started snapping frontside flat-wall carves that defied human flexibility. I was in awe of even finding an empty pool, much less getting this opportunity. Naturally there were plenty of falls, and oh, did I tell you that in the middle of the bowl there was a six-foot-wide, two-foot-deep puddle of ice water? And do you know how hard it is to skate on a board covered with ice? Yes, injuries were the rage, but it was still our first pool. Who could say anything bad about that?
Picture this. Three Sahara boys throwing a stolen hose into an elevated pool and started a siphon that would run for weeks, emptying thousands of gallons of water on to a neighboring church lawn that turned into a bog. Every day we checked the pool. Finally came zero hour, with the water down to a few inches. We prepared the assault for that night - and arrived to find the pool clean, refilled, and our hose gone.
I know these stories don’t say as much to you as they do to me, but they represent the spirit of what skating meant to me when I was nothing but a D.C. Sahara skater. So you see why I was so disgusted with the exploitation, the park-local snobbery, the competition, and the pretty-boy image of skating that appeared in late 1978 and 1979. I went back to the streets and put my energies into a different field. That aforementioned spirit still lives in D.C., which brings us to our text.
It was midsummer 1983 and Glen E. was coming down for a visit. Owing to a near airplane accident he missed the Faith show, but there was another show coming up in a couple of days. He decided to hang out at Dischord, and we were more than happy to have him stay - his mouth-rap is endless entertainment. One day I suggested that we drive out to Annandale to visit the halfpipe so he could check out some D.C. area skaters. I called a few key friends to make sure there would be something to take pictures of.
What could have been a long hot day of nothing turned into a great session of friends. John was snapping the grinders after returning from an injury-forced premature retirement from skating. The aptly named Micro, who is the Annandale halfpipe if you ask me, was being, as always, the gnarliest. Puker, also aptly named, from legendary Toketeam, was flying high over Pat Clark, the winner of last month’s contest.
I can’t really describe the atmosphere in words, so just check out the pictures and see for yourselves what it is about skating that makes me even bother to write this article.
Keep it dirty,
Ian describes the meaning of skateboarding at the Library of Congress, 2013
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Blood and Steel: Punk meets skateboarding at the Cedar Crest Country Club
A whole bunch of Dischord albums are now available on Bandcamp
‘Skateboard Kings’: Early Dogtown skate doc with Tony Alva, Stacy Peralta, Shogo Kubo and more