You cannot fake nostalgia. Or, at least, I can’t. My acting skills aren’t so well honed that a stab at expressing faux enthusiasm would not come off as anything but artificial. But I tried – really, I did – to share Todd Huber’s zeal for all things skateboarding, as he led me past wall-upon-wall of vintage decks and trucks and 60 years of skater swag at his Skateboarding Hall of Fame & Museum.
Dude, a Bruce Logan trading card from the ’70s. … Check out this Jay Adams Z-Flex deck. … And here’s that ’65 Patti McGee Life magazine cover, the one where she’s doing a handstand in white capris?
Impressive in scope and volume, this repository of a once-outlaw but now mainstream sport. But, sorry, I just wasn’t feeling it as Huber, collector and curator of the vast warehouse that doubles as an indoor skate park, held forth. In fact, all those über-cool photos of lean, tanned and shaggy-haired guys doing kick flips only reminded me of every kid who beat me up in junior high. Images of Farrah-era skater chicks in short-shorts and Vans and sporting feathered coifs represented every girl who never looked my way in the school hallways.
But then Huber led me upstairs, away from all the autographed professional memorabilia (from Stacy Peralta to Tony Hawk, and the Dogtown and Z-Boys), to the really early days of sport, the 1950s and early ’60s when it was dismissed as a faddish activity, a la Hula Hoops.
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There, encased in lucite, was a copy of the first skateboard I ever owned. Come to think, the only skateboard I ever had. Huber was prattling on about vintage scooters, precursors to skateboards, but I was only half-listening. My long-term memory had been reawakened, and I was transported back to my short-pants days in Danville, the Bay Area ’burb in which I dwelled far too briefly before my parents made a pogrom to Southern California.
The board in question was a 2-foot slab of varnished plywood with clay wheels, utterly generic other than what was imprinted on it: “The Willie Mays SAY HEY Skate Board,” with the smiling visage of my baseball hero at the nose and a baseball at the tail, the image thankfully unsullied by sandpapery grip tape.
No worries: I won’t go all Proustian on you, other than to say that, at that moment in the museum, I got it. I understood why Huber, lifelong skater and skateboard fan, spent more than six figures hunting down items of historical import, once going so far as to rent an RV and drive from Alabama to Kentucky, yard sale to yard sale, in search of deals.
He eventually noticed I was standing stock still, laser-focused on the Willie Mays board. I snapped out of it, apologizing.
“No, no,” Huber said, “No worries. That’s what’s great about the museum. People like you come in. They go nuts. Let me tell you about that Willie Mays board. They only sold it for one year, and they only sold them in Macy’s in the San Francisco area, only available in Nor Cal. They are pretty valuable now.”
Cringing, I asked Huber just how much my long-lost board sells for now.
“A lot,” he said.
(Side note: An online search showed the Say Hey skateboard selling for $550 on eBay, $999 on www.1stdibs.com. Pardon me while I weep.)
Huber nodded, knowingly. Hankering for his youthful possessions is part of what led him to start collecting in 1990, opening the indoor park and museum in 1997 and branching out and adding the Hall of Fame in a back room in the early 2000s.
“When I was a kid, I didn’t treat my stuff too good, and I wanted it back when I was an adult,” said Huber, who’ll turn 50 soon. “So I sought out these boards. My personality is, like, I’m an all-or-nothing dude. I’m not just going to go, ‘OK, I got the board I had as a kid. I’m done.’ No. I’m going to get all of them. Passion? No, obsession is more like it. Really. I was a smoker, and when I quit I needed a hobby. I had all this extra energy and time. I’m serious. When you’re smoking, you’re just doing nothing, standing there. I had like three, four hours a day to fill. At the time, in 1990, no one else was collecting skate stuff. At first, they were easy to get.”
But then skateboarding’s popularity swelled once more, thanks to the ESPN-driven X Games and telegenic stars such as Tony Hawk and Bob Burnquist and the hit 2001 documentary “Dogtown and Z-Boys,” that brought renewed interest to pioneers such as Jay Adams, Peralta and Tony Alva. Huber loved the flick – he has signed movie posters and many of the featured skaters’ decks adorning the walls – but he laments its residual effects.
“It sucked for the guys like me, already into it,” Huber said of collecting. “Made it too popular. It raised the prices. … Guys in their 40s now are looking for their old stuff. I see them here all the time. They get nostalgic. A lot of them have money, so it’s harder for me to get stuff. In the (front hall, floor to ceiling with boards) I never paid more than 20 bucks for any board. Some of them are worth a thousand bucks (now). The Dogtown ones, the Albas and Z-Flex. This one here is Jay Adams’ (board), you know, who passed away last year. People love Jay Adams.”
Huber prefers not to sully the purity of his pastime with talk of money. But, when pressed, he estimates he’s spent more than $100,000 in purchasing memorabilia.
“We were just on this Canadian show called ‘Extreme Collectors,’ and they appraised the whole collection at 550 grand,” he said. “So I did pretty good, right? But that’s not why I did it. I did it because I was a skater. … I don’t sell self. But there was this one guy (who) offered me three grand for a board that I originally got for free. It was an Alba board. I took the money and bought a whole bunch of other boards. It’s like, sell one, buy 400.”
Much of the “stuff,” as Huber calls his collection, is not that valuable, except as a sort of time capsule for the late 1960s and ’70s. There’s a cheesy poster of the “Charlie’s Angels”-era Farrah Fawcett balanced on a wooden board, hair unmoving. There is the cover of the first issue of Quarterly Skateboard magazine (1965) and the first cover of its resurrection as SkateBoarder magazine (1975). There is a fetching photo of Hall of Famer Ellen O’Neal Deason, rocking the Dolphin short-shorts, doing an Ollie while riding on a beach boardwalk. There is the famous image of Adams in a drained swimming pool.
As he led me, room to room, junior-high-age kids started filing in for after-school skate sessions. If they noticed the scores of boards hanging from the walls and rafters like salamis, they did not acknowledge them. Their eyes were trained on the ramps and rails.
“Maybe it’s a way for parents and kids to bridge the gap,” Huber philosophized. “I see families come in to skate and the mom goes, ‘I had this deck when I was your age,’ and maybe the kid gets into it. But most kids really don’t (have a sense of skateboarding history). I just gave a tour to 8-, 9- and 10-year-olds today. They don’t care. They wanted to go out and play around out there.”
Just give the kids a few years, or decades. They’ll be back, and they’ll be pining for that lost board, searching for that buried childhood memory.
Call The Bee’s Sam McManis, (916) 321-1145. Follow him on Twitter @SamMcManis
SKATELAB INDOOR SKATEPARK AND MUSEUM
4226 Valley Fair St., Simi Valley
Hours and information: www.skatelab.com; (805) 578-9928