Posted on October 20, 2014
Denny Riordon was our local pro, owned our local skate shop and built our local skate park. I had initially planned to interview him about that skate park, Lutherville, but soon realized just how much more he had to offer on the history of east coast skateboarding. What I didn’t know, until doing this interview, is how much of a pioneer Denny was. He encompasses the entire history of modern skateboarding, from the rise of polyurethane wheels through to the present. I’m very proud to be able to present to you the following interview.
Despite being such an important part of our local scene when I was growing up I now realize I don’t know very much about you. I know you lived and had your shop in our area but did you also grow up there?
Yeah I grew up in Cockeysville. I went to Cockeysville Middle School and graduated from Dulaney [High School] in 1976.
Did you stay there or did you move away at any point?
I stayed there through the ’80s. I didn’t really move out of there until the mid-90’s when I shut down my store. I went to California for a few years and then came back. Now I live in Ocean City [MD]. My parents, they’ve been in the same house in Cockeysville since 1966. That’s really home even though I was born in California. I never really went away except for the mid-’90s and that wasn’t for very long.
My next question is how and when did you find skateboarding? How did you start skateboarding and when was that?
I went to the beach [Ocean City] with a bunch of guys my junior year. You know how everybody goes for senior week to the beach? We actually got to go our junior year and I caught it again in our senior year. We went down for a week in 1974. It was probably June and I was down with a bunch of buddies and when we went out there was a girl riding around on a skateboard, just carving around on Coastal Highway. I watched her for a while and then I said, “Hey can I try that?” and she was like, “Sure.” So I skated on her board all week long and by the end of the week I’d bought my first board from Sunshine House.
Had you surfed before?
I had not. I did not surf until later on. I had been a big water skier. So I had that… not the sideways stance thing, but the whole carving thing. The thing is the [skate]boards back then were super, super skinny. You didn’t really pick the board’s nose up you just kind of carved around did like S turns and stuff like that. You didn’t do a whole lot. The things were tiny. They were smaller than the penny boards that the kids are riding nowadays. They were like 24 inches long and probably half as wide as a penny board. They were really tiny. There weren’t even sealed bearings. The bearings had butterflies on them. After a while those butterflies would wear out and all of a sudden you’d be skating and you’d see your bearings go shooting out down the road and you’d be done. So 1974, that was the beginning for me.
Were many people skateboarding then? Was it popular or was it a fringe activity?
It was very fringe. Boards were changing every other month. Polyurethane wheels had just come out maybe a year to two before and there weren’t, like I said, there weren’t closed bearings. There was no grip tape. I think I picked up on it because it was down there at the beach. It was more in the surf communities than inland. There was about three or four guys that got in to it at Dulaney that did it for another year or two and then they all stopped. I kept going, I just kept up with it.
So you stuck with it even though you didn’t have much of a skate crew?
That changed really quickly once we found Pot Springs Ditch. That changed everything. I’m pretty sure we found it in early 1975. It was actually built in 1973 because there was a hurricane. Hurricane Agnes went through there. That entire area down there, there was no drain or ditch, that whole area was under water probably a good half of mile in both directions for three days. So they put those two ditches in there in case of another hurricane, which never happened. That’s why the ditch is always dry. There’s not really water that runs through there unless it rains. I remember we found it in ’75 and most of the guys that I was skating with were younger, I was the only one that was driving. When we pulled up there we really were afraid to ride down it because these boards we were riding were like, you know, they’re plastic with little tiny trucks…. We would let our boards roll down and see if they’d make it through the transition…
… before we actually got on the board. But that didn’t last for more than a minutes and then we were riding down the walls.
Yeah, right. Someone’s got to try it.
Yeah so it was really, really new and no one had been doing that yet. That was the first transition I ever attempted.
That was my first transition ever as well.
And those transitions still aren’t very friendly.
If you can skate those transitions, then you can skate anything. That became our spot. We’d go there ever day after school and it was a crew of us. It was me, my brother and a friend of mine, Chip Frederick, who just passed away. Bobby Strange, Bert Toulotte, Paul Chidester, all these guys went to Dulaney. Pete Howard. Eddie Tyler. Most of these guys lived right around there. I lived the furthest away, over in Cockeysville. Most of these guys lived in Springdale or right down the street off of Cinder Road. One guy still lives there.
So it was like this crew of about seven guys that would skate that place and that was it, no one [else] skated it. Then all of a sudden we added wood, we actually had the walls [high enough] at one point that when you kick turned you were above the street. That’s when people started taking notice. On any given weekend there’d be 25 cars parked out there at the ditch.
So people would travel to skate it?
Yeah they’d travel in and more people were stopping to see what was going on, taking pictures, kind of fascinated with, “What are these guys doing on these skateboards?” We constantly added wood. Every day you came and there was something new. It was usually extensions. There was no coping or curbs or any of that stuff going on yet. If you went out… we called it three wheels out… if you hung your wheels over the top then you were ripping. Everybody would do snake runs down the thing and just carve the whole ditch. We’d do follow the leader and there’d be ten guys flying down there. Stuff like that. Like I said there wasn’t grip tape on the boards yet, you couldn’t do a lot. [Skateboarding] changed quickly because everybody was pushing it and the magazines…. Pretty much what they were doing on the West Coast, we were doing six months [later]. You started seeing them [in the magazines] skate ditches then the next thing we saw them skate were backyard pools. So that was our next thing. The ditch was always there. We always knew we had it, but we were always looking for other things to skate.
So what other things were there to skate? You mentioned backyard pools. Were there any because I never had any when I was growing up?
Well there were a couple of things that happened. There was always two weeks in the spring time when the pools would get drained for cleaning. Like Town and Country pool on Cranbrook Road, we would go in there and dry it out and make sure it was good. We’d ride those pools for two weeks straight. We’d go from one community pool to the next. It got to the point where sometimes there would be 30 guys in there in the shallow end and cops would come and we’d all scatter. Twenty minutes later, we’d all be back. Another one of our not so smart ideas, that we did anyway, was we would look for newspapers piled up in front of houses and if they had a pool and we’d drain it.
We had a pump system and we would literally drain pools and skate them until the people came home. That was pretty much what was going on, it was the whole Dogtown thing. We were doing the same thing, just on the other coast.
That’s amazing. I did not know that at all. I didn’t know there was anything like that going on on the east coast.
Oh yeah it was not good. There were other ditches too. There was the Arbutus ditch, which was down towards Catonsville , which people still skate a little. I think it’s a little over grown. There was this ditch out on 95 going towards DC, we called it Still Waves. It was two ditches that kind of came together, so you could skate down one and then go into the other and there was a full pipe at one end. You couldn’t ride the full pipe but you could ride up and around it and back in. Those three, between our ditch and those two ditches, were the hot spots where if you wanted to skate with other people, that’s where you’d go. The pool thing was very hush, hush. If we found a pool, we weren’t telling anybody. We were keeping it to ourselves. So the ditches you could go and find out who else was good or not good or whatever. Those two ditches fell apart for some reason, but Pot Springs, it’s still skateable. It’s way rougher than it’s been but it’s amazing that it’s held up this long.
I found some recent YouTube footage of kids there and it looked like they had DIYed up a quarter pipe out of the top of it. So they are doing stuff to it still.
Yeah it changes constantly. I put a couple of curbs there. They are still in there. They’ll be there forever because they’re so damn heavy no one can move them. It’s definitely not as built up as we had it in the ’80s and it was ridiculous in the ’70s because there was no one there to complain. None of those houses were there. That development with the tennis courts wasn’t there. There was nothing. So when I say we had the walls built up, they were eight feet higher and 16-20 feet wider on both sides.
It was built right in to that seam there. We would take two by fours and we’d actually dig out the ground right along the cement and we’d put a two by four down in there and then we’d pack [the dirt] back in. Then we put the plywood down so it would meet that seam and cement. The wood would meet so it wasn’t a bad kink and then it would go up eight feet higher. We had a take off ramp that we built out of pallets. We’d cover those with plywood and it would go back 20-30 feet so you could come flying in because you needed the speed, there was no deck on those plywood walls. You couldn’t drop in or anything. You were just doing a kick turn on a half of inch of plywood over the top. You could hang up so easily it was ridiculous.
I’ve read that Lansdowne opened in 1979, and the Ocean Bowl opened a few years before that. Did you skate those? Were there any skate parks around besides those two?
Well the Ocean Bowl was built in ’76. That is still the oldest skate park in the world. Lansdowne wasn’t built until ’78. There was a park called Concrete Wave that I helped design that opened up in ’77. It was either later ’76 or ’77. But the Ocean Bowl was the first thing that I skated that was a bowl type thing besides pools. You had to take a test to be able a ride [Ocean Bowl]. You had to go up around these lines. We were already ripping pools, so it wasn’t that big a deal for us. That’s when we started realizing there were other people around, the crew in Ocean City that we all became friends with and competed with in the ’70s at different events. Josh and Brian Marlowe, Brad Hoffman, Mark “One-Time”, Mickey Carmody, Mark Edmond, Pat Truitt and Billy Todd. There was a whole crew of those guys, there’s more, my memory is not what it used to be.
Concrete Wave opened up and that was a full size cement park out on Pulaski Highway. That was a big deal. Everybody came in from Pennsylvania, Philly, DC, and Ocean City. They all came there because it was the new thing.
What was that like? What was the layout of the place?
There was one bowl that had some vert, but it was probably 15 feet deep and it was weird because you couldn’t really work it back and forth, it was like a one hit, but it was 45, 50 feet wide. The rest of the park was more like snake runs into bowls. They would all meet. You could go from one snake run into a bowl over the top into another bowl. But there was no real vert, it was all bank walls, so it was still more people carving and doing lay back slides, no real airs unless you were doing like early grab stuff. It’s funny because we did do early grab stuff and then that went away and then it came back in the ’80s when everybody was doing launch ramps. We were doing that in the tight corners in those parks.
There was another park that opened up in the ’77 too, in Gaithersburg, called Freestyle Skate Park. It was pretty much the same set up as Concrete Wave, but it was smaller. It had a little bit bigger, steeper runs. It was run by Salty Selt and Dan Hopkins, they were the local pros. Concrete Wave and Freestyle, were privately owned. They didn’t last long because they weren’t making any money. It just cost too much to build.
Then there was another one called Glass Wave, which was all fiberglass. I think they opened up between 1977 and ’78. Now these were legit half pipes. They had half pipes, quarter pipes and that’s when people were really starting to push the vert a little bit more. That was also in Gaithersburg. It was indoors, it used to be an indoor Skateland and they put ramps everywhere. That was going on at the same time Lansdowne was being built.
The county was going to build a whole park there [in Lansdowne], not just a skateboard park, because that’s all county property. There was a building they had built for a pro shop and it had bathrooms. They were supposed to have a grand opening but the neighbors didn’t want it there. They basically burned the building down the night before and so [the county] just left [the skate park] there. They just said, “Screw it, we’re done with it” and they washed their hands of it. There was no fence. There was nobody watching it. They just let it go because of the neighbors. It’s a rough neighborhood, especially back then. The neighbors just didn’t want anything to do with [the skate park]. Of course, a lot of the local kids skated it for the next five years and loved it and there were some really good skaters that came out of there.
You would only go there in a group. You never went there by yourself because there were always fights. There were guys on motorcycles riding that park, bicycles and I saw pit bull fights there. People were always getting beat up there. It was a bad scene. So you went there with like a group of five or six guys for sure. But there was a great scene going on and it changed off and on. Now it’s been fenced in and they’ve fixed it up some. I skate it probably five, six times a year still.
When we used to go there it was still rough, but it wasn’t as rough. We used to go really early in the morning and I always joked that we kept push brooms in our cars because we would have to sweep out all the broken bottles every morning.
Yep. Just like the ditch. I must have swept that ditch out a hundred times. It was crazy.
Yeah so a lot was going on. You basically had four or five skateboard parks open up between ’75 and ’79. Then you had Cascade Skateboard Park. That thing opened up in like ’79 and it had an indoor keyhole pool that’s still there today. Apparently there’s a contractor in there and he’s got a wood floor over it and people are always asking him if he’ll let people go in there and skate it. The pictures that are out there right now, there’s one section that’s still… they buried most of it. The kids dug out a big section. It’s kind of overgrown and it’s still there but it doesn’t really show most of the park. The park was huge. It had a giant outside part. It had a half pipe that was just ridiculously deep. When I say it was deep, it was 25 feet deep, it was like six feet of vert…
…it was, nobody skated it. It was stupid. They had a bunch of cool bowls but the indoor pool was the big attraction because you could go there any time of day. If it rained, snowed or whatever you could skate that thing.
It sounds like you skated absolutely everything. So how did you end up focusing on freestyle because we knew you as a freestyle pro?
It’s weird because when I first started skating I had the only vert ramp in all of Maryland and I was big in to vert. Back then you did everything. You did vert, you did slaloms, you did high jump, you did 360s, you did long jump, you did freestyle. You did everything . I toured with the Pepsi team from ’77 to ’79 and that was all vert stuff and freestyle. We had this collapsible ramp we’d tote around. A lot of times we would be doing high school assemblies and there would be no way to [setup] anything, so you had to do it yourself. We’d go into a school and there’d be 5,000 kids there and we had a professional MC that Pepsi had hired, it’d be a three or four man team. We’d do freestyle. I would always jump people. They’d lay eight people down, we’d put the principal on the end and I’d jump them from board to board. Because I was known for jumping a car at contests or demos.
So we’d just do basic stuff like that and then after the demos the local kids would take us to their vert ramps or their ditches or whatever. I did that for two years. I was just traveling the country doing that. So freestyling got pretty big but I never really stopped skating vert until the mid-’80s, because of my back. I hurt my back on the Pepsi ramp, I’ve got pain from that still to this day. The G forces bother me too much. It’s funny because I actually tried to skate vert twice now in the last 30 days. But it doesn’t feel right. I don’t know, we’ll see. I still did street style, I was able to do that for a while, it didn’t bother my back as much as vert did. The thing with vert, there weren’t really a lot of places to skate anymore. When my ramp came down in ’80 there weren’t any vert ramps around because from ’82 and ’83 skateboarding just stopped.
In the early ’80s, everybody started focusing on one thing, guys stopped doing everything. Guys were just either vert or freestyle or slalom or whatever. So I got stuck in the freestyle thing and of course I got to skate against Rodney Mullen, Per Welinder, Kevin Harris and all those guys. Rodney and I did demos together. I got to be friends with all those guys. I was fascinated with what you could with the board on flat ground. I was addicted. I would go up to Dulaney. My practice time would be from midnight until 2:00 in the morning. I could turn the lights on at the tennis courts and I’d go up there with my boom box, in the ’80s, and skate for two hours at night, almost every night, by myself. That was my time where I didn’t have to worry about if anyone was around. I’d be practicing for contests or whatever else.
Once you make that move to the professional ranks you kind of… everything changes. I can remember the day I turned professional, the next day I skated differently. I felt like I skated at a different level the next day. It was just as mental thing.
Did you just have more confidence?
I definitely had more confidence for sure. I [also] felt that if I was a pro I have to live up to that. I should be the best skater at the ditch or the best skater at the ramp or wherever. It pushed me to concentrate more. Seriously, the next day I skated differently. I’ll never forget. I skated Pot Springs [Ditch] and I probably did five or six new tricks that day. Or I took a trick that I could do an added something to it. It just felt like my feet were on the board better. It was weird. It’s an “all between your ears” kind of thing, it’s that confidence, it’s the fact that you are doing this as a profession, that you get paid to skate…. I think if you talk to a lot of athletes, it doesn’t matter what they are doing, they go through the same thing. There’s a little bit of pressure too. You have to perform. It was a good thing for me though. I loved it and it made me just want to be better.
Did the pressure of contests ever get to you? I have heard lots of other pros say that they hated skating contests.
I think I started skating pro contests in ‘76. That was the first level and I went to a much higher, national level in the ’80s. In the beginning the contests didn’t bother me as much but the competition wasn’t at the level it was when I skated in the ’80s obviously. In the ’80s I was quite a bit older so I was skating against a lot of guys 10, 15 years younger than me. I got more nervous as I got older which is weird. You would think it would be the other way around. A lot of the guys I skated with had nerve issues. Whether it was freestyle or on the ramp, their brain would just go blank. In freestyle we had set routines that we would just do over and over and over and over. Some of the guys on my team back then also had routines on ramps. They’d start skating and I’d be like, “Dude you just did ten 50-50s, did you forget to do all your tricks?”
They’d just go blank.
Let me stop you here because I want to backtrack for a minute to clear a few things up. First, the Pepsi thing, how did this happen? Were you already sponsored at this point and got a Pepsi deal? Could you give me the history of how you ended up skating professionally?
Before Pepsi I had a sponsors. I had a board sponsor but I didn’t have pro model or anything. I just had sponsors like clothing sponsors and shoe sponsors. I rode for Vans back then, a company called 360 Sportswear. A company called Ferragamo, which made boards and wheels. Who else? Megatron Trucks… I know there’s more, I just can’t think of them. I had a bunch of sponsors and I was actually flown out to a contest in Phoenix, Arizona. I think that was in the mid-70s. I didn’t know it, but Pepsi had sent out recruiters looking for people for their teams because what they had was four, four-man teams that went around the whole country. I had no idea they were even there.
I think I was skating against Stacy Peralta, Ty Page and Mike Weed and I ended up getting in the top three or four and no one knew who I was. I was the only East Coast guy there. I was kind of out of my element but I skated well. When I got back there was another skateboard park that was having a grand opening, Crofton Skateboard Park. I was there to be like the entertainment or whatever, the pro skater. Of course I was riding the pools, it was all vert. I was all about their pools. It had great pools and I was doing that and somebody said, “You’ve got a phone call in the pro shop.” And I’m like, “What? Nobody knows I’m even here.” They got a hold of one of my sponsors and called me and said, “We need you in New York in two days if you want to be on this tour team.” I was playing lacrosse at Towson University, starting freshman and I quite college and I quit lacrosse and went on tour.
The Pepsi thing was kind of like being a rock star for a couple of years. It’s hard to believe I even did it. It was really fun and I got to go all over the country. It was unbelievable.
That must have been amazing.
Yeah it was because back then skateboarding was still so new you really were treated like a rock star. People would lose their minds. The kids all wanted your autographs, the girls all wanted to make out with you and the local skaters all wanted you to come skate with them after the event. Friday demos were the best because we usually had the weekend off. So all the local kids would be like, “Okay we’re going to this ramp, we’re going to that pool, we’re going here, we’re going to this party.” I was just out of high school and the other guys were all still in it. Pepsi was paying us, paying our expenses. We were living large at the time. For then, not compared to what guys make now.
It seems like you got really good, really fast. You went from starting skating to touring with Pepsi in just a couple years. Did it just come naturally to you or did you have to work at it?
Well it was a little bit of both. I did put in a lot of time. I was a big lacrosse player, but my senior year in high school I was skating five, six, seven hours a day after school and like ten hours a day on weekends. It was definitely both because I was having so much fun with it that I was skating ridiculous amount of hours. Back then everything was new. Every day you learned something new. It could be the simplest thing but it was so new you felt like you were making things up even if you weren’t. It was exciting because you knew something was going to happen every time you went out. The equipment was changing monthly then too. We lived for the magazine. Every month when the magazine came out there was a new wheel, a new truck, a new board. First we started with no kicktails and then there was a wedge that was just glued on and then they finally started curving them. So the equipment was changing at the same time. I’d always been a really good athlete, but I did put in a lot of time. It was like an addiction for me. I would dream up tricks. I’d try something new and dream about why I couldn’t do it. The next day [I’d] make the trick because I dreamt about what I was doing wrong. It was fun because you didn’t have a coach, no one was telling you what to do, you were just trying stuff. You didn’t have videos to look at, you didn’t have anything. We would lay magazines down that had four pictures that were supposed to be a sequential… like eight or ten frames to figure out what was going on. It was a fun time, it was great to be able to live that, for sure.
Did the Pepsi team lead then to future sponsors? Did that exposure introduce you to other companies?
What happened after that was that I had moved to the beach and skateboarding just stopped. The country went into a recession between… I would say mid-’82 to almost the end of ’83. The country was like… skateboarding went away. Everybody’s sponsors went away. There were no contests. All the skateboard parks went out of business. I started surfing but I also kept skating just because I loved it so much. So for two years I skated on my own just for fun and learned to surf.
In ’84 the economy came back around and there was a Pro Am held in Ocean City, at the park, and of course I entered four events because that’s what you did back then, you were like “I’ll go in everything.” I went in freestyle, the bowl freestyle (which is on the walls), 360 contest and barrel jumping. I had no sponsor. It was just for fun. I got two firsts and two seconds and I was like, “The hell with this, I’m going to try and get sponsors again.” That was ’84. I opened my store in November of ’84. By ’85 I was the first Billabong skater ever. That was my first clothing sponsor in the ’80s and I was their very first skater. Then I picked up Converse, Freestyle Watches and others I am forgetting. I still didn’t have a pro model at that time. I didn’t do that until later in the ’80s. But I started picking up sponsors and basically I started a second career.
So when you started hearing about me, I was in my second career. I had already done the ’70s thing.
Yeah, that is around when I would have first met you, around 1985 at Island Dreams.
Yeah, I got the store going. We moved the store a couple of times. I think we were in the first location for like a year and then we moved down to Burke Avenue, Burke and York Road and we were there a couple of years. We just kept outgrowing everything. Then I was approached by Kryptonics [for a pro model]. Kryptonics was owned by Atlantic Skates then. Something, I don’t know what, happened, some legal thing went down with them or they lost the licensee or something but then Dorsey [Truitt] started Toxic and that’s why you saw my board go from Kryptonics to Toxic. When I went to Toxic is when I was selling tons of boards. It was ridiculous how many boards I was selling. He was selling them all over the world.
Yeah it’s an iconic ’80s deck. I see it talked about all the time on skateboard collector forums.
Yeah for my age that was really late in my career but I was just so dedicated to it, you know, still skating and running the store. I was married and had kids and the whole deal. I had another guy I skated with, this guy Tim Morris, out of Columbia. He was a big freestyler and we would skate every minute we had together, it was ridiculous. Back then you had NSA going on and we were traveling around all over the country, and out of the country, for contests. You wanted to be ranked in the world at that time. My thing was, if I could stay in the top 15 in the world I’d keep skating. Once that was over, I was done.
About ’89, I’ll never forget, I was in Louisville, Kentucky and I was the oldest guy on the tour by seven years. The next guy down was seven years younger. I was like, “Fine. You know what? I think it’s time.” I finally hung up the competition thing. I really had two major careers.
That’s right around the time that freestyle kind of officially died too I guess.
Tony Hawk’s dad was running the NSA then and he died. When he died no one picked it up for a long time and the contest scene took a hit. We had all gone through the whole Bones Brigade thing. You had Rodney, Kevin Harris and Per Welinder. All those guys were big in the videos [even though] Tony Hawk, Cab, Lance and McGill, those guys, were the highlight because vert was so big.
It all just kind of faded there for a while and that’s what skateboarding has done ever since the ’60s. It’s always gone… right now we’re in the same situation. Skateboarding is so dead right now as far as the industry goes. Usually what happens is it comes back bigger than ever, but if we didn’t have the Dew Tour and the X-Games right now, skateboard would be gone. Again, it would just be back to the core, kids that did it, people that did it just for fun and in the streets. Guys are still making good money. It’s still going on because of the big sponsors and TV stuff but it has faded in and faded out four or five times. You know like the shoes, like skateboard shoes were so big and most of those companies are almost out of business or just hanging on.
I want to backtrack again to something else you said earlier, you mentioned you had the first vert ramp in the area. Can you tell me about that?
Well first it started out as a quarter pipe.
Back then we didn’t know how to cut transitions. We had never seen transitions cut with plywood. So we would take two by fours and we’d put one nail in each side and then we’d bend that thing until we thought it looked like a transition and then we’d nail it in place. We always put way too much vert on them. We had like four feet of transition with four feet of vert. And of course no decks. In the beginning we used broomsticks as coping until we started figuring out, “Hey, let’s steal some pool coping.” We all learned to drop in on those crazy ramps. Literally three or four feet of vert with no transition, that’s what we learned to drop in on. Guys would get just killed. It was terrifying to drop in but that’s all we knew.
There was actually a half pipe at Concrete Wave, they built it just before they went out of business. For some reason I thought, “Oh, I can move this.” I was the only guy driving and I rented a truck with a hydraulic lift and I got 20 guys. We took the decks down. We cut the flat out and we literally picked up one whole side, 16 feet wide, ten feet tall, picked it up, slid it on the truck. Drove it from Pulaski Highway all the way to Cockeysville. When we got to Harford Road we had forgotten there were overpasses. It was like, “Holy shit we’re never going to make it!” I had to pull over on the shoulder and have somebody climb up there and go, “Okay you’ve got two inches.” We had to do that at every overpass and we had to do that twice. We got it back to my neighborhood and my parents live on a dead end street. We moved out all the poles from the dead end and we carried this thing down. We already had a flat built, ready to go on cinder blocks. We carried it down, slid it in, went back, got the other half, same thing. Really ridiculous. We put that all together and that was the only half pipe for probably two to three years solid. Guys would come down, all the PA guys were coming down and DC guys and Ocean City guys. Brad Hoffman, I don’t know if you ever heard of a guy name B Rad, he was pretty famous in Ocean City, he broke his femur on the ramp. He always talks about that.
We had pool coping on both sides. We had full decks. But again, it was, you know… eight foot transitions, or seven foot transitions with two or three feet of vert. But we didn’t care, we had the ramp and we were constantly stealing wood to re-ply, because it was all plywood and it would get all splintery. That was the scene there for quite a few years because that was the [only] half pipe.
It seems like when I was growing up there was a crew of guys a few years older than me that were just vert rippers, like Paul Wisniewski . They obviously came from somewhere, but we didn’t know about those ramps.
Yeah I’m really still good friends with Paul. You know he has his own company called Green Issue Skateboards?
No, I don’t know anything. I just remember him because he was so good and had blonde dreads.
We built a ramp down in Towson called the Ark Ramp. It was down right off Providence Road. There were these three kids, they all skated, Tim, Rusty and Jeff Tadder. Their mom allowed us to build it in their backyard which was not far from where Paul lived. Paul, Dave Barranco, Rob Carrigan, Brett Snyder and Matt Hohner, those guys lived at that ramp. They’d get off school and head straight to the ramp every day. There was like five or six guys that were there every day. All those guys actually were skating for me at the time. Bucky [Lasek] was hanging around but he was only like 12. We had pro demos there and we had Lester Kasai, Tom Groholski , Jim Gray and other good guys coming in. It was like a shop demo but it was in these people’s backyard.
Amazing. You said the Ark Ramp guys were skating for you, does that mean they were sponsored by Island Dreams?
Yeah, there’s a bunch of guys I sponsored, it’s quite a list. Most of them didn’t drive back then so I would load them up and take them to contests. We went around all over the place to contests. It was all amateur so you had age groups and we had guys as young as nine years old. There would be the nine and under and 10-12 years old, 13-15, 16-18, over 18…. I had all the categories covered. I would coach these guys at contests, try to be their coach/cheerleader and say, “Listen, you’ve got two or three runs and you didn’t do this in that line and you need to calm down and stop worrying about the competition.” You know, that kind of stuff.
They didn’t get anything for free but they all got discounts. Not just on skate stuff but if they wanted to buy a snowboard or a surfboard or whatever as well. I paid for all the [contest] entry fees. If I took them down to Ocean City I would put them up. We went to Virginia Beach a couple times. A couple of my guys made the nationals and went down to Florida for the nationals. I’d cover a lot of that and we had team shirts and stuff.
We’d try to have everyone hang out weekly and skate together. That didn’t always work out but a lot of guys would skate together a couple times a week or at least on the weekends. Most of these guys were pretty local, pretty much that Towson, Loch Raven, Timonium area. Paul Wisniewski obviously. Jeff Brown, Roman Kiebler, Chris Sieverts and Dave Barranco. We had these brothers, one was 12 and one was nine, Jamie and John Anecharico. They actually lived up in Jacksonville. Jeff Stamper, Rob Carrigan, Drew Verdechia, Matt Hohner, Art Lundquist and Scott Franklin. Scott made the nationals for freestyle. Brett Snyder, Lauren Hough and Timmy Tadder. It’s a big crew man. I started going through them… I thought there was like ten but there’s 16 guys. I’m still actively in contact with a lot of these guys through Facebook. Chris Sieverts still rips. He’s a ripping surfer, skater and snowboarder. I see him all the time, he hangs out down here with me. Jamie Anecharico lives down the street from me. Dave Barranco and Paul are in California but I talk with them constantly on Facebook.
Did you build any other ramps back then?
Yeah I helped build a ton of ramps. The two that everyone talked about was the Karma Ramp (what we called my ramp) and then the Ark Ramp. There was another ramp that we built. It was at one of the fraternity houses, we built a ramp there too, but it was very short lived. The problem was back then was you built a ramp and then somebody would come in and say “oh liability” and it was gone.
It got kind of old. There was a big ramp down in Columbia we’d go skate, but they were up and then they were down. It could be six months. You’d hear about a new ramp and you’d go there and you’d skate it and it would be gone. That was the problem with the vert scene. You never had anything consistent until finally Ocean City built theirs but then you’re into the [mid] ’80s. They built one that was there for quite a long time. They still have one. But it was hit or miss how long [other] ramps would last. Or parks. The skateboard parks came and went. Some were only open for a year then they’d be gone. There were two that were built that were never even opened. One park, it didn’t have a name. Behind the roller rink off of Joppa road there was actually cement poured and it never opened. Then there was another one on the north end of Pulaski Highway. It was just… whoever poured it… it was so rough. It was just poured and left and kids would skate it but it would just rip you to pieces if you fell. So that’s why everybody went to Concrete Wave. There were people that would spend a lot of money and the park wouldn’t even open.
Which leads me perfectly into what I want to ask you about next, which is how the park I skated growing up, how Lutherville actually happened? I’m really confused about what happened there.
I built the whole thing. Lutherville… I was always fighting the politicians and standing up for kids rights. You know, there’s nowhere to skate. They give you tickets if you’re in the street. They arrest you if you’re at the ditch. In fact, I know four ten years olds who were handcuffed and taken to the police station in Towson for skateboarding in the ditch. The parents dropped them off and they end up in the jail.
I was always petitioning and a guy who was a recreation director, came to me and said, “People are asking if someone could teach skateboarding in the gym at the old elementary school in the winter time and would you be interested?” And I said, “Yeah I’ll teach freestyle” because there were no ramps, there was nothing you could use. So he goes, “How many can you handle?” I said, “I don’t know, you probably won’t have that many.” Well 30 kids signed up. Every Saturday for two hours we taught freestyle. After a year of that, two of those kids ended up skating for me and would go on and win NSA contests as amateurs.
So we were doing freestyle classes in there and weren’t bothering anybody. Then spring came and I said, “Listen is it all right if we build a couple of small ramps and put them out in those courts because the basketball hoops aren’t there anymore and nobody played?” And he was like, “Yeah cool, that’s no problem.” So we built those little ramps and again they would come and go. People started dropping off ramps if their parent’s didn’t want them in the driveway or something.
The ramps started getting in bad shape. The [county] was getting worried about the liability. That’s when I had the Save Lutherville contest. We had made tee shirts up, raised money and got some parents involved but it ended up there wasn’t enough money. So I just paid for everything. I took like $5,000, $6,000 out of my own money. The school wasn’t being used. We had a key to the school and they gave us an [empty] classroom. So that winter me and this guy, Lauren Hough, whenever we had time, I was running my store, he had a job, we pre-fabbed everything for the new park. We built out everything and our plan was to cover everything in steel because wood would wear out.
We worked in there all winter long and we pre-fabbed everything. Cut all the transitions, cut everything so when we came out there we could put it all together really quickly. The hardest part was drilling the steel because you had to countersink every screw. We were going through…. I don’t know how many countersink screw drill bits we went through. It was ridiculous. That was it, we basically built it on the down low, this guy was doing this kind of without the whole knowledge of Baltimore County Recreations and, you know, he worked for them.
Then people loved it. Everybody went there. Parents dropped their kids off. It was like a babysitting center. We had a bunch of contests there, we had contests all the time. God, weekends the place was packed. That went on for, I don’t know, a little while and then the Giant [super market] started complaining about the kids going down there on their skateboards and one thing led to another.
Then finally, it was a Saturday morning, I’ll never forget. My phone started ringing off the hook and these kids were calling me in a panic. They’re like, “They’re here tearing the park down! They’re ripping it to pieces!“ They had chain saws and crowbars and they had a crew. [Someone] called Channel 2 and they showed up and when I got there it was almost all destroyed and the kids were riding around trying to stop the guys from doing it. Parents were screaming at them. [Channel 2] interviewed me and I said, “This is ridiculous. Where are the kids going to skate?” The [county] didn’t care. It was all politics at the time. Skaters were always looked upon as hoodlums, that we’re causing trouble and we always got blamed for all the glass in the ditch I’m like, “That’s the kids that come here at night to party.” Skaters are not breaking bottles because then they can’t skate.
I went through years and years and years of the authorities shutting us down. You know they tried to close… they did close down the Ditch for a while. They had fencing around it and we’d cut holes in it. Signs went up saying “No Trespassing.” Well we painted them all black and put “Skateboarding Is Not A Crime” stickers all over them. Yeah stuff like that. I was just always the guy, I was the older guy. So I was always the one standing up saying, “Screw this, we’re not leaving.” And it got to the point where the cops were coming up and I’d be, I was 40 and I was skating there [the Ditch] and this cop pulls up. He’s like, “Dude you’re going to have to leave, the neighbors are complaining.” I go, “I’ve been skating here longer than you’ve been alive. “ He’s like a 20-year-old. I go, “I’m here because I’m stressed out. When I’m done in an hour I’ll leave.” And he looked at me and he’s like “Alright.” He just drove off. I was just done with it. I was just, “I can’t handle it anymore.” So we’d go round and round.
So yeah Lutherville was a really cool scene for awhile. So many people still talk about Lutherville, it’s crazy.
There was nothing like it. There was no street course like that anywhere nearby.
I had been skating in all the contests. That’s where the idea came from, the idea for the box with the rail on it and hitting it from four different sides. I had skated in Savannah Slamma and a couple other contests and a lot of that stuff was in my head from skating those. I said, “Let’s just take this and build it here.”
And then you built that great mini ramp. That was like a second phase of the metal ramps. That mini ramp was amazing. That was one of the first proper mini ramps that I ever skated.
Yep, you know that’s when we… we cut all our transitions way ahead of time. Yeah the seam on that mini ramp was awesome. It’s a shame thinking about it right now because I was always fighting the, “Well, how long will things last?”
We talked about the cyclical nature of skateboarding earlier. It feels like when I moved away, which would have been in the early 90’s, skating died again. Did you close the shop because of that?
The shop didn’t go out of business because skateboarding was dying. I had started repping and I was trying to do two things at once and I was making a lot more money…. Skateboarding was still pretty healthy. It had definitely slowed down, I mean in those mid to late ’80s I’d call up Powell and I’d go, “Okay send me 100 Hawks, 100 Cabs, 100 McGills, a 100 Guerreros , 100 Lance Mountains” and they’d be gone in a month. It had one of those phases in the ‘90s where it did slow down but the industry was still big. Airwalk was big and we had a lot of new companies coming out. You had H-Street coming out and all those guys came out. So that was another boost but it definitely wasn’t like those last years in the ’80s. It wasn’t as strong as that. So it definitely slowed down but it didn’t go away. Each time it goes away less and less. At that time it went away some but it was still the core. Skaters were still out there and they were still skating. I think the contests scene slowed down quite a bit, locally and nationally. That’s about when Tony [Hawk]’s dad died and the NSA folded for a little while. That’s probably right around when things slowed a little bit too.
It seems like those contests went away until they got reinvented by things like the X Games and now Street League.
Well, yeah, once the X Games came on that changed everything. It took it to the highest level and you see where it is now. Guys were making… the top, top guys make a lot of money. There are still a lot of great skaters that don’t make any money. But because they started getting on TV so much, that took it to the next level. But then, you know, in the 2000s vert almost died. Vert has kind of come back now but street skating took over. It was real street skating. It wasn’t parks or anything.
In a way it was like the rebirth of freestyle.
Well I still claim the reason there is street style is because of Rodney Mullen. I mean Rodney… there’s two guys that I say have changed skateboarding, [that] would be Rodney and Tony [Hawk]. Those two guys… I mean and if you go all the way back there is Tony Alva and Jay Adams…. There’s certain guys that just gave to the sport what no one else would be able to.
Rodney is like… I mean he’s a freak of nature on a skateboard. I knew him personally. Rodney is kind of a genius. His parents wouldn’t let him skate. He never skated transitions or anything, his parents wouldn’t allow it. They made him wear full pads and helmets even when he was skating freestyle when he was a little kid. I met him when he was 12. His parents were doctors and lawyers and they didn’t want anything to do with him on the skateboard. That never changed.
I think he’s probably one of the most influential skaters of all times. He was doing stuff on flat land, like air walks and mute 360 grab ollies that all of a sudden Tony was like “Hey….” Because Tony actually used to ride freestyle, so Tony started taking [those tricks] to the vert when he was like 13. Rodney was way ahead.
The last thing I want to ask you is, you obviously still skate because you’ve mentioned it, so where do you like to skate now? What kind of stuff do you like to go to?
I still skate mini ramps. I actually have a little one in the backyard. I recently just got remarried, so I have a son that’s 26 and a daughter that’s 24. My son and I have always skated together. We still do. We snowboard a lot too. And then I’ve got twin ten year old boys here that learning to skate. So we have a little mini ramp thing out back here and recently I’ve been…. I’ve always really enjoyed mini-ramp because it doesn’t bother my back and I feel like I’m still doing stuff. I really don’t like freestyle anymore because freestyle actually bothers my back, all the hand stands, all the tricks up on the trucks and all the pogos…. I haven’t been on a freestyle board in years.
I love transition, like bank walls and I went to the Ditch as a tribute to my friend that died, Chip Frederick, and skated there for like 45 minutes the other day. It just brought back unbelievable memories. Then two weeks ago I skated the Ocean Bowl pool and actually rode the vert ramp a little bit. I haven’t been on vert in years, so it’s pretty much mini ramp stuff.
I was in Ocean City earlier this summer and I hadn’t seen the park since they’d redone it. I hit it up for an hour or so one morning. I like it. It’s really nice.
Well right before the recession hit they were going to take that entire baseball field, that basketball court, that whole block was supposed to be a skateboard park. Everybody was all excited and then the recession hit and it’s not come back on the table yet.
That would have been crazy! I liked the smaller sections. I can actually get tricks there. The big stuff I can just like carve and kick turn.
Yeah it’s got a couple of dead spots in there.
It’s really weird for lines.
Yeah you can get stuck in no man’s land. But I like to just skate the pool if I want to just carve around without doing anything. I’m almost 60 years old, I’m not doing anything but carving it, just trying to lose some weight.
Some guys started doing that on Wednesday. So there’s a crew of them, a bunch of guys that are in their 40s and 50s that are there just to carve around and have fun.
We’ve got a similar scene at my local park. It’s amazing how many guys are still out there doing it. When I was a kid I was competitive. I was disappointed when I couldn’t keep up with my friends. Now anything I can do feels great.
The main thing is that you’re out there having fun. Like me on mini ramp, I’ve got 15 tricks that I do that I can do consistently. I actually probably ride mini ramp better now. In fact, I know I ride mini ramp better than I did when Lutherville was there. I do way more tricks, way more technical stuff and it’s weird, but I don’t fall that much anymore. I can’t afford to fall.
Yeah you’ve got to stay within your comfort zone. You can’t just go for something weird.
Yeah like I used to do blunts and those are gone.
I can still do them when I grab, you know, but I can’t do them no handed anymore. I feel just happiest doing frontside grinds, stand up grinds to revert and that kind of stuff. I still surf too. You know my whole surfing thing has gotten bigger and bigger and bigger. I’ve surfed all over the world. Between the two of them, you know, they’re both in my blood, there’s no doubt about it.
In the months since we did this interview, Paul Chidester, has uploaded some footage from the ’70s. Below are three videos featuring Denny and some of the spots mentioned above. Enjoy!