Posted on January 11, 2015
Growing up, I must have spent at least several weeks a year in Ocean City, MD. My family owned a condo there so we went to the beach often. This makes Ocean City an odd place for me to write about as my experiences skateboarding there encompass the entire period covered in this blog. I went from tic-taccing in the parking lot while still in elementary school to board sliding handrails in my late teens. Yet my memories of the place have largely merged in to one continuous blur and it is exceptionally hard to differentiate what happened when.
Saying we owned a condo makes my family sound wealthier than we were. My father, his two brothers and their mother (my paternal grandmother), all went in on the property together. The condo they bought was at the northern end of the city. For those not familiar with Maryland, Ocean City is the southernmost tip of a thin strip of land that dangles off the Atlantic edge of the Delmarva peninsula. Outside of the national park that is Assateague Island, it is Maryland’s only ocean facing beach. It is literally just a ten-mile long highway with a block or two on either side. This tiny town turns in to the second largest city in Maryland during the summer months. It’s not a quaint, quiet beach town of old Victorians nor does it have the seedy underbelly of some of the Jersey shore. Instead, it is the vacation destination of middle and working class families from much of the surrounding state. As such it is family friendly (though a little boozy) and filled with strip malls and chain stores to cater to its suburban guests. Back in the early ’80s, when my family purchased the condo, Ocean City was not as developed as it is now. This was especially true of our location, up at the northern end on the bay side. Much of the surrounding area was still marsh land. Our building sat along a canal, a block off the highway, and as a child it was one of the only buildings on that street. The dirt road that led back to the bay is now paved and lined with condos while the marsh was filled and converted in to a large public park.
Each year my father’s family would work out a vacation schedule between themselves. Other family and friends would rent the remaining free days. Both of my parents were public school teachers so we would always take at least two summer trips, one just after school ended and another longer vacation at the end of the summer. We also frequently made weekend visits during the off-season. Early on in its history, my family decided to keep a journal at the condo and have guests write in it about their stay. I culled the following skateboard related entries from that journal.
Got a Tracker lapper, two copers, green grip tape, Ugly Stix and Mini Stix rails at Atlantic Skates.
– Patrick Eisenhauer
Translation: This is all skateboard parts and junk. Oh to live through another of Pat’s interests.
– Doug Eisenhauer
August 15-24, 1987
Patrick is still skateboarding. He bought a helmet, etc. and tried the bowl at 4th street for the first time. Kerrie is getting really good at miniature golf and she is still the UNO champ. We had a good week . A lot of fun and sun.
– Cheryl Eisenhauer
March 18-20, 1988
Dad, me, Pat and his friend Brian came down on Friday. Pat and Brian went to the Bowl on Saturday. Also saw the movie Police Academy 5. Played Nintendo all the time. Dad watched a lot of NCAA tournament.
– Kerrie Eisenhauer
May 27-30, 1988
We decided to brave the crowds and come to Ocean City on a holiday weekend. We came late Friday night and are leaving early today to avoid the bridge backup. The weather has been nice and the ocean cold. We did the usual things, including a movie (Crocodile Dundee 2), miniature golf and shopping. We can’t wait to come again for a full week after school closes.
Dad told me to write all that. What I wanted to say is that I learned ollie crail snatchers to tail. Invert blunts, ollie footplants to indy fastplants, etc….
That probably makes no sense to anyone, but, oh well.
– Patrick Eisenhauer
[Ed. Note: I’m not quite sure what I am talking about here, especially with that last one. I am assuming I was doing this stuff on a parking block.]
May 19-21, 1989
Dad, Pat, Jeff Brown (Pat’s friend) and I came down on Friday. On Saturday, Pat and Jeff skated the Bowl. Dad and I rode bikes up to Old Pro Golf and played their three golf courses. Dad won a free game. On Sunday, Pat and Jeff went to the Bowl again. Then we all went to the board walk. Played a lot of video games.
– Kerrie Eisenhauer
As you can see, our trips consisted largely of what you would expect from a family vacation. We hit all the standards. We would spend large parts of each day on the beach where my sister and I would build sand castles and boogie board while my parents sunbathed and read. If the weather turned, we would watch movies, play games or go shopping. We would play at least one round of miniature golf and spend at least one night on the boardwalk, with its rides and arcades. Our vacations often overlapped with relatives or family friends so we would visit with them as well. Once I started skating, one of these standard activities became a shopping trip to Atlantic Skates. As mentioned in my interview with Denny Riordon, Atlantic Skates was the home of the brand Kryptonics (which later became Toxic). At the time, it was also the largest east coast skateboarding distributor and had a retail outlet in downtown Ocean City. In those pre-internet days it was magnificent. The huge amount of brands and products available far surpassed any of the other skate shops. Each summer I would stock up on whatever skate related ephemera I was fetishizing. In those early years it was, obviously, lappers, copers and rails. In later years I mainly remember just buying t-shirts or wheels. They had a discount wheel bin, full of what was most likely flawed or unlabeled Kryptonics that cost almost nothing. That was a godsend.
Just a few blocks from Atlantic Skates was the Ocean Bowl, which was also always on my itinerary. Skateboarding was illegal during the summer on the streets and sidewalks of Ocean City and it is precisely because of this that Ocean City built their skate park. In terms of skating, that park is what Ocean City is really known for. Instead of paraphrasing its history let me quote directly from their official website.
The Ocean Bowl Skate Park is the oldest operating municipal skate park in the United States. Following the rise in popularity of skateboarding in the 1970s, the Ocean City Council banned skateboarding on the streets within City limits. This prompted many skaters and their parents to attend the next Council meeting to ask that a space be provided for them to pursue their sport.
By the first week of June, 1976, the park opened. At that time, the facility consisted of a four foot deep asphalt bowl which proved so successful that a larger bowl was quickly added. In 1984 this “big bowl” was structurally weakened by successive tropical storms and was removed the following year. It was succeeded by an eleven foot high, twentyeight foot wide metal-surfaced halfpipe which served not only to replace the lost bowl, but also to respond to the changing demands of skateboarding and the huge popularity of vertical ramps at the time.
The ramp and the small bowl stood for another ten years when finally, in 1997, due to time, wear and the current needs of skaters, the park was again in need of renovations. After long hours of planning and many meetings, the City Council together with a Skate Park Committee composed of local skaters, business people, politicians and parents, came up with the resources to build the park that exists today. The old bowl and ramp were torn down in the Fall of 1997 and the new park opened in July of 1998.
The second version, from 1986 until 1997, is the Ocean Bowl that I knew. The bowl itself was a lumpy amorphous mess. You could roll down the ramp, carve the walls, maybe air out of the center bump, and, if it had a parking block, do a few lip tricks at the top of the bank. It was obviously a left-over from the ’70s era. It was fun but also frustrating to try to keep up any speed. I still skated it yearly. The vert ramp was undeniably the main attraction of the park, drawing skaters from all around the area. While the east coast had a thriving backyard vert scene, something I touched on in my last post and in the interview with Denny, those backyard ramps were often short-lived. The Ocean Bowl ramp was one of the only legal and therefore stable vert ramps nearby. By memory the closest others would have been Mt. Trashmore, in Virginia Beach or the ramp at Cheapskates, an indoor park north of Philadelphia. Not being a vert skater, I didn’t really skate the ramp that much. I did drop in on vert for the first time here but it was too large for me. Other than some kick turns, I normally just watched.
While I went to the Ocean Bowl at least once each trip, because of its day fees and pad rules I largely skated other things. The best of which was also one of the first. Early in middle school I found some blue fiberglass parts of what I think must have been an old water slide. Someone had arranged them in to a makeshift ramp in the marshy tidal swamp near our condo. Thinking back, this is exceptionally odd. In general almost everyone in Ocean City is a tourist, in town for a week at most. With its small permanent population, there were very few local skaters living there. Those there were would have had a yearly pass to the Ocean Bowl and been not prowling around up at the undeveloped northern end. Yet someone had found these pieces, transported them to an out of the way field and set them up to skate. Subsequent generations of skaters, generations here measured in the days and weeks of each family’s stay, had in turn discovered this impromptu ramp and done their best to shore it up. It was literally held up with driftwood, pieces of broken cinder blocks and shards of lumber scavenged from who knows where. There were two pieces, a large half bowl and a wavy slide looking section. The slide section was set up as a runway in to the bowl. The bowl had just enough lip on it that you could do some tricks. If you wanted to hit the lip of the bowl more than once you had to make sure that you were squared up so that you could ride back up the roll in section to kick turn. I skated it all week. Every day there was a growing number of kids there as word spread through the network that children somehow form. It was probably the shittiest thing I have ever skated and it was also one of the most fun. That’s how it is with skateboarding a lot times. The most perfect ramp or park can get boring, you can actually have the most fun just figuring out what is possible at some piece of shit spot.
The fiberglass crap wasn’t there the following year, but my second favorite shitty OC spot was. A restaurant on the corner of our street had burnt down and been mostly demolished. All that was left of it was its foundation. There was a medium-sized flat section free of tile, rebar or protruding concrete blocks that skaters had dragged a parking block to. Obviously tied up in an ongoing legal or insurance dispute this property was never developed and remained an empty foundation, and therefore a skate spot, for the entirety of my childhood. Some years there would be one parking block there, other years two or three. Other summers there would be some plywood propped up as a bank or other makeshift obstacles. Kids kept finding it and changing it. In many ways it was perfect. You were left completely alone when you skated it. It wasn’t on public property so it was legal , you weren’t in the way of anything on private property so you would never get kicked out and it was rare that there other kids there so it was never crowded.
OC was great for street skating. Sure skateboarding was illegal on public property but all the strip malls lining Coastal Highway were private property and anyone that grew up in the suburbs knows the potential that that offers. In the front of these strip malls were painted curbs, parking blocks, manual pads, small stair sets, rails, benches and ledges. In the rear, gaps, loading docks, banks and other exploitable infrastructure. After I finished with the day’s activities, normally in the late afternoon to early evening I would go out skating. I would simply explore and each year I covered a larger distance than the previous, discovering new spots. The journal entries and photos posted above catalog some of my skating up until 1989. I don’t have any record from 1990, but I do have video from a damaged VHS tape from 1991. As I mentioned in my previous post, I filmed a video that year. The same caveat as before hold true. The quality is horrible, but in the following Marc and I can be seen skating some of the aforementioned spots.
It’s strange to think now about my era of “little kid skating”. When I was tic-taccing in the parking lot and obsessing over lappers I was not a little kid. I imagine myself like the young ones I see at the parks today, but the reality was different. I started puberty in the 5th grade. By the time I was in middle school I was a tall gangly teenager, even if I was only eleven. I think it is because I went through puberty so early that I was somewhat sexually precocious. Tied up with my memories of skateboarding at the beach are also memories of meeting girls. Skaters were known as being notoriously bad with girls. The skater look, the image, was very attractive to a certain class of teenage girls, but the skaters themselves were either generally oblivious or disdainful of that interest. My experience was different. I was acutely aware. So when I went out skating at the beach I wasn’t just looking for skate spots, I was also looking for girls.
I have this theory I call the Summer Camp Syndrome. It’s certainly not an original idea. I thought I had invented it but a quick search turned up many mentions of this phenomena. During middle school and early high school I went to a Christian canoe summer camp. In elementary school I had attended a more typical summer camp. The activities included swimming, short hikes, hymns and macaroni based arts and crafts, but we also learned to canoe. Once you were old enough you could join an advanced camp that toned down the religion and focused almost solely on the canoeing. It was a lot of fun. The camp was located near Harper’s Ferry, where the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers meet. Each day we would head off to navigate a different stretch of river. The rapids, rope swings and overnight camping may have been the major appeal, but there were also girls. Every summer I would make a “camp girlfriend”, or if I didn’t there were still games of spin the bottle being played once we were away from the counselors. At that age this is what happens. You exist so much in the now that removed from your accustomed social setting the camp almost instantly becomes your new reality.
This was also true of the beach. I would go out skating and exploring and I would inevitably meet someone. All it took was eye contact and I would approach or be approached by a teenage girl. We would exchange numbers or hang out for a few hours. Sometimes we would make out, sometimes more if the girl was adventurous. So along with a “camp girlfriend” I made a “beach girlfriend” most summers as well. This dynamic changed by the later teenage years. The flirting didn’t stop but with the fact that sex was now a real possibility, it wasn’t as innocent. The interactions were more cautious and reserved and with the more sharply divided social cliques of high school it became harder to meet random strangers on the street. I instead tried to meet kindred spirits. There was really only one way to go about that, and that was by hanging out in front of Chat Street. Atlantic Skates was hands down the best skate shop in Ocean City but it wasn’t a hang out spot. If you were a teenage skate punk in the early ’90s the coolest place to hang out was Chat Street. Located on the boardwalk it was a hybrid skate shop and clothing store. Sort of a proto Hot Topic, it catered to the burgeoning alternative scene. It had walls of counter-culture stickers, racks of punk t-shirt, skateboards and CDs. You could probably even get your nose pierced there. I can’t remember for sure but I wouldn’t be surprised. It was all very ’90s. It was successful enough that they eventually opened a second store in Fells Point, Baltimore. The freaks, skate rats and punks would hang out on the boardwalk in front of it. I would just sit down on the wall and meet strangers. I met a future girlfriend there one summer. She was a several years younger but we talked and she gave me a copy of her ‘zine. We ended up in the same college a few years later. Another summer I met a whole crew of people, guys and girls. We became a temporary group of friends and hung out each night. Some of them were a bit older and not with their families so we scraped up enough money for cases of beer and drank at their place. By the end of high school that is how it was, the beach had become synonymous, not so much with skating or meeting girls, but with “partying”.
I didn’t really drink or do any drugs until late in high school. I had been straight edge, not really because of any strong belief but more by default. I had experimented early on but the party culture in my high school was generally jocks, who I hated, or gross hippie stoner kids, who I looked down on with disdain. What changed for me was that my long-term girlfriend dumped me and I used that as an excuse to start drinking. It was a flimsy excuse and I was being melodramatic, but the breakup was actually kind of traumatic. She had switched from her suburban high school to an arts magnet school in the city. I would hang out with her and all her new art school friends, but unbeknownst to me she had already started seeing one of them. He was in a band and he had a devillock. When she broke up with me and I found out, I felt foolish and took it hard. That winter my group of friends went on an organized snowboard trip, which is probably the first time I really “partied”. The minute the lights went off on the bus there was the sound of a million beer cans opening. I am sure we snowboarded but what I mainly remember about that trip is drinking, meeting girls and acting like hoodlums. We had an amazing time.
Senior Week was much the same. Senior Week is a tradition among Maryland suburban teenagers. At the end of the school year there is a week where all the graduating seniors go to the beach to party. It is a rite of passage, one of the first times many young people have to spend a week totally unsupervised. As such, it is generally an orgy of underage drinking. Our experience was no different. I went with my close group of friends. We were the only ones supposed to be staying at our condo, but by two or thee days in we had all sorts of other random people sleeping there as well. We went to the beach, the boardwalk and we tried to hook up with random girls but mainly we just drank. I also got stoned for the first time. I had smoked weed a few times prior but not really gotten high. Brian, who had switched from skating to drugs years earlier, smoked me out on the balcony. We smoke a lot and I had a delayed reaction. I wasn’t feeling it until I went off to the bedroom and promptly realized I was in fucking outer space. I scrambled for my Walkman and a tape to listen to but none of my punk rock was in the room. Instead I listened to someones Houses of the Holy tape and let me tell you, that was an experience. I was so high it was one of those “I can see the music, man!” kind of things. What I didn’t do during that trip was skate. I don’t even know if I brought my board. I don’t know if any of us did even though my whole skate crew was there. Much like how I ended my previous post on mini ramps, I was already starting to quit skating and hadn’t even realized it yet.
Just this past summer I skated the newest version of the Ocean Bowl. It now has a pool, a big mini, a vert ramp and large concrete park pit with varying walls. I only spent a couple of hours there but enjoyed it. It’s the type of park that would take some time to really figure out. There are some awkward spots and some dead zones but it’s got a lot of potential. All I really did was carve around, do some ollies, 50-50s and rock ‘n’ rolls. What’s interesting is that it was built in 1998. We are currently in the midst of a huge skate park boom, with vast numbers built in the last five to ten years. 1998 is well ahead of the curve and shows a great deal of forethought and because of that Ocean Bowl is still a major destination for skaters. Most of the guys I met there last summer were not on vacation. They had memberships and had driven in from other parts of the state to skate the park. The footprint is still the same as the old Ocean Bowl, on the corner of an empty block, with ball courts next to it and some fields behind it. As I learned when I interviewed Denny, the original plan was to expand the park in to those fields, which would have been incredible but obviously failed for financial or zoning reasons. Maybe that will happen in a future incarnation as I expect it will be there for decades to come.