Old School History of Skateboarding in Lafayette: UNCUT EDITION
OLD SCHOOL - UNCUT VERSION (10,000 word edit)
Here's the "Uncut Version" - the one could not fit in the print version that originally ran in the Feb. 25, 2009 issue of The Independent Weekly. Coming in at just under 10,000 words, this was a monster to edit.. It's tribute to all the old school southern Louisiana skaters still going at it. An Oral History of Old School: UNCUT VERSION Skateboarding in Lafayette 1970-1990 By Dege Legg
Skateboarding began as a novelty fad in the 1950s with kids attempting to emulate surfers, but it did not explode nationally until the 1970s with the invention the urethane wheel. That one invention, by virtue of “cushioning the ride,” brought forth the vertigo spectacle of vert (vertical) skating on homebuilt ramps and drained swimming pools. Back then, magazines, Hollywood, and even Wide World of Sports sought to capitalize on skateboarding at the height of its popularity. Far from the spotlight of fame and sponsorships, an idiosyncratic group of Lafayette skaters from back in the day—a dozen or two in number—distinguished themselves not so much by how famous they became but by the skill, ingenuity, and determination with which they kept a regionally unpopular sport alive in a place where traditional sports, hunting, and fishing tended to dominate a hefty portion of the cultural landscape. Now a multi-million dollar industry influencing everything from footwear to the music industry, it is hard to comprehend the dedication with which this group sacrificed their bodies and time simply for a collective love of the sport. Per capita, it is said that Acadiana produced some of greatest unrecognized skateboarders in the country, specifically during times when the sport had waned in popularity and the media had moved on to the next thing. Like forgotten pioneers on a seemingly nonsensical path, they forged on.” Now in their 30’s, 40’s, and 50's many of these same skaters are still around—working, raising families, and yes, skateboarding. This is their story.
In the Beginning 1970-1980
Vance Carlin, 48: I started skating in 1969 on a carpeted 2 x 4 with steel wheels off a roller skate. All I did was chase pools, parks, and ramps. I went to Acadiana High. I didn’t last long there. It was all cowboys. I had six counts of grand theft auto by the time I was 17.
Mike Savoy, 45: Vance Carline lived across the street. I see this dude doing all kinds of wild tricks in his driveway. I had to meet him. We hung out and skated almost everyday for the next few years. He had two nicknames “Dirtbag” and “Vance Romance.” I bought a Logan Earthski from Vance. His family moved across the street. His whole family was super cool. We had a blast. We were always outside. Running. Vance and I were probably inseparable for two years. We’d shoot down the parking tower downtown.
Edwin Howard, '75
Edwin Howard, 47: A friend of mine had the first skateboard in our neighborhood. One day I jumped on his board and tried to ride it. I fell straight back on my butt! I said, “I’m going to learn how to ride that thing.” I went home and built a skateboard by breaking apart roller skate and nailing it to a piece of plywood so it looked like a surfboard. The first ramp I ever skated was an old ping-pong table propped up at a slight angle. I haven’t been the same since.
Mary Howard-Danos, 39: Skateboarding looked like fun. I got started by watching my older brothers and pestering them to show me tricks. I was a naturally athletic kid—climbing trees, swimming and running around after my brothers. I was always kind of a speed junkie. I had no clue it was a “non-traditional” sport. It was completely normal at our house.
Scott Starr, 46: I got my first skateboard in 1966. It had with handles bolted on it like a scooter. I dreamed of being somewhere besides Lafayette. Palm trees, girls in bikinis, I saw in magazines. I wanted to do what kids in California were doing. Then around 1970 I had a friend down the street. Give me a '60's made steel wheeled NASH 15 TOES skateboard. And I would ride it around in the driveway and have my dog pull me around on a long rope. I Graduated Lafayette High in 1979, then went to USL for 2 years skateboarded around campus the first year.... anyhow my friend Mike Guilbeau who lived across the street from me on Block Ave. had a few old 60's skateboards with clay wheels that his cousins had given him and we would play basketball skating around or be pulled on bikes on ropes and play chicken with another bike and skater coming towards you. I had a ramp in my yard but it was just a 4’X8’ piece of plywood I propped up at a 45 degree angle at the end of the driveway. I would every now and then add another flat piece of plywood to this. I bought my first professional type skateboard from a bike shop on Johnson St. The urethane wheel wasn't invented until 1973 but it took a few years back then for an idea or new invention to get across the country. We didn't start hearing about urethane wheeled skateboards until about 1976 and. and no store in town sold any until 1977. At least no professional skateboards, there were a few toy stores that sold cheap crappy toy skateboards but the wheels would melt off when you rode them, and they were still loose bearing wheels so the bearings will fall out.
Pete Sahuc, USL campus
Peter F. Sahuc, 46: Before the 70's skateboarding was a couple of old metal skates nailed to a board. It was a really rough ride. Made your teeth chatter. With the 70's came hardwood boards, aluminum boards, or lighter synthetics such as fiberglass. The wheels were made of urethane. At first they had open ball bearings, but not long after the skateboarding craze started, precision bearings came along. The wheels ran smooth on the street and seemed to roll forever. And between these new wheels was a device called a "truk". These had two rubber or synthetic "barrels" called "rubbers". The truks provided a much better, smoother turning capability. As you leaned left or right, the truks turned both wheels inward causing the board to turn in that direction. You'd lean your whole body into the turn, taking advantage of inertia.
Ross Martin, 42: It wasn’t a big industry back then. There’s nothing natural about skateboarding—it’s all urban and manmade. You go where the surface is…which is ramps and parks.
George Brown, 42: In 1975, I’d never seen a skateboard before or even heard of skateboarding. But I saw one in a Sears catalog. I got one for Christmas. It was the Sears Black Night...It was about 4 inches wide and 20 inches long with clay wheels. I immediately jumped on it, rode it down the driveway, and sprained my ankle. It was fucking great. I’d come to Lafayette on the weekends and stay with my mom. Danny Hall, who was my cousin, was just getting into it, too.
Al Gibson, 39: There was absolutely nothing to skate in New Iberia. Organized sports were boring…too many rules and coaches. The second I touched a skateboard I was hooked. In the 70’s, I convinced my mom take me to this little skate shop that had opened up in New Iberia. And it turned out to be a “Head Shop” with bongs, pipes, and scales…a few skateboard products. My mom new what was up instantly. She yelled at him, “Are you selling drugs to kids?! She yanked me out of there and after that skateboarding was considered a wasted of time and a “bad life.” She tried to convince me to quit skating and play team sports and join the 4-H club.
Shannon May, 36: I got started skating in ‘83 because it was something different to do besides team sports. I was always looking at the alternative side of things: early punk rock, Sabbath, and skateboarding. I couldn’t handle team sports with coaches yelling.
Backyard Ramps—with no skatepark facilities in the area, Lafayette skaters began constructing and riding driveway and backyard ramps.
Scott Starr: One day I took a short cut home from school and ran into Edwin and Robert Howard who had a vert ramp in their yard. It had “The Eagles” band logo painted on it. There were only a handful of us back then.
Rocky Jackson, 70s
Vance Carlin, Cajun Skatepark, 70s
Edwin Howard: We had ramp-building parties with lots of hammers, nails, boudin, Miller ponies, and donated wood. For my 12th birthday I got a “real” fiberglass skateboard and started riding vertical ramps and transitions, especially bowls and half-pipes. There was always some new challenge, some new trick to learn. We loved to skate parking towers downtown. We would skate the ramps at USL’s McNaspy stadium and for some reason the “Pecan Patrol”—our pet name for the USL police—would just drive between the ramps. We’d roll over the hood of the car, grab our boards and skate away.
Mike Savoy: Me, Rocky, and Vance started building ramps and draining pools. Either we’d grab some “donations” from construction sites or we’d look in the newspaper for houses for sale with a pool and then we’d show up. Since nobody lived there, we’d pump out the water and skate it. First pool we drained was on Rena Dr. It was a blast. Incredible memories. Then we built a 22’ half pipe in Rocky Jackson’s backyard. It had 6’ of vertical on each side…maybe past vertical. It was huge. We got good, riding that ramp.
Pete Sahuc: Back in the mid to late 70's, my skateboard buddy was my neighbor, Scott Starr. We built this little ramp at my house that was just the pits. Then we built one at his house at the end of his driveway. It was a lot better, but not much of a ramp. I remember us buying our boards before we bought any protection for our knees, elbows, hands, etc. We couldn't afford to buy both, so the boards had to come first. I still have trouble with my left elbow from falling on it, trying to do "fakies" on Scott's ramp. We did handstands; Scott and I would grab the board firmly on both ends, get a good running start, and kick up into position. Sometimes we'd have to take a hop or two before we could kick up. One day Scott and I crossed the coulee near his house and met the Howards (Edwin & Robert). They lived a few streets further down South College towards Johnston Street. These guys were animals. They had this huge black ramp which had a least six or eight sheets of plywood that curved along a frame that must have been built by an engineer. It had a least four feet of vertical and had this huge Eagle's (the rock band) emblem painted on it in white. The only thing I could do on that ramp was fall. When the Howard Brothers did handstands, they would push off, gaining speed, riding on their feet, then bend down, plant their hands flat on the board and just raise up into position. We tried their technique a few times that day, but gave up pretty quickly.
Vance & Rocky—two rambunctious teens from Lafayette, Vance Carlin and Rocky Jackson, quickly gained reputations as the “rock stars” of skateboarding in Lafayette during the 1970’s for their fearless skateboarding, defiant attitudes, and random mischief.
Vance Carlin: The first day I met Rocky we did shrooms and skated the banks under the Cade overpass where the hobos hung out. The sport wasn’t that popular in Lafayette, but were already outsiders.
Rocky Jackson, ramp unknown
Mike Savoy: Both of Vance and Rocky were extremely talented—just incredible athletes. These dudes could blow any body away with just their feet. Their balance and coordination was just phenomenal. Rocky was already flat-track motorcycle champion and Vance was the same with motocross. They were crazy, but talented. And they both had NO FEAR whatsoever - none at all. First time I saw Rocky ride a motorcycle, he was doing a wheelie down the street going about 60mph.
Vance Carlin, late 70's
Edwin Howard: Vance and his crew had long hair and were kind of sketchy looking, but they were always incredibly polite to my parents. The first time I saw Vance was at a skateboard contest in 1977, in the parking lot of Raccoon Records. There was a freestyle and slalom competition. Vance was way ahead of everyone. He knew how to pump his skateboard through the slalom cones like a surfboard to get speed. I had never even seen that before. He placed first in everything except freestyle which they gave to me so Vance wouldn’t win everything. His tricks were way harder than what I was doing. The local TV news showed us skating that night.
Scott Starr: Vance had the best front-side airs out of everyone back then. I would be working the shop at Cajun Skatepark and Vance and Rocky would come in and own the place. They would bang the pinball machine to make it rack up more games. Steal stuff. They would be roll joints in the shop and smoke pot outside.
John Maak: Vance was just a fearless skater. I met him—a little past his Lafayette heyday—when he’d come back from California. The 80’s era of skateboarding had just set in, but Vance wasn’t really into a lot of that stuff. He would just hit the lip hard and as fast as he possibly could, doing grinds that you could hear down the street. He would come in every other year or so. Show up out of nowhere from wherever he had been…when his resources ran out.
Mike Savoy: Vance, Rocky, and me once surfed Port Fourche in 1978. It was great. Nobody was doing that stuff back then. We took turns riding these 3’ to 4’ foot waves. Also, there was a fiberglass pool company. We’d sneak in there and ride those fiberglass pools. The owner eventually began shooting at us with a pellet gun.
Al Gibson: Rocky and Vance were like rock stars. They stood out. We had a skate contest in New Iberia. Sure enough, Vance showed up out of nowhere, got out of a car with all these girls and started ripping tricks. After he won the contest, he threw his trophy up in the air, jumped in the car with the girls, and drove away. They’d have ice chests full of beer on top of the vert ramp, skating with no shoes.
Lake Charles I-10 Bridge— a persistent rumor making the rounds in the late 70’s detailed the alleged late night trek by Vance Carlin, riding down the I-10 Lake Charles Bridge on a specially modified skateboard.
Lake Charles, Louisiana - I-10 Bridge
Edwin Howard: I heard the rumor back then that Vance tried to skate down the I-10 bridge in Lake Charles. Never knew if it was true.
Ross Martin: I don’t know if that’s the truth or not, but it’s definitely a legacy. The reoccurring rumor I’d heard from Mike Savoy say they went really early in the morning when the traffic was down and he did it.
Mike Savoy: Vance decided he wanted to skate down the Lake Charles bridge. He had an old slalom water ski that he trucks and big wheels on. I don’t know if he did it, but there’s no doubt in my mind that he would’ve tried . Vance Carlin: The board was 47” long with big wheels, so it wouldn’t bottom out on the slabs. I had some friends follow me down in a truck so I wouldn’t get run over from behind. I was stoned out of my gourd and slid out the first couple times. It was fast. But then I was, like, “No, if I’m going to do it, then I’m going to DO IT.” I put all my weight on the front of the board and put my hand on the back so I wouldn’t get the speed wobbles. I finally made it down. I was shaking pretty bad when it was over.
Cajun Skatepark—a short-lived, poorly constructed, but much desired skatepark located at the corner of Eraste Landry and Bertrand that operated for a little over a year and then abruptly went out of business.
Scott Starr: Around ’78, we heard someone was trying to build a concrete skate park in town.
Photos of Cajun Skatepark in late 1970s
Vane Carlin, Cajun Skatepark, '78
Mary Howard-Danos: Concrete hurts. I once rode down the bowl on my face. I stuck to the easy run after that.
Edwin Howard: We couldn’t wait for this park to open and
when it did we saw that it wasn’t built correctly. The concrete had sagged down
the walls on the best parts. The snake run was just barely skateable and the
bowl pitched to less than vertical at the top, making it completely
unskateable. The concrete was rough, and the owner gave us sanding blocks to
try to smooth down the concrete, but it didn’t really help. But we had a blast
there. Vance could do the longest, fastest, most insane one-footed bowl
transfers I have ever seen. Falls at the park meant “road rash.” The first
bounce—pads came off. Second bounce—skin came off. I lived with huge scabs on
my elbows and knees the whole time that park was open. I remember the Sheriff’s
deputies would visit to get us to turn down the music at the park, because we
were annoying the mini-golf patrons across the street. We’d turn down the music, they’d leave,
then we’d turn it right back up. First time my sister Mary tried to skate the
park, she went straight down the middle of the snake run, up the wall of the
bowl to the top, then wiped out.
Mike Savoy: Before that all we had was backyard ramps. When they built it, we freaked out. It had big bowls, a snake run. We didn’t have skate pads back then. Just helmets. It was only open a couple years, if that. Then they closed it down. Vance and Edwin Howard were the only guys I knew that could pop out and do aerials off the top. I was just learning hand plants. Edwin was a natural, too. He rolled with a different crowd. Vance, Rocky, and I were like the burnouts
Vance Carlin: We drove the owner nuts. I’ll never forget when it opened they had all these rules. We weren’t into wearing the pads and the helmets and all that. When we’d show up and we’d take over the park. Everybody would move out of the way like it was our park. They’d stop and just watch us. I was thrown out of there for skating off the roof. Me and Rocky would sneak in at night and ride our Mopeds down the snake run and in the pool. Doing aerials and stuff, leaving tire marks all over the concrete.
Scott Starr: It took them almost a year to pour the concrete due to the constant rain. We were just chomping at the bit to ride this thing. Before it was finished the owner put on a little skate contest in the parking lot one weekend. All he had was one little 1/4 pipe about 3 ft high. And a high bar to jump over. Not many of us there. Just me, the Hoards, oh and 2. Finally the park opened when I was a senior. 1978. It was called CAJUN SKATEPARK. The park was actually pretty crappy and there was one big bowl we called the Toilet bowl that hardly anyone skated. The owners hired sidewalk builders rather than pool builders—they didn’t know the right way to do pour the concrete. Some transitions were too tight and some of the concrete was too rough. I was the last to work there.I think I only worked there for about 6 months if that. There really weren’t enough skaters to keep it running. At this park is where I first met Vance and Rocky. They were the hottest skaters in Lafayette... there was also a guy name Cory who skated all the time, I’d say he was an as good as Rocky and Vance. I think was from Lake Charles or New Iberia? Every once in a while some out of Towner skaters would skate or some local little kids but not many... I wasn't that good then, but I could do small backside airs, tail taps and edger. I used to close down early at night but let a few of my friends and myself skate all night with the lights and music on. That was great. We would take the warm sodas out of the shed that were for the soda machine and drink them. Edwin could do rock and rolls, I don't think anyone could do them but him. This was all back before kneepads had plastic caps and knee sliding wasn't invented yet, so you had to run out of everything you bailed on and skateboards were evolving the whole time. Someone broke into the park one night and stole everything. It may have been Vance. It closed right after that. By 1980 skateboarding was dead. And it just bummed us out.
George Brown: No one in my family would let me go there. If we drove by it, I’d glue myself to the window and just to see a flash of somebody doing a kick turn or something. I never actually got to go into a skatepark in the 70’s. Because to my family, skateboarding was just a toy--it was all just bullshit. It was a mythical place that was off limits.
OLD SCHOOL - UNCUT PT. 2 ---
Going to California—Vance and Rocky attempt to run away to the west coast where
John Maak, blasting John Wayne Ramp, late 80s
Scott Starr: Vance once told me he stole a car and drove to California and skated for a day or two and then drove back. I never knew if he was telling the truth.
Mike Savoy: Rocky supposedly robbed a skateshop and Vance was with him. They got the license plate number and the cops showed up at Vance’s house, so they decided they were going to run away to California. They stole a car and got chased by the cops on the other side of Texas. They wrecked the car and ran from the cops. They caught Rocky. But Vance kept running. They didn’t catch Vance. In fact, he runs all the way into Mexico. The Mexican cops caught him and traded him back to the State Troopers for shotgun shells. They were only like 16 at the time. After that, I lost touch with them for a long time.
Vance: Rocky walked out of a skateshop with a bunch of stuff. Rocky says to the guy at the skateshop, “I want this and this and this.” Pointing at stuff. When the guy put it on the counter, Rocky grabbed it all and walked out of there. I was already on probation. We drove off. The cops were already waiting at my house—they’d got the license plate number. Took a detour. Mike Savoy snuck in my house and grabbed some of my stuff for me. We walked the neighborhood and I stole a car and Rocky and I left for California. It was a junked out Mazda that would only go 60mph or a 120mph. We were going through a check point in Texas. And all of sudden there’s a State Trooper behind me and on each side of me. I woke Rocky up, “Hey, bro, we’re being chased.” I wasn’t pulling over because I didn’t want to go jail. I’m going hit a cop car in front of me, then we hit a ditch and a barbwire fence, while going the wrong way down the I-10. We ditched the car and took off running in different directions. I got away and wandered around the desert for a few days…until I ended up in Mexico…just running and hiding. Torn up. The Mexican police caught me and brought me back to the border in a station wagon…and traded me to them for shotguns shells. Later I did make it out to California. I got a job skating in a tennis shoe commercial in ’79. They sent me to Puerto Rico to shoot it. Con Surfboards sent me out to Peurto Rico to skate in a tennis shoe commercial. I took the money that I made from that and moved to the other side of the island and started big wave surfing.
80’s Underground—skateboarding took a huge dip in popularity and entered a “punk/outlaw phase” consisting of backyard half-pipe ramps, street skating, and pronounced anti-corporat/mainstream connection to hardcore punk music and culture.
George Brown, 42: Skateboarding had just blown through its 70’s phase and had now become this underground, rebellious sport. Skateboarding was like the only approved sporting activity for punk rockers. It was like the national sport of punk rock. You couldn’t be a basketball player—that was not cool. So we listened to Black Flag, Circle Jerks, and The Dead Kennedys—that was like the Holy Trinity of bands in the underground—and skateboarded all the time. I skated with a lot of the old school Baton Rouge guys like Sloan. There are a lot of stories out there about him. Me and him were the only two skaters in Baton Rouge in the early 80’s. The story of Sloan bombing the band wall in Baton Rouge has reached legendary status. He wore his Jr. High football helmet on when he dropped in and rolled down. He got thrown off at the end from the torque of the transition. On weekends, I’d stay at my mom’s in Lafayette, visit with her, and skate what I could. Francis Delhomme was this crazy kid. He had a ramp. His parents owned Delhomme funeral home. They lived in this crazy spread in the country outside Carencro. I did a lot of skating by myself in those days because no one else was doing. And I had this encounter with this guy named Lonnie who was one of Francis’ friends. This guy, Lonnie, saw me skating by Northside high. And he pulled up in a 70’s Camero with a Hertz T-Shifter and all this stuff. He’s got real long hair. So he’s like, “Get in! I’m going to take you to a ramp!” So I jump in and we ride out to Francis’ house. And there’s this rampaging half-pipe. The Rampage Half-pipe. It’s got 10 ft of transition. A Foot and a half of vert with no flat bottom. 20 feet wide. With coping. I looked at that thing and my bowels turned to water. I was like, “Oh my God!” Francis is all like being cool. I dropped in and did a couple kick turns. That’s where I learned how to ride big ramps. I started going there every weekend. They were all about front-side grinds. If you could do a front side grind, then you were in. At one point, that guy Lonnie tells me, “Alright Mr. Straight A student, let’s see you do a front side grind!” Because I told him I went to a magnet school and he was flunking out or something. Strange guy. And that hit me way deep inside...I thought to myself, “I will do a motherfucking front side grind.” Another ramp was Mt. Taco. Chad Pruitt’s ramp. Talk about a dude that came out of nowhere—Chad Pruitt was just out there. Unclassifiable dude. Danny says to me, “Man, you gotta meet this guy—he’s a character.” So we go over there. He had one of these strange homes where there was no adults around. It was like Lord of the Flies or something with Chad and Todd running their own show as 13 and 14 year olds. Lafayette always had more ramps than Baton Rouge. Maybe it’s analgous to the way the two cities are in respect to one another. Lafayette was always a little looser and cooler. A little more self-aware. A little more comfortable with itself. Whereas Baton Rouge always seems to be looking over its shoulder.
John Maak, 38: I started skating with Scott Bumpus, Paul Stutes, Steve Longman and a bunch of guys in the early 80’s. He built a quarterpipe in his driveway and then a 8’ half-pipe in his backyard in Broadmoor.
Ross Martin: I moved back to Lafayette in ’85. I was never really a great skater. I was always more involved in the design and manufacturing side, making decks and parts for trucks. Because of the strength of the scene in Lafayette—Al Gibson, Greg LeBlanc, Sal Barbier, Kurt Bustamonte, Donny Landry—I got into designing skateboards. Dread Skates became my company. I bought a blank and cut it out myself, went to screen printing school, and started making decks. We made Al an amateur model and we started selling decks. We had a warehouse. Then I invented an aircraft grade bolt for skateboards. Tony Hawk, Gator Rogowski, Jeff Phillips—all those guys used our stuff. There was very few places that you could find good gear. It wasn’t a big industry back then. I’m the kind of person that is more attracted to something with an underground, cult following. There’s nothing natural about skateboarding—it’s all urban and manmade. You go where the surface is…which is ramps and parks. There’s always been a resistance to skateboarders because of the attitude. That transcended right into snowboarding. Skaters were the first ones to snowboard. The snowboarders looked so different that half of the mountains didn’t even allow snowboarding for several years. There was a skier vs. the snowboarder thing. It was the non-conformist, aggressive types against the skiers. Al Gibson was one of the best skateboarders to come out of Louisiana. He was just a classic hardcore skater. He was full on. Could skate any surface. Very fast, aggressive style.
Al Gibson: When the sport died at the end of the 70’s, everybody I knew gave me their old boards, because they quit skateboarding. It was like hitting the jackpot. The sport went underground. People built ramps in their backyards. Rednecks would show up and try to burn the ramp down. Calling you a fag. Wanting to kick your ass. We’d have to fight with hicks and rednecks all the time. The 80’s were full of preps, jocks, and frat boys who wanted to kick our asses for not buying into their bullshit. Chicks thought we were losers and weirdoes. Skateboarding in the 80’s was all about being yourself and letting it all hang out. It was the one place where your good looks, your money, and your family didn’t help you. That got you nowhere. And if you tried to use that…you were branded as an idiot.
Charlie Thomas, 35: When I got in to skating it was such a small and underground sport, at least in Louisiana. It was definitely not the considered cool and I can’t count the number of times that I got heckled or given a hard time from everyone but fellow skaters. For being such a small town Lafayette had quit a few ramps. There was Sugars, 84 Lumber Ramp, Doug Lormands, Scott Bumpus, Mt. Taco, Todd’s Ramp. The John Wayne Ramp – Mt. Taco was the one that was around the longest and where a lot of guys learned to skate transition. Al Gibson and Chad Simon killed on that ramp and formed the SMP – Southern Metal Posse. Years later we started to get some parks – Bucknutty’s, Surf and Skate, and now The Skate Spot.
Vance Carlin: I was in a bad motorcycle accident in ’82. I was confined to a wheelchair. Rocky came and snuck me out of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital. While we were out running around, they pulled me behind a car going about 30mph in the wheelchair. I finally let go because I got the speed wobbles and hit a curb. Totaled the wheelchair.
Scott Star: Later after I had been working for Thrasher here around 1990. I had gone home for Xmas and met Ross. I forget his last name but he started DREAD SKATES. Remember them? Started out making bolts with a smiley face logo first and then Dread with the crawfish pinchers. I shot a bunch of shots for him. Shot the red? Metal vet ramp with a mini ramp next to it that was in Lafayette somewhere. I even had a full-page shot of the bushy blonde haired vet skater riding it back then. I forget his name. And he had a sidekick that ripped to I put in Thrasher. Also did a shot in that indoor park they had back then with this other skater who later went pro and moved to Calif. if I could remember his name you would know who he is. I have lots of shots of Lafayette from that trip. In 1984 I started shooting surfing, skateboarding and snowboarding. I shot the center spread in the very first snowboard magazine that came out in 1985. In 1989 I became Thrasher magazine’s top photographer. I got the cover the first time I sent any photos to them. I shot the cover of Tony Hawk for their 19th anniversary issue. In 1990 I shot a photo of Roger Muller in a pool in Los Angeles. It won the Thrasher a MAGGIE award—to this day it's the most published skateboarding photo of all time. It’s not a skate shot from Lafayette but a skate shot by someone who grew up in Lafayette. If you ever saw the history of skateboarding book THE CONCRETE WAVE. That’s my shot on the cover.
Mike Savoy: Vance bought a sailboat and sailed to the Bahamas—not even knowing how to sail or do it—and his only supplies were rum and pineapple juice. The Coast Guard pulled him over and were freaking out, like, “This dude’s crazy.” Last time I hung out with both Rocky and Vance was in Florida about 1983. Vance was living in a sailboat. I saw guy swimming across the water toward the boat. It was Rocky—with a big bud of weed in his mouth. He’d ridden his motorbike with a pound of weed from Louisiana.
Ryan Pankratz: Skating was in the middle of it's second boom of sorts...the jumpramp craze hadn't hit yet and the retard fashion thing hadn't happened yet either... I'm mostly talking about the Vision Street Wear fanny pack/beret bullshit. Street skating was just getting going, no one was kick flipping yet. It was mostly like, pop your board up into your hand and then jump off of something, a fire hydrant, car bumper, old lady or whatever you have at your disposal and land back on your humongous behemoth of a board. It was great in those days. I used to skate about 2 miles to the closest bus stop and ride downtown and then skate all day and take the bus home and skate 2 miles back to my house. After Surf and Skate closed there really wasn't anything in town to skate for several years. This brought about a sort of pirate/renegade style of manufacturing spots to skate. I remember riding with a truckload of un-named skate pirates and we would go to construction sites and load wood onto the top of the truck and haul-ass back to the base camp holding the wood down with our hands out of the window...no tie-downs, too time consuming. We also had a nice little set up going inside of an abandoned strip mall thing called Common Point. we had some ramps and rails set and we could skate whenever.... all the time. it was a great place to go eat acid and roll around... then some meatheads I guess had the day off of steroid duty and gay bashing so they decided to drive their monster trucks over our ramps.
Jason Breun, 35 (owner of The Skate Spot): It was around '85 when I got in to it. I saw a Sim's screamer at a Louisiana Sportsman trade show in the Superdome. I think the guy exhibiting sold windsurfers, but had the board there on display. I just remember thinking it was the baddest thing ever constructed. It had purple and black two-tone wheels; the board was black with a neon blue and pink graphic on the bottom. A real skateboard, not some plastic deal you get for a kid. Shortly after that one of the kids that I went to school with showed up at school with a Powell Ripper. From then it was on I had to get my own any way any how! I grew up in Slidell. As a kid the thing was launch ramps in driveways or small pvc and 2x4 rails. We would skate backyard ramps. We used to skate a half-pipe in Slidell. The guys name was Steve Hutchinson who had the ramp at his parent’s house. I think he was in college at the time. He rarely skated with us; we were just young kids doing small grinds and kick turns. Steve was good when he did come out and skate we all just watched in awe. We finally built a ramp of our own when we were in high school. It was a nice ramp, but that didn't last too long. It was eight feet high and twenty foot wide. Mini ramps became all the craze after we built our ramp and one of the guys in our group decided that they were going to make our ramp a mini ramp with a chainsaw. It didn't work out that well. We would go to the French quarter and street skate that was always a lot of fun…just going fast and weaving in and out of people. Someone would pick out a big drop and do it. In retrospect it was nothing by today’s standards. The best though was the Pink Panther Skatepark. This was an old concrete park left over from the seventies. It was shut down, but we would sneak in there. They had a couple of good things to skate. One was the ditch. It was just a long concrete banked ditch, so much fun! They had a hip at the end of the ditch that you could skate and they also had what we called the Mexican top hat. Picture a concrete doughnut with a volcano in the middle. There was a snake run that was to tight to skate and that emptied into a pool that had unskateable transitions. Last but not least there was a big burm or vert wall. This thing was huge it actually went over vertical. I never saw too much go down on that.
The Sugars Ramp—a massive ramp, built in a parking lot of the McKinley Strip.
Mike Savoy: I was going to school in New Orleans and had kind of moved on from skating. But when I came home and saw the Sugar’s ramp on the strip, I was blown away. It was HUGE. And there was a whole new generation of skaters who were ripping it. They’d jumped it to another level. The first time I saw John Maak… my jaw dropped. It was unreal. He was blasting massive airs...just flying out, big air. Al Gibson was killing it too. It freaked me out. Greg Leblanc was awesome. I just couldn’t believe what these guys were doing—from where we started from to that. It was the next evolution.
John Maak, 38: Radical Dan’s skate shop wanted to bring a higher profile of skating to Lafayette, so they got Danny Hall to build a ramp in the parking lot of what eventually became Maco’s on the strip. It was a great ramp.
George Brown: Danny Hall somehow convinced Libby Bumpus of Radical Dan’s to spend some godawful amount of money to build this huge ramp on the McKinley Strip. It was this really weird scene with a ramp in the middle of a crazy crowd of people at the strip, trying to get lucky with their girlfriends. That was a great ramp. It had 1’ of vert, 10’ transition, 11’ tall, and it was 20’wide. Danny Hall was probably my most favorite person ever. He was always into the weirdest stuff. He was a mad scientist. Danny and his best friend Ricky Williams were like the original Jackasses, challenging every social convention in every way.
Danny Hall in the mid-80 with band, Otis
John Maak: Danny was one of the most interesting, fun, and strange characters I’ve ever known. He was considered probably the prime ramp builder in town. The level of intensity and theatre with Danny and Ricky Williams was off the scale. One night Danny staged a fall from the top of the main stair at Metropolis in the middle of a Skatenigs concert. From the top, he fell all the way down the stairs, rolled dramatically into the middle of the pit, and then proceeded to spazz around on the ground. It was one of the funniest things I have ever seen.
Shannon May: Back then it was Al Gibson, John Maak, and some other guys. Sugars had this huge roll-in. I was afraid to roll in. First time I did it, I fell and slid. About two months later I’m lying in bed, tossing and turning. My mom comes in—pulls down my drawers—and finds a five-inch splinter in my ass cheek that had been there for two months.
Ross Martin: Al was one of the best skateboarders to come out of Louisiana. He was just a classic hardcore skater. Full on, very fast, aggressive style.
Al Gibson: Danny Hall, Ricky Williams, Wes Bennet, and all those guys built that ramp It was biggest half-pipe Lafayette had ever seen. Danny Hall was a super smart, perfectionist—he really thought it out and did a good job. It was huge. I remember being totally scared of it…afraid to drop in. But that’s where I first learned how to do airs, handplants on that ramp. But the location was a hassle. Boards were flying out into the people, hitting girlfriends in their shins. Then their boyfriend would want to fight you. Drunk dudes would throw beer cans at the ramp while we were skating. There was always some craziness. It was guaranteed conflict with the public. People would go out of their way to be dicks. They were threatened by our trip. If you weren’t born to skate, you got weeded out pretty fast because there was so much hassle around the sport. So I guess the Sugars people got sick of us and the ramp and moved it to behind the mall. By then we had built new ramps and moved on.
The John Wayne Era — a backyard half-pipe built located at the house of Chad Simon in a trailerpark off John Wayne Blvd.
Al Gibson: After the Sugars ramp got carted off, we started skating the John Wayne ramp. It started out as a little home made ramp at Chad Simon’s house. His dad was 100% supportive—let us drink beer, make fires, hang out. It was a blast.
Al Gibson, blasting John Wayne Ramp, '89 (photo: Scott Starr)
Al Gibson, '89 John Wayne Ramp, (photo: Scott Starr)
John Maak: It was in a trailerpark off John Wayne road and made of wood with metal sheeting. It was the fastest ramp I’d ever ridden and it stayed that way for about 4 or 5 years. On cold dry days you had to mop the ramp with sugar water so it wouldn’t be too slippery—otherwise it was sure death with that metal surface. The sugar water gave it a sticky film that kept your wheels from sliding out. The metal was a lot harder and less forgiving. Nothing I’ve ever skated compares to that ramp. At one point Chad built a little hut under the deck of the ramp and Al lived in it for awhile—basically a plywood shed. It was a little more than a ramp in that regard. I mean, we all lived out there, skated it from early morning until the next morning. Chad Simon and Al Gibson were really the pro out there. They led the way. Greg Leblanc and I were both into speed and style and big high airs and frontside grinds—the most stylish move ever.
John Maak, '89 John Wayne Ramp (photo: Scott Starr)
George Brown: That was a whole new crew of guys coming up: Chad Simon lived in a trailer next to the ramp. By the time the John Wayne Ramp popped up, I was still skating but I started going to college and was doing other things. So my star started fading as theirs’s came up. Now you had guys Al Gibson, Chad Simon, Kirk Bustamonte, and Shannon May coming in and just ripping.
Chad Simon, '89 John Wayne Ramp (photo: Scott Starr)
Greg Leblanc, '89 John Wayne Ramp (photo: Scott Starr)
Ross Martin: It was a joint venture of people bringing wood and making the ramp. Sugars had had its day and been moved out to the mall, but John Wayne was more a backyard hangout that epitomized skateboarding in the 80’s.
Shannon May: That was the S.M.P. (smoke more pot) crew that hung at that ramp. It was like a bachelor pad/ramp.
Ryan Pankratz: Chad ran the trailerpark. If somebody’s A/C broke, he’d be the guy they’d call to fix it. He was like skater/maintenance man. The John Wayne ramp was the only ramp here when I moved to Lafayette... it was about an 11-12 foot tall metal monster. After one of the hurricanes that came through blew one side over, they cut it down to 9 ft and that I actually liked best. It was still big, but it was small enough for my meager big-ramp skills. Chad Simon, who owned it, also built a mini-ramp in his yard that wrapped around his trailer. I saw many a person eat shit and go sliding underneath the trailer. It was pretty funny to watch somebody just disappear under a house. Then there was Blaze Sonnier’s General Gardner ramp. There were two houses somewhat conjoined that a various rotating slew of skate heads lived and they built a ramp in the backyard that was attached to the house. You could ride right up onto the roof and had a tree sticking out of the middle of the other side. Blaze Sonnier, who was one of the original Gen. Gardner gangsters also built a little mini-ramp in one of the rooms inside the house—one ramp just ain't enough for some people. Crazy Dave, Gus, Beachem, Smiley Mike, Perkins, L.B., Grease, Gautam, Blaze, Hersing, Dustin—the crew was pretty good around that era…skating everyday and partying pretty damn hard every single night. Then buck nutty's came into existence... I think you'd need to write a whole different kind of story if you were going to get into that.
Vance Carlin: It was insane. I thought it was going be just another little wooden ramp in somebody’s backyard. But it was this massive steel ramp. I was amazed. And all these Lafayette skaters were shredding it. I couldn’t believe how much the scene had advanced. John Maak and these guys were blasting 6ft. airs out—of the top—and doing footplants. I was just blown away. I was amazed at how much they had escalated things. It was a new era, for sure.
Transitioning to the Straight World—–the popularity of vertical skateboarding took another dip the 90’s just as many Lafayette skaters were beginning their adult lives.
George Brown: When I started college and then work, I skated less but I still do it all the time.
Jason Bruen (owner of the Skate Spot): I got out of skateboarding for a while then got back into it in 1999. I was doing advertising design work and was burned out on it and my wife and I were going to be moving back to Lafayette.
Al Gibson: From 1987-1991, I traveled the country and skated. I had my car packed the day I graduated from high school and did nothing but skate ramps, pools, and go to punk rock shows for a few years. Then after moving to Texas and I started skating out there with some pretty big names in the underground skate scene. Next thing I know, I started to phone calls from Tracker, Alva, Zorlac, and big companies…and I got sponsored. Free equipment! I used to go stay at Tony Alva’s place in California and skate. I’d go to the factory and come out with bags of stuff. They were all super cool. I was a little country boy; they got a kick of me. I got my picture in Thrasher Magazine. The photo was taken by Scott Starr at the John Wayne ramp. Somebody called and said there was a photographer in town who wants to get some pictures. We didn’t think nothing of it. He took his pictures and left. Next thing I know, Thrasher called me and said they had a big picture of me coming out in their magazine. Me and Chad Simon were in Phoenix, skating a big blowout skate party and somebody showed me the photo in the magazine Later on, I got cussed out by Tony Hawk’s dad, who was running a big contest in California. He went ballistic—yelled at me for skating without a helmet at this pool. Skating even in 1990 was already going in a cleaner safer direction. It was going from this outlaw sport to the mainstream. Big signs with 50 rules on it. Then my dad died in accident. My mom gave me the news. I had to come back home to work offshore, grow up, and help my mom run the family business. That was the beginning of my “adult life.”
Charlie Thomas, '89
Edwin Howard: While I was in college at USL, I dislocated my shoulder and had to have surgery, so I pretty much stopped riding ramps in the early 80’s. I heard Rocky got into motorbikes and had a Harley called “The Milk Truck.”
Ross Martin: Dread skates existed from 85-92. There was a lot of trends in the industry once the 90’s hit. Wheels, clothes, pants—it was a weird time. Especially frustrating for a manufacture such as myself. So I sold the company and moved on to other things.
Peter Sahuc: I graduated from USL in 1984 in Accounting and pretty much moved on. I didn't have much time for skateboarding. I also lacked the skill that the other guys had. I could still do that handstand today if I lost about 50 pounds. Unfortunately for my waistline, I love to eat as well.
Shannon May: I went up and down the east coast, winning amateur contests for a few years. Then I turned pro from ’91 to ’95. It was exciting—sponsors, all expenses paid, flying to Europe and Canada. I was making about $1300 a month doing what I love to do. After that, I kind of backed out of skating because the big clown pants, heel flips, and then I felt the earth quake in San Diego. So I came back home to Louisiana. But I’m still ripping.
Ryan Pankratz: I still skate but not as much as I should. I will always have a board set up and ready to ride even if my body isn't up to the job.
State of the Sport—skateboarding hits popularity high with the X-Games, the Olympics, and local skateparks like Skatespot, Buck Nuttys, and the newly city-funded public ramp-park on Johnston St.
Al Gibson: The new generation of skaters is completely different. It’s is all about “what’s in it for me?” Competitiveness. “You’re in my way! It’s my turn. We’ve already got enough skaters at this session!” Who are you?! It’s totally the antithesis of what skating in my day stood for. Skating is now all about money and fame. It used to be underground…about rebellion. It was insulated from commercialism. Anybody that skated back then, you knew you could get along with because there were so few of us that if they were into skating, you knew they were cool. Any town you went, the skaters would take you in. Give you a bag of weed and a place to stay. It was a true brotherhood that still stands today. I still get calls from guys I know around the country from back in the day. It was an underground sport with zero rules. No rules. No referees. There was nobody to fuss at you about whatever.
Vance Carlin: It’s awesome where that sport is today with the Olympics and all. It’s great for the kids. But don’t make skating something that it isn’t. There’s always going to be a rebellious aspect to the sport. I think what they’re doing at the Skatespot is the ultimate. They’re keeping the kids of the streets and it’s giving them something to do besides bar hopping and getting in trouble.
Edwin Howard: My sons Ian (19) and Joseph (12) are both much better skaters that I ever was, and my daughter Laura (9) skates at the skate spot, too. The last time I saw Rocky was in 1986, I think on New Year’s Eve at the Loose Caboose. A bunch of huge bikers walked in, clad in jeans and leather. I was sitting at the bar with my wife in my tweed jacket. All these bikers stood around me. One of them put his hand on my shoulder. I thought “Uh-oh.” It was Rocky. He had just rode into town off some long bike trip. He couldn’t believe that I had gotten married.
Shannon May: There’s lots of money in it now. I’m happy to see where it is, but it all came from doing our own thing in the street, getting yelled at and stuff. Some of the initial innocence has been lost. Pretty much all skaters are crazy.
George Brown: The way it is now is so unbelievably great...with the free concrete skateparks. That’s the way it should’ve always been. The kids are great they’re pretty badass. They not into wearing pads or anything. They just run out of stuff when they bail.
Ross Martin: The new generation of skateboarders has figured out how to use their feet like their hands. I thought skateboarding had peaked at least 5 times in my life and it just keeps growing.
Mike Savoy: If Vance hadn’t gotten sidetracked by the extra curricular stuff, he’d be well known. He was that talented. And Rocky was, too. They were both phenomenal.
Jason Bruen: I own and run the Skate Spot skatepark here in Lafayette. I am super fortunate to make a living out of something I love. As a kid I never imagined it. But as I got older I saw it was possible and made it happen. I was living in Tampa FL. and got back in to skating in 1999. I was doing advertising design work and was burned out on it, and my wife and I were going to be moving back to Lafayette. Inspired by Brian Schaffer and Ryan Clemet of Skatepark of Tampa I wanted to open a park and shop. I started writing a business plan with my wife and a year later we opened Skate Spot. The first two years we were just a skateboard shop. We still planned on opening the park. It took about two years until that could be done and then we moved the skate shop into the same building as the skatepark. It has been 6 years for the park and 8 years for the shop this spring. Truly amazing! I get to skate whenever I like and I get to skate a great park in my opinion. My wife and I have twin boys that are two and a half we will see what the future holds for them.
Where are they now?
Vance Carlin is a free man, having served his time in a Florida penitentiary. He is currently in the process of starting his own surf & skate company.
Vance Carlin, 2008 LPCC
Rocky Jackson still lives in the Acadiana area, races motorcycles for Fast Coonass Racing, and is also a high ranking member of the Banditos motorcycle club.
Scott Starr is a surf and skate photographer living in southern California. In 1990 he shot the most published skateboarding photo of all time. It won Thrasher Magazine numerous awards. He has never had a 9 to 5 job and claims he never will.
Edwin Howard lives in Lafayette and works for Fugro-Chance, writing computer software and offshore testing. He and his wife of 22 years have two kids in college, two in high school and two in grade school.
Mike Savoy lives and works in Grand Coteau, and spends his free time hunting, fishing, and snowboarding.
Peter Sahuc is married, a CPA for a local company, and is active in the Knights of Columbus, St. Pius X Catholic Church, and Pro-Life activities. He maintains he could still do a handstand today if he lost about 50 pounds.
George Brown is married, owns a wholesale wine company, still skates, and lives in New Orleans.
John Maak lives in Lafayette. Married for 19 years, he is also partner in the Arceneaux Group design firm, which designed both the Tsunami restaurants here and in Baton Rouge. He still skates on occasion.
Ross Martin lives in Austin, Texas with his 14-year-old son. Owner of Lafayette’s first skateboard company, Dread Skates, he now works in the oil and gas industry.
Al Gibson lives and skates in Lafayette and owns his own business, designing and building furniture and antique cypress kitchens.
Shannon May is married, owns a plumbing company in Lafayette, and still skates. He also plays guitar in The May Family Band and Couchemar.
Ryan Pankratz is a graphic designer for 3D International in Lafayette. He has a common law wife and still skates 2-3 times a week in addition to playing bass in the band The Devil and The Sea.
Charlie Thomas lives in California and has traveled the world, working as team-marketing manager for top-notch skateboard companies like Tum Yeto, Hurley, Crimson, and currently World Industries. He is still an avid skater.
Jason Bruen lives married, lives in Lafaytte, and owns/manages The Skate Spot.
Danny Hall (1966-1995), a much-admired member of the Lafayette skateboard and underground music scene, passed away in his sleep in 1995. In addition to building some of the most legendary ramps in Lafayette, he was a filmmaker (Vini Vidi Vici, Trauma Ball), wholesale distributor, inventor, founding member of the synthesizer-less industrial band Otis, and an all-around Renaissance man of the highest order. He will be missed. This article is dedicated to his memory.
Photo credits: Scott Starr, Pete Shahuc, Robert Howard,