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Skateboarding in 1980’s Athens

The 1980’s was a time of excess, of neon colors and big hair, of cocaine and power suits. It was an era of change, of rebellion, of the new and the now. And at the heart of it all was skateboarding – the sport that embodied the spirit of the times, that gave voice to a generation of misfits and outcasts, that carved a path to a future that was both exciting and uncertain.

In the world of skateboarding, the 1980’s was a time of explosive growth and change. New brands emerged, new styles were invented, and a whole generation of skaters rose to prominence.

One such person was Rick Stanziale, who was in the vanguard of skateboarding in Athens during that amazing decade.

By Rick Stanziale

In 1980 skateboarding was declared dead by mainstream media.  For the second time.  Yet by then my 15-year-old self had completely pivoted away from organized sports and built a ramp in my parents backyard.  So no, skateboarding wasn't "dead", but rather it went "underground.”

Two years later when I moved to Athens in order to attend the University of Georgia, my skateboard and do-it-yourself attitude came with me. 

20-year-old Rick Stanziale made the front page of the Athens Observer

I Spent many nights pushing my skateboard around in front of the 40 Watt Club Uptown (the one on Broad Street, where UGA's office of the architect now resides), handing out copies of my "We Think You Suck" 'zine.  Harsh takes on local bands that eventually included reviews of places in town where I was riding my skateboard: College Square. Underneath Grad Studies.  UGA main library bricks. 

Due to my lack of editorial control, "We Think You Suck" ceased publication and it morphed into the Athens Pocket Skate Guide (APSG, for those in the know).

Scott Braman skateboards the Lenoir Avenue ramp

Loehr's ramp on University Drive served as the birthplace of 80's vertical skateboarding in Athens. Built by local BMX'er Loehr Young in his parents backyard, the ramp was 8' tall, 8' wide, and 48' from wall to wall to give the bike riders time to pedal and set up between walls.  Unfortunately this had a negative effect on skateboarding as you tended to lose speed and thus the ability to perform tricks was curtailed.  Nevertheless, it brought local skateboarders, many of us UGA students, out of hibernation one glorious spring.

The Wildebeest (affectionately referred to as "The Beast") ramp on Nantahala Avenue  came together as the first pure full sized skateboard ramp to ever grace the backyards of Athens.  Plenty of shopping at "Midnight Lumber" helped pull that one together.  Sixteen feet wide by nine feet tall (with an extension nearing 11' on one side) and thirty two feet from wall to wall.  The Beast ignited skateboard fever in Athens as it drew not only college-aged skaters, but high schoolers and middle schoolers like Daniel Smith and Noah Ray.

What made The Beast so awesome?  It gave local skateboarders a place to come together and practice their craft.  Kids who didn't want to play little league baseball could come and feel good about expressing themselves athletically.  Learning that failure is a part of life, but if you persist and keep trying, you can succeed. 

Noah went on to become the first "sponsored" skater in Athens and even appeared in R.E.M.'s video of "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)".

Warren Albea going frontside off the lip

After the demise of the ramp on Nantahala Avenue, we regrouped and built a bigger one on Lenoir Avenue.

The summer of 1986 brought the Georgia Ramp Amateur Skateboard Series (G.R.A.S.S)  to Athens. This brought skaters from out of state to compete for prizes and recognition, and large crowds of spectators. 

With the spotlight brightly focused on The Beast, the contest garnered front page coverage in the Athens Observer.  Unfortunately it also drew the ire of neighbors and local elected officials leading to our eviction several months later.

Skate House was located at 465 Nantahala and was a rental property owned by Barry Stiles leased to me, and that’s where we built The Beast.

No fewer than four skateboarders lived there at Skate House at any given time.

Ramps weren't all we skated.  An abandoned trailer park on Highway 441 in Oconee County provided one of the swimming pools that we drained and skated. Swimming pools at History Village Inn off Dougherty Street and the YMCA on College Station provided thrills for skaters who risked arrest for trespassing.

Kevin Kimmich skateboarding in the trailer park’s pool

Rebuffed by our attempts to get the county to provide legal recreational opportunities for the local skateboarding youth, we set forth on building our second ramp.  The Beast II, on Lenoir Avenue, at ten feet tall, was a foot taller, and exponentially faster than the original Beast.

While we were smart enough to have learned our lesson not to draw attention to the ramp by hosting a regional competition, we couldn't prevent being evicted again. Insurance companies saw to that. Skateboarding in Athens, like much of the world, moved into the streets to close out the decade.

The early 90's brought not only the change of the decade, but major life changes.  I got a "real" job.  Married.  Had children.  I still skate.  The only way I'll stop is when my last breath leaves my body.  I am.  100% skateboarder. 

I'd like to thank some unsung heroes of skateboarding in Athens during the 1980's.  First and foremost the guys who were here before me.  The Bewley brothers, Randy and Chris, Bryan Lilje, Al Davison, Jeff Hannan.  The guys I don't have photographs of, but without whom none of what you just read would have happened.  The Mesta Boys, Bill and Carl, Chuck Ryan, Boyd Bailey, Mark Bell, Tim Birch, Patio Mendino, Michael Hoaster, and Mike Hare.  The bands who supported local skateboarding including  Porn Orchard, Dead Elvis, Crack, Final Frontier, Pylon and R.E.M..  And finally people who did not skate but believed in skateboarding enough to show their support. Michael Lachowski.  Gene Dixon. The Athens Observer, Don Nelson, Peter Howell, and Pete McCommons. Can't leave out Steve Sgarlatto for employing so many of us at The Grill!

You can support skateboarding in Athens today and in the future through the Athens Skatepark Project - founded by Athens native Corwin Weik and supported by a dedicated group of volunteers including Carter Bass and Jason Steelman.  Follow their example.  If you want something done, get involved and do it yourself.

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