By Shane Coburn
Photos courtesy of Daily Bread Magazine
A long long time ago, in an age we call our roots, people didn't grind. They didn't know that they could. Early street skating was comprised of what people are now dubbing "free skating"; jumping curbs, the occasional fire hydrant, and doing powerslides. Skaters of today would look at this kind of skating and laugh, but we had to start somewhere...and to be honest, if you really enjoy rolling that stuff is pretty fun.
While rolling's recreational background still made up its outward appearance, the niche to be known as Aggressive was starting to attract people with a different mentality. A personality, attitude, and behavior traditionally found in other action-sports started to sparsely emerge inside of rolling.
Anybody involved in the early days of rollerblading will tell you that credit for this movement goes to a guy named Doug Boyce. Doug is the person responsible for inspiring our earliest wave of professional skaters. Even though there had been attempts at melding skating to the urban landscape previously, Doug did it in a fashion no one had ever seen before. Similar to others who have inspired new eras in our art i.e. Chris Edwards, Arlo Eisenberg, Randy Spizer, and Jon Julio, Doug brought a palatable style to something that was already fun, but lacked form.
It is safe to say that grinding was first attempted by Doug, and inspired by the skateboarding background that he came from. (I know we hate each other...blah, blah, blah, but don't forget, skateboarding was also inspired by something - surfing...a fact that modern sidewalk surfers would rather forget*) While Doug was the first to attempt grinds, the quick relationship between his 72mm wheels and a handrail does not credit him with the first grind.
*Everything has its roots, and there is a natural progression to life. For us rollerblading is that next progressive step- the thing that offers us whatever it was that other sports couldn't. Rollerbladers are like the characters in X-Men- the next wave of the evolutionary process; struggling in the minority, ostracized for their odd choices and actions. But all the while just doing what they know and what they believe in.
Rolling God Chris Edwards is often considered the first "grinder". Chris's influence on trick vocabulary as well as on the first wave of Extreme skaters i.e. Jess Dyrenforth, Arlo, Anjie (Angie) Walton, Brooke Howard-Smith, and Mark Shays was so incredibly powerful that people just kind of assume he grinded first. However, a more accurate statement would be that Chris is the person who people saw grinding first (there is a difference).
The story of the first "real grind" starts with Doug Boyce's roommate, a pre-Fifty/50 Jess D. Jess admits that, someone, somewhere, could have grinded before him. Brooke Howard-Smith often makes this argument, saying that he was grinding in New Zealand around the same time Jess started here in the States. But this argument and one's like it are negligible considering that Jess was the person to introduce Chris to grinding on rollerblades. This is important because Chris was the only person at that time who had the means to bring grinding to new levels, or more importantly; bring it to the masses.
Jess D. was accustomed to tinkering with parts to make them perform better. Hailing from the BMX world also gave him previous experience with grinding. It was only natural that Jess longed to grind on his new medium for expression; rollerblades. He started by taking the third wheel off of each frame, so that he could slide the coping at the local skateparks. Unfortunately, this system was very inconsistent as the third wheel space offered no center to balance on and his Lightning 608 wheels were so soft that if they even grazed the metal pipe he would stick. After investing more time into the idea of grinding on skates, Jess decided to mount 8 skateboard wheels to the bottom of his TRS's. Viola! It worked. The now exposed slick plastic frame and hard durometer wheels were the perfect mate for backsiding metal coping. Actual skating on the other hand...well that was a bit more difficult. The slippery 100A urethane made it impossible to carve a ramp. In fact, Jess had to be very conscious to keep his skates parallel and his body centered at all times. It was also a struggle to get speed with this flat set-up as the wheels had no core, and their width was not designed for fitment in the narrow rollerblade chassis. So, Jess had regular skates for airing and grind skates for transcending limitations...for the time, it was ahead of its time.
Jess told Chris about his experiment, and since everyone (all 4 or 5 people that were skating) wanted to grind in their rollerblades, it didn't take much convincing to have Chris try out the set-up. Chris rode vert, and back then vert consisted of almost entirely airs (not that you'll see much difference today). Lip tricks were limited to toe and heel-tap variations performed on the platform. But after Jess and Chris got together, the rolling world changed forever. Reportedly, Chris would do vert demos for Rollerblade and show everyone why he was called the Airman. Afterwards, he'd come down from the ramp and put his pair of modified grind skates on and proceed to frontside and backside the coping of the ramp. After his tour, Chris had planted seeds in the fertile minds of hundreds of rollerbladers, setting in motion a series of events.
I don't think any of them; Doug, Jess, or Chris had any idea what they had started.
EXTREME WHEELS AND ROCKERED SKATES
It was only a matter of time before companies started to offer products for Extreme skaters. The Hyper Fat Boy, Cozmo Hockey/Street, and Kryptonics Rampage all hit the shelves around the same time. These wheels were designed with Extreme skaters in mind, offering a smaller diameter, a harder durometer, and a flatter profile than traditional recreational wheels. Skaters used these wheels on stock Rollerblade frames, and rockered* the set-up according to their personal preference. Unfortunately, none of this helped grinding.
* The term rockering comes from ice-skating. Hockey players rocker their skates to make them quicker and more maneuverable. Imagine a skate standing straight up as if someone was standing in it with the blade touching the ground. The shape of the blade, with the front and back rounded off, resembles the bottom of a rocking chair, hence the name rocker. Since Rollerblades were originally conceived as an off season training device for hockey players the skates were designed to be rockerable. By raising the front and back wheels (using the eccentric spacers) the Rollerblade wheels were able to mimic the curved radius of the hockey blade.
ENTER THE ANTI-ROCKER
It's a unique thing we have here- rolling. It's one thing in the world that will always be ours. No matter what companies come and go, or what dollars change hands, we will always make the real difference. Even if we don't own it on paper, we will direct it until the end. The grind wheel, which is the earliest product that can be credited to the rapid progression of street skating, was not invented in a laboratory or drafted on an engineer's table. It was first introduced to halfpipe coping by Jess Dyrenforth, shown to the world by Chris Edwards, and later adapted for street use by Southern California's elite.
Once again speculation arises at who devised and skated the first anti- rocker set-up. But there is no doubt that its biggest supporter was the same skater to inspire a revolution. Brian Konoske says that the anti- rocker wheel was conceived in a garage by a skater doing what he did best- breaking rules. While rollerblading's first real street skater, Arlo Eisenberg, had always considered his small foot size a handicap, we would not be where we are today without it. Arlo knew that his small feet would never allow him to grind with any type of rockered set-up, and for the reasons mentioned above he found the all-skateboard set- up useless on street. Arlo would end up proving that the prefect set- up for the time was to use skateboard wheels in the center, and larger wheels on the outside. It offered adequate space to grind, and still allowed for speed and traction. Named for its inverted rocker look, the anti-rocker would be the first set-up to allow a skater to lock on and slide down a rail. Granted the anti-rocker wheel did not roll...but who cared? There were grinds to invent.
THE GRIND PLATE
Southern California's extreme clique was soon exclusively skating on anti-rocker set-ups. Frontsides and backsides were now a part of the everyday trick vocabulary. However, altering the skates intended design and application was presenting a new problem. The plastic frames that were riveted onto the popular recreational skates of that day did not stand a chance against curbs and planter boxes. Within weeks of grinding, frames disintegrated into nothing.
It was at this point that street skaters started attaching metal bolt wrenches (specifically the ones that came in a new Rollerblade skate box) to the inside of their frames. Mounted by the two middle wheel axles, these standard-issue skate tools allowed the plastic frame to continue to contact the curb, while making it more resistant to abrasion and supporting it with added strength. These skate tools were the inspiration for the upcoming Senate Wrench (the first mass- produced grindplate).
The Shifted system was an attempt to maintain the attributes of a traditional rockered set-up, but still allow a skater to grind. It was seen as a possible solution for all skate applications (vert and street), but at the time it only gained popularity with ramp skaters. The Shifted system was a frame with two hand-drilled axle holes located a centimeter or so outward of the two stock middle-wheel axle holes. This gave the skate a small space of exposed frame in between the middle wheels.
Skaters using the Shifted system on vert, further customized their skates with wrap around metal grindplates (this thin piece of steel literally wrapped around one side of the frame to the other side). Vert riders found that the metal to metal contact with the coping accentuated their grinds, while the wrap-around effect stabilized the frame. Street skaters experimented with the plate, but for many reasons the wrap around plate was not conducive for street grinds.
In contrast to today's set-ups the Shifted system and wrap around grindplate look very primitive. But a closer analysis will reveal that these two skate modifications are the earliest ancestors of modern flat skating and h-block technology.
Street skaters tired of spending $10 a week on wax, started looking for alternatives to their metal plate skate set-ups. Some completely took their middle wheels out, leaving them with a half-foot grinding area (this was my first set-up). Shortly though, there was no grinding area left because the brittle frame walls disintegrated against the asphalt. Even if a skater maintained frame material the lack of center bolts resulted in shattered frames from gaps and acid drops.
Another philosophy was to mount cut-down skateboard rails on the inside of your frames via the axle bolts or wood screws. These new rails soon started to replace the now common metal wrenches. Since the rails were thicker than grindplates, they helped give skaters more non-wheel surface area to make contact with. Though a few companies flipped this idea into their own mass production rails, namely CDS Detroit, it wasn't until a couple of years later that Steve Thomas and his company Scribe perfecting the design with their pre- grooved rollerblade specific plastic grindplate (however, this would not emerge until 1994).
Once the anti-rocker wheel caught on, skaters looked to manufacturers to fashion better products after their needs. Though the market demanded a rollerblading specific anti-rocker wheel, companies were unwilling to take a risk and manufacture wheels that weren't intended to roll on. Instead, Kryptonics introduced the Lil' Roxx. At 57mm, 90a, and no-core, these wheels were meant to work in a flat or anti-rocker fashion, but proved do be no competition against the size and hardness of a generic skateboard wheel.
Hyper introduced the 52mm 88a Midget as an answer to the grind problem (and the sacrilege known as anti-rocker). This wheel was reverse engineered from Rollerblades rockering system to allow a skater to use large Hyper Fat Boy wheels on the outside (rockered up), and Midgets in the middle (rockered down). This system was the first true flat-rocker configuration. Thanks to the smaller inside wheels there was now a space in the center of the frame, but it still allowed all four wheels to make contact with the riding surface.
Since all of these concepts were new, loyalty hadn't been administered to any one philosophy. Upon the release of the Lil' Roxx and midget wheels street skaters experimented with rockering all 8 outward of the frame. This "flat" set-up gave them the maximum amount of plastic possible in between their middle wheels, while allowing them to skate with all 8 wheels rolling. In theory, this sounds like a perfect solution, but in actual practice, it was proved that rollerblading necessitated a cored wheel. So, while these new wheels presented some good concepts, they were by no means a solution.
IF YOU WANT A JOB DONE RIGHT, DO IT YOURSELF
It was obvious that skate and wheel manufacturers were unwilling to commit to the emerging segment of Aggressive. So, five young skaters who were driving skating on the streets, decided to start driving product into the shops. In January of 1993 Arlo Eisenberg, Brooke Howard-Smith, Mark Heineken, Aaron Spohn, and Brian Konoske formed Senate. Senate was created to cater specifically to the Aggressive niche, and offer products that skaters badly needed. Senate's first line consisted of t-shirts, wax, and the aforementioned Metal Wrench. After establishing the market of aggressive, they changed it forever by introducing the markets first production anti- rocker wheels; Senate Bribes 47mm 100a, and C-Notes 45mm 100a. Senate's anti-rocker wheels quickly became the standard, prompting an expanded line and the catch phrase "Senate. We Set The Standards."
The anti-rocker wheel flourished, and Senate saw its idea copied by every manufacturer capable of molding polyurethane. It wasn't until a year later, when somebody took a look at what these wheels were being used for, was something different introduced. Senate's East Coast rival FR designed an anti-rocker wheel with a unique asymmetrical shape. The wheels inside sidewall had a tapered edge like all anti-rocker wheels, but its outside edge was uncut. Because Shifties (Royales), Backslides, and Torques hadn't been invented yet, the FR Progressor made perfect sense. Its odd shape, designed for the grinds of that day, was an attempt to give a skater exactly what he needed in terms of an anti-rocker wheel. Nothing more, nothing less- it worked beautifully.
Skater ingenuity didn't stop at the invention of the anti-rocker wheel. In fact, the anti-rocker's success fueled the industry with large company dollars. It was at this point that the industry started to take opposing sides. While Rollerblade was introducing full frame grindplates, rolling's rock stars were busy signing up with companies interested in making a mark in this now viable market. Brooke Howard-Smith signed with Oxygen to produce the Argon skate. While Arlo Eisenberg, Jess Dyrenforth, and Tom Fry started working with Roces on a project called Majestic 12. Both the Argon and Majesticrejuvenated the Shifted chassis system (formerly found on the Roces Roadskate). Now being dubbed "Split", the frame allowed skaters a larger space in the center to grind with. All of the aggressive frames to follow used this characteristic; a split system frame with thick walls, and a pre-beveled groove.
Over the years the Split system has become standard. So prevalent now, that people don't refer to it as a Split system; just an Aggressive frame. The Aggressive frame was received so well that Senate and Fifty-50 soon introduced their own skater inspired versions. And so it continues; From Fifty/50 to Ground Control to 7XL, today's UFS frames are direct descendents of the Majestic 12.
BACK TO THE NEW SCHOOL
The Split chassis did not extinguish passion for anti-rocker skating. Because even more space could be achieved by combing a Split chassis and set of anti-rocker wheels, street skating was able to take another leap forward. In 1995, the Shifty, Backslide, and Soyale were being introduced to the underground. A young up-and-coming skater with crooked teeth and a style all his own was on the forefront of this movement...in fact he personified it. His name was Roadhouse, and like a few before him, he changed skating forever. Randy "Roadhouse" Spizer, and his VG3 profile opened the door to street skating as we know it today. No longer did you have to tiptoe up to rails; skates were meant to go fast on. Gone were the days of spending your whole street session on a round metal rail; there were ledges, planters, and square edges to skate. Randy's wheel of choice- the anti-rocker. In 1996 Senate introduced the world's first pro- endorsed anti-rocker wheel; the 47mm 100a Roadhouse model. The Crayola colored wheels symbolize a place and time in rolling history where rules were broken and limitations shattered, while at the same time immortalizing one of our greatest contributors and heroes.
While the Aggressive frame's split design was another monumental addition to skate technology, it also "split" the core Aggressive community into two philosophies: One in which skaters believed that the split system warranted a revert back to flat skating (rocker had been pretty much eliminated by now), and another following in which the Aggressive frame's increased space was a welcomed edition to a street skaters anti-rocker set-up (or in the case my favorite skater of all time; Tim Ward, his vert set-up).
Soon these two preferences had become a forum for debate. One side argued, that you weren't really rollerblading unless you had all 8 wheels on the ground, while the other felt that 8 wheel tradition hindered the further progression of the art.
Cozmo was one of the few wheel companies not to jump on the anti- rocker bandwagon. Their flat set-up heritage was a religious conviction of sorts, and with the introduction of the Aggressive frame, they now had a means to discredit the need for anti-rocker. Cozmo's "8 Down" campaign was well received as a sort of rollerblading pride motto, and the industry followed suit. Medium's 54mm 8 pack Jake Elliott wheels were introduced to support the Aggressive market's new direction, while rockered skating even saw a brief rebirth as skaters experimented with a variety of wheel size combinations and rocker plug configuartions.
Flat skating has been the popular set-up for quite some time now. Not until a year ago, did anti-rocker start to re-emerge in noticeable numbers. Brian Shima has skated anti-rocker almost exclusively since he started rolling 7 years ago. He feels that this set-up allows him to land on a comfortable foundation, and doesn't hinder him from grinding anything and everything. About a year and a half ago Brian approached me about making an anti-rocker wheel for Mindgame. Though I didn't believe in anti- rockers, I am excited whenever the team wants to get involved in the company...especially product development. Furthermore, I try to keep an open mind...and above all, I always welcome a debate. Shima, Dustin, and I sat down to first discuss how viable an anti- rocker wheel was. Was it necessary? Was it cheating? Did it take away from the "roll"? Being a flat skater for quite some time, I was confident in my arguments. However, that discussion proved to be humbling for me. As Shima talked about the advantage of anti-rocker wheels, including a better grinding vehicle, a less wavering base, and a lighter skate, I was impelled to argue that "your not really rollerblading unless all wheels are down", and that given the now standard shifted system frames the anti-rocker was obsolete. But obviously it wasn't, because he was still on them, and my arguments proved to be more futile the deeper I delved. Basically, I was trying to tell one of the most progressive skaters in the world how he should skate. I was trying to tell Brian Shima how a rollerblade should be. Like a Christian telling a Buddhist that he was going to hell because he hadn't taken Jesus into his heart, I was telling Shima what he should believe in. But sadly, I am not all knowing, and it was once again proved to me that day that I have more to learn. Brian likes to skate anti-rocker and no one in the world can deny that. You can't dispute a person's personal preference, just as you can't dispute a person's faith...no matter how it conflicts with your own. Brian's argument proved so convincing to Dustin and I that we decided to give anti-rocker another chance ourselves...it had been about 4 years since I had been on such a set-up. Ironically, skating anti- rockers made skating feel very new to me again. Whether it was better or more pure, didn't concern me...it was fun. Shortly after that we started to develop our own anti-rocker wheel- the first designed for an anti-rock's true purpose. As the ideas came out of our mouth and went onto the paper, the prospect of a Mindgame grind wheel became more and more exciting. Once again, we were on the verge of breaking the rules. We decided on a direction, ran some samples, and started testing them. Now everyone on the Mindgame team skates anti-rocker (yes, even Elliott)...with the exception of Omar who skates with no wheels in the middle. I'm excited that the team has turned to anti-rocker, as I have seen this change everyone's view to a more expansive outlook on rolling. Omar's decision to go in his own direction is even more exciting to me...as its simplicity is truly radical. He is doing things on skates that are impossible with middle wheels, and I cannot say that that is wrong. In that spirit, if the whole team went back to flat tomorrow, I would still support anti-rocker skaters, as I now see it as a sort of sect in our art.
As rollerbladers we need to get away from this static form, this idea of tradition. I don't see why making something harder makes it more righteous. I mean it's harder to ollie a set of stairs on a skateboard than to jump it on rollerblades...but I prefer to rollerblade, and that does not make me inferior to anyone. These dogmas are "cliquey" and create a false sense of superiority that will only hold us back. What makes rollerblading so special is its unified diversity...flat and anti- rock...soft and hardboot...tranny and street. The less we say "what should be", the less we become "this or that", and the more we can evolve.
source and next page of our history: http://web.archive.org/web/20070315185845/www.antirocker.com/page3.htm