Jack Smith, curator of the Morro Bay Skateboard Museum in California, was pleasantly surprised when he set up a fundraising campaign for his fledgling museum online at Indiegogo.com: many of the museum's supporters were names he recognized from a lifetime of skateboarding and documenting skate history.
"Films like Stacy Peralta's 'Dogtown and Z-Boys' reawakened interest in skateboarding's roots and helped people realize that skateboarding actually does have a long and rich history," says Smith, who is also editor and publisher of The Skateboarder's Journal. "In some ways it's the people who lived that history who are most interested in seeing it preserved."
If Peralta's 2001 documentary about the Zephyr team in the 1970s feels like ancient skate history, think again: among the first donations Smith received when he launched his fundraising campaign were contributions from Michael Mel, star of the 1966 Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix winner "Skater Dater," and Patti McGee, the 1964 national girl's skateboard champion best known for striking a handstand pose on the cover of Life Magazine in 1965 next to the headline, "The craze and the menace of skateboards." The craze and the menace have turned out to be eternally infectious.
"That was almost 50 years ago, but skateboarding has shaped my life ever since and I feel attached to any projects to document and celebrate it," says McGee, who is still known to break out a skateboard now and then. Her daughter, Hailey Villa, started a skateboard company called Original Betty to sponsor up-and-coming female skaters and to pay tribute to McGee's contributions to the sport.
"The most amazing thing, when I look back on it all, is that we all lived in such small little circles back then," McGee says. "Outside of our own little crews we hardly even knew if there were other people out there skateboarding. So the Life Magazine cover was huge, for everybody. It was like, 'People everywhere are getting into this?' We had no idea. Of course nowadays we're all connected. We have Facebook and Instagram and everything else, and you can click on a little website and donate to Jack's wonderful little skateboard museum. It's a miracle! It's magic!"
Smith got his own first board -- homemade by his dad, with steel wheels -- the year before McGee landed on the cover of Life, and later graduated to a Hobie board with Super Surfer clay wheels and a Bahne deck with the urethane Cadillac Wheels that would hook him forever and usher in skateboarding's modern era (Frank Nasworthy, founder of Cadillac Wheels, is also among the supporters who surprised Smith with a donation through the Indiegogo.com campaign).
Smith says he's tried to include enough to stoke the memories of skaters from every generation: The museum's collection includes scooters made from wooden crates dating back to the 1930s and skateboards from as early as the 1950s, as well as a wide collection of boards and memorabilia from the 70s, 80s, 90s, and 2000s.
"Skate history goes back much farther than most people realize," he says. "We get people who come in and almost get teary-eyed looking at all this stuff from their youth. Almost everyone who walks in will zero in on the first board they ever owned or boards that were special to them."
Popular favorites include a mint-condition Tony Alva deck from the Dogtown days, a two-wheeled Hobie Sundancer board, and a Turner SummerSki slalom board "that looks like it was painted by Jackson Pollock." Some of his own treasures are among the collection, too, including the boards he used on his three Skateboarding Across America adventures in 1976, 1984 and 2003.
But Smith says the real treasures come from his interactions with visitors to the museum. As skaters like Eddie Elguera, (inventor of the fakie 360 invert, forever known as the Elguerial), have been happening upon the place, they've been bringing in autographed decks that have become prizes of the collection and sharing back-in-the-day stories to go with them. "These are guys who know there's a collectors' market on eBay and elsewhere for this stuff, but they'd rather have it here where people can see it than hiding in some private collection," Smith says.
Smith's goal for the fundraising campaign, which ends on Monday at midnight, is to cover the rent for all of 2013 so that he can focus his efforts on growing the collection, curating special exhibits, and getting the word out about the museum. "If you're a skateboarder of any age and you're traveling up the California coast, stop in and say hello," he says. "Almost everybody who comes through the door, if we get to talking, it turns out we know people in common or have some shared skate history."