Total Loss: Skate Cars of the 1990’s
November 10, 2013
“the NSX pull out the driveway/feelin’ like Scarface. desperado on the case”
-Royal Flush, 1997
“Right when I moved to California, I bought a ’95 Civic Coupe. I had it for no longer than a month. I completely totaled the fucking car.”
-Caine Gayle, 1997*
I first saw the 101 War Report promo on a VHS cassette tape that also contained Da Deal is Dead, some SMA video, and maybe Vision Barge at Will. In addition to the innovative “jogger” narrative element, the footage of McNatt piloting a silver NSX seemed to communicate a theme. Like, a futuristic car for mad futuristic skating, or some shit. The NSX symbolized Rocco’s New World Order and foreshadowed Clinton-era economic prosperity. While conceptualized as a supercar or some shit, it still had that Civic DNA deep down in its rear-situated engine.
Truth be told, until this instance of instagram crowdsourcing, I thought the NSX in the aforementioned video was Rocco’s. Perhaps I got mixed up in my mind with that one blurb in the Big Brother news section–the Mesozoic-era SLAP messageboard/twitter/instagram–of Sheffey totaling Rocco’s porsche or some shit. But, as everyone knows, the Civic–whether in four-door, coupe, hatchback, or “bubbleback”–is the archetypal skate car.
Around ’93/’94, the local ripper of our conceptual Lockwood–actually more like Ramona, a relatively flat schoolyard with a couple low ledges–would routinely pull up to the spot in a mid-Eighties Civic hatchback, accompanied by whatever cheap-ass girl he was fucking at the time. The strains of “Thuggish Ruggish Bone” preceded his arrival by a minute or so, due to his boomin’ system.
ANYWAY, Earl Parker’s “Skaters and Their Cars” Big Brother article** documents the Civic’s dominance in the early 90’s like nothing else. To a man, Johnson, Klein, Rawls, Hendrix, and Song all drove Civics. This should come as no surprise; its utilitarian nature made it ideal for driving from spot to spot, yet one could easily upgrade via aftermarket wheels and other accessories. It warrants mentioning that only Neil Hendrix kept his Civic stock (via #whitestylez).
However, a few stylistic outliers arose as the early Nineties came to a close: Jovontae and Gino. The former’s automobile history is well-documented , while Gino’s, of course, is shrouded in mystery. However, Clyde provided a first-hand account in his chrome ball interview:
He’d show up in some crazy sports car, do a couple tricks, make it look super fresh and dip while everyone else was left wondering what the fuck just happened.
His choice of automobile reflected the cultural history of Long Island; I can’t remember the source, but I recall in one interview he said he would pull up to Lockwood in a Dodge Daytona Shelby Z. It should come as no surprise that two of the preeminent style–in terms of trick selection, technical progression, and technical outerwear– innovators of the era extended this concept to their choice of vehicle.
This girl I used to talk to on AOL Instant Messenger in the mid-Nineties used to ride around in some rich dude’s NSX. For some reason–and this is a really embarrassing adolescent mode of thinking–the mental image of her riding around the Middlesex County and Princeton in some rich dude’s NSX bummed me out. I think he was in the friend zone from the start though. As for me, I had no car at the time because I lived in the city.
As the Nineties rolled on, skate cars diversified. One interesting element of the great skate plazas of the time was their adjacent parking. This accentuated the Nineties’ skate gods’ “rap star” status; Pep drove a 240SX (I think) and Andy Stone would pull up to Pulaski in a Jetta of some kind, usually with some kind of product in da trunk.
Pep’s customized license plate was “A CLASS.”
On the opposite coast, a variant of the Civic gained popularity. As Welsh states in his chrome ball interview:
We’d wake up and someone would yell “SKATE!” and then either pile into Brad [Johnson]’s CRX, skate to Market and Church and take the train to Embarcadero or just skate the whole way down.
My friend used to refer to the CRX as a “cracksmoker car.” The origin of this nickname has been lost in the sands of time. Nevertheless, like crack itself, the CRX distilled the Civic essence into a smaller, more potent form. Caine Gayle documented his fondness for this Civic variant in an epic 1997 Big Brother interview–perhaps one of the most evocative skate interviews ever. His tales of automotive triumph and woe read like a Springsteen song, if Springsteen lived in California and dated a series of strippers instead of a series of waitresses who worked in diners up and down Route 9:
Caine Gayle will never reach elite tumblr status like Puleo, Dill, or Mark Gonzales. He never added a veneer of #art to his skating. He was just a kid who moved to California and skated professionally for a few years.
He frontslide bluntslid Hubba Hideout. He drove fast cars. He banged strippers.
Think of him as the anti-Dill–instead of moving East and assimilating into an NY lifestyle, he moved West and assimilated into the Orange County lifestyle.
The dude was, however, also really fucking good at skating. If memory serves me correctly, he skated the best out of all the dudes at the World demo I attended at Intensity Skates in MD in 1996. Yes, this was the same demo at which Maurice Key, who recognized me from Astor Place or whatever, inquired as to “where the bitches [were] at.”
The cube played a pivotal role in any #90s NY skate mission, because the primary routes of travel were as follows: a) banks/seaport to Astor Place (or maybe Supreme) b) Astor Place to midtown. And if one had a car at one’s disposal–especially during the winter–you felt like a rock star. Lamont McIntosh used to push a 300ZX in which I once caught a ride from Newport to the cube. About a year earlier, I ran into an old friend at Astor who had driven up from Philly (he was living there at the time) in his Civic hatchback with Stevie riding shotgun. We rolled up to midtown and skated Time-Life and the midtown bump; this was probably when Stevie had just started skating again because he looked kind of uncomfortable on a board; he fell super hard trying to heelflip those stairs at Rockefeller Center. Kind of like he hadn’t skated in a while. We know how that story goes, though.
Around the turn of the century, one of the sales guys in the building I worked in drove a silver NSX–with the newer body style and flip-up headlights. He was super chill–the opposite of the typical over-the-top sales guy (who had ripped lines off the bar at Limelight in the 80’s) at my company. Because this was the age before bluetooth, he walked around making sales with one of those Plantronics™ headseats and his cordless phone on a belt clip. Seeing his NSX roll through the street of Perth Amboy was always a trip.
The mountains of cash that pro’s collected during the late 90’s shoe/board sale boom sounded the death knell for the Civic, as dudes could now afford luxury automobiles. The Muskalade in Feedback was the tipping point here, followed by Kalis’ infamous BMW. This trend culminated in Jereme Rogers’ Aston Martin, the repossession of which symbolized the current industry contraction as surely as Natas’ NSX symbolized the promise of a post-George Powell world. However, his colleague Mikey Taylor held onto his bubbleback well into the 10’s, eventually selling it on ebay.
Is the “skate car” dead? Upper-echelon pro’s post photos of their Jaguars and Mercedes’ on Instagram, but are they just, like, flossing? Oddly enough, with mad skaters obtaining “mainstream sponsorships,” it’s surprising that only Toyota has a skate team–Lutzka and Omar Salazar, at press time. One would think that Honda would cash in on their brand equity with skaters and start flowing dudes. However, any automobile brand attempting to break into the elusive skate demographic faces an uphill battle; I mean, Dyrdek kickflipped that Chevy, but skaters (and young people today in general) don’t give as many fucks about cars as they used to; phones and computers now occupy that cultural space. For example, at press time the most popular car driven by skaters in my town was the Ford Taurus. Oldsmobile Auroras and Toyota Previas also rank highly. However, for the past decade or so, the most popular answer to the query “Hey, whatever happened to [insert name of local ripper]?” has been “They quit and got mad into cars.” So maybe car culture and skate culture have just gone their separate ways.
I currently drive a 2002 Civic; its silhouette is virtually identical to that of the 1993 Civic. It gets me from point A to point B. However, at some point the prospect of acquiring an NSX might arise (via #midlifecrisis, natch). Along those lines, I saw on the Twitter that Acura has begun the process of re-launching a re-branded, made-in-the USA NSX.*** Their social media strategy involves a Facebook “game” in which one can design a colorway for this automobile. This is what I came up with:
I tried, with all my mental power, to recreate the colorway of Natas’ NSX. Of course, nothing was the same.
*via this Big Brother interview (scan by Chrome Ball, natch)
**shoutout to Brink for hooking me up with a copy of it
***who will be the first pro to post a picture of one on the ‘gram?