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Craze still alive-but not at Hailey Park?

Byline: By Dan O'Neill South Wales Echo

Our leaders, forever telling kids to climb off the couch and get out and about, have predictably blocked plans for a skate park in Llandaff North's Hailey Park. Public opinion (ie angry residents) forced the council into a U-turn.

Coincidentally, it happened on the 30th anniversary of the mass introduction of skateboards to this country. Some historians suggest that if you want a symbol of 1977 just think of a piece of polished wood with a pointy end and four wheels - the skateboard.

For some strange reason they became THE craze of 1977 as clackers (remember them?) and hula hoops had filled kids' lives in earlier years. But this time it looked permanent. And bigger than anything that had gone before. Cost a lot more, as well.

They came in all sizes, some small enough for five-year-olds to wobble along on while teenagers glided and gyrated on any street that wasn't potholed beyond redemption which meant, in the Cardiff of 30 years ago, that suitable streets were in short supply.

At the peak of the craze some shops were selling an almost incredible 1,000 skateboards a week and even at prices going up to pounds 80 that was just the start.

"Parents were driven to distraction by their offsprings' demands.

"Need a skateboard bag, mum. Everyone else in our class got one. . ." The old, old story, and another fiver added to the bill.

Then came the obligatory protective gear - helmets, knee pads, elbow protectors, wrist guards, padded gloves - another pounds 50 to make your little darling look like Judge Dredd.

Naturally, there were skateboard magazines basically aimed at selling even more bits and pieces. The biggest, called with stunning originality, Skateboard, sold 100,000 copies a month. Kids' bedroom walls were plastered with skateboard posters and calendars, many of them featuring America's skateboarding superstars like Mad Dog Alva and Stacey Peralta who earned about pounds 50,000 a year.

We even had a full-time pro in Cardiff. Paul Roberts was 17 and at the time it looked as though skateboarding could become as much a sporting career as soccer - still out there are you, Paul? And did TV ever get round to screening nationwide championships as promised?

It was a craze spelled c-a-s-h for entrepreneurs smart enough to get in at the start. Companies sprang up overnight selling skateboard T-shirts and sweatshirts and an item labelled the Trinder Bomber Jacket. And for the skateboarder's squeeze, a tiny skateboard pendant in solid silver, just pounds 3.75. It even had revolving wheels. How many languish now, forgotten at the back of jewellery boxes?

And, paving the way for today's protesters at Hailey Park, councillors throughout Wales shuddered at the demands being made for skateboard parks, tracts of land and even traffic-free streets.

For kids from Cardiff and the Valleys the Mecca was Skate City in London and you'd see 'em on Saturday mornings at the station setting off to sample the most famous skateboard park of all.

The owner - he'd seen it coming and got in first - predicted that many more would be built, "wherever there's a spare half acre and someone with pounds 20,000 to pounds 40,000 to invest." (How big is Hailey Park?)

Doctors called for a skateboard ban as youngsters broke legs, arms and ankles at about five a day. In two weeks they treated 46 casualties in Cardiff Royal Infirmary but no-one was discouraged.

In spite of the carnage we got the first Wales Skateboard championships, won by David Powell, of Porth, a 15-year-old who did it despite suffering from spina bifida.

Clackers had vanished into the world's attic but this looked like a craze that would continue and grow. About 20 Cardiff enthusiasts even built their own "permanent" skate ramp in Cathays and honed their skills on it until the university college, owners of the land, forced its demolition.

Then suddenly, at the apparent height of its popularity, mass skateboarding disappeared as mysteriously as the dinosaurs, leaving only a few faithful addicts over the years. But reports of its death were, as Mark Twain might have observed, highly exaggerated. As the Concerned Residents & Users of Hailey Park (CRUHP) discovered this month.
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 24, 2007
Words:705
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