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Thursday, April 06, 2006 | It’s 4 a.m. Downtown is quiet except for the occasional drunk and a few passing police cars. Then the wheels of three zooming skateboards cut through the night, speeding and sliding down the city’s hills and parking lots.
These are not young punks who’ve been out wreaking havoc all night.
Hours earlier, they were getting their families settled and tucking in the kids.
These days the sport of skateboarding has evolved – matured in a sense. And that goes for the skaters, too. Sure, these guys are all working professionals in their mid-to-late 30s. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have a name for their crew (the Inner Vision crew), or that they don’t skate some of the city’s steepest inclines all night long.
Darrin Neiner is a 38-year-old physical education teacher for San Diego City Schools. He owns a home in Point Loma with his wife, Tanya, and their two children. Tye Donnelly, 35, is a general contractor and the founder of Inner Vision skateboards, which makes board with exotic woods including cocobolo, purpleheart and African padouk. He owns a home in Oceanside with his wife and daughter.
And Brian Ward, 37, a resident of Ocean Beach, is the CFO of Village Transportation.
Their typical tour of San Diego, which they call “The Urban Mega Session,” starts in North County.
After their families are settled and the kids in bed, they head up to blaze through the Poway Skate Park. At 10 p.m., after the park closes, they sweep across a downhill ditch at speeds of more than 30 mph. By 12:30 a.m., it is time to head south to Old Town, where they “bomb” (the term they use to describe downhill speeding) the hills of Presidio Park. At 1:30 a.m. they make for the city and choose from eight parking structures and several hills where they carve and race until 4 a.m.
“It’s the adrenaline rush,” says Neiner, who is nicknamed “The Falcon” for his ability to stretch out his lanky arms and fly through steep sections and sharp curves. “It’s the whole concept of sliding. With the slide, I can go 35 mph or more and come quickly to a complete stop. Just imagine it, 35 mph on a skateboard.”
“You become one with the road. It’s addictive,” Donnelly says.
The team calls Donnelly “The Guru” because he constantly brings new equipment and the latest advances to the table and seeks out new frontiers: hills, parking structures, ditches, empty pools for the skaters to explore.
Donnelly helped set the team up with safety and performance gear: helmets, knee and elbow protection, “butt pads,” and slider gloves, which they generally make themselves by melting or adhering pieces of cheap cutting boards onto leather gloves.
While their skateboard equipment varies for different terrains, they all ride longboards, which can be around two feet longer than traditional skateboards.
“(Downhill skateboarding) got into my blood,” Ward says. He’s considered “The Style Master” for his cross-stepping (’50s surf-style footwork) and hanging 10 toes over the nose of his board at high speeds.
The Inner Vision members thrive on pushing each other to the maximum. There is a sense of brotherhood and unity in the group partly due to the extreme nature of their sport. And, true to their maturity, they share the credo of “safety first.”
“I have a family,” Donnelly says. “I am completely about safety. Our whole crew is about getting home in one piece.”
And what about this image of career men in their 30s running around skateboarding?
“The speed of it takes maturity,” local legend Biker Sherlock says. “It’s just like big wave surfing. (The riders) are older. It’s a gnarly thing to do. Most kids don’t want to go there yet. The kids want to do tricks.”
Sherlock is the owner of Dregs Skateboards and president of Extreme Downhill International, a sanctioning body of downhill skateboarding and street luge racing. He set the world speed record on a longboard. He was clocked at 90.5 mph and plans to exceed 100 mph this year.
Sherlock lives at the base of one of his favorite runs on Mount Soledad. He said that maturity is also important to maintain good relationships between local skaters and homeowners.
“You’ve got to be smart in the community,” Sherlock says. “We don’t hold up traffic. We don’t take stupid chances. We don’t blare our radios. I would only be bummed if skaters weren’t respecting the neighborhood.”
Victor Earhart, board maker for Sector Nine, the local company that created the original longboard skateboard, has been skating in San Diego since 1953.
He still goes out every weekend searching for smooth, fast rides. He’ll drive as far as Alpine. Earhart has skateboarded Mount Palomar for decades and has explored most of the parking structures in town.
“Here I am,” he says. “Sixty years old, and I run back up to the top so I can come back down again.”
Both Earhart and Sherlock remember the heyday of The San Diego Concourse during the 1980s and 1990s, nights when up to 50 skaters took over the parking structure downtown near City Hall. The security guards went home after midnight, and riders from all over the world poured into the garage. Bands showed up, plugged in and rocked the cement walls.
“We respected the place,” Sherlock says. “Nobody tagged it. If you threw a beer can, you were told to pick it up.”
There seems to have been a coming of age with the advent of the longboard. Skaters realized that it did them no good to be banned from the hills and spaces they loved.
The crews bomb – respectfully – and the industry booms.
Sector Nine, Dregs and Gravity boards fly off the shelves at local surf and skate shops.
“I sell so many (longboards) it’s ridiculous,” says Matt Medina of Ocean Beach Surf Shop.
Liquid Foundation surf shop in Mission Beach keeps 100 boards in the store at any given time. Up in North County, the Black Leather Racing Outlaw Slalom and other downhill events are well-organized, multigenerational and open to both men and women.
Lynn Kramer is the current female downhill champion and has earned several sponsorships.
The Inner Vision crew believes that the sport is about to explode.
Unlike surfing and snowboarding, which require specific conditions – swell and snow – downhill skateboarding is available all the time. If it rains, skaters can go indoors to any number of cement paradises in San Diego.
“With downhilling you’ve got a perfectly paved run all the time,” Donnelly says. “You could completely give up snowboarding and bomb hills in your own backyard.”
Michael Klam is a freelance journalist and San Diego author who moderates poetry and art events in the Museum of the Living Artist. He can be reached at