People pining for the ‘80s are psychotic. Or they simply never experienced the Reagan era and are now piecing together nostalgic news blips and sound bites from Netflix shows and the “retro” virus that continues to permeate all things. The ‘80s was a ten-year epoch that saw the brutal arrival of AIDS, the ascent of the crack epidemic, and the Eugenics-born smirk of Yuppies. A popular line of clothing was titled “Members Only,” which sums up the dualistic, VIP versus uncool ’80s all too well. If one needs to see the karmic whip crack of the decade, alive and in person, they need look no further than to the salt-bloat-driven, bilious, panting, and embarrassing tweets of Donald Trump, the de facto “Totally ‘80s” President. There is always the same kind of five kids who were popular and enjoyed every facet of high school—and the ‘80s was their fucking decade and now we have their President. The chickens have come home to roost and they are shitting on everything in sight.
Thankfully, for the pariahs and untouchables of that decade, they did witness and share in the undeniable and extreme evolution of two mighty forces: skateboarding and hardcore punk.
The new documentary, Blood and Steel: Cedar Crest Country Club, focuses on the give-and-take within the East Coast skate and punk rock communities, specifically in the city, nearbby suburbs, and hinterlands of Washington DC. Over the course of the film’s 77 minutes, director Michael Maniglia utilizes interviews with key figures in the skate and punk scenes, VHS home movies, TV news stories, and photos galore, to shed much light on a truly positive moment of '80s American history: youth in revolt and youth in the solution to get things done. While Blood and Steel is surely geared towards skateboarders, its recurring theme of building, sustaining, and even protecting community — in this case a “place of peace and rage” located in Centreville, Virginia — will strike a chord even with folks who never stepped foot on a skate deck.
Specifically, Blood and Steel focuses on the scene that merged around a monolithic, steel skate ramp (known as the "CCCC" or "Crest" ramp) located at the edges of the Cedar Crest Country Club, a semi-down-and-out expanse of 1,200 acres in the boonies of Centreville. From 1986-1991, the massive half-pipe ramp became a gathering point for the skate and hardcore punk tribes, where plenty of blood was sacrificed as skaters from disparate scenes tried to navigate what was surely the largest half-pipe of its day. The spot became a semi-cult gathering albeit one with no real leader. While the film drives home the DIY ethos of the skate/punk scene, the ramp came into a being through a surprising benefactor in the form of Gene Hooper.
The father of skater Mark Hooper, Gene owned the Cedar Crest Country Club and when his son mentioned wanting to build a ramp, his dad one upped the idea and oversaw construction of a giant structure that even featured a small apartment space built on one side. Although Gene Hooper passed away in 2003, his rightful place in the East Coast pantheon of skating is, in its own way, highlighted in the film. Gene is prominently featured in the latter part of the film through photos and stories. Mark describes how his dad was an ardent fan of his son and son’s friends devotion to skateboarding, continually upgrading the ramp, making Gene sound like undoubtedly one of the coolest parents in the history of suburban alienation.
Local skate parks, like Skateworld in Alexandria, existed but invariably closed shop. Skateboarders had mainly been hanging in places like DC’s Freedom Plaza and Malcom X Park, or up in Annandale (“A-Town”), dropping in to drained, puddle-and-leaf-filled swimming pools or destroying homemade ramps left and right from the hardcore, regional East Coast skate style. In the same way that hardcore punk chased punk rock into a cut-time blur, the skate tricks became more intense and fearless, bordering on self-abuse and suicidal, kamikaze assault.
Area skate punks were forced to become primitive carpenters, assembling together these kinds of Lord of the Flies-style half-pipe and quarter-pipe ramps out of with stolen plywood. Now with this ramp mecca, they could focus solely on mastering their skills.
Once Gene and Mark Hooper created the ramp, skaters immediately began navigating the seemingly endless, muddy country road that eventually led to the giant, rust-brown-colored ramp. This hidden spot that had been headquarters of a small cadre of just Hooper and his skate crew was soon swamped with skaters from as far afield as California, even Europe. Due to the sheer amount of people trying to get some ramp time, “snaking" — dropping in on skaters in the ramp to emphatically/aggressively show them the left and right exits on either side of the ramp — became common, if not required to score any session time.
Hardcore punk and skateboarding became thick as thieves early on in the American suburbs and Blood and Steel gives screen time to musicians like Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat, Fugazi), John Stabb (RIP) of Government Issue, and GWAR, who talk about the synergy and exchange of influence between music and skateboarding. During its heyday, DC bands like Bad Brains, Scream, and Fugazi played at the CCCC ramp. Yet by the time bands began regularly performing there, much of the action began to degrade into a kind of teenage Altamont (minus fatal stabbings) party place, with kids camping out in the surrounding woods that were filling with litter, throwing punk gig bashes where 50 kegs of cheap beer were knocked back.
While “The Crest” era has long since faded, 30-plus years later and that skate/punk summit in the Virginia woods still resonates. While perhaps the most well-known skateboarding star, Tony Hawk, is interviewed, recounting his brief-yet-still-affecting times dropping in on the steel ramp, Blood and Steel really shines through offering memories and anecdotes by a truly diverse group of skateboarders, including Bucky Lasek, Allen Losi, Tony Magnusson, Mike "Micro" Mapp, and Fred Smith, along with other underground musicians and ‘zine creators. Their shared and respective stories about that place and time are passionate, reverent, and emotional. They were protective of their scene and were protective of each other. These once-teenage kids who were united as collective outsiders are now all middle-aged men. Yet still decked out in Government Issue shirts and shorts (even bandages, ostensibly from some skate damage) they seem, to a person, permanently changed and guided by their ‘80s days and experiences at the CCCC.
In many ways, much of the story of Blood and Steel mirrors Northeast Florida’s decades-olds skateboarding scene. Not unlike the South Bay of California, within Jacksonville’s local beaches, skateboarding and surfing have always been twin, if not conjoined, vocations. Surfers seemed to express their loyalty, gather, and hang out at one particular surf shop. In the pre-smartphone age, if you were trying to track down a beaches surfer, you’d take a bike ride or skate to either Hixon’s, Hart’s, Sunrise or Aqua East. All of the shops were fairly humble, if not small, with shirtless, red-eyed employees blasting Led Zeppelin as some sleeping dog would lay snoring on its side, guarding the natty carpet. During this era, Aqua East was located in a low-budget, Atlantic Beach strip mall, featuring a badly painted, black-and-white sign and a dank, dimly light store that seemed like more of a head shop than anything else — a far cry from its current and longtime, two-story, surf-retail megalopolis.
Yet for diehards of ‘80s Duval skateboard culture, Kona Skatepark was (and really remains) the alpha and the omega. While Kona is now rightfully recognized as the world's oldest skatepark and featured in numerous historical accounts of skateboarding, circa 1981 and pre-Google Maps, just finding it could be a trick for the uninitiated. The park is tucked away on an innocuous side road in Arlington, and, 35 years ago, the vibe seemed more like a deliberately secluded compound than any skatepark open to the public.
Kona’s effect on local youth culture was undeniable, and for many, life altering. Even kids who didn’t skate (like this lame writer) headed to Kona to buy shoes: Vans (red and blue or black-and-white checkered) or Cools (tiger striped). In that pre-internet era, countless local kids first heard bands like the Germs, Black Flag, Minor Threat, and the Circle Jerks (including this grateful writer) by way of heavily dubbed, hastily scribbled mix tapes passed along through the skate-punk circuit. Local punkers The Creeps were the de facto beaches reps of the ‘80s HC/skate/suburban junta, more than one gig played at the site of—or probably even inside of—a half-pipe. For many kids (including this now-geezer writer), some of the more memorable '80s HC shows were headlined by The Creeps, with vocalist Joey Slam barking out anti-government/pro-beer-and-LSD tirades while the band -- guitarist Tim McIntyre, bassist Pat Lally, and drummer Danny Knieriemen-- tried to blast through their set in as quickly as possible and before the inevitable beams of blue light from the arriving police cars began sweeping across the fence of some Atlantic Beach backyard slam pit.
As Kona helped sustain (and arguably create) the local skateboarding scene, it also attracted countless visiting skaters, creating an exchange between locals and visitors. National skating overlords like Tony Alva and Christian Hosoi have been longtime repeat offenders at Kona, while the park has been consistently featured in skateboarding’s oldest publication, Thrasher Magazine.
In conjunction with Kona Skatepark’s 40th Anniversary Festival (which runs from June 22-25), Sun-Ray Cinema screens Blood and Steel: Cedar Crest Country Club this Wednesday, June 21. Kona owner Martin Ramos will be the master of ceremonies and the film’s director Michael Maniglia will be on hand, along with skate heavyweights and CCCC vets including Alva, Hosoi, Mike McGill, and Steve Van Doren.
Regardless of where their skateboarding roots were planted, many locals will surely see themselves in Blood and Steel. Just as many surely have met, if not skated with, both the people in the film and even those skaters who will be present at the screening.
Skateboarding, as Ian MacKaye points out in Blood and Steel, isn’t a sport but rather “a discipline.” While most disciplines are based on isolationist training — and skateboarding is, in its truest form, not really a “group” sport — almost ironically skateboarding is all about community. In focusing on the people who built, sustained, and now immortalized the CCCC ramp, Blood and Steel celebrates but one such scene, while even providing a blueprint for young and up-and-coming skate rats in how to build their own community from the ground — even a truly monstrous ramp — up.
Before “Skateboarding is Not a Crime” became a trendy sticker slapped on every flat surface, it was a call to arms.
In the ‘80s, cops would almost gleefully harangue, bust, and even arrest skateboarders for the heinous crime of grinding rails on the steps of a closed library or abandoned swimming pool. Flash forward 30 years later and some cops surely boast about their skateboarding scars. So who really won that war?