Welcome to BuildARamp.com, my name is Brandon Cardone. I am the author of "The Beginner's Guide To Building Ramps." For those of you who are interested, I want to share with you a story I wrote back in college that I feel reflects who I am, The title to this story was inspired by an old skateboard video "Useless Wooden Toys," Those of you who have been skating since the early 90's may remember it.
"Useless Wooden Toy" By: Brandon Cardone
"Mom, Dad, I want a skateboard for Christmas." I
was nine years old when I had eagerly asked for this cool new
toy. Little did I know asking for it would change the course
of my life, completely and indefinitely. I took to skateboarding
like a fish to water and I don't recall ever having trouble
riding one; I just knew it was fun.
After a few years passed I had almost forgotten about skating, and that I even owned a skateboard. I was close to moving beyond what most adults call, "a stage in life." That is, until my dad moved into a house on Cleveland Avenue, in the small town of Elmira, New York. You know one of those towns that you can be driving down the highway, blink and miss it.
I was walking up my new street, checking out the new territory when I met Mike Fitch for the first time. Mike was riding a skateboard off a make shift jump ramp he had built. I remember walking up to him and saying, "Can I try?" After all, I'd already known how to ride one. I took his board and pushed as fast as I could towards that jump ramp. I wanted to show this kid I wasn't a wussy, so I went on no holds barred.
I went off that ramp and pulled the board as hard as I could to get high in the air. Only I had pulled too hard and found myself whirling to my back, the ground rushing up to meet me. All I could do is think to myself, "WOW!" I had slammed for the first time in my life and I liked it! More importantly, I had met the friend I would some day consider a brother.
Mike was a kid that once tied one end of a rope to a tree and the other end to him self. Then got on his bike and took off as fast as he could. You can guess what happened next, but he got up and did it again, laughing the whole time. I have always known Mike to be a stunt man, an innovator, someone to look up to, and always up for making you laugh.
For the next few months, I started hanging around Mike and a few of the locals in the neighborhood like Kevin, Mike's brother, and Brian Cullen; a red headed kid with a temper and an attitude. They all had way better skateboards than I did. My board was very old and on the verge of breaking. I was always bothering them saying, "Can I try your board?" or " How do you ollie?" Then Christmas rolled around and I got my first real skateboard from an actual skate shop, not just one of those K-mart specials. From that point on, I was labeled a "skater" and no one could take that from me, or so I thought.
All through high school, I'd bring my board and put it in my locker. Right after school, Mike and I would skate around town. But we would soon begin to realize a simple skateboard that had kindled our self-expression, identity, creativity, independence, and most importantly, our way of life was in fact illegal.
How could this be? Why was something so innocently fun, wrong in society? Jocks would scream "Skate or die dude." We were kicked out of every place we would ever try to go skate, usually by some second rate rental cop who's pissed at the world because he was too dumb to become a real cop. Not to mention the harassment we got from real cops like fines, getting our boards taken, or worse being handcuffed. We were feared by the elderly, and ridiculed by our peers. I wasn't labeled a skateboarder, in those days I was labeled a menace to society in everyone's eyes!
The criminalization of skateboarding effected skateboarders everywhere, even today no matter where I go I still see NO SKATEBOARDING signs everywhere, usually right next to a very worn away, wax soaked ledge. It forced us to venture to new towns, or to build our own things to skate on. So naturally Mike and I had no choice but to learn how to build ramps growing up. I even remember going out in the middle of the night to "salvage" pieces of lumber at construction sites. Eventually we started building ramps for other kids in town who could afford it. Our reputation grew and everyone knew we were the ones you want to talk to about building ramps.
There were actually a few good things about skateboarding being illegal. It made me question authority and made me take action for something I believed to be right and to prove everyone wrong. Most importantly I learned how to think for myself. When I was in tenth grade Mike and I started a local skateboard magazine titled "It's called stuff," in hopes of spreading the good word of skateboarding to our community. After the first issue was released, I guess we pissed a lot of people off. One very pissed off reader was our fine Mayor Hare, whom we had talked to in person about finding a place that we could "perform our acts of childishness." as he himself so eloquently put it. We put together a presentation with fund-raisers; charity drives and even donation drop offs. It was all in vein and our cries for help sadly fell upon deaf ears. Shortly after this meeting our next issue was printed. I had written an article about the mayor. It was about how he would rather pay thousands of dollars for a bunch of Russian ballerinas to come and dance around than support his communities' youth and future. I had also drawn a comic of the mayor being crushed by a huge brick, with him screaming for help. There were a bunch of skaters rolling by and the caption said, "Sorry we have more important things to do like skate."
When kids started buying our second issue and bringing them home for mom and dad to read, I guess it outraged a lot of important people in town, not to mention the mayor. The one single issue that was supposed to help people to understand us only removed us even further from acceptance. After that, it was impossible to skateboard anywhere in town.
Soon after, I was arrested for skateboarding, coincidence, I think not. Can you believe it? I got busted for riding a skateboard in an empty parking garage. As I was being cuffed and stuffed, you could literally see a drug deal going down right across the street. I was more of a criminal than a drug dealer was. The cops took my board and threw me in a cell for five hours before they even called my dad. When they gave me my board back it had been broken in two and they cracked my trucks, like they ran over it with their cars. The cops had broken my board, but not my spirit. I had to stand before a judge and listen to him yell at me for being a troublemaker, a menace to society, and that "I should stop using that useless wooden toy and do something constructive with my time." My punishment was to write an essay and draw a picture depicting the "wrongs of skateboarding," and then get it published in the local newspaper. You can guess, that I again pissed a lot of people off.
At this point in my life, I was full of rage for what had happened. I started to focus my attention to skateboard magazines like Thrasher and Transworld. These magazines became my bible. I would read about a beautiful place where skating was as normal as walking down the street, where it was accepted like baseball and soccer moms. I saw pictures of skaters in a far away land called California. I knew it was where I had to go.
Mike was a year ahead of me in school, so I convinced my principle to let me double up my classes to graduate early, which meant going to summer school but I didn't care. I was determined to move to California. I graduated at the age of sixteen to pursue my hopes of freedom and dreams of sponsorship.
So there I was 16 years old, strait out of high school, and saying goodbye to my dad and my crying little sisters at the greyhound bus station. Mike and I were on a bus bound for San Jose, California, a grueling three-day trip. Armed with my board, a thousand dollars in my pocket, a backpack full of clothes, and a good friend to share the adventure with. I waved goodbye and didn't look back, I couldn't believe it! I was on my way.
California was everything I hoped it would be and more. It was like living in those magazines I used to read in detention. Pros were all around me, skate parks were everywhere, and there were lots of good friends, and good times. I was in skateboarder heaven and I finally felt normal.
Skating everyday since I was like ten or eleven years old, began to take its toll
on my body. I don't remember a day since my first slam on the little jump ramp
Mike had built, that I didn't experience some kind of pain. It comes with
skating; a cut, a bruise, a sprain, and a broken limb were all part of the skateboarding
way of life. With learning how to skate also came self-discipline, trial and error,
learning how to fall, getting up, and trying again.
Skating has always been there for me. When I stood on a skateboard, it became an extension of my body. The whole world and the problems in it would melt away. So naturally, I was compelled to give back what skating had given me through the years. I wanted to give kids a place to go where they were accepted. I wanted to build a skate park.
When I moved back to Binghamton, New York, I met Scott Patrillo, who became another good friend. He knew of a guy with dollar signs in his eyes who was talking about building a park. Insurance was the hardest and most expensive thing to deal with, but we got it, and then all we had to do was find a place to build it. Finally a lease was signed to the old Ozalid building in Johnson City, New York. A week later there was more wood piled in that building than I could have ever imagined, it truly was amazing to see.
Four dedicated fellow skaters began building a destiny that stemmed from years of harassment. We worked eighteen hours a day for six weeks to get it built by the deadline. In early summer, we opened East Coast Terminal with its thirty thousand square feet of ramps, ledges, and even a pro skate shop. A dream had finally become reality. Kids come from all over the world to skate this park like, Canada, England, Denmark, Japan, and Australia. We've had tons of pros come skate like, Mike Valley, Kerry Getz, and Bam Margera to name a few.
It's still hard to describe the feeling of accomplishment I have walking into the skate park every morning. I walk past the graffiti on the wall, from our graffiti contest, and then I start to turn on the lights from the breaker box. "Click, Click, Click" the lights start to buzz, and I just stand there and watch as the 16 year struggle to make some sense of my life fade into perfect view. With a smile on my face I say to myself, “I’m sure glad I asked for that useless wooden toy."