O’Mahoney Monday: Signal Hill 1975… The First X-Game

Signal Hill – The First X-Game – October 17, 1975.

Words by James O’Mahoney

1975… The U.S.S.A. was up and running and we were swamped. The whole world had just discovered the new magic rolling board and wanted to get on. Yes, this was another rad California-based sport. The world is paved and now they can wheelie in Ohio too. We got a call from the ABC David Frost TV show “Guinness Book of World Records”. They wanted in and wanted to know what we could provide. The obvious first was a World Skateboard Speed Record and I knew just where to go, to the steepest hill in Long Beach, Signal Hill. Signal Hill had been used for another speed event, “The Model T Hill Climb”. This event lasted a quarter of a century with people coming from all over the country to race up Signal Hill in their Model T Fords. Now we were going to race down the hill and establish a world skateboard speed record. I contacted all the skateboard manufacturers and gave them an invite. We didn’t know what to expect because this was way beyond a freestyle and slalom gig. This was a serious drop down a steep hill. I went to Signal Hill every day to figure out what we needed for this first time speed event. We got a few quiz calls, but the entry list was at zero. There were no speed racers. Nobody was really ready to take the big drop. I went and obtained the permits, insurance and necessary amount of required police to do traffic control for the event. The clock was ticking and we had a couple of entries, but it was obvious that the hill was tweaking everyone. We got reports of night riders doing beer runs down the hill and breaking stuff.

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The day came, October 17, 1975 and we had two real competitors show up, the Hitchcock brothers, Skitch and Gary, with their Stinger Bullett, which was a knee rider longboard with a little fairing on the nose to break the wind. The other competitor Guy Grundy came with his blue and white Bates motorcycle leathers, star-spangled helmet and a custom 5-foot Infinity gun skateboard. He looked real pro and he was going to ride traditional stand up. With ABC TV in position, we were ready to roll. Gary took his first run in the Stinger from half way up the hill. He made it to the flat and through the intersection where he hit a bump, did a wob, spun to the left and rolled like a wet dish rag. He laid there for a minute and then got up to continue, this time from the top. Everything went fine until he entered the intersection where he did the same spin and roll and hurt his collarbone. Now it was up to Guy, who cruised to the top roll in, feet together and arms stretched out like a crucifixion. When the hill dropped away, so did he, and he got into a perfect aerodynamic egg position and stayed true to his line with 47 MPH for the first run. The second run was it. More speed on the entry, early tuck and tighter egg: 50.2 MPH. The first official Skateboard World Speed Record was set and watched by millions on ABC television. This was the first X-Game!

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SIGNAL HILL SPEED RUN DOCUMENTARY

Skateboarding documentary, The Signal Hill Speed Run, does a fine job of chronicling some of the most dangerous downhill racing ever seen in skateboarding. When this movie comes to your town, or you have the chance to watch it, get on it. This is pure crash-up-demolition-derby-style skateboarding.

The Signal Hill Speed Run

Synopsis:  It was 1975 and skateboarding was hugely popular when Jim O’Mahoney, head of the U.S. Skateboard Assn., got a call from the producer of ABC’s television show, “The Guinness Book of World Records.” The producer wanted to shoot a skateboarding event for the show. As a child, O’Mahoney begged his parents to drive fast over the steepest section of Hill Street, an almost 30-degree incline in Signal Hill. O’Mahoney told the TV producer he could create a downhill skateboarding race on the steep Signal Hill incline, bordered by oil fields.

For the next four years, Signal Hill was the site of some of skateboarding’s hairiest races and most vicious wipeouts. The Signal Hill Speed Run, the world’s first downhill skateboard race, also prompted several developments in the sport, including street luge racing, fully enclosed skate-cars and the introduction of women. The contestants in Signal Hill’s downhill races remember them as wild, death-defying parties on wheels.

Before the first race in 1975, O’Mahoney got insurance, had police block off the streets and got a permit from a confused Signal Hill Chamber of Commerce that didn’t quite understand the event’s danger.

Surfer Guy Grundy remembers getting a call asking if he wanted to enter the first event. He quickly got to work practicing and finding a helmet and leathers for safety. The day of the event, it was clear that not everyone had prepared like Grundy. “One guy in shorts and a T-shirt looked down the hill and said there is no way I’m going down that. ‘You are absolutely nuts,’ ” Grundy recalls. “About six of us turned up to compete, but only two even tried” to race.

The other competitor, Garrison Hitchcock, fell and dislocated his shoulder. Grundy made it down without incident and his top speed of 50.25 mph earned him a trophy and entry into the Guinness Book of World Records.

The next year, a bigger crowd was on hand to witness a more competitive contest. Chuy Madrigal wouldn’t let a broken arm keep him out. He hid his cast from O’Mahoney under extra large gloves. In the race, he wiped out but didn’t re-injure his arm thanks to a custom fiberglass cast made by fellow competitor Dave Dillberg.

It was a race, but many spectators and contestants treated it more like a party. The crowd went wild when a drunk spectator in a bathing suit grabbed a plastic Big Wheel and shot the hill without incident, although his clocked speed of 36 mph kept him out of contention.

In a more dangerous moment, one stand-up skateboarder fell on the hill, and his aluminum skateboard shot out from under him and careened through the crowd, clipping a boy in the leg, and sticking in the side of a car. O’Mahoney had planned ahead and had ambulances at the ready, and they quickly whisked the boy to the hospital.

In the 1976 contest, San Pedro longshoreman Sam Puccio Jr., who skipped his daughter’s baptism to compete, laid on his back on a homemade skateboard fashioned out of a two-by-six plank and clocked 54 mph, claiming the $1,000 winner-take-all prize. Puccio is credited with being the first ever to compete in a street luge style.

To end the controversy, O’Mahoney created separate divisions, modified and stand-up, for the 1977 event. But more controversy ensued when Leslie Jo Ritzma wanted to sign up for the contest. “I was told we weren’t allowed to enter. I thought that was stupid,” she remembers.

After appealing, she was allowed to compete, but she’d never done any downhill skateboarding. She did well in the race and her 51 mph put her in the Guinness Book as the world’s fastest female skateboarder.

By 1977 the race had a new class of vehicles called skate-cars, futuristic-looking enclosed skateboards with friction brakes and parachutes for stopping. Steering wheels were not allowed. Dave Dillberg, a skate car racer, said that a winning skate-car driver needed a team of fabricators, pushers, designers and wheel and truck manufacturers.

Even with brakes, the skate-cars were much more dangerous than the stand-up skateboards. Terry Nails remembers a strong wind blowing dirt across the road before his run. He went anyway, and when he crossed the finish line, he had no chance of stopping because the dirt had made the brakes all but worthless.

“There were hay bales about 50 yards before the intersection. I passed through them like a lawn dart through a balloon,” Nails says. He was heading for a brick wall when he was hit by an old woman driving her car. “My skate-car spun until I wedged under a passing pickup,” he continued. The crowd thought it had witnessed the contest’s first fatality.

“I don’t remember a lot except they took me in an ambulance to the hospital,” Nails said. “There was a car accident on the freeway so the doctors didn’t have a chance to look at me.” So he checked himself out and went back to the hill with a bottle of Jack Daniels and a cane, fractured ribs and all.

By 1978, the race had grown and attendance was 5,000…

Photos from the premiere of Signal Hill Speed Run Movie courtesy of skatewhat.com.

http://www.skatewhat.com/WebPage-SignalHillSpeedRunMovie.html

 


 

ABOUT JAMES O’MAHONEY

JAMES O'MAHONEY 
INTERVIEW BY DIBI FLETCHER
PHOTOS BY JAMES O'MAHONEY,
SUSANNE MELANIE BERRY,
TERRI CRAFT, DAN LEVY
AND SCOTT STARR.

A TOUR OF "THE MUSEUM" 
AT THE SANTA BARBARA SURFING MUSEUM
WITH JAMES O'MAHONEY. 
VIDEO BY DAN LEVY

JAMES O'MAHONEY 
SKATEBOARDING HALL OF FAME
ICON AWARD ACCEPTANCE SPEECH
FILMING BY DAN LEVY
FILMING BY VANS DAVEY.

ABOUT JAMES O'MAHONEY
Here are just a few of James O'Mahoney's 
vast and admirable accomplishments...

1965- WON THE CITY SKATEBOARD SLALOM EVENT -ASPEN CO.

1974-UNITED STATES SKATEBOARD ASSOCIATION-FOUNDER

1975- WORLD SKATEBOARD ASSOCIATION – STANDARDIZED THE RULES FOR SKATEBOARD COMPETITION WORLD WIDE

1975- SKATEBOARD MAGAZINE-PUBLISHER

1975- FIRST SKATEBOARD TRICK BOOK- PUBLISHER

1975- SKATEBOARD HANDBOOK – PUBLISHER

1975- FIRST MT BALDY ASSAULT+WALDO AT MT BALDY THE MOST PUBLISHED SKATEBOARD PICTURE IN HISTORY OF THE SPORT -1ST TO SHOW YOU COULD GET PAST VERT. FEATURED IN OVER 50 BOOKS & MAGS

STEVES SOUTH BAY X CALIBER SKATEBOARD CHAMPIONSHIPS

FIRST WORLD INVITATIONAL-LONG BEACH ARENA

FIRST SKATEBOARD TOOL-ELEPHANT BRAND-CO DESIGNED

FIRST SKATEBOARD SHOE-UNIROYAL-DESIGNED

FIRST BOWL CHAMPIONSHIPS-RUNWAY SK8PRK

FIRST VERT CONTEST-RUNWAY SK8PRK

FIRST PAST VERT CONTEST-SUPERBOWL 1 so. bay

FIRST BANK FREESTYLE-RUNWAY SKATEPARK

FIRST BANK SLALOM CONTEST-RUNWAY SKATEPARK

FIRST CALIFORNIA STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS-CHARLOTTE

FIRST CITY CHAMPIONSHIPS-HUNTINGTON BEACH, SANTA BARBARA, VENTURA, LONG BEACH ETC.

GUINNESS BOOK WORLD RECORD-SIGNAL HILL SPEED RUN-4 YEARS

GUINNESS BOOK WORLD RECORD-SKATEBOARD HIGH JUMP

GUINNESS BOOK WORLD RECORD-SKATEBOARD BARREL JUMP

GUINNESS BOOK WORLD RECORD- 360’S

DERBY DOWNS SPEED RUN-AKRON OHIO

FIRST SKATEBOARDING RONALD MCDONALD-I WAS THE 3RD RONMC

FIRST SKATEBOARD FOR ICE-MADE

FIRST WORLD MASTERS INVITATIONAL -NEW YORK NASSAU COLISEUM

EAST COAST SKATEBOARD CHAMPIONSHIPS-CHARLOTTE N.C

CBS CHALLENGE OF THE SEXES- ROBIN ALAWAY VS CHRIS CHAPUT

CBS CHALLEENGE OF THE NETWORK STARS-GRIZZLY ADAMS VS CHRISTY MC NICHOL

FIRST SKATEBOARD SAFTY FILM- WITH RAPHER JOHNSON-OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST

FIRST SKATEBOARD SHOE-UNIROYAL -KEDS

SKATEBOARDING AS AN EVENT IN THE ITA PRO TRACK TOUR(OLYMPIC MEDALIST). THIS WAS THE FIRST PRO SKATEBOARD SLALOM

ADDING SPARKS AND SKYROCKETS TO SKATEBOARD-LIFE MAG 76 YEAR IN PICTURES

1975 FIRST TO SKATEBOARD THROUGH THE TUNNEL OF FIRE

UNDEFEATED AT DEL MAR

2004 FIRST WORLD RECORD WALL RIDE ORGANIZER WITH THE U.S.S.A. / W.S.A. FOR THE GUINNESS WORLD BOOK OF RECORDS

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JAMES O’MAHONEY INTERVIEW 
BY SUSAN MELANIE BERRY, TERRI CRAFT, 
C.R. STECYK III AND SCOTT STARR

“O’Mahoney is one of the most interesting people on the planet. If you’ve had the pleasure of meeting “O”, consider yourself charmed. For those who haven’t, allow me to summarize… James O’Mahoney is ornery, sarcastic, incredibly intelligent, unique, witty, reserved, charming, understated, humble and respectful. He is a surfer, skateboarder, hang glider, pilot, collector, photographer, race car driver, stunt man, safari survivor, patriot, adventurer, competitor and a world class waterman. “O” is also one of the first skateboard media moguls, the keeper of the great Pete Peterson surfboard, king of the U.S.S.A., proprietor of the legendary Signal Hill, proud owner of the “Apocalypse Now” surfboard and a rebel with too many causes. He’ll tell you a story so fanciful and outrageous, that you’ll never forget the lesson contained within. He reminded me that the handing down of history and tradition is a vital and important duty. Here’s to “O” – a true hero.” – WORDS BY TERRI CRAFT

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JAMES O’MAHONEY INTERVIEW BY DIBI FLETCHER

“James O’Mahoney is a fascinating person to talk with. Whether it’s about his vast range of endeavors or fearless pursuit of pleasure, you’re instantly caught up in his enthusiasm for life that’s extremely intoxicating. As a life long collector of anything that caught his imagination, you get the feeling when talking to him that he’s gathering information from you as he would on a scavenger hunt as you scramble through the memories of more than half a century. Every time we speak it’s like discovering all over again a unique unexpected pleasure in someone that’s managed through all the ups and downs to really stay stoked and maintains the free spirit that most of us lose along the way. His myriad of accomplishments and the images that he’s captured over the years are a stunning affirmation of living life on the edge, and that’s something to be admired.” – WORDS BY DIBI FLETCHER

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