This man is a legend in the long distance skating community. He more or less created the sport in the 1970s as he led multiple crossings of the United States by skateboard. A jack of all trades when it comes to wheels (pun intended) he’s held some quirky world records and even ran a skateboarding museum out of his longtime homebase, Morro Bay California. You can learn more about Jack from his episode of LDPCast.
This month’s editorial theme is “challenges” so we talked a man who is no stranger to challenging what is possible in the realm of skateboarding. Currently, he’s organizing another trip, this one aiming to set the benchmark for the fastest known time crossing the USA by board. This time however, he’s not skating but handling the logistics enabling a selection of the top riders to go as fast as they can. Without further ado, we give you Jack Smith.
First and foremost, give us the lowdown about the trip.
About a year ago I began writing ‘With No Direction Home” a feature film script inspired by all five of my skateboard crossings of America, but mainly by the 1976 . The film is set in 1976. It’s a coming of age story about three small town teenagers pushing their skateboards across America in 1976. In a time before cellphones and Google maps, Jack, Jeff and Mike set out on an epic cross country journey discovering an America they only know from textbooks and the nightly news. Before even beginning their adventure they are confronted by family and friends, who think them foolhardy to embark on such a ride. Once the push begins they are soon dealing with poor road conditions, vehicles flying by at high speed driven by hostile drivers, and law enforcement who see them as nothing more than wheeled hippies.
Jack and team on their 1984 trip
So while I was working on the script, I would often find myself reading through the journals I kept in 1976 and 1984. I started daydreaming about half fast a group of modern elite long distance skateboarders using the leapfrog relay method could make the crossing. I began thinking about some of the long distance skaters I’ve come to know and wondering if they would be up for an attempt to set the Fastest Known Time. I decided what it wouldn’t hurt to ask. The four skaters I contacted were Paul Kent, Miles Kipper, Andy Andras and Rick Stubblefield. Much to my delight they all responded that they would like to be involved.
When is it happening and what kind of route are you taking?
On June 20th, the team will attempt to set the Fast Known Time for a skateboarding relay across America. They will start in Williamsburg, Virginia and finish in most liley Newport, Oregon. My son, Dylan Smith, who was on the 2003 team, along with myself will be the support team. One thing we are switching up is the direction of the crossing, all my previous pushes have been west to east, this push it will be east to west. Why? When you skate from west to east, it’s not a whole lot of fun once you reach the mid-east due to the denser population and increased vehicular traffic. Some people have pointed out, and correctly so, that the prevailing winds blow west to east. However on all four my west to east pushes we have usually encountered headwinds when crossing the Great Plains.
How long do you expect it to take?
I think this group of skaters can make the crossing in 14-16 days. Of course there are many variables; road surface, weather and road construction to name a few.
How can we support?
By following and sharing the push on social media. Maybe shoot a message to our sponsors Loaded, Orangatang, Riptide, SUPSKATE and Vibram thanking them for supporting us. Originally we weren’t going to have a cause, but I recently did a podcast interview with InvisbleDisabilities.org about my previous pushes and after learning more about their mission we decided to use the push as a way to share their message and hopefully raise some funds for them. Right now we really looking for some help finding a rental vehicle.
What was your biggest challenge on those trips decades ago?
In 1976 we had no idea what we were doing, we sort of made it up as we went along. No cellphones or Google Maps, just a road atlas. Of course the gear we used back then was far different than what LDP guys are riding today. Our boards were less than 30 inches long, narrow trucks and 57mm first generation urethane with very little rebound. Bad roads and roads with no shoulders were a constant problem.
What’s your biggest challenge today?
At the moment we are having a heck of a time finding a suitable support vehicle to rent. Route planning is always difficult.
In all of your cross country treks, tell us about the most challenging day?
Three out of four my pushes have taken us over 9,000’ Granite Pass in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. It’s about a 5,000’ climb over 19 miles, all uphill with no breaks in the climb. I like to say it’s the worst day and also the best day. The most challenging day had very little to do with actual skating.
July 8th, 1984 but we'll save that story for the end.
If old you could get a tip from present day you about planning for a long distance skate journey, what would it be?
Try to find as many roads as possible with shoulders, even better plan the route to take advantage of bike paths. Also, keep in mind that a skater will always lose a battle with a car or truck. Don’t let your ego keep you from picking up your board and walking in dicey situations.
Riding on open roads for thousands of miles is relatively dangerous regardless of your skill level. As someone who has probably experienced it all on the highway, what pointers do you recommend for people planning long treks to stay safe?
Yield to vehicles even if you have the right of way. Wear bright colors. Smile and wave to motorists. Skate as far to the right of the shoulder as you can. Try to keep your skating motion smooth and consistent so as to not freak out drivers.
Jack working uphill on his last trip
Tell us about your team for this trip, how did they come together for this?
As I mentioned at the start I just got to thinking about how fast a four person team of elite skaters could make the crossing. So I reached out to Andy, Miles, Rick and Paul, they didn’t hesitate to sign on. I have known Andy and Paul since 2011, but have never met Rick or Miles in person. I’m really looking forward to getting to know them.
Left: Andrew Andras, MIddle: Miles Kipper Right: Some other guy
Paul Kent is no stranger to crossing countries by board
Colorado-based Rick Stubblefield
How do you plan to keep them “roadworthy” for the duration of the trip?
Lots of hydration, good grub and rest!
Most memorable skate session you’ve ever had?
In 1977 I had a backyard “permission” pool session with Stacy Peralta in Morro Bay. A close second would be racing my Vetter Streamliner skatecar at Signal Hill in 1978.
In honor of May's Warm Up Challenge. Please tell us about your most challenging day on one of your skatetrips.
The most challenging day had very little to do with actual skating.
July 8th, 1984...
The day began with rain, making for a late start. We we’re just outside Yellowstone National Park when we began skating two hours later than we usually did. Once inside the park we knew sooner or later we would be pulled over and told skateboarding was illegal in national parks. Sure enough about nine miles in Paul Dunn got the heave-ho. So we made like tourists and checked out the sites including Old Faithful, which took us a couple of tries to see, we kept missing the eruption.
We made our way to the eastern exit of the park and started skating towards Cody, Wyoming. After a couple hours of skating Paul, Gary Fluitt and I were in the van, driving to catch up with Bob Denike, as we were approaching a bridge we see a hysterical woman in the middle of the road, flagging us down. We quickly pull over and the woman asks if we’re the ambulance, as our van was decorated with sponsor logos and other info, it would be easy to think it was an ambulance from a distance.
She is barely able to speak, screaming that she thinks her daughter has drowned. About that time a cowboy looking guy comes scrambling up the creek bank with a three year old girl in his harms. We tell them to get in the van and we will drive them to the hospital which is 40 miles away. The woman is so shaken that she says something like, “but we will get your van all muddy”.
The mom, cowboy and daughter are loaded into the van and Paul takes the wheel and hauls ass towards Cody, passing Bob along the way. Seeing this, Bob, who has no idea what’s going on turns around and skates back to find Gary and I.
At some point Paul see a sheriff’s car coming towards him, so he blocks the road with our van forcing the sheriff car to stop. His thinking was that the sheriff could get the family to the hospital faster. Just as the little girl is being transferred to the sheriff’s vehicle she stops breathing. As CPR is being administered on the roadside, a doctor who is heading to Yellowstone on a family vacation comes upon the scene and offers his services, once the girl is breathing again; the doctor accompanies the family to hospital in the sheriff’s car.
Paul then drives back to meet the three of us skating towards Cody. He fills us in and we resume our skating rotation, ending up in Cody just before sundown. Our first stop is the hospital, where we run into the girl’s mother who tells us her daughter is being transferred to Salt Lake City via helicopter.
The next morning we pick up a newspaper and read the article about the incident, there is a short mention about our involvement…”four young men who are skateboarding across America were instrumental in getting the girl to the hospital”. It was such a casual mention, as if people were skateboarding across the country all the time.
There was another article in the paper that morning about us skateboarding across the USA. In those pre-internet days, we would give reporters a self-stamped, self-addressed envelope to send us a copy of the article they wrote about our ride. When we returned home, we found a copy of the article from the Cody newspaper about us; the reporter had also included the article about the little girl.
Over the years, we would share the story about that day when telling people about our 1984 skateboard trek across America. Adding that we never knew whatever became of the little girl.
End of story…until now.
A few months back Gary Fluitt was cleaning out his basement and came across the article about the young girl. While reading the article Gary realizes that the girl’s family name is included in the article and it mentions that they were from the Salt Lake City area. Detective Fluitt decides to investigate via Google. He soon finds a young woman with the same name living in a small Utah town, he is even able to find an email address….
On Thu, Sep 20, 2012 at 1:16 PM, Gary Fluitt wrote:
My name is Gary, and when I was 20 years old, my path crossed with a girl who has the same name as you, who nearly drowned in Wyoming. Wondering if that was you? Did you nearly drown when you were 3 years old, in Wyoming, on July 8, 1984?
The reason I ask is that my buddies and I were on this weird skateboarding journey across the U.S. that summer, and we happened upon this scene of a little girl who was nearly drowned in the creek that fed the Shoshone river. Our support van was used to take this girl toward Cody in an attempt to save her life but we never found out what happened to her. I hope it is you, so this all has a happy ending.
I found a newspaper clipping as I was cleaning up today, and I thought I might try to find the little girl on the web. Was it you?
Random skateboarder from 1984
And the email reply he received…
It was kind of surreal getting your e-mail, especially because I haven't checked this account in months and had actually planned on closing it down. I am most definitely the little girl, and I'm happy to say that I'm doing wonderfully. With the help of God and wonderful people like yourself I got out of the hospital with no ill effects from the drowning, and none have shown up since. I'm a journalist at a small-town weekly newspaper in Utah, and my first novel will be published next spring. No husband or kids yet, but I've still got plenty of time for that.
Thank you for helping out my family all those years ago. Thank you also for thinking of me, and for caring enough to try to find out how I might be doing now. I hope that your life is as blessed and generally cheerful as mine is.
Gary sent me the above email exchange, after reading it, I attempted to read it aloud to my wife, I managed a sentence or two before beginning to cry. When I think of all the things that lined up that day to put on us in that place at exactly the right time.
Good Luck To Jack & His Team!
We look forward to seeing how Jack, Andy, Miles, Paul and Rick take on the cross-America challenge. Around the world, the members of IDSA are cheering you on.
Words & Photos by Jack Smith
Edit by Scott Zee