Days of clay wheels

Daily Sundial

I remember skateboards with clay wheels. It was the late 1960s, early 1970s, and James Brown, Wide World of Sports and the Vietnam War were on our televisions.

Like that other Southern California pastime, high-speed car chases, clay wheels underneath skateboards made a sound similar to a fleeing suspect’s vehicle after it runs over a spike strip and begins to “ride” on the rims, all screech and scratch.

My mother would say clay wheels were invented by a parent, who more than wanting the wheels to roll, wanted them to make a hell of a lot of noise, so sleep-deprived mothers busy inside the home making egg salad sandwiches on white bread, tortillas by hand or some new souffle recipe, would know exactly where their kids were outside, simply by listening.

My buddies and I were more into street roller-skating than skateboarding. We thought we were tough little 10-year-old roller-derby types, with our long-disheveled hair, cut-off shorts, tube socks and paper-thin T-shirts. We looked more Napoleon Dynamite than Los Angeles T-Birds.

My cousins, the Valdez brothers: older, smarter, a little meaner, they were good on skateboards. On family visits to their house in Hacienda Heights, I would follow them to the foot of the steepest hill, where they would quietly ascend to the top, knees and elbows thick with fresh scabs on top of old scabs, matching crew-cut hairdos, drops of sweat beading on their foreheads.

They would climb until they reached the top. My heart would pound from nerves as I watched my cousins, two ants on top of a hill with skateboards with clay wheels below their feet.

And then they would start their decent, gaining speed, faster and faster, screech-scratch, screech-scratch, until, in that moment between beauty and disaster-they would fly.

Rick Coca can be reached at

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