At any skatepark around San Diego on any given day, it’s a challenge to find someone who grew up skating on steel or clay wheels.
But at Linda Vista Skateboard Park in September during the heat wave, there were dozens who did, and who fondly recalled when urethane wheels were invented in the early 1970s.
Urethane wheels changed the game. They transformed skateboarding from a fun pastime invented by California surfers in the 1950s into a serious professional sport that made it to the Olympics in 2021.
These skaters aren’t reciting from a history book. They lived it. Now in their 50s and 60s, they are pioneers who grew up in Southern California alongside the sport. They call their group Deathracer413, a nod to staying young and outrunning the inevitable.
Doug Marker, a 61-year-old former pro from San Diego, started the group in 2020 with the goal of skating every park in the region. What started as a few buddies traveling around on the weekends has grown into a club of 50 or so that includes former and aspiring pro skaters, hobbyists, a couple of women, the occasional kid and even a legally blind member. (He shreds.)
On Oct. 15, they’ll reach an important milestone — their 100th road show, which they’ll celebrate at Encinitas Skate Plaza aka Poods Park.
“The Deathracer slogan is ‘One step ahead, one step from dead,’” Marker said on the San Diego News Fix Podcast in August. “It’s all coming for us and we’re all gonna have our day, but we’re gonna keep moving and keep ahead of it, and have as much fun as we possibly can.”
Blasting punk rock, cracking beers and dropping into pools each Saturday is now a tradition. Sure, it can be dangerous — member John Uhl rattled off a list of injuries: hyperextended knee, blown-out shoulder, blown-out ankle, bad wrists — but that’s what makes it fun.
“I have friends that are 65, and they’re still rolling along at a high level,” Marker said. “Don’t think that we’re just riding out in front of our house on the sidewalk. We’re dropping into 11-foot pools, we’re still making maneuvers and getting stuff done. A lot of young kids are amazed at the level of skating we’re doing.”
Plus, it makes them feel young themselves.
Jeff Voegeli, best known as “Mogs” for his love of skating moguls, is 65 and got his start at Carlsbad Skate Park, which opened in 1976 and is the second oldest in the world after Surf City in Tucson, Ariz. He said these meetups make him feel 6 years old again. David Skinner, 58, described the group as “a bunch of fifth graders with credit cards” to buy any gear they want.
In a way, they said, skateboarding is even better now that they’re older.
“Back when we were kids, it was all about competition, who was better than everyone else,” Tommy Weatherby, 58, said. “Now everybody pushes everybody and it’s just … more freeing. It’s just rad. There’s no pressure. There’s no competition. Everybody just wants to have fun.”
Hilary Kaehler is 43, one of the youngest in the group and also one of the only women. “I was looking for a group of people, nonjudgmental and just fun, easygoing, and these were the guys that let me come in and showed me some love and encouraged me,” she said. “They’re just a great group of people.”
Though fun is a high priority, belonging to the group has meant much more to some.
Skinner, who survived Stage 4 throat cancer, calls Deathracer a lifesaver. Primo, who goes by a moniker and grew up in Venice Beach with the legendary Dogtown crew, says the group helped him change his lifestyle for the better. They accepted an “LA guy” with open arms, he said.
And that’s kind of the point. It’s a huge draw of skateboarding: the community. They skate every Saturday, but they also bond by sharing stories and challenges.
“Skateboarders are all like family,” said Chris Boggeln, 50, who got back into skateboarding five years ago after realizing something was missing in this life. “It doesn’t matter what color you are, what gender you are, it doesn’t matter anything. If you roll on four wheels, you’re family.”
Lance Smith, a lifelong surfer, skater and photographer, echoed that sentiment. “Everywhere you go, it’s a brotherhood,” he said. “You can go skate in Arizona, or Oklahoma or go back east on the East Coast, and they’ll all just welcome you with open arms because you’re a skateboarder.”
In his lifetime, Smith, 72, has seen the sport grow in form and style, from races to pools to freestyle to street to slalom. He’s seen it fade and almost die out in the 1980s before having a big resurgence in the ‘90s and now attracting women and young people who are more talented than ever.
“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Smith said. “I saw it all.”
When a skater becomes a Deathracer, Marker presents them with an envelope. Inside is a patch and short letter that ends with, “No age restrictions, no physical limitations, just will, passion and imagination.”
Each Saturday, the group is out there at a San Diego skate park living those words.
That’s what it means to be a Deathracer.