By Colin Walsh Photos by Matt Wieland and Iggie Walsh
Q: How long have you been skateboarding?
Matt: I started skateboarding seriously in 1985. Bought my first board from Pet Cetera in downtown Davis. Pet Cetera was a pet store that sold bikes and skateboards on the side. At that time, Davis had several places to buy skateboards and equipment. There was The Davis Sport Shop, Mountain Sports, Pet Cetera, and Brett For Sports over on Covell.
My first board was a Sims Blaster. Our favorite spot to skate was Whaleback Park because it had a circle embankment. It was our neighborhood skatepark and still kind of is. The skate location there hasn't been taken of by the city. The wood is falling off the roof overhang and the cement is cracked and uneven.
Every time we ask city workers to move the picnic table that’s been chained in the middle of it they tell us that we have a skatepark we should be skating at. That's the ignorance of people who just don't know what's up. Skateboarding is a way of life. The skateboard itself can be seen as a tool or example of how to progress with other things in life. How do you fight your fear? Do you face it?
Q: Why has Skating endured?
Matt: Skateboarding teaches people valuable lessons in how to conquer their fear usually by experiencing that they can overcome obstacles with the right support. On top of that, there is all sorts of different skateboarding happening out there these days. The longboard riders who do the cruising or downhill speed skating.
The old school riders my age (45 through 60) like grinding curbs, skating empty swimming pools, build their own ramps in their own yards or driveways, or seek out lone ditches waiting to be discovered. The younger generation (15 to 35) who like smaller popsicle boards for technical tricks tend to move slower but are slowly embracing the return of the old school ways. Fast and slashing like true cement surfers which is in truth what all of us skaters are.
Q: I understand you're making a movie, what is it about?
Matt: A documentary about the skateboard and punk rock history in the 1980s here in Davis. It's about the skaters that were here at that time that moved on to bigger and better things. Some became Professional Skateboarders, some became artists, musicians, film makers Teachers, business owners, ect. It's about the skateboard culture that thrived with outside influences from Sacramento and the Bay Area. How the skateboarding community came together from all parts of town for competitions, sessions, and/or just to have fun and skate with as many people as you could.
The skating and Punk scene would gather together at shows almost weekly or at least once a month so we all knew each other. The doc is being made to educate younger and outside persons of what went on here in the 80s and that most of it...is gone.
A preview of the Matt's upcoming movie "Cowtown Underground" is available on Youtube.
Q: Does it include footage from the Davis Ditch?
Matt: the Davis ditch was discovered after the period that I'm documenting. It does have footage in it however because I get interviewed at that location for the film.
Q: What is the Davis Ditch?
Matt: The ditch that resides next to the train tracks, alongside of the highway 80?
Q: On the edge of the proposed ARC Business Park. That’s the one.
Matt: It's the last of the Ditches in the area that hasn't been taken away. Sits east of Mace blvd. in a remote setting of dirt fields which has always given feeling of escape from the city. There used to be a ditch where the Dancing Pig center is now near 113. That one was demolished long ago. There May still be another one way out on UCD property by Putah Creek near where 113 turns into 80 west but was covered in dirt last time I checked.
The Davis Ditch as we know it today is a " in the know" location for serious skateboarders seeking true adventure. It attracts skaters from all over Sacramento, Yolo and Solano Counties. The ditch has gone through many different transitions over the years. It's been repaved and is much smoother now than 20 years ago. At one end, is a round water spout about a foot and a half in diameter. This is a main obstacle that is totally thrilling the carve over again and again while skating the ditch. At the other side is a dead end with nothing but weeds and dirt. For years skaters have built things of their own onto the ditch.
Q: How long have you been skating there?
Matt: The ditch was found by a group of skaters from Sacramento. So it later got out that Sac skaters were skating outside Davis at the ditch I think in the early 90s. Mike Nease brought me out there in 91 or 92 for the first time. Sacramento skaters had devoured the place and brought parking blocks and had added cement extensions to one of the sides. It was totally dangerous and we loved it.
Q: Can you tell me about a particularly great memory you have from out there?
Matt: Jason Steenbergen who owns Ink Monkey Graphics, used to own Screaming Squeegee in the early 90s. He hired me to print t shirts for him full time. I was 21 in 1993 and thought I had it made in the shade. Have lots of great memories skating out there at the ditch after work. Meeting other skaters who just got off work and wanted to skate.
I think Jason went out there with me at least once. It was just a great gathering place. I’d show up covered in t shirt ink and 15 different prints on my shirt from work and people would just laugh cause we knew each other. Some people would bring food, sit down and watch the sun go down. It was perfect.
Q: Who skated out there? Who skates out there now?
Matt: Back then Sacramento skaters. Most notably Ricky Windsor, Sam Cunningham, possibly NMen.
Now…. I've seen or heard of skaters from all over that love that ditch. Vacaville, Winters, Dixon, Rio Vista, Woodland, Yuba City, all over Sacramento, as far away as Auburn. I’m sure it's been in magazines and skate videos somewhere so people of all ages are interested in at least seeing it..
Q: Why do you skate there and not at the Davis Skate Park in Community Park?
Matt: The place gives a freedom of creativity to build onto or take away add-ons. The location offers beautiful sunsets and a great view of the Northern California flat land fields. An important thing to mention is privacy. Skaters don't want spotlights on them or to be placed in the middle of a park to a be spectacle for families ride by and watch. No. We want to be far away from on lookers.
We want a place that’s going to build good community with skaters far away from gangs, drugs, or violence. A place where we can push each other and get better at the sport. These days progressive skateboarders push for what’s called DIY skateparks in all sorts of cities and towns all over the country and hopefully, the world. They are skater made cement parks that are controlled and maintained by the local skateboarding community.
In this day and age also, California has some of the best skateparks that are professionally made by skateboarders for professional skateboarding. This process of availability gives the beginner the chance to progress up into the advanced field of professional or competitive skateboarding.
Q: But what about the Davis Park?
Matt: The Davis skatepark, on the other hand, isn't skater made by skateboarders. Transitions have lumps in it and aren't properly executed, nor does it have proper pool vert. Because of this, skaters avoid the Davis Skatepark and go to better ones in Sacramento, Dixon, Fairfield, and soon to be a skater made skatepark in Woodland. Woodland gets the picture and Davis doesn't.
Having a Skateboarding community is very important to the skaters in any city or town. Having a proper skateboarding facility, that's a proper professional skateboarding grade, opens doors to better skaters visiting. If theres more people visiting then eventually, there can be events or contests that should profit the city by bringing a new sporting interests here.
I'll mention also that this is the first Olympics that skateboarding will be featured in this summer. So there is a demand for kids and adults to get better, even at a professional level and really, The Davis Skatepark doesn't offer that so we go looking for other places.
Q: So, what did you do instead?
Matt: We found things to skate that wasn't made for skating. Got chased or harassed by owners of apartments, restaurants, hotels, city workers at local parks, security guards, police, you name it. That became part of the thrill. Once they built the park however, The City assumed that the skaters would all just go there from then on but that wasn’t the case. Just because there's a skatepark doesn't mean that the skaters aren't going to want to skate everywhere else.
Bottom line? The city of Davis needs better skateboarding facilities especially if they continue to expand the city limits. Not only do we need a real Skatepark, a new skatepark, we need several skateparks around the different parts of the city. Davis has one of the worst reviews in California as far as skateparks go. A good example of what we need here is something like the Power Inn Skatepark in Sacramento. Several small bowls and several large vertical pools so skaters can start with the small and work their way to the big.
Q: What would it mean to you if the Davis Ditch were to close?
Matt: I don't know if it would mean anything. I don't ask The City of Davis for anything. I don't know who those people are. I've lived here since 1973 and I can tell you this is not the same hippy friendly Davis that it was then. The expansion of housing for students and newcomers working in the bay area is slowly eating away the fields that I grew up around. Don't give me another toxic plastic container, I’ll continue to put my brush out in the street forever no matter how much these new neighbors complain about it. I think, in the end it's inevitable that it'll be taken away but would be nice if they left it to the skaters to have for their own. Is it really hurting anyone?
Q: Thank you for taking the time to talk with me Matt.