Skateboard Archaeology

Thursday, November 12th, 2015 by andrewreinhard
My daughter with her $12 skateboard-artifact

My daughter with her $12 skateboard-artifact

In a recent Punk Archaeology post, I described my experience at Trenton, New Jersey’s Punk Rock Flea Market. As we were looking at various Punk wares, I spied a well-loved skateboard hanging on a pegboard. The price was truly Punk: $12.00. I looked at my daughter, 12 years old, black Chucks, beanie, hair in her face. “You wanna skateboard?” Her eyes lit up. I paid $12 cash, handed the new ride to her, and she carried it for the rest of the morning without complaint.

Bottom of the skateboard-artifact.

Bottom of the skateboard-artifact.

I had bought an artifact without any stated provenance at an open-air market from a dealer I didn’t know. Part of the impulse buy was to fulfill a need I had when I was a kid: I never had a skateboard. My parents (as many parents do) would buy me stuff, but typically off-brands in weird colors. Skateboarding was out of the question, and I never learned to ride. But I’m going to start. And my kid is already learning, finding her balance as soon as we got it home.

I also bought the skateboard because it looked well-loved. The bottom of the deck showed a lot of wear at the head and toe, and some in the middle. And my inner archaeologist took over. I couldn’t wait to get this thing home, not so I could ride it (or watch my kid ride it), but so I could examine it with my archaeological eye. What could I learn about the skateboard, or what archaeologists call the object’s biography?

Top of the skateboard-artifact.

Top of the skateboard-artifact.

I considered the signs of wear at the bottom, figuring the deck had seen a lot of street action (because of the abrasions down to the plywood). The trucks and wheels, all of the hardware was original, which probably meant this was a first board owned by a kid who probably didn’t have a lot of money to upgrade it (or upgraded to a new board entirely after outgrowing what was kitted out as a starter skateboard).

Kryptonics logo stencil atop the board's deck.

Kryptonics logo stencil atop the board’s deck.

The top of the deck still had the original grip, worn all around the edges, and still sported the original stencil: a “K” in a circle surrounded by four half-arrows pointing clockwise.

Kryptonics wheels, painted, and native to this board.

Kryptonics wheels, painted, and native to this board.

The wheels featured the same smiling skull iconography and color as the graphics on the bottom of the deck, with the word “Kryptonics” in all-cap, red Gothic lettering. “Kryptonics” was also labeled across the bushing, with the nut, bolt, and washer rusted.

Kryptonics components under the deck.

Kryptonics components under the deck.

As I stated earlier, I’m not a skater, so I didn’t know exactly what I had bought. Armed with a brand, a logo, and iconography, I went to the Internet to have a look. As it happens, Kryptonics is a storied brand founded in 1965, quickly becoming the industry standard for polyurethane wheels and sponsor of world-class skateboarders including Stacy Peralta and Tony Alva. The company still makes polyurethane products and wheels, and it also produces pre-made skateboards, becoming the house brand for Wal Mart, which retail new for around $50. Scrolling through images of these newer Kryptonics boards, the one I purchased did not show up, making me think the board was at least a little older as the wear from usage indicated.

Ralph's Famous Italian Ices sticker for the Lyndhurst, NJ location.

Ralph’s Famous Italian Ices sticker for the Lyndhurst, NJ location.

The most interesting thing about the skateboard, though, was the worn sticker for Ralph’s Famous Italian Ices. The sticker had been applied after the skateboard was originally purchased, and could help zero in on the location not of production, but of use. Staten Island-based Ralph’s currently has 78 stores in the New York/New Jersey/Long Island areas. The snippet of the “Hwy” address on the sticker on the skateboard pointed to the Lyndhurst location, which is now permanently closed. I was unable to learn when the Lyndhurst franchise was shuttered, but that would at least give us a terminus ante quem, or maximum latest date that the sticker could have been acquired, thus dating the skateboard.

What was an impulse buy from a nostalgic and indulgent father became a learning experience in the history and manufacture of a well-loved item from a young person’s past, communicating a bit of corporate history not only of Kryptonics, but also of Ralph’s Famous Italian Ices. Sometime in the not-too-distant past, a kid (or sibling or parent) went to a northern New Jersey Wal Mart, bought this skateboard, added some local personality to it, and the rode it until either outgrowing it or tiring of it, at which point it was released into the wilds of (probably) garage sales until finally ending up in a Punk Rock Flea Market, and is now a new mode of locomotion for another kid just discovering what it is to have four wheels and some freedom.

-Andrew Reinhard


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