Williams captured first place at the first (and only?) Little Three Skateboard Championship, held in the spring of 1965. Undoubtedly this further validated our belief as freshmen that we had matriculated at the right place.
Although not a recognized intercollegiate event, the spirited competition at Wesleyan that year put Ephs in the regional forefront of a cultural phenomenon that Life magazine described as both a “fad” and a “menace”, after enticing America with a lavish photo gallery of action shots of the pastime. The skateboarding boom, however, quickly faded thereafter; twenty cities had banned it by August. Nevertheless the magic of our collegiate moment of victory should never be forgotten.
The escalating national enthusiasm for skateboarding had been generated by the vibrant pop culture of Southern California, its birthplace. Initially surfer dudes decided that concrete surfing would be a kick, almost as much fun as the real thing, and invented the sport. Then in 1964 the music industry captured the moment with “Sidewalk Surfin’” by Jan & Dean, a tune co-written by Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. By 1965 a short film called “Skaterdater” was released, and reviewed by Time magazine and others; it showed that skateboarding prowess and meeting the opposite sex could go hand in hand (so to speak).
That takes us up to the momentous Williams Little Three win. In mock Winter Carnival fashion, the skateboarding events included a slalom (60 yards), a giant slalom (150 yards), and a cross-country (400 yards). Black and red camouflaged beer cans marked the courses. Witnessing the match were 300 students, teachers, high school girls and “coeds” from Smith, Radcliffe and Mount Holyoke.
The outcome was reported by the North Adams Transcript in its May 3, 1965, edition (“Williams Clobbers Amherst in Little Three Series Contest”). However, the authoritative account of the action belongs to the journalist and playwright Bernard Weintraub, whose parents were academics at Wesleyan. Weinraub wrote that Williams narrowly defeated Wesleyan to carry the day, and that Amherst came in “a very poor third”.
Before the contest began, an Amherst senior was quoted as saying, “All these Williams and Wesleyan guys can take this stuff so seriously. We all went to bed at 4 in the morning. They probably went to bed at 10”. It should be noted that one member of the Amherst team was a ringer: a Stanford dropout, visiting the school at the time, who was immediately drafted.
Williams garnered the coveted award: a hot dog mounted on an aluminum foil plate, symbolizing, “in surfer terms, … expertise and style.”
Californian Lloyd Thomas recalls learning how to side-walk surf in Los Angeles on a two and a half foot two-by-four with metal roller skate wheels nailed into the bottom. The metal wheels had a tendency to skip and skid on concrete pavements. Also, if you shifted your weight and made too drastic a turn, the edge of the wheel would dig into the wooden bottom of the board, causing an unintended brake that often catapulted the rider to the ground. As the technology improved, boards were shaped with tapered fronts and backs, and wider wheel bases, so the danger from wheels digging into the board while making extreme turns disappeared. Wheels were soon made of modern, polyurethane, so they had a better grip on the sidewalk.
Lloyd remembers showing up at the Williams College skateboard trials held in the early spring on the quad in front of Fayerweather hall and marveling at the skill of the Williams skateboarders. “I felt like a Neanderthal looking at Cro-Magnons,” he says. “The Williams skaters, perhaps because of their experience skiing, were able to maneuver their boards in tight fast turns, way beyond my relatively crude sidewalk moves.”
Bob Heiss and Lloyd Thomas