Living on four wheels

Skateboarder and film director Stacy Peralta skates in a California pool in 1978.
Skateboarder and film director Stacy Peralta skates in a California pool in 1978.

In the late 1970s, Jack Smith was surprised to see Stacy Peralta standing at his front door.

This was long before Peralta directed movies like “Dogtown and Z-Boys” and “Riding Giants.” But even as a young adult, Peralta was a celebrity in the skateboarding world.

“I’d never met him,” Smith said. “I’d seen him in magazines, and I’d seen him in contests. He says, ‘Hey, are you Jack? Somebody told me you know where the pools are in town.’ ”

As Peralta would later chronicle in “Dogtown,” skaters in Southern California, where Peralta grew up, would hone their freestyling skills in empty swimming pools. While visiting the Central Coast, Peralta wanted to check out the pool scene here.

Smith did know of an empty pool. And when he brought Peralta to it, jaws dropped.

“When I showed up that day with Stacy, there was already a crew there skating,” he said, “and it was like I walked in with god or something.”

More than three decades later, Peralta, now a part-time Cayucos resident, wrote the introduction to Smith’s self-published book, “Lives On Board,” a collection of stories about skateboarding.

While Smith isn’t as well known as Peralta, he’s been a fixture of the skating scene here for more than three decades. And his three cross-country skating trips have sealed his reputation as a skater willing to go the distance for a good cause.

“The first time I rode a skateboard was in 1964,” said Smith, of Morro Bay.

His father, an Air Force man, built boards for the kids on the base. Still, at that time, skating didn’t really appeal to Smith.

“Then, in 1974, the day after I graduated from high school, I was at my buddy’s house and there was this old Hobie clay-wheel board sitting in the ice plant,” Smith said. “And we’d never seen it there before—we didn’t know how it got there. So we picked it up and started screwing around with it.”

The next year, he attended his first contest. Two years later he and his buddies got a company to sponsor their trek across the country. At that point, cross-country skating represented something fun and different.

“We really did it because we didn’t want to have the typical summer job of working in a restaurant,” Smith said. “So we got out an old atlas, drew up our route and took off.”

When his journey was complete, Smith decided his career would have to entail skateboarding. Through the years he’s held many positions in the industry, most involving marketing for skating companies.

In 1984, he and three other guys skated across the country again — this time raising money for multiple sclerosis.

Taking turns skating, they made it from the West Coast to the East Coast in 26 days.

In the 1980s, Smith owned a mail-order inline skate business in Iowa. There he became the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce for a small county. While performing that job, he helped filmmakers locate a farm that hosted a scene in the movie “Twister.” Eventually, he moved back to the Central Coast.

In 2003, Smith made yet another cross-country run—but this time for more personal reasons. His first son, also named Jack, had just passed away from an extremely rare genetic disease known as Lowe syndrome.

“There’s only about 350 boys in the world that have it,” he said.

The disorder, which only affects males, is linked to the X chromosome and causes vision problems, mental retardation and seizures. While Lowe patients are generally expected to live between 30 to 40 years, Smith’s son passed away at just 14.

“He lived a pretty active life until he was probably 10 or 11,” Smith said. “The last few years of his life were pretty tough because he was having sometimes hundreds of seizures a day.”

After he and his crew made it cross country — in a “Guinness Book of Records” 21 days— skaters in other parts of the world began embarking on cross-country journeys, all to support research for Lowe syndrome.

“So Jack’s legacy lives on and Lowe’s syndrome keeps getting research money for it,” Smith said.

Always looking for new ways to promote skating, Smith launched a skateboard slalom race in Morro Bay in 2001. And in 2005, he had a small part as the announcer of a contest in the Peralta drama “The Lords of Dogtown.”

“It was like walking back in time 30 years,” Smith said. “Because the contest where I play the announcer is the Del Mar National from 1975, and that was actually the first contest I was ever in.”

Three years ago, Smith, 53, began a Web site, The Skateboarders Journal, a place for skating news, photos and stories. While putting his book together, Smith decided to reach out to others through his site to see if they had interesting stories worth sharing.

“There are all kinds of books out there about professional skateboarders,” he said. “But there weren’t really any books about what I call the everyman/every-woman,” Smith said. “The regular guy who skates for the love of it, who doesn’t get paid.”

Once he solicited stories, they came pouring in. The book features 180 stories and over 250 photos. Some of those photos come from well-known skate photographers such as Jim Goodrich, Glen E. Friedman and Wynn Miller.

While some of the writers are people Smith got to know through his industry career, others are regular folks, ranging in age from the early teens to 73. (The 73-year-old started skating at 65.)

Writers describe how they got into skating and the injuries they incurred. They write fun stories about their travels and sad tales of loss. In separate vignettes, Smith writes about his sons Jack and Dylan. He also writes about skating the streets of Morro Bay in the 70s — including the time he raced down the steep Old Creek Road just days after having surgery from a skate-induced broken arm.

Today, Smith still skates, though he acknowledges not as hard or as fast as he once did. Still, he’s thinking he might try to skate across the country one last time.

“We’re not done yet,” he said. “It’s going to happen again sometime, I just don’t know when.”

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