Biographical accounts from Don Piburn Pt.2: Pete Stewart

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Biographical accounts from Don Piburn Pt.2: Pete Stewart

Don Piburn, a surfer, ’70s outlaw skateboarder is back with another series of stories to regale.

This round he's sharing tales of his adventures with Pete Stewart.

Part 2: Pete Stewart

Image: Pete Stewart. Death Bowl. 1977. Photo Credit: Don Piburn

To understand the Pete Stewart I knew you have to understand the context.

Mission Beach (MB) California was by most accounts pretty urban surf ghetto in the mid- to late-1970s.   Most MB homes were single story beach cottages that rented for cheap. Young people flocked there for the sand, sun, surf, and for the scene.  It was seriously bohemian living: You could live there cheap and good. The since widened concrete boardwalk along the beach was eight feet wide and ran uninterrupted for 7 or so miles from the South Mission Beach jetty into the community of Pacific Beach to the north.  On any given weekend there would be three to five parties popping up along its length complete with live music and bodies spilling out all over somebody’s Beach Front Walk front yard, blocking the boardwalk, and out onto the sand. The place jumped.

Parking a car in MB was always a challenge, especially on weekends when the city drove down to the beach to play.  The upside was that all of life’s essentials could be readily accessed using human powered transportation, thus everyone owned some combination of “beach cruiser” single speed bikes, skateboards, roller skates, or whatever else you could imagine as long as it moved you.  Roller skate rental shops were scattered here and there mostly for the tourists. Sea Skates where our friends worked was the focus of our attention. If you caught them at the right time of day or on the right night, they would lend out skates to their friends for free. In a 1970’s version of Meetup Events, the word would go out and we’d all coalesce at Sea Skates about an hour before closing time.  The deep rumble of skate wheels assailing concrete expansion joints, hoots and hollers growing progressively louder, shaking the tourists awake in their beachfront vacation rentals and fading off into the darkness was the resulting large group “Kamikaze Runs” made at the very highest possible speeds down an empty boardwalk late at night.

Custom airbrush for surfboards, vans, motorcycles,etc. was a popular art form.  Pete Stewart was an artist at the Miles-from-Nowhere airbrush shop located on the boardwalk along the ocean side of the Mission Beach Plunge swimming pool complex.  Pete ripped on quads, and our little group that included vertical quad skating pioneer Bobby Means (read more about Don's experience with Bobby) started inviting Pete and “Little Sue” Feldman along to the outlaw pools and first generation California skateboard parks that we were frequenting.  All of the quad skaters riding vert at that time rode “spider” or side-stance. Quad skaters weight and unweight much like we skateboarders do to gain momentum, but Bobby coached them to actively pump their legs to generate even greater speeds dropping into the bowls.

In the very beginning whenever Pete would get up near the coping, he would get just a little spooked and pull his legs up towards his chest.  He’d be airborne, but still below the coping which was unusual enough that I remember we were advising him to “get back on the wall.” Pete didn’t listen, and before long he was taking it up and out above the coping on purpose.  We were all stoked when that seriously mind-bending leap, along with a good bit of stylish flare started getting his photos into the magazines.

Image: Pete Stewart. North San Diego Skatepark. 1977. Photo Credit: Don Piburn

MB Local surfer/skateboarder Seal Morgan recalls skateboarding with an MB quad skater entourage beginning in 1977 at Carlsbad Skate Park, from 1978 through 1980 at Oasis Skate Park, and from 1978 and beyond at Del Mar Skate Ranch (DMSR closed in July 1987). These quad skaters included MB Locals Miles-from-Nowhere, Chris Miller, Donny Rodgers, Little Sue Feldman, and Pete Stewart.

The Varathaned 1970s period art is a full-page spread in Skateboarder Magazine from back in 1978 of Pete Stewart planting a toe-stop on pool coping at the Oasis Skate Park located in nearby Mission Valley.  This is Little Sue’s creative handiwork courtesy of Seal who kept it all these years. If you look close you can see her words “Yowza Pete!” and a lightning bolt that she carved into the wood base. 

As for the article's cover image, I don’t recall exactly where I took the skate park photos of Pete, as parks had begun to pop up like weeds.  I do remember it was a brand new park somewhere up north of San Diego. The owners must have been hungry for skaters to get it off the ground, literally.  They opened before it was complete, maybe for an exhibition day of some kind, as you can tell by the missing blocks of coping and complete lack of any kind of aesthetic effects. 

Image: Pete Stewart. Death Bowl. 1977. Photo Credit: Don Piburn

The fish tile pool pictures of Pete at the Death Bowl in 1977. It was an outlaw pool, and when we hopped the unsuspecting homeowner’s fence, it still had about 100 gallons of green slimy water in the bottom of it.  I had a picture of Pete in this pool with a 50 gallon trash can that we must have “borrowed” to bucket brigade the water out of it. We probably sacrificed an old beach towel for the final touches. We labeled it the Death Bowl because the transition was so funky and we all struggling with it.  I cracked the radius bone in my forearm on my final run. Concrete is really unforgiving, and unfortunately so is life. In late 1978 or 1979, while up in LA on a magazine hoot with quad skater Fred Blood, they were hit by a drunk driver and Pete’s neck was broken.  Sadly, that was the end of Pete’s roller skating career, but fortunately just that.  Seal has photos of him afterward into some serious healing at the best party of the season, the Bunny Hop, in full rabbit regalia and a temporary neck brace.

Don P.


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