Veterans of Vert - Duke Rennie
Duke Rennie is one of the originators of vertical roller skating, what we like to call a 'veteran of vert,' also known as the 'dying breed.' He has inspired a whole generation of new riders from his past and present skating. We've asked him some questions about his adventures with aggressive roller skating.
When did you first start roller skating?
I come from a family of roller skaters. Both my mother and my grandmother were both dance skaters in their youth, and my uncle was a champion speed skater. I became interested in skating at an early age and was on a speed skating team for our local roller rink probably at age eleven.
What made you venture into aggressive roller skating?
My brother and I were young surfers when the first skateboard park opened up I'm guessing around 1974. I had been skateboarding there, which was a great time for sure. Shortly after the skatepark opened up, Fred Blood skated into English class and sat right in front of me like that was normal. I asked him about his skates, and I was curious for sure. He said he was skating at the skateboard park! I knew from the moment he said it that I wanted to do it and that I would be good at it. It was a case of right place and the right time. I was a surfer, skateboarder, and a very competitive speed skater. Roller skates would be the most rad thing ever in the smooth concrete bowls. So I met Fred the next day at Skateboard World in Torrance, California, and we skated together 8 hours a day for the next four years. We both dropped out of school and had our daily competition to learn new tricks to push each other with to develop further what Kenny Means and Bucky Olson already started.
Can you tell us about some of the competitions that you entered and who the most significant competitors were?
We had a few great contests to be sure. It was super competitive and super friendly at the same time. I think we all had a lot of respect for one another. There were many great skaters but, the ones that come to mind right away are guys like Tim Altic, Greg O'Neal, Paul Votava, Pete Stewart, Kenny Means of course and Zee Lee Clemens. There was Kenny's brother Bobby and Dale Calvert, John Hawthorne and Marty Carter. There are many more, but these are the leading names that we would skate against in competition. One of our biggest and best contests was "The Dog Bowl Pro" at Marina Del Rey Skatepark. It was a big event for everything, including Pro and Am Skateboarding, and roller skating. There were Pool riding and highest air contests and banked freestyle contests. I believe there was also downhill banked slalom events. Fred pulled off the very first 540 anyone ever saw over coping in a pool and blew everyone's mind that day as well as changing the game for everyone after that. Skateboarders and roller skaters alike. Though Mike McGill wouldn't pull off his Mctwist for quite sometime after that.
Fred and I battled it out at every event, and I only managed to beat him a few times. One of my favorite contests was at Winchester Skatepark in Northern California; it was another huge Skateboard contest that allowed a roller skate division. I skated well and won the contest. It was an epic road trip and skate adventure that I'll never forget. Vertical Roller Skating made it's way to television in 1980 when The Oasis Skatepark in San Diego hosted a big contest which featured on ABC's 'Wild World of Sports.' That would be a Sunday afternoon show that most Americans would watch back then. Fred won the Event, and I took second, I thought I could beat him, but he turned up the heat and beat me fair and square. Everyone put in epic performances. Paul Votava was doing a massive backflip to fakie landing and on the very next wall powering into a front flip over coping and on to power his way through the rest of his run. All of the competitors jumped the canyon, and it was a good one. Greg O'Neal put in a dominant performance that made the TV show and took 3rd place. I still have a copy on DVD, for history sake. I could talk for hours about these events they were all epic.
"Whatever you believe is possible, IS POSSIBLE!"
It seems as though it was a very male-dominated industry back in the days other than a few key females skaters. Why do you think that was and what do you think has changed?
There were a lot of great female skaters in the last half of the '70s and the early '80s. The girls were a little more graceful and less radical; they didn't get involved in the testosterone-heavy competition that seemed constant at that time. The girls that did 'radical' skating weren't always as vocal about it. Ladies like Beth Graham and Ticia Weare were getting rad, of course, Becky Howe was a celebrated ripper, and there were others that I didn't know by name. There was a girl from Venice that would show up and do inverts. I never knew her very well and forget her name. She never made a big deal about it, but I took notice to watch whenever I saw her.
Why do you think the sport lost its popularity?
Vertical roller skating, as well as Skateboarding, died when all of the skateboard parks closed. The sport went underground, and unless you knew of a private ramp, there was no place left to do it. So the money dried up, and we had to get jobs and grow up... a little. I still skated backyard ramps when I could find a good one, and I did a lot of shows with Gale Webb during that time at Knott's Berry Farm and The L.A. County Fair. When I was almost 30, I shattered my ankle at a Gale Webb show at Knott's Berry Farm. I had two small children at the time, and it cost me over six months off work. I healed up and started skating again, skating rather well and went back to performing. ( I like to skate for an audience, it makes me push myself, and I usually skate my best.) A year later, I shattered it again the same way, Hitting my skate on coping after doing a huge 540! This would require two surgeries and well over a year off work and unable to walk. I took a few years off of skating after that. The Doctors said I would never be able to skate again and they were very wrong. I don't skate for anyone except me now. I love this sport. Its a feeling of freedom I can't get anywhere else.
What made you come back?
When my youngest son was born, skateparks started popping up all over California again. Good ones, with great pools that seemed custom built just for me. My wife skates rather well and we raised our young son in the skatepark. Family weekends for the last 14 years are often trips to the skatepark with a crew of friends collected by us all.
Can you describe the feeling you get when you pull off your favorite move at a new park?
I love this question. I could never convey for the uninitiated the wonderful thing that happens to me physically and emotionally when I skate a pool. I urge you all to pursue this High that's available through a lot of hard work and dedication.
Are there still tricks you are trying to master?
I have many tricks that I don't do regularly. I'm 52 years old and don't have any intention of shattering my ankle again. But when the feeling is right, and the location is correct. I'll still bust out moves you might not usually see me do. My favorite trick is a 540 invert that I invented before a contest in Whittier California way back when. It helped me to take first that day, and it's my favorite to this day. Jay Cloetens made a Youtube video called "Duke's 540 invert movie". See below. I love that guy.
What are your thoughts on the CIB Movement?
I'm so grateful for the CIB Movement! I came up with the name DyingBreed Sk8s because there were very few of us. I mean tiny numbers in the USA. I was only aware of a few, in a few states all spread out and very isolated. I wanted to raise awareness for this and try to resurrect what I believe is the greatest sport of all time. The CIB Movement is going to solidify this sport into an International Phenomena, as it deserves. This time the main players will be women quite possibly. Several things have changed for women since the Eighties. I believe that women have proven that they are just as rad as the boys in so many sports like Surfing and Skateboarding that now women everywhere know they can be as rad as they want. Whatever you believe is possible, IS POSSIBLE! For men and women.
Why do you prefer side-stance?
I found out early that side-stance worked best in the bowls and allowed me to carve turns just like a surfboard or a skateboard. I'm continually trying to find the fast lines in a pool or bowl that give me that feeling that I get when I'm going fast and riding with all four trucks on the coping. That's the real moment for me.
Any last words for the future?
Roller derby is single-handedly saving roller skating.
When roller derby is over the bowls are calling, for qualified skaters, you are those skaters.