Veterans of Vert - Lenny Johnson
What can we say about Lenny Johnson? A speed skater who transitioned into the ramps in the early '90s. Lenny has since been redefining what it means to carve a bowl. We have yet to see a skater hit a line with as much speed and force as Lenny. This Burnside original learned to adapt and adjust to the skating culture however managed to open his arms wide to skaters of all levels and has never shied away from sharing a session or insights into the ways of park skating.
At what age did you first lace-up?
I first laced up a pair of those blue skates with the red and white stripes on the boot. They were a hand me down from a cousin. Around 5 or 6 years of age my elementary school had skating parties monthly it was then I started to find serious interest in speed skating. Too many times I was put in the timeout box at the rink for skating too fast. It was Junior High 1988 that I started lacing up on the regular and started speed skating. Speed skating was my first passion and love. I was blessed and fortunate to learn from a team and families of Champions. It was The Skate East/West Speed Skating Team, Mr. John, Mark, Dante, and Tony Muse, Hockey, Jam Skating and the rinks of Des Moines, Iowa that molded me!
How did you get introduced to park skating?
My first ramp was a fiberglass ramp in a rink in the late '80s. My first park was Landsdowne, MD in 1993 on Inlines. I moved to Oregon in 1995; although I moved to Oregon to speed skate, I quickly fell out of love with speed skating and in love with skating parks. Don't get it twisted, I still craved speed like no other but found more fun and adrenaline in bombing hills on my inline skates in the city and maneuvering through cars and carving crazy new parks than the monotony of skating for miles. In '97, I realized achieving the sense of accomplishment I'm looking for could and would be found and attained in park skating.
In 1998 I got a badass apartment 30 seconds away from Burnside Skate Park. That was the year it started to go down for me in terms of my true introduction to skate parks on roller skates. After getting beat up by assholes and beating up fools, Dreamland Parks founder and Burnside builder Mark "Red" Scott, asked me if I had roller skates? He then went on to explain because skateboards are a derivative of skates you might be received with a little more love. The ground was broken at Burnside by another local roller skater before myself, Brian Wainwright!
What was the skate scene when you first entered it?
I can confidently say Burnside was one of the toughest, roughest, gnarliest parks to "get yours" in. I entered Burnside with a "Bat Outta Hell" style and speed lines on inline skates which at the time didn't allow anyone to enter the park safely or without potentially getting checked! To be honest, I didn't care at the time and probably would've entered the same way given the level of respect reciprocated. Burnside kind of had a Barbaric, old-school code to it, the same code exists worldwide in some circles, you know that code where you have to reciprocate with a form of disrespect and not backing down then and only then you are better received.
"Lord knows I won't stop, but I will have to slow my roll at some point eventually!"
In the beginning, it was mad lonely in a packed park. I was literally like fucking cancer that everyone avoided, hated, and ignored. I was terrified, inspired, and focused with an uncanny amount of determination that impressed myself. I felt like the rookie that every veteran on the team hated, and I was. Who knew the moment I put on my roller skates haters apologized, dapped up, gave props, and mad respect. I knew I had something when old heads and pro heads that have been in the scene since it began told me they've never seen a steez like mine before! Ever since then, my goal has been faster, faster, faster with crazy finesse and precision. That said, the lines, height, and tricks would all fall into place given the right amount of speed, I already spent a short lifetime on form. In those first years, Dreamland and Grindline Sk8prk Companies were poppin' off parks in the NW like popcorn. The scene was super hot!! I still can't catch up with all of the parks in this region.
Too many undergrounds, public, backyard and bad-ass parks to name!
Who was/were your inspirations in the scene?
My first inspirations were my speed skating teammates; Dante Muse. At the time He was the Michael Jordan of speed skating! He skated with precision, ran laps around fools and had finesse like no other and made it look effortless. He hardly slipped, and if he did, he made it look good. The guy had mad skills in the speed skating arena; he had more World Championships under his belt than I can count. His brother Tony Muse(Peter Pan), was a Power House and Sprint Champion! I wanted to own those attributes for myself in my arena, so I applied what I knew, learned and observed from them and brought it to the skate park and multiplied ME into the equation a few times over.
The other half of people that have inspired me are all the rippers(skateboarders) I've come into contact with over the years at Burnside. Burnside is a 'big boys and girls' park. You don't have to a certain age or height but if you don't know what your doing come back early in the morning when there is no one there! Those that own that park have, "The Eye of The Tiger"! You have to be hungry and a savage to fully own that park. If that level is attained in that park, I feel you are an Abbot, Jedi, Mos Def an Unheard Master!
Where is your favorite park to skate? (Let me guess Burnside)
Burnside hands down. It's in the heart of the city, under the bridge in a Rainy City, lights! It's a 24-hour park depending who you are, and who's sleeping there and what's going down there! This park has been my home park for 20 years. That place was/is Rock Star status! Sex, Drugs, Alcohol, Rock and Roll & Hip Hop!
What is your favorite thing about park skating?
The flow, momentum, speed, finding lines, sweet spots, and being manipulated in unpredictable ways! I thank God for the talent and training I have had because it allows me to step out of myself and roll. I had a dream when I was a child to skate an amusement park for skates. My dream has come true. That is my favorite thing about park skating, straight amusement! The kid like amusement, focused premeditated adult amusement, emotional amusement, lifelong amusement cause lord knows I won't stop, but I will have to slow my roll at some point eventually!
Is there a trick that has alluded you/haven't nailed yet?
This is a loaded question! People see me skate and are in awe! Shit, when I first start speed skating no one wanted to be near me because I was clumsy as fuck! In reality, everything I do and has done was just timed planning and execution. It took time to execute, more like baby steps. The issue now is that I'm older, wiser, not as careless, I have more responsibilities and the kicker I'm not rich or immortal. Ise the shit I want to slay, and I know I could. It would be more helpful with football pads and some hockey pads too to get the initial line down, but I'm good with my same ole fast lines and switching those up a little. I've never been big on tricks just finding new routes, gaps, and transfers.
What's the best advice you've been given?
Haven't thought about it until now! I am going to give this homie a bless up! The advice was to put the inline skates down and get your roller skates out of the closet and skate the park on those because I'll be better received due to the history of skates and boarding!
- Lenny Johnston "Skate free, be you!"