Skateboarding Hall of Fame and Museum
Photos and Words: Zach Moldof
Museums are capitalist institutions. They rely on vast funding provided by the wealthy. And, with the exception of children’s museums, they are generally not places where we are invited to participate in the cultures we observe. Museums promote narratives that often reinforce the stratification of society, and in extreme cases museums function as cultural juggernauts keeping citizen laborers in check: appreciate this cultural legacy, and understand that you are inferior and incapable of attaining such greatness on your own, and then go back to your job and labor for a wealthy person you’ll never meet. But all of the world’s “great” museum’s are not inherently institutional, and outside of the canon of worldly museums there are museums of another stripe. These other museums are compiled and run by individuals, or small organizations, in service of the promotion of a passion. In this less-sexy category of the preservation, contextualization, and presentation of culture you can find a varying degree of investment: both in terms of time and in terms of money. However, these DIY museums are not inherently good or valuable, and they can send a reductive message just as easily as a thoughtless institution. Some people scrabble together a collection that is big enough to fill a museum, but the collection itself consists of things that tell no story. Some people spend all the money to get “the right things” but they never understand that the objects they collect are the residue of experiences, and their value lies in the story that the objects tell. Regardless of the format, the best museums are the ones that are created by passionate people who don’t answer to anyone, where collections are truly vast, and insight is shared.
I’m biased for skateboarding–obviously, because this magazine is a testament to that. But, when I say that the Skateboarding Hall of Fame and Museum–SHoF for short–is a truly incredible place for anyone who loves skateboards, I mean that it will probably change your life if you’re not intimately familiar with the history of skateboarding. To be clear: I’m not talking about altering the course of your life, but it will change the way you think about skateboarding. The SHoF is an up close and personal survey of the evolution of the skateboard from a DIY toy, to a distinct culture of subversive self-actualization organized around a precision instrument capable of astounding feats. Unless you count yourself amongst some of the very few people in the world with a skateboard collection that covers the entire history from inception to now, then there is something for you to discover here. And that’s pretty close to the nature of skateboarding at the individual level: it always offers new avenues of personal discovery, and new possibilities in the world. On the surface the museum is a truly startling display of the vast array of innovations and personal inclinations that shaped the evolution of skateboards over the years. But beneath this wide array of ridable boards is a story that documents skateboarding’s shift from an island in a flood to a mountain in a drought. The museum preserves culture and context for unborn babies who will one day only know skateboarding’s origins as a nebulous mix of wood, metal, urethane and quaint analog urbanism.
Todd Huber–who runs the SHoF–does what he does because he is passionate about skateboarding, he has a tremendous collection, and no one else did it. I can’t say for certain, but as far as I could tell, Todd doesn’t have any intentions of becoming famous for running a museum. His incredible collection tells an almost complete story of the evolution of skateboarding from deconstructing scooters, to fiberglass boards, urethane wheels, precision bearings and more–if it affected the evolution of street and park skating then Todd has some trace of it. Todd’s collection was previously housed–in part–in Skatelab, the recently-shuttered skatepark in Simi Valley that played home to the maturation of many of today’s skateboard heroes, and countless skaters in the Los Angeles area. At Skatelab the collection seemed stifled, and suffocated within what was basically a small loft, and it was difficult to parse out the history from the space’s densely-packed catacombs of skateboard memorabilia. But, in the open and airy brightness of the SHoF this benevolently meandering collection of wood, metal, and urethane invites viewers to soak up the evolving forms that lead us to the present moment and ruminate on skateboarding as something more fluctuating than definite. The collection of boards–a massive spread that covers every era from the inchoate silhouettes of barely legible deconstructed roller skates fixed to planks in the 50s, on through to the dramatic curving shapes, vibrant colors, and landmark graphics of the boards of the 80s, and 90s–is further contextualized by an annually-expanding display that showcases the roster of Hall of Fame inductees. Every year a group of innovators is selected for induction with a ceremony and they are given a small display with a photo, and a brief write-up of their contribution to skateboarding.
When the past meets the present many interesting things can happen, but in order for cultures to maintain continuity–whether on the part of forebears passing on the essence to the youngest practitioners, or on the part of the new wave paying dues and learning the roots of the culture before claiming it–that meeting point has to be intentionally designed, and presented in a way that works for the generations that fall on both sides of the Jit/Old head divide. Whether you walk into SHoF looking for confirmation, or information, you’re gonna get results. And in this space there is a direct correlation between the effort you put forth and the resulting experience. The incredible spread of boards, and the memorabilia is enhanced by a massive library of VHS, DVDs, and magazines that are 100% accessible to the public. Almost every copy of Thrasher, Transworld, and Slap. And almost any 80s, or 90s video you could ask to watch. Almost any question that you could ask about skateboarding can be answered in the museum. And if you can’t find it in there, then Todd himself can probably help you figure it out. Unlike most museums where the curators and collectors are cordoned off behind all sorts of doors and walls and processes, this museum provides a direct line to the minds behind the collection on display.
In the end the SHoF offers much of the best of both sides of the institutional divide. The space is clearly defined by the kind of enthusiasm, precision, and revision that any serious skateboarder knows. Things may not be utterly perfect for every critic, but they are clearly precisely-presented according to someone’s vision. Aside from the space’s extensive collection of boards and media, there is also a mini ramp, a small collection of street obstacles, and a skate shop. Indeed, participation is taken to the hilt at the SHoF, and I have no doubt that Todd has some antique boards that he’d let you ride. It would be difficult to imagine a space that makes the history of skateboarding more accessible, or more approachable. The SHoF is one part library, one part history lesson, one part design index, one part skatepark, and one part skate shop. The sum of all these parts can vary greatly depending on the audience, but even at the lowest level of enthusiasm, the experiences to behold here are one-of-a-kind in a world of highly-coveted-but-easily-replicated circumstances. It might seem lofty to compare the space to a Zen garden, but it’s not very far off. The SHoF is meticulously manicured, and sparsely adorned, and it offers our minds a bounded expanse, wherein we can wander and focus with equal ease.
The past’s role in the present is immutable whether it is celebrated, ignored, or outright unnoticed. And even though the past can’t change, it doesn’t mean we can’t reorient our relationship to it. The past can actually be a source of liberation if we use it to expand our minds. And that’s exactly what the skateboard museum offers, but it doesn’t just offer it up. Looking at everything in the SHoF is thrilling. But using the SHoF to unlock the past can change the way you see the present. Whether you value those types of experiences or not is another conversation. But, for those of us who want to have a deeper relationship with skateboarding, and know more about the incredibly diffuse skateboard histories that add up to give us Skateboard History, the SHoF is an astoundingly rich resource. And even if you aren’t looking for the deeper side of skating, it’s amazing to see 50 years of skateboards spread out in a towering display. It makes it that much more immediate, but it also reminds us that there is no singular way to see skateboarding. The SHoF also reminds us that skateboarding is great because it is simple enough to adapt the shifting cultural impulses of nearly any person in nearly any place at any time. And no matter how skateboarding has been interpreted across the last 7 decades, these radically different generations have found themselves on incredibly resilient common ground. At the SHoF that common ground is almost tangible, it’s just up to you to take that first leap.
Visit SHoF at:
1555 Simi Town Center Way #230, Simi Valley, CA 93065