My local neighborhood group started our own club called Team-Rad and built a junky little 8' ramp against a dirt bank to emulate them. We got pretty good after a while and the High Rollers let us skate with them sometimes.
Somewhere along that same time I met Tyler, "Geo" and several other skaters. Tyler knew a lot more about building ramps than I did. I'm a quick learner though.
Our first "real" skatepark was in Tupelo MS. I convinced my sister that she really wanted to have her 11th birthday party there and all my friends would come along to help her celebrate... She was a tomboy at the time and actually did have a blast. I think she secretly liked some of my friends but I dunno 4sure I mean hey, who understands girls? I've been married twice and still don't get them...
Anyway, somehow we found out that Pat was working at Wheel-A-Wave in Birmingham. Mom got directions on how to get there. So we started making monthly caravans to Wheel-A-Wave averaging about 8 People per Pinto Station wagon. oh man.. I want to share some of those stories someday. Especially the one where we stole a speed limit sign and built a vert-extension out of it, strapped it to the top of the pinto and told mom it was a "spoiler" to help with wind resistance. she always knew we were lying but she was cool.
The best thing about Wheel-A-Wave was that it was built for speed. There was no vert but everything had plenty of downhill going into it. The Snake Run and Freestyle area had big steep walls. The bowl had such a good run-in that people would do flips out to the ground.
I had a few Wheel-A-Wave heroes:
There was some pro-team there from Atlanta that had a guy who would pivot at the top of the lip and then grab the nose of the board, jump in and spin the board before landing. Today it would be called something like a kickflip drop-in I guess. It was waaay rad for back then. I bet Pat could remember who that was.
One local skater was a guy named "Spinosi" I think and he could do an infinite number of one-footed 360's nose or tail. Spinosi tought me how to control my spin with my arms. I can still do about 5-10 360's on a good day.
Another was "Alfonso" who did these big 4-6' one-handed pop-ups over the freestyle mogul when everyone else was doing these stupid little 2 handed bunny hops about 1 foot high. He tought me how to do that move which later on became my frontside airs on vert.
A few years after that Pat comes through again; this time its a new vert park called "Flying Wheels" in some place called Gadsden. After the first trip we never went near Wheel-A-Wave again. Those caravans to Gadsden were when we started separating the skaters from the posers.
Our riding groups got smaller at Flying Wheels. I didn't really have any special heroes there, but I remember seeing some pro's skate for the first time. Up till then I wasn't interested in any lip-tricks, I just wanted freestyle, speed and air. But I saw someone (Pat I think) was doing Rock-N-Rolls in the half-pipe and after that and it was like I truly became obsessed with skating then I think for the first time. I always liked it but now I was like eating, sleeping, dreaming skating... u know?
Later on, at Get-A-Way: my new heroes were Curt Jose, Paul Gierow, Buddy Rawls, and Clark Harrell from Gasden. Those guys got so good, so fast it was amazing. We only went over to Huntsvill once a month or so, but they were there all the time. I remember Pat regularly grinding the top of the 3/4 pipe with the occasional 3 or 4 upside step/fall-down to bailout of it (it was insane, I swear), Curt Jose sticking gigantic miller flips all the way to the bottom of the big pool, Geirow's high-speed backside Ollies over the top, Clark's slideNrolls halfway around the pool and Buddy's big backside airs.
The Get-a-Way was definitely the best park in Alabama, probably in the southeast. I got really good after skating there a few years. Unfortunately, about the time I was getting really good, the bottom dropped out and all the parks went away. It was backyard ramps and contests. Then the local squabling started, school ended, debt payments started.. etc.. I figure life is what happens when your skateboard breaks and you don't have any money.