There were little snippets of legends all over the show. Everywhere I went, there seemed to be some kind of Lee Ralph tale. One area in which the legendary stories flowed with particular vigour was in the city of Glasgow.
There were stories of him ripping the church ramp in Dr Martens and possibly even stories of him sleeping under that very ramp in those same Docs. At the peak of the Vision Street Wear era, Lee had turned enough heads for his head to be turned pro.
Soon after the signature board dropped, he was hanging out in one of the realest scenes on the planet. Due to epic facilities like the old Kelvingrove and Livingston, Scottish skateboarding has had a rich bloodline for many generations, and we’re talking way before the likes of Stu Graham, Div, John Rattray and Colin Kennedy.
Whilst living there, the combination of warmth and sarcasm emitted from the locals is something I certainly gravitated towards after long, plastic summers spent in California. Maybe Scotland had a similar effect on Lee.
One particular Lee Ralph story stuck with me. I think I first heard it within the walls of the oasis that is Clan Skates in Partick. It was a tale of Lee dropping in on a mini ramp, carving the flat (backside), then grinding the same side he’d dropped in on (frontside) without hitting the opposing wall! That’s right, a first wall grind!
It doesn’t make sense, does it? If that was really possible, we wouldn’t need halfpipes, would we? Everything could just be a quarter pipe. I loved the obscurity of the first wall grind and was always startled by the combination of power and light-footedness one would need to pull it off.
After my time in Scotland drew to a close, I eventually settled in Melbourne, another city not only full of awesome folk but Lee had lived here as well, so it too contained a plethora of Ralph-inspired legends. Around 2006 I was skating the Lush mini ramp with my friends Bret “One-T” Connolly (R.I.P.) and The Skateboarder’s Journal founder Sean Holland. On the platform, in the heat of the session, I explained the story to Sean and Bret.
Before I knew it, Sean was trying it, and within a few minutes—and after some classic slams—he’d performed the first wall grind. Though it was more a first wall chicken scratch, and it was a much smaller ramp than Lee had done it on, finally I had a glimpse into this legend being an actual possibility.
Earlier this year, I started researching Lee’s time in Scotland, mainly to see if there was anything I could hand over to Alex Dyer, creator of Barefoot: The Lee Ralph Story [WIP?]. I got in touch with the first British skater I’d ever met, this standup cat called Rick Curran. He’d helped build The Factory in Dundee, so he happened to be present the day it went down.
“It was a sketchy old building, and we had just gone in and built stuff in it. It just got bigger, kind of like Burnside but out of wood… Bod [Boyle] was around, and I think Steve [Douglas]. Some Glasgow skaters were there too. It was a heavy session! The bit he carved on was around four and a half feet high. He dropped in, carved on the flat and back up the side he dropped in on. I can’t remember for sure what he did when he reached the lip. I can’t remember which way he carved for sure; my memory is that he carved frontside in the flat and back up into backside.”
I was startled.
“Wait… Rick, I’m trying to find out more info, not less. You’re telling me that you don’t know what he did when he reached the lip, nor which way he got there? This is terrible. As a Private Investiskater, I’m supposed to get closer to the bottom of stories, not further away.”
Rick gave me some contact details for other people that were at the now-infamous Dundee session, but no one got back to me. Luckily I recently went to Indonesia and managed to track down Lee’s fellow skate pioneer Gregor Rankine in one of his new habitats: Bali’s Globe Bowl.
I mentioned the first wall grind to Gregor, and he patiently listened to all the chapters of my story, just as you’ve done. At the end of my story, Gregor paused as if expecting more. Uncomfortable with the pause, I reiterated,
“So Gregor, the moral of the story is that Lee supposedly hit the lip on the wall he’d just dropped in on. But we’re not sure which way he carved the flat, nor exactly how he hit the lip.”
“Oh yeah, he always did that. It would have been a backside carve on the flat and a frontside grind on that initial wall. Yeah, he always did that. It was one of his party tricks.”
First published in Manual issue 59, 2015.