It's a windy Sunday afternoon, somewhere in Point Loma, and a handful of old-school skateboarders are grinding their boards along strips of red- and yellow-painted curbs outside a public building. The chipped curbs help tell the tale: The crew meets weekly at this spot (undisclosed because they're not supposed to be doing that there) for Slappy Sunday, a casual meet-up of skaters in their 30s and 40s who no longer feel comfortable at skate parks amid 10-year-olds on razor scooters.
If it's a nice spring or summer day, the crowd of skaters at Slappy Sunday can swell to upwards of 60. Last Sunday, just five skaters braved the slightly imperfect weather.
"There've been a lot of people who've come out," says Mikey Hottman, the 39-year-old artist and motorcycle mechanic credited with starting Slappy Sunday. "Ex-pros who've retired from skateboarding have come out. It's basically just about getting people to skateboard again."
That simple premise has struck a chord, not only in San Diego, but around the world. Slappy Sundays have sprung up in New York City, Chicago, Portland and even France and Ireland, turning the meet-up into a legitimate movement that's inspired a bunch of old dudes to dust off their decks.
"I'll Google Slappy Sunday,' and there'll be some guy in Bodink, Ohio, in the middle of nowhere—you know, Anytown, U.S.A.— who's doing his own version of Slappy Sunday," Hottman says, a board in one hand and a bottle of water in the other. "It's crazy. How did he even hear about it, you know?"
There've been write-ups on New York City's Slappy Sunday in Viceand Transworld Skateboarding. Filmmaker Simon Heath even made a mini documentary about the East Coast Slappy Sunday crew. The original San Diego Slappy Sunday event, though, has managed to remain pretty much underground, spreading via online social networks like Facebook and Instagram and growing mostly through word-of-mouth.
The Slappy Sunday origin story is pretty simple but has yet to be documented and filed alongside the other urban legends that make up local underground skateboarding history and lore. Hottman and Mikey Ratt, the skateboarder behind Pack Ratt Records & Junk in Talmadge, used to work together at a local motorcycle shop. Hottman was always getting after Ratt, prodding him to get on his board again so the two could ride together. The duo took a road trip to Portland, and the long hours together sealed the deal. The Sunday after they returned, about three years ago, they got a crew together and skated a parking lot in City Heights.
From there, Slappy Sunday moved to the Department of Motor Vehicles in Hillcrest, whose parking lot is well-known by skaters far and wide.
"Even back East we knew about the DMV in Hillcrest," says Alyasha Owerka-Moore, a local designer and brand ambassador for PF Flyers, sitting on his skateboard, iPhone in hand, recording shots of Hottman and San Diego photographer and skater Tim Hardy as they skid their boards along a curb. "It was kind of like this legendary thing. Curb skating is a weird thing; it's like a subculture within a subculture. But that was my introduction to Slappy Sunday . It's just a thing for us cats who are older but who don't get out to skate as much because we're working, we have responsibilities, we have bills to pay, some guys are married, some have families."
Ken Lieu says the simple act of giving the meet-up a name and making it happen consistently every week inspired him and other older skateboarders who'd let life and responsibilities get in the way of their longtime passion to ride.
"It worked for me," Lieu says. "I used to be a professional skateboarder, but I started working, and skating kind of faded away."
He says another cool element has been seeing skaters bring their kids, who have since become friends. The young'uns look to be the future of Slappy Sunday, the ones who'll help ensure the event will be around for generations to come.
Slappy Sunday regular Jason Carney is a onetime professional skateboarder who recently opened Slappy's Garage, on 17th Street and Island Avenue in East Village. The name of his skate shop isn't directly related to Slappy Sundays; rather, both are named after the street-skating move invented by famed skater John Lucero. Every skater at the recent Slappy Sunday could effortlessly recite some version of the urban legend behind the slappy—a recognizable move wherein skateboarders ride a curb as if it's the rim of a skate bowl and, instead of doing an Ollie or jumping up onto the curb, the board is sort of slapped or crashed onto the edge before they slide down the rough ledge.
Carney says hitting up a Slappy Sunday is a good way to see old friends, some of whom have been riding together in San Diego since the '80s. He says the casual meet-up has also inspired new ideas and business ventures. He and Hottman actually started a clothing line, Slappy's Brand, which he sells at his shop. Those new collaborations are cool, he says, but the most important thing about Slappy Sunday is reminding skaters what the counterculture sport is really about.
"You drift apart because of families and jobs," Carney says. "This reestablished that sense of community and got people back into skateboarding in a relaxed format. Skateboarding is just about the ride, not the sponsorships or any of that, you know. It's about sitting on the curb with some friends."