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A Cosmically Unique Situation

 April 15, 2020 at 7:21 AM PDT

This transcript has been automatically generated. Please excuse typos. Andrew Bracken (00:03): it's really hard to separate San Diego from surfing. It's a huge part of life here and a big draw for people who make San Diego home. That's certainly true for Frank Nasworthy, Frank Nasworthy (00:15): you know, there is this, literally measurable natural energy in these waves and you're really just aligning with it. And to me it's uh, it's, it's a, it sounds corny. It's a cosmic alignment. I mean, it's like if I go sir, I try to go surfing, but if I go out and get a couple of good waves, it changes the week for me. Andrew Bracken (00:37): Welcome to my first day telling stories of those who've come to San Diego from elsewhere and now call it home. My name is Andrew Bracken. Frank Nasworthy's love of surfing was what brought him to Encinitas, a small beach community North of San Diego. But it was this innovation to skateboarding and creating Cadillac wheels specifically that forever cemented his legacy Frank story right after the break. Here's Frank Nasworthy with his story of my first day. Frank Nasworthy (01:13): I was, uh, a son of a Naval aviator. It was a a childhood of moving I think nine or 10 schools. First 12 years of school. Honestly, as a child, you don't really realize that it's there. Is there any, there's a different way to do this or not, but what I realized for me, it conditioned me to be able to walk into any room anywhere, anytime, and talk to people. I was the class in 1969 so and on this our school year, we saw within a year of my graduation, Martin Luther King assassinated, Bobby Kennedy assassinated. Richard Nixon, elected the war in Cambodia started and so by the time I left home at or graduated high school, I was a pretty confused young man. Andrew Bracken (01:59): Frank graduated high school during an especially turbulent time in the U.S.- the war in Vietnam was raging, and tensions were sky high at home, with a military draft looming for young men. During his freshman year of college, Frank started protesting the war. Frank Nasworthy (02:26): I ended up in a demonstration where I was arrested for trespassing and um, summarily suspended from school. So within a year of graduation I was one a in the draft and no school would take me because of a suspension in the nature of my suspension from college. So, but at that time, um, they came along with the draft lottery. If I never win another lottery, my life, I won that one, Andrew Bracken (02:53): Unable to attend college. Frank returned home to help care for his ailing mother who is seriously ill from a brain tumor. Frank Nasworthy (02:59): I'll never forget Frank Nasworthy (03:00): the last time I saw my mom, she was in a a care facility, let's call it that. And she was pretty much not conscious, but all I had you say the word mom and she just woke up, her eyes just came, she came like a, it was like a laser like you're here. Frank Nasworthy (03:27): I remember as a 18 or 19 year old, it was really hard going in there and seeing people in that condition and when you're young and you're thinking of life is forever. Frank Nasworthy (03:36): Here's this, this reality. Basically my mother took about a year and a half for her to die. Frank Nasworthy (03:50): It was in a learning experience beyond imagination. Frank Nasworthy (03:59): I realized that, you know, for me, my goal should be to, that can happen to anybody at any time. The time now is to find out what is you want to do and do it as hard as you can. And a lot of times it's just a matter of growing up and realizing that to grab that. And the one thing that I found in my life that I love more than anything is I all sorts of water, sports, sailing, everything. But surfing was something that I, at the time I didn't understand it. For me it's so, uh, it's a spiritual thing that you're really, you're really engaging yourself with, uh, the forces of nature in a really complex manner. Frank Nasworthy (04:41): just how waves are formed by giant storms, thousands of miles away in this, this rolling wave of energy comes to the beach and you're playing with gravity and you're playing with a wave in the ocean. You're so close to the environment in that kind of crazy, but it's a, it's a cosmically unique situation. Andrew Bracken (05:18): Much like surfing and San Diego. Skateboarding and surfing also go together and it was a love of surfing that eventually brought Frank to his skateboarding innovation. Frank Nasworthy (05:28): I don't remember where I actually got my first skateboard. I remember nailing skates due to a two by four and using that as a skateboard. But um, the surfing thing came around and the escape or anything kind of fell off because it was limited because of the, the equipment only you can only go so far. Some guys were doing lots of tricks and everything, but to be going really fast and kind of going down a Hill or something in turn, the old clay wheels just did not afford a lot of it was a toy, a toy that was a fad toy. Nobody wanted to spend real money on skateboarding. But during that period of time was when I, uh, was fortunate enough and it's just dumb luck, good fortune. But with a friend into a small shop of a gentleman there in Northern Virginia who was manufacturing products or he was trying to innovate products with a material that hadn't gained a lot of notoriety. Frank Nasworthy (06:24): Urethane. And one of the proxies there is, I used to making some wheels for a roller rink in, in South Florida. And when we walk into a shop with my friend to see yet this man's son, I looked at this barrel of wheels, I picked him up and I was just looking at him and I go at the time, my cell phone, my friends, we were a little frustrated surfers. We were living inland. We were traveling to the beach, surfing on the weekends to Cape Hatteras, ocean city, Maryland, Eastern shore, Virginia. But we were, we still had skateboards. And I looked at these wheels and I realized that all of a sudden here was a literally a Alaskan Merrick wheel that would be capable of being retrofitted onto my skateboard. And, um, the man said, Oh, take them. They were, I was just trying to throw him into the dump there. Took him home. We took out our skateboards and put these on our skateboards. And so we were the first people to actually ever get to try your thing. Wheels on skateboards. Frank Nasworthy (07:23): there's immense areas of concrete in Washington DC and Northern Virginia and we've just skated everywhere. People sort of looked at us as this freaky wild thing that they'd never see. They'd seen people skateboarding sort of, but it was not in the context of the freedom that the earthing wheel gave you, where you could control turns and you didn't slide sideways. Frank Nasworthy (07:49): And it was a skateboard with traction. It was about a year later that I went with my friend. It was his car, but we, we went, we came to California to go surfing. My friend and I basically drove up and down the coast looking for surf and um, kind of pass through from San Diego to San Francisco. I don't know if we looped it twice during their California travels. Frank and his friends spent some time in Los Angeles where they had a crash pad of sorts. No offense to Eliana. It's sucked up there. It was too way too weird. It was urban. I'm not an urban person, it was sunset Boulevard. There were all the freaky things you could ever, the whole gamut of a freak show that it was the kind of a drug culture that was there and really drove me harder to find the sweet spot that I was looking Speaker 1 (08:57): [inaudible] Andrew Bracken (08:57): When we come back, Frank finds his sweet spot at a beach in Encinitas called Swami’s. Speaker 1 (09:11): [inaudible] Frank Nasworthy (09:11): we were driving up actually I think pretty much kind of heading back to Los Angeles in North Hollywood area. And we pulled off at this little overlook and just there was swamis and I just went to my friend bill, bill Harward, bill, I'm getting out here. This is where I want it. This is, this is the spot I think is a good spot. So, so I had a sleeping bag and duffle bag and a little backpack and a surfboard. Kind of slept in a, in a little private part of the beach for a couple of nights until, um, I had had time to find a room and I ran into a room pretty quickly, whereas the first day was, it was, is funny. So it's going to be an audio thing. If it was a movie at all, I would see he just, this picture of Sam was in my mind, I have this picture, I'm not doing it justice, but surfers will know what it is I'm talking about cause it's sort of a sacred place. Frank Nasworthy (10:05): Encinitas was not very well developed. There was no pizza. You couldn't buy a pizza in Encinitas. There were no McDonald's, lots of health food stores and things that I had never really seen, you know, and where you get, you know, carrots using an avocado sandwiches. But they, there was all these very eclectic organic food industry was just having his, his startup days. And uh, it was a town that did not have a lot of people, did not have a lot of traffic. The freeway had just been opened. I bought two years before I arrived. So I honestly remember driving down the freeway I five and looking at how clean it wasn't going, all this concrete was new. I didn't re remark that it's all new. I think I fit the fit the bill for a I 100% insignia surfing hippie for a few years. So it really wasn't very long. Frank Nasworthy (11:01): I actually, it was within a year and a half of the, I'd been in Encinitas when I knew in the back of my head there was these wheels and this was really ground zero for where something like that would work. And I, I had thought about it a while. They were else would you do it? And, and at the end of the day, um, I contacted the man who knew how to make them. I contacted him and said, I want to buy some wheels. I want you to make wheels for me. And then it came down to, well, you have to buy a thousand wheels. And so, you know, so I'm 20, 21 working in a restaurant, I'm kind of okay. So I rationalized that if I bought a thousand wheels, I could find 250 skateboarders in Southern California that wanted to pull their escape words out of their garage and put the wheels on it so that I was really confident that I had enough. Frank Nasworthy (11:53): I could afford to go ahead and make the investment on a thousand wheels. And, and that's what I did. I knew there was at least 250 people out there. We don't want to put skateboards on their new escape or wheels on their skateboards. I had to go through the shop owners to get them. And the shop owners who the guys were very skeptical, even the ones that still had skateboard wheels in their showcase and they're on their counters. Um, I'll never forget the guy at the I, it was through the Hoby store in Pacific beach and he goes, you know, that wheel looks really nice, but he goes, see this wheel here? He goes, that will cost a skateboarder 50 cents. You're selling me a wheel. That at the time I was selling wholesale and for a dollar and everybody just keystones. And it would be a $2 product to escape order. Frank Nasworthy (12:40): He goes, nobody's going to buy that. Nobody's going to pay that money. I ended up just giving a lot of wheels away, a hundred. I mean, I had a thousand, so maybe I gave away three or 400 wheels and by that time then it got crazy. Then the shop owners got calling me up going, Hey, people are asking for these fields now. And so that's how it started out. And so with a, a young guy who really had no business experience, I mean, I could count and figure things out, but I had no business experience. I just started sell a thousand by 2000. By 4,000. I was just, just, just rolling the money over as fast as I could. We just knew that other people would want this. Our target was surfers with skateboards in their garage and that was, that was the end of the vision. Um, and I did not know enough to get Frank w w where are you going to be in two years from now? Frank Nasworthy (13:41): Now I was worried about the next month. The next we'll order. I couldn't, we were up in the hundreds of thousands of wheel order. Now that's $100,000. And that's a lot of, that's a lot of money in 1973. It's a lot of money. It was, it was crazy for awhile, but the real question was where is this going to go next? And, um, I did not have the business acumen to ask that question soon enough. And, um, uh, of course other people did when they saw the potential and the competition was not far away. Once I started, as a matter of fact, the day the guy called me and told me that, you know, someone has come in and bought my factory and you're going to have to deal with this person. And in my image in my mind was my sailboat going off into the sunset, I saw a sailboat sailing away without me. Frank Nasworthy (14:45): Skateboarding did not bring me wealth in the terms of financial wealth. But I feel totally satisfied with, with the way everything has happened. And, uh, um, the, uh, the ability to feel like you're part of something that, that brought good things to the world after Cadillac wheels. Frank tried some other skateboarding ventures, but eventually left the industry altogether. He went back to school and became an engineer where he would sometimes be reminded of his past. We started going outsourcing the point being I was all over the world and when you're sitting in the middle of undeveloped China and you're going down a street and you see a kid skateboarding, it's just unbelievable to go to these places where you're so far from where out of my reality, my, my culture and everything that this, the skateboarding is ubiquitous for me, that that's just remarkable. Um, I, I get an incredible amount of joy out of seeing that, Frank Nasworthy (15:53): that it has something that has created this outlet for people's creativity and athleticism all over the world. And it wasn't just me, although I got to be there in the very beginning and feel it. Andrew Bracken (16:17): Frank Nosworthy still lives in Encinitas and surfs at swamis though. Not as often as as early days. Thanks for listening. Our email is my first day you can find us on Instagram at my first day stories. You can find my first day is produced by me, Andrew Bracken, with additional help from Melissa Diaz, music by Jason beacon, Chris Curtis, Matt entry in me for KPBS. Emily Jen Koski is technical director, Kinsey Moreland's podcast coordinator, Lisa Jane Morissette is operations manager. John Decker is director of programming. His program's made possible in part by the KPBS, explore local content. Thanks again for listening. See you next time.

Frank Nasworthy came for surfing, but revolutionized skateboarding along the way. About the show: My First Day is a KPBS Explore series that explores these important days through people who came to San Diego from elsewhere, and now call it home. About the producer: Andrew Bracken is a documentary mediamaker working with audio, video, and interactive media. He is the creator, producer, and host of the KPBS podcast My First Day. Follow the show: Instagram: Contact: