Skaterdater: the story of the world's first skateboard movie

January 15, 2021 | Skateboarding
Skaterdater, 1965: the world's first skateboard movie was written and directed by Noel Black

"Skaterdater" tells the story of a group of seven young skater boys who ride around town, showcasing their skills and talent.

They are all members of the Imperial Skate Board Club and wear jackets featuring the team's logo.

Suddenly, one of them falls in love with a girl after crashing against her bike, and they start hanging out.

But one of his skater friends is not happy with the romance and challenges his mate for a skateboarding duel down a hill street.

The first boy loses but still gets his sweetheart.

"Skaterdater" is the most acclaimed movie in the history of skateboarding.

It tells a story with no dialogue, but the scenes, the camera angles, and the final edit speak for themselves.

The opening section with the barefooted tic-tacs and the cross-stepping moves on the original skateboard is enough to keep anyone glued to the film's magic.

If surfing has "The Endless Summer," skateboarding will always have "Skaterdater." They're both timeless artworks that illustrate quintessential Southern California sports.

Skaterdater: all seven skaters were members of the Imperial Skate Board Club

Restored by the Academy Film Archive

The groundbreaking movie by Noel Black even planted the seed for the longboard dancing revolution that would take place in the 21st century.

The 18-minute film was nominated for Best Short Subject (Live Action) at the 1966 Academy Awards and won the Palme d'Or for Best Short Film Technical Grand Prize at the 1966 Cannes Film Festival.

There are other awards, prizes, and trophies, but these are the most well-known.

"Skaterdater" was shot with a low budget - $9,000 - using a 35mm Éclair film camera.

The skateboarders performed most of the stunts at Torrance's Rolling Hills Plaza, San Pedro's Averill Park, Palos Verdes Estates' Malaga Cove Plaza, Lomita's Cypress Street, and Redondo Beach.

The movie also features an original surf music soundtrack by Mike Curb, who later founded Curb Records.

The cast included Bill McKaig, Bruce McKaig, Ceilo Weislo, Gary Hill, Gary Jennings, Gregg Carroll, Melissa Mallory, Mike Mel, Molly Macloud, and Rick Anderson.

Their ages ranged from 13 to 15.

The film was restored by the Academy Film Archive in 2010, and SurferToday has been granted permission to make it publicly available, courtesy of the Noel Black Estate.

We sat with Nicole and Marco Black, the daughter and son of Noel Black, the writer and director of "Skaterdater" to know more about their father's inestimable legacy.

Skaterdater: the movie was shot in Torrance, California

"Skaterdater" is one of the most important skateboard and action sports movies of all time. How do your eyes perceive it today, 55 years after being released?

It's timeless in the sense that it's really the classic boy-meets-girl story.

Fifty-five years later, it is a snapshot in time of when skateboarding was not even a rogue sport.

People did not know what to make of it. They marveled at the tricks and speed of the riders.

We watch it today in awe of the classic longboard style skating - barefoot even!

The movie revolutionized the way filmmakers shot subsequent surf movies. What are its main technical and visual contributions to the surf-and-skate film subgenre?

Skateboarding films of today employ the use of the extreme low angle camera at wheel level.

The lens just barely scraping the ground to capture the board and the rider at ground level.

For the film, they built an outrigger platform connected to a bicycle that a dolly grip would operate.

They did this so they could keep pace with the riders and get the lens as low as they could to the ground to accentuate the speed and detail of the riders' footwork.

They also used a French camera - an Éclair - to capture some of the scenes.

Skaterdater: the movie features some of the earliest skateboard models

What are the most striking "Skaterdater" memories and details your father shared with you?

They shot it over 6-8 weekends. Each time it was an ordeal to coordinate all the boys to show up at a location.

They also had to scrounge around town for filming.

One of their friends from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) film school worked in the camera department on a backlot.

He was able to give them "short ends."

Has Noel Black ever ridden a skateboard? What was his connection to skateboarding?

Skateboarding was not our father's sport. But we think he saw the beauty of the sport.

From the storytelling perspective, the characters are always in motion.

Michael Mel: the character he played in 'Skaterdater' falls in love with a girl who rides a bicycle

Have you ever been contacted by people who met their significant others through skateboarding and also watched the film?

Marco Black: I had the opportunity to work with Tony Hawk once on a project.

During a filming delay, I asked him if he had ever heard of the film. Tony flipped out when I told him my father directed it.

He told me how stoked he was when he saw it as a kid and that, according to Tony, Stacy Peralta was heavily influenced by the film and was an inspiration to him towards filmmaking.

Nicole Black: In 2015, I was working very hard to get "Skaterdater" into The National Film Registry, which is a division of The Library of Congress where they preserve films that are culturally, historically, and esthetically significant.

The staff at Powell Peralta were instrumental in helping me get votes and sharing information about the movie.

We didn't make it that year, but I continue to have hope each December when the announcement is made that this movie will be recognized for the iconic classic that it is and the significance it had on a nation.

To this day, when I tell people that our dad directed "Skaterdater," they are all blown away.

The movie seems to be surrounded by a somehow timeless aura. Why do you think we all have that perception after watching the movie?

The timeless aura that surrounds "Skaterdater" is due in part to the storyline.

I think most of us can find a piece of ourselves in each of the characters.

It's the classic boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl back storyline.

Also, the music is set so perfectly to the scenes that it didn't need to have any dialogue.

Melissa Mallory: the young girl falls in love with one of the members of the Imperial Skate Board Club

Tell us a few secrets, details, or hidden gems about "Skaterdater" that might have never been revealed.

On the filmmaking side, it was nominated for Best Short Film by the Academy and also won the Cannes Film Festival award.

Another lesser-known fact about the movie was why our dad picked skateboarding in the first place.

He had originally wanted to do a movie about surfing.

At the time, "The Endless Summer" was coming out, and he didn't want to compete with that film.

He was at a park where there was a contest, saw the skate crew, and the light bulb went off.

I guess we have surfing to thank for "Skaterdater" being made.

On the skateboarding side, Michael Mel, the star of the show, was in a private school and couldn't meet during the week for filming.

Hence the reason it was shot on the weekends and took so long.

Also, Greg Carroll, who was one of the skaters in the film, went on to have a very successful skateboarding career.

Bill McKaig (one of the stars): Yes, it was an excellent movie. I had fun making it. The team was called the Imperial Skate Board Club.

Around 1964, we won a skateboard contest in Hermosa Beach, and Noel Black was there looking for some kids.

He talked with us because most of the other teams were sponsored by Hobie, Jack's Surfboards, etc.

Melinda was the only one with prior experience in acting. Noel and Marshall got her from somewhere else.

All the rest of the group went to Newton Elementary and then South High School in Torrance, California.

The two girls at the end of the film were Molly Macloud and Ceilo Weislo - they usually don't get the credit they deserve.

Skaterdater: the skateboard movie was nominated for an Academy Award in 1966

How important was it to have the movie restored by the Academy Film Archive?

Nicole Black: Film preservation is one of the most important things we can do to try to show other generations the arc that film making has taken.

When UCLA screened standard definition (SD) in November of 2019, I was fortunate enough to be in the theater.

I had never seen it on the big screen before, and it brought me to tears.

The preservation made by the Academy Film Archive will forever ensure that the original SD version will be seen the way it was intended.

How do you keep the "Skaterdater" legacy alive?

Marco Black: We talk about it - a lot.

Also, Nicole has been trying to get it into the National Film Registry, which gathers support for the Library of Congress and the film.

I get messages all the time from people who tell me that the movie is what inspired them to take up skateboarding or filmmaking.

I think that a movie that inspires others to skate or make movies - or both - is the best way we can honor our father's legacy.

The movie features some of the earliest skateboard models. Have you or someone else managed to keep them intact and stored in a safe place or museum?

We have in the family one of the skateboards the boys rode in the show - a Makaha Commander.

The Skateboarding Hall of Fame and Museum also has memorabilia from the film, and I believe one of the skateboards from the movie.

Skaterdater: the Noel Black family still has one of the skateboards the boys rode in the movie

How has your father witnessed the evolution of skateboarding throughout the decades? Did he enjoy its growth and development?

Nicole Black: I don't think anyone saw how popular the film would become then and especially even now.

It opened up to the world the endless possibilities of the sport to everyone.

Our dad always got emotional when people would tell him how the movie touched their lives.

I think most of us want to leave some type of positive, lasting legacy on the world, and sometimes we don't know if we have reached others.

When he would get compliments about the movie, it always warmed his heart.

Do you think "Skaterdater" is a skateboard movie, a film about love and friendship, or something in-between?

It's both. The main characters are the leader of the pack and the girl he falls for, but skateboarding is like a third character.

Were there any stunts involved in the production?

Yes, for the hillside duel at the end.

My father and the producer Marshall Backlar were a little concerned that it might be too much for the boys.

But these guys were all accomplished skaters. They rode for a South Bay skating club.

When it was released in 1965, has the movie "normalized" or "marginalized" skateboarding?

Quite the opposite. It exposed the sport to many people who would have never seen it.

It wasn't a movie about skateboarding, but ironically it became one. It heavily promoted the sport without attempting to do it.