.All Wheel Drive

Skateboard shop is almost half a century old

Many years before the team at Onewheel moved to town, Santa Cruz was a skateboard mecca. In addition to an internationally known brand, Santa Cruz Skateboards, the town is blessed with a wealth of venerable skate shops. In advance of Go Skate Boarding Day, a holiday for shredders everywhere, Good Times checked in with the team at Bill’s Wheels Skateshop to find out what skateboarding means to them.

“It’s one word: freedom,” says Shane Scoffone, one of the floor managers for Bill’s Wheels. In January, Scoffone will have worked at Bill’s for two decades.

Scoffone isn’t alone when it comes to being in the double-digit club. Ralph Mendoza, who deems himself a jack of all trades, has also been grinding at the shop for two decades. “I started off riding for the team,” he says, “and then somebody bailed on working at the shop, so I was just happy to be here and filled the position.”

Mendoza expressed that he doesn’t know anything besides skateboarding, especially since he started skating at 3 years old. It means everything to him.

Though he’s only been at Bill’s Wheels for three years, Derek Finch is just as passionate about the sport of skateboarding. It’s “happiness and joy, but also anxiety and anger. It’s a good therapy session,” says Finch, who has been skating since 1998.

Finch says his favorite part of working at Bill’s Wheels is connecting with new people and discovering what’s new in the industry.

The man behind the store’s name, Bill Ackerman, got his start in sporting goods with a job stringing tennis rackets at Freedom Sports in 1975. Things took a turn when the store decided to start a skate shop, and store manager Colt Robb chose Ackerman to run it.

After Freedom Sports closed in 1977, the 19-year-old Ackerman opened Bill’s Wheels’ first location in a tiny building he rented for $125, on East Lake Ave in Watsonville.

“I did it because I loved skating, and I was working in a sports shop that was selling skateboards,” he said. “I just said, you know what, I’m gonna try to find some little place and do this. It was all just for fun, and I was living at home,” Ackerman says.

Before deciding to open his own business, Ackerman was originally going to follow in his dad’s footsteps to become a police officer. “I did police science and got my AA degree at Cabrillo College. The next step would have been to go to the academy to become a cop,” he says. “But during that whole time, I was at the sports shop, selling skateboards.”

When Bill’s Wheels first opened, skating in Santa Cruz was very different than it is today. Ackerman says back then Santa Cruz County didn’t have as many skate parks as it does now. “If you wanted something to skate, you built it, like people building ramps or anything to make it seem like you’re surfing,” he says.

“It was more like you were sidewalk surfing back then, going on ramps and pretending you’re on a wave. As time’s gone on, it’s totally split. There’s thousands of skaters that don’t surf but almost all surfers seem to skate.”

Asked about highlights from his career, Ackerman reflects on meeting Danny Way, one of his favorite professional skateboarders.

“He came here for a demo/signing, and we had a big storm at the time, but he was driving up with his girlfriend, and the road washed out along the Big Sur area, and he chartered a helicopter and flew it to the Watsonville airport,” Ackerman recalls.

He thought it was awesome that Way could make the event regardless of the trouble it was to get there.

But besides meeting one of his favorite pros, he appreciates the energy and excitement kids have when they skate. “I was that person at one point when I was younger, so it’s really great to see and watch,” he says.

In observance of the holiday, Bill’s Wheels Skateshop will have an event from 1 to 5pm on June 21 with live music, a barbecue, and access to skate obstacles, such as ramps, rails and fun boxes.


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