I don't remember too many birthdays. I turned 40 in August and had some friends over to house to celebrate, so that's one. A few years ago we went and saw Chicago at DPAC, so that's two. Then when I turned 21 I was fooled into thinking we were going to Wahoo's when in fact we ended up at a strip club. Thanks Brooke, the buffet was pretty bad.
I just so happened to visit Oak City Skate Shop on their 4th birthday. Oak City is our local skate shop; just 10 minutes from work and only a block away from the ice rink where I play hockey. I've been playing ice hockey since I was 15 and wanted to get some inline skates to keep in shape between games. Turning 40 means sore muscles take longer to heal, I've learned.
I haven't bladed in over 10 years but keep up with the scene through friends on social media. Cameron Card invited me to a "Dads that Skate" group a few months ago and I got inspired to get back into it. I posted a question about setups and new technology and got some recommendations to go to Oak City and that Long Tonthat would sort me out.
Having no idea who Long was or what Oak City was all about, I went by the shop during lunch this week. I sent the shop a Facebook message making sure they were open and let him know I was looking for skates. He asked for my size to get some options ready and confirmed he'd be around.
Pulled up to the shop around 11:30 and met Long and his dog, who was laying around in the entry. Long was on the phone but took his dog to the back so he could finish up and get me set up. I haven't been in a skate shop in at least 15 years and was blown away by the amount of stuff that was on display. There were two rooms, one with clothing and one with hardware. Every inch of every surface was covered with product, used and new.
While Long wrapped up the phone call, I noticed some backpacks hanging up high. All the way at the end in the corner was a Fifty50 bag. I haven't seen one of those in ages. Below the bags were a rack with some frames, one of which was a red Fifty50. I had completely forgotten we made that model of frame. It was all rushing back to me.
It was an extremely humbling experience seeing products I worked on so hard 15 years ago to be displayed so prominently in one of the best skate shops today.
I didn't mention any of this to Long. For all he knew I was just some old guy trying to get back into skating. He brought out some skates and we went though just about every model he had to find me the perfect boot. I learned so much about the current state of the industry through how he explained the products. He really knows his stuff.
I ended up getting some Razors SL3 with Valo team frames and wheels (I swapped them out with some Fifty50 Balance frames when I got home, sorry Jon). While Long set up the custom skate, we talked about how strong the scene is here in North Carolina. He added me to the local Facebook skate group to find out where people are skating and encouraged me to come out. He even offered tickets for me and the family to watch Nitro Circus this weekend while it's in town.
I don't think I've met anyone as passionate about skating as Long. Not only does he run an incredible shop, but he reinvests himself into the skating community. He's a role model for the kids and mentioned a few times how he tries to help them make smart life decisions. He keeps around old and used products to give to kids to get them into skating, knowing that if you're involved with blading you don't have time to be involved with negative things and you'll be a blader for life.
When I told this story to my wife that evening she was shocked.
"How could you not tell him you made those frames? Clearly he was a big fan of your work otherwise he wouldn't have them on display 15 years later."
I think I was more overwhelmed with the situation than anything. I joined Fifty50 in 1996 and was part of the company until we shut it down in 2005. That's almost 10 years that I poured into the skating industry. To see it was still alive and that Fifty50 was so influential to him was very emotional.
So, happy birthday to Oak City Skate Shop. It's inspirational to see the impact you've made on the skating community. I'll swing by sometime next week to say hi and drop off some birthday presents. I know they'll find a good home.