“It’s just a game, right valley-boy? You like games, right valley-boy? Tonight, meet at Bronson Canyon Half-Pipe. 9:00. Jost. Be there!”.
This is a line from the 1986 movie Thrashin’. If you have never seen the skateboard cult-classic, then you are missing out on a piece of cinematic gold. And if you have never heard of Bronson ditch (Dagger’s ditch, or any other variations of the title) or skated the legendary spot, which has been around since surfers first decided to surf concrete waves, then you are also missing out.
Nestled in the Griffith Park area (Hollywood Hills), where hiking trails welcome hundreds of people a day, Bronson Canyon ditch has been the destination for any skater who visits southern California and more specifically, Hollywood. But like the Hollywood movies that have emerged over the years, someone decided to do something new and exciting with a location that has been untouched for decades. Clayton Graul and his crew have recently taken the DIY approach to Bronson Ditch and have added some creativity to its legendary status. I was able to speak with the mastermind behind the Bronson madness, Clayton Graul.”
What is your background? Where did you grow up?
I’m a designer/developer by trade. I grew up in Portland, Oregon until I was 20 then moved down to Hollywood 22 years ago. I launched a skateboard brand a few years back thinking I was about to be living the dream… Then the reality of an over-saturated market with some big conglomerate types holding the keys set in. I was able to move over into a team manager position in late 2013 with another company (Addikt Skateboards) basically trying the same thing. It’s all for the love now, just an excuses to thrust myself deeper into the world of skateboarding.
Did you grow up in the era when skateparks were not readily available?
There were no skateparks growing up! Burnside was still a small spot. I have fond memories of charging the back wall and the first bowl on my 80cc Honda scooter, I think I did that more than I actually skated it back then. Other than that we had a few banks scattered around, the Blitz Banks, Rat Banks and MLC. I jumped in on some smaller road trips with Rebel Skates when I was just a groom, a half pipe in Eugene and some launch ramp demos . Lots of skating the streets and loading docks back then.
Why do you think there are more and more skaters creating DIY spots even with so many skateparks that have been built?
DIY is your spot, your labor, & your vision. The skateparks are great, but you’re not going to get some soccer mom dropping her kids off at the local DIY for the day and no one is going to check you for pads. Lastly, and I think this is a big one… Not many guys want park footage in their parts but for whatever reason DIY spots are a go! I think it’s because they come with a higher gnar factor and still have street cred. For the record, there still are no skateparks in Hollywood. Bronson at 15 minutes away is way closer than any park for me. The biggest reason for the surge however is the sharing of knowledge and understanding it’s not all that hard.
Do you think skaters are building DIY skate spots because some of the adventure and ‘not knowing’ has gone away with the construction of so many skateparks?
Grow tomatoes or buy them, which one gives you pride? Plenty of adventure out there if you want it.
Tell me about your first project and why you chose to start a DIY skate spot?
DIY has been with me for some time, hard to grow up in Portland and not have it on your radar. Recently we had a top shelf little spot in Culver City called Old Star. I only got to ride it three times before it got scraped off. It was always just me and a few friends trying to push over some rough ground together. Priceless times. Once it was gone there was a void and it was glaring that there was something about skating that spot that no park could come close to. The imperfections are a part of its heartbeat. I’d spent two years lurking in alleys and peeking around corners trying to find a place to build. Anytime I got close I’d check the spot during the week and it was always someone’s office hours parking space. There was one good spot I did find but I just don’t have the heart or demeanor to evict the homeless living there if you know what I mean. My friend Robert kept telling me to check out this secluded strip of the LA River over by where he worked in Culver City. Eventually I looked and it was perfect. It had half a ditch running about 100 yards end to end with an eight foot wide sidewalk at the bottom. It had one drawback aside from no vehicle access… It had a 17′ drop to concrete next to the sidewalk opposite the ditch. We named it Cliffside DIY. I got cold feet when it came to the actual concrete work. I could build forms all day but that’s where my skills stopped. Robert and I took a bunch of material and forms down there but my cold feet cost us everything we had humped down. It looked like someone in graffiti removal had spotted it on their rounds and called it in.
A month or so prior I had taken a road trip to the Phoenix area and made some new friends. Chris Gobber in particular was talking about building a micro park in his front yard. I naturally offered my help. As fate would have it, he called me about this time (we didn’t even know the city had taken our supplies yet) he said he was pouring crete in a few days. I jumped at the chance and made the trek back to Arizona. His park building buddy ran the show, Jay Mclane, this guy is an animal and never stopped working. Jay was more than happy to guide me through all the steps, even allowing me the opportunity to try my hand at tying rebar, floating, finishing and brick setting. Without these guys I don’t know if I would ever had the confidence to actually pull the trigger. I owe them and the entire West Side Oiler crew forever. AZ has some stand up guys who are 100% skateboarders.
I returned home with a new found confidence. I cut new forms, purchased materials and invited Robert to help me. We did all our Cliffside work in the cover of night. We built a parking-block spine ramp in two go’s. Then we added a pump-hump washboard thing that turned out rather harsh. The spine ramp was already a bit gnarly as it only had a 5.5′ radius and stood three cinders tall plus the parking curb. I really wanted to make nice stuff that was fun to skate. I didn’t want anything else at the spot to be harder than that spine ramp. I decided to connect the two washboard humps into one large pump hump. I again called Robert, cut my forms, loaded the truck and made my way down to the spot to fix up our work. It’s an easy 100 yard hike to the spot and there is no clear view of it as it’s obstructed by a suspended pipe about 3 feet in diameter. I wheeled down the forms excited to be building again so soon. As I ducked under the pipe and approached the spot, it was gone! Everything! Just a few bits of gravel remained where the two obstacles once stood. It had only been three weeks. My heart sunk but I was ready for this day. I figured we had a good six month window before the graffiti removal team returned to this location. Guess I was wrong. I’ll never go back to this location again.
How did the Bronson project start?
I had eleven bags of concrete leftover from Cliffside. I was thinking what to do with it. I even offered the bags to the Highland Park Quarter-pipe guys. My friend Roman had mentioned Bronson to me but I brushed it off as a bust and not “Urban” enough. I started thinking about barging the streets and the more I did, the less sketchy Bronson sounded. The light went on and I sketched up a roll-in at the top of the ditch for some easy speed to the old slappy bar.
Was there any apprehension about adding to a spot that has been around for so long and that skaters have skated since the 80’s?
Any apprehension I had was gone when one of the guys I used to skate with saw my roll-in sketch and reminded me he had put in the slappy bar eight years prior. He was so excited and wanted to enlist. That was really the only stamp of approval I looked for!
What is the thought process when designing a spot?
You have to let the spot tell you want it wants. You have to go to the spot, size it up, take some measurements and really look at it. If you go with a pre-conceived notion you could miss something good. I’d been running a DIY instagram for a few months, really, really scouring for spots and obstacles. As I stood in the ditch I remembered a ledge someone put in a shallow ditch. They had posted great pictures of the forms and the build process. I thought this was just what was needed, it would compliment the bar on the opposite side and with the natural low profile there would not be much attention drawn. You really need to see the location for what it is and work with those constraints. This ditch is an emergency run-off for all the pooling water coming down the hiking trails. Any redirection or obscuring of the ditches main purpose seems like fair grounds for removal to me. Keeping the path side upper deck and flat bottom clear make me feel like I’m at least trying to be conscious of the ditch’s main purpose.
What has been the response so far for what you are doing with Bronson?
It’s been more than I’d expected. The city seems to be a-buzz with the news. I’ve had many thank-you’s and hand shakes. Spots in Hollywood have been played out, so news travels fast on something fresh. You can add a lot of pressure to yourself with all the social media around. If the thing blows, well, it’s my fault and everyone knows it. The responses have been all good! Even the hikers stop and take notice when we are building, they seem generally interested and supportive, some ask why it’s taken so long. The closest thing to a bad vibe was one guy who marched over and asked if we had permission. We told him we did of course, announced ourselves as the Urban Skate Project then changed the subject to how much the kids like it while pointing to some youngsters who were skating while their parents watched.
Has there been any hassle from Park Rangers?
I’ve only ever seen one guy in a maintenance truck. It was the day after the first pour. I held my breath as he slowed to a crawl, then, he just headed on down the path. I guess they don’t read this and if they did they have our back so here it is. It’s a public spot and no one works on Sundays the gates stay locked all day.
You met up with the guy who added a flatbar to Bronson years ago. How did that happen?
Just dumb luck. We skated together for years and it wasn’t until recently that he told me it was his work. Michael Finn was not involved with the ledge but he’s as hyped up and motivated as I am now. He brings metal working to the table. Finn’s been up there for our last two pours and I don’t see him going anywhere anytime soon. I feel like he is now that guy I can call in the middle of the night with an idea or question. He gets it.
You have started the Urban Skate Project. What is that exactly and what are the plans with it in the future.
We will see what it is as time rolls on. It’s definitely not our crew name, it’s more an open platform for “making YOUR community a better place to skate”. I like to think it’s anyone who is down to build. We have a simple site up where you will find DIY tips and spots that are looking for donations. A lot of these guys (spots) could use a hand when it comes to something as simple as a paypal button. Ideally it will be a place that people can pick up a shirt from their local spot or make a donation. We have an instagram going (@skateDIY) and I was blown away with the support and willingness from guys around the world to offer up tips and help others. I love lurking for knowledge, I recommend following all the park companies and any of their builders you can find. Nothing better for your DIY then emulating someone who really knows what they’re doing. It’s also nice to put faces to parks if you ask me. I just love to see stuff built. Grindline Houston has been posting pictures of their full pipe build. It’s all inspiring.
What are your thoughts on DIY in general and how that relates to skateboarding.
One more outlet of creativity thanks to skateboarding. Everyone wants something new to skate, that’s why we take road trips, peek over fences in alleys and drive hours to skate the latest park. I love it, it’s turned into an addiction.
Any advice for kids or anyone for that matter, that wants to start a DIY skate project, but does not have the background to do so?
First look long and hard for your spot. The further off the radar the better. If you find needles and cardboard homes, you’re getting close. If you live by a forest…. ohhh how nice that would be! Be careful not to block a skate spot with your addition. If your are unsure what you are doing volunteer or just mix a few bags in your back yard and take a float and trowel to it on top of some plywood, then break it up, try again. Ask for help. You don’t have to know DIY to know concrete. The best tip of all is printed right on the Quickcrete bags “Do It Yourself doesn’t mean go it alone”!
Anything else you would like to add?
One thing I’ve always longed for was a real connection to a spot. Skating it from the beginning when it was just one hit. Thinking about where it goes next, mastering that one obstacle just in time for the next thing to be added. I feel like I’m a part of that progression now and it’s exciting.
If Hollywood did have a park, a pad-free park, this ditch may have just sat for another 20 years.
Intro and interview by Kasper Tobias.
Urban Skate Project Crew
Round one of the renegade DIY project at Bronson Ditch
Dagger Ditch improvements
Filmed and Edited by: Aryeh Kraus
Urban Skate Project DIY at Bronson Ditch round two and three
Dagger Ditch improvements
Filmed and Edited by: Aryeh Kraus & Clayton Graul
@skateDIY to follow the skate urban project.