A brief history of joining the N-Men, early Sacramento skate spots and my good friend Tim Kelly

It would have been around 1977 and I was around 16 years old when my best friend Tim Kelly and I became part of the N-Men. I was super stoked. I don't recall exactly how it was communicated that we were part of the group, but I think John O'Shei gave us each a yellow N-Men T-shirt. Up to that point I'd never been on any kind of team or been part of any group that I felt like I belonged to. A short lived stint as a cub scout didn't hold my interest much.

Skateboarding changed all that and in a sense it changed my life in a way that I still feel the impact of. It would have been a few years earlier, maybe 1976 when Tim's mom, Joan took us out to Skateboard City and Tim and I bought skateboards. I still remember that first board, an aluminum Banzai freestyle board with X-Caliber trucks and Power Paw wheels. It was kinda crap but I was hooked.

Fast forward a few years and Tim and I were now mostly looking for empty drainage ditches and swimming pools to skate in. Our main spot was a drainage ditch on the edge of the Sacramento Executive Airport directly across from, and probably in the path of, the Farrells Ice Cream shop that a Jet airplane that crashed into killing 22 people several years earlier. But when we could, we'd borrow Tim's Mom's red VW bug or take the bus to other spots that we'd heard about through the grapevine. The grapevine back in the pre-internet days was mostly other kids at McClatchy High School who skated and the skate shop down the street from school, Cal Central Skates. The shop, the school and the airport ditch were all on Freeport Blvd. Some of the spots we skated back then were the Organic Tube, the Mather Ditch, the K-Street Mall banks, rickety plywood ramps, and various public pools when they got drained in the spring for cleaning. John O'Shei was one of our classmates, along with his two brothers Ross and Don. All three skated really well, but John stood out as the best and was way cooler than Tim or I, and was also on the football team. Tim and I were more stoners and John was a jock, but skating was our common thread and the bond for our friendship. As Randy Katen mentions on this website, the N-Men (and I would by association extend this to skateboarding in general are inclusive not exclusive. I think John was the person who first coined the word N-Men and Randy was there early on as well, championing the idea of the N-Men.

At our first big local Skatepark, The sierra Wave, there would be contests and some of the N-Men were sponsored by shops or skate companies, but it was somehow understood - and I think Randy was a big part of this - that you were an N-Men first and foremost. The N-Men were not a team, and not quite a group - we didn't all even hang out together that often, but splintered into subgroups - it was really more of a gang. An inclusive gang that didn't hurt people or break too many laws except trespassing to skate empty pools.

Tim and I made our way into this gang slowly, but I distinctly remember the day I felt like I was in. I'd been skating with Tim out in Eldorado Hills doing downhill runs and we decided to go to the N-Bowl. I can't remember if the N-Bowl predated the N-Men by a month or two or not, but I think they were both named so closely in time, it doesn't much matter now. The N-Bowl was an eight foot deep kidney shaped pool in the backyard of an abandoned house on Tamoshanter Blvd. in a rough part of South Sacramento.

It wasn't the first pool we'd skated but it was one of the longer lasting ones and both a really good one and kind of gnarly at the same time. I found it a bit intimidating and I also found the local guy who ruled it pretty intimidating, a really big black kid who lived in the neighborhood named Doug Jones. I remember the first time I ever saw Doug skate was a year or two earlier at a goofy spot called Stoker Hill which was a bank on the underpass underneath I-5 between Old Sacramento and Macys. Everybody would line up at the top of the short drop down into the underpass and then dodge tourists walking by to carve the asphalt bank under the freeway and try to look like Larry Bertleman. Doug was there and he was about 10 levels faster and gnarlier than just about everybody else. Doug was one of the most go for fucking broke skaters I've ever seen. He'd try shit that nobody else would even consider and eat shit 9 times out of 10, but that 10th ride, the one he made, was the most insane thing anybody would do.

So Tim and I show up at the N-Bowl and Doug was there along with his friend from the neighborhood, a scrappy, tough white kid named Danny Grady. Danny was also really aggro and a great skater and a bit more consistent than Doug. Doug would always pull the gnarliest move of the day, but Danny would be the most consistent and best skater wherever he went.

Danny was the first person I ever saw pull off a frontside air on vertical. So I was a bit intimidated by these guys but I was also skating pretty well that day. Id been able to carve tile up to that point, but I'd never ground the coping. On that day, for whatever reason, Doug who was usually pretty aloof to me, decided that it was his mission to get me to grind the coping and was egging me on and encouraging me until I did it. I was fucking stoked. I felt in. After that day Doug, Danny and Tim and I became close skate buddies because Tim had a car and none of us had any after school sports or anything to do. John was around some too when he didn't have football practice and I remember Tom Bixby and Miles Hermann being around some too and we'd always see Randy at the skatepark. Another one of our school classmates was Marty Radan and his mom was nice enough to let us put the U-Tube halfpipe ramp in Marty's backyard which was another regular hang. For a year or so this was my life and it was a formative experience for me in the best way that I don't have to explain to anybody that skates. Years later I met Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat and Fugazi and also a hard core skater when he was younger. He said something to the effect of,
"Skating changes you man. Once you skate.
you look at the world differently, you see it differently."

I lost touch with most of these guys and stayed in touch with some of them. These days I see Danny the most as we both live north of San Francisco and surf. Danny is a bad ass surfer, every bit as gnarly as he was a skater and out surfs kids half his age. Sadly we've lost John and Tim, and while I was chatting with Randy the other day and he asked me to write a few words about Tim so here we are.
Tim was a bad-ass, a naturally gifted and fearless athlete. Unlike me he was in little league and was great at baseball.

He skied, he rode BMX bikes. He was better than me at everything and anything but we were best friends growing up and lived across the street from each other. He was an easy going dude and easy to be friends with. His mom doan was the best. She was the cool neighborhood mom who would drive us to go skate and let us hang out at the house and smoke weed and build a ramp in the front yard and then defend us against the neighbors. What I remember most about Tim is his fearlessness. The photo below is from a day at a short-lived skatepark off highway 50 called Rainbow Skatepark that was funded by the downhill skating champ Guy Grundy. It was only open for a month or two and I mostly remember skating it by barging it before it was opened. The park was pretty shitty actually and even this bowl was pretty kinky and gnarly as I recall. I could never quite find a line in it. But on this day, Tim was just ruling it. Big grinds and carves like it was a 3 foot ditch. This is how I like to remember my friend Tim.

Good times were had by all.
-John Baccigaluppi

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