Skateboarding In West Michigan, 1970’s Edition

Posted: 2020-08-17 in Uncategorized

This is an article I’ve wanted to explore since 2005 and 2006 when I was a staff writer on the Jenison High School newspaper. We’d have pitch meetings with every issue, and go over the articles that were to be featured, length and word assignments, and which articles would be written by whom. I’d always pitch articles about urban myths and legends, but consistently got shot down in favor of current events and topical articles such as sports games, school spirit events, and local youth events throughout the Greater Grand Rapids area. The urban myth that intrigued me the most was the one of a hardwood roller rink under the floor at Field’s Fabrics, that was still intact. Questions bounced around my head: Tarry Hall was only a few miles away – were roller rinks popular enough in the 70’s to sustain 2 businesses that close to each other? What was meant by “under the floor” at Field’s – did they build some joists or supports to raise the current store floor, or did they just carpet over the hardwood? How does one go about seeing this hardwood roller rink? 

After graduation from high school, I went to college, and got heavily involved in skateboarding and longboarding as hobbies. My main exposure to the sports were through online sources, such as discussion boards, forums, and other forms of social media. The question still smoldered in the back of my mind, until the knot began unraveling: I’d found a group of “old guy” skaters, affectionately referred to as Fossil Night at the Modern Skatepark in Grand Rapids, and the forum that they maintained. They’d posted a list of old skateparks that used to be in the area, that some of the guys skated at “back in the day.” Wind, Waves, and Wheels skatepark was in Rockford; Purple East had a skatepark in Grand Rapids; Cosmic Wave in Kalamazoo; and The Astro Speedway in an unspecified suburb. I was curious about the stories they told. Wind, Waves, and Wheels had moved to 29th Street in Kentwood and became more of a lifestyle shop; Purple East became a headshop; Cosmic Wave was in Kalamazoo and I couldn’t find two cares to rub together about Kalamazoo; but what the heck was the Astro Speedway? 

While it wasn’t an obsession, it was a favorite topic of mine to Google during late nights in college. Through the wonders of Teh Intarnetz, I met a guy on the chatrooms at named Chris Yandall, who had spent a decent amount of time in the Grand Rapids area during the 1970’s. Stoked like you wouldn’t believe, Chris loved sharing stories of “the good ol’ days” especially with youngsters like myself. It was through a conversation with him that all these pieces began falling into place: He mentioned the Astro Speedway, and said that it now housed a JoAnn Fabrics in Jenison. It clicked as I realized that he’d actually meant Field’s Fabrics, and that the rumored hardwood roller rink under the floor was actually a concrete skatepark in the basement of the store! 

Fast forward a few years, and I found myself working with a young lady who had just recently married into the Field’s family, and confirmed that as of 2013, the skating terrain was still intact, though most of it had been filled in with sand. I was floored. This time frame coincided with when I started my skateboard blog, and the Astro Speedway moved from mere fascination to insatiable curiosity. It wasn’t a full-on obsession yet, as I didn’t have a Pepe Silva-esque corkboard with yarn and diagrams, but I learned to do some deep dives using Google’s search engine in conjunction with a few other online search tools to find some nearly-forgotten primary sources (in the form of magazine scans and old blogs). 

That’s how I got to where I am today. Reaching out to several sources on Instagram, I found myself in contact with one Michael Early. Mr. Early was generous enough to spend about a half an hour on the phone with me, sharing his stories of skateboarding in and around West Michigan in the 70’s and 80’s. In fact, Michael and a buddy, Jon Bishop, designed and built the Astro Speedway. 

He talked of the big names that had skated at the Astro Speedway throughout the years: Wentzle Ruml, IV, of Dogtown And Z-Boys fame; pioneering skateboard photographers Glen Friedman and Ted Terrebone; the Sims Skateboard team, including Brad Bowman, Bert LaMar, Doug DeMontmorency, and Dave Andrecht; the Haut Skateboards team (Haut being the H in NHS Distribution, of Independent Trucks, Santa Cruz skateboards, Creature Skateboards, and many other brands); and the early Variflex team including 1980’s Skater Of The Year, Eddie “El Gato” Elguera. 

The park itself was set up with the main pool in the center area. Michael mentioned that when it was initially dug out and built, it was a little shallow, so they added some vert pieces to the outside making it a sort of ¾ pipe. When he visited the store a few years back, it was still there, and looked like the vertical pieces had simply been broken off and pushed into the pool before being covered in dirt. There’s another, smaller pool in the back that he said was still useable. This confirmed what my former coworker had said; that crews simply filled in the skatepark with sand or dirt when they converted the building to a retail store. 

During one of the online conversations I’d had with Chris Yandall, he mentioned an outdoor snake run in Grand Rapids during the early-mid 1970’s, in addition to the several indoor skateparks in the area. Michael elaborated on this, and said that while he didn’t specifically remember a snake run in the area that Yandall mentioned, there was a pretty solid skate scene all around the midwest: Astro Speedway, of course, being in Jenison alongside several others in the greater West Michigan area; but also out east in Detroit, Flint, and Columbus (OH); west into Chicago and Wisconsin, where the infamous Turf skatepark was housed in Milwaukee. Bill Danforth (“Mr. Hate,” “The Nomad,”) was from Detroit, and had skated in the Great Lakes Skateboarding Association contest in 1979 at the Astro Speedway. Also on Alva’s skate team were a couple other guys from the Midwest: Steve Dread and Jesse Neuhaus, both from Chicago. Between the east coast/west coast rivalry, there was a remarkably robust skate scene right in the Midwest. 

The skateboard industry is notorious for its heavy swings – ebbs and flows that create epic boom/bust cycles. By 1983, the Astro Speedway had closed down in the midst of one of these infamous industry declines. Michael Early moved to San Diego, CA, where he currently lives and operates Pool King Skateboards as well as Alva Skateboards. 

Shared blog with

Works cited: 
Early, M. (2020, August 11). Astro Speedway Skatepark [Telephone interview]. 

Kingston, Malakai. Michael Early Pool King Founder/Owner. 2007, 

Murphy, Jim. “BILL DANFORTH.” Juice Magazine, 8 Nov. 2014, 

Yandall, C. (1979, April). National Skateboard Review, 3(12), 3-4. 

  1. Daniel Van Guilder says:

    I skated the Astro back in 1977…Chris Yandall’s brothers were on our skateboard team “Directors of the Board” out of Bay City, Michigan…there was a competitor team out of the Detroit area (Don Thomas Sport Haus) I still have some photos that were taken during our 2 hour visit…it was in the basement of a new mall…I am now 71 and still skating….I was Michigan State slalom skateboard champion in 1977…held in TRAVERSE CITY Michigan during the Annual Cherry Festival…rode a Logan Earth Ski (Torger Johnson) with Road Rider #6’s and Bennett Pro trucks! I was also the Bay City Michigan freestyle champion in 1965…during the city’s Centennial Celebration…42 ft. Nose-wheelie on a Nash Goofy-foot with clay wheels clinched the title LOL 😆…

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