Home Australia How a DIY ramp made from plywood went onto turbocharge skateboarding culture ​​​​​

How a DIY ramp made from plywood went onto turbocharge skateboarding culture ​​​​​

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A man with glasses sits on a concrete bench with his skateboard.

Since Newcastle’s Poppy Starr-Olsen made history by becoming the first Australian to compete in Olympic skateboarding, the Hunter region has become a hub for up-and-coming skaters.

But you may not know that one of the key influences on Australian skateboarding came from a 3 meter high wooden ramp built by 20-year-olds in a suburban backyard in Merewether.


A DIY Approach to a World Class Ramp

In the early 1980s, Sean Mussett, also known as Gravel Burns, was eager to vert skate, going down a skate ramp or some type of vertical slope to perform skate tricks.

“All the guys like Tony Hawk skated vertically and we didn’t have anything like that,” he said.

Skaters like Sean ‘Gravel Burns’ Mussett helped put Newcastle on the skateboarding map in the 1980s. (ABC Newcastle: Laurie Dickson)

The problem was that there was nothing like it in Newcastle: just an old blue fiberglass ramp leading down next to Bar Beach.

But that wasn’t going to stop a motley group of skating fans.

“My friend’s dad had a concreting business and we had access to tools, so we started building this monster ramp on Ridge Street in late ’85 and early ’86,” Sean said.

A man wearing a red helmet rides a skateboard up a wooden ramp.

It took Sean Mussett and his colleagues three months to build the Ridge Street skate ramp.(Supplied: Sean Mussett)

Fueled by sheer devotion to skating and using plywood and borrowed lumber, Sean and his companions spent three months building a 3m high and 6m wide skate ramp, almost the size of a singles tennis court, but much higher.

Newcastle skate historian Jim Turvey considers the Ridge Street ramp a unique DIY approach.

A man wearing a green jacket stands in front of a yellow wall covered in old magazine covers of people skating.

Jim Turvey curated an exhibition at Newcastle Museum in 2022 on the local history of skateboarding.(Supplied: Paul Dear)

“It was a world-class vert ramp for skating when there was nothing like it around here and it was something that wasn’t a facility provided by any kind of government agency,” he said.

“People were literally saying, ‘Hey, we want one of these, so we’re going to do it no matter what.’

Putting Newcastle on the map

The ramp ended up on Ridge Street in Merewether because one of Sean’s friends’ parents had bravely said they could build it in their backyard.

They may not have realized how big the finished ramp would be.

“Every person that walked into that backyard just looked at it and their jaw dropped,” Sean said.

A 1980s photo of a man doing tricks on a wooden skate ramp.

The Ridge Street skating ramp attracted skaters from all over Australia and New Zealand.(Supplied: Sean Mussett)

“It would have been the most serious vertical terrain on the east coast of Australia at the time.”

A black and white magazine photo of a skateboarder doing a handstand at the top of a skate ramp.

Skateboard Australia magazine was first published in 1987 and featured the Ridge Street skate ramp.(Supplied: Jim Turvey)

From above, skaters could see the treetops and neighboring houses.

People would come from all over Australia and as far away as New Zealand to try it.

“It was so good that the Sydney team would drive down the highway back then, you know, two and a half hours, three hours and skate all weekend… week after week,” Sean said.

The Ridge Street ramp only lasted 10 months before being dismantled due to planning issues, but it had a lasting impact on the skate culture in Newcastle.

Sean, along with Al Tindall, would develop one of Australia’s first skate magazines, Skateboard Australia, which featured skateboarding competitions on the Ridge Street ramp.

The best skateboarding is happening now

Local governments in the Hunter region are more pro-skateboarding than they were in the 1980s.

Lake Macquarie City Council has invested more than $3 million since 2021 in the construction of three new skate facilities in Windale, Morisset and Croudace Bay, with plans to contribute to the development of the new Watagans skate park.

A large skate bowl with the ocean in the background.

The Bar Beach skate bowl in Merewether is one of the largest bowls on the east coast of New South Wales.(ABC Newcastle: Laurie Dickson)

Local skaters like Marley Rae, 21, are taking notice.

“Councils are being very generous to us skaters, whether they’re building new skate parks or creating friendly areas for street skaters,” he said.

“They love what we do and it’s really amazing to see.”

A young man in a white shirt is sitting on some concrete steps in front of a skate bowl smiling. He is holding his skateboard in his hands.

Marley Rae, 21, is one of Newcastle’s most promising skaters.(ABC Newcastle: Laurie Dickson)

But the memory remains of a backyard pirate skate ramp towering over the palm trees.

“It’s always been very intriguing to me,” Marley said.

“Some of those guys have a big influence on my skating to this day.”

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