I Skate Therefore I Am – The First Betty

In 1965, Patti McGee, a Gidget-like young woman from San Diego, was pictured on the cover of Life magazine on a skateboard. It was so breathtaking that, 50 years after, people still talk about that as a major achievement. Even if Gidget was only a novel based upon a Malibu Surfer girl, Patti McGee was more original than the original.

The Life Magazine headline was: “The craze and menace of SKATEBOARDS .” Well, it has not changed a lot in 50 years. Patti McGee was the national skateboard champion of 1964, back when girls were just as likely to be on a skateboard as boys were. That all changed in the 1970s, when the sport moved from clay wheels to critical, testosterone-fueled pool-riding challenge. Then, it changed again to Skate And Destroy and stayed that way for a long, long time, excluding girls for almost 25 years. We are just seeing now a new generation of girls popping up in street, pools, bowls and verts.

Where did the “First Betty” name come from? Why “First Betty” and not “First Patti”?

Well……My Daughter Hailey V. came up with the name “First Betty”! I asked her the same question….. She said . “MOM! a Betty is a hot Chick” & it just stuck. *Blush* :)

How did a book like Gidget (by Frederick Kohner) influence you to practice surfing?

Gidget was cute & yes I suppose she led the way although it didn’t influence me to surf, I would have done it one way or the other…. The beach scene at Malibu was tight and the story was lived out there every day. It was 150 miles from San Diego till I was 16 & had my own car to make coast trips. Then I surfed every time I got a chance.

By looking at your equipment back in the days, one would assume that skateboarding was pretty inexpensive when you started? No pads, no hundred dollars shoes, no Abec 15 with Swiss grease, no hassle.

You are right … My equipment is almost stone age compared to now… Lamented decks at the most with Clay wheels.. Period.!! NO Helmets No Pads, and Bare feet ruled.

What would you do when you hurt your feet? Stop skating for 1 month?

Our feet were tough & we had Surf knots on our knees too. We would use Band Aids & the healing power of the Ocean & kept on going. I wore sandals to school, worked for me.

How long after you started did you go pro?

Fast as I could… (GRIN) I was 19 by then & had to start making a living.

How were you pre-qualified for the National Skateboard Champion in 1964?

No qualification… just show up & sign in.

How was it?

The 1964 contest was at the Santa Monica park & Rec. And it was judged on the flip card system like ice skating. The events were Fig. 8 / Slalom with cones & FreeStyle. No TV / No Zine coverage & maybe 100 folks. Don’t remember any music even.

Do you remember your routine?

The fig. 8 was a shoe-in for me since i had learned it in Fig. Skating (2 complete circles.. OO ) not a infinity sign. The slalom was timed with a stop watch & points off for knocking over cones. Free Style was a timed event & my Handstand was my signature trick & still is I guess, huh?

Tell us about the time when you got the record for the fastest girl on a skateboard at 47MPH… You were behind a motorcycle… Was it with clay wheels? Steel wheels? What kind of equipment?

First off it wasn’t one of the smartest thing i ever did, ok! Our BunBuster team had a Skateboard booth at the “DickClarks World Teen Fair 1964″ (before the National contest in Santa Monica) over Easter Vacation in the ” California Orange County Fair” Parking lot. Suzuki motor cycles had a hill climbing demo set up next to us. 1+1= Hay lets get the ski rope outa my VW bus & see if that guy will tow us!! The wheels were Chicago rink clay wheels & we tightened -em up tight after a few runs & the rest is history. Shhhhhhhhh …NO Helmet / NO pads / NO Shoes / NO brains……. Must have been good clean living cause none of us ever fell.

Tell us about how the Life cover came to be…

I was in the right place at the right time….. Doing a demo in Latrobe Pennsylvania at a Montgomery Ward & I get a phone call from the “LIFE” folks & I said SURE!!!!! They meet me in Pittsburgh, Pa. the next day or so & we did the shoot. The Vietnam war was big news & there had just been a tsunami, (we called them Tidal Waves Back then) up in Alaska so I wasn’t really expecting to get the cover. Guess they needed to supply the world with some comic relief for a change. It was dumb luck like I said but on Sat. I knew I was getting it , on Sunday Macy’s dept store booked me on the “What’s my line” game show, I hadn’t even seen it yet. & Monday morning when I came in to demo work they staged a surprise shot where I had to close my eyes till they had the Zine my hands, then it was open yours eyes.. SURPRIZE!!! LOL.. Just like Christmas.

a skaterdater





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