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Pleasanton woman inducted into International Skateboarding Hall of Fame

Laura Turner DeMott remembers the early days of skateboarding in the 1960s, when youngsters who really wanted to be surfers were looking for ways to practice when the waves were down.

"When kids want to do something, they find a way," the Pleasanton resident said, laughing.

For DeMott, that youthful ingenuity included splitting her metal roller skates and nailing them into a 2-by-4 piece of wood to make her first skateboard.

"I just wanted a board," she said, recalling her adventures with the sport she helped innovate.

It's been almost 50 years since DeMott -- then known as young Laurie Turner -- spent her afternoons taking the bus to the top of Berkeley's Grizzly Peak Boulevard then flying down the roads to improve her skills, but those memories have been particularly fresh this year.

On May 15, DeMott was inducted into the International Skateboarding Hall of Fame in Southern California, cementing her place in the history of skateboarding.

"'I've seen the whole history, been here the whole time. I can say that Laurie Turner is the first great female champion," said skateboarding pioneer Cliff Coleman, a former teammate of DeMott's. "She was determined, she didn't quit; she was a role model for women. She was the greatest female skater of them all."

Long before skate parks, Tony Hawk and the X Games, DeMott and her friends were "walking the board" and "hanging 10" whenever they had time.

They got good, and then they got noticed.

"A group of my guy friends became a team," she recalled. "They called themselves the Topsiders, after the shoes. Someone asked the six of them to come to the Sports and Boat Show at the Cow Palace in San Francisco."

The boys' performance on the ramp was good enough to catch the attention of a newly formed skateboard company looking to promote their so-called "sidewalk surfers."

"Hobie and Vita Pakt juices had an agent at the show," said DeMott, recounting how the two companies had recently teamed up to capitalize on the growing popularity of skateboarding. "They were putting a team together and (the agent) liked the boys. Then he asked if they knew any good girl skaters."

DeMott and the boys formed the Northern California Hobie Super Surfer Skateboard Team, and the fun really started.

"They took us all over to promote the sale of their skateboards," she said, spreading out yellowed newspaper clippings featuring the Super Surfer Team's weekend schedule and the Super Surfer skateboard's sale price of $4.99. "We would set up at shopping malls and in parking lots. People would show up to watch us perform."

The surging interest in skateboarding led to the first International Skateboarding Championships in May 1965.

DeMott and her teammates headed to the convention center in Anaheim where ABC's "Wide World of Sports" waited to broadcast the competition.

The crowds and cameras didn't bother her at all.

"I didn't think I was going to win, so I wasn't nervous," she said. But after taking first place in the Freestyle and Figure Eight divisions and second in Flatland Slalom, DeMott was named the competition's first female champion. In addition to a team dinner at the Disneyland Hotel, she received a $500 college scholarship and a custom surfboard from Hobie.

But it was that title of champion that meant the most to teenaged DeMott.

"Skateboarding was a godsend for me," she explained. "My family was going through hard times; my parents were divorced, my dad wasn't around. Back then that was the exception, not the rule."

Skateboarding got her outside of the house, active and hanging out with friends, distracting her from problems at home. "That positive label of champion got me through lots of difficult times," she said.

Not long after her win, DeMott turned her interest to education, earning a degree in physical education from UC Berkeley and a Bachelor of Theology from Shiloh Bible College in Oakland.

She became a ballerina with the Oakland Ballet, dancing in "The Nutcracker," and then continued her career there for another 20 years teaching dance.

She had a daughter during her first marriage, and then remarried to her current husband, Tom DeMott, in 1995. The couple have lived in Pleasanton ever since.

DeMott got her teaching credential, taught at Valley Christian Schools in Dublin and became the dance director at Crosswinds Church in Dublin.

With so much life and so many experiences since she last stepped foot on a skateboard, it was no wonder the call from her old Super Surfer teammate took DeMott by surprise.

"I was in my kitchen one morning when the phone rang and the caller ID on the phone said 'C Coleman.' I hadn't seen him in 49 years," DeMott said. "I couldn't imagine how he found me. When Cliff told me he was nominating me for the Skateboarding Hall of Fame, it was surreal."

Coleman is, himself, a legend in the world of skateboarding. Still heavily involved with the sport, Coleman is happy to reminisce about his days of skateboarding with young Laurie Turner.

"Those were the early days of skating -- the clay-wheel era of the '60s, before today's urethane wheels were invented," Coleman explained. "Getting to be a part of that (Super Surfer) team was great. Every kid in the world wanted to be on that team. We were the lucky ones."

It wasn't luck that brought DeMott her championship victory in Anaheim in 1965, though, according to Coleman, who said his teammate earned the crown through talent and determination.

"The International Skateboarding Championship defined that era; everyone showed up for it. And the competition for Laurie was close; only 1 1/2 points between first and second. There were great skaters there, but she wanted it more than they did. Laurie was mentally tougher than they were," Coleman said.

"Laurie pushed her herself to her limits; she hung out with a bunch of guys and she pushed our limits, too," he added. "The first (female) champion deserves to be in the Hall of Fame."

And a majority of the 400 Hall of Fame voters agreed, choosing Laurie Turner DeMott to represent the women of the 1960s as part of the Hall of Fame's class of 2014.

During the induction ceremony last month, Coleman had the chance to see his friend join other skateboarding greats in the Hall of Fame, now a permanent icon for the sport that brought so much to each of their lives.

One of seven inductees, DeMott gave a speech to a crowd in Costa Mesa that included her immediate family and relatives from all over.

"She is deserving of the media spotlight," Coleman said. "She has accomplished so much; she is surrounded by her family, she's happy. She's made a great life for herself."

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