Di Dootson Rose

I recently learned about the term “archival silence” and it absolutely resonated in regard to women in skateboarding. It also reminded me that I wanted to extend gratitude to Di Dootson Rose, the legendary editor of the National Skateboard Review (1976-1979) and the efforts that went into producing, then archiving and digitizing this motherload of incredible content that she created during the second wave of skateboarding.

Di provided a brief biography on the NSR website as well as a substantial article for Lives on Board: the Skateboarder’s Journal (2009) describing her journey with skateboarding and the magazine. It all began with her brother Craig Dootson and childhood friend, Dave Dominy. In 1964 the two had created a home-made skateboard company called “Skateboards Hawaii” when they were 13 years old, selling 20 boards to friends complete with decals. The crew had even lived together in Hawaii, with big sister Di driving everyone to the beach to go surfing since she had the license.

In 1975, the trio moved into the same house on Lake Drive. “We were all in a pretty good place; we had good jobs, good friends, good dogs, and lived in a cool farm house in the middle of the flower fields in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California.” Dave and Craig were still skateboarding and were fortunate in that, “La Costa’s Black Hill was close by with empty and spectacular brand new streets all over a hill – a perfect spot for downhill.”

Dave, an accomplished carpenter had a fresh idea, sketching designs for a new skateboarding product, establishing Tracker Trucks at their kitchen table. Larry Balma joined them, having a connection to a foundry in East L.A. and La Costa was their testing grounds. In an interview with Balma, Di shared that once urethane wheels showed up (as opposed to clay wheels in the 1960s), she was a keen participant, not being one to just sit and watch, so the whole house would go skate Black Hill in La Costa after work.

Balma rhapsodized about Di. He wrote, “Surfer girl, skateboarder, big sister, skate mom, Di was the enthusiastic glue that held us all in line and helped skateboarding to become a sport. Di was there from day one, she moved out of the Lake Drive A-frame the day we filled the kitchen with boxes of truck castings because we needed more room in the workshop. All of us were fueled by adrenaline, those were exciting times.”

In fact, Di was cutting out Tracker stickers by hand on their living room floor and the first factory was their garage. “There were iron shavings and metal machine lubricant smell everywhere.” Dootson even admitted to Cindy Berryman over Facebook that she once camped out overnight at the top of Black Hill when she needed a little escape from the A-Frame!

Di’s favourite board was a hand-me-down from Henry Hester. “He was working on the FibreFlex deck design, and that first one was too flexy for him, so he gave it to me. It was perfect. I added Dave’s Trackers and Road Rider wheels and I was set. My downhill favorites were speed runs and giant slalom. I tried tight slalom, but it wasn’t as fun as the w-i-d-e swings and then the tight cranks around a cone. God, those felt good!” (Smith).

The scene at La Costa started to get competitive! “Slowly the word got out about La Costa, and more and more skaters began showing up on Black Hill. And whenever there were that many skaters (like, two or more!) then it soon became a matter of who was faster. I’m really good at organizing things, so I set up a contest for the skaters” (Smith). Things evolved with a choice to provide a $4 entry fee if you were going for the winner-take-all prize purse or $2 if you were there for the experience, and rules regarding penalties for hitting a cone. Di started writing down the results partly because the racers would pester her to remember their times each week, and in 1976 a newsletter naturally evolved. “Having the type of personality to organize chaos, I ran those La Costa races for three years – not counting when we were at pro events around the country.”

Dootson’s own racing career took a back seat to organizing the races and acting as Race Director, but that came with the privilege of being able to run the course or hill before the action started! The one time she was not the director, Di entered the tight slalom race in Vail, Colorado and took second place behind a man in her co-ed Masters Division, as age 27 was considered a Master! She said, “Getting timed at a downhill run in Vail was pretty cool.” Her speed run was clocked at 29 MPH and Di speculated that she could have gone faster but she came out of her crouch once she figured it was fast enough. Di had a photo of the event but told Balma she had to wear an ugly Cooper hockey helmet, so it hasn’t been circulated.

Back at La Costa, Dootson ran the weekly slalom races every Sunday for three years from 1975 to 1977. She wrote, “It was, oddly enough, like going to church. It was on Sunday (the day of reverence and leisure), we were out in any weather (being close to God), skating with friends through thick and thin (our ‘congregation’) and paving our way with a token contribution for race winnings and equipment (‘paying the plate’)” (Smith).

One of the racers was Bobby Turner who designed the “Turner Summer Ski” and his wife Peggy Turner (not the skateboarding legend, Peggy Turner from Florida) was working at a publishing house. “Peggy and I decided to print race results and called it Skateboard Racing News. It came out one time, in January 1976.” This was a simple, single-sheet page listing the results, and while Peggy wasn’t interested in having an unpaid side-hobby, Di decided she would expand, and launched the “National Skateboard Review—my monthly grass roots newspaper that published contest results, photos, interviews, cartoons, and Letters from all over the country,” (NSR bio) which the Smithsonian obtained in 2013, as a complete run.

“The next issue was two single sheets stapled, and the third one was 11” x 17” folded and it ended up in newspaper size, folded 14 pages long by the time I shut it down…” (Balma). This publication was no small feat. Dootson explained in her Concrete Wave feature that, “You have to remember this was 1976: no cellphones, no email, no Internet. Long-distance calls could cost up to $30. The NSR became the voice for local skaters all over the country… Soon there was a regular section in the NSR called ‘Let’s Hear From,’ where I would print what folks had sent me.” And this section included reports from States outside of the California core, Canada, Mexico, South America and beyond.

La Costa was the core feature of the National Skateboard Review, but the publication grew beyond this singular scope, with a nationwide circulation of 3,000 with 51 advertisers. As Di became more consumed with the publication (and unable to attend all the races), she wrote a “How to Run a Skateboard Contest” booklet, which sold for $50 and included details about registration, courses, prizes, etc.

With her experience at La Costa, Di “was hired to run slalom and downhill for many pro events: Long beach, Akron, Kona Pro-Am, Sensation Basin WRAPS (Wild Radical Annual Party Session), Hang Ten, Cow Palace and others across the country.” She was the first skatepark manager at Carlsbad, and she also judged pro freestyle contests and contributed articles, mainly competition coverage for SkateBoarder magazine and Skate & Surf magazine.

Dootson was even behind two of the recordings for the CBS TV Show “Battle of the Sexes” acting as a judge, and the first two Hester Series bowl contests. “I got paid by skate parks opening, ABC Wild World of Sports paid me $100 per day plus travel expenses to go all over the country and run contests and stuff” (Balma). 

Di was also critical in creating structure for the skateboarding community. “When the manufacturers came together and formed the PSA, Pacific Skateboard Association, I was the secretary to that group because they wanted to come together to develop and promote the industry. But each of them were so busy with their own companies they couldn’t necessarily do a third entity or a separate entity which was the PSA. So I served as the secretary and kind of the glue that kept it together with the agendas, minutes, and where we were going to meet, calling everybody and making it all happen” (Balma).

Eventually Di stepped aside from the Association to focus on her newspaper, once a director named Sally Ann Miller was hired, but she certainly made her mark.

Reading through the issues of NSR, especially the Letters to the Editors and the responses from Dootson, you get a vivid impression of how thoughtful, passionate, and ideal she was as an Editor. She insured a balanced reportage, making sure to celebrate new faces and include representation of women skateboarders, offering the glorious Special Women’s Section in the June 1978 edition (with Judy Cohen on the cover), and her readers appreciated this.

In the July 1978 issue, there’s a fantastic letter from “Your friends from down South.” It states, “While reading your women’s section in the June issue of the NSR, we noticed something missing – you! If any women should deserve mention for being involved in skateboarding, you, Sally Anne Miller, and Diana Line do. You have continued to serve skaters across our country, being incredibly cooperative and helpful to all. The NSR offers space for all the ‘little guys’ as well as top name skaters, and it is really a nice grass-roots operation.”

The friends request a photo of Di, and she humbly accepts the kind words and promises to dig up something. Fortunately, Warren Bolster managed to get a photo of Di cruising into Skateboarder mag. The caption reads, “Di Dootson checking the course at La Costa.” And it became Di’s favourite photo.

You can understand how difficult and heart-breaking it must have been for Di to eventually be forced to let go of the NSR. The skateboard industry crash of 1979 brought the publication to a screeching halt, as insurance companies essentially killed off skateparks. “Companies could no longer afford ad space in the NSR. No ads = no newspaper… I closed up shop and ran away to the hills of San Diego County and returned to my career as a recreation therapist.”

The NSR’s last issue was April / May 1979 released in June, with a young Steve Caballero on the cover, which he acknowledges as his first skateboard magazine cover. It was sadly the third anniversary issue and the first time colour printing had been incorporated, but things could not be sustained. Di even mailed out refund cheques to skateboarders with unfinished subscriptions.

Di’s farewell:

In Concrete Wave Di wrote that, “My heart was broken, and I left the Carlsbad area and moved to a little cabin in the hills in Jamul, east of San Diego. I returned to my previous career as a recreation therapist and packed away my photos, copies of the NSR… in truth, I ran away. In doing so, I missed what happened in the ‘80s and ‘90s.” Di also acknowledged that skateboarding was changing, and “slalom had been replaced in the magazines by pool and ramp riding.”

While Di took time to pursue her original career path, this was not the end of her involvement in skateboarding. In 2004, she was drawn back in. “I heard of a slalom race in La Costa. My first thought was, ‘What?! Without me?!’ I found the spot and discovered all my old friends… I was so happy to find that race in ’04… People I didn’t even know came up to me to thank me for the National Skateboard Review. They explained how they would wait impatiently for the next issue to arrive. All those greetings brought tears to my eyes” (CW).

“It’s really been great finding everybody again, because after I shut my newspaper down, I just turned tail, ran and hid. It was a heartbreaking thing… and it wasn’t until La Costa in 2005 or 2006 that I saw Lance Smith after 35 years and then I saw the old crew, its really great to find everybody again” (Balma).

Di’s return was embraced! She has been assisting at local to global slalom competitions, she became involved in the Tony Hawk Foundation and Skateboarding Hall of Fame, and even hosts a Viva La Costa Reunion every five years.

Di lists out more recent highlights in her bio and Concrete Wave article including:

  • She had the honor of going to Washington, D.C. in 2013 to be part of Innoskate, a celebration of invention and creativity in skate culture.
  • In 2013, a full collection of the NSR was received by the Smithsonian Institute.
  • In 2016, she sponsored the women’s purse at the US Nationals to match the men’s purse.
  • In 2016, she coordinated a Girl Scouts Skate Jam in San Diego. It included instruction by Patti McGee, Amelia Brodka, Lynn Kramer, Barb Odanaka, Matt Gaudio, and Hailey Villa with the Silly Girl Skate Team.
  • In 2017, she was guest of honor at the Mighty Mama Skate-O-Rama – a weekend gathering of women in skateboarding from all over the country.
  • In 2017, she was featured in Viceland TV as part of their Post Radical series. “It was released in 2018 and I am part of Episode 7. I will be forever grateful to Alex Craig for representing me with such respect. He has left me a legacy that I will be forever proud.”
  • Interviewed for the Skate SD: building skateboarding’s future (Dir. Cameron Sanchez) documentary as a Black Hill local, released October 2021.

The Post Radical episode featuring Dootson showcased the passion and skill of slalom skateboarders, and Di’s presence was necessary, especially as someone who was 70 years old and had documented the scene so thoroughly. The footage of Di, even dodging “imaginary cones” is awe-inspiring.

The narrator on Post Radical stated, “A historian, an archivist, and a practitioner since the 1960s Di Dootson Rose knows skateboarding on an intimate level. ‘The feeling I get whether from going downhill whether it’s bombing a hill or taking carving turns or aiming for cones is just like flying and then the ‘oh my god I can still’ do this makes me so happy because so many people can’t, you know as you go through the decades, some things you have to leave behind.’”

Di’s message in the conclusion of her Lives on Board feature rings so true, as she was reminiscing about all the skateboarding friends who had passed away over the years. “It makes the memories that much richer to realize that point in time won’t be repeated and life can be too short. With that in mind… skate often, skate hard, hug your friends, and say ‘I love you’ when you feel it.”

I’m so glad that the Associate Curator of the Smithsonian, Jane Rogers told Dootson that she belonged there, when she was overwhelmed by their 2013 request to archive the NSR. The historical vantage point that Dootson credits this publication is absolutely true. My own website would be superficial chicken scratches without those primary documents.

Thank you, Di Dootson!

Check out Di’s Facebook page, as she continues to skate and is an active participant in the downhill and slalom skateboarding community.

May 29, 2022 Update: Di Dootson wrote, “In 2020, during COVID I made La Costa Racing a 502(c)3 non profit benefit corporation. We are in our 2nd year and I am stoked with our work. Our mission: to host slalom races, to teach slalom racing, to teach healthy lifestyles for youth, and offer service opportunities for all ages. We have a website: lacostaracing.com and a Facebook page: La Costa Racing.”


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