1960s skateboard pioneer Colleen Turner inducted into Skateboarding Hall of Fame
Encinitas resident Colleen Boyd Turner will be inducted into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame on Nov. 12 at the Vans Headquarters in Costa Mesa. A pioneer of skateboarding in the 1960s, Turner is considered one of the greatest skateboarders of her era, a sidewalk surfer who blazed a path for the sport that was still brand new.
No, she wasn’t in Dogtown with the Z-Boys and she could be Tony Hawk’s mother.
“Those were the days before ollies, half pipes and skating in empty pools,” Turner said. “The only terminology that hasn’t changed is ‘face plant’.”
Those were the days of Colleen skating barefoot, carving turns on a fast downhill and doing handstands on a rolling skateboard with abandon. If there was ever a barrier, she found a way to jump it.
In her 70th year, Turner was also inducted into the CIF Hall of Fame in Los Angeles City Section on Oct. 11, celebrating a sports career that included a national championship with UCLA in 1972 and several years playing on the U.S. Women’s National Volleyball Team. She was inducted among big names including NFL coach Andy Reid, WNBA player Lisa Willis, the NFL’s Steve Smith Sr. and ESPN reporter Ramona Shelburne.
Alongside so many professional athletes, one of her first words in her speech was “What am I doing here?” Well, let’s start at the beginning.
Born and raised in Pacific Palisades, she was five years old her first time on a skateboard. In 1956, her older brother Greg made a skateboard by hammering steel Mickey Mouse roller skate wheels to a piece of 2 by 4 plywood.
“He plopped me down on my butt on the board at the top of the driveway and gave me a push,” she said.
Turner skateboarded in fits and starts but got most into it in her early teens when she was in junior high school. At that time, the boys all made skateboards in wood shop class and carried them around school—Turner was determined to have one of her own.
Armed with her skateboard she rode driveways and sidewalks, took on long hills and the curved concrete of drainage ditches, competing in self-made competitions and fearlessly going up against any boy who challenged her.
“A few girlfriends and I got together and skateboarded in Pacific Palisades,” Turner said. “We wanted to be on a team but the boys didn’t invite us so we formed our own team.”
With Suzanne “Suzie” Rowland Levin (now a Solana Beach resident) and Donna Cash Harris (who now lives in Mission Bay), their team was called La Femme and they were sponsored by a local woman’s apparel shop. Their team uniform consisted of a plaid jacket emblazoned with a La Femme Skateboard Team patch that Suzie’s mom designed. Recently, a representative from the Smithsonian Institutes’ American history division requested the original patch for a display about skateboarding.
Colleen was the team captain by default, as no one else wanted the job.
The all-girls squad was short-lived as the boys quickly recognized their value and invited them to join their teams. Suzie and Donna went to the Palisades Skateboard team and Colleen joined up with Hobie Team where they competed (and won) city skateboard contests.
The 60s-era skaters were inventive, coming up with tricks like wheelies, kickturns, frog stands and the hippie jump, jumping over two to three-foot poles and landing back on their board. Turner skateboarded while balancing a teammate on her shoulders and frequently raced down the enticingly long, smooth cement driveway at Palisades High, her bare feet blackened by the pavement.
“We didn’t realize at the time that we were being pioneers,” she said. “We just loved skateboarding, and the more difficult the challenge, the more we liked it.”
She perfected the trick of doing handstands on the skateboard, trying it for the first time as she competed in the 1965 International Skateboard Championships in Anaheim.
Black and white footage from ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” shows a 13-year-old Turner performing tricks during the freestyle competition: “This gal is hot!”: the announcer chimes in. She took first place in the flatland slalom event that day as girls weren’t allowed to compete in the downhill slalom.
“Looking back, it’s hard to believe what we did on those boards as kids,” Turner said. “What was exhilarating then now looks downright scary to me.”
Not only was she often shoeless, she also bypassed helmets and pads most days. She never broke a bone, despite one trick they came up with that involved racing down a steep hill standing on top of a metal trashcan that was precariously placed on top of a skateboard.
She recalls her worst accident while racing the driveway at Palisades High without a helmet, her wheel catching on a pebble and sending her flying. She woke up in her boyfriend’s parents’ house with no recollection of what had happened. A recent MRI revealed a brain injury in her youth but back then there was no doctor, no checkup: “If you could walk and talk, you just started skating again,” she said. (Today, Turner fully endorses helmets).
Her exploits were featured in the 2015 documentary short “Skateboarding’s First Wave”, combining “hysterical” old footage with a group of Palisades pioneers reuniting to skate their old high school haunt, going back to the ‘60s in their 60s.
Turner had been nominated for the Skateboarding Hall of Fame several times before getting in this year. Some of the women hall of famers from the 1970s era like Laura Thornhill Caswell and Robin Logan, as well as 60s-era hall of famer Brian Logan, looked her up and felt that she had been left out. She was encouraged to start an Instagram account to show her skateboarding style and accomplishments to the hall of fame voters who weren’t yet alive when she was skating.
“I had no idea how to create an Instagram. I’m 70 years old,” Turner said. “I finally figured it out and I started to enjoy bringing together all of the footage and history.”
If anything, she knew her two young grandkids would love grandma’s ‘Gram but she got really into it and it worked: she finally claimed her spot in the hall of fame, one of just two women in the class of 2021, alongside fellow San Diegans Billy Ruff and Steve Cathey.
Back in 1965, her “720” (two 360-degree turns on a flat surface) was considered extraordinary. Today, Turner is in awe of all of the amazing things that skateboarders like local Olympian Bryce Wettstein can do.
“I think many five-year-olds can skate better than I ever did, it’s embarrassing,” she said. “They’re so phenomenal.”
Turner could say the same about volleyball players and how the game has evolved since her time. She recently watched a San Dieguito Academy team play Vista and thought either high school squad could have given her 1972 national championship team a challenge.
“I wanted to go to the Olympics so I peeled off from skateboarding,” Turner said. “If I had waited, it would’ve been 56 years later.”
From kickturns to volleyball and military service
Turner led the Palisades High girls volleyball team to three city championships in 1966, 1967 and 1968. By the time she got to UCLA, she was a starter as a freshman.
Her Bruins team won the Division of Girls and Women’s Sports championship in 1972 with a 28-1 record. It was UCLA’s first women’s national championship.
A middle blocker and outside hitter, UCLA retired her #44 jersey and in 1997 she was named one of the 25 greatest players in UCLA history.
In the days before Title IX, Turner said she never understood how much she took for granted. Her mother was a huge support for her.
An athlete herself, Clarabel Gish Boyd had played basketball for a radio manufacturing company team during World War II (think “A League of Their Own”) in her tiny Kentucky coal mining town. She got a job in California and per family lore, met Colleen’s father on Hollywood and Vine, moving to a sleepy bedroom community called Pacific Palisades to raise their family.
Turner said in Pacific Palisades, her mom wasn’t tainted by how it was supposed to be for girls back then. When Colleen wanted to surf, her mom took her to the beach. She drove her to skateboarding competitions and when she wanted to play volleyball, she got her training from the best coaches. There were no limits.
“Both of my parents were real champions of my athletic endeavors,” she said. “I never would have achieved what I did without their support.”
While at UCLA, Turner made her first national team. She competed for the USA Women’s National Volleyball team in two World Games (Bulgaria in 1970 and Mexico in 1974), the University World Games in the USSR in 1973 and the Pan American Games in Colombia in 1971. She played on the national team until 1980 but they never made the Olympics, despite having a very talented team.
Turner earned her PhD in social welfare and joined the U.S. Air Force Reserves, retiring with the rank of lieutenant colonel in 2004.
Her Air Force jobs covered a wide range of fields including race relations and teaching leadership at the USAF Academy and serving as the lead for the AF pilot empowerment program at the Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles. She credits skateboarding for the courage to go after her Military Freefall Parachutist Badge; she also became an expert marksman with an M-16 semi-automatic rifle.
Turner went on to become the chief of strategic communications for the state and defense department’s Iraq/Afghanistan Transition Planning Group and then worked for the VA Office of Inspector General as a virtual employee for DC in LA/San Diego, retiring again eight years ago in 2015.
Friends have joked that her life is quite Forrest Gumpian, having excelled in a bit of everything. Those pursuits have not quieted in retirement.
Since 2018, she has volunteered in Mexico, advocating for deported veterans.
“Military veterans are like my second family, they are my brothers and sisters,” Turner said. “If you’ve been willing to serve your country and lay down your life for this country then you get deported, that’s not right.”
Turner was hopeful by the news this summer that the Biden administration is starting a policy review to bring back deported noncitizen veterans and remove barriers for military members to naturalize.
For exercise and camaraderie, Turner now mostly stays in the water, boogie boarding with the Newcomers Club of San Dieguito and body surfing with Del Mar Bodysurfing Club. As she has said: the landings in the ocean are usually much softer than falling off a skateboard.
This August on Go Skateboarding Day she went to the Encinitas Skatepark and gave it a whirl, getting back on a board after a 55-year break: “It’s not like riding a bike, not even close,” she said “It’s actually pretty scary.” Nonetheless, she stayed upright as she rolled down the hill of the parking lot (wearing shoes and adequately protected in a helmet and pads) with encouragement from younger riders.
Turner muses that she may make a comeback in skateboarding and surfing, considering the formation of an “Over the Hillers (But Not Underground Yet)” team that she jokes could have sponsors like Ben Gay, Bandaids and Depends.
A big part of being a pioneer is leading the way for those willing to follow. Turner’s daughter Kim played volleyball for Brown University and won an Ivy League Championship. Just like mom, son James won a volleyball national championship at UCLA. At the Olympics this summer, the USA women’s volleyball team won their first-ever gold and inaugural medals were awarded to the first Olympic skateboarders and surfers.
Her two grandchildren have started dabbling in sports and getting on a skateboard—she proudly watched when her five-year-old granddaughter took her first roll down a hill on a skateboard last year, just like she did back in 1956.
In a life so full, there is so much she could say. As she reflects on the recognition of the halls of fame, she hopes her legacy will be about persistence—whether it’s academics, sports, service or your personal life—taking advantage of every opportunity and not being afraid to fall and get up and do it again and again and again.
“I hope I can be an inspiration to young women athletes,” she said. “When boys didn’t take us in, we started our own group. We skated no matter what and we didn’t let any obstacles get in our way.”
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