GLENS FALLS — Perhaps it was the palpable heartbeat of his yellow plastic “Free Spirit” with loose ball bearing urethane wheels gliding over concrete walkways; or the weightlessness of his board shooting up the side of a pool that first made Charlie Samuels feel like the Silver Surfer, his comic book hero.
Or maybe is was the challenge of his wooden Logan earth ski or aluminum Holly, the way they helped him taunt the limits of gravity, that pushed him to keep getting up when he fell.
Or maybe it was the deep-seated friendship he had with a disparate group of guys who became his skateboard brothers that pushed him to build a skateboard ramp inside his New York City apartment in 1994.
And for sure it was all of it that drove Samuels to scour dusty attics for half-forgotten Super8 films and interview his skateboard friends, all members of one of New York’s first demonstration and competitive skateboard teams, the Wizards.
Now, over four decades since his first free-flying ride, Saratoga filmmaker Samuels’ tells the story of a sport that he says changed the course of his life and linked him to the brothers he loves in his feature-length documentary, “Virgin Blacktop: A New York Skate Odyssey.”
Selected out of 2,000 Adirondack Film Festival submissions, “Virgin Blacktop’s” Glens Falls upstate New York premiere screens at the Charles R. Wood Theater on Glen Street in downtown Glens Falls at 3 p.m., Oct. 19.
“I have been to over a dozen film festivals,” said Samuels, not mentioning the long list of awards the film has won or its other accolades. “And I’m really happy about the Adirondack Film Festival.”
The 83-minute documentary is a bit nostalgic, a bit coming of age and a lot relationship, held together by their journey flying high on a board with wheels.
He explains that “virgin blacktop” is a skateboard expression for a newly paved road surface.
“This is what we aspired to skate,” he said. “Before we knew of the existence of skateparks.”
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This band of nine creative outsiders joined together as kids in the late 1970s — all from different Rockland County cities — and started learning nosegrinds (rear of the board elevated over an obstacle), Ollies (a popping jump), flips and turns from each other.
“There were nine wizards, there are nine planets,” Samuels said, adding that he first started skateboarding when he was seven. “We competed in contests on the East Coast in New Jersey, New York. We did demonstrations at malls and on the streets ... we went on roadtrips to state parks.”
In the deeply engaging film, one of the Wizards’ moms details the time the Wizards got arrested while she was driving them on the road to competitions. And Samuels added that while shooting a scene of the film in Las Vegas they were stopped by police for skateboarding, like the old days.
“When we got together at my apartment in 1994, I got my camera, I thought we should have this documented,” Samuels said. “I filmed it on Hi 8 and thought I’d cut it for one of my monthly documentary shows on Manhattan cable access TV. But when I saw the passion and energy coming through so strongly, I immediately thought of how I could take it beyond that ... When the best time in your life happens to be documented by some incredibly talented shooters you gotta make a film about it.”
Samuels said he searched attics, basements and storage lockers for Super 8 of the Wizards and found it.
“The Super 8 footage is the Holy Grail of the documentary,” he said. “I found a trove of amazingly shot footage. “
And then at the 1994 reunion, he intentionally captured more details.
“I thought I would shoot the interview and ask everyone a question about someone else in the Wizards,” Samuels said. “And I shot them doing their best trick. I asked them pointed questions about their lives.”
Samuels shared that skateboarders Tony Hawk, Tony Alva and skate photographer Glen E. Friedman were cut from the film, while shooting a scene in Tuskegee AL, a shootout broke out next to them and they had to ‘hit the deck,’ the film was edited in New York and in Paris, France by an ex-pro skateboard champion David Couliau and the Wizards were photographed by fashion photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sander for German Vogue magazine.
But now, with a distributor just about locked up, Samuels said it looks like the film will be released in early 2020 and its his hope the message of skateboarding gets carried forth.
“For the most part, skateboarding is a guiding force of good in the world that hooks kids when or before adolescence, carrying them through by providing challenges, freedom, confidence and a sense of community,” Samuels said. “And it encourages unity, creativity and camaraderie.”