Wentzle Ruml is in the game
WEST HARWICH – Wentzle Ruml has a lot of stories to tell. In the 1970s, he was a member of the legendary Zephyr skateboarding team, known as Z-Boys, in Santa Monica, California. He turned pro at 18, surfing and skating professionally in Hawaii and California. He was also a commercial fisherman in Wellfleet. And, since August, he’s been running his own skate shop in West Harwich with his friend Tommy Wrenn.
“This guy has lived,” Wrenn says of Ruml’s life and career.
The Cape Cod Skate Shop at 216 Main Street contains a treasure trove of skating history. The store offers rare limited-edition decks and advertisements from the 1980s, as well as other tokens collected by Ruml. On Saturday October 9, the store became a gallery, welcoming Wellfleet artist and skateboarder Mike Page, who curated a collection of old photographs of Ruml, taken in the 1970s during the Z-Boys era.
Beyond souvenirs, the store has all the gear a skater needs – decks, bearings, wheels, trucks, and more. Ruml, who is now 63, and Wrenn, 50, both test every product they sell in the store. Wrenn said they could also build ramps and give classes at home.
“It’s a legitimate skate shop,” says Ruml.
It helps to be something of a legend. Because Ruml has ties to skaters across the country, he is able to secure hard-to-find items for the store.
Ruml started skating in the late 1960s, when most Americans had never even seen a skateboard. “I just remember getting on a board and doing a few minor tricks,” he said. He joined the Z-Boys, which were originally founded as a surf team, when he was in high school in the mid-1970s. He and 11 other Santa Monica skaters reshaped the team, skating on big hills, alleys, schoolyards – wherever the dirt wheels of their boards would take them.
There is an industry around skating equipment today, but looking back Ruml says he and his friends used fringe equipment.
“When the urethane wheels came along, that changed everything,” he says. The new wheels rust less easily and maintain better grip on the ground, allowing skaters to have more control over their movements.
When Southern California experienced a drought in the mid-1970s, many residents emptied their pools to save water. Empty pools have become Z-Boys’ playgrounds.
The group skated as they surfed. They stayed low to the ground, sliding their hands across the concrete as if touching a wave. When they skated to the edge of a ramp, they grabbed the top of one hand while another held the board before descending. The Z-Boys are today credited with innovations in “green skating” – vertical skateboarding – and in skate culture as a whole.
Their new style was not universally well received when the team competed at the Del Mar National Championships in 1975, Ruml says.
“The judges had never seen what we were doing,” he said. “We didn’t even know what we were doing was possible. We made it up.
The team dispersed soon after that 1975 competition, but their style changed skateboarding forever.
After Ruml left the team, he moved to Hawaii and was sponsored by Town & Country Surf Designs. Then, in 1976, he received an offer from the Californian company Makaha Skateboards to go pro, and he returned to the mainland.
By this point, the popularity of skating had exploded. Ruml made a lot of money at a young age which he admits led to some bad decisions.
“When you’re 16, you don’t think you’re 63,” Page explains.
It was around 1980 that Ruml moved from the west coast to Truro in search of a slower life, he says. He had family here and found work as a commercial fisherman and carpenter. A few years ago he decided he was ready to return to the skating industry. This time, however, he wanted to own a store.
“I saw the skating scene die and reappear, or try to reappear here,” Ruml says of skating on the Cape. Right now there are a lot of skaters in New England, he says. One of the reasons is the pandemic. On the way out, more and more kids started picking up boards and rolling around, and the adults who hadn’t touched a board in a while decided to take theirs out of the garage.
Ruml and Wrenn want to join young skaters from Cape Town and New England. They plan to build an indoor park one day. Wrenn hopes the gallery can become a regular part of the skate shop. Skaters love to photograph and film other skaters, and the store already has a working darkroom that photographers can use to process the film.
The owners of this skate shop have not finished having stories to tell.