David “Bluetile” Toole bombed every hill in his Connecticut neighborhood with his small, banana-colored skateboard. He was about 10, and with his plastic plank he could jump fences and cut through yards, racing to spots where he’d butt-board over miles of asphalt or torture his wheels on driveways. The deck was his primo mode of transportation. The wider boards with bigger wheels that he saw at KMart, those were for cheats, people who couldn’t balance over the terrain like he could.
Then he came to South Carolina.
“I saw this kid in our neighborhood do a boardslide on a gutter,” he recalls. “I was like ‘Oh my god, holy crap, I gotta go get one of those big skateboards.’”
“I went home and traded all my Star Wars toys for a Powell and Peralta Sword and Skull skateboard.”
What: 15 Years of Bluetile
Where: Bluetile Skateshop, 621 Harden St.
When: Wednesday, Sept. 21, 7 p.m.
With: Made 2 (skate video screening); Adam Gardner Jazz Ensemble, Prayer Garden, Republican Marriage (live bands)
Thirty-two years later, Toole has rallied that passion into Bluetile Skateshop, a Five Points business that’s become an institution for Columbia’s skate culture. This week, the shop celebrates 15 years in business, but in the beginning, there were a lot of mental breakdowns.
Toole’s primary job at the time created a night shift so he could work the shop during business hours and still have steady income.
“It was brutal,” he says. “I worked for two years almost 16 hours a day. ... I joke about it today. I don’t know if I ever caught up on sleep.”
After those two hard years, Toole decided that Bluetile would be the only job stealing his rest. Halfway into his second decade of living this exhausting dream, Toole has witnessed great shifts in skateboarding at home and on a national level.
In Columbia, he watched bigger business interests enter skateboarding and saw the construction of the state’s first concrete park at Owens Field.
“Skateboarding as a whole monster has changed,” he says. “A lot’s changed in that a lot of larger corporate brands are in skateboarding now. In the time I’ve opened we’ve went from being an industry that was almost 100 percent, at least in hard goods, made in the USA to almost nothing.”
“I kinda tried to fight that for a while.”
With skateboarding set to debut at the 2020 summer Olympics, the continual push into the mainstream that Toole recognizes appears to be coming to a head. But such growth is problematic for skateboarding in the U.S. and the local shop.
“Americans are spectators and so few people participate in the things they like,” Toole says. “So as skateboarding grows on a corporate level the participation actually goes down.”
“The [U.S.] numbers are less than half in participation than when I opened the store. But media-wise, skateboarding is the biggest that it ever has been.”
The recession gave him a kick where it hurts, and last year’s flood didn’t do much good either. So while the scratch might not be what it used to, which he stresses was never that much, for Toole, Bluetile is more than sales numbers.
“It’s the evolution of things,” he says. “I know a lot of business owners will open up and they’re like ‘Welp, I open the doors and I sell skateboards and it’s not doing anything anymore.’ But for me, it’s always an evolution.”
“How can you be surrounded by so many incredible creative, interesting people and not be stoked to go to work every day? That’s what really keeps me going.”
Toole’s team of shop riders and employees include many who double as artists and musicians. The shop itself does dual duty as a space for bands to play and art to be hung. Toole is working toward expanding beyond the brick and mortar of Columbia with branded Bluetile gear and out of state additions to his team.
But Toole always comes back to the place where he found out skateboarding could be more than riding around on the concrete. For him, that’s the heart of Bluetile.
“[It’s] to inspire people just to do things. It doesn’t really have to be skateboarding,” he says. “I’m just trying to perpetuate the community and show people that you can go outside and do anything, that you can start your own band, or start your own crew of skateboarders and make your videos and do whatever.”