Center of Gravity
A PlainStory Podcast
Center of Gravity is the story of the Midwest misfits and punks, who loved skateboarding before it was commodified, before it was cool, and definitely before it became an Olympic sport. Hear it straight from those keepers of speed, power, and style, who have been pushing across the heartland since the beginning.
Host Brenton Gomez, A.K.A. Conny Franko—a skateboarder and rapper from Omaha, Nebraska—takes listeners on a guided tour of Midwest skateboarding subculture to reveal how these remarkable rebels, often written off as agents of chaos, have built a supportive community that provides opportunities to at-risk and marginalized kids to help them embrace their creative energy, on and off the board.
Episode 1: A.K.A. Conny Franko
Skateboarding is gritty. In the heartland, it’s defined by do-it-yourself ramps and street skating while the weather allows. It’s a long way from the skateparks of SoCal, but it appeals to rebels and misfits and street punks at the margins of society. Often written off as agents of chaos, Midwestern skateboarders have actually built a community that provides opportunities for at-risk kids to help them embrace their creative energy, on and off the board. But before we get to all that, you have to meet your host: skateboarder and rapper Brenton Gomez, A.K.A Conny Franko. Brenton grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, raised by a single mom who worked hard to put food on the table and a roof over her kids’ head. When he was eleven, Brenton found his uncle’s old skateboard in the basement of his grandparent’s house in South O. And he was in love.
Episode 2: DIY
Skateboarding is community. That’s why Brenton and his friends put up a few plywood ramps and steel rails to make a DIY skate park on the abandoned tennis courts in South Omaha’s Lynch Park. They just wanted a place for neighborhood kids to skate and stay out of trouble. Only thing is: they didn’t get the okay from the city. The Parks Department says the ramps aren’t up to code and have to go. But Brenton knows what having a DIY means to the kids in South O. Come along as he wages an unexpected battle with city hall. Remember, DIY means “do-it-yourself,” but it also means “ain’t-nobody-gonna-do-for-you”—so it’s up to OG skaters like “Uncle Conny” to show the little grommets that community is about standing up for what your neighborhood needs.
Episode 3: From Flow to Pro
Skateboarding is local. The skate shop in your town is the adrenaline-fueled heart and punk rock soul of the skateboarding community. It’s where you buy your gear (ahem, where you *should* buy your gear), where you learn board mechanics, and it’s your path to going pro. Meet two guys running local skate shops in the Midwest and building the culture of skateboarding one skater at a time.
Episode 4: The Midwest Melee
Skateboarding is legendary. The Nebraska DIY skate scene burst on the national stage in September 1983. That year, Fausto Vitello, founder of Thrasher magazine in San Francisco, California, was looking for the country’s best skate ramps in unexpected places. And he heard about a killer ramp in Lincoln, Nebraska, built by teenager Rich Flowerday in his parents’ backyard on suburban Eastridge Drive. So Vitello and a who’s-who of pro-skaters climbed into a van and headed to Lincoln and “The Midwest Melee” was born.
Episode 5: The Zine Scene
Skateboarding is creativity. The self-made, DIY ethos of skateboarding is the heart and soul of this subculture. From the earliest days of the skate scene, skaters have been out there making and doing, creating the world they want to live in—one clip, one pic, one trick, one track at a time.
Episode 6: Coping
Skateboarding is life. Midwest legend Donny Diederich was raised in South Omaha in the early 1980s. He tells crazy stories about the old-school skate scene and also explains how easy it is for a kid growing up on the streets to slide into trouble—big trouble. But through it all, skateboarding saved his life again and again.
Episode 7: Pushing Across the Heartland
Skateboarding is the future. Meet Omaha legend Danny Mayer. His raw, innovative style on the vert-ramp at the X-Games helped the sport reach a wider audience. Today, skate parks are popping up everywhere, providing the next generation of kids more opportunities to find their power and passion on the board. To close out the season, host Brenton Gomez heads down to Lincoln, Nebraska, to talk with Matthew Ratliff, skatepark director at The Bay, a community center that reaches at-risk kids through weekly seshes at "skate school."
Center of Gravity is hosted by Brenton Gomez. Episodes were written and produced by Mary Anne Andrei with help from Brenton Gomez. Our executive producer is Chad Davis. Sound design and mixing by Emily Kreutz. Additional studio recording by Andy Bigham. Music direction by Chad Davis. Music by Conny Franko, M34NSTR33T, Zach Smith, Jocko, Sideshow, The Faction, and Danny Mayer. Video production and graphic design by Jennifer Johnson. Our fact checker is Lauren Paatela.