Growing up in Southern California in the 70’s, it was pretty hard to avoid skateboarding. The craze hit my neighborhood hard. I grew up on a block with twelve boys all within a few years of my age, and almost collectively, we fell in love with skateboarding. I started with a Black Knight board, which had clay wheels. Soon after that, my uncle, who was a surfer, made me an orange board with a yellow lightning bolt on it. The problem was, the bottom side was exposed fiberglass, and I would get an arm full of fiberglass shavings every time I picked up the board. My arm itched and burned like crazy, but I still loved that board. It had exposed bearing wheels, really janky trucks, and was slippery as hell. My uncle told me to ride it barefoot. Those were the days—no safety gear, no shoes, bloody toes, skinned knees, and a big red rash on my arms. Then one day Steve Elliott came home from the swap meet holding two Road Rider wheels with precision bearings (he couldn’t afford all four at once) and I knew there was nothing more I wanted in life.
Before long, ramps were popping up all over our town– big kinked quarter pipes made of scrap wood that were so poorly constructed that they often fell apart right when you reached the top of one. Ed Caspers’ father was in the construction business, and helped us build a fairly stable ramp behind his house. It was about 12 feet high, and to get enough speed to get to the lip, you started in the front yard, went down the driveway, hopped a little curb, navigated down the walkway on the side of the garage, and then rattled over three pieces of plywood lying on the ground. I think more kids got hurt before they got to the ramp than when they were skating it!
Eventually, most of the kids in the neighborhood found other pursuits–football, bikes, water polo–but a few of us kept skating. The evolution of the sport could be traced though the boards I owned, and the parks I skated in—from the fiberglass arm rasher to a Sims Superply to a Dogtown Wes Humpston to a Inouye “pool service,” to a Kryptonics Micke Alba to a Sims Hosoi, to a G&S Neil Blender, and on and on. I skated Concrete Wave, Skatopia, Big O, Colton, Skate City, Upland, and Del Mar. And when all the parks went away, we built more ramps, (better ones this time, but still sketchy and dangerous, with nail heads sticking up, rickety roll out decks, and slippery Masonite). We street skated at places like Sadlands, Lloyd’s Bank (yes, a bank with banks!), Flower Street — any place we could find that we didn’t get kicked out of.
Eventually, I went off to college. I made the poor choice (from a skating standpoint) of Gonzaga University. Talk about a place with a lack of skate spots, and a surplus of snow! I was absolutely at the height of my love for skateboarding, and I had exiled myself to eastern Washington, onto a campus with cobblestone walkways, for god’s sake. What was I thinking? I lasted one year, and what really got me through was my Thrasher Magazine subscription and the first Bones Brigade video. At this time, the Powell Peralta skate team was on top of the skate world. Stacy Peralta was their team manager, and he realized early on that skateboard videos were the wave of the future. I must have watched that first Bones Brigade video every day for six months in the basement of my dormitory. And by far my favorite part was Tony Hawk in the Del Mar Keyhole pool. Yes, I was unabashedly a fan of this scrawny kid two years my junior who flailed around on toothpick arms and legs, doing impossibly difficult tricks that just blew my mind. He would do every variation of every lip trick, every Ollie (his backside Ollies were so unique), and every invert. He also had these fingerflip and varial airs that seemed so otherworldly to me. Even back then, I knew I was watching a total prodigy, and I was also aware that a lot of the backlash he received from his peers was straight up jealousy. He was dismissed as a robotic, no-style circus skater, but there wasn’t one skater from his generation that could do as many tricks as he could. There was a magic aura about him, and he was mesmerizing to watch.
I am proud to say that I still skate, and I still follow Tony’s career. I was glued to my television the night he landed his first 900, and have watched as his hard work finally paid off, turning him into a figurehead of the sport, and a business tycoon. I follow him on Twitter, and my jaw still drops to the floor when he posts a video of some insane new trick. And then invariably, I get all excited and go down the street to my local skate park, The Cove, here in Santa Monica and I skate the pool. And for a moment, I am fourteen again, feeling the grip tape under my fingers, smelling the cement, and getting that little jolt of excitement as I hear the distinctive sound of the tail clapping down on the coping, ready to drop in.
Interviewing Tony for this issue of Off Camera gave me an excuse to watch that Bones Brigade video once again, open my old boxes of Thrasher magazine, and relive the days when skating was the only thing I thought about. As I re-read interviews, contest accounts, and letters to the editor, it brought back vivid memories, as if it were yesterday. And when I sat down with Tony, I could tell that these recollections were right up front in his mind as well. That period in the mid-eighties, when all the skate parks shut down and the skate scene was so small that you felt like you were on a first-name basis with everyone, felt so magical and tight knit. Being inside a movement that was so far out of the mainstream really formed a lot of my personality, my independence, and my approach to life. Being able to share that with one of my all time skate heroes is an experience I will never forget.