INTERVIEW WITH WALLY HOLLYDAY
INTERVIEW BY JIM MURPHY
PHOTOS BY WALLY HOLLYDAY, MIKA AND ANDY KESSLER
In the glory days of the ’70s, concrete parks were being built around the world in every shape, size and dimension. Most of them weren’t perfect, but skaters didn’t realize how great a skatepark experience could be until Wally Hollyday showed up. A skater himself, Wally had an eye for roundwall, and was able to shape pools and bowls, by hand with incredible results. No park today could really compare to Wally’s legendary concrete monoliths like Cherry Hill, Apple and Colton, which included multiple concrete pools, half pipes and bowls. Imagine them disappearing and when they died, the few and the proud waited and dreamed that someday, some way, these concrete meccas of creativity would be a new generations’ reality. Finally, 20 years later, the concrete skate park is again a viable commodity and Wally is back on a mission to educate the masses on the right way to build a skatepark. In this day and age, there is absolutely no reason why anyone should ever see or pay for another kink-sink creation again! Welcome back, Wally!
I was talking to Jim Rees in Wilmington, NC and he said you helped build their park. How did that go?
It came out pretty cool. A lot of the park is trowel finished shot-crete, but we were able to keep really good control of it. The pool was plastered, so it will be interesting to see which is the better surface. I really like the two-coat plaster because you have a lot of control over the shape.
You didn’t do that in both areas?
No, you don’t really need it for anything less than six feet. It’s just for where it’s really deep and you want to do a lot of shot-crete.
“Duane Bigelow taught me a lot, but what I brought to him was an eye for the shape. I was only 19 years old at the time and I had no experience with concrete, but I’d always visualized something that was perfect.”
What exactly do you do for the parks?
Well, for the Wilmington park, Jim Rees did a design and I re-designed and then he came up with the final version. It was a real collaborative work. It was good, because it made us not afraid to try things. I could throw something out and Jim would give me a different point of view. Plus doing the concrete, it was really nice to have Jim there. I really instilled in him the belief that it’s all about the eye – it’s not about how many years you’ve done concrete. It’s all a matter of timing. I think one problem a lot of the parks have is the seam at the bottom of the transition doesn’t come perfectly to zero before it goes into the flat. Even when it’s cut perfectly, it will get messed up when they float it or do the edge. It always happens. But there’s a time to go back and fix that, before it’s too stiff to reshape. It’s just a matter of knowing there’s a problem and knowing when to fix it.
You’re known for staying on a job until it’s perfect.
I try, but none of it’s really perfect. In every job, I let something get away, but you have to judge how it affects the overall.
What was it like building Cherry Hill?
With Cherry Hill, one thing that made it high quality, was the guy who did the concrete. That was the first time I’d done a plaster coat like real pools. He brought in real pool guys that were really skilled.
What was his name?
Duane Bigelow taught me a lot, but what I brought to him was an eye for the shape. I was only 19 years old at the time and I had no experience with concrete, but I’d always visualized something that was perfect.
Had you ridden pools before?
When I was about 17, I came across an empty hotel pool. It was springtime and they were cleaning it and it was perfect. It was 30 feet across. It was huge. It wasn’t like regular backyard pools that are small with tight transitions and stuff. It was a big deep thing. And when I saw all the pictures in the magazines, I envisioned everything being like that. All these pictures of these guys skating pools that looked perfect. After high school I went to California to skate all the parks and they all stunk. I kept saying to myself, I’ve never seen anything in a skate park that was anywhere close to this hotel pool I’d ridden in New Jersey.
Where was that hotel? Let’s go barge it.
It’s in Cherry Hill. Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that. It’d be really interesting to go see this pool that made such an impression on me and see how it looks now. It really created my vision of what a park should look like.
Did you know how much transition you wanted? Like when you built the Egg Bowl – that was like an 11-foot transition pool.
I think it was ten-foot trannies and twelve feet deep. A lot of people think it was fifteen feet. I know all of you guys were very young at the time, so it probably seemed huge.
I thought it was fifteen feet.
I don’t think I would have done anything that big because I didn’t think anything else that deep was any good. The trannies I just did by eye. We didn’t use templates to cut the concrete then.
You just concentrated on making it perfect?
Well, I spent a lot of time shaping the dirt. I was kind of obsessive about it. But I knew the more perfect it was the better chance we had of the concrete being good. And it did work out that way. When they shot it, all they were doing was following was the dirt. And I was the eye for the guy with the fresno, the blade that carves the wall; I would guide him and tell him where to cut. Bigelow told the concrete crew, “Do whatever he says. It’s his park and his design.” He always respected me for trying to get it perfect. I became good friends with his crew. They liked doing good work.
Bigelow brought you in on Cherry Hill?
Well, it was kind of the other way around. When I came out to California I got hooked up with the Lakewood Skate Park. They were having some problems with the transitions. The guy that originally designed it was kind of stuck on half pipes so he didn’t know what to do with the bottom of a pool. He didn’t really know the importance of flat so I kind of gave him a little lesson in what transitions should be and I went out there and recarved some of the transitions. The contractor ended up hiring me so we could redesign as we built.
You did this just from being a skateboarder and having a good eye; you had no masonry experience. That’s incredible.
That’s what I brought to it, an eye for how it should be. When they were going to build a park in Cherry Hill, the contractor came to see me at Lakewood. There had just been an article on Lakewood in one of the skate magazines and I’d gotten a lot of recognition for working on it.
And that was in 1977, before the Clambowl?
Yeah, that was one of the last things I did. How was it?
I never skated it. I just saw it in the magazines and next thing you know they were closing it.
Yeah, I got in a big fight with the owner so I never even saw anyone skate it. I heard it was good. And Kelly Bellmar rebuilt it in his backyard.
Yeah, I love Bellmar’s.
Yeah, but he kind of missed a few things about the design. His is more parallel side to side. It should have been more egged out, so you could carve out onto that flat wall and when you came down, you’d be going back into the bowl. I never saw anyone ride the original, but they say it was cool.
So, back to Bigelow.
Yeah, the contractor hired Bigelow too. So, I wasn’t working for Bigelow at that point, we were both working for the contractor. The contractor let me build it however I wanted. If I spotted something wrong, we would fix it no matter what it took.
You weren’t on a time crunch or money pressure?
Not me, I grew up in Cherry Hill. I was back in my hometown building the park of my dreams. If anything, I was overly obsessed about making it perfect. After Cherry Hill we did Apple and hired Bigelow again. He had proven he was awesome.
What did Bigelow do?
He had a shot-crete crew and he had built pools in Arizona. He brought his crew and they did it the same way they would do a pool. He came up with the gray coat as opposed to the regular pool plaster.
What’s the gray coat?
It’s just cement and sand. The sand is more like masonry sand which is coarser so it has more body and it gives a nicer shape than the ground marble dust that they use on backyard pools. Pool plaster is super fine. When you trowel it, it gets really hard and slick. Which is great for holding in water but it’s too slippery and the more you ride it the more polished it gets. When anyone uses regular pool plaster they’re super slick and tend to be bumpy.
Who did Getaway down in Alabama?
Bigelow did that. He actually did Getaway in between Cherry Hill and Apple. When I was doing the excavation and getting Apple together, he was down there doing the concrete. Concrete doesn’t take that long. He could do all that concrete in less time than I could get the park ready. Apple was when I first started doing concrete with him.
Did you like shaping concrete as much as shaping the dirt?
It’s way more rewarding. Shaping concrete is easy compared to shaping dirt. With dirt you have to pic away, little by little. Now, since I’ve been driving bobcats, the dirt is more fun again. The days of shoveling are gone. Like you mentioned the Clambowl, The Clambowl was a big dirt hole in the middle of the skate park and you couldn’t get any machinery to it. I dug that whole thing by hand.
How long did that take?
Well, I don’t remember. They owed me a bunch of money. And I said I’ll go out there and build them this pool if they would pay me. Then of course they never paid me anything and went out of business. I didn’t react well to finding out they weren’t going to pay me after I was out there every day shoveling in the hot California sun. Everyone else was skating and I’m down there digging in a dirt hole every day.
Did you get out of park building after that, after everything closed down?
I think the last one I did was Colton.
How did that go down?
Colton was cool. Allen Losi’s parents owned Colton and they were super nice. We would go out and stay at their house. Allen was just a little kid. We were there for a while building that pool.
At this point how old were you?
I was 22.
When you were building parks were you like “I’m going to do a grind here or an air here” or were you just out to build a perfect pool?
I was just into the perfection of building beautiful flowing concrete. To me, it was more of an artistic thing. I was into skaters reaction to them. When I was building these parks, we’d fill them with water when we were done and leave. I didn’t get a chance to skate them.
Did that bum you out?
No, I really identified more with building these parks. I was still into skating, but I wasn’t building parks for myself, I was doing it for pros that were my friends. I would think of what they would do in these parks.
Who did you hang out with?
[Steve] Olson and I were friends. Tony [Alva] and I hung out some. I didn’t really skate much with any of those guys, but I was hanging out with Olson more than anybody.
Did he get you into punk rock?
Yeah, he was the one that got me going out to clubs. His brother told us about The Masque. I dug the punk scene because you didn’t need much money for clothes. You could go to a thrift store and buy clothes and it didn’t matter if you had no money or a job. Which at that point, I didn’t.
What was your state of mind when the skate parks crashed?
I was feeling really outcast. You go from being the best skate park builder in the world to a point when skating doesn’t matter at all. I don’t care what anyone says skating totally died. No one cared. There was only a handful of people; Jay Adams being one, that still cared about skating. I remember seeing him down in Venice after Marina closed.
How did he feel?
He was just shredding grinds on curbs and stuff. He was all pissed off and he was like “There’s no place to skate anymore. You’ve got to build something somewhere. I’ll tear it up if you build it.” And that was around the same time that Jesse Martinez started to skate up walls and stuff. The first time I saw him do that I was like “What did he just do?” And my big thing was transitions and here he was skating walls without transitions. It blew my mind.
I know when Cherry Hill closed, I literally cried. How did that feel?
I felt like I had been wasting my time.
Did you see it coming?
I had no clue. I thought it would be something I’d be doing until the end of time. Then all of a sudden . . . A lot of those guys just grew up. I guess they went to college or something.
Or got into chicks. . .
Yeah, there are other things besides hanging out at the skate park with your friends everyday. Maybe they would come back to it later, but then there was nothing to come back to. I think one of the things back then was a lot of those parks, especially the ones I did were geared for pros and had a lot of deep pools. Not a lot of stuff for 8-9 year old kids. There wasn’t a whole lot for the next generation.
You can say they weren’t designed for little kids but I remember being a little kid scared out of my ass, but I was going in the Eggbowl. We were like “all the pros are riding the 12′ pool so, we’re going to do it, too”.
I did this park in Arizona and one of the first things I wanted to do was build a kidney and a clover, out in the desert. I did the pool first because they only had like $40,000 and that’s nothing for a 16,000 sq. ft park. The whole time I’m thinking “What am I doing? These kids can’t skate trannie.” I just went back to finish the street part and I was seeing little 8-year-old kids dropping in the deep end of the kidney. They had never even seen transition until a few months ago.
Little kids are riding the big transitions?
Yeah, and the really cool thing was at first, they were riding this clover, dropping in and going in right to this straight wall and axle stalling and coming back out and stopping. Then the weekend came and these guys came up from Phoenix and just ripped around using all the hips and all the bumps, just rocketing around. And those kids were like, “How are they going so fast?” And you know you’ve got to pump and find the lines. So, by the end of the week, this one 8-year-old kid had gotten a little flex in his knees and he was working the bumps. And soon he was carving everything and going over the hips instead of just the back and forth line. You could see it had clicked in his head and he was actually learning how to ride it.
Did you have to convince these people to let you build a pool?
Well, they had so little money. I said I would do it because they were one of the first people to ask me to build one. They let me do anything I wanted, but it took over a year to pull it off. I got stuck with the original design, which I would have changed, but it’s cool. Just compared it to what I’m designing now, it’s hard for me to get excited about it.
This park in Arizona has a street course too?
Yeah, over half of it is a street course.
I love to ride pools and it’s amazing to me that the Vans parks are being built with bowls and pools and you’ve got guys like Duncan and Carje building pools because they skated them. It’s amazing that people are open to it because 99% of the skaters are street skaters.
Yeah, when I saw Jim’s design for Wilmington, I said, “Where’s the street course?” I mean If I tried to build this in California, it’d never work. But Jim had an interesting logic about it, he said its going to be a full pad park and you’re going to have to pay to ride. No one is going to want to wear pads and pay to skate some ledges. The guys that will abide by the rules would be wearing them anyway to skate the pools. We did put some street stuff in it but it really fits into the flow of the park. The park has really good lines to it and it’s designed to generate a lot of speed.
What’s going on with Brooklyn? I know you’ve been working up there on a park with Andy Kessler. What did you do there?
I did the shot-crete. They had hired a shot-crete crew, which basically was kind of a waste. I cut the whole thing myself. The contractor was like, why did we need this shot-crete crew? You’re doing everything. He actually paid me double what I asked, so that was cool. We weren’t putting a finishing coat on it; so its easy to do myself; it’s basically just cut it to shape and leave it rough.
Are you going to go back to do the finish coat?
I’d like to but I thought they were going to do it right away and I had to go right to Wilmington and I have another park in California.
What’s going on in Venice, California? Are you going to be involved with their public park?
Well, I’m trying. Jesse Martinez called me up and in L.A. there are citizen groups which have a big control over what happens in the community. So all these local skaters have a big association there called the V.S.A., [Venice Skate Park Association], supposedly they are in control of it. The city still says they’re trying to raise money. Which may or may not be true. I can never tell.
It’s not a city-funded thing?
Well, to some extent the city is supposed to fund it but they’re saying they have to raise more money. The city really just has to make it a priority. I’ve never even talked to the city, so I’m a little leery of it. I did submit a basic design to show that we could put something together. Venice would be the ultimate park for me to build.
Build another Dogbowl in there?
Yeah, I’m so used to dealing with kids that want three sets of stairs and kinked rails and twenty different ledges in the park and you’ve only got 7000 sq feet. But, these guys in Venice were like, just give us the Dogbowl and whatever else you want. That was exactly the way the design conference went. I was like, “Cool. Those are nice perimeters. I can do that.”
Between when skating died in the ’80s and into the ’90s, what were you doing and what motivated you to get back into concrete?
Well, after it all died, I went to work for Bigelow making pools for a while but it just wasn’t the same. So I came back to Santa Monica and I went back to school and I got into sculpture and design. Then I got some clients to design a booth for a tradeshow and it came out really good. This was back when tradeshows were all formica and looked like office buildings. I went to prop houses and got the craziest stuff I could find. It was a mess, but it was breath of fresh air compared to all the corporate looking things. It had attitude. I had designed something else that I was receiving acclaim for. In between building skate parks I started taking photos. Now I’m doing commercial photography too.
And what about the park building?
I think the beginning of that was when I walked in to the new Vans park they were building in Orange, CA. I had heard about it and I was like, “Why haven’t they called me?” So, I snuck inside and I walked around all these security gates. I thought I was going to get thrown out. But I walked in and asked “How’s it coming? I used to build skate parks.” And they said, “Really, what’s your name?” And I said, “Wally Hollyday.” Carje starts yelling at the rest of the crew, “Hey, you guys its Wally Hollyday!” All these guys come up and I was like “How do you know me?” I had no idea anyone even remembered those parks I built all those years ago.
You must have been stoked.
Yeah, I was. I thought I was going to get kicked out of there.
Did Carje ask you for any help?
Well, he asked me a lot of questions about how I had built pools. And then he asked if I wanted to help build the park. He had me working on the excavation of the dogbone thing.
And what about the combi?
They were just finishing the dirt by the time I got there. Carje wanted me to help with the concrete, but I was just there for the square. I don’t know if he didn’t think he needed me or what. But that park was his deal. I was really just there to learn.
You would figure that anything built after 1979 should be at least as good or better, but it’s not.
Yea, I hoped the dogbone thing would have come out better, but it was a little crazy. They were still putting the coping on when we started shooting the gunite. Everything was rushed because of some stupid landscaping going on outside.
Carje says the time crunches are crazy.
Yeah, the malls put a lot of pressure on him. I think you just have to get the total confidence of whomever you’re working with and let them know there is only one way to do it exactly right.
Do you have your own company?
Yeah, I have a new partner who is a general contractor. We are called CA Skate Parks. His company is called CaIifornia Landscape and Design. He has a great reputation with cities, so I wanted a name they would recognize. We have a website that lists our credentials; www.skatedesign.com. I wanted to build stuff in California before, but that’s been really difficult. Instead of just bidding a job I had to try to convince citys they needed me to help the contractor. So many parks suck because of contractors that don’t know what they are doing.
They get a lot of low-ball bidders?
Yeah, what I wanted to do is to teach them, just make sure they’re building good parks. Once I went to someone at the City Parks Dept and I said “I want to help out with your skate park, most parks come out really bad and I want to help make sure yours comes out good”. And she goes, “All you old skateboarders all have such a bad attitude. You should take a lesson from these young kids, they are all so idealistic and optimistic.”
You’re just trying to help them out and they think you’re trying to work them or something.
I mean, come on. The first skate park I ever skated was asphalt laid up on the hillside. It was so dangerous. I trashed my hip. It had unskateable v-bottom transitions and we drove hours to get there. But, it was a skate park. We thought it was great. We didn’t know any better. I think, today, these kids are really knowledgeable about what they want, but they’re limited to what they see in the magazines and that’s all they think works.
Are you limited to building all under six-foot in California?
No, that limitation was put in by the landscape architects. They are liable. I’ve been trying to open their eyes to the fact that we can’t just always listen to the kids to do a good design. If you want to do an innovative park design, it’s not going to appeal to everybody immediately. It’s going to be something that opens their minds and changes the way they think about skateparks.
It must be hard to convince people of that theory.
Yeah, and you can’t just put it in terms of “bowls rule”. That’s not what it’s about. Transition and hips are places to generate speed. You use those to make a skate park work. They generate your energy around the park. If you want to put up some ledges, do it, but that’s not all skateboarding is about. If you think it is, you’re missing quite a lot. Cities have to stop doing these little token bowls. If you can’t give it 3000 sq. ft, don’t even bother. Don’t put some little bowl in because they’ve got that on their list like a ledge or something. You can’t do them small, you have to build them big enough that you can generate a lot of speed in it so that it’s fun. If you can only go back and forth in it, kids will end up just getting bored. Guys that like to ride transition won’t ride it either because they want to fly. When you do small bowls, you’re convincing kids that transition and bowls suck. I’ve heard for years, ‘oh they put a bowl in and no one rides it’. And I’m like ‘of course, it’s just a circle of concrete.’
They’re giving bowls a bad name because they’re not giving them enough space?
Yeah, some kids want to try them, but they don’t give them enough room. You need a place like Venice where they understand how important doing it right is. If the guys at the design meetings want it they can get it.
Have you been building any snake runs?
I would rather do combi bowls. Like the bowl at Tom’s [Risser's] house. It’s like a snake run, it could go on forever if you wanted it to. How many times can you go full out on that thing and get a different line every time?
Do you envision any snake runs in future park designs that connect one side of the park to another?
I think snake runs are a little misleading. A good snake run is really a series of bowls all linked together with some really nice hips where they intersect. You take a clover for example. You’ve got 3 bowls and if you add a fourth or fifth it becomes a snake run. It’s all about how big you want the run to be.
You’re trying to get clovers in there?
Oh yeah. But not just 3 round bowls, stuff that flows. For example, I did some really nice designs for Richmond, Indiana and in the end they took all the flow out of it. They took my four different designs and pulled out the things they liked and stuck them together. And that’s not how it works. You design it with a flow. If you put a pyramid in the middle, it can be a good thing to ollie but you should also be able to pump over it. What you put in the park doesn’t matter, it’s how it works together.
Do they understand that?
No, they see all these skate parks being built and it doesn’t really matter whether they work, they just think that’s what a skatepark is supposed to look like. They want them to look like wood ramps, and I’m not into that at all. I just had completely different influences working with concrete. What I hope is some high profile parks will change the way people think. After the Wilmington park opens, I know people are going to get into it. It’s a good quality park. Guys will go there and shred and really have a good time. It will make them skate better, it’s fast. All the cities and skaters will look at that park and say that’s how parks are supposed look. Parks in that area will be much easier to build like that. If we build a really killer park in Venice, and it’s really good quality, it’ll become a model for other great parks to be built.
Are you trying to rebuild what you’ve done before?
No, I’m not trying to rebuild things I did. I think there are new designs and multi-bowls that are more interesting than the Eggbowl for instance. If you’ve got a really interesting shape you can ride, it’s more like surfing. Every ride on a wave is not pumping up off the top of the lip, you’re pumping through the pocket for speed and it’s the same for multi-bowl stuff.
It’s great to know there are people like you building parks.
I’ve joined forces with some good people. I just want to build super quality concrete parks and I’m really looking forward to the next stage of skate park building.
Do you envision any downturn coming like in the ’80s?
I think there are couple of things that will keep it around. One is snowboarding and snowboarding isn’t going anywhere. Then there’s the kids out there that are 10 and under that are growing up with skate heroes like we never had. I mean Tony Hawk has video games and he’s on television. That’s powerful stuff. I see skate dads acting just like little league dads.
Will the parks survive this time?
Yeah, I think the cities are in for the long haul. I think everyone has realized that skateboarding is not as dangerous as they thought. I mean the first thing you learn, as a skateboarder is how to fall. I think there will just be more and more history being made.
We just hope you keep building parks.
I’ll try my absolute best on every one.
How can people contact you?
www.skatedesign.com or you can call (949) 510-1515.