INTERVIEW BY JAY ADAMS
PHOTOS BY DAN LEVY AND MINDY FEINBERG
Jesse “The Mess” Martinez has reigned in Venice his whole life. When you arrive, show respect and leave only blood and sweat or you’ll be dealt with.
Where were you born?
I was born in Venice, CA; UCLA, to get technical. After I was born, I came home to 720 Sunset, right here in Venice.
What year was that?
Where did you go to school?
I went to Broadway Elementary and then I went to John Muir Elementary. That’s where I met Wes Humpston’s little brother.
“I WAS REPRESENTING THE NEIGHBORHOOD NO MATTER WHAT COMPANY I RODE FOR.”
I went to John Muir, too. Remember that little skate bank out back behind the school?
Yeah, that’s where I started skating.
How was it going to school in Santa Monica when you were a kid from Venice?
That’s when I really started skating. I was in the fourth grade. I moved to Santa Monica in between Highland and Marine, two famous hills in the neighborhood. I used to see you and the guys shooting those hills. The house that I came from in Venice was full of gangsters. Skating and surfing were non-existent at that house, but when I moved to Santa Monica, there were a lot of kids cruising around on their skateboards. I told my brother that my skateboard was a piece of shit and a few weeks later, he brought me a new skateboard. I couldn’t have been more stoked. I was 10 years old. It was killer. We started bombing hills and I never stopped. Some of my neighbor buddies skated, so that’s all we did. We bombed hills with cardboard boxes and stuff. It was fun. My skate friends were David and Timmy Gruccio and my homeys Joey and Dan. Every now and then, we were graced with the presence of you or Tony Alva or Marty Grimes. Marine was one of the biggest hills in the neighborhood. We were living there when Tony bombed the hill and almost got hit by a car. I remember seeing Tony, one day, coming around the corner, cranking. He had his two-tone Vans on and his long afro. He had such good style. He was going so fast, I don’t really think he saw us. He was going 35-40 mph. We were like, “Damn, we’ve got to do that.” That image has stuck in my mind to this day. Seeing you guys skate really inspired us.
I did the same thing you did. I moved to Santa Monica in the sixth grade. When you moved to Santa Monica, did you get along with the Santa Monica kids, being from Venice?
Well, I was just an elementary kid skating around. We were just into having fun. Even though my brother and cousins were Venice 13 gang members, it made no difference. In Santa Monica, I was just a skateboarder.
Was there a lot of pressure on you to become a gang member?
No. They asked me one time when I was in my early teens. They wanted to jump me in, but I said no. I was already into surfing and skateboarding. I had already seen so much blood and misery that went along with being in a gang. I’d seen the heroin and coke houses caved in by the cops. I got to see all of that and I said, “That’s no fun.” Skateboarding and surfing was fun. I just went the other way. My brothers only asked me one time to get into the gang and that was it. After I said no, they said, “Go surfing, white boy.” I owe it to my brother for skateboarding, though. When I was five, they found this board and brought it to the house. I started riding it on my knees in the front yard.
How many brothers do you have?
I have two real brothers and six step-brothers.
How are your brothers doing now?
My real brother Albert is no longer alive. He passed away years ago. My other brother Monty, is currently in jail, but he should be in a halfway house any day now. My stepbrother Simon, lives God knows where. My stepbrothers Richard, Manuel and Tiny live in the Fresno county area, and Lil’ Joe, he’s in the Navy.
Did they get into the gang-banging trip, too?
They dabbled in it and went to jail a few times and got over it. They weren’t really into gang-banging in Fresno. I think it was more the drinking and partying scene that got them in trouble.
Were your parents into that lifestyle?
Yeah, my mom was from Venice and my dad was from a Venice gang.
You’ve got deep roots in Venice.
Yeah, I’ve got deep history in Venice. It’s not that the gang scene is bad, it’s just that it wasn’t for me. Surfing and skating really saved my ass. I’m pretty sure I would have followed in their footsteps if it weren’t for skateboarding.