INTERVIEW BY STEVE OLSON
INTRODUCTION BY STEVE OLSON
PHOTOS COURTESY OF BRYCE KANIGHTS AND TED TERREBONNE
Blackhart, the man, the unpredictable, unique to say the least. Opinions – yes it’s true. He definitely has one, and isn’t really gonna hold it back. Attitude – without a doubt. Check it. You’ll see what I’m talkin’ about…“ABOUT 300 PEOPLE SHOWED UP AND WE JUST TRASHED THE PLACE. WE THREW CHAIRS AND WINDOWS. THEY WERE CRASHING ONTO CARS IN THE PARKING LOT. THEY HAD THIS ONE BIG METAL SCULPTURE THAT I DECIDED WOULD LOOK BETTER IF I REARRANGED IT.”
For all the people that have no idea what we are, I’m going to ask basic questions to start off. Tell me your full name.
Rick ‘Rubberman’ Blackhart AKA ‘Dr. Blackhart’. If we were talking to Gregg Ayres, it would be ‘Brewhaha’.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in San Jose.
What were you doing?
I heard you got kicked out of high school for skateboarding?
Yeah. I was skateboarding on top of the gym during this big rally. There were 5,000 people down below, and I was doing handstands across the top of the boy’s gym. It was like ‘Batman.’ All these people would turn and point. They were like, ‘Whoa. Look! Up in the sky.’
Yeah. About five jocks, the dean of boys and the head coach took off running after me. I was skateboarding away from them, and yelling, ‘If you didn’t have so many muscles, you might be able to run faster.’ They were like, ‘You’re done.’ I was like, ‘Well, I’m making $400 a month. Fuck you.’ I was out of there.
How did you get into skateboarding?
I used to go out with Kevin Thatcher’s sister, Becky. I’d hang out over at Kevin’s house a lot. KT and his brother were into skating the old Hobies with tin cans on the sloped sidewalks. They were doing slalom with the clay wheels. I skated a Black Knight Roller Derby. It was a red one with the metal wheels. That was in ’69. I’d stand on it, roll about three feet, hit a crack in the sidewalk, and slam. I was like, ‘Wow. That’s a skateboard. Done with that.’ Then in the ’70s, they came out with urethane wheels. That was mind-blowing. They came out with the plastic boards with the loose ball bearings. They had Roller Sports or Excaliburs. This kid that lived across the street from KT had one. It was the first urethane wheel board that I ever stood on. I rode that thing down the rough asphalt street, and it was like glass. I was like, ‘You can actually ride these things. You can lean and turn the thing.’ I was blown away. I was like, ‘Dude, you have to loan me your board.’ He was like, ‘No way, man. I just got it.’ I was like, ‘Let me rent it for a week for seven joints.’ He was like, ‘Right on, man. No problem.’ So I gave him seven joints of brown Colombian. I took his board and rode it everyday to school. No one had even seen a skateboard before. I’d just ride it down the hall, straight into the classroom, right into my seat, and not even step off the thing. They were like, ‘Glad you could make it today, Mr. Blackhart.’ I’d be like, ‘Yeah. Well. It’s nice being here. See you later.’ Then I was off down the hall again. I eventually raised enough hell at school with my skateboard that they banned the things.
They had no concept of skateboarding.
People were like, ‘What do you do with that thing?’ I was like, ‘I get paid to ride this thing.’ They were like, ‘That’s funny. No. Really. What do you do with it?’ I’d spin a few 360s in front of them. They were like, ‘People pay you to do that? Come on. You’re bullshitting.’ People didn’t believe it.
How long did it take you to get good?
From the first time I stepped on that board, a year later I was pro.
What year was that?
That was in ’74.
Who was your sponsor?
Was that before Tunnel Rocks?
Yeah. That was way before the Rocks. Mitchell was just trying to get a team together. I went to Bombora. It’s in my neighborhood. The first time I went there, I saw all these guys with Tunnel jerseys on. We’d seen Gregg Ayres in ‘Skateboarder’ magazine with the jersey on, so we knew that there was a Tunnel Team. I just didn’t know they were from San Mateo. I thought they were an LA company. Then I found out that they were from my backyard. I was like, ‘They can’t be anybody good. They have to be some fly-by-night operation.’ I saw them at the Pipe, and I was just blown away. I knew Waldo. I’d seen photos of him. That was the first time I ever saw the fakie. It was either Rodd Saunders or Waldo that did it in the pipe. I was like, ‘Oh, my God. That guy just went up and back and didn’t even turn.’ Back then, that was the maneuver. It was the most insane thing.
Then what happened?
I showed up there, but I didn’t get to ride very much. There was a little dam you had to build so the water doesn’t go in there. The water was there by the time we got set up to skate. I was with KT. I wouldn’t have gone to half of the places I went to if it weren’t for KT driving me there. We parked down the block. We watched and waited. We saw where they were going. They went to the store, and we’d go to the store. We were stalking them. We were like, ‘Those are real pros right there!’ It wasn’t long after that, I saw those guys at Los Altos pool at the pipe. I got to skate with them and got to know them. Then there was a little ramp contest in Saratoga. I thought it’d be fun to go by there. I went there and won it. That was my official first contest win. Then there was a contest in Sacramento at the Carmichael Boogie Bowl. That was my first pro contest.
Who did you skate against at Saratoga?
Bug and KT were there. A couple of squids from Cupertino were there. It was a U pipe with no flat bottom. It was super sketchy. I was the only one that could even get to the top, so they were like, ‘Okay. You win.’ That was it. They gave me a Mowry board as a prize. It was some hard wood piece of shit. I sold it for $5, right afterwards.
So that’s where it all started.
I was like, ‘Thanks for the win and this stupid board. Now give me $5.’ Then the contest in Sacramento at the Boogie Bowl was the first pro bowl contest to speak of. It was before the Hester series. It was at a piece of shit, corrugated Quonset hut skatepark. They had asbestos sprayed all over the walls. We were skating in there, coughing and going, ‘It’s real dusty in here.’ All of us were breathing in asbestos. So they had a pro deal. It was like, $10 to enter. This guy Mitchell was hanging out there. He was like, ‘Hey. Do you want to enter as pro?’ I was like, ‘Yeah. Sure.’ He was like, ‘Okay. I’ll pay for you.’ He paid the $10 and gave me a set of Tunnel wheels. I blew those guys away. Were you there?
No. I was still too young.
Gregg Ayres, Rodd Saunders, Roy Jamison and The Buck brothers were there. Me, KT, Steve Weston and Bryan Buck did a four-man relay thing that we won. It was pretty funny. I still have the trophy from it. I had to write with a felt pen on the trophy who was in the contest and what the trophy was for. That’s how cheap it was. But I blew those guys away. It was insane. The prize was champagne and pizza after hours with the owner’s butt ugly wife in a bikini. That was the highlight of the deal.
[Laughs.] The owner was sacrificing his wife for the little skateboarding kids?
Yeah. She was the trophy girl.
And she was ugly?
She was a skag hag to the max. She was hoping that she could turn on some little boys. It was really gross. That was the skateboard market to a ‘T’ right there. Some slimy shyster park owner, with a scumbag wife that still thinks she’s 20, wanting to make money off this new fad called skateboarding. So I won some pizza and flat champagne.
Were there a lot of kids skating in your area?
Yeah. There were tons. By ’76, it was pretty prevalent.
It was huge.
It wasn’t really huge. It was still pockets of guys, but if you went to a skate spot or a pool, there’d be a dozen guys. You wouldn’t see people skating down the street or in public like you do today, but if you went anywhere inside the skateboard circles, there’d be a crowd. I didn’t stop riding a skateboard every day, all day long, for the next ten years.
You didn’t surf?
No. I hated surfing. I hated that Fluid Floyd Aquanoid crap. I lived in Santa Cruz for five years, and I think I got in the water twice. Once was just to walk along the beach in a wetsuit with a surfboard to pick up chicks.
When did precision bearings hit?
Those hit with Road Riders. That was a big hit, not having to clean your bearings and adjust 18 balls on each side. That was a hassle, adjusting those fuckers.
Urethane was a huge hit.
Yeah. I rode twos, fours and sixes, all the way through the stepladder. It was like, ‘I got the twos down.’ Then I wore those out. I was like, ‘If I get the bigger wheels, they won’t wear out as fast.’ So I got the fours. The fours coned, so I got the sixes. I used to ride Brewer Speedsters. They were like, six inches tall. They were insane. You could roll over any coping without even feeling it.
What trucks were you riding?
Bennetts. I still have my very first skateboard here. It was a black Laguna Gran Prix with Excaliburs. We rode Excaliburs, until Bennett came out with his deal. I think I rode Trackers for a minute. I mean, Tractor Trucks. They were like John Deere Tractors. They were hard to get. It was hard to get the t-shirts, too. You know Dave Dominy. He thought by not giving out trucks for free, that people would want them more. He was wrong.
They didn’t really understand marketing.
No. They didn’t. That’s where Fausto and Eric saw the whole deal and kicked ass. They saw what was up.
We’ll get to them soon enough. When did skateparks start happening up in Nor Cal?
The first skatepark was in Santa Cruz on the side of the hill at the harbor. They just took the hillside and poured cement on it. It was this flat snake run, down the side of this hill.
Was this before Derby?
This was way before Derby. This was the first official skatepark in Northern California. It was this flat snake run down into this off-cambered dish that had a 60-foot cliff on the other side of it. If you flew out of the bowl, you were going down the cliff. It was treacherous. All kinds of kids got hurt there. The first day, I fell and took a silver dollar-sized chunk out of my palm. It was just flapping there. The big thing back then was to catamaran. I have a photo of me and this other guy catamaraning at that skatepark.
What was the name of the catamaran crew? Was it the Rhino Racing Team?
Oh, those fucking guys? That was such a joke. Catamaraning was like butt boarding. That’s how handplants started. When you’re done skating the pool and you’re fucking around in the deep end, and you’re sitting on your board just going back and forth, dorking around, that’s how handplants started. ‘Hey. Let’s see how high I can go sitting on my ass. Hey, I can almost get over the light. I had to put my hand down to keep from falling. Hey, that’s a new trick! It’s a handplant.’ I called that a ‘butt jack aerial’. I was like ‘Handplant? You’re not even getting your board off the ground. That’s a butt jack.’ When you look at history, where are the handplant and the roll in? You can’t even skate without doing a roll in. That’s how you start skating. You do a roll in. You don’t start, finish or do anything in between with a handplant. You might as well be a bean air jumper.
How did you start pool skating?
The shallow end.
[Laughs.] That’s great.
You like that? I started pool skating from the shallow fucking end. That’s how I always started pool skating.
Okay. When did ride your first fucking pool from the shallow end?
I think it was a gunite pool in San Jose. It was a rough, not even plastered yet, gunite pool. It was the shit you didn’t want to fall on. It was in Campbell. Guys like Scott Foss, Jim Martino and Bob Denike were floating around.
What was your goal in skating a pool?
The deal is, KT and I would sit around, and read ‘Skateboarder’ front to back, every issue, every word. We’d look at every photo 2000 times. What we saw in the mags and what we heard about guys doing, is what we tried to do. We never really came across anybody that was like, ‘Whoa. You just showed me something. I’m going to try that.’ It was never like that. We’d hear a bunch of whispering as we walked up to the pool. Then everyone would stop and get out of the pool. They’d be like, ‘Oh. Here come those guys.’ We were like, ‘Why the fuck are these guys stopping and watching us?’ They were whispering and pointing.
They were saying, ‘That one guy is really out of his mind.’
Yeah. ‘Stay away from that crazy dude. He’ll sling his board at you.’
Then try to sell it to you.
Then when he’s tired of skating, he’ll start a bonfire in the deep end. It’s barbeque time.
Did you regulate your sessions with these kids that were hanging out in the pools?
No. We’d just go some place else. We had an arsenal of places to skate. In the beginning, there was never any place to skate. I can remember hundreds of hours of doing walk-the-dog, 360s and kickflips in my garage, while it was raining. I was like, ‘Okay. I’ve got eight 360s. Now I’ve got twelve 360s. Now I’ve got fourteen 360s.’
Did you do handstands, too?
I could blow people away with handstands and 360s.
Did you go to the contests at Cow Palace?
Yeah. I still have the flyer from a telephone pole.
Did you ride in it?
No way. I was just a little grommet, there to check it out. I was like, ‘There will be pros there, like Tony Alva, Bob Biniak, Jay Adams and Waldo.’ We got there and it sucked. They had a fiberglass pool braced up on stilts that moved around like a top. These guys couldn’t skate it for shit. They all got mad and quit. I saw TA and a few guys take a few runs, and then the rest of the day, it was empty. We waited until the place closed, snuck in, hopped in the pool and threw down a few runs. Other than that, it was a joke.
You were considered kind of crazy back then. Have you always been nuts?
I was crazy. I figured, ‘Why not?’ Everyone else was so fucking docile. I was always like that, even before skateboarding. I jumped 13 garbage cans standing up with my Sting-Ray. I built the gnarliest tree house in my backyard. I lived out there. I had the phone line going out there. I had pot plants growing in between the geranium bushes in the backyard. My mom was like, ‘What are those new plants?’ I was like, ‘Oh. I’m with the FFA (Future Farmers of America) now. It’s a new strain of tomato that I’m growing.’ She’d say, ‘Oh. That’s nice.’
What kind of Sting-Ray did you have?
It was a lemon yellow Schwinn Sting-Ray with the banana seat and butterfly bars. I’ve got almost every Schwinn ever made right now. I’ve got over 500 bicycles. I’m a freak in many other ways… I’m a multi-faceted freak.
You’re completely out of your mind. What was it like growing up in San Jose?
It sucked. It was dull. It was suburbia. It was just like a regular childhood. We’d go down to the creek and catch pollywogs and poke dead guys with a stick.
I found a dead bum in the creek one time. I poked him with a stick. I went to Willow Glen Elementary and Willow Glen High School, aside from being suspended 36 times and finally getting kicked out for punching the female principal. In the third grade, I was cruising in Willow Glen with a buddy of mine on his paper route. We took this shortcut through this church to get to this park. We saw this guy in a military uniform, scrounging around in the bushes, but we didn’t think anything of it. Then we were on our way back. It was 5 in the morning, paper route time. We hear this huge explosion in this church parking lot. We go back and see this huge cloud. This guy had blown himself up. He cut a piece of pipe out of the sprinkler system, made a bomb and laid down in the parking lot, lit it and blew himself up. We were like, ‘Dude, this guy just blew himself up. Here’s a piece of his scalp with hair still on it. Awesome!’ I put it in my pocket. There was a stray dog running around. He was sniffing and going, ‘What’s this piece of meat?’ There were pieces of the guy’s uniform and pieces of him everywhere. I was like, ‘What’s this?’ It looked like his eyeball. I go over to check it out and the dog swoops up and eats the guy’s eyeball and takes off. That day at school, we had ‘show and tell’. So I brought my piece of scalp with the hair on it.
You did not.
I did. I brought my piece of scalp to school. I was like, ‘Check this out. This guy blew himself up in the parking lot this morning.’ Kids start crying and vomiting. The teacher grabbed it. She was like, ‘Throw that away.’ She put it in an envelope and put it in the trashcan, and then she sent me to the principal. They called the psychiatrist. They were like, ‘This kid has problems.’ I got a little talking to, and then I got sent back to class. At the end of the day, the bell rings. The class is over. I was like, ‘Hey. The teacher just threw that thing in the trash can.’ So I go back and grab it. I was a hit on the schoolyard playground.
[Laughs.] How appropriate is it that you got the name Blackhart?
It’s pretty appropriate. If you ask my brother, he wouldn’t think that, because he got straight A’s all the way through school. He got a scholarship, entered the Marines and now he’s a lieutenant colonel. He flies the A-6 Intruder. His hobbies were studying and playing chess. We were like black and white from the beginning.
You were the black one.
That’s what my family and all my relatives told me my whole life, so I guess I am. It was like, ‘ Oh. You’re Mark’s little brother. You must be the bad one.’ I was like, ‘Yeah. That’s right lady. Who the fuck are you?’ They’d say, ‘I’m your aunt.’ I’d go, ‘Oh. Fuck off.’ I was a little bit of trouble. I brought my mom to tears on many occasions. I figured that was normal. You did that, didn’t you?
Come on, Steve. Tell me you did that.
I did. Several thousand times.
Okay. See. I have nothing to blame my life on. I wish I could say that I got really fucked up and that’s why I’m such a loser bum now, but I’ve got no one but myself to blame.
When did you come to Upland? I saw you when I was a little kid at Upland.
That’s pretty much where I met everyone from LA. I showed up at Upland at about 10pm one night after driving all the way from Nor Cal. I was totally burnt. I was sleepy, hungry and not in a good mood. We pull up to this skatepark with these bright ass lights. It was like daytime, it was so bright. I see the top rim of this pipe and guys are just schralping it. I was like, ‘Where are we? Heaven?’ It was like nothing I’d ever seen. Finally, somebody made a pipe to skate. I skated that night, but I was really burnt. I wasn’t doing very good. I was just cruising around and checking the place out. All these dudes were like, ‘You rip. Are you a local? I’ve never seen you here before.’ I was like, ‘No. I’m from northern California.’ They were like, ‘No. Really. Where are you from?’ I said, ‘I’m from Nor Cal.’ They were like, ‘No. People don’t skate up north. Where are you from? North LA?’ I said, ‘No. I’m from San Jose.’ People were blown away. It was like finding another strain of caveman or something. They were like, ‘You can’t be from Nor Cal. They don’t even know what skateboarding is up there yet.’ I was thinking, ‘Fuck. I thought these guys were a lot better. These guys suck. These guys get in a magazine for skating like this? Wow. This is going to be easy.’ And it was for me. I was just cruising around and I’d blow most people away. But I remained real humble.
[Laughs.] You can tell. Upland fit your type of skateboarding.
Upland was awesome. The way they ran the park was great. The Hoffman’s treated you like family. The skatepark itself was cool. If you were in LA, that was the place to skate.
What about the 15-footer?
That was all right. The intimidating one was Paramount. That one and the Monster bowl at Lakewood were scary. They finally built something too big.
Paramount was out of control.
Yeah, but the Monster Bowl was way out of control. It was like, when you dropped in, you took your packed lunch with you. You’d hit one wall and then wait 25 minutes before you hit the other wall. You’d be cruising across the bottom, eating your lunch. Then you’d pack it away and be like, ‘Okay. It’s about time to hit that wall.’ They got out of hand with those bowls. It was pretty cool to go to a place where it was like, ‘Hey. No one has ever gotten to the top.’
It was like skating Everest.
Yeah. It’s like, ‘Okay. I’ll check this one off my list.’ It was like, ‘Blackhart, Schneider and Kevin Anderson were the only people to ever get to the top.’ What about ‘The Worm’?
That’s my next question.
Was that dude scary to watch or what? He could twist his whole body and still be looking at the lip by the time he got to the bottom. Hence the name ‘The Worm’, I guess. He was a little skating caterpillar.
[Laughs.] Without the legs.
So you were like, ‘Oh this is going to be easy to roll in and take over.’
Yeah. It was no big deal. We were skating hard. I skated 13 hours a day, every day.