INTERVIEW BY CHRISTIAN HOSOI
INTRODUCTION BY ERIC TUMA BRITTON
PHOTOS BY DAN LEVY AND TED TERREBONNE
Aaron Murray… I can’t say enough positive things about him as a person and as a skateboarder. He’s somebody I have always looked up to. As a kid, I wanted to skate, dress and be just like him. He approaches everything he does with a smooth, aggressive, yet calculated style. My love for Murray runs deep. He is a talented skater, artist and musician and loving father. Simply put, Murray is a Koping Killer, one of skateboarding’s pioneers. So pay attention, you just might learn something.
“There were parts of my life where it didn’t matter to me what happened. I do know when we were young, we weren’t the type of the people that had to see someone else do something before it was okay for us to do it. We knew what needed to be done.”
Murray. What’s up?
Christian. What’s up, brother?
How long have we known each other, Murray?
[Laughs.] Since the beginning.
[Laughs.] Since conception.
[Laughs.] Since before we knew each other.
Our parents knew each other before we were even born.
I think we knew each other before we ever saw each other.
I believe you’re my oldest friend. We consider ourselves brothers, right?
We are definitely brothers. I think we did the blood brother thing when we were kids. I think I was the one to make the first cut. We cut our hands and shook on it. We were at your mom’s studio where we used to play with the Bruce Lee numchucks.
We used to ride those Green Machines in the hallway. We’d pile up boxes and smash into them.
[Laughs.] I remember playing with those plastic numchucks. We used to fight.
I remember you had two pair. I was like, Let’s spar.
[Laughs.] Those were some good times. Remember when we went to the skatepark for the first time?
We went to Skateboard World in Torrance. You were in Hawaii for a while and then I remember my dad telling me that you and Ivan were coming back. Next thing you know, I was on the phone with you and we were like, Let’s go to the skatepark. You guys used to come to my dad’s pad right there in Venice.
Your dad and my dad built that quarter pipe while they were on a job.
Yeah. I was tripping on that quarter pipe. It was four feet wide and six feet tall. They were carpenters, so they took a sheet of plywood and scored the whole back, all the way up. They put the sheet down with the grain running up instead of sideways, but it was really solid. Remember where it went to vert? That was gnarly.
Yeah. Remember when my dad had that studio at Washington and Normandy?
My dad and I used to take the bus up Venice Boulevard to your studio. We were skating that quarter pipe in the back and we used to jump it on our bikes. You had that bike with the shocks that bounced when you landed. Mine just broke when I landed.
[Laughs.] I remember that.
Your dad let you drive the VW bus with the stick shift and you couldn’t even touch the pedals or see over the dashboard.
[Laughs.] We had a pretty awesome upbringing.
Our parents were super supportive of anything we wanted to do. We’d go into the workshop and your dad would make homemade skateboards. Yeah, they were building a studio for Sam Francis, so he sectioned off a back corner in one of the workshops to make boards. He was working with this older guy named Jacob that was a carpenter who was into skating. We were about nine or ten. Those guys were into it. They turned my dad and I onto Skateboard World. That’s the first skatepark I ever went to. My dad started making boards for them and he called them MEM for his name Michael E. Murray. He was making skateboards for these guys that were doing speed slalom. They used to go there to practice on the little bank slalom at Skateboard World. They took me there the first time and I was so into it. I just wanted to go skateboarding.
Those boards your dad made were really good.
They were made out of solid maple. He’d glue a tail block on and shape the bottom out so it had a proper kicktail. He routed out the bottoms and it had grab rails. He routed out the center line between the trucks to make it lighter. Compared to boards now, they were heavy and thick, but at the time, they were cool. He made me one around the time that you came back from Hawaii and we went to Skateboard World.
When was that?
That had to be around ’77. After we started getting into it, I put down the board that my dad made and got a Functional Design board that was lighter. You had a P.C. [Paul Constantineau] tailtap. That was early Dogtown, probably around ’78. We were learning tailtaps on the little halfpipe section of the snake run.
We were doing tail drops into that little half pipe. It had a part that stuck out like vert, but there was also a section where it went from the bank. We would drop into that half pipe and get steeper and steeper, until we were going to be dropping in on vert. I remember thinking, I’m not going for it. Then you’d go for it. Then I’d go for it. You were always the guy that went for it first.
I knew that if we didn’t at least go for it, we’d regret it later. You’d be thinking about it and thinking, I should have just gone for it. I remember dropping into that thing for the first time. It had vert and we were just working up to vert. I’m goofy and you’re regular. We were both standing there hanging onto the metal rail with our feet on the tail looking at each other going, You go. No. You go. No. You go. That went on for long enough that it was between me and myself. I would think, I’ve got to do this. I was just dropping in and feeling the g-force and going straight into the other side.
I remember that transitioned into every aspect of life. We were climbing trees and we’d jump from one tree to the next. We were always doing whatever flying monkey tricks we could do from building to building, from wall to wall. We were trying to outdo each other, but I always remember you were the first guy to go.
It was that pure adventure spirit. It’s a trip.
Later on, we were jumping off five story buildings into six-foot swimming pools in Hawaii. We were jumping off my roof and ollieing into a 4-foot shallow end, 5-foot wide with an octagon lip. There were tree branches everywhere so you couldn’t see where you were jumping from, but we were just going for it.
I think there were parts of my life where it didn’t matter to me what happened. I do know that when we were young, we weren’t the type of people that had to see someone else do something before it was okay for us to do it. We knew what needed to be done.
I don’t think we ever got hurt either.
Not when it really mattered. Somehow we had a free pass in that area.
Do you remember when Marina Skatepark was built and we went before it opened and saw Tony Alva and Jay Adams skating the pool?
Yeah, I was so excited. I remember opening day, too. You had already scoped it out with your dad in the building stage of it. For me, it was like opening a present. You don’t know what it’s going to be inside. I was super excited. You know the centerfold of Polar Bear doing that frontside thruster?
You can see us lying down underneath the bleachers and banners. It was so crowded and we just rolled under there like mechanics rolling under a car. We were just lying on our stomachs to watch. Years later, I would sit with Polar Bear on the Venice boardwalk when he used to tattoo down there and we’d look at that. I’d say, There’s me and Christian right there watching you.
Polar Bear. Rest in Peace.
We just heard about Steve Piccolo passing away.
Tim Jackson told me. He’s helping out and handling the business affairs for Steve. People should recognize Steve Piccolo as of the older original guys in skateboarding from the Venice area that was involved in the whole upbringing of skateboarding. Those guys, the Z-Boys, and all the Venice guys like Polar Bear, Moses, Jim Davies, Billy Yeron, along with guys like Jimmy Plumer, Marty Grimes, George Wilson and the whole Z-Flex team originated skateboarding. There are so many more guys that didn’t get as much recognition as the other guys. There was nothing like seeing Polar Bear doing an invert over the hip. He owned that.
Yeah, he did.
It was like Tony Alva doing frontside airs. Back then, guys did their own thing and had their own style. It wasn’t how you looked, but how you moved and what you actually did.
It was all about what did you did on your board. Our hearts were just into skateboarding 100%.
It was really exciting. It was really intense to watch those guys skate. It was amazing just seeing them carve the whole Dog Bowl deep end with their hands behind their back. You don’t see those kinds of things being done today.
No. You definitely don’t. Remember when we were skating the puppy bowl at Marina?
Yeah, it was all the groms and kids mobbing on the puppy bowl. Then somebody like Plumer comes ripping down from the brown bowl and flies into the puppy bowl. Everyone was scrambling like, Hey, look out! Plumer was flying into the Dog Bowl to carve grind one-footed, hands-behind-the-back through the whole deep end. Everyone’s jaws dropped. I was trying to emulate that by trying to fly out of the puppy bowl into the freestyle area.
Yeah. Remember when Mark Ngoho came in there on his roller skates?
He boosted out of the thing and slammed the top of his head into the light post. He laid himself out.
[Laughs.] Then we were skating the brown bowls and that’s when things really started progressing for us. We took it to the next level.
I’ve seen and heard a lot of things, but I’ve never seen the kind of energy going on in a really hot session like that since then. I’d never seen anybody outside of our area that really ripped. I just saw those guys and they ended up being some of the most recognized people ever to skateboard. We were blessed to be a part of that.
Yeah. That’s for sure. When my dad started managing the skatepark that was cool.
That was cool. I’d been out of it for a little bit. We started skating there when it opened in ’79 and then I kind of faded out of the skatepark for a little while and learned to surf. That brought everything together for me. Then I heard from you and it had been a while. You were like, Dude, where have you been? I’ve been skating. Why are you kooking it? I was like, I haven’t been kooking it. I’ve been learning to surf. You’re like, Let’s go skate. I said, Yeah. Let’s go. I was still skating, but it was in a different way. I was skating to the beach to surf. I was skating banks and stuff. I was riding a Bulldog with no tail and no nose and it was all worn out. The tail was worn flat right behind the trucks, and the nose was the same. My skating was different at first. I had learned to surf, so I was carve grinding the Dog Bowl. I didn’t have any tail, so I couldn’t even kickturn. I had to carve grind. All of a sudden, it really felt to me what skateboarding was all about. It just felt natural, whereas before I was still trying to learn. Skateboarding guided me to surfing, which guided me back to skateboarding and put it all into place. My board forced me to surf skate because I didn’t have a tail on my board. By then, you were already riding for Sims and you were blasting. I went home all kinds of stoked. My mom asked me to empty the dryer, and I found $140 in the dryer. I went back to the skatepark the next day and bought a brand new Caballero. You gave me kneepads and a helmet and I was set. Then I got on the Marina Skatepark Teamr. That’s when I got back into it. I was stoked and we were hanging out again. I was really feeling it.
Yeah. We were 12 years old.
I was skating 12 and under. I remember going to my first contest representing for Marina and the team was you, me, Donald, Kimmy and they were in the 13-14 age group. Then there was Andre and Mike Duran, who was in the 15-17 age group. That was the Marina Team. Then we went to Reseda and I think I got third in the pool contest. I got a picture doing a frontside air in the Skate News where Lance Mountain did the drawings. The semi pros at the time were you, Billy Ruff, Lester Kasai and Lance Mountain. I guess Tony Hawk was there too. I only saw him at Marina a couple of times. Cab used to come to Marina a lot. Cab was rad. He wasn’t much bigger than us and he was ripping.
Yeah, he was.
You were right there on it, breathing down his neck. That’s when Duane Peters and Eddie Elguera were right there on top.
I think that’s when we started hanging out a lot at the house in Westchester.
Yeah. You guys used to pick me up and take me to the skatepark and then Shogo used to take me home. Shogo worked at the skatepark. We used to go to my dad’s house in Venice on the weekends.
That’s right. What happened next?
I’d gotten hurt a few times at the end of Marina. I hung up in the front keyhole and damaged my knee, so I was in one of those full leg casts for a while. I was all bummed out. I rode with you and Ivan to the contest in Whittier and wanted to skate so badly. I wanted to ride that full pipe because I’d never rode a concrete pipe before. Then the park closed. Then we moved down to Del Rey. As soon as my leg healed, I got back into surfing. I kept skating, but there weren’t any other kids that skated around there. I was just skating back and forth to the beach to go surfing. Then I met another guy named Mark Vercelli who lived in Del Rey. We were both really into skating, but nobody else was, so we started building quarter pipes. Later, this guy named Shaw built a halfpipe in his backyard. I was into surfing and punk rock. Then I got back in touch with you again.
You had the injury but that inspired your other creativity. You did a lot of art at the time too. Do you remember that collection of cassette tapes that you’d dubbed up yourself?
I used to like to make stuff. When I was 13, I was in wood shop gluing pieces of wood together and shaping them to make some kind of pointed dagger thing. I was trying to push it through the jointer and it got spit out and chopped off my fingertips. I wasn’t supposed to be skating, but there was a quarter pipe in the alley and I just had to start skating again. Vercelli was there with a couple of other kids in Knibby and Amery Smith’s alley. We had just built that ramp for ourselves, so I had to get up there and do a rock n roll and a tailtap. We were really into doing tailtaps on that ramp. I’d do airs too because I had learned airs at Marina. Frontside airs were my favorite airs to do. That was the best thing I could do.
Didn’t you do frontside grabs too?
Yeah, but I couldn’t grab my board with my right hand because my fingertips were chopped off, so I had to do layback grinds. I was trying to do tailtaps and grabbing with my unchopped off fingers on my right hand. I could use my left hand too. I was doing laybacks, frontside airs, grinds and rock n rolls. I wasn’t supposed to be skating at all. I was on all of this pain medication and my fingers were all bandaged up, but I was out there just sneaking it.
[Laughs.] I remember you showed me your finger and it had a big bandage on it.
Yeah, you came and skated that quarter pipe. That’s when we started skating again. That’s when you had your first Alva board with the Hosoi on it. It had the written flame coming down. You gave me one of those boards. I took that board to a halfpipe and I was starting to skate good again. I was doing backside airs and layback airs. Then I went up and tried to do a backside smith, locked up and got pitched. I did a roll in the air, came down and snapped my arm in half right above the elbow. So I got taken out again. I had to have three-inch pins put in that thing crisscrossed to put it back together. The next time I got back into skating was when we were skating banks. We were going to the Venice High banks a lot.
That’s when we were skating the junior high schools and high school in Venice Beach. Was that when we started skating street a lot?
Yeah. I was always down in Venice on the weekends with my dad. I was living with my mom in Del Rey. We had lived in Santa Monica and moved back to Del Rey. I was skating a lot with Vercelli and he was real tight with Jay Adams. Vercelli and I surfed more than we skated, so we were doing that. Then we started skating and surfing with Jay. That was my next push back into skating. Around the same time, we saw Scott Oster at the beach and he started surfing with us. He told us he used to skate at Marina too. We were like, Okay. Let’s skate. We started making a lot of boards for ourselves and really getting into skating at that time. Street skating wasn’t even a term that was being used yet, but that’s what we were doing. We were riding banks and grinding curbs. This was before the boneless came in.
How did you get on Dogtown?
Well, Oster was with Kelly Jackson and Kelly was riding for Jim at Dogtown already. Kelly Jackson and Julien Stranger were the Dogtown team in ’85. Julien represented the hardcore street skater, so they started putting together a street team. For me, skating involved everything. I was able to ride pools because I grew up riding at the park. Kelly and Julien were just beginning to ride vert and pools. There wasn’t anything vert to skate unless we found a pool or ramp, so we all started looking for pools to skate. A lot of people would convene at Jimbo’s house or Block’s house and then go out and skate pools. It was a killer scene. Oster was hanging out with Kelly down at the beach. He was pretty good so then Jim saw Oster and hit him up to ride for Dogtown. Then it was Julien, Kelly and Oster. They were all telling Jim, You should see Murray skate. I didn’t know any of this but, all of a sudden, I got a call from Jim Muir. He was like, What’s up? Do you want to ride for Dogtown? I said, What do I have to do for you? He said, Well, I’ll give you boards and all you have to do is enter street style contests. I said, What’s that? He said, It’s jump ramps. I said, Well, I never jump ramped before, but we used to jump out of the whale bowl. We used to jump out of the end of the banked slalom over the fence at Marina, so, yeah, I could probably do that. I remember the Capitola contest, where you got the Thrasher cover going over the car, was supposed to be one of my first street style contest riding for Dogtown. About a week before that we went to some old dilapidated halfpipe with PVC coping and nails sticking out of old splintered plywood. I did a cess slide across the whole side and I had a lucky ring on and it caught on a nail and ripped off my finger.
I totally ripped off my finger the week before I was supposed to go to Capitola, so I didn’t get to go. I almost went because I remembered skating with my chopped off fingers before so I was thinking maybe I could do it. I got a little fingertip protector and put it on there. I went and showed it to Jim. I said, Look, man, I can do this. He was like, Oh, no, you should probably sit this one out.
[Laughs.] You were ready to go for it.
I was really bummed, because I was really looking forward to it. I didn’t know what street style was but I just wanted to be there.
Who gave you the nickname Fingers?
That was Jim. It came out in an ad. At the time, Stacy was hooking the team up with Bones wheels. If I’m not mistaken, the ad said, Aaron Fingers Murray. That was the little caption. And the name is still going.
How did the second generation Dogtown team come about?
Tim and Dressen completed the Dogtown team. It started with Kelly Jackson and Julien Stranger. Then they got Scott Oster involved. They turned Jim onto me and he got a hold of me. Tim Jackson was finishing up a prison term. Then Eric Dressen came on at the same time. It all happened real quickly. It was Tim and Kelly Jackson, Julien Stranger, Eric Dressen, Scott Oster and myself. That was the first Dogtown team in the ’80s. In 1986, I had just turned 17. Kelly Jackson and I had a place right on Market and Pacific. He was about 15. Kelly and Tim’s father had just passed away, so we had that place and then Tim got out. The team got together and the scene started to pick up.
That was an exciting time.
Yeah, you had established yourself in skateboarding, and we were all coming out and the scene started to blow up. It started to get really exciting. Everybody in Venice was into skating. The whole town had serious roots in surfing and skating. The generation before us was the skaters that started the whole pool scene out of Venice and that area. There was already a lot of enthusiasm and backing for skateboarding from the neighborhood, so we got a lot of support. It was taken seriously.
I remember being down in Venice at your house when we were 10, 11 and 12 years old and going to the skatepark. We were also going to down to the boardwalk in Venice and looking at the crazy scene down there. They were renting out roller skates down there at the time. Then in ’82, I started going to high school down there. Jay Adams was living down there, so I’d meet him after school and we’d go down to Santa Monica and hang out with the McClures. Surfing was a big element of skateboarding back then. I didn’t surf with Shogo and Jay Adams, but I was still with them when they’d go surfing.
I think surfing was at the top of the totem pole in Venice. There was a serious pecking order. Respect did not come easy. You definitely had to pay your dues. You had to be serious about something. You had to know everybody or you were just going to have to beat somebody up or get beat up.
Be a local or get localized.
The V.B.W.L. was holding down the Breakwater. They decided who was going to hang out and who wasn’t.
I went down there with Cesario and his brother. They were the mayors of the town. They were the surfers. They had the MSA, the Mexican Surfing Association, which came up a little later, but they were already ahead of the pack when it came to surfing. All of the homies hung out at the Venice Breakwater.
Yeah, if you weren’t a dominant local, you really had to earn your respect. You had to be really good at what you were doing to get any type of recognition or respect, especially in surfing and also in skateboarding. Just because you were a pro skater didn’t mean that you could paddle out at Breakwater. Localism ran very deep in the heart and soul of Venice at that time. It was taken very seriously. I watched many people get beat up on that beach for being in the wrong place at the wrong time or getting in the way. You had to know what’s up.
Jesse Martinez was one of the guys that regulated the beach back then and he was 100% into skateboarding. When skateboarding became the driving force down in Venice, we were there every single day. There were jump ramps, wall rides, quarter pipes. That’s where we would meet and hang out. I definitely remember people being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Guys would come down there and wander down to the beach and think that they could just hang out.
[Laughs.] You had to earn your turn. There was a definite pecking order. On the weekends, you had the weekend crowd and the pro atmosphere. During the week, it was home to the local people and it was just locals skating down there. That’s what made it so special. We were like a family. We were hanging out at each other’s houses. There was Block’s house, Timmy’s house, Tomas’ house and Jimbo’s house. We’d go from house to house and figure out where we were going to go skate. The Gonzales pool was happening at that time and Jay was finding a lot of pools in Bel Air. We were going up there bailing pools out and skating them. To me, you couldn’t get more old school and hardcore than that. That was an important time for me to learn that whole process. I was out doing it with those guys. To me, that was the heart and soul of skating. We were going out and finding pools, something that wasn’t even designed to skate, and emptying them and skating them. It was the best thing that you could find to skate. We were out there skating banks and if we heard about a quarter pipe or a halfpipe, we would travel miles to get there. We’d get a ride or take the bus or skate there. We’d ride on the back of a moped. We’d find some way to get there. To find a pool was just a treasure. Jay was real active doing all of that. He was the guy that was
going to Indonesia and coming back and surfing and skating and finding pools in Bel Air and Beverly Hills. John Swope lived in the Valley and he was finding all kinds of pools, so we were constantly finding pools. There was Oatie’s pool in Santa Monica. Nathan Pratt owned that house, although I never saw him there. We had tons of sessions there. It was everybody from the neighborhood and the south side of Santa Monica, too. We had a huge crew of everyone that was into skateboarding.
Do you remember the Suicidal Tendencies shoot that they did at that one pool?
Yeah, that was for Possessed to Skate They had Timothy Leary there. Natas and Jesse were doing wall rides in the living room. They put a piece of plywood on the stairs and had Dressen and I roll down the stairs and fly out the window into the backyard. My wheel got caught in the plywood going down the stairs and I went flying out the window doing a front flip and my arm got caught in the windowsill. I was just hanging there.
There was the biggest Suicidal dude named Tiny. He had to come up and lift me out. I was stuck in the window. I almost broke my arm. That house had a pool too and we were all skating that pool with Suicidal Jimbo. He was really active with us in skating at that time. He was taking us places and making ramps. We made ramps at Jimbo’s house and Block’s house and took them down to the beach.
What about Jof’s ramp, the VSA ramp?
The VSA ramp was killer. That was a really cool ramp. One whole side had pool coping. The other side didn’t just have an extension. It had coping bended up and it escalated up to the extension.
There was one time, when Tim Jackson got into a confrontation in front of Jof’s house. We were done skating and were getting ready to leave so we were all out in the street.These guys came up in a car and Tim threw his board through the window as they drove down the street. Everyone was like, Whoa. What just happened? Then the car turned around and the guy came driving back down the street with a gun in his hand. He was just waving it in the air. It was a big, huge .357 or something. We all went running behind the cars and the guy gets out screaming and yelling. Then he grabbed my skateboard and Tomas’ skateboard out of the back of my jeep and then he yelled something and left. When Tomas saw him grab his board, he jumped up and yelled, That’s my board! The guy just pointed the gun at him and Tomas just tip-toed away. He was thinking he was going to get shot.
[Laughs.] What about that time that Rex chased that dude with an ax? People are psycho. Everybody was crazy in Venice. You had to be down to even register even an ounce of respect. It was such a fun time.