INTERVIEW by JIM MURPHY
Growing up, I always had skateboard mag shots all over my wall and I always wondered what it would be like to meet the skaters in the photos. Would they be cool or not? Would the companies they rode for dictate their personalities? Who knows, right? When I first met big Al, I was riding with Reese Simpson, who is one of the coolest skaters you would wanna meet. I got to skate with Al and Reese, and Al was so cool, relaxed, laid back and always seemed to have a big smile on his face! Any preconceived “Varibot” labels that were thrown around growing up where blown away by Al’s friendly personality and 20-foot locked in smith grinds (aka Losi grinds? Hehe!) He would lay down around any pool or contest half pipe! Watching the late ’70s pool/bowl skate pros adapting to the ’80s vert ramp era just stoked me out because I got to skate and hang out with people I idolized. From Del Mar to Cedar Crest, Losi always was and continues to be an inspiration as a skater and a person to hang with when the session is over. This interview gives you a great insight into the highs and lows of the skateboard industry, from Variflex to Losi Skate Designs. Here is the one and only Big Al Losi!!!
Yo, Big Al. It’s Murf. How’ve you been?
I’m hanging in there.
Are you still skateboarding?
Yeah. I need to ride while I can.
Well, let’s start from the beginning. Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Southern California in 1965. Sylmar is the city I was in.
Did you grow up surfing and skating?
No. I grew up inland in the desert part of California in a town called Rialto. It was off the train tracks, out there a bit.
Do you remember when you got your first board?
When I was a kid, my best friend that lived two houses away (Kevin Einert) died of leukemia when he was eight years old. He had one of those Black Knight boards with the clay wheels, and we loved that thing, so I saved my money and got some Kmart pile of shit plastic thing. It got stolen from the front of my house though. At the same time, I started going to the swap meet and I got a real board. My brother got a Jay Adams Z-Flex and after that we were going to Skater Crater Skateboard Park in San Bernardino.
When you first started skating on the Black Knight, you and your bro were street skating?
Yeah, we didn’t have any beach town around there, so we skated the cement and driveways around our neighborhood.
Were you aware of magazines like Skateboarder?
I had no idea they existed.
When you heard a concrete park went up, and you showed up at the park, what did you think?
Where I grew up, we skated a lot of ditches and by the time I went to a skatepark, I was in heaven. I was charging all over. I tried to go as much as I could. I was bugging my parents constantly.
What were you riding?
I’m going to guess it was a C&D board from the swap meet.
What kind of terrain did that park have?
There were banks and little bank channels and bowls at the end of it with a little bank snake run that set into it. It had three bowls with banks. It went from small to medium to large. There was no actual vert anywhere. They tried to add on to one of the bowls, but it was a joke. It wasn’t close to vert. It was super old school garbage, but it was fun. I used to go there for years. I loved riding there.
“Where I grew up, we skated a lot of ditches and by the time I went to a skatepark, I was in heaven. I was charging all over. I tried to go as much as I could.”
Were you instantly addicted to skateboarding?
Yeah. I played baseball, basketball and football when I was really young and I would make all the good teams, and all-stars. After that, I didn’t even go. I didn’t even care. I just wanted to skate. I was standing in the football field thinking about skateboarding.
What did your parents think of that? Was there a vibe at home like you should do organized sports or did they care either way?
I think my parents were so busy and consumed with work. Both of them worked constantly. For them, it was about making time to get their kids to practice at the skatepark or whatever it was. That’s all it was really about.
So they weren’t tripping out on the skateboarding thing.
My dad was a pretty athletic dad. He did everything, so he was game for whatever.
Did he come to the park and check you guys out riding?
Yeah, someone had to drive us there. We were young. You would have to pay for a two-hour session and you would ride for two hours and then they would kick everyone out and you would have to pay again.
What did he think of you guys riding?
I remember at my cousin’s wedding, my family got together and started talking and, the next thing you know, they started Variflex.
How did that all go down?
We were at my cousin Sue’s wedding and my Uncle Ray and my cousin Jay and my dad and my brother and everyone just started talking about skateboarding. The next thing you know we’re off looking for manufacturers and getting labels and filing for business licensing and all that stuff.
What year was that?
I would say it was 1977. Yep.
Variflex was coming in more at the Kmart level at first and trying to price at the entry level point for kids just starting out, right?
My uncle was already in that industry of mass marketing. My father was all about making pro skateboards and they both did their own thing at the same exact time, and Variflex started. My uncle was busy wheelin’ and dealin’ and getting a bunch of boards out of Taiwan. My dad was busy trying to find out about vertical laminates and materials and what glue to use. Back then we were worried about making kicktails. [Laughs]
You guys already knew that you wanted to make a good quality product to go for a skate shop and another product just for entry-level stuff, right?
Yeah. From day one, my dad was all about the pro line.
Did he see you at a level to where he was going to sponsor you or was he seeing it more as a business opportunity?
I think it was something that he could do with his kids, but the focus was on the products. In 1980, he took us on tour around the nation when there wasn’t much opportunity in the skateboard industry at all.
At that point, were you going to contests? Were you already sponsored?
The Skater Crater Skateboard Park sponsored me. The U.S.A.S.A. would have contests at the different parks and they would hand out trophies at the end of the season to the winners with the most points.
Do you remember what you were riding?
By that time, I was riding a lot, so I was getting a lot of different materials that Variflex wanted to try out. I was riding proto-type boards the whole time from different sources.
Who were the guys you were skating with?
The one person that really stands out is Bill Hanes. He worked at Skater Crater. It was Bill Hanes, Patty Hoffman, David Mann, Kevin Skibba and many more. They were the Skater Crater local kids that worked there and were on the team. When Colton opened, they took the manager and the entire staff and skate team from Skater Crater. I would go to the contests at the park with them and we would sit in the back of the van and eat doughnuts.
Would you ever cross with guys like Duane, Lance or Remy or any of the upcoming amateurs back in the day?
Lance wasn’t around yet, and I didn’t meet Duane until the grand opening for Colton Skatepark.
Was Variflex up and running by then?
Variflex was on the move by then.
I never got to skate Colton, but those pools looked good.
It was built at a time when all they had were big bowls. They didn’t have the combi pool. They had a capsule pool, which was over vert on the face wall, but it was poorly built. Whoever built it obviously wasn’t a skateboarder. Skitch Hitchcock did a great job on the design though. There was supposed to be a full pipe and pools that they never built. All in all, they accidentally made a dream come true with the snake run. The builder knew what he was trying to do, but he didn’t realize what skateboarding would do with it. It became a full-on ollie training ground. We were just flying over those hips everywhere.
At that point, you were already getting into speed lines and carving so when you saw those hips you knew what you wanted to do with them, right?
Yeah. By the time that park opened, Big O was open too. Big O was everything to me.
Who was riding Big O back in the day? You must have been riding with guys like Blender?
It was Neil Blender, Mike Hirsch, Bob Serafin and Eddie Meek. Marina opened so there were good parks with good pools all over Southern California that were far better than Colton. I remember going to those parks like it was going to a different country or something. It was a trip.
Back in those days, there was a new trick being invented every day. Was it competitive for you or were you just having a blast with your friends?
It was all about fun. We’d think of something stupid, and everybody would try to do it. We just did stupid things all day every day and there wasn’t any money involved. It was hard to get on a park team where you could ride for free, so you had to pay to ride.
So Variflex was up and running and you were being totally supported by them, right?
No. When my dad was there in the beginning, the skateparks had investors. Skateboarding was on the front page of big corporate magazines and all these people invested and built all the parks, but the return wasn’t what they thought it would be. Skateboarding became less popular and they weren’t getting their money back and they were getting sued and they started freaking out. By the time I was 16, my dad was out of Variflex. That was about ‘82. Once that happened, there was no longer any support from Variflex for professional skaters. It just stopped cold.
I remember when I started seeing Grisham and then El Gato. Everybody was riding for Variflex, and the whole thing came out about Varibots. It seemed like there was animosity from the soul surfers and skaters. All of a sudden, you guys were coming up with these gnarly tricks. Were you getting some weird vibe because guys on Variflex were innovating tricks?
All of skateboarding went through a change, just like it did when it went from vert ramps to street. All of a sudden, all of the guys who were getting in all the magazines were kids doing ollies out of the pool. The older dudes were pissed. They were fighting for their opportunities.
When you were doing fakie ollies, were you getting vibed for that?
Only the guys that felt threatened would trip out. Most people were just there to ride and have fun. I didn’t understand what those opportunities were. I was just there to ride. Throughout it all, there were two different sides. All that really mattered was that you were there to ride. Duane was supposedly the one that started the “Varibots” name, but Duane was always really cool to me. I always enjoy riding with that dude. It was just more media hype than reality.
It was conjured up to create some kind of rivalry where there really wasn’t one?
Don’t get me wrong. There was a flash of a transitional moment. After that, it was over.
When your dad pulled out of Variflex in ‘82 and you saw the skateparks dying, did you see it as the end?
Well, I never looked at skateboarding as a business. I just wanted to ride my skateboard. When my dad left Variflex, I knew I wasn’t going to get a plane ticket to Jacksonville that year. Other than that, life didn’t change for me. I was going to school in the middle of nowhere. I was 16.
You were in high school, but were you pro in ‘82?
I turned pro in the Gold Cup Series in 1980.
What did it feel like turning pro?
It was a lot of fun. Me, Caballero, Mike Smith and McGill… there were about 10 of us that turned pro one day together. They had the big amateur final the week before and everybody turned pro at one time. You didn’t just turn pro. You waited to turn pro. You prepared for it.
Was it the kind of thing where you guys would hang out as amateurs and talk about turning pro?
Absolutely. We got to hang out at this big final thing a week before that, so everyone traveled from around and congregated. Everything was built up. It was the first contest of the year for the new series and that’s when you turned pro. I even skated the contest at Big O with the pros when I was 13 as an amateur. I signed a paper turning down the money so I could skate against the pros as the amateur.
What place did you get in that contest?
I think I got fourth or something like that.
Was there a lot of pressure skating contests? I remember reading the mags and just being blown away with all the attention and the magazines being there. What kind of pressure was it?
For me, because of the Varibots thing and that Big O contest, they thought I was invading their terrain. They were very threatened and the pressure became ridiculous. That was the first time in my life where I thought people were idiots.
Why? What would people do?
[Laughs] They would spit on me in my contest runs.
Were you getting pissed?
I got mad, but it created energy. At 13 years old, I got fourth. [Laughs] It just gave me more motivation to show them that I was there to ride. I was there to fucking skate.
That’s a trip. Being from the East Coast, there wasn’t that kind of rivalry here, so reading about it was funny. It was like a drama scene with North versus the South.
[Laughs] That’s how it was. It was territorial. It was everybody against the Varibots. At the same time, any publicity is good publicity. That’s when I learned that reality.
“We had no options. We had to start building our own terrain. It just progressed from little ramps in the backyard until we had this big halfpipe in the desert.”
Variflex must have sold a lot of boards though. At that point, you’re selling pro models too?
No, they never printed boards for the mass market from the pro skateboard line. The pro models were completely different materials.
Okay. Where did the Taiwan boards go?
They sold them to department stores, but they had nothing to do with us skaters. In ‘84, we had Eddie Elguera, Eric Grisham, Jeff Grosso, Lance Mountain, John Lucero, Bill Beauregard and Mike Hirsch, so we were still in really good shape. Then the company stopped taking care of the skaters and paying for our plane tickets or gas money to contests and the Variflex team fell apart, and the whole thing kind of crumbled. Most everybody had to get a job.
Was everyone bummed? Did they keep skating and staying in touch with you?
Grisham and I kept in touch. He was doing roofing and he had me help him a couple of times roofing.
You guys are top pros and now you’re working on a roof. Were you still in shock that the whole thing went down?
I never made any money on skateboarding. I’ve seen a lot of people make money and have that opportunity, but not me. For a couple years, I paid my rent.
When your dad left Variflex, did he turn his shares over to you?
No, I’ve never had a share in Variflex. I never made any money from Variflex or skateboarding at all.
I didn’t know if you inherited some part of it.
No, I didn’t inherit anything. They sold it to a company and they never even let me know how much it sold for, much less gave me a piece of it. Although, I did get a Ford Focus bought for me, so I did get a car one time from it. [Laughs]
My parents were cool. They’re wonderful. They’ve been great the whole time. They were just caught in the middle of it.
As you moved forward in the early ‘80s, was Variflex defunct and you worked on other stuff?
Yeah, I just got a job. Then Lance, Grosso, Lucero and myself reunited and tried to get the Variflex Jacksonville thing going. Every year Variflex did a contest at Kona in Jacksonville and we got that thing back on track. We flew out there and did that a few times, but that was all Variflex was willing to do. They weren’t willing to send us to any other contests. They weren’t willing to pay us monthly to survive. Other companies were throwing us wonderful opportunities, and we had to take them in order to keep riding. That’s when Lance went to Powell. Grosso and Lucero went to Schmitt Stix. The rest is history for all those people.
Where did you move?
Rich Novak and Santa Cruz offered me a line and we were going to call it the Bullet Losi Line with Bullet Wheels and Bullet Boards. That was going to be my brand under Santa Cruz. We had a contract all done. I was so excited about everything, and Creative Urethanes pouring the wheels. I was going to have everything I wanted to ride from boards to wheels to trucks for the first time in my life. Well, my family freaked out and was not going to let me sign that contract, so that didn’t happen. That’s when they made the whole Team Losi farce with Variflex.
Since your family still owned Variflex, they didn’t want you riding for another company?
I wouldn’t say it was just that but, yeah, they wanted to have full control of the opportunity. Having a pro line helped them get skateboards in Target, Wal-Mart, Big 5 and Osh. It helped them in the regular mass market. It was a critical selling tool for them and they didn’t want to lose it, but they didn’t want to pay me either.
So you had Team Losi Variflex in the ‘80s, but it wasn’t something you were stoked on. You would have rather done the board with Santa Cruz then?
Absolutely. Team Losi Variflex never had a person at a desk to take orders from a store. They never had one person to make the boards and get them in the public. That was not a focal point. I went to Schmitt Stix to get the boards made and Variflex wouldn’t do it because of the price factor, so they had their sources make the boards, which was an absolute joke. They didn’t make many of them because they didn’t actually have anyone to put them in the marketplace. They didn’t care if they got into the market. They just didn’t want me to quit. My name gave them some leverage.
So they just wanted your name to give them more legitimacy, and not pay you for it?
They didn’t pay me and they wouldn’t let me do what I needed to do for my own life. In the end, they fired me anyway. When they were done with me, they just kicked me out.
Those were your relatives?
It was my uncle and my cousin.
That’s fucked, dude.
[Laughs] That’s the reality of it. In my eyes, that’s what happened. I’m sure they’re going to tell you that I didn’t show up to work on time, but they had me working all day painting scooters for Target buyers when skaters need to be out in the field. You know that. You’re a skater.
You have to be riding, man.
You have to be riding in the right spots, in the right eyes for the right opportunities.
You have to be competitive and be out there with the mags taking photos of you at contests getting top ten.
The funniest thing is that I was always in the top ten.
In the ‘80s, you were killing vert. Let’s talk about the evolution from killing concrete and starting to ride vert.
I think I had an advantage on a lot of people because when I was in high school in ‘81 and ‘82, my friends in Ridgecrest built a really good ramp, so I had the chance to really go skate some vert before all the parks were gone.
What was the tranny vert ratio? Was that eight with a foot of vert?
I think it had a little more vert. I went from skating tight bumpy pools with gnarly coping to a nice consistent vert wall with regular steel coping. It went from round wall to flat wall, and I learned a lot. My friend Tracy Gates and the Hart brothers that lived in Ridgecrest built that ramp and we took Gator and Christian out there. Duncan and Reategui went there. I took as many people as I knew out there.
What does that transition feel like because you’re riding the best concrete in the world and it’s all taken away from you and then you were riding flat wall. Were you missing the speed lines of concrete with pool coping?
Yeah, I loved the Big O. I used to bug everybody constantly like, “Give me a ride out there so I can go ride the good place.” Finally, I was able to drive, and it was no longer available. We had no options. We had to start building our own terrain. It progressed from little ramps in the backyard until we had this big halfpipe in the desert.
What were those sessions like in those days because you had to adapt to riding flat wall?
I would see people show up that rode ramps and couldn’t even begin to ride Del Mar or they grew up in bumpy round pools and couldn’t slow down. You had to slow down on a ramp compared to a pool. The pool is coming at you 1,000 miles an hour, so you have to be ready and think two walls ahead. I saw some people get frustrated and I saw other people feed on how different it was.
I remember back in those days with all those Del Mar contests, Tony Hawk was coming out with tricks. There were more flip tricks and different stuff was developing. You guys honed those tricks even more, right?
I think most of those tricks, Tony actually learned on the ramp. By then, they had the inland San Diego ramps going, so he was riding a lot of ramps, a lot more than most of us. He also knew the contests were all about the ramps and he had a lot of family support. Tony is a great dude. He’s been the best. He’s a better ambassador than I thought anybody ever could be for skateboarding. He’s an absolutely amazing human being. I got to know him when he was a kid and I’ve watched his transition and growth, and he’s an absolute quality dude. He had more opportunity than most of us. With his family being involved in the NSA contests, not only was he better at skating than anyone else, he had all the support. Everything was structured correctly for what ended up being the one and only Tony Hawk.
Exactly. So you guys are doing blue-collar jobs and riding ramps on the side and going to an occasional contest in Jacksonville, but there came a point in the mid ‘80s, when organized vert contests were going down and Tim Payne was building real vert ramps. Do you remember when it transitioned to that?
I wasn’t very comfortable on ramps, but we ended up building one in Ontario at Oreoli’s house. He passed away not long ago. He was a really cool dude that let me, Salba, Malba, Chris Miller and a bunch of us build a full on vert ramp in his yard so we could adapt better. We brought Tim Payne out to build the ramp, so it was built just like the NSA ramp. I’m thinking it was 9 1/2 with 1 1/2 feet of vert.
Was that enough vert for you? Did you feel like you wanted four feet of vert like Upland?
That ramp was good. Once Tim was building those ramps, I was comfortable. Different people did better at different ramps.
You were one of the guys who really innovated lip stuff. I remember watching you at Del Mar backside and frontside smith grinding 20 feet and then you’d bring it to vert. How did that feel? Riding roundwall when you’re riding through a smith is a lot different than riding a flat wall locked into a smith.
It became all about not turning my shoulders around. In pools, you have to work way harder. With ramps, you don’t have to work as hard. You have to take it easy. That was key.
When the Team Losi Variflex thing ended, is that when you started LSD?
No, I broke my leg at Del Mar towards the end of the Del Mar time. After that, it seemed like I couldn’t get anybody to answer a phone call. Variflex was already treating me like crap, and I tried to work the Variflex thing one more time, but they let me go. I ended up starting a little company on the side out of the garage at my parents called ALS, but that didn’t work for me. I was trying to do everything by myself and it just wasn’t possible. By the time I got healthy and was feeling strong, it took a couple of years, so it was ‘86 to ‘87. That’s when my roommate drew that flower with the peace signs and we put LSD on a skateboard with a marker and I bought myself a plane ticket and went and skated a contest. That’s when these people talked to me about doing LSD.
How was that working with them?
Well, I really felt like my uncle was all about big business and wanting to make money on us, so I knew the structure of that pattern of thought. When I signed the contract for LSD, we discussed everything, but what we discussed and what happened were two different things. When that manipulation repeated itself, I knew it was a bad thing. I do wish that I would have started it differently and I would have had my own company right now. To this day, I believe I earned three or four times more than what I got. Anyway, Life’s a Beach was available at the time, so I thought, “I’ll work with Mouse and go to Life’s a Beach.” It was a cool company. I would be there with Jeff Phillips, Reese Simpson and people that I love, so I was very excited to be part of that. I left LSD to start the Life’s a Beach thing. I was thinking we were going to take all the riders from LSD but, two weeks later, Life’s A Beach was gone. I don’t know how it happened. All of a sudden, it was over.
Skateboarding just died out. It all went to street.
I was lied to and manipulated by the people involved with LSD. They were going to do what they wanted to do. They didn’t understand that you have to have structure and support to succeed. Someone has to be there to get the product together and get it shipped out and get the orders filled and chase the money. Somebody has to do that. If you’re the marketing tool, your job is to get out and make sure that people call and order that product. When one end to the other isn’t being truthful, it makes it really hard to function.
Was it the kind of thing where they were saying they weren’t selling a lot of boards, but you knew they were selling a lot of boards and not telling you?
It was more than just that. I would see product on people walking around town that wasn’t on any books. It wasn’t on any inventory sheets I had, but somehow people were wearing it. I would come home from a trip early and see things being printed in a hurry at nine at night. I would be thinking, “What are they trying to pull?” All of a sudden, I stumbled on it and they were worried about me figuring it out. They would joke about those kinds of things. I remember the first time I went to England. They told me when I got there that there would be money and structure. I explained to them, “Look, I’m going to have to leave straight from one spot to another. I’m going to be getting off the plane without any money.” They said, “No problem. We’ve got you covered when you get there.” I land and, of course, I’m not covered. I call them and they laughed at me and hung up. That’s not cool. Once that happened, I knew we were going to have a legal altercation or some physical violence.
It was like the ‘80s all over again, and then here comes street skating? Did you see that coming?
Yeah, I saw it coming. I’d gotten my first knee operation in ‘91, and things were transitioning. It took me a year to recover because it was a bad operation. By the time I was skating again, there was just no opportunity. I went to work at the Radio Control Car Track in Pomona for my family for about 10 years. I met a girl, Anna Villafana, who got sick, went on dialysis and ended up getting a kidney transplant. I went through that program with her for over 15 years. She’s doing great now and things are still rocking and rolling. She is an amazing person and has had a wonderful impact on my life. I’ve learned a whole new value of life from all that.
In the ‘90s, skateboarding wasn’t part of your life?
I would go ride with my friends. I still try to ride with my friends as much as I can. I have health insurance again, so I’m trying to get back on point.
When the concrete started coming back after Burnside started developing and the Vans parks started opening, were you riding any of those?
I rode most of the Vans parks. I was a local at Ontario.
What did you think of the concrete resurgence?
I thought it was great. It’s still great. It’s not over yet. I see more stuff every day. I can’t believe it. It gives me the motivation to get out there and skate.
When the Vans parks started coming out, you had to pay to ride. Did you have a different feeling about how long that situation would last?
I thought it was going to go away quicker than it did. I couldn’t believe they were building them in malls, but it makes sense because they’re trying to generate more market base. If the malls want it, it’s going to keep business in the mall. Mom can shop while junior skates and the daughters are happy looking at the boys skateboarding. Everything is good.
It’s beautiful. They still have the Pro-Tec Pool Party. Have you been to any of those?
Yeah. It’s great to see everybody. It’s like a reunion more than anything.
“There was supposed to be a full pipe and pools that they never built. All in all, they accidentally made a dream come true with the snake run. The builder knew what he was trying to do, but he didn’t realize what skateboarding would do with it. It became a full on ollie training ground. We were just flying over these hips everywhere.”
Once you started riding the Vans parks, how did those parks ride compared to the ‘70s parks?
It’s a whole different scene now. They’ve learned so much about building. People talk about how great all of these old parks were but in all reality they weren’t. They were bumpy with fucked up coping. They made you wear copers because the coping couldn’t survive a frontside grind.
Did you ever ride Cherry Hill?
I went there twice. That keyhole was bumpy and had kinks all over it and the left hand kidney was a piece of shit, but the right hand kidney was great. The egg bowl was great. The halfpipe thing was fun, but that keyhole was useless. It had its own value like the Kona Bowl at Del Mar. I love riding tight little things or something that’s got a total imperfection that you have to get through, but it’s not the perfect thing. Nowadays, they are making skateparks that are perfect.
What are some of the things that you’ve ridden lately that you consider perfect?
Anything I ride now is better than anything I rode in the past. All the new cement is done in a new process that’s better. Everything is better.
Riding the original combi, I remember how gnarly that square pool was but you guys were killing it. After you ride something that gnarly, everything else is like a cakewalk, right?
Well, the combi pool was not the gnarliest. Reseda was gnarly. That was gnarly.
Reseda was gnarlier than the combi pool?
I thought so. I thought it had more vert and it was tighter than shit. It was bumpy as fuck and slippery as shit. You couldn’t even run out of it when you fell. It was so slippery. They had two pools. One was 13-feet with 8-foot trannies and five feet of vert with gnarly coping and it was tight. It was almost like you could lay across it, coping to coping, it was so tight.
Were people going straight off the top of that thing?
It was only George Orton and Eric Grisham. Eric Grisham was the man. When it comes to gnarly vert, put Grisham in there. He’ll do it. Eric drops in and starts tearing it up.
If you’re brought up on gnarly shit like Upland or Reseda, you could go anywhere else like it was nothing, right?
Well, I see stuff that people build that’s very difficult to ride. I hear people exaggerate the height of it not realizing there was 13 feet of transition on that 15-foot wall. It’s not five feet of tranny and eight feet of vert, although they build them and I see them out there. It’s crazy out there. The comprehension is growing now in the general public because of all the skateparks and transition. That’s why they are looking towards the old school. Let’s be honest, a few years ago, I couldn’t get a pair of shoes, and now I can get shoes.
Why do you think that is?
I think it’s the comprehension of overall skateboarding rather than just the daredevils in the magazines at the moment.
Well, they’re building all these parks with pools in them. When I go to the parks, we ride the pools and little kids are standing around going, “Whoa, you can ride that thing?” Kids see you ride and they’re blown away because they don’t know how to carve, you know?
I think my favorite part is when they turn and go, “How long have you been skateboarding?” I say, “32 years.” The kid is only 12 years old. That’s the best part. There’s a generation coming up. I think that all the parks that have been there for a period of time have their own little culture. It’s bringing this new generation up and the new generation is really impressive.
Every day you see that kid at the top of the pool with no pads. No one is even thinking about knee slides. Everyone is running out of shit.
Well, I understand that pads can bite the kid that’s not used to wearing them and they don’t want to depend on it. They don’t want to have that mentality. The reality is, “How long you are going to be able to ride at such a level?”
You can’t run out of an 8-foot air all the time.
For me, it was just a matter of time. It was one knee surgery, two, three, four, metal collarbone, pin to hip, neck problems… I can’t even skate now without pads. I have to use them to hold my knees together. [Laughs] In my youth, we didn’t have pads. We had to run out. Pads were developed during my time in skateboarding, so I’ve learned to use them.
Do you ever see it evolving? Is there going to be a point where kids are going to wear kneepads or not?
I think that people will catch on when they see the really top of the line skaters no longer able to skate because they didn’t wear pads. When the media catches up with it, then everybody will catch on. What I blame is pad technology. Pad development has let me down.
What pads do you ride now?
I’m riding 187’s right now. They’re the same thing we had 10 or 20 years ago with a better buckle. It just seems that if they could put all these gel materials into a shoe, somebody could focus on doing better safety gear. I thought that would have been developed and it has not.
Do you remember those pads that Mouse put out, those Life’s A Beach kneepads?
Yeah, I did the injection mold for the kneecaps for those. My dad made the plastic caps for that. I had a bunch of those. When Life’s A Beach was gone, they were gone too. I thought they were a little too round in the front though. They needed a flatter front surface, but they were still big giant foam pads. We need new gels with padding a third of the size and a fifth of the weight.
That’s just going to drive up the price, right?
No. I don’t think that’s necessary. The same technology that goes into stupid shoes could easily change kneepads, but nobody has applied it. I don’t think it changes much with the price of a regular shoe to one with some of that gel in it.
They’ll get the material from China anyway.
The people that are really making extra money on that are trying to do it through patenting, licensing and political crap instead of physical reality.
Well, you should make the kneepads, man.
I have no money, Murf. I worked as a stagehand for the last six years. I’m broke as shit.
Where do you work as a stagehand?
I work at the Grove of Anaheim.
Where are you living right now?
I’ve been living in Murrieta, California. It’s inland by Temecula in the desert.
What’s your life like these days?
I’ve just been micro-managing Josh Sandoval. I’m just hanging out with my friends, not wanting them to go through the same patterns when my knowledge can help them. Nobody is paying me. I don’t have a job right now. I’m unemployed at the moment and looking for work.
You’ve been in the industry so long. It sounds like you have all the knowledge, but you’ve just been hooking up with the wrong people. I mean if your own uncle burned you, it’s hard to trust anyone, right?
Right. That’s why I never have.
What is it about the skateboard industry? They know we love skateboarding and somehow they must figure, “We’re sending you around the world, so we’re going to burn you for money and you’re going to like it because you get to go out and have fun and skate.” Is that the problem?
There are good people and bad people. Look at everybody that did work with respectable guys like Paul Schmitt. They have a real life because they worked with respectable people. I worked with people that didn’t have respect. My uncle just loved money more than he loved me. The LSD thing was the same kind of people, so I knew where that path was going to lead. What can I say? I made bad decisions, so they’re my fault. I should have gone to Santa Cruz and betrayed my family when I had the chance. I’m stupid.
No. It’s not your fault. You’re going to want to trust your blood.
Well, I wanted out of there. I knew they weren’t going to give me a part of pro skating. They had no interest in it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to do what I needed to do and I was young. If that happened now, of course, I would do it.
Have you seen Reese Simpson? Do you hang out with anybody from the past?
No. I tried to track them down, but I don’t see many people to be honest with you. My buddy that invented the mute air, Chris Weddle, came and stayed with me for a week and we went to the Pro-Tec thing. He comes out every couple years to visit with me. I need to go see Eric Grisham. He’s my favorite.
When you went to the Pro-Tec Pool Party, what pros did you get to hang with?
I hung out a little with Grosso, Duncan and Eddie. Joey Tershay is always a friendly sight. Ben Schroeder is the stud of the year. I hang with Ben a bit too. That guy is just so rad.
Can you believe how he skates still?
Ben is rad. Every time I think it’s physically impossible, Ben can do it.
I saw Ben do a sweeper disaster on that main hip at the combi.
Ben is just so rad. He’s always been rad. Ben is definitely on my Top Five list.
Who else is in your Top Five?
I have to put Eric Grisham at the top of the list. I’ve seen that guy in his day and he was just a stud. I have to put Ben Schroeder in there. I have to put Blaize Blouin in it. He just changed the session for the better every time. I would have to put Reese in that category too. Skating with Reese was always so much fun.
I feel the same way. Whenever you skated with Reese, he was all about fun and being creative. I loved riding with that guy.
I have to put D.P. in there too. Wait. Is my fifth one going to be Duane Peters or Craig Johnson? It’s tough. Which one do I choose? [Laughs]
“I just want to get out and live and skate and jam music and have more fun. Skateboarding is absolutely one of the most positive things in my life. Now it’s all about as many sessions as possible.”
How would you describe the way Craig Johnson skates?
He’s definitely the most on edge skater I’ve ever met. He can die on any wall at any time. Other than that, the minute he got here, he was skateboarding.
What did you think of Jeff Phillips?
Jeff Phillips was incredible. From day one, he would show up doing things I still have never been able to do. He was rad. He was one of my favorites. He was a great guy. I can’t even tell you how much he did for everybody. So many people stayed at his house and he would get food and cook for everybody. He was such a good dude.
He was the epitome of Texas skateboarding. What about going to Texas in the late ‘80s at the Houston contest. What was that scene like?
I went through there with Variflex tours early on, but when I was 18, I flew out to Dallas for a Clown Ramp contest. Back then America was different and the rules were different. I got out of the plane and rented a car at 18 years old. I drove across the street to Del Taco and they served me a Corona beer through the drive-thru window. They opened it for me and handed it through the window. It was unreal.
You were stoked.
California was never like that, so I was stunned. I couldn’t believe it. It was legal to drink at 18 and I could buy a beer at the drive-thru window. I remember Dan Wilkes being one of the coolest people I’ve ever met in my life. We had so much fun on some carnival pinball machine that they turned it into a skateboard ramp. It was slippery as hell and dangerous as shit. You rode that thing.
Oh, hell yeah.
You know what it’s all about, Murf. It was like two cultures but neither one was negative in the least. The Jeff Phillips culture was really patient, educated, polite and thoughtful. The Gibson and Johnson culture was more like, “Yep, we’re here. Let’s get together. Let’s go! C’mon. Everyone is going. C’mon ya’ll, let’s go. Let’s get it on.” It was so much fun. I loved it there. I went there a lot. I got into five car accidents five visits in a row.
In the first one, we had nine people in a Toyota Celica and we crashed that thing. You could actually buy what they called Eve over the counter, so we bought some of that. The next thing I know the guy driving nods off. Graham Stanners grabbed the wheel and the minute he hit the brakes all his weight transferred forward and locked them up. He couldn’t stop because he’s flying forward into the brake pedal. Mike Smith was laying on his back in the front seat with his legs out the window. I could have sworn we were going to roll and grind his legs off, so I was trying to pull him in the window. Another time, I was at the airport and we got rear-ended. That’s when I broke my neck and I didn’t realize until later. My flight was leaving and I ran on the plane and everything seemed to heal up okay, but years later it’s all fucked up.
Did you get neck surgery?
I’ve had one little one. They say it’s inoperable now because I’d lose my left arm and leg, and my mechanics would get fucked up. I’ve already lost control of the nerves in my neck and my back. I fucked myself up on that one, Murf. I’m kind of beat up. I broke both of my legs at the same time snowboarding at Bear Mountain. They have a park there with a bunch of big jumps and I’d hit all these jumps all the time and then they would reshape the jumps a little bit. It was my first hit of the day and I dodged some kids and the next thing I know I just cased on it. I blew out the meniscus pads in both my knees.
That’s the only time I’ve hurt myself snowboarding, going into the snowboard park. You take yourself out.
The rails will fuck you up. Other than that, I’m pretty comfortable. When I don’t respect it, I get hurt. I’ll be accustomed to doing certain jumps over and over and I’ll come back a week later and the jump is different. Instead of relearning it, I just hit it.
You can’t say you haven’t gone through some shit. We’re skateboarders.
I’ve been skating more. I’m not finished with skating and traveling. I’m going after it. I just want to be able to travel. I want to go. I’m in. I’m game.
I want to see those backside smiths. I remember seeing you at Del Mar rocking smith grinds 10 blocks. You have one of the best styles, Allen, and you were always one of the cooler dudes I ever met on tour.
Cool. Thanks, man.
We need guys like you to show the kids what style is. That’s your duty. We have to show kids speed and style. Let’s just go out there and have fun.
I want to get out and bridge that gap. That’s my goal. I’m in this band playing guitar also.
What band is that?
It’s called One Less Zero. Our singer was Miss Supercross 2008 and our drummer is a crazy tattoo guy named Mike Spasbo. It’s been really fun. We hit the road a little bit. I’m in another band now called Project X. I just want to get out and live and skate and jam music and have more fun. Skateboarding is absolutely one of the most positive things in my life. Now it’s all about as many sessions as possible. I have to ride as much as I can.
Well, you’re on your way, Al.
Right on, Murf. Thanks.