INTERVIEW BY STEVE OLSON
INTRODUCTION BY STEVE OLSON
PHOTOS BY TED TERREBONNE
Chris Strople broke down the doors for modern skateboarding, as we know it. But most probably don’t know this, that’s for sure… History, some say, doesn’t matter… but only the lies don’t matter…As a matter of fact, most don’t know Jack, or Strople’s importance of paving the way for others to follow. Like most pioneers, they do it for the love of it, and then everything falls into place… The fools follow the idiots…The present day, and I only speak of skateboarding morons…You can only realize this when you’ve been around long enough to know better… Most haven’t been there long enough… Strople has, and knows better…“IT WAS, BASICALLY, THE OLD SURFER GUYS THAT WERE STARTING TO SKATE IN POOLS. THEY HAD WATERSKIS AND EVERYTHING ELSE. THEY WERE SKATING BAREFOOTED. IT WAS LIKE A BLOOD BOWL AFTER ABOUT A MONTH OF SKATING IN THERE BECAUSE EVERYONE LOST SKIN IN IT.”
I think so.
Sgt. Danko here.
[Laughs] What are you doing?
Get a beer and I’ll get the old corncob pipe.
[Laughs] I’m going to slip into the easy chair and put on my slippers. I don’t have a smoking jacket like you do. I’m sure you have a nice one.
I had, past tense, a really great smoking jacket. Now that you’ve brought that to my attention, I think I’ll put that into my wear around the studio. All right, Strople. The way I do my interviews is I bounce all over the place. There’s no real order. There’s just chaos.
Well, I think I’m a lot more sober than when you did Autry’s interview. Waldo rambled on pretty good.
[Laughs] I love that. Where do you come from?
I was born in Pasadena, CA. I’m an original California boy. We lived ten years in Pasadena and then we lived in Sierra Madre.
How did you ever get into skateboarding?
Sierra Madre and Arcadia were like Beverly Hills and Sunset. It had big houses and big pools. The first pool I skated was down in Arcadia, right across from the county park. It was at an old abandoned motel. That was around 1974.
What kind of board were you riding?
A Black Knight. I left a lot of skin in that pool. You remember those days when it was a big deal to go over the light.
Those clay wheels didn’t grip too well and then they disintegrated on anything besides super smooth concrete.
It was, basically, the old surfer guys that were starting to skate in pools. They had water-skis and everything else. They were skating barefooted. It was like a blood bowl after about a month of skating in there because everyone lost skin in it. My older brother’s best buddy took me skating there for the first time. We’d been skating around on the streets, but he took me to my first bowl. I carved over the light and those guys had been trying to carve over the light for months. I was like a fish to water. I carved over the light and hit tile in a 12-foot bowl on a Black Knight. It freaked them out. I came back extremely bruised.
Did you have grip tape on your Black Knight?
No. I was skating barefoot like everybody else.
Barefoot! Yes! When did you discover shoes?
That was around the time that we got urethane wheels. The shoes got a lot better, and we started getting strips of grip tape at the hardware store. Like you, we made boards. You’d get a nice piece of redwood plank and make a couple of downhill boards. When we were starting, we skated freestyle and slalom. In ‘73 or ‘74, I skated in the California State Championships in Ventura. All of the municipalities, like Burbank, Glendale, Sierra Madre and Arcadia, had freestyle and slalom contests.
I completely forgot about that world. I went to one at Los Alamitos and saw Johnny Walker skating back then on open ball bearing wheels.
Yeah. They had them in Pasadena. I have a flyer in my basement that says August 28, 1976, the first annual Sierra Madre Skateboard Contest. It was held behind the police department because they had the smoothest concrete. When I was 14, I skated in the California State Championships with Tony Alva, Ty Page, Mike Weed and all of those cats. They set up tight slalom, giant slalom and freestyle, so we did all of it. You remember the Catalina Classic. You skated in that.
I didn’t know that you raced. Wow.
When I was down in North County, I skated La Costa, Black Hill, and all of that with Dave Dominy, Lance Smith and all of those guys. We did a lot of downhill stuff, too.
The transformation of skateboarding from the Black Knight to the urethane wheels, and making your own boards, how was that for you and the people you skated with?
It was a blast. Once the urethane wheels happened, it made it a lot better to bomb hills. Sierra Madre was on a hillside, so we bombed all of these hills. Speed was a big thing. There’s one hill specifically where you can get going easily 50mph. It was a big wide road that flattened out at the bottom so you could slow down. We skated there all of the time. The high school that I went to was right down the street, so we’d ditch class, and get rides up the hill, and just keep going down it all day. There was Head Rush Hill and Canyon and a bunch of other major hills around here that were fun. They put in a lot of drainage ditches up in the mountains, so we’d dig out some of the ditches that had banks that were rideable, and skate those.
Did you ever skate Brea?
No. There was another bowl down here called the V Bowl. You might have skated there once or twice. That was a fun ditch. When I met [“Wally”] Inouye and [Brad] Strandlund and all of those guys, they were running heavy.
How did you meet those dudes?
When they built Montebello Skatepark, I used to go down there. I never had any money, so I used to jump the fence in the back to get in. Strandlund was one of the managers at the time. It was Strandlund and [Curtis] Hesselgrave. They used to always bust me. Wally worked there too, and they’d throw me out all of the time. After about the fiftieth time, they just decided to let me skate, so I kept skating. I told Wally if he let me in, I’d take him to some pools. He laughed. He said, “You don’t know where any pools are.” So I took him to two pools the first time and they were rather nice pools too. After that, I took him to about 20 more. I had a whole stash of pools. We had one pool in particular that was a private pool. The house had burnt down and it was in a cul-de-sac. The pool had a 20-foot fence around it all covered in ivy. It was called the Seal Bowl. It had power to it. It was a square pool. Nobody knew about it, except Kurt Talbot, me and a few other people. It had a pool house that had electricity so we’d skate there all the time. We practically lived there.
You hung out with Kurt Talbot a lot.
He grew up down the street from me in Sierra Madre.
Are you friends from skateboarding or from before skating?
I knew him before skating. He was into gymnastics in high school, so he was really into doing freestyle and that kind of stuff. He was a pretty athletic guy. I think you skated in a couple of carve grind contests against him.
What is he doing now?
He owns an electrical company in Pasadena that his dad and brother owned. It’s called Talbot Electric. I think he’s living in Costa Mesa now.
I always liked Kurt so much. He was totally cool.
Talbot is a good dude. A few years ago, he tried to skate again and broke his foot, massively. It had pins in it and everything else. That ended his comeback.
He was the crazy rubber man. I loved that style. So you’d take Curtis, Strandlund and Inouye to pools to get into the skatepark?
Yeah. I gave up a full set.
Is that where you met Ed Economy as well?
Yes. I met Ed Economy at Montebello Park.
Was this during the time when Wally was getting all of the coverage?
It was the start of it. I met Wally and he took me around. That’s when I met Tony, Jay and all of those guys because Wally was hanging out with them. I’d tag along with them and I got to skate the Fruit Bowl and stuff. The first big break I got was at the grand opening of the Buena Park. Wally called me up. I ditched school and went down there and hopped the back fence and got in. It was Bolster, Jay and all of those guys hanging out, and Bolster snapped a photo. Remember the poster book that Skateboarder put out with Wally in it? That was the first picture I ever had published. I got a poster in the poster book riding at Buena Park.
Was that the Concrete Wave or Skatopia?
It was Skatopia. It was a frontside in a half-pipe.
That’s a dope first photo.
They sold 10,000,000 of those poster books, supposedly.
They sold a lot of magazines back in that era. They had a million subscribers at one point.
It was gigantic for all of us. You had a “Who’s Hot?!!” too.
I’m just saying. You had a poster before you had a “Who’s Hot?!!”
Yeah. Then the “Who’s Hot?!!” came out. Sims was in the bottom of the half-pipe shooting me climbing the brick wall. I was ten bricks up. At the time, he took me outside and gave me a couple of hundred dollars to put on a jersey and put some stickers on my board.
I love that! Sims was the man that would just take advantage of situations, beyond. A lot of those dudes did it, but that’s such a classic story. He was like, “Here’s this hot kid getting shot by Bolster. I’ll get him in a Sims jersey and give him a couple of hundred bucks.” That’s ill.
He was the king of teenage skate exploitation. He would give you new wheels, a board, a really bitchin’ jersey and $100 cash. You’re thinking, “Great. Yeah. I can do that.”
You were stoked.
Yeah. I was boxing groceries at the local market for $2.40 an hour. When we were at Monterey Park, I got a call one day from Curtis. He said, “You have to come down here.” There was a film crew and they were shooting a European Perrier commercial. They wanted to use Wally, but when he showed up, they said, “He’s Japanese. We can’t use him for this commercial. We need some Euro looking kid.” I went down there and skated for half an hour and shot all of this footage in the park. Curtis negotiated a deal where the guy paid me $500 cash for about a half hour worth of skating. I quit my boxing job at the grocery store after that. I figured I was on to something. I wasn’t going to box any more groceries.