INTERVIEW BY JAY ADAMS
INTRODUCTION BY TOM KNOX
PHOTOS BY RIP, THEO, WYNN MILLER and CHUCK KATZ
Eric Dressen is a living legend. I’m constantly awed by the guy’s ability on a skateboard. He is the original all-terrain wizard. No doubt in my mind that he does the best frontside grinds ever. I’ve never seen anyone bomb hills like Eric. Speed and style, that is Eric D. You should wish you could have style as good as his. Eric has been a friend of mine for almost 16 years, and I have seen Eric go through a lot over the years. This guy deserves respect, three time world champion, pro for three decades, and his style is timeless. Sit. Read. Learn. This is Eric Dressen.“IT’S TAKEN THE GENERAL PUBLIC 30 YEARS TO FIGURE OUT WHAT I’VE KNOWN SINCE I WAS EIGHT YEARS OLD. SKATEBOARDING IS THE MOST BITCHIN’ THING.”
Hello. Is this Eric Dressen?
Yes, it is.
This is Jay Adams.
How are you?
I’m doing great.
Have you been skating a lot?
Yeah. All I do is skateboard and tattoo.
Really? You’re tattooing people now?
How’d you get into that?
After being on tour with Jason Jessee, and hearing stories about the guys that were giving him tattoos, I had to go meet those guys and get tattooed.
When was this?
I started getting tattoos when I was 24. I’ve been working in tattoo shops for the last four years. I was hanging out at my friends’ shops, and I just picked up on everything. Then I started working as an assistant. Last year, I started being an apprentice under this Japanese tattoo artist, Oguri.
You knew Polar Bear, right?
Yeah. I never got any tattoos from him, but I’ve seen a lot of his work.
What about Baby Ray?
I hung out with Baby Ray a lot, but I haven’t gotten any work from him yet. I just got promoted last week, so I get to work on walk-in customers.
What did you have to do the first few years?
I did everything. I’d sweep floors, clean up, sterilize, make needles, and stuff like that.
Are girls tougher than boys for the pain of getting tattoos?
I think so. I think women have a higher threshold for pain.
Have you ever had anybody faint on you?
Yeah. My first customer, when I was a helper, was this big, old Marine. He was getting a little itty-bitty tattoo. He took two steps and fainted on the floor. It was funny. I had to pick him up.
He fainted after it was done?
Yeah. He got up to get a drink of water and just collapsed.
Have you ever had people nod off to sleep while getting a tattoo?
No, but I’ve seen it happen.
[laughs] I’ve done that before. It was funny. Okay. How long have you been skateboarding now?
I’ve been skateboarding for over 30 years now. I’m 38. I started competing when I was 8 years old.
The first time that I saw you was at Skatopia. I remember meeting you and Shogo skating that little pool at Skatopia.
Yeah. I was there for opening day for Skatopia. I think the first time that I hung out with you was at the Grand Opening of Skateboard World. Those two parks opened up within weeks of each other.
What do you think about the parks nowadays? They’re a lot better now than they used to be.
Sometimes. A lot of them are cookie cutter, though. They’re all the same. There are some good ones like Glendale. Glendale is the best. The Oregon skateparks are good, too. Glendale is my local park.
What about the Santa Monica Skatepark?
It’s all right. I’d rather go to Glendale.
Because you really only have to wear a helmet there. I don’t like wearing those pads and stuff.
What got you into skateboarding anyway?
I first skateboarded when I was five years old. I got into skateboarding because of my Uncle Graham. He rode for Con Surfboards. He always had skateboards around. When I turned 8, I saw that “Endless Summer” movie and I wanted to learn to surf. All the older people said, “Get a skateboard. Learn how to skateboard first, and then you can learn how to surf.” Then I just took to skateboarding more. It was just easier for me to go skateboarding. I didn’t have to rely on someone to give me a ride to the beach to go surf.
Where did you live at that time?
I lived in Torrance, in this little section called La Piera. It was a little community in Torrance.
What’s the first skate trick you remember seeing?
The first tricks that I saw were tic-tacs and handstands.
I remember this guy doing wheelies. You know those cracks in the sidewalks?
He did a wheelie five cracks long. I was just amazed. Going up a curb was one of the first things that I learned how to do.
I started skating barefooted, pretending like I was surfing, riding down the hills, going back and forth. My first board was a Super Surfer with clay wheels.
Where did you get your board?
My pop got it for me. Then, I started getting my skateboards from Kanoa Surf and Steve’s South Bay.
I remember there used to be a toyshop up on Lincoln Boulevard and Westminster. They started selling Makaha skateboards. They had the LS 10, with a kicktail. It was a clear board with metal flake in it. I bought one of those. I was all stoked.
My dad worked at a bicycle shop. They had skateboards there, too. I got a couple of my early boards from there.
What was the first skatepark you ever went to?
The first skatepark that I ever went to was Concrete Wave. I went there when I was nine years old.
How was that?
It was insane. I couldn’t wait to get there. I had seen photos in a magazine of you and Tom Inouye skating there. I tried to emulate you guys and your photos.
Did you ever go to Montebello Skatepark?
I went there once with my friends, but they wouldn’t let me skate because I didn’t have my parent’s signature. I was really kinda pissed. Then the locals took us to this pool around the corner from there. It had pebble coping. There was a Tracker ad with Stacy Peralta and all those dudes there. That was the first pool that I ever backside grinded. I ended up getting to skate that day anyway.
Did you think Stacy was a Dogtowner back then?
No. I don’t know. He never seemed as hardcore as you guys. He was one of the first pros I met. I was at a Pepsi demo in my neighborhood. Stacy, Paul Hoffman and Gordy were there. The first pro skater I ever met was Laura Thornhill.
What happened with Laura Thornhill?
She discovered me. She got me sponsored by Logan.
When did you get your first photo in a magazine?
When I was 10 years old, I got my “Who’s Hot!” in “Skateboarder” magazine.
You were stoked.
Oh, yeah. It was another dream come true. One day, Laura Thornhill got me on Logan. Two days later, I was at the grand opening of Skatopia, riding this bitchin’ park. Then Laura hooked me up with Warren Bolster, and then I got the “Who’s Hot?”
You know what’s funny? I can relate to that. I skated for a long time and never got a picture in a magazine, and then I got on Logan Earthski, and then the next issue I got a “Who’s Hot!” and on the cover of “Skateboarder” magazine. Warren Bolster and those guys in San Diego really had a lot of pull in skateboarding. We didn’t realize how political it was to be on the right team.
I just knew that you didn’t really ask for coverage and stuff. I was just a little kid. I was just skating for fun.
Did the pools and bowls seem really big to you?
Yeah. I was only 4’3” when I was 10 years old. I’d get in these pools and everything was so huge to me. That’s how I got good at doing big wall rides. Everything was a huge wall ride to me when I was a little kid.
What contests did you enter?
I entered the California State Pool and Half Pipe Championships at Skatopia. I won that for my age group. I was the California State Pool and Half Pipe Champion.
This was before you were pro right?
Yeah, that was when I was 10. When I was 12, I entered my first pro contest.
What kind of skateboarding were you into as a kid?
At first, I was just skating down hills pretending banked driveways were waves and trying to do freestyle. I was never good at freestyle. Then I started hanging out with these older skater dudes from Lomita. They took me to my first pools, full pipes, backyard ramps and schoolyard banks.
How did you go from being a little kid to being a pro skater?
Well, I decided in second grade that I wanted to be a pro skateboarder; that’s all I wanted to do. That’s what I set out to be.
When you started skating, you knew right away that you wanted to be a pro skateboarder?
No, not really. I had to research skateboarding for a while. This was before “Skateboarder” magazine came out. Then I saw the first issue of “Skateboarder” with Greg Weaver on the cover. Before that, I’d just seen skateboarding in the surf movies like “Super Sessions” or “Go For It”. There would be a little section of skateboarding in the surf movies. Everyone thought surfing came first. Skateboarding wasn’t really taken that seriously, but I was into skateboarding more. When I saw that first issue of “Skateboarder,” I was like, “This is it. This is what I really dig. This is what I want to do.”
Before that, skateboarding was something that surfers did when the waves were shitty. Then it became its own sport. What do you think about the stuff that surfers are doing nowadays?
It’s gnarly. I’ve been hooked on surfing because I have the Fuel TV channel. I watch surfing everyday. I was watching the Trestles air contest, and I couldn’t believe it. They’re doing 360s and flips. I’m stoked, because Santa Cruz is going to hook me up with a Matt Archbold surfboard.
How old were you when you became a pro skater?
I was 12.
What made you pro?
When I was 11, I was getting paid. Excalibur Trucks paid me a salary. They paid me for getting in the magazines. Then the first pro contest that I entered was the Lakewood Pro. I never got to practice, though. I showed up and it was just too gnarly. I got last place. Then I entered the DogBowl Pro. I got 24th place in that. Then, in ’81, skateboarding died. I took it back up when I was 18. It was right around the time they were shooting the movie, “Thrashin.”
What did you think of “Thrashin”?
I thought it was a joke. The only thing cool about it was that’s how I met up with Jesse, Natas and all the guys.
What did you think of Natas?
He’s a cool guy. We went around the world together.
Did you ever skate a pool with him?
I’m not sure. I was so stoned back then, I can’t remember.
He was from Santa Monica, but he didn’t really come to Venice. I don’t think I ever skateboarded with the guy. He never really hung out.
I skated vert ramps with him. He was more into street, mini ramps and banks.
He was one of the first street skater guys that was good at ollieing, but he wasn’t really down with the neighborhood. He’s kind of like Stacy in a way. He’s kind of like a later Stacy.
[Laughs.] Yeah, he just kind of kept to himself. He had his close friends. He’s cool. He’s helped me out a lot. I got to go around the world with him, skating demos and contests.
When did you move to Venice?
I moved to the north side of town when I was 11. My Pop rented a back house from his friend in Brentwood. It was around the corner from Kenter Canyon and Paul Revere School. There were tons of backyard pools and ramps around my house. That’s when I got on the original Alva team.
How did you get on the Alva team?
The first time that I met Tony Alva was at Skateboard World while he was filming an interview for “Good Morning America”. He was promoting the movie “Skateboarder.” When I went to the “Skateboarder” Magazine Awards party, I told T.A. that I was moving to Santa Monica. He said, “Let’s go skate.” I was skating this cement halfpipe in this guy’s backyard in the Palisades with T.A. when I asked if I could ride for the Alva Team. Two days later, I got a killer package from Alva. For the next 3 years, I rode for Alva.
What was that like?
That was a dream come true. That was when Tony was totally hot. His “Skateboarder” interview had just come out. He was huge, and his boards were bitchin’. It was rad.
Was he nice to you?
Yeah. He was super cool. I rode for them ’til ’81, then the skateboard industry died. Marina closed down.
Where was Hosoi during this time?
I didn’t really meet Hosoi ’til near the end of Marina. I knew Ivan because he was the manager of the park. I’d see Christian at the park.
How old were you guys then?
I was 13 and Christian was a little younger than me. I remember I’d skate with Mike Smith a lot, toward the end, before it closed. I’d always skate the top keyhole with him. I remember looking down at Pat Ngoho and Christian skating the clay bowls everyday together. Then they just got gnarly. They were learning everything in the clay bowls and, the next thing you know, Christian was blasting out of the top keyhole.
At first, you could rip on him, though?
Yeah. I remember I was there with Ted Terrebonne one day. He said, “I’m going to take pictures of that kid, Christian Hosoi today.” That was his first photo in a magazine. He was in that clay bowl.
After you rode for Alva, then you got on Dogtown?
Yeah. I got on Dogtown when I was 18.
What was the progression of teams?
I rode for Logan, Alva and then Dogtown. Then from Dogtown, I went to Santa Cruz. After Santa Cruz, I went to 151. Then I rode for Dogtown again. Then I rode for Old Star Skateshop and Deathbox. Now I’m back on Santa Cruz.
When did you first get on Santa Cruz?
That was in ’89. I quit Dogtown and went to ride for Santa Cruz. They’d been asking me for a long time, but I didn’t want to leave Dogtown. I liked being on Dogtown, but I knew Santa Cruz had a big program. I’d always rode for small companies. All of my friends that were pro skateboarders rode for Powell or Santa Cruz or Vision. They were all doing a lot more stuff, getting to travel more and selling more boards. The opportunity was there for me with Santa Cruz. I didn’t want to pass it up. Back then, Gavin O’Brien was running Santa Cruz. I really dug what he was into. He was always into punk rock. I also wanted to be on the same team as Jason Jessee and Tom Knox, so I made the jump. I rode for Santa Cruz from ’89 to ’93.
What was your first video part?
My first video part was for “Speed Freaks”. It was a day in the life with me. A filmer came over to my house and said, “Where do you want to go skate?” I took him to all the places that I would normally skate. I just did the things that I would do everyday. I just tried to do as many tricks as I could at a lot of different places.
Which team did you have the most fun on?
Probably the early years of Dogtown, in the mid ’80s, when we were first going to contests a lot. That was really fun. The best years of my life were being on Santa Cruz, being on the team with Tom Knox in the late ’80s and early ’90s. We’d travel so much. That’s when I felt the most like I was a pro skateboarder. I was traveling to Europe. I was going here and there. I was going to Japan.
Do you remember our trip to Japan?
Of course. I’ll never forget that.
Do you remember the airplane flight over there?
Yeah, you were playing Andrew Dice Clay the whole way over there. Those were the best years, from ’81 to ’92.
Remember Ben Schroeder and how drunk he was?
Yeah. I got him on Dogtown in the ’80s. I discovered him.
He’s still ripping, huh?
Yeah. I just skated with him. He’s skating so good.
You’re back on Santa Cruz. How’s that?
It’s great. It’s me and Tom. Jason Jessee just got back on the team. We have our own division, which is called the Veteran’s Division, which is like the pool and park riders. I had this idea that I wanted to get back on Santa Cruz, and I pitched them the idea of having a pool team.
Do you prefer pool skating or street skating? What category do you put yourself in?
Probably park and pool rider. I ride parks, bowls and pools. I love to skate a backyard pool. I don’t really street skate that much. If I do, I like just jamming down the street.
Can you still do handrails?
I can still do them, but I don’t go out of my way to do them.
What do you think about the X Games contests?
I think the way it’s presented on TV is kind of corny. I guess it’s good for the sport. It keeps it alive. I just think the TV coverage is kind of hokey. It could be done a lot better. It’s just not that exciting.
What do you think of Danny Way? Is he the gnarliest guy ever?
Yeah. Danny is like the gnarliest skateboarder ever. I remember his first pro contest was Hawaii. It was a mini ramp contest. I think he’s the gnarliest amateur to turn pro that I’ve ever seen. From his first pro contest, he was favored to win. He’s just burly.
He was good from the days he was a kid. Who are your favorite skateboarders?
I usually skate with Bennett Harada, Tom Knox and Brian Lotti. I skate with the locals at Glendale Skatepark and San Pedro Channel Street. I just skated with Oster the other day. He was skating just as good – if not better – than he was in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
That’s so hot. He’s got that surf style in a pool. You know, the Venice/Santa Monica area has always had a good group of guys. In the ’70s, you had us, then in the ’80s, you had Jesse and you. There’s always been a strong group of guys. It’s not as strong as it used to be, is it?
Right now, everyone’s kids are getting good. I skated with Jim Muir’s kid, Teague, the other day and he was ripping. He has the potential to be a pro. All the kids are pretty young, but there will be some really good guys coming up.
Jimbo’s kid rips, too.
Yeah. There are a bunch of our friends’ kids coming up. Plus, the Santa Monica park is there now. Eventually, there will be a crop of our friends’ kids ripping.
Don’t you like the Cove better than Glendale? It’s got more variety, doesn’t it? You just don’t like the fact that you have to wear pads there?
I just like Glendale a lot. It has that long snake run. I like skating long continual runs. I’ve only skated the SM park a few times. It’s just easier for me to go to Glendale. And it’s open later.
What do you think about girl skaters nowadays?
I have no opinion on that.
It’s a lot better now than it used to be.
There’s a bunch of girls skating pools and stuff, but I don’t know. I guess they’re getting better. Elissa Steamer is rad at street. She can kick dudes’ asses at the skateparks.
Or drink you under the table, too. What was the best part of being a skateboarder and being in Venice/Santa Monica?
Just getting to hang out and skate with my heroes. I got to hang out with you and skate backyard pools. I got to travel with all of my heroes. That was the best part, going to the beach and meeting up with friends. There’d always be a good session going on.
It used to be fun. Even riding that little ramp against the wall that we had at the beach was fun.
Yeah. Those were heated sessions. We had fun.