Herbie Fletcher Surf Skate Style

SURF SKATE STYLE WITH HERBIE FLETCHER.
INTERVIEW BY DAN LEVY.
PHOTO BY TOM SERVAIS AND RON STONER.

 

Hey Herbie, what have you been up to?

I’ve just been to Hawaii and Japan, doing all kinds of crazy stuff and having a good time. Today, I surfed all day church-like Rincon, uncrowded, perfect rights as good as it gets, 2 feet overhead.

Nice. Well, I wanted to talk to you about how surfing has influenced skateboarding and skateboarding influenced surfing.

Well, I’ll tell you. I skateboarded before I surfed. In 1956, I lived in Huntington Beach and there was a roller rink on the pier and, when I was 14, we got a pair of roller-skates and made skateboards cut out in a surfboard shapes, in wood shop, and put those wheels on them. We skated hills. That was our deal. This was before Jack’s skateboard team. I watched Jack’s move into town from Garden Grove or somewhere and then he started a skate team. In the early ‘60s, we skated hills in Laguna and San Clemente. There was a track built above the high school in the hills, so we’d surf  Trestles and then skate there in the afternoon.

Had you ever heard of surfskate then?

No. Nobody skated then. It was only surf style. You’d surf down hills and do turns and slides because we had clay wheels. They weren’t the best, but they were sure better than metal wheels. We were barefooted, so when you ate shit, you ate shit. Just hanging out, I invented the kickturn and the 360. It’s documented in Surfer magazine in one of those early issues. I was doing a 360 in my trunks barefooted, dragging my foot. I was just a little kid. Nobody had done kickturns before that as far as I know. I’m speaking from my point of view. Somebody might have been doing it somewhere else. I have no idea because there was nobody to look at. This was before Phil Edwards and Skip Frye and all those guys skateboarded. I would skate from my house in Huntington down to the pier every day down Main Street. Main Street wasn’t like it is today. It had little ramps going up to each of the stores, so we would hit those ramps at every little doorway going to the beach.

In ‘63, you were skating pools. What gave you the idea to do that?

Well, I heard about a burnt down ranch in Stanton that had a pool and I said, “Where is it? Let’s go.” I was so young that I didn’t have a car or anything, so Ron Stoner took me, Jackie Baxter and David Nuuhiwa there. They didn’t really skate though.

Skating pools was uncharted territory, at that point, so how did you figure it out?

Well, we were barefooted so you rolled in and you could jump off on the side and run around it. Since I was barefooted, I’d stick to it, and then I got the hang of it after a few times. I’d never seen anyone do it, but I could see it in my head really easy. It was the centrifugal force.

It’s a trip that you mentioned centrifugal force. Was it instinctual coming from surfing or something you figured out?

Well, I think I figured it out. At first, we went straight up the wall and we didn’t know how to do it and then I got the idea of turning and going around it. Kickturns weren’t a big deal then, but we learned how to do kickturns in a pool even better. In ‘65, I moved to Hawaii and went surfing, so that was sort of the end of my skateboarding for a while. We lived out in the country and there was one hill called Comsat Earth Station Road, but we didn’t have any skateboards. There was nobody that lived in the country really on the North Shore. Then I moved back to California and I started skateboarding again. I made skateboards in ‘74, ‘75 and ‘76 and sold them out of my shop. I still have a couple of them.

When you made skateboards, were you making them in surfboard shapes?

Well, those were for going downhill, so they looked like a surfboard shape, like a gun. They were made out of fiberglass and foam, so they were super light. It was right when Road Rider wheels came out and then precision bearings came out. All my skateboards were shaped like surfboards.

Do you feel like surfing influenced your skateboarding more than skateboarding influenced your surfing?

Oh yeah. Surfing started skating. It was all about surfing, but when Christian [Fletcher] started skateboarding and surfing, it was a whole different world. I have a picture of him with a Duane Peters skateboard that he got for Christmas, when he was about nine years old. Things were changing and skateparks started coming in during the ‘70s.

You started yours sons, Christian and Nathan, off surfing first, right?

Christian was a surfer first because we lived on the beach, but he had a skateboard at age two and he skied the whole mountain at Sun Valley at age two. He could skateboard too. When he was four, he ate such shit skateboarding down a hill in San Clemente because he wouldn’t listen to me. I was like, “Slow down and stop here.” He just kept going and went down the next hill and got speed wobbles and just ate shit. Nathan was a skater before he was a surfer. For Christian, it’s a surfskate deal. Christian really brought the two together. He was riding a skateboard on the water and he created all the tricks. If you skateboard and pump, your legs get stronger to surf faster and turn harder. You become quicker and more focused because skating gets into your muscle memory and you have fast reactions. Maneuvers with skate surf style really came through Christian. He translated skateboarding maneuvers to surfing maneuvers, like the rock n’ roll, stalefish, mute alley oop, judo, slab, lien, nose pick, 180 and 360. Christian Hosoi had a big influence on CF’s skateboarding, which led to his surfing. Today, the kids are so fast and so good and they go so high, but Christian still does stuff that they can’t do, and they learn from him.

There’s no question, and he learned from you. You did a lot of things first.

Yeah. I was doing tow ins, skateboarding, mini guns, Backdoor, Off The Wall… I designed surfboards, snowboards, skateboards, jet skis, boats and yachts.

Well, we wanted to get to the origins of surfskate and there’s no one better to talk to than you.

It was probably Christian that really brought it to the forefront.

Do you think that surfskate style is important today?

The only one that I can see that has a surf skate style is Greyson because he rides his skateboard like a surfer and it just blows my mind. When I watch him skate, he’s surfing the bowls. He ain’t skating them. You watch the other guys and they’re skating. They ain’t surfing.

Yeah. Greyson runs into things like it’s a moving wave. It’s unpredictable.

Yeah. Because surfing a wave, you don’t know what it’s going to do. When it hits the bottom, it jacks up or it might disappear. In surfing, he hangs so high up on the face and he never goes down. He rides it like he skateboards.

It’s so crazy. I’ve never seen anyone ride like that before. Okay, you’re coming from the origins of surfing and skateboarding when it was two separate things.

Yeah. When I was kid, going skateboarding was how I warmed up to go surfing, and I think it’s a great mixture to surf and skate. I think, if you grow up surfing, you have more of a surf style. If you grow up skating, when you surf, you have more of a skate style. You ride differently. If you’ve ever watched anyone wear wrist guards, and then you watch them skate later on in life, they’ve got their hands closed and their arms in. It looks shitty. Your hands ought to be open and beautiful like a dancer. I love to watch Hosoi ride. He has such style.

Who do you think has the best surf style and the best skate style?

There are so many different styles. In surfing, you can look at Kelly Slater’s aerials and then watch John John’s aerials. John John skates and, when you watch his aerials, they are totally different. Kelly is so good, but he is totally surf all the way. John John is a surfer, but he’s got that skate influence in him and he’s always skated. Then you get a guy like Christian [Fletcher] and he has a skate surf style. He’s so fast going down the line. He can really pump and then he just boosts. You gotta go fast to boost. On ramps, you get that speed. In the water, you need speed and fast waves.

What other influence do you think that skateboarding has had on surfing?

Well, surfing’s influence on skateboarding was there from the start because surfers started it and brought that style of carving to it. Skaters are the ones that took it in the air and then pool riders and skaters with ramps really changed it. When Danny Way is doing the Mega Ramp, that’s like riding Jaws or Waimea or some big wave. That’s really heroic. He’s like a big wave rider. Danny Way is gnarly. He’s a big wave skateboarder. Then you see the guys that are hotdogging all the mini ramps and parks. They have a whole different style. Then you have kickflips and rails. It’s like tube riding at Pipeline, Backdoor or Off The Wall. Rocky Point is hotdogging. I’m not talking about California. I’m talking about good guys in good spots. California is like a mini skatepark. It’s easy and soft. You have good waves like Trestles that you can rip like a skatepark or a surf park. I think kids ought to surf and skate and snowboard and ride motorcycles and jet skis and do karate and jujitsu. All of that trains you so you can go surf and skate and have a good time and not get hurt so badly. It tunes you into your body and it toughens you up so you can slam, because you’re going to eat shit. That’s the only way you’re going to learn. You have to push it.

How do you think that surfing and skating style has influenced you as an artist?

Being a surfer and shaping surfboards and reading the water all day every day, I look at lines when I look at anything. When I paint or do anything in abstract, everything that I’ve looked at, goes right to everything that I’ve been looking at all my life, so it really influences me. I can’t do anything without seeing everything that I have done in my lifetime. I can throw stuff on a canvas and smear it around and guaranteed it will turn into something that I’ve seen before in the water, so it has a big influence on me. I can imagine what I’m going to do. I’m dreaming it. I’m dreaming my art. My main art is surfing and so, when I look at stuff, I just dream and it all falls into place.

Herbie Fletcher with a classic drop knee cutback. Photo © Tom Servais

You’re so unique and your family is the epitome of surf and skate. How did you introduce your kids to surfing and skating?

I just took them with me. They were influenced by the beach and skating and the snow. I took them to Hawaii and I took them to Europe and I took them with me everywhere. When I was going to the skatepark, they were coming with me.

You’re one of the first families in surfing and skating to have offspring that are professionals and they have offspring that are professionals, and you have family before you that were professionals too. Your family is generations deep.

You’re right. It’s a family of champions. Let me tell you something else since we’re talking about        family. You can’t do it alone. Dibi took the kids to the beach all the time and her dad was the first Makaha surf champion in Hawaii. She’s been going through the jungles and everything since she was a little girl, and her sister was four time women’s world champion. There’s lineage and legacy there. For Christian and Nathan, how about your aunt being a world champion surfer? Dad is a champion and how about grandpa, which is Greyson’s great grandpa? He used to ride those little soapboxes on roller-skates that had a handle. When Christian and Nathan came along, they had so much love. Everybody played with them because they were kids and they wanted to play. They didn’t cry. At 18 months, I made them walk into Trestles. It would take an hour, but we went surfing. I took them everywhere with me. More importantly, they went with their mother too. Moms have a lot to do with it. Most mothers don’t go to the beach or go to the skatepark. They think it’s a guys thing. I needed a beach chick. I was like, “Do you want to go to the beach?” If you want good skaters and surfers you have to put time in and also, if you live at the spot, like at Pipeline, or near a skatepark, that’s the secret. That’s why we need more skateparks.

Yeah. I’m seeing it happen here in Venice. There are kids growing up here and they have that park and they’re way further ahead than kids without a skatepark.

That’s for damn sure. You get it young and that’s when it gets into all your muscles. By the time you’re three, if you don’t got it, you’re going to miss out. You have to start early.

Okay, you have your company, Astrodeck, so when did you start to see other companies pushing the surfskate thing?

Well, Hobie and Gordon & Smith and Bahne pushed both, but it really became a thing with CF. He might say that I was the first one, but he was the one that really promoted it. Dogtown had something to do with it, but not like Christian did. Jay was probably the only real surfer in Dogtown. I thought Jay was just from Santa Monica, but then he moved to Hawaii and blew my mind in the surf. I have insane pictures of Jay at Log Cabins. I couldn’t believe the drops he took. He just free fell, just like he dropped into pools. Jay was one of the best surfskate guys, but I think Christian really blew it up.

Do you remember seeing Christian do his first airs?

Oh, I used to hassle him because all he wanted to do was hop. He got into hopping because he thought he was doing airs. He was only eight years old and he could surf and do all the turns and everything, and he was just hopping. He was       thinking he was doing airs. I go, “That’s bitchin’.” Then I made him ride a bigger board to smooth out his style. I wanted to see him go fast and then blow up. We had fights in the shaping room about it. At the end of it, he made a board and I made a board for Pipeline, which is the real shit. He wanted to make a little board and I go, “You have to catch the wave first, dude! You aren’t even going to catch a wave on that little thing.” I said, “Okay. You make your own little tiny board.” In the back of my head, I was thinking, “He’s going to be riding that at the Beach Park.” I said, “I’m going to make a bet and we’ll see which one you ride.” So he rode the gun at Pipeline and he rode the hotdog board in the smaller waves and it was perfect. You gotta listen to the kids because they change things. I wasn’t really understanding the hopping because I was thinking more about style, but he was learning how to get off the water! When I gave him that faster board, it smoothed his style out and that’s how he learned to go fast. Then he got back on that other board and pumped like it was nothing because it wasn’t stiff and it wasn’t real fast. It was easy to turn, so he could just whip it around.

That’s interesting. I like that you said you have to listen to the kids.

They’ve got different ideas. They see everything different every time. They’ve got a different look on it, and there are kids out there today, like Hosoi’s kids. Look at their interpretation.

Those kids are so good already.

Yeah! Look at John John now. I’ve known him since he was a little kid and I knew he had talent. I was his first sponsor. I was Kelly Slater’s first sponsor. I was Michael Ho’s first sponsor.

Well, Astrodeck is all about surf and skate.

Yeah. With Astrodeck, we needed traction on the tails of surfboards so you could maneuver and not lose your traction when you were out in big waves, like at Sunset for three hours, and you lose your traction in a half hour. In those days, you didn’t have leashes, so it was a half hour swim to the beach. We got consistent traction and then I started cutting into EVA and making bumps. I put a kicktail, like a skateboard has, in it. In the ‘60s, we shaped them into the surfboard. It was like a little ridge that your foot could fit in. We were experimenting. We did that to a few boards and then lost interest. When I was doing Astrodeck, I was like, we need a kicktail, like a skateboard, where you can control your tail. Then we started sticking stuff on top of other stuff and we made an arch so you could control your foot. You could push or pull back and you could feel it. You could control your board and it really helped in the air. Then we made front foot pads with kicks in them too. Christian used them all the time, so he could push his board around and poke it out. Most surfers don’t even know about poking their board. It comes from skating. I’ve got pictures of Christian doing nose picks. Have you ever seen anyone grab the nose of a surfboard? I’ve got one from ‘89. Christian was skateboarding on the water.

So skateboarding’s influence on surfing wasn’t just with maneuvers, it was in equipment too.

Yeah. It was an influence from skating. Michael Ho and I used to work together on a thing called the Thrasher pad. I remember Thrasher magazine called me and said, “You can’t do that!” I was like, “I can’t do what?” They were like, “You’re using the name Thrasher!” I said, “So? We were going to use the name Thruster, but I didn’t like it.” Then I go, “Since it’s you guys, I’ll change the name, but I’m selling out my product first though.” [Laughs]

That’s a little piece of history. Were you shaping surfboards with the kicktail or were you doing that with the traction?

Well, back in ‘68 and ‘69, we did it a little bit. When you’re shaping a board, instead of adding up to it, I cut into the board and left a little lip there and then we put a little glass rope there, like you use to glass off fins. You couldn’t feel it enough though and the boards weren’t short enough.

Then you were like, “I can do this with traction pads,” and it changed everything.

Astrodeck changed surfing. Astrodeck lets you fly in the air and carve harder and get more torque in the turns. I always said more traction in the action.

You could say that the traction pad was similar to griptape in skateboarding.

That’s not a stretch, because you had grip. Performance starts with traction equals Astrodeck. I’ve also got other things with hooks and stuff that are so badass. Christian turned so hard on this board that he broke all four fins off and broke the board in half. He was behind a jet ski, but he was hooked up to be able to break his fins and the board. I’ve always invented stuff and I was one of the best surfers. Today, I’m probably the best at my age. I don’t know who would be better.

It’s got to be trippy because Christian was like a younger you, and Greyson has inherited so much of Christian’s style.

They don’t even realize how close they are.

Were your parents into surfing and skateboarding too?

They were beach people. My dad was a fisherman. He was also a sailor. He was on the Arizona five weeks before it got blown up. He was on there for about six years and then he got transferred. He got on it in Virginia and they went through the Panama Canal and down to the Philippines and all over and they ended up in Honolulu. They were talking about war and there was nobody protecting us and they thought the Japanese were gonna bomb us. He was like, “I wanted to get out of that place because they were gonna bomb it. It was just a matter of time.” He was the Chief Petty Officer in the engine room. The bomb went right through the deck and down to the engine room. If he hadn’t gotten      transferred, he would have been done. He wouldn’t even talk to me about the war because all of his friends got blown up on the ship.

That’s really heavy. Wow. Was your mom a beach person too?

Yeah. I picked up surfing being down in San Clemente on vacation when I was nine years old. I was down at T-Street at low tide watching all these surfboards wash in. I just grabbed one and started paddling around and jumping on little waves on the inside. In 1958, I had a paper route and I saved up $27 and bought a 9’6” balsa wood Velzy-Jacobs. I couldn’t even carry the thing. My dad carried it. Then I made a two-wheeled cart so I could wheel it to the beach. I was so short that I could just hold onto the fin and walk it to the beach. I think I shaped my first surfboard at age 12.

How did you figure it out?

I’d seen somebody do it, so I figured I could do it.

Yes! That’s probably the same attitude you had towards making a skateboard.

Yeah. The first time I saw skateboarding was in Pasadena in ‘57. I saw a picture of a guy in the newspaper and he was skateboarding down a foothill and he hit a crack in the pavement and went through the windshield of a car and it cut him really bad. I never knew it would turn into anything like this. I just did it. I wanted to do it. In those days, you had to make everything.

Flash forward from 1958 to 2017, and when you look at modern day surfing and skateboarding, what are your first thoughts?

I have been skateboarding for 60 years and I love watching the kids skate. From where it’s headed and where it’s come from and how it’s going now with all the bowl riding and skateparks, it’s just like surfing all over. You’ve got all these spots now, but I think they need more spots. Schools need them too. I went to a community meeting here and they were talking about putting in swings and merry-go-rounds and I was like, “Hey, kids don’t want to do that. They’re going to get hurt. Give them a skateboard!” All the adults turned around and looked at me. I was like, “What? Maybe you didn’t skateboard, but the kids today want to  skateboard.”

It’s the best teacher on the earth. It gives you self-esteem. It teaches you community. It teaches you failure and success. Merry-go-rounds don’t teach you that.

Yeah. You just get hurt on them.

That’s right. Well, I think we pretty much covered surf skate style.

Well, I’m stoked that you called. I really wanted to be in this. I really appreciate it.

I appreciate you. Thank you for all the support you’ve given us. You don’t know how much it means to us.

Well, I appreciate that and you mean a lot to the world. I mean that. You guys mean a lot to the world. Thank you for keeping it going.

Barefoot carvin’ at the Stanton Pool in 1963 on a homemade skateboard. Photo by Ron Stoner courtesy of Herbie Fletcher archives

JUICE MAGAZINE SURF SKATE STYLE STORY:

The influence of surfing on skateboarding has been discussed since the beginning of both, yet we have now entered a new era, where skateboarding has returned the favor with its own unique influence on the surfing world. In order to get to the core of this cross over and to try to define the origins and current state and status of surf skate style, we’ve interviewed some of the most innovative skateboarders, surfers, artists, documentarians, photographers, filmmakers and musicians on the planet. In honor of the great, Shogo Kubo, who once said, “To me, style is everything…” welcome to our exploration of Surf Skate Style featuring interviews with Aaron Murray, Aaron Astorga, Abraham Paskowitz, Art Brewer, Bennett Harada, Brad Bowman, Brandon Cruz, Brian Brannon, Carter Slade, Chris Miller, Chris Strople, Christian Fletcher, Christian Hosoi, Craig Stecyk III, Darren Ho, Dave Tourje, David Hackett, Dennis Martinez, Dibi Fletcher, Don Redondo, Eric Britton, Garrett McNamara, Gerry Lopez, Glen E. Friedman, Greg Falk, Greg Galbraith, Greyson Fletcher, Herbie Fletcher, James O’Mahoney, Jef Hartsel, Jeff Ament, Jeff Divine, Jeff Ho, Jim Fitzpatrick, Jim Gray, John Van Hamersveld, Jonathan Paskowitz, Josh “Bagel” Klassman, Kalani David, Keith Morris, Kirra Kehoe, Larry Bertlemann, Laura Thornhill, Lizzie Armanto, Marc Emond, Michael Denicola, Michael Early, Nano Nobrega, Nathan Fletcher, Nathan Florence, Neil Stratton, Norton Wisdom, Pat Bareis, Randy Katen, Ray Flores, Rob Nelson, Robert Trujillo, Scott Oster, Shane Allen, Shaun Tomson, Shota Kubo, Solo Scott, Stacy Peralta, Steve Alba, Steve Olson, Takuji Masuda, Terry Nails, Tim Curran, Tim Hendricks, Tim Kerr, Tom Groholski, Tony Alva, Wes Humpston and Zach Miller.

FOR THE REST OF THE STORY, ORDER ISSUE #75 AT THE JUICE SHOP…

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