INTERVIEW BY STEVE OLSON
INTRODUCTION BY JIM MURPHY
PHOTOS BY ADAM WRIGHT and BRIAN FICK
With all of the new concrete parks being built with big pools, it’s great that a guy like Jeff Grosso still skateboards after all of these years. With the lost vert generation of the nineties, you need the few and the proud like Grosso who can show you the art of flapped Andrechts, huge Madonnas and endless rock n’ roll slides. After weathering the blizzard of his pro career during the ’80s, Jeff still finds himself addicted to skateboarding. Read his story and realize that you have no excuse if you quit skateboarding and can’t find the inspiration to ride again. Jeff has been there, and his skating keeps his drive to stay alive. The Grossman lives.
“I got to travel the world and hang out with Hosoi and the Gonz, and the Texans, like Craig Johnson, Gibson and Phillips. I skated with Groholski and all the East Coast dudes, Josh Marlowe and Fred Smith. Skateboarding, as far as the people that did it, was still super small. It had died off and everyone was just doing it for the love of it. Then all this money started coming back into it. If you were on the inner circle, so to speak, you lived in a little microcosm. You’d run around with Gator and all these different freaky dudes that were in the magazines. You got to meet these people from all over the place. It was still small and tight knit. For the most part, we all got along. We all, at least, respected one another.”
Who am I talking to?
It’s Steve Olson calling from “Juice Magazine”. What are we doing?
Let me get some cigarettes. Are you ready?
Are you ready? We’re off to a blistering start.
This thing hasn’t even started yet. What are you talking about? It’s a false start.
I’m full of false starts.
See, now we’ve started.
Tell me your name.
Grosso or Grasso, depending on if you’re Italian or not.
Yeah. In Italian it means “fat”. For some my reason, my family moved over here from Italy and changed it to Grosso to Americanize it.
My dad is 100% Italian. My mom is a Welsh/Euro mutt. I got her red hair and freckles, but I got the Italian nose.
That’s why you’re so fucking sexy.
See, now the interview is going somewhere. Where were you born?
I was born in Glendale, CA.
You’re a native.
Yeah. I spent the early part of my life in Eagle Rock, but I moved to Arcadia in junior high school.
When did you first step on a board?
It was probably ’77. The first skateboards that I got were hand me downs. I was a teeny, tiny kid, like five years old. My mom brought home a skateboard from her boss at work. It was a California Surfer board. Urethane wheels were already out, but I had this shitty skateboard with clay wheels and shitty bearings. I lived on a hill in Eagle Rock.
Oh, you did?
Yeah. It was super rough asphalt. I couldn’t stand up on the board, yet. I had no concept of that at all. I would sit on that board and roll down the hill. I was doing that for a few days until I dissolved the wheels. My mom realized that I liked it, so she took me to go get a skateboard at the toyshop. I got one of those California Comet fiberglass doohickeys. It had Cadillac wheels on it. The skateboard craze was going on. It had to be ’77. Then my mom had a friend who had an older son who had skateboard magazines. He showed me the magazines and I tripped out on that.
That was it?
Yeah. Then I had this friend at school, and he had a skateboarding birthday party. They took us to Montebello. So I got to skate Montebello, but I was a “beginner”. Remember how you had to pass the test? If you were a “beginner” you could only ride certain runs. If you were an “expert” you could ride the snake. We were all a bunch of beginners. We sucked. All we could ride was this little sidewalk with a bank at the end of it. We couldn’t do anything, but I watched everybody and freaked out on the place.
Who did you see at Montebello?
I have no idea. I was more interested in the cake and the presents the birthday kid got. Remember those Evel Knievel motorcycles?
You’d rev up the wheel…
And launch them.
Yeah. That kid got an Evel Knievel, so I was more enamored by that then the skateboard park. I was like, “If we could bring the Evel Knievel into the skateboard park, we’d be having a good time.”
Throw it right off into the big bowl.
Yeah. I was playing with GI Joes and dolls and stuff, so I put the skateboard on the back burner for a while. Then I moved to Vegas and started doing poorly in school. My mom had a boyfriend out there, and his son was a year older than me. He was a super smart mathematician kid. They wanted to get us together, so maybe the kid would wear off on me and I’d start doing better in school. He skateboarded, so they took us to the Las Vegas Desert Surf Skatepark. That’s when I caught the bug for it. He taught me how to carve down the snakes and do that whole trip. I had a mini bike out there, because, you know, I lived in the desert. When we moved back to Arcadia, I begged my mom to sell the mini bike, so I could buy a skateboard.
What board did you get?
My first real board was a Lonnie Toft. I hate to say this, but I bought Trackers and Sims Snakes.
What color were your Snakes?
I got two green ones and two red ones, because in the magazines at that time, the Sims team were riding multi-color wheels.
Did you alternate them?
Yeah. One week I’d put the greens in the back and then the next week, I’d put them all on one side. Wheels were softer back then, so you’d cone your wheels out super quick. You’d cone your wheels out in front and then put them on the back. I had to make those wheels last a long time. Then I got to skate Skatopia. I met Eric Nash. Eric Nash had a Lonnie Toft board. That’s why I got it. He was in the same grade as me, and on the first day of school, he was wearing a Sims Snake shirt. He had a broken wrist. I was like, “Do you skateboard?” He was like, “Yeah.” I was like, “Me, too.” Then we lied to each other about how good we were. You know how you are when you’re a little kid. You’re like, “I rip. I can do frontside airs six feet out.” Neither one of us could barely kickturn.
[Laughs.] We started buddying around. He’d been to Skatopia a bunch of times, so I got to go there a few times before it closed, and a few times after it closed.
Did you like the halfpipe?
Yeah. We’d just bottom turn at the bottom of it. The squared bank funnel thing was more our speed. We were severely beginning. It was more about staying out of everyone’s way, because of the localism back then.
Was there localism going on?
Well, if you were a little kid and you were beginning, you knew your place. You stayed out of the way. If there were good guys in the park, you stayed away from them, for fear of getting run over or getting in the way. It was a respect thing. We were beginners and we knew to stay in the beginner’s section. They had just finished that capsule in the back. The first time we went the capsule was closed. They were putting coping on it, so everyone was skating the halfpipe. We didn’t really get to skate it because it was so crowded. When the capsule opened up, we could ride the halfpipe, because everyone had moved on to the capsule. We bottom turned the thing and tried to figure out how to go frontside and do fakies. Then we started going to Pomona Pipe & Pool. It was only 30 minutes from Arcadia.
Tell me about Upland.
I wasn’t a big fan of Upland, but we went there a bunch. The magazines back then had coupons for memberships at all these different parks. Of course, we wanted to go everywhere, and Eric’s dad was always willing to drive us around. We’d go skate SkaterCross and Marina Del Rey.
Give a rundown of all the parks that you rode.
I rode Montebello, Las Vegas Desert Surf, Pomona Pipe & Pool. I ended up on Pomona’s Pipe & Pool’s Park Team for ASPO. I skated Upland, Marina Del Rey, Skatercross, Lakewood, Whittier, Del Mar, Glendale Boogie Bowl and Agoura Hills, which had already been closed down for a long time. I rode Colton, Endless Wave, Oxnard and Big O. I entered my second contest at Big O.
We’ll get to that. How old were you then?
It started at the end of fourth grade when I met Eric. In fifth grade, we started skating all the parks. In sixth grade, all the parks started to close down. By seventh and eighth grade, there were just a few left. By then, we were really into it. That’s all we did. We were full-blown skateboarders by sixth grade. We went to skate Skatopia and it was closed. This was right after the Whittier Hester Series had come out in the skateboard magazines, so we made Eric’s dad take us to Whittier instead. We walked in the door and it was like we were home. Every weekend we’d go back to Skate City. We just loved the place.
That became your home park?
Yep. It was a 30-minute drive for our parents. Everything was 30 minutes. Upland was thirty minutes. Whittier was thirty minutes. Pomona was 20 minutes. If we had our choice, we would pick Skate City every time. Upland sucked, we thought. Pomona was kind of a wasteland. It was barely alive. It was kinky. You had to be gnarly to skate there.
Did you ever ride Paramount?
Yeah. I rode that one, too; the Verti-Bowl.
To say the least.
[Laughs.] We had full run of all those places, because we joined the amateur circuit. We started to compete.
What age category did you compete in when you first started entering contests?
I was in the 12 and under, 1A, the bottom of the barrel.
Who were some of the cats you skated against?
It was Eric Nash and I, and there was a kid named Jeff Heath from Lakewood that was really good. We skated against Eric Juedan and Billy Braden. Jeff Heath was our competition. He could do layback airs and rock n’ rolls, so we were incredibly jealous of him. We were both already better than him, but I remember being jealous of him. He came from one of those little league skateboard families, which we couldn’t really fathom. Our parents weren’t as active as that, in the beginning. They got more active later on, but at the beginning our parents were confused by it. We were just like, “This is awesome. We want to do this.”
What do you think drew you to skateboarding?
Initially, it was the rush of going down a hill, and the wind in your hair – poetic nonsense. The first time that I saw “Skateboarder” magazine, I was seeing the parks and the guys in their high-top Nikes and their socks tucked up in their kneepads and their Sims gloves and Bennett trucks, and all the equipment and bizarre pictures of guys doing airs. I couldn’t even fathom what they were doing. It was like, “That guy is getting rad.” I wanted to get rad, too. The first time I saw “Skateboarder” magazine, I was hooked. That’s the best way that I can put it. We just studied it. We didn’t even really have a concept of what it was. It was like, “I can’t really do this, but it’s so neat to me that I’m just going to keep trying to do it.” Slowly but surely, I started picking it up.
What did you do when the parks started closing in the ’80s?
Eric and I were the same age, so we came up together. Eric was sponsored by G&S and I was sponsored by Variflex. Lucero, Lance Mountain, and a bunch of the Whittier locals, like Neil and those guys had befriended me.
How did that happen?
We were the annoying little local kids at Skate City that were constantly bugging them. They were all a few years older than us, so they just tortured us. I was really a target, because I had a really big head. They nicknamed me “Blockhead”. They kept trying to get us to do stupid shit, like roll in when we could barely do kickturns. We’d just do it. We wanted to be liked. It was like, “You’ll think I’m cool if I roll in? Well, fuck. I’ll do it.” I’d just take the slam until I made it. Pretty soon, we were friends with those dudes. They took us under their wing. They tortured us like little brothers, and we loved it. Lucero had gotten sponsored by Variflex, and Lance was getting his pro model. I worshiped Lance when I was a kid. He was totally accessible. He was always really nice to us and really helpful. He got us hooked up through Variflex, and introduced me to Allen Losi. They were like, “Yeah. We’ll give you boards.” I was so stoked. Then Whittier closed. Lance lived in Alhambra, which is like 15 minutes by car from my house and he had this ramp in his backyard. He rebuilt his ramp and made it new and awesome. I started going over there and hanging out with him. Lucero had gotten his driver’s license, so after school during the week I’d get rides to skate Lance’s ramp with him, or Lance would come and pick us up. Lance was awesome. He was so cool.
That’s crazy that he’d come and pick you up.
He had this little yellow Datsun or Toyota. It barely ran. He’d come and pick us up. He was teaching us how to get to the next level. We started learning airs and inverts.
Were the contests still going on?
ASPO died out and it was replaced by CASL, the California Amateur Skateboard League.
That sounds like little league.
It was totally little league, but that’s how it was back then. Contests were everything. Skateboarding was really small. It was dying. In order to get anywhere in it, you had to enter contests and place well in contests. That’s how you got your name out there, so we entered every contest. That’s how you networked back then, too. We’d go down to Del Mar and skate against the Del Mar guys at their home park. We met Gator and Hawk and all the people that rode down there.
Who did you skate against in CASL?
We were always one step behind. I’m the same age as Hawk, Hosoi, Chris Miller and some of the other guys. Lucero and Neil Blender were in different age categories. We were 3A sponsored, so I didn’t have to compete against Hawk, if that’s what you mean.
I’m just wondering who you were skating against.
I rode against Joe Johnson from Colorado. We rode against Eric Juedan a lot. We skated against Adrian Demain a lot at Del Mar. It was the same five or ten guys at every contest. We were skating against some good guys, but we weren’t skating against East Coasters. This was back when the East Coast was completely overlooked, because the magazines were all out here.
Do you think that was fair?
No, but skateboarding was a fledgling sport. It was super teeny tiny. The magazines were out here. There was no money in it, so it’s not like they were going to travel around. They had to make do with what was around. I think “Thrasher” had already hit the scene. I was riding for Powell, so this was way down the line. They had a contest in Arkansas. It was the first East Meets West. It was ams and pros from out here against ams and pros from out there.
How did that go down?
It was a super good contest. I won the amateur.
Was that the first contest that you won?
I’m sorry. What’s the first contest that you won?
The very first contest that I won was the very first contest that I entered.
Okay. Settle down. Is your head bigger now than it was then?
Your first contest was your first victory. Not a bad start, Grosso.
No. It was pretty good. I have to say that I pulled a chump move, because a month earlier…
You’re coming clean, right now?
Yeah, since you think I’m big headed.
I’m just kidding, “Blockhead.”
[Laughs.] There was a contest at Marina Del Rey. Nash had the nuts to enter it, but I backed down. I was too scared. I sat there and watched Eric. He got fourth. I saw what I was up against, so I entered my first contest at my home park.
Maybe that wasn’t a bad idea.
It was a good idea, but I chumped out. Eric had the nuts to show up and roll the dice at a park where he wasn’t a local. It was in the upper keyhole. He still got Top Four.
What do you consider good placing at a contest?
If you got Top Ten now, with 200 pros showing up at Tampa Pro, you’re somebody. Back then, if you broke top ten…
That meant there were 11 guys in the contest.
No. There were about 100 kids in the contests. You could break top ten, but you couldn’t break top five, because the Bones Brigade and Hosoi ate up the top five. Caballero, Hawk, Mountain, McGill, Hosoi, Gator and Phillips were going to be the top guys. They rotated out depending. If you were pulling a seventh or eighth place as a pro, you were doing pretty good in my book. As an amateur, there was only one place, and that was number one. If you didn’t get first place, you lost. That’s the world that I came from. As a little kid, I used to cry if I got second place.
We’re not even going to dip into that. Would it be safe to say that you’re competitive?
Oh, yeah. It was a great part of my early skateboarding. That’s the way we were brought up. I know people can’t relate to that, because it’s so different now.
Who cares what they think? They weren’t even born yet.
Yeah. That’s what it was about. It was about contests. That’s what we were raised on. People say, “Oh, that’s little league.” Fuck, yeah! That was me. I was down for it.
How dope was it?
I loved it. There was a downside to it too, which I learned later on. It took some of the fun out of it. You put all this energy into competing, instead of just riding. After the parks closed, we had to take it to the backyard ramps.
Okay that’s fine, but you can’t tell me it wasn’t fun to win a contest.
[Laughs.] No. It was awesome.
If you won the contest you were stoked. I don’t give a fuck what anyone says. You win a contest you feel great.
Totally. It means you’ve done something. It means you’re good. Here’s my number one trophy that says so.
I was a cocky, big-headed little kid.
You didn’t have a big head. You’re just saying that you had an ego, right?
Yeah. I got an ego early on.
Where do you think you developed the ego?
It’s kind of part of skateboarding. You have to have an ego.
Is it a defense mechanism?
Yeah. When you show up to skate against a bunch of other dudes, you’ve got to believe that you’re the man.
What was your mindset when you were going into competition?
“I’ve already won this.”
They should just give you the trophy and not even have the contest?
Yeah. “You should just give me the trophy, because you guys suck. It’s mine. You can’t beat me. I’m way better than you.” It sounds fucked to say it. People reading this are probably going to think, “This dude is fucked up.” And they’re right.
No way. Who’s to say what’s right or wrong?
In the early ’80s, skateboarding was dead. How did you handle it?
It was rough at first, but the seed had been sown. It didn’t matter that everything had died out. “Thrasher” had just started up and there was a Bible to read. We studied it, lived it, ate it and breathed it. If “Thrasher” told you to seek out backyard pools, then we did it. They had this thing called the San Jose Pool Exchange. They had a big article on what to do. You gather your backyard pools and find pools with other skaters. We started hunting new terrain. Eric had a Peugeot moped, and we’d just ride all over the valley. We put forklifts on the front that we made in shop class to put our skateboards on. We had a couple of ditches and a full pipe in Irwindale. We had a couple of pools. We just loved it. From the moment we woke up until the moment we went to bed, we were always skateboarding. We built little ramps in our yards and quarter pipes. I had a beer keg quarter pipe. Eric had a couple of ramps at his house. We had Lance’s ramp. We had a tight little group of seven or eight guys that rode Lance’s religiously. We were stoked. We had free boards coming in from our various sponsors at the time.
What was it like when someone said, “We want you to ride for us.” How did it feel to you?
It was a Wednesday afternoon. I got off from school. I rode my bike home.
[Laughs] Do you know the date?
[Laughs.] I got home and my first Variflex box was sitting there. It was a complete Allen Losi model. It was totally set up, grip taped and everything. I thought, “I’ve arrived. This is it. I’ll never do anything else.” I just lay on my bed, did inverts and dreamed about how I was going to ride that board. I just loved it. I thought it was the greatest thing ever.
When did you get your first photo in a magazine?
My very first photo was in “Thrasher”. Stacy and Stecyk went to Magic Mountain for a freestyle and slalom ASPO contest. I’d seen Stacy Peralta skate at Marina. We all knew who he was. Stacy and Stecyk were wandering around being weirdos. They had their sunglasses on, and they thought they were all mysterious. We were just little kids following them around. Stecyk shot a photo of me, and I was all smiling and dumb. It was just a photo of my face. He put it in “Thrasher” in a bunch of TV Sets. They had a picture of Rocco doing a finger flip. They had a picture of someone slalom racing. My very first photo was a dumb picture of my face.
Were you stoked?
I was super jazzed, but there was a bunch of controversy with my buddy Eric, over whether it was me. They had fuzzed the photos out like a TV screen. I was like, “It’s me!” Eric said, “It’s not you.” He was jealous. A few months later we went to the Palmdale ramp for a contest. I got a photo doing an eggplant channel. There was no mistaking it was me.
How did it feel to see your photo in the magazine?
It was mind blowing. Everything was coming together. We were skating all these awesome places. We were right on the verge of getting our driver’s licenses. We had pictures in skateboard magazines and free product. Life was good. We were still innocent. This was right before the fucking wave broke. It felt like it was never going to end. It was only going to get better.
When did it start getting better?
Right around then. Variflex shut down. They were becoming a mass-market brand. The Losi’s were over it. Allen was out in the wind. Lance quit to go ride for Powell. Lucero and I got hooked up with Santa Cruz. I don’t exactly recall how. I think we talked to Tim Piumarta. He might have come to a contest at Upland and seen me ride. He told me if wanted to ride for Santa Cruz, I could. John did all my talking for me back then. He was a older, wiser and more hip to the way everything worked. He was my mentor. John and I got hooked up to ride for Santa Cruz, so I started riding Rob Roskopp models. Then there was a contest in Lake Tahoe.
Was it the Mile High?
Yeah. It was the first Tahoe ramp contest. I begged my parents to go. My mom said, “If you pass your driver’s test, and get your driver’s license, we’ll let you drive the truck up there.” I took my driving test on Friday afternoon, got my driver’s license and packed up my mom’s truck Friday evening. Then I picked up Lucero, Neil Blender and Allen Losi. We drove to Santa Cruz, saw the warehouse, and got a bunch of free product. We were heavily Santa Cruzed out. We thought you guys were just the neatest back then.
[Laughs.] Yeah. We were really let down, because they had stopped making Blackharts. We were like, “You stopped making Blackharts? What do you mean?” We were like, “We need Blackharts so we can rip.” Blackharts were the wheels. They were like, “We don’t make Blackharts anymore. We’ve got these OJs.” I was like, “Fuck.” Then we went on up to the Mile High Contest. We picked up Rob Roskopp and took him up there. I ended up placing 8th. It was an am versus pro thing. I was the only amateur to make the finals. I made the cut and then Mike Smith made me cry.
No. How did Mike Smith make you cry?
[Laughs.] I was totally freaked out that I had made the cut.
Do you remember who you were skating against?
It was Christian Hosoi and Joe Lopes. That was the first time I’d skated against Joe Lopes. He was the hot amateur at that contest. Everyone was saying, “Lopes is going to turn pro and win this contest. Lopes is on fire.” He was killing it. Then he ended up hurting himself, so he didn’t enter the contest. In the finals, it was Smith, Mountain, Hawk, Hosoi and McGill. It was all the heavy hitters that you’ve come to know and love. I think Neil was in the finals, too.
Was that a little overwhelming for a little kid to be skating against all those guys?
Yeah. It was pretty heavy. I worshipped those dudes. I actually sat at their altars. Then to have someone go, “You’re in the same league.” It didn’t really register with me. You were talking about defense mechanisms. I was like, “I’m hot and everything, but I didn’t know I was this hot.”
You are hot.
[Laughs.] At the time, I had this underlying thing going where I thought that I”d never be as good as those guys. To actually be standing on the deck against them, was unreal.
I know that feeling. Don’t you think that once you go through the initial blow of like, “Whoa, this is heavy”, that you come into your own and go, “I can smoke these dudes.”
I never really came to grips with that. That was one of my big stumbling blocks. I saw other people rise to the challenge and make their marks in competitive skating back then, but I always kind of fumbled along with that. Smith got up on the deck and I was standing up there next to Lance. He goes, “You’re not even supposed to be here.”
No way. You should have just knocked him out.
You’d think I would have, but it was fucking Mike Smith.
Even more so.
I had pictures of Mike Smith on my wall at home.
I’m just kidding.
He had wild hair and he was half drunk. I was just a sober little kid. I was like, “Oh, fuck. He’s right. I shouldn’t be up here.” So I climbed back down off the ramp. Lance had to come and get me out of my car. I was choking down tears. He was like, “Dude, you fully should be here.”
Lance was the knight in shining armor, per se?
Oh, yeah. Lance, John and Neil brought me up. They’re the ones that taught me how to skate, every step of the way. Those were the guys I hung out with. I skated Lance’s ramp and he’d teach me tricks. He taught me eggplant channels. Lucero had his driver’s license before I did. He’d drive me down to Del Mar and we’d skate Del Mar Skate Ranch. John would teach me frontside inverts. He wouldn’t even know how to do a frontside invert, but he could teach it to me. Somehow I’d figure it out and pretty soon, he’d be figuring it out. We all pushed each other. It was good. I had a good childhood experience. I grew up skating with the best skateboarders in the world.
What year was this? ’85?
Then what happened?
I was skating for Santa Cruz for a while. I was winning all the amateur contests. Lance was doing the Bones Brigade thing. He got me hooked up with Stacy. Stacy put me on Powell. I was the number one amateur guy for a long time. I got to film one of the Powell videos. I got to be in that video, and travel around with the Powell guys. Actually, my first travel experience was with Variflex. We went to Jacksonville to Kona for one of those contests.
That doesn’t count. I’m only kidding. Variflex counts. That’s pushing it though, okay?
[Laughs] Yeah. I skated for Powell for a while and I was super-jazzed. I thought I was going to be one of the Bones Brigade guys. It became apparent pretty quickly that the Bones Brigade was filled up. I wasn’t going to get to turn pro for them. I was in 11th or 12th grade in high school and I started fucking up in school. I was having problems at home.
I wouldn’t participate. I was really shy. I was a weird little emo kid. I was way into punk rock. That wasn’t accepted back then, so I was an outcast. I wore that as a badge of honor. I used it to keep everyone at bay. I had a stepbrother that had psychological and drug problems. He was a mess. He kind of sucked all of the energy out of our house, so I was kind of invisible for a while. I just started acting out and fucking up in school. Skateboarding wasn’t helping much, because I was constantly gone. There was always a contest or a trip. Back then, they didn’t understand skateboarding, so they wouldn’t cut me any breaks at school. I started flunking out. Before I could flunk out, I ended up getting in a fight with my step dad and got kicked out of the house. Then I self-emancipated myself and dropped out of high school. That’s when I turned pro for Schmitt Stix. Stacy tried to help out. My mom told him what was going on with me. He called me and said, “You need to finish school. We want you to stay amateur for another year.” I basically laughed at him. I said, “I quit. I’m going to Schmitt Stix with Lucero, and we’re going to rule the world. The Bones Brigade sucks anyway.”
Do you think you really fit in with the Bones Brigade outfit? Do you really fit that mold?
At the time, I thought I did. We were the ones making the trend. It was the skateboarders. It was our time. At the time, I did think I was Bones Brigade. I was the hot up-and-coming guy. If you’re the hottest best guy then you rode for Powell, which was the hottest best company. I could be me, because it was all about being individuals. They let Tony be Tony. They let Cab be Cab. They let Tommy be Tommy. Everybody was so different on Powell.
They were all the same. I want to know more about you and Lucero at Schmitt Stix. How long did you last there?
Maybe a year.
Then where’d you go?
I was back on Santa Cruz.
Yeah. It was ’86 or ’87.
Skateboarding was in full force.
Yeah. It blew up again. It was starting to get big again. Schmitt came out here from Florida and opened up a wood shop with Dorfman. We saw him in the parking lot at Del Mar. We saw some of his boards. They looked like pieces of furniture. He made really good boards.
And still does.
John and I approached him. We said, “We’re going to ride for you and make Schmitt Stix the biggest company ever.” With John’s artwork, and me as the talent and Lopes and Monty Nolder, we just thought, “This is going to be great.” I rode for Schmitt and turned pro at a contest in Mobile, Alabama. I got eighth place in my first pro contest. It was rad. Hosoi and the boys came out to watch my practice heats. It was pretty cool. It was like, “Grosso’s turning pro. Let’s see how he’s doing.” People were sweating me, which made me feel good. It was like, “I’ve arrived. I’m a pro now. I’m going to do this.” The whole pro world was kind of a trial by fire. The money started rolling in. I started smoking pot and drinking and living the rock star lifestyle that I’d come to covet. That’s what everybody did. Mike Smith and Gator were leading the pack. Losi got me stoned for the first time. I started down that path.
Now you had a model out with Schmitt?
Yeah. By this time, my head was so big. I thought I was the shit. They were constantly trying to tell me that I needed to be a team player. Santa Cruz Speed Wheels had the best wheels out at the time and Vision was trying to tell me that I had to ride Vision Blurs and Vision Streetwear. I thought Vision Blurs and Vision Streetwear was gay. So I rode Quiksilver, Speed Wheels Santa Cruz and Schmitt Stix. That didn’t go over well with Dorfman, so we started bumping heads. That bummed Schmitt out. Pretty soon, they were really bummed out, which really bummed me out. Then things got said in the heat of the moment. I said, “Fuck you guys. I quit.” I called up Santa Cruz, because they were already trying to get me back. So I went and got a model on their team. I joined their ranks.
Who was on that team?
At the time, it was Roskopp and me. “Spidey” rode for them. He didn’t have a board, but he rode for them. They had Jeff Kendall from Bloomington, Indiana. Kendall and I came up through the ranks together. The O’Brien brothers rode for them. They had Claus Grabke. Jason Jessee was pro for them. Jason, Roskopp, Kendall and I were the four guys that had a model at the time. They gave Claus a board too, for their European guy.
The token European guy.
Yeah. You had to have that back then. I’m not trying to bash. Claus is an excellent skateboarder.
We’re not bagging on the Europeans. That’s just how the industry was back then. Then you guys started making money, right?
Yeah. I was making really good money with Schmitt. We were pulling in $8,000 or $10,000 a month.
You’re kidding me. Duane is rolling over in his grave, and he’s not even buried yet.
I know. Lucero made me some really good graphics. I was in the right place at the right time. I picked the right board sponsors. Skateboarding popped. All the stars lined up.
The planets were all in a row.
Skateboarding got really big.
How old were you when you were making this kind of dough?
I was 18.
That can be kind of scary.
Yeah. I instantly got into cocaine and booze.
Cocaine and booze?
It was the ’80s.
How was the whole circuit back then?
It was killer. I got to travel the world and hang out with Hosoi and the Gonz, and the Texans, like Craig Johnson, Gibson and Phillips. I skated with Groholski and all the East Coast dudes, Josh Marlowe and Fred Smith. Skateboarding, as far as the people that did it, was still super small. It had died off and everyone was just doing it for the love of it. Then all this money started coming back into it. If you were on the inner circle, so to speak, you lived in a little microcosm. You’d run around with Gator and all these different freaky dudes that were in the magazines. You got to meet these people from all over the place. It was still small and tight knit. For the most part, we all got along. We all, at least, respected one another.
No one ever thought that the big five were the guys making all the money, and you guys were doing all the work?
We were all painfully aware of that, because of what had gone down with everyone who had come before us. We used to trot that out at Santa Cruz all the time. The powers that be there were like, “No. It’s different now.” You can’t really defend Duane’s actions back then, because Duane was throttled.