INTERVIEW BY STEVE OLSON
INTRODUCTION BY STEVE OLSON
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF MIKE WEED
Champion of a magic rolling board. Out in a world at a time when most couldn’t care less, or understand its meaning. Throw the kid out there, and let’s move units. Pioneering the future, and moving towards it… Stories, we all have ‘em, just handle ones P.O.V. As the story goes, let it roll, baby, and dig it…“Mt. Baldy was a dream come true. We’d never thought of skating a pipe. I didn’t think, “Oh, a pipe would be good.” We didn’t know if it would be good.”
Hello, Mike. Are you there? It’s Steve Olson from the Z Boys.
[Laughs] I’m just kidding. I just wanted to let you know that we invented everything there is to do with anything.
What are you doing?
Not much. I’m just hanging out with my family.
Nice. How are the waves?
It’s been good, but not today. There’s not much surf, but it was a pretty good winter.
Why should your weed be legal?
[Laughs] It’s because weed makes people mellow, not like hard drugs. My dad smoked my first joint with me, but I would never do that with my son unless he was an adult.
[Laughs] Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Laguna Beach and then moved to Dana Point when I was in the third grade. I grew up in Dana Point.
When did you start surfing?
I started surfing when I was nine-years-old.
What kind of surfboard did you start off with?
My dad rented me a longboard. I’d been dying to surf, but all I had ridden, up to that point, was those foamies. The nose would always break off, so they were about three feet long. They were belly boards really. I was so small that I was trying to learn to stand up on them. Jackie Dunn, who was a couple of years older than me, could stand up on one. I used to go up to Newport and ride around on those, but I hadn’t been on a surfboard yet. The first time I went surfing, my dad rented me a board and took me to Doheny. I could ride every wave to the beach. I’d been trying to stand up on that three-foot thing, so a real surfboard was easy. That was also the very start of the short board revolution. That’s when eight foot was really short. Wayne Lynch was my idol.
He rode those fat tails.
He was doing the gnarliest turns of anybody. That was Nat Young’s era, too. I liked Nat Young, and the Hawaiian guys like B.K. [Barry Kanaiaupuni]. I hadn’t really seen Bertlemann surf yet. My first board was a 4’10 inch Sammy Hawk model. It was designed to surf at Huntington Beach during the blackout because you could ride a kneeboard out there. You could go out on a board that was less than five feet, but you couldn’t ride a regular surfboard, so they made this little board. There was a picture of Sammy riding it at Trestles and I remember thinking that it was ridiculously small for an adult. I was only 80 pounds then, so it was a good surfboard for me. I rode that thing as much as possible. I think I had that thing for a year and a half. By the time I was 12, I was on the Hobie Surf Team. I surfed for Hobie in the early ’70s and we all went to the WSA contests. We used to go to contests and surf against Ty Page, if you can believe that.
When he rode for Unity?
Yeah. He was a good surfer. He always gave us competition. We used to go to a lot of contests up and down the coast, all the way to Santa Cruz. We’d take first, second, third or second, third, fourth. We were always in the finals. At one point, I was rated number one WSA.
Who were your teammates then?
It was Mike Cruickshank and another guy named Jeff Hamilton. It was really fun. Mike was a good friend of mine. Later on, he lived with me in Mission Viejo for a while. He had a pro career in surfing. He works in the surf industry now. Then we met Chris O’Rourke who was younger than us. He was ripping. He beat us in the first contest and we were bummed. He was an upstart from La Jolla.
He was a Windansea kid, right?
He was a hardcore Windansea local. Our surf club used to go down there.
Did you ever surf with Henry Hester?
No. I never surfed with Bob Skoldberg either, even though we were on Hobie together, and we were good friends. We never actually surfed together. We were too frickin’ busy.
Henry could surf.
Yeah, this was all way before skating. I skated at that time, but it hadn’t developed into what it was going to become.
This was before urethane wheels, right?
This was definitely before the urethane wheel. I put a plastic Fantastic hot hat on and got a photo. That was my first photo in a magazine. I was looking really young. I was just a little grom with long blond hair. I got teased about that later. ‘Where’s your hot hat?’
[Laughs] Did you do other sports as a kid?
I played basketball and did high jumping. I got into high jumping for a while, but I didn’t make the team because I was kind of short, even though I could jump pretty high for my height. The main sport that I played growing up was volleyball. I played volleyball through junior high. Volleyball was pretty big in Dana Point and Laguna. I mostly surfed though. I’d walk all the way to Salt Creek, and then I started hitchhiking.
Salt Creek was your main place?
Doheny was it for the first year and by the time I was 11, I graduated to Salt Creek. In those days, Salt Creek was not an open area. There was no parking lot or hotel. It was closed. They were trying to develop it, but they had a Proposition 20 that stopped them from developing it, so they tried to just close it off. They put barbed wire fences around it, which was way cool because that kept it uncrowded, and we just found ways around it.
Did you surf Brooks Street and all of that too?
A little bit. When I lived in Laguna, I was in first and second grade. I had a Makaha skateboard and I used to skate sidewalks. I hadn’t really started surfing yet. Later, I went to Brooks Street and tried it a few times, but I liked the Creek better. If we ever got a chance, we’d go to Trestles. A good friend of mine was Miguel Munoz, so every once in awhile, his dad Mickey Munoz would take us to Trestles. That was cool. One time, he said, ‘Do you guys want to go?’ So we jumped in the back. He said, ‘We’re picking up some guys on the way.’ The back of the van opens and Gerry Lopez and Reno Abellira jumped in. They were gods in 1972. That was right before I went to Hawaii the first time. That was cool. We went and surfed Cottons.
Do you think those cats had style? Style was a real big deal back then, no?
Style was tops. You had to have good style. Lopez was definitely the style guy, under pressure. There were a lot of different styles. I really liked Barry Kanaiaupuni’s style. He had a lot of power. Not long after that, I went to the U.S. contest. I’d already been surfing in contests and had met Michael Ho. Luckily, I never had to surf against him because he was a little older. He brought a teammate and that was Larry Bertlemann. I’d never seen Bertlemann before. The first time I saw him at Huntington Beach, I was impacted a lot. He was really different. The first year, he hadn’t really developed, and he wasn’t that smooth. He was almost doing too many turns. We were like, ‘Wow! This guy is almost out of control.’ Within a year, he became my favorite surfer. He developed his style more, and his cutback. We were influenced a lot by him.
What about Stevie and Timmy Cavallo?
I met both of those guys. Timmy was the one that was my age. I surfed against him in U.S. contests a couple of times. They were both really good, but somewhere along the line it seemed like they never really kept in it. Maybe they just didn’t do contests anymore. Not long after that, I dropped out of surf contests too. When I was 14, I made 4A and went to one 4A contest and that was it. I was supposed to be in the one at Hollywood by the Sea, and I was totally stoked that I’d made it. I’d never surfed Hollywood by the Sea and I was invited. It was a 4A meet, but our car broke down and I didn’t make it up there. That was a big letdown. Then it became more about soul surfing. You’d read about it in the magazines. It was all about soul surfing and contests were lame. They’d make fun of Corky Carroll. I met Corky and he was a good guy, but he was a ‘Mr. Contest’ guy. Then you had the other guys that said, ‘Fuck contests. Just surf. Smoke dope and surf. It’s a lifestyle. It’s bullshit that you guys are trying to make it a sport.’ Later, contests were what pro surfing was all about.
Well, I remember watching the Duke on the Wide World of Sports and Fred Hemmings, the announcer guy, had a spiel.
He was talking like it was a frickin’ wrestling or something. I remember Hemmings from way back then. He came over and surfed some contests, and won the World Championship. He wasn’t a soul surfer. He did some good things for the sport, but I wasn’t surprised that he became a politician.
I just remember him being the commentator.
Yeah. I remember seeing that at the very first Pipe Masters, and Lopez wasn’t in it. Jeff Hakman won.
Yeah, and it wasn’t real Pipe. It was six foot or something, but that place doesn’t get that gnarly until it’s eight foot. It still came off pretty good. Guys got barreled and it was okay. The next year was the good year. Lopez won and it was in better surf. I went over there and surfed Pipe when I was 13.
Was it really big?
It wasn’t big Pipe, but my dad and I were calling it 8 to 10-foot. It was probably six foot with a couple of bigger sets. The faces were 15-feet. It was jumping up on the reef and barreling like no wave I’d seen before. James Jones was out. The only other guy near my age that was out was Michael Ho.
How was that for you as a little kid though?
That was pretty sick. I was stoked.
It was probably scary as hell too.
A little, but I loved it. We went to Kauai, too, and spent a month at this place called Taylor Camp. It was a full-on hippy camp. Everyone lived in tree houses. We surfed Tunnels and Cannons. There was nobody there. Compared to now, it was really uncrowded. That was a neat time.
So you’re 13, and you’ve surfed Pipe and you’re exposed to all of these dudes. Then you came back to the mainland. Did you keep going back to Hawaii?
I went back to Kauai when I was 15. At that point, I was totally stoked on surfing. I was hoping I would be good enough maybe to get involved in pro surfing someday. Pro surfing still really hadn’t happened yet, but there were some pros like Jeff Hakman. He was making a living. It looked like it was going to happen for pro surfing, but they hadn’t started the tour yet or anything like that. That’s what I always dreamed about when I was younger. I never thought about pro skateboarding, because it didn’t exist. There were no pro skaters when I was 15. I didn’t even hear of anyone being pro back in 1965. Maybe there were a couple of guys that made money for a year or so. At that time, it would have been happening in California if there were a pro. It was unheard of. Around 1974, the Cadillac wheel came out. I was almost 16 then. I was starting to skateboard more because the wheel was really great. They were starting to put pictures of skateboarding in Surfer Magazine, and there seemed to be a lot of interest in skateboarding. I got a little bit of coverage skateboarding and surfing. I was stoked because they gave me a Bahne board. That was the extent of it. You get free stuff and you do a photo shoot. You didn’t think it was going any further than that.
Right, but you got the Bahne skateboard and those were insane.
That was a killer skateboard. I was stoked that I had one. At the time, I made my own skateboards out of wood. I’d just cut them out to be the same shape as a surfboard and put a swallowtail on it. I wasn’t thinking about trying to make it work better. It was more like, ‘Oh, you can turn. You can do a little Bert in the driveway and cruise down the hill.’ I hadn’t thought about riding a pool or anything like that yet.
How was the transition for you going from clay wheels that really didn’t have much grip to riding your first set of Cadillac’s?
It was awesome. It made street skating a lot better. We had a whole bunch of driveways that we hit. Everybody had their own driveways in their own town. We’d hit banks, sidewalks and driveways. The wheels definitely made a difference, especially for speed runs. We started going faster and doing speed runs. You could actually go around a corner at 30mph and not eat shit. It would grip. The wheel was the big thing that made everything progress. Then it was the first magazine about skateboarding. Then it was like, ‘Okay. Skateboarding is here.’
Who were you skating with then?
In the early days, we had an amateur Hobie team. I was skating with Miguel Munoz and Colin Hurst at the very first pool in San Juan in 1975. That was my first pool. I’d only seen a couple of photos of pool riding. I saw that first issue of Skateboarder and thought, ‘Wow. Guys are riding pools.’ I was chomping at the bit to do it. Those guys rode it once before me, and then I went with them. We had a great time. I got to the tile the first time that I rode it.
You got over the light.
Well, if you were regular foot, you didn’t really go over the light. We were way above the light though. The light was at 6 1/2 or 7-feet. Miguel would go over the light going goofy foot, but it was a weird pool. It had an extension going the other way that went up over 10-feet. If you hit the tile, you were at 9-feet, probably. If you got way up in the tile, you were at 10-feet. The coping was totally square. We had no dreams of riding the coping. The thing had a little love seat on the side, and the first time I rode it, I brought my little freestyle skate too. My regular board didn’t even have a kicktail on it yet. I had different boards to carve down banks, do slalom, do speed, and do tricks on. I brought my freestyle board and they said, ‘What are you going to do with that?’ I was like, ‘I’m going to try to kickturn off this side.’ They said, ‘What? You’re going to eat shit.’ I did one kickturn off the side and then I tried to do one more. That was the very first time. I’d never heard of anyone doing a kickturn on vertical before. I was like, ‘I’m going to do this.’ Then I did it. I made it a few times. It was sketchy though. They were like, ‘Oh, that’s all right.’ It was all about hitting the deep end and hitting the tile and getting up high on there. They said, ‘You’ll never get that high doing that kickturn.’
[Laughs] I almost agreed, because on that board, I wouldn’t have. The board was 22-inches long, with really small wheels, and I kept my trucks super tight on my freestyle board because I was always doing wheelies. I didn’t even loosen it up to ride the pool. I couldn’t really turn, but I could kickturn. The second time I went, we got Warren Bolster to come, and I rode it a little better. I was getting the kickturn off the loveseat and getting really close to doing a one-wheeler. It wasn’t called a grind yet. No one had done a wheeler yet. I was getting up there and coming down and making it and doing another kickturn on the other side. I was riding a different board in the deep end and getting the tile on that. Craig Chastney was skating with us and he could hit the tile pretty good, but he’d slammed, hit his head and had a concussion, so he was out. That day, I ended up doing pretty good, because no one else was really hitting the tiles. Warren got a lot of shots. That was a good day for me. I ended up getting the cover of the magazine.
How insane was that when you got your cover?
It was great. It was one session, and only my second time riding a pool. I’d had other photo sessions with Surfing Magazine, and I’d already had a picture in Surfer surfing. I was still into surfing a lot at that point, and Warren got me a profile in Surfer. That was pretty cool. I was stoked. Maybe some guys thought I didn’t deserve it, but I was in the right place at the right time. I was still surfing well, but I wasn’t surfing in contests. Not long after that, I was just skating all the time because that’s where it went for me. I was riding a Lightning Bolt and surfing Salt Creek when I had time.
Skating was starting to take over.
Right after that magazine came out, Hobie came to me and said, ‘Do you want to be pro? Here’s a contract. You get $250 a week, but we need you to go do demos.’ I was starting to practice really hard at freestyle. In 1975, if you couldn’t freestyle, it was hard to be a pro, because they wanted you to go do demos in places that had no ramps. Maybe there was a little wood launch ramp, but usually it was just a flat asphalt parking lot. I did hundreds of demos in JCPenney parking lots. You were stoked if they had the place swept. Later, they started having ramps. I dropped out of high school and was still trying to skate as much as I could on vert. Mt. Baldy came just a little bit after that.
What about Mt. Baldy?
Mt. Baldy was a dream come true. We’d never thought of skating a pipe. I didn’t think, ‘Oh, a pipe would be good.’ We didn’t know if it would be good, and Dana Point was a long way from Mt. Baldy. Then we knew a friend of a friend that said there was this full pipe. We didn’t know if guys had skated it, but no one had taken a photo of it yet, so we went up there. It was a long drive and then a long walk. I was grumpy by the time we got there, but then we came around that corner and saw it and it was like a dream come true.