INTERVIEW BY STEVE OLSON INTRODUCTION BY STEVE OLSON PHOTOGRAPHY BY J. GRANT BRITTAIN Into the future and beyond… From a lil’ blond surfer kid into a lil’ bigger blond skater kid, One that would change the face of skateboarding forever… Natas maybe doesn’t believe that skateboarding past has anything to do with what’s happening now, whatever… everyone has opinion. He is entitled to his, but let me assure you it does… Without it, where would it come from… the immaculate conception of skateboarding? Without the Z-Boys, where would any of us BE? “I nerded out on it and tried to see how high I could ollie. I tried to make it up two stairs and then three stairs. I’d see how far up the stairway I could axle stall and see how high I could ollie. It’s not like anyone set out to change anything. It was just hanging out and skateboarding.”
Natas. My name is Steve. Hey, Steve.
Hi, Natas. What are you doing? Not much.
Do you want to do this interview? Sure.
Fantastic. So where did you grow up? Santa Monica.
Did you grow up surfing? Yeah. We goofed off at the beach, doing whatever we could in the ocean and on the sand. I lived just up from the beach.
How did you get into skating? It just came with the area, more or less. It was one of the things you did here. It was one of those things that I got with big wheels, like a bicycle. I just stayed with it.
When did you get your first skateboard? I was a tiny little guy.
Were you attracted to it immediately? Yeah, it was super fun.
What was your first skateboard? It was one of those funny fiberglass ones with the surfer on the top.
Did you have urethane wheels to start out? Not on my very first board. I remember getting excited when the enclosed ball bearings came out. I had a board with those.
Did that take the sound out of skating? [Laughs] No.
No? It was a little quieter though. Whatever. Did you do any other sports as a kid? I played ice hockey for most of the time growing up, until I was 15. I did the usual stuff.
Where did you play ice hockey? It was at the building where Fred Segal is now in Santa Monica. Then I skated at Culver City later.
That’s right. It was an ice rink before it was Fred Segal. Yeah. From Rocky.
Why hockey? My brother played and I thought it was pretty neat.
So you have an older brother. How much older? Three years.
Did he have a big influence on you? Yeah. I think so.
Did your brother skateboard and surf as well? Yeah.
How did you get into becoming the skateboarder that you are, were or will be? [Laughs] I think it was just skateboarding with friends. Different things seemed fun like traveling. Some of the goofy contests that I used to do were fun. I guess it was just from skateboarding a lot and thinking it was fun and then skateboarding some more. Being sponsored helps. You get free skateboards.
You took it to a different level at the time you broke through. You were doing wall rides, spinning on the fire hydrant and bringing the ollie into it. I was just nerding out and doing my own thing. I only knew what my friends were doing. It was more about just skateboarding. It was really pure, and just about whatever I wanted to do. It wasn’t about a scene or anything.
Who were you skating with back then? I skated a lot with Julien Stranger. We would skate to school together. Then there was a guy, Brandon Murdoch, and he introduced me to Mark Gonzales.
Wait. Let’s talk about this dude. Who is this guy? He had a quarter pipe in his backyard. He was friends with Mark Gonzales and he introduced us. He rode ramps, too.
Someone was telling me that this dude was good and then he had an accident. Yeah. He broke his thigh.
All of a sudden, he came back and jumped off the roof into the ramp? He would do bomb drops off the shed into the quarter pipe.
It was you Julien, Brandon and Gonz. Your crew became the modern street dudes at the time. You’re known as the godfather of street skating. How does that feel? I don’t know. Regular. It was just hanging out with friends with like-minded ideas and we pushed each other and we shared stuff.
How did you learn how to ollie? Dan McClure showed me. He was the first person I saw do it.
How did he show you? He more described it than showed me. He could pretty much make it up the curb and up the first set of stairs.
What did you do with the ollie? I nerded out on it and tried to see how high I could ollie. I tried to make it up two stairs and then three stairs. I’d see how far up the stairway I could axle stall and see how high I could ollie. It’s not like anyone set out to change anything. It was just hanging out and skateboarding.
Where did all this go down? Mainly in Santa Monica and Venice. Later on, we got driver’s license and started driving around a little bit.
Who was your first sponsor? Santa Monica Airlines. I met Skip through a neighbor. That was when he was working at Natural Progression. I won one of his skateboards in a surf contest. It was a Horizon’s West skateboard. It was a big fat board, but it was a start because back then we were shaping them by hand. Then Skip said he’d make me a board and he did.
Were you stoked on that? Of course.
How stoked? Pretty stoked, Steve.
I know when I first got sponsored I was hyped out of my mind. Yeah. Free skateboards. What more could you want?
Do you recall your first picture in a magazine? Yeah, it was the cover of Thrasher. Stecyk shot it.
Were you aware of the scene that was going on in skateboarding around your area? That’s why I had Wes do my graphics. I liked all that stuff.
Do you think they had any influence on you? I think so. We were all a part of the neighborhood. We all went down to Bay Street and skateboarded. We did slalom. That was part of the neighborhood culture.
How did you realize that you were getting good at skateboarding? I could do what I meant to do. I could do things that I was thinking about doing. That was a good indication that I was getting better.
Did you do the contest circuit? For what it was back then, yeah. I did the street contests in Santa Barbara, Huntington Beach and Oceanside.
How old were you when you first got sponsored? 15 or 16.
Skipper found the Zephyr guys. Then he’s got you. Don’t you think this cat’s got an eye for natural raw talent? I guess he has a pretty good eye. It was a mix of things. He’ll take a chance on people or be nice enough to try to take a chance on people. That’s nice.
This is true. So you’re going to these contests and meeting dudes from different cities. Did that open up the door? I was still stuck in my town, but I met some nice people. Later on, when the contests got bigger, I met more people.
When did it start getting bigger? In the late ’80s, we started going to Arizona for contests. Then I was traveling almost every weekend doing demos anywhere I could just to check out other places. I traveled all over the U.S. There were three or four years where I was gone every weekend, just around the continental U.S.
Who were you traveling with? A lot of times, by myself. Then I got paired up with Jeff Kendall for a while because of the NHS deal.
Tell me about the NHS deal. Well, Hosoi did his deal first with his boards. It was like a licensee/royalty deal. In ’87-’88, we were having problems with manufacturing and distribution. We just didn’t have the dough to make enough stuff and we kept selling out. There was one point where there were no boards for me to ride. So they made a deal to make and distribute the boards.
You had a popular deck at the time? Yeah, it took a little bit, but then it caught on and people seemed to like it.
Did you ride vert too? No, not really.
Did you do streetplants and all of that stuff, too? A little bit. Not seriously.
Could you take your stuff to the water as well? I learned how to do little airs surfing.
It’s a little different though, yeah? Yeah. It all has to come together pretty good. You need a good wave, too.
So you were skateboarding and traveling every weekend? What did your parents think of this? They thought traveling was a great idea. They thought it was good to broaden your horizons and see new things.
Where was your favorite place to travel? New York City was always fun. Any place new was good. I liked to skate in San Francisco.
Who were your favorite people to skate with? Julien, Mark and, later on, there was Tommy Guerrero and Jim Thiebaud. That was always fun.
How did you come up with the idea to jump up on the fire hydrant? [Laughs] I don’t know. It was more a joke at the time. I’m surprised that the filmer, Dietrick, knew about it. He asked to go and film it. He’d heard about it. It was just a joke, an insider goof-off trick.
But you were breaking down boundaries and doing new things. Skateboarding was so not popular then. It felt like it wasn’t that big of a deal. It didn’t seem like anyone else cared. It was fun to travel around and meet other people that were skateboarding. It was cool to learn about other scenes and meet other people that were into it.
It went from not popular to extremely popular. Did you ever think that would happen? Of course not. It wasn’t a career decision.
Today some kids make it a career choice. What does it feel like to lay down the bylaws for the kids nowadays? [Laughs] It’s always been about doing whatever the heck you wanted. You can pretty much do whatever the heck you want. There are a lot of different styles of skateboarding that people like to do. They’re doing it.
You don’t think skateboarding is controlled by just a couple of companies? No. Is this some sort of conspiracy theory that you’ve got?
Oh, no. It’s only an observation and from being involved. I’m just asking your opinion. You’re just pushing your agenda.
[Laughs] No. I disagree. Let me ask you this question. What was it like to become a hot skateboarder? Did it bring you more chicks? [Laughs] No. Hardly.
What makes you so totally different than all the other skateboarders? I don’t know. You’d have to ask everyone else.
Oh, no. I’m going directly to the source. I think everyone was different. There were a lot of characters over the years.
There were dudes that set out to do different things and those that followed. I consider you a dude that innovated a lot of different things. Well, when I say nerded out, I was a pretty shy kid. I was kind of introspective and into doing my own thing. I just kept doing that.
What do you mean you were a shy kid? I was quiet and shy. I skated alone mostly.
Would you go to contests and bring new tricks? There weren’t that many contests. There was always time between them, so, yeah.
Did you like skating contests? Um, not all the way. It was nice to travel and see your friends, but the whole contest thing gets a little tough.
Did you win any contests? I won a couple.
How did that feel? I don’t know.
Can I come over there and take your pulse? [Silence.]
What is it that you like about skateboarding? It’s that part about riding it.