INTERVIEW BY STEVE OLSON
INTRODUCTION BY STEVE OLSON
PHOTOS BY DAN LEVY and STEVE OLSON
With style that is unmatched, guess what? It happens. Some get it, and some don’t. Scott Oster is one fortunate enough to be blessed with, a word that is now almost obsolete, ‘STYLE!’ We’ve seen it a couple of times in the past… To some it’s not important to have style, but guess what, you don’t have any, so why would you care? The man you are about to read about can make a frontside grind look really SICK…A backside slash… untouched… Tricks are for kids? I don’t think so. Style is for the ones that have it, and let it be known…Think about what’s been said, and maybe, just maybe, is more important than you thought before. Now go out and get some…
“THERE ARE SO MANY BOWLS, RAMPS AND SKATEPARKS NOW. THERE ARE ACTUALLY PLACES WHERE YOU CAN CARVE. YOU CAN RIDE POOLS EVERYWHERE. THAT’S MY FAVORITE THING. NOW THAT POOL RIDING HAS COME BACK INTO SKATEBOARDING, IT’S MADE IT FUN FOR ME.”
What’s your full name?
You don’t have a middle name?
David Scott Oster.
DSO. Down to Skate Obliviously. When did you start skating?
I was seven.
Where were you born?
I was born in Inglewood. I was born and raised in LA. I grew up in Westchester and Playa del Rey.
Brothers and sisters?
I have a younger sister.
Did she influence your skating?
[Laughs.] Not at all.
What did you do as a kid before skateboarding?
I’d ride my bike or some type of toy with wheels. I did gymnastics and swam at the local YMCA or I was climbing up a tree or doing something.
Did you build a tolerance for pain as a little kid?
Definitely. I remember being three years old and my mom couldn’t find me, and I was on the roof of our house. She had to call my dad. My dad came home and he stood down below, and he said, ‘Jump!’ And I jumped down into his arms. From a very young age I was a little different.
Did you play sports as a little kid?
Oh, yeah. I always had a ball, whether it was a football, baseball, basketball or soccer ball.
You had a good sense of balance as a kid on?
I remember the first bicycle my dad got me when I was five years old. It had training wheels on it. He was watching me ride it. He said, ‘You don’t need those training wheels.’ I had the training wheels for like two hours and then he took them off and I just started riding.
What’s your nationality?
Japanese and German.
Exactly, the nazi and kamakazi.
I’m kidding. Relax. As a kid, you were fearless and then you started skating at age seven.
Yeah, my dad got me a skateboard. He bought me a little plastic GT. I started riding that thing around the neighborhood, hitting cracks and falling.
Did you ever break any bones?
No. I had scrapes and stitches, but no broken bones.
You were used to going to the hospital, though?
Yes, it was almost an annual event.
That was obviously training for what was to come. You weren’t afraid of eating shit.
Did you think when you were a little kid that skateboarding was something you’d be doing when you were older?
I had no idea. It was just something that I liked to do.
Do you think the fact that you were an athlete before gave you an advantage?
I definitely think having a sense of balance and riding on things with wheels helped. I was already standing on my Big Wheel and pushing like a skateboard and doing power slides. When the skateboard came along, it just made sense.
You started with a GT. What did you get into next?
I realized that my skateboard sucked and my neighbor had a Makaha. It had really nice urethane wheels and Bennet trucks, so I borrowed his skateboard. His board was so much better than mine.
When did you get a proper skateboard?
Shortly thereafter, I told my dad I needed a proper skateboard. And for the first couple of years, we were just terrorizing the neighborhood until Marina Skatepark opened.
Marina Skatepark was close to your house, right?
Yeah, and a couple of friends in my neighborhood were like, ‘Come on. We have to go check out this new park.’ I’d never skated a pool before. They had speakers in all the pools, so the thing was you had to go over the speaker. I get there the first day and I was like, ‘Over the speaker. No problem. Tiles. No problem. Coping. No problem.’ I was hooked. My mom used to drop me off there like it was a daycare center all summer. I would skate there all day.
Were you a loner at Marina?
A little bit. I went to a private school growing up, so I didn’t have a bunch of friends that lived right by me, but I had a few friends that would go to Marina with me.
The older dudes got to know you. They were like, ‘Here comes that kid again.’
I would watch the older guys skate. It was the whole Z Team, the Dogtown Team, the Turning Point team and those guys. Those were the first people I saw that ripped, and I’d just try to emulate them. It was Jerry Valdez, Jimmy Plummer, Polar Bear, Jay Adams, Shogo Kubo and those heads.
And there was no intimidation factor from any of those older dudes?
No, they looked at me like, ‘This little kid can rip. He can do his thing.’ They would push me on.
They were cool to you.
Yeah, and I didn’t really know them. I became close with Jay later, but up to that point, I’d see him ripping and I was just this little kid watching him. When they would stop skating, I would get in there and try to do the same things.
Marina was a sick skatepark. You started progressing. Did you start entering contests?
I started skating in the ASPO circuit and winning contests.
Why did you go into the ASPO thing?
There was a contest at Marina and I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll check that out.’ I could do handplants on the tile and roll into the deep end and do rock n’ roll slides and most of the kids weren’t doing shit. They could barely get to the top of the pool.
What division were you skating in?
Nine and under. I remember thinking, ‘I’m going to win this contest.’
I rolled into the deep end, did a rock slide and a handplant.
Then you had them hooked. And you got a trophy.
I got my first place trophy. And I got a first place trophy for the giant slalom. I was into it. Then Marina closed and skateboarding went underground and I started surfing a lot. For a few years, I was mainly surfing all the time.
Do you think the balance of skateboarding helped you with surfing?
For sure. I started boogie boarding when I was a kid. Then I started standing up on my boogie board. My dad was like, ‘You need a surfboard.’ So he bought me my first surfboard. It was a Lightning Bolt. I was 10 or 11. The first time I went out I caught a wave and stood up. I was going down the line and I was it was a wrap. It became all about surfing for the next few years. I didn’t really start skating again until I was 13. There were no skateparks.
Skateboarding started to happen again in ’84.
That’s when I started skating again a lot.
Who were you skating with then?
In ’84, I started skating with Aaron Murray all the time.
How did you hook up with Murray?
When I went to junior high, I started meeting guys from my neighborhood. There was a local surf spot in front of my house, so I started meeting guys in the water and a lot of them skated, so I started skating with them. Murray and I became super close. We were skating every day. We were best of friends.
Then what happened?
Then I ran away from home when I was 15.
Why did you run away from home?
My dad was German, and he was very strict. I just couldn’t handle the authority trip. He was like, ‘If you’re going to live here, it’s like this.’ I was like, ‘I guess I’m not living here. I’m out.’ I moved into my friend’s house. His parents were pretty lenient with rules.
Who was this?
Mark Vercelli. He was someone that was a big influence on me. He was the first one to teach me to tie my surfing into my skateboarding with surf style. We’d skate whatever we could. That’s the first time I skated Kenter. We skated a lot of places that were like cement waves. Mark was really close to Jay, so he introduced us. Growing up, I’d always looked up to the Z Boys. Even before we skated for Dogtown, Vercelli, Murray and I used to make our own blanks and draw Dogtown on the bottom. In ’85, I met Kelly Jackson. He was skating for Dogtown. Kelly said to me, ‘You should skate for Dogtown.’ I was like, ‘Fuck, yeah.’
Did you see Hosoi?
I saw Hosoi at Marina, but we didn’t hang out back then. He was hanging with Shogo and all the heads. I was on the outside looking in. Some of them knew who I was, but I didn’t really hang with them until a few years later.
You, Vercelli and Murray were skating with Jay?
Yeah. When Vercelli introduced me to Jay, that’s when it all came together. I’d already been schooled by Vercelli on the surf skate thing. Then meeting Jay and how radical he was took it to a whole new level.
There’s not a human being in the world like Jay.
No. And he lived his whole live that way. The way he drove his car, surfed, skateboarded and just terrorized.
He’s one of the nicest people I know.
I agree. That was my foundation in skateboarding. Vercelli and Jay cemented the way I like to skateboard. I think my generation is the last to bring the surfing influence into our skating. We were surfers who skated or skaters who surfed. I was doing airs on my surfboard when I was 14 years old and that was 100% skateboarding related.
What happened after you met Kelly Jackson?
He hooked me up with Jim Muir. Muir asked me, ‘Do you want to skate for Dogtown?’ I was blown away. I said, ‘Fuck, yeah.’ He was like, ‘What kind of trucks do you want to ride?’ I said, ‘Indys.’ And he got me on Indy. He got me hooked with most of my sponsors.
Muir is a good guy.
Muir is a great guy.
So he takes you under his wing and he’s going to show you the ropes.
At the time, Dogtown was Kelly Jackson, Julien Stranger and me. I skated with Murray every day and he was ripping harder than I was. Kelly and I told Muir, ‘You’ve got to hook up Murray.’
You got Murray on Dogtown?
Yeah. Then it was Murray, Kelly, Julien and I. We were all boys. We’d all skate together regardless if we were sponsored or not. It didn’t matter. Shortly after came Eric Dressen. And we all just clicked. And Tuma as well.
Eric Britton. Really?
He was like the little guy.
I didn’t know Tuma was in there that early. Tuma could skate then, too, huh?
Totally. Muir was all about style. You couldn’t just skate for Dogtown. You had to have a certain style and a certain way about you. You couldn’t have any stinkbug style. That was unacceptable. We were already skating and slashing in such a way that he approved. That’s how we got on the team.
So everyone was like 15?
Yeah. Muir told us, ‘We’re going to start entering contests and taking photos.’ Then I got my first picture in ‘Thrasher’.
How was that?
I was so psyched to open ‘Thrasher’ magazine and look at the contents page and see a full-page photo of me doing a backside slash with eye contact with the camera. That was the beginning.
The photo was shot by?
Chuck Katz. Chuck was our team photographer. He’d go to all the contests and photograph a lot of our sessions.
When did Block come into the scene?
Block is and always has been in the scene in Venice. He was born and raised there. He knew everyone and no one fucked with him. He was a Photography major at Cal Arts, so he was doing his photography thing, and then he started taking photos of us skating. Later on, he’d travel with us.
How did your parents feel about skateboarding?
They were proud until I told them I wasn’t going to go to school anymore, and I was just going to skateboard. I dropped out in the beginning of the 11th grade.
Do you think you should have finished?
No. Unless you’re going to school for a specific trade after high school, you pretty much have the tools you need.
Your parents were pissed you were dropping out?
Yeah, but then they saw how passionate I was about skateboarding. I said, ‘Look at these pictures in the magazine.’ I was starting to travel. Things were starting to roll and they got behind me. They accepted it.
Did you start getting paid?
Not for a couple of years. For the first couple of years, I was an amateur, but I got flowed all kinds of gear. I used to sell my gear to make money. Muir was real tight with Fausto and the ‘Thrasher’ crew, so we were getting tons of coverage. They really embraced the whole new generation of Dogtown, so they’d always put our pictures in the magazines.
On Fausto’s behalf, he saw that there was an enormous amount of talent coming out of Venice.
We were the next generation to resurrect Dogtown. We were bringing that same style and attitude.
You guys would terrorize.
We would, totally. When we would skate the aggression would definitely come out. Any time we went to skate a pool, it was about taking over and grinding harder and slashing harder than anyone else. It was just pushing the limits.
When did you start traveling?
When I was 15. At first, it was mainly the contests and demos up and down the coast and in Arizona.
Did you meet people from other areas that you got on with, or did you guys stay pretty tightly knit?
We stayed pretty tightly knit, but we met a few cool people along the way.
What about the Alva crew?
We were cool with the Alva team riders, but Alva and Muir had a little beef. Sometimes when we’d be skating sessions at Gonzo’s pool, it would be the whole Alva crew and the whole Dogtown crew. Those were some good sessions. Everyone was trying to outdo the other person. I would try to throw the sickest slashes. Skating with Jay, one of my favorite tricks was to grab rail and do a backside slash. Jay taught me to skate lower, almost underneath the coping, and I tried to grind frontside like Hackett.
When did the Pavilion come into the scene?
When I was 15, I’d go down there and hang out with Aaron Murray, Mark Vercelli, Julien Stranger, Kelly Jackson, Block, Jesse Martinez, Eric Dressen, Christian Hosoi, Jay Adams and all the other VBWL locals and skate these rickety-ass quarter pipes. Soon after, came the jump ramp. We started putting the jump ramps up against the wall and we were wall riding. That was the beginning of wall riding. There were so many different walls with different heights in the Pavilion to skate. We had this great playground to put these ramps in and make our own little skatepark.
There’s an amazing amount of energy in Venice.
I think the combination of the boardwarlk energy, the hippies, the tourists, the vagrants on the beach, the hood element with the Shoreline Crips and the Breakwater localism definitely made Venice a unique place.
What about street skating then?
Natas and Jesse started wall rides and Natas started busting big ollies. Gonz was pushing the envelope. That changed everything.
How was it when Natas did his crazy ollies?
Natas really changed the game. He didn’t really hang in Venice that much. He hung in Santa Monica more but we would get together and skate. I remember seeing him ollie up a picnic table when most of us were just able to olllie or rock slide the bench of a picnic table. He was the first person I saw actually ride up and down a wall with no ramp. That led to a whole onslaught of wall riding.
What about all the tourists and the street skating down on the boardwalk?
It was so cool skating down there, especially on the weekends. On any given weekend, you had the best skaters in the world down there just pushing each other in front of this huge audience. It was everyone from tourists to the little local girl that you wanted to show off for. It gave us extra motivation to go a little higher and go a little further.
Did skateboarding help you pull chicks?
It didn’t hurt. In Venice, it was a little tricky. It was local. If the local hottie liked you, you had to find out who her dude was or who her ex-dude was so you wouldn’t get beat up. But we had skateboarding to bridge that gap and to kind of give us that acceptance.
With the tourists and hostels around Venice, there was an international flavor that doesn’t exist in the other worlds in skateboarding. I remember going down there and you guys had this scene with all of these international broads around.
It was good times back then.
Did everybody watch out for each other?
Oh, yeah. If you were down with all the boys, no one was going to fuck with you unless you got out of line.
How did you hook up with Hosoi?
I met Christian through Aaron Murray when I was 15. Aaron and Christian grew up together. Christian and I hit it off and started skating together. He took me under his wing. Christian was going out to all the nightclubs and I really liked going out and partying, so I started hanging with him all the time. We became partners in crime. We would get in all the clubs, because he knew the doorman or the DJ or someone that could get us in. I was 15 years old and I was skating all day and going out every night.
When did you get into the world of traveling?
When I was 18, we started traveling to Europe, Canada, the Dominican Republic and Japan to go skating. Japan really embraced the Dogtown thing, so they liked it when we came out there.
How many trips did you make to Japan?
For skating, I went to Japan two or three times.
When did you start getting paid?
When I was 18, I got my first pro model. Wes Humpston did the graphic.
How was it to have Wes Humpston, the dude that created that whole genre of graphics, do your board?
I was so honored. I was so proud to have a Dogtown board with my name on it with a Wes Humpston graphic.
Your old man was definitely hip to this by now. His son had made something of his life at age 18.
I was like, ‘Look, dad, I have my own board with my name on it. I’m making money. I’m traveling the world.’ He was definitely proud of me and totally supportive. He was cool once he saw me doing it and taking it seriously.
How was it to travel as a kid?
It was so much fun. You’re basically just traveling around with your friends and terrorizing and having a fucking blast. I was skating and seeing all these different places that I’d never been.
When you showed up in Japan, were they expecting something? Did they have some preconceived notion that you guys were going to terrorize them and fuck their chicks and drink their booze?
I think because of the generation before me with TA and Jay, they expected nothing less. We tried our best to keep to the tradition.
What about the trip to Japan with all the dudes?
There were about 20 of us on that flight. Before we even got on the plane, everyone was all drunk and fucked up. It was a crazy plane ride.
Who were some of the dudes on that flight?
It was Jay Adams, Dave Hackett, Ben Schroeder, me, Tommy Guerrero, Eric Dressen, Reese Simpson, Duncan, Craig Johnson, Mofo… Those guys were out of control. We drank all the alcohol. We were blasting punk rock music. They kept telling us to turn it down and we kept turning it up. We drank all the alcohol in coach and then Craig Johnson demanded, ‘Give us more alcohol and we’ll turn the music off.’ They’d give us more alcohol and as soon as we all had more drinks, we’d turn the music back up. We made the stewardesses cry. Ben Schroeder threw up. We were making this 13-hour flight to Japan a nightmare for everyone. We get off the plane and they escorted us onto our own bus. We were thinking they were going to put us on another plane and send us right back. They just shot us through customs. They were like, ‘Get out of here.’
They were like, ‘Just get away from us.’ What about doing demos and shit?
We did these demos for Jimmy’Z where we were going to all the major cities. We would just go and rage all night, and go skate these demos during the day. It was good times.
Who was on those tours?
It was me, Eric Dressen, Christian Hosoi, Taters, you, Hackett… I would try to hang with all the older guys. We’d go out every night and just rage until the sun came up. It was like being a mini rock star.
Then skateboarding got huge. It started to get out of control. You guys got to take full advantage of the popularity of skateboarding. Did you guys make good money?
I guess for then it was okay.
It was never about the money.
It was never ever about that. Sometimes I look back and wish I’d focused on that a little more.
Would you change that?
Sometimes, I look back and think I would have changed a couple of things, but I don’t think so. There were times when I was dealing with a manager, James Muir who was smoking crack and getting all fucked up. Orders weren’t going out. Other teams were pursuing us to skate for them, but I had no desire to. I didn’t want to skate for any other team.
There was an unspoken loyalty.
It was a family. I think, early on, we were the only team of that era that was a family like that. We hung all the time.
What did you think of the Bones Brigade guys?
I think Stacy Peralta was very influential in bringing videos into skateboarding. I remember seeing Lance Mountain and Steve Caballero do bonelesses. I saw Lance Mountain ride off the roof of a house. It was rad. They definitely influenced the world of skateboarding and brought it to the masses.
Did you dig their style of skating?
It was cool. I thought it was innovative for the time. None of those dudes surfed though and a lot of us were about surf skate style, but if someone did a sick trick, it was a sick trick regardless. Watching those guys definitely influenced me. The first time I did a boneless was after I watched Stevie Caballero do one.
Did you dig the day-glo shit that was going on?
I can’t front. Hanging out with Christian, he was a very flamboyant person. Being that he was someone I looked up to and emulated in a lot of ways, there was time in the ’80s where we definitely rocked a little bit of day-glo.
What about the bicycle shorts thing?
That was all Christian. When you’d see him rip and he was in biker shorts and he was just owning it, it didn’t matter.
Some people can pull it off. Some people can’t.
He definitely could. I actually had a very short stint with that, very short. It wasn’t for me.
[Laughs.] What happened when skating became street contests with ramps and different shit?
It was like obstacle skating. You had quarterpipes, rails, banks and jump ramps. Contests were fun for me because I liked competing. It was all about sticking your line.
Did you go into it thinking you were going to smoke these dudes?
I was just thinking I would go out there and do my thing and try to put a little flair or style into the mix.
Style was key to your crew.