INTERVIEW BY AARON ‘FINGERS’ MURRAY
INTRODUCTION BY KELLY JACKSON
PHOTO BY CHUCK KATZ
We spent a lot of time in the mountains and campgrounds of California’s High Sierra, my dad escaping after a drug deal or going to meet someone with it. This is where my brother was left to explore and master his surroundings. As a kid, he could climb the highest peaks, ride the meanest horse, and be the toughest person on a mountain full of men. Our home became a small apartment in Venice that we shared before my dad bottomed out. He started getting sick and eventually died of cancer. Sad and broken, he locked himself in his apartment and smoked crack until the day he died. As bad as it was, we were always full of laughter, but we were also poor, dirty and ate government cheese most of the time. My dad and brother were two of the nicest and funniest people, with my dad’s personality being like a mix between Willie Nelson in The Dukes of Hazzard telling dirty jokes and Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver. My brother basically acted out all of my dad’s vices and spent most of his time in juvee and then prison. The only thing he had going when he got out, the only thing that seemed to fit his personality was skateboarding. He could take his anger out on it for hours. He had an intensity about him, always running full bore with endless strength. We were raised around violence by a father that became a cat burglar and money collector for the mob when he couldn’t find work. My brother was always fighting and knocking someone out cold and then escaping to drugs. My brother didn’t just do drugs, he literally tried to do more than anyone else, in one of the most drug addicted hippy hot spots in the world. My brother took 14 Quaaludes one day and had to be carried off the beach. Drugs cost money, so this led to selling drugs and back to prison. Not seeing his three-year-old son again until his son was 17. In between these times of being locked up, he would skateboard, The time he spent on a skateboard is legendary, he was kind of a one man circus – his wall riding seemed like acrobatics to the people walking down the boardwalk and he drew some of the largest crowds on the beach. He was picked up by skateboard companies like Dog Town, Independent trucks, OJ and Spitfire wheels. An OJ’s ad once said ‘Best skater in LA County Jail’. Just before that, he was skating and had an epileptic seizure and fell flat on his face on the asphalt part of the boardwalk knocking all his front teeth out. This didn’t slow him down very much until just after he met Andrea. Soon after she got pregnant, he lost his job and, while trying to make rent, sold weed to an undercover cop and went back to jail. When he got out again, he moved away from his gangster lifestyle and chose his daughter over his bad habits. This is where we find him 11 years later. Positive, happy and raising his three daughters.“The hardest thing to duplicate is someone who is original. Be yourself. As long as you can be yourself and do what you want to do, you’ll always be an original.”
What’s up, brother? What are doing?
I’m just chilling, kicking back with my girl.
Let me first introduce myself. My name is Aaron ‘Fingers’ Murray, second-generation Dogtown skateboarder from Venice.
Right. My name is Tim Jackson and I’m a second-generation Dogtown rider. I’m from Venice Beach and proud to be a Venice Breakwater Local.
One of the two most popular questions I get when your name comes up is ‘How is Tim Jackson?’
[Laughs] I’m doing great. I live up in Yucca Valley, CA, with my beautiful lady and my three girls. We have a nice house with a lot of acreage. We’re just living life to the fullest. Every chance I get, I go to visit friends and family down in Venice. I still love to skate and draw. I love to play softball with my daughter. I love to hang out with my old lady. We like to go hiking and quading out in the desert. We go to the river and hang out with the girls.
I can’t wait to come back up there.
Oh, I know. I can’t wait for you to come back, too. The girls are missing you already.
Maybe next weekend, we’ll get up there.
That would be fun. I’ll take you to the secret spot where the water comes out of the desert out in the middle of nowhere. It’s like a little oasis.
That’s sounds cool. Let me ask you a couple of questions. Do you think that skateboarding in its way has not only directed our lives from a destructive lifestyle, but has been one of the major driving positive influences in our lives?
I’d say it was pretty much the number one driving influence in our life. Without skateboarding, all we did was hang out and be mischief kids. We did a lot of stupid shit as youngsters, but as long as we had a skateboard in our hand, we stayed busy and creative. What I loved about skateboarding the most is that we didn’t just skateboard like everyone else. We wanted to represent ourselves including Dogtown. We created our own styles. Skateboarding has been a blessing to me. My dad died when I was a young kid, so I was basically living on the streets. My skateboard was my bed, until I got my own place. Skateboarding has always been a positive influence on my life and still is.
It seemed like my skateboard was always there, when nothing else seemed to be there. I had a skateboard, or got a hold of one. It’ s something that I had to have, not only for transportation, but just to have that skateboard. It went with you everywhere you went. It got you there.
Yeah. A skateboard wasn’t a tool. It was part of our dress code. I didn’t feel normal or right if I didn’t have a skateboard to ride. Every time I went down to the beach, that was my way there and back. When I was down at the beach, it was my transportation around. At any moment, someone could come down with a piece of plywood or a jump ramp and I’d be ready to skate. We were always ready to skate, no matter what it was. I picked up my skateboard before I brushed my teeth in the morning. Even though a few of my teeth are knocked out now…
My skateboard was my cane. Without my skateboard, I didn’t feel right.
I remember most of the homies slept in, but I liked to get up early and you always got up early. I’d come by your spot and you’d be out there on the porch hooking up your skate. You’d be cleaning the bearings in those days.
I’d get up in the morning and grab my skate and the first thing I would do was go out on my porch and kick back with some cocoa or coffee. I’d go around the corner and get one of those smoothies and kick back. Within an hour after I woke up, either you, Cooksie, Tonan or Jef Hartsel were coming by. We’d grab our skate and head down to the boardwalk. If the waves were good, we’d run back to our house and grab our surfboards. We’d surf until it got a little warmer and by noon, we were all down at the beach skating the walls.
Julien always used to be up early too, huh?
Yes. Julien used to bring Natas down there, every once in a while. Natas was a surfer, too. It was a crew. The people I hung out with mostly didn’t just skate. We surfed and skated. It was part of our life. It was the way we dressed.
That’s just the Venice Beach vibe. Surf and skate almost blended into one thing.
It was in our blood. Sometimes we would surf all day and that gave us the energy to skate. When we had banks and stuff, we didn’t just skate the banks and go up and do an ollie at the top of the bank and come back down. We went up and tried to do Bertlemann slashes. We were surfing on our skateboards.
It’s not just the typical moves that people think of with surf skating. I think it’s a state of mind. One day Polar Bear broke it down to me like this. Up until the day he died, he could do more frontside 360s on the boardwalk than anyone I’ve ever known. One day, I gave him my board and there he is with a bad knee. He could barely walk and I said, ‘Bust out some frontside 360s.’ He said, ‘Wait. I can’t really do frontside 360s. I do them backside.’ I said, ‘Okay.’ Then he started doing frontside 360s. I said, ‘Wait a minute. You’re doing frontside 360s.’ He said, ‘No, these are backside 360s.’ He broke it down to me like this. He said, ‘It’s backside because I’m doing a backside bottom turn. Then it made sense. He had the surf skate mentality. That’s what it is.
When I skated I was also surfing and that’s how my style was created. If I didn’t surf, I skated. If I didn’t skate, I surfed. When there was nothing down there, like ramps, that wall was the vertical lip getting ready to curl over, and I’d do whatever I could to smack it and come back down. After looking at people like Jesse Martinez and my brother Kelly Jackson, and people that were learning to do wall plants, I was like, ‘I don’t want to use my arm to go up.’ I had hundreds of tricks going up and doing a wall plant with my hand on the ground, so then I’d try to do everything without using my hands.
Me too. Wall rides, no handed. Kick turning on the wall and trying to carve the wall.
Yeah. You were awesome at the frontside ollie pop to frontside wall ride. It was just amazing, bro.
[Laughs] I remember one day I learned how to do frontside wall rides, and Bertlemann wall rides with my hand on the ground. I almost broke my wrist trying to learn those things. There was one day that I did them all day long.
[Laughs] I’d try to put my hand on the ground and go up and do a frontside slash on the wall, but the wall down at the beach was only four feet tall. I’d always try to extend my body out as far as I could to grind the top. When you get out on the water and you try to do that, it comes a lot easier because the body motion is already there.
Plus, you can just hit the wave and explode it, when you’re so used to concrete.
Oh, yeah. People like Randy Wright and Polar Bear could do a frontside slash on a wave, which was about to curl into a barrel, and they’d just crumble the whole wave.
[Laughs] You know who else killed the waves was Allen Sarlo. I guess that’s why they called him the ‘Wave Killer’. I’ve seen him just make the wave disappear.
He’s a powerhouse. He would take that wave and just break it down into whitewash. Straight out. He was gnarly, dude. I remember seeing Sarlo, Randy Wright and the crew at the jetty. It would be curling behind the jetty and they would go and get deep in the barrel and come flying out. There’s a big rock that sticks out at the end of the jetty and they would just go around it like it was nothing. They would literally kill it. The lip could have been two feet thick and they’d just tear it up. It would just crumble into whitewash.
They were more notably known for surfing, but they also skated and I’m sure it helped them to do some of those gnarly things on the waves.
Oh yeah, for sure. It’s all part of it.
My skateboards were special to me. It wasn’t just a skateboard. It’s everything you’re going to do on the skateboard. It becomes a living thing, like it’s part of you.
When we got dressed, we put on our shoes, socks and pants and grabbed our board. That was part of who we were. You feel normal grabbing your board every single morning.
They talk about soul surfers and soul skaters, and because of that, skating is an extension of who we are in our soul. We were blessed with the opportunity that Jim Muir with Dogtown Skates gave us, and the fact that we were surrounded by a lot of mentors in surfing and skating whom, indisputably, had already made their marks. They supported and guided us in a positive way. We had Polar Bear, Jim Muir and Jay Adams.
When we were little, we’d grab our boards and go to the beach. This was before we were on Dogtown. We already knew that there was a culture from our neighborhood that we had to live up to. It wasn’t just the fact that we liked skateboarding. We had to represent. People like Polar Bear and Jay Adams… the list is endless. If I forget anyone, I’m sorry. They would be there when we were skateboarding. We’d sit down and watch them, and just be in awe. When they’d leave, we’d be like, ‘Did you see what homeboy did? Did you see that slash frontside grind that Jay Adams did? Oh my god.’ We’d spend weeks trying to get it close enough to be as good as them, and that’s how our styles came about. We’d take all of that old school stuff that we didn’t just hear about, or see in flicks, we lived it, and we had to be a part of it. When a guy like Polar Bear goes up and does a handplant or a frontside rock n’ roll, we didn’t just try to duplicate it, we tried to make it even gnarlier, so that they would respect us. Over the years, when we got older, they did respect us. We earned that. We didn’t just go out to skate and say, ‘No, I’m not going to try that.’ We had to do it. We had to show them that we weren’t scared and that we were going to do it and we were going to live up to their expectations and our own.
We always had a skateboard, and we were going to skateboard no matter what, but before we were actually recognized for our skateboarding, Jim Muir gave us an opportunity. He said, ‘I want to sponsor you guys and give you free boards. How about entering these contests?’ He really opened that door for us, before we even knew what was happening.
Jim Muir was a blessing. He said, ‘We had a generation of skateboarding, when I was younger, that made the history books, but you guys have it bred into you by your neighborhood and the people you hang out with. Let’s get a whole new generation going here and represent skateboarding Venice style.’ From that point on, from that opportunity that he gave us is where we stand today.
What did he see in us that we didn’t even see in ourselves?
Style. Creativity. Balls. The list can go on and on. It’s the same when you look at someone that is a gnarly skater. Even today, you can see that a good skater has something different about them. It isn’t just the fact that they skateboard. They skateboard with heart. Jim gave us heart, by believing in us and giving us boards and things like that, to go out there and push it even harder. A lot of guys skateboarded in contests, and one of the reasons that I didn’t isn’t because I couldn’t. It’s because I had epilepsy and I’d have seizures. I was a big risk problem, going to another state or traveling, so a lot of times I didn’t get to go. Not only that, but with my little craziness, being one of the Venice boys and hanging out with all of the Venice 13 homies and our crew the Venice Breakwater Locals, I had problems. I was going in and out of jail all of the time. I don’t blame anybody but myself, but I didn’t have some of the opportunities to skate contests that other people did. I also thought that was a blessing after a while. Everyone else would be going to contests out of state, but if you went to Venice Beach, I was out there riding the walls.
There was no one else down there. Every once in a while there would be a few other people that didn’t go to the contests, and we’d have enough people to bring a ramp all the way down from Block’s house or wherever we would stash our ramps. We didn’t have plywood down there all the time. All we had was the wall, and I wanted to skate every day. There wasn’t much to skate except for the wall, so I took it to a whole different level. I just kept riding the wall. Before I knew it, I was coming up with tricks that nobody had ever seen before. For me, not going to contests wasn’t something bad. I think it was something good.
You produced, whether you were at the contest or not. It wasn’t about contests. I wasn’t really a contest skater myself, but I’ll tell you this. Because one person believed in me, and that person being Jim Muir, it made me want to skate my hardest. I would break my ribs. I’d break my foot. I’d rip off my fingers. I’d break my arm. I’d do anything to skate as good as I could.
Dude, I remember when you were skating right after your finger had just gotten torn off. You were skating the next day. You were out there trying to do laybacks with that same hand. It didn’t matter if our feet were in a cast. We were skating. Straight out. A lot of times, we’d have broken bones. I broke my ankle a couple of times, and I remember skating with a broken ankle. I didn’t have a cast because I didn’t want to go to the hospital and get a cast put on because if I had a cast on, I couldn’t skate. I’d skate injured a lot. It’s kind of stupid, but we loved it so much that even injuries didn’t stop us.