INTERVIEW BY JIM MURPHY
INTRODUCTION BY JIM MURPHY
PHOTO BY GRANT BRITTAIN and GRAHAM
Under the radar, silent power, quiet storm, Tom Groholski’s heavy metal monster graphic tells a story of a man with solid metal style who devours pool coping every chance he gets. After skating with the likes of Brad bowman and Steve Alba at Cherry Hill Skatepark, Tom honed his natural abilities to skate roundwall and progressed to be one of the gnarliest pros of the ’80s. Throughout the last 20 years, Tom’s approach to skateboarding has stoked out many hardcore vert and pool skaters because of his unique ability to work the lip and draw lines in bowls that don’t seem possible. Tom doesn’t skate for glory or attention. He still skates now for the same reason he did 30 years ago, Just skating for fun. No ego. No bullshit. No problem. Tom Groholski.
“I remember the smell of the place. I remember the dust, and the crowd of people. I was barely getting rides in because it was so crowded. We skated the kidney and the keyhole because the other pool was so crowded. That was the first time I’d ever really seen that caliber of skating before.”
Hey, Murf. How are you, man?
You ready to go?
Yeah. Let’s go.
Name, rank and serial number.
Thomas G. Skateboarder. 12XU.
Where were you born?
I was born in North Brunswick, NJ, in 1965.
What was it like growing up in North Brunswick?
It was a cool neighborhood. It was suburbia. In ’75, we started riding skateboards around the neighborhood for fun. Then a couple of the guys at the end of the block built a quarter pipe. They turned me on to skateboarding, the real deal. They had the ‘Skateboarder’ magazines. I saw some parks in there.
What was the first park you got to ride in Jersey?
It was FiberRider in Lakewood, NJ.
Describe that park for people.
It was sections of fiberglass halfpipes that were perfect. Even now, they’d be fun to ride. They had small walls with five-foot and nine-foot transitions .
This was pre-Cherry Hill, right?
Yeah. There were some lumpy concrete parks around.
Parks like Paved Wave?
Yeah. There was Off The Wall and Monster Bowl, too. Those were the next ones that I hit. They were really cool.
What was it like the first time you dropped in on vert?
It was a rush. It was all the older dudes pushing me. They were saying, ‘Don’t think about it. Just go!’
Did you eat shit?
Not right away, but I learned.
What kind of set-up were you riding?
At Fiber Rider, I was riding a Sims taperkick with Tracker mids and Park Rider 4s.
When did you first hear about Cherry Hill?
My dad was always driving up to the Monster Bowl. The locals there told him they were building an indoor park. We got to see it when it wasn’t even finished.
Did you get to go into the warehouse?
Yeah. I think Wally Holiday was the guy that was showing us around. I was so young. I was just in awe of seeing these deep bowls cut out of dirt. They had the three quarter pipes framed out of wood, the over vert part. They had a coping block sitting on the hip of the end pool, the right hand kidney. We were walking on wood, trying not to get too close.
You had seen the concrete parks in California in the magazines, so you figured, ‘Here we go. We’re getting one of our own.’
Yeah. The Monster Bowl was pretty good, too. It was really steep. There were some older surf dudes ripping it up.
Where was the Monster Bowl?
It was in Seaside Heights. It was super good. There was close to vertical there. There were some older dudes there doing big lockup frontside airs, tailblocks, lipslides and that sort of thing. We were learning from them. They were pushing us.
What did you think of Cherry Hill?
I thought Cherry Hill was the raddest park I’d ever seen.
Were you there for grand opening day?
Yeah. Opening day was sick. Tony Alva, Jay Adams, Chris Strople, Tom Inouye and the Sims team was there. It just a big blur when the dudes from California were there.
What do you remember from that session?
I remember the smell of the place. I remember the dust, and the crowd of people. I was barely getting rides in because it was so crowded. We skated the kidney and the keyhole because the other pool was so crowded. That was the first time I’d ever really seen that caliber of skating before.
What was going through your mind?
I was thinking, ‘Man, this is how you do it.’ That’s how I wanted to do it. It was a big shot in the arm. It was like, ‘Let’s go. Let’s charge it and learn.’
Was there anyone there that you idolized?
Basically, I looked up to all those dudes. Tony Alva and Jay Adams were super on it. The Sims team was kicking butt with Brad Bowman and Doug DeMontmorency.
I remember Brad Bowman was pretty smooth.
He was. Totally.
Did you start going there every weekend?
Yeah. It’s like what I’m doing now. I’m a weekend warrior.
Your dad always drove you places, right?
He drove me and anybody who skated and wanted to go.
Who were you riding with back then?
I was skating with Bill Park, Mark Curren and Dave Feretich. They were local neighborhood kids. We started going to parks together. Then we met you, Steve Herring, Chuck Treece, Brad Constable and Jef Hartsel. We hit all the parks around Jersey.
Didn’t your dad take you to California, too?
Yeah. He took us out there to skate a bunch of parks in 1980. It was like a dream come true.
What parks did you get to skate?
We skated Del Mar, Pipeline, Pomona and Big O. We got to see some of the Big O practice sessions for the Gold Cup.
What was that like?
It was unreal. Seeing DP skating was awesome. We saw Salba and Olson. It was cool. I was super stoked on riding the clover pool. That was really fun. They had the Holliday bowl, too. It was super fun to grind and do lipslides in.
What did you think of Del Mar compared to Big O?
I liked Big O because of the clover pool. We skated Marina, too. Marina was good. Whittier was really good, too.
Did you skate Colton on that trip?
Yeah. We saw Eddie Elguera, Alan Losi and Patty Hoffman there. It was pretty cool seeing Eddie. He was doing stuff that I’d never seen done. I was living the dream, going to California. Those guys were all rad.
Were you sponsored at that time?
No. I was just getting boards from doing the paper route thing and cutting lawns.
Were you entering contests at Cherry Hill?
Yeah. They had the half pipe, egg bowl and kidney bowl contests. Those were always fun.
Were you stoked on any particular team?
I was into the Sims team. I thought that Bowman coming to the park was super rad. I got to see him ride a lot. He was cool. He offered to send me some boards. That was cool.
Were those the thumbprint boards?
I got one of those and I got the Superman boards, too. He was like, ‘Do you want to ride for the Sims team? Think it over.’ I was like, ‘I’ve already thought it over. I want to ride for Sims.’ It was cool. I appreciated that. Thanks, Brad. He gave me a good push.
Was Sims your first sponsor?
Yeah. He was sending me boards for a while, then it just petered off after the parks died.
Do you remember Cherry Hill closing?
Yeah. We showed up one day and the doors were locked. The pro shop was empty. No one had said anything. The bottom just dropped out. It took a lot of people out of the scene. A lot of people bailed. The hardcores dug in and built their own ramps. We built our own scene. New Jersey had a really strong scene even after the parks closed down.
When did you get the plexi-glass ramp in your backyard?
That was in 1981.
How did you come about that ramp?
There was a park in Staten Island, called Skateboard City, that was closing. They had all these plexiglass ramps they were going to scrap. They had a plexiglass keyhole and little quarter pipes. We were like, ‘We’ll take one of those.’ They wanted a tax write-off, so my dad swindled something, so the guy could claim a loss on it. We ended up with a big halfpipe. It was a perfect halfpipe. It was one of the rad ramps.
What was the tranny and vert on that?
It was 10-foot transitions with a 1/2-foot of vert. When we brought it to our yard, we put some flat bottom in it and added some vert. Eventually, we made it wider.
You put some burly pool coping on it, too.
That was the Cherry Hill thing. We had some good sessions there. The Barn Ramp was cool, too.
Tell us about the Barn Ramp scene.
It was in a barn on The Cane’s property. It was the hotbed for New Jersey skateboarding for a long time. Everyone would get together on Wednesday nights and skate. The weekends would come and we’d all be there again. It was 16-feet wide with 8-foot of tranny and a foot of vert.
The locals were Jimmy Cane, Dennis Cane and Jay Henry. Who else skated there?
Stevie D., Papo, Dan Tag, Bernie O’Dowd, Team Steam, Kessler and Puppet from New York would skate there a lot. Sigafoos would come in from PA. You were always there, Murf. Steve Olson skated it. Dan Wilkes and Lester skated there. I think Christian Hosoi skated there, too.
Skateboarding was way underground at that point. I don’t know if anyone thought it was going to go anywhere. Did you care?
I was just stoked to be skating. We were making the best of what we had. We would travel around and skate different ramps. The Blue Ramp was fun. That was left over FiberRider stuff. I always had a good session there. I was just skating. Then the contest thing started happening.
Do you remember the first contest series that you went to in the early ’80s?
We had the MES Series. It was the Mideast series of skate contests. That was cool. We’d just hop in the truck and road trip it.
Was that in Tennessee?
They had contests in Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio. They had two contests in Ohio. The last one was in Georgia in ’84. Those contests were super fun. We’d hook up with Danforth and Kendall. It was great to see all of the different scenes. Bat Mite and Doug Walker and all those guys were there.
At that point, skateboarding was so underground. It was good just to see other people skateboarding.
Exactly. We even made ‘zines to communicate and meet up with other guys. Our zine was called ‘Skate Edge.’ Chuck Treece and I made a couple of issues, then we lost interest. We ended up skating more.
I remember in the mid ’80s, you started touring around a lot. When did you start getting other sponsors?
I guess my next sponsor was Vision in ’85. I started riding for them right after the MES series. I was at Kona when Brad Dorfman asked me to ride for them.
What was that like?
It was strange. It was cool, I guess. At that time, Vision was just skateboards. It was just Gator skating for them. Gonz and I got on Vision around the same time. It was primarily a skateboard company. It hadn’t turned into a billboard clothing company yet. When Paul Schmitt was involved, they made really good boards. Vision was a mixed bag for the most part, but I was just stoked to travel.
You started to travel a lot?
For a while, there were all these vert contests. The first contest I skated was the Midwest Melee. It was the second Nebraska jam they had at Rich Flowerday’s house.
Who showed up for that contest?
Tony Hawk and Hosoi were there. The Texans, Craig and Gibson showed up. Dan Wilkes was there. Phillips was there. It was rad.
What did you think of the Texans? Was that the first time that you got to skate with them?
No. We had skated with them at Kona back in ’81. I was super stoked on them. They were all burly and chargin’ it. They were more aggressive than anyone back then.
How did that contest go?
I got second to last. I thought I skated okay. I had fun.
Did you ever really care about contests?
No, not really. I was just looking at it as an opportunity to travel and skate with my friends. I was skating with the same dudes over and over again at different venues. I’d go to see my friends and skate killer ramps, too. To me, the practice sessions were always the best. Everyone was pushing it then. I don’t think our skating was ever really tailored for contests. I just wanted to drop in and charge.
Did you get any pressure from Dorfman as far as contests go?
No, not outright. They never really said much. The whole Vision team was really weird. It wasn’t like the Alva team. You guys were like a brotherhood more than anything. At least from my standpoint, it looked like that.
Yeah. Totally. What was it like hanging out with Gator?
I didn’t hang out with him that much. I just roomed with him a couple of times. His skating was just amazing. To me, that’s where it ends. Gator is one of my favorite skaters of all time.
You didn’t see that movie ‘Stoked’, did you?
No. I don’t even want to see it. I pretty much lived it. I know the deal. It’s tragic. Nobody wins.
Was there anyone on Vision that was cool to hang with?
Cresscini and I got along good. Henry Gutierrez, Eric Nash, Marty Jiminez and Buck Smith were rad.
Did you do European tours with those guys?
We went to Munster a couple of times. The first time I went there, the ramp was really cool. I had a good time riding it. It was more like an East Coast ramp with tighter transitions, metal coping, extensions, escalators and a channel. It was a good mixed-up kind of ramp.
What did you think of the Monster bowl?
That thing was great. It was a perfect round halfpipe.
It had probably been years since you’d gotten to ride good concrete at that point?
We’d skate all the abandoned parks on the East Coast like Reading, Edgewood and Landsdowne.
What was it like skating Reading? I remember we used to go there all the time. It was this rad old ’70s asphalt park.
To me, it was insane. You could just get away from it all. It was in the hills of Pennsylvania in the middle of nowhere. Skating those snakeruns was a blast. We were hauling ass. We’d just do these full speed runs and bowl-to-bowl transfers. The sketchy pool was always a good session.
What did you like about the Kink Sink?
It was fun figuring it out. That day that you and I were just carving it was super rad. It was snowing sideways. We were just getting some new lines together. Skating something crummy like that will help you ride stuff that’s really good.
What did you think of Cedar Crest?
It was incredible. The most gnarly sessions went down at Cedar Crest. They were full snake sessions. People were blasting right in your face. It was full speed on a metal ramp with pool coping.
Did you still have your ramp going?
That ramp was there until ’91.
What happened next?
I went out to California for a little while. That was when I was working for Madrid.
This was pre-Vision right?
Yeah. Upland and Del Mar were still happening. It was around ’84. It was rad. I was making skateboards and riding Upland on Wednesday nights and Del Mar on the weekends.
Who were you riding Upland with?
Spidey and I hung out. We used to ride there. Lance Mountain and Chris Miller would show up. That’s where I met Salba.
Did you ever see Schroeder out there?
When I lived out there, we used to skate his ramp quite a bit. Ben’s so gnarly. We skated Schroeder’s ramp and Lance’s ramp. This dude named Phil had a cool ramp, too.
What was the backyard ramp scene like in California? Was it the same or different from the East Coast scene?
It was pretty much the same. I was super stoked to be a part of it. It was cool skating with Lance Mountain and Micke Alba. I got to skate with Cab at Lance’s ramp a few times.
What was it like skating with Lance?
It was great. He was charging it. He had the aggressive style that I like. I liked his attitude. He’s been a big inspiration.
Let’s go back to the Vision era. You’re going back and forth from Jersey to California. Was there a point when you wanted to get off Vision?
No, not really. They just had this new blood thing going on. They had some new kids coming in, like Mike Crum and Chris Gentry. Those guys were shredding. I was like, ‘New blood? What are we? Old scabs or something?’
Were they pushing street skating on you?
No, not really. We were skating Jeff Phillips’ park a lot. This was when I was living in Dallas. I moved to Texas in ’89.
How was Dallas?
It was killer. I skated killer pools. It was a killer park.
Were you hanging out with Wilkes a lot?
Yeah. Throughout the pro contest thing, we always hung out. We’d travel and skate and do little tours on the side. I can’t say enough about Dan’s skating.
It was a great scene in Dallas. We used to go and skate that park with you and Phillips.
Yeah. It was really fun. Skating the Phillips Park was so great. Riding with those guys was a big push.