INTERVIEW BY JIM MURPHY
INTRODUCTION BY JIM MURPHY
PHOTOGRAPHY BY PAT MYERS AND TOBIN YELLAND
Wade Speyer works hard and drives a truck. These days you have to pay the bills and Wade has no illusions about being pro and touring the world like he used to. Wade still skates and rips as hard as he ever has and now has even more fun because of all the new concrete parks blowing up around the country. When you talk to Wade, you realize he’s not an egomaniac and he’s just a skater who happens to rip and kill roundwall at a very high level. So check out this interview with Wade and learn about his history of skateboarding.“I beat Tony Hawk, Christian Hosoi and Omar Hassan in a high air contest in Japan. Somehow Mark Gonzales heard that I’d beaten Christian in the high air contest, so he faxed a handwritten note that said, “If I were Wade, I would have went a little lower for Christ.”
Let’s start from the beginning. Tell me where you were born and when you were born.
I was born in Chester, California in 1972.
Whereabouts is Chester?
Chester is up in the mountains, east of Chico, California.
What was the scene like growing up there?
It was a logging town. I lived there until I was five.
What happened after that?
Well, my mom grew up in Danville, and after my parents got a divorce, she went back home. I was raised in Danville, CA.
Were you skating then?
No, but when we moved to Danville, there was a guy that lived across the street named Eric Cooper. Eric worked at Thrasher Magazine. I met him one day and he said to me, ‘If you want to ride a skateboard, I’ve got a board on the side of the house. If you want to ride it, just return it every day.’ So every day after school, I’d go to his house, pick up his board and ride it around. That’s where it all started.
Do you remember what kind of board it was?
I don’t remember what kind of board it was, but it probably had Independent Trucks on it. I’m sure of that. After that, I begged my mom for a skateboard. I wanted a Lester Kasai board, but my mom could only afford the Santa Cruz Jammer. You probably remember that, right?
Oh yeah, with the fence on the bottom of it.
Yeah. I still have it today.
What wheels do you have on that bad boy?
I wish I would have saved them, but I didn’t really know. Now it’s got Powell Cubics on it.
The real Powell Cubics? The green ones, right?
Yeah, they’re the originals. Now it’s got ACS Trucks on it.
When you met Eric, did you know about Thrasher?
No, I didn’t know a thing. He said he worked at Thrasher and if I wanted to ride a board, just grab the board from the side of his house while he was at work. As long as I picked it up and returned it at the end of the day, I could ride it as much as I wanted. I made sure to ride it every day.
When did you first see a Thrasher magazine?
It was shortly after that. After I started riding that Santa Cruz board, there were some guys skating down at the elementary school. There was this redwood retaining wall around the playground there. This was when I was in fourth grade, and the older kids were in seventh grade and they would use that redwood retaining wall as a rail slide. They would slide 20 feet and do a rock n’ roll out of it. I was just the little kid hanging out there going, ‘Hey, let me try your board.’ Then one thing led to another.
Was that the first time you saw street skating?
The first time I saw street skating was in the second grade. There were these older guys and one of them had this quarter pipe in his driveway. He had pushed it down the concrete from the walkway to the front door so you could go into a kickturn. I was trying to tell my mom that I was riding this ramp, and she had no clue. I’d push and do kickturns on the tranny. The quarterpipe was only five feet tall and eight feet wide. Then they taught me how to drop in. Later on, those guys started building vert ramps and bigger ramps. They knew I would always be interested in going, so I’d always go with them and they kind of taught me. I was amazed at the ramps. I couldn’t even really ride them.
Did they have platforms and coping?
No, they didn’t have any decks on them. No coping either. When we got older, we’d go street skating and wear our kneepads on our ankles turned to the side. We’d skate around town all day long and then at the end of the day, we’d go ride the ramps. We already had our kneepads on, so we just pulled them up and rode the ramp.
Were you hyped on any pros back in the day?
No. I knew nobody. I was in fourth grade and the seventh graders took me skating because my mom was working and I didn’t have anything to do after school. I probably should have been doing homework, but I loved skateboarding.
Did there come a point when you started skating other ramps? Were any skateparks going up?
Well, I remember there was one guy in the town of Pleasant Hill. There was no way for me to travel out of town, so I’d lie to my mom and tell her I was going down the street and then me and the guys would take the bus to Walnut Creek. Then we’d take the BART into Pleasant Hill. They were tearing down this subdivision and there were six pools there. I remember one day, Thrasher brought Christian Hosoi out there and all of those guys were skating this pool.
Was that the first time you’d been to a pool?
Yeah, that was the first time.
What was going through your head when you looked at those trannies?
I thought it was crazy. It’s amazing when you’ve just been riding a bunch of little ramps and then, all of a sudden, there’s a backyard pool. I was stoked. Hosoi had signed the wall. He wrote ‘Hosoi’ through the corner.
[Laughs] He autographed it.
[Laughs] Yeah, he autographed the pool. We were just freaking out because Christian was there. We started going to all the vert ramps and pools. By this time, I was in seventh grade. J.J. Valera, Ben Pellegrino, John Harris and Ray Dillon used to take me all over the place to go skateboarding, even though I was just a little kid, and all those guys were in high school.
That’s sick. Who was your first sponsor?
This skate shop called the Bullpen in Danville sponsored me. It was just this little shop, but the owner, Mark, was so down for skateboarding. He used to drive us around and we’d hit all these contests before CASL [California Amateur Skateboard League] even started. He used to take us down to LA. I remember meeting that lady, Sonja Catalano, before the amateur contests had really taken off. They had this contest where the shops competed against each other, so we’d drive down to L.A. with all of these guys from Northern California. I vaguely remember all of the guys that were there that are pros today. Dan Rogers was there. I can’t remember them all. It was Jeremy Klein-type guys.
What year was this?
That was right before skateboarding really started to blow up.
Yeah, that was right before all the amateur contests started to blow up and it became East Coast, West Coast, Texas and Oregon. It was right before that happened.
Do you remember what the vibe was? Living out East, we always heard about the NorCal vibe and the SoCal vibe. Did you experience any of that when you went down to L.A. from NorCal, or was it just cool no matter what?
It was like Northern California was a different state.
Did people vibe you?
No, they didn’t vibe me. It was just like, ‘Oh, you’re from NorCal.’ It was just a totally different deal. It’s the same as the East Coast and West Coast vibe. It’s just totally different.
[Laughs] That’s cool.
This was a long time ago though. Mark said, ‘Hey, they’ve got these amateur contests going and we want to send you to these contests.’ I did well in a few contests, so for my birthday my parents got me a ticket to fly up to Seattle to go to the first amateur contest. That’s where I met Colin McKay, Rob Boyd, J.J. Rogers, Jay West and Shawn Harten.
Was this a vert ramp contest?
No, it was an amateur contest for the whole West Coast.
Were you riding ramps or street?
We did both. We rode the vert ramp and the street. There was no in-between. Ross Goodman, Matt Gallardo and Omar Hassan were there. It was the first Northern California Amateur contest that CASL did. We went there and I skated the ramp. Ben Schroeder and Ray Dillon were there too. Dave Bergthold was there and he said, ‘Hey, we want you to ride for Blockhead.’ Dave was like, ‘You’re going to be part of our team. This is it.’ I didn’t even know what was happening.
You didn’t know about Blockhead before that?
I knew about Blockhead, but I didn’t really know. At the time, I was hanging out with Ben Schroeder and Ray Dillon. They kept telling me, ‘Don’t ride for anybody, because when we get back from this contest, we’re going to make sure that you get on Dogtown.’ I didn’t even know what getting on Dogtown meant. I was just listening to Ben, because I’d been skateboarding with him a lot because he was always up in San Jose. He just said, ‘Don’t ride for anyone else, because you’re going to ride for Dogtown.’ The sad part about it was that I didn’t even know what Dogtown was.
[Laughs] So you’re just listening to Schroeder because you were skating together.
Yeah, at the time, the San Jose warehouse was going on. By then, I was in ninth grade. The only way you could skate the San Jose warehouse was if you were sponsored by Santa Cruz or you knew somebody. Ray Dillon knew Ben, so he said, ‘Hey, get this kid Wade in.’ I remember the first day that I ever went down there Corey O’Brien was there. He said, ‘If you want to skate, you’ve got to pay $100.’ In ninth grade, $100 was like a million bucks, but I ended up paying though. So I got to skate with Jeff Kendall, Ross Goodman and John Fabriquer every day when I was in ninth grade. When I went to that contest in Seattle, Ben was like, ‘Hang tight because we’re going to put you on Dogtown.’ I had no idea what I was getting myself into or what was happening.
What about Santa Cruz? Weren’t they seeing you skate and getting stoked on you?
No, because it was just a warehouse. It was just a place they had rented for their riders to skate. They had to make the rent anyway, so they invited a few extra people to skate and pay the $100. At that contest in Seattle, I was hanging out with Mike Radcliffe, the snowboarder. We stayed at his house and rode the vert ramp. After we got home from that contest, we drove to San Francisco and I met Red Dog and he was like, ‘You’re on the team.’ So then we traveled around doing amateur contests and demos. I was in high school and Dogtown was like, ‘We’ve got these contests and demos on the East Coast. We’re going to Ohio and Florida. Can you go?’ I was like, ‘Dude, I’m in tenth grade.’ My mom was super cool, so she said, ‘If you want to go you can go, but you have to make sure that you get good grades or otherwise you aren’t going anywhere.’ My mom would sign the waiver for me to be out of school for two or three weeks at a time. Then I’d have to go to my teachers and say, ‘I’m going on this trip so could you write my whole homework assignments for a month?’ I knew that I had to do all of my assignments or the next time I wouldn’t be able to go. My mom was pretty cool about it. So in high school I was traveling all over the United States. As long as I got good grades, I was able to go wherever they wanted me to go. When I’d show up at school, people were like, ‘Where have you been?’ I’d tell them about all the different guys that I’d skated with and all the places I’d been and they had no idea what I was talking about because they’d never been out of Danville.
What was the first photo you ever got in a skate magazine?
The first photo I ever got in a magazine was in Thrasher in 1987. I was ollieing the Gonz ollie, but instead of ollieing where the Gonz ollie was where you ollied onto the stairs, I went the other direction and ollied off the Gonz ollie and basically ollied over the original seven stairs and over the trashcan. Kevin Thatcher took the photo and asked me what my name was. He wrote it down and then he lost the piece of paper, so in the mag it said, ‘Unidentified Flying Ace’.
[Laughs] You were a good street skater back in the day, huh?
[Laughs] I don’t know about that.
Tell us about the road trips you were taking out to the East Coast. What was that experience like?
It was me, Greg Carroll, John Cardiel and J.J. Rogers, Red Dog, Steve Salisian and Karma Tsocheff. We’d just travel around from town to town. We’d just show up and have a demo and hook up with some kids and go ride their ramp. They’d tell us where the indoor ramps were and stuff.
Did Dogtown give you a pro model?
That was a funny story. One day, Fausto and Keith Cochrane called me up and wanted to have a meeting with me. I was like, ‘All right.’ So I got out of school early and drove to San Francisco. I went to Fausto’s office and Keith Cochrane was there. I didn’t even know why they were calling a meeting. Fausto said, ‘We’re turning you pro.’ Cochrane was like, ‘We’re doing it.’ I’m like, ‘I don’t want to do it. I’m not pro.’ I didn’t even know what pro meant. I just didn’t want to do it. They said, ‘This is it. We’re making a board with your name on it for Dogtown, and that’s what we’re going to do.’ It’s not like I didn’t have a say in it, but it was a done deal before I even went there. They were just getting my approval.
Were you bummed or stoked?
I was freaking out. I didn’t even know what to say. I was in tenth grade in high school and I was going pro and getting a pro model out. I was skating the San Jose warehouse with Jeff Kendall, Ross Goodman, John Fabriquer and Steve Caballero every day.
Meanwhile, my friends at school were like, ‘I played catch with my dad yesterday.’ I was like, ‘Dude, I skated with Cab today. I skated with Cab and Kendall.’ I watched Ross Goodman do a gay twist Smith vert to fakie, or whatever you call that.
Exactly. At the same time, I was hanging out with Ben Schroeder and all of these guys that were already there.
When you were skating, were you even thinking about going pro?
No, I didn’t even know what that meant. They were just like, ‘We’re going to the Santa Cruz warehouse. Let’s go.’ I went and had fun.
When you got your own board, did you feel like a pro then? What was it that clicked for you?
It actually never really did. It all happened so fast. I just did what I did. What happened just happened. I never thought of ever being a pro. I never thought of doing any of what ended up happening. It just happened because I rode a skateboard.
That’s sick. At that point, Fausto was heavy duty.
Yeah, I was freaking out. It was crazy. I was in high school. My friends were playing football and going to band practice and I was going to San Francisco to skate Bryce’s ramp and hang with Thiebaud.