THE BULLDOG – O.G. DOGTOWN
INTERVIEW BY ANDY KESSLER
INTERVIEW BY JIM MURPHY
INTRODUCTION BY ANDY KESSLER
P.O.P. in crosses, death to invaders, invaders must die, locals only, dogs and crossbones… These were the images sprayed on the walls all over Santa Monica Pier back in the ’70s.
Back then, Jeff Ho, Skipper Boy and Stecyk a crew of surfers, shapers and artists inspired by their surrounding area (Santa Monica) and their love for surfing started up Zephyr Surfboards. I don’t know if they had any idea what an impact they would make on the generations to come.
It’s been more than 23 years since the Z-Boys came rolling up from the underground, blowing minds with attitude, aggression and most of all originality. No one could match them; most could not even comprehend. By ’77, these guys were already legends. They didn’t come to our towns to do demos or release team videos, yet still we wanted to be just like them. We wanted to skate the same way and ride the same boards. To this day, there has been no one group of skaters to have such an impact on so many.
Now for those of you that don’t know, I’m talking about Dogtown before the company started. A time when the boards the Z-Boys rode were custom-made by Wes Humpston and Jim Muir. The important thing to recognize is this was a time before board graphics. Wes hand drew the art at a time when the boards on the market were mass-produced skinny boards with only company names on them. The art Wes drew on the Dog boards was, well it was like the guys that rode them, like nothing we had ever seen before. The art had strength, depth, heart and most of all style. The art expressed perfectly who the skaters were loud and clear. You could feel this just from a photo of Jay, T.A. or Red Dog smashing one wheelers of the lip of a pool with their boards right up in your face. Wes made the boards they could ride with pride. Like Hell’s Angels riding their custom-chopped Harleys and flying their winged-skull colors, the dogs were intimidating and known as the baddest mothers around. They were true rebels and Wes’ art reflected it.
Tell us how you started doing art?
Well, I’ve done artwork for as long as I can remember and skateboarding was something we started doing when there weren’t any waves. We used to ride the old Hobie or Makaha boards or whatever we could find around. Then we started skating the banks at school which evolved into pools. Tony took me to the first pool I ever rode.
What pool was that?
The one out in Barrington. It was really shallow and didn’t have any vertical. We got chased out and went to the Rabbit Hole which is really steep and vertical. One of my friends broke his ankle the first day he rode there. It was a really nasty way to start riding pools. But, it was so awesome watching Tony doing upside-down off-the-lips. And then we just got into making boards out of necessity since there were really no good boards around. Then I started drawing on them. I drew on everything.
“We got chased out and went to the Rabbit Hole which is really steep and vertical. One of my friends broke his ankle the first day he rode there. It was a really nasty way to start riding pools. But, it was so awesome watching Tony doing upside-down off-the-lips. And then we just got into making boards out of necessity since there were really no good boards around. Then I started drawing on them. I drew on everything.”
Why the name Dogtown?
All the P.O.P. stuff that was in Surfer Magazine with the rat and the skull and crossbones that Powell uses, that was all Steyck’ stuff. It was already established that Santa Monica was called Dogtown and we were just saying that these were the boards of Dogtown.
You started out skating banks and then the pools?
Yeah, we started out skating banks like the little five ft. ones at St. Clemmons and then Paul Revere which was like Jefferies Bay with perfect blacktop peaks. We skated Belagio which was a big wall that wrapped around a building and then dropped down and looked like Sunset Beach. You had to ride up on the wall or be real careful when you hit the bottom because you had two or three feet of flat and then there was a building. It was that old gritty stucco so if you hit that you got buffed off pretty good. We used to ride around the canyons doing downhill stuff with Tony, Jay and Muir but I guess a lot of the more hardcore skating that I did was with J.P. or Gary Rosa or Ray Flores. We’d find pools and keep them quiet, because as soon as you told somebody like Tony, the next day he’d bring a bunch of photographers and it would end up in a magazine, then that was the end of the pool. Or you tell the wrong people and they’d bring all their friends and it’s a bust. Too many people at a pool is a bust. You have to keep it real quiet. You had to be low profile and commando about it. Sneak in and sneak out.
So T.A. was a rat bastard all the way back then?
He was notorious back then, but history is going to remember him better than anyone else. His face was all over the magazines. He’s probably the most photographed skater of all time. On one hand, he got the job done, but as far as we were concerned he could do it at somebody elses’ pool. No, you know, he turned us on to pools, too. It wasn’t a totally one-sided thing.
Did you start drawing Dogtown on your board first?
No, actually I think we were going out to the Farben pool with Craig Stecyk, Stacy, Muir, J.P., me and maybe Rosa. And I said we really need something on the boards, since we’re going to be filming the bottom of the boards. And Muir said, ‘Draw it’ and I said ‘Man, I don’t have time. Let’s just draw a big D.T.S.’ That was the first one. Then we drew Stecyk’s cross and put the banner with the skates and every variation of anything that influenced me. Every month the influence shifted from heavy metal to Griffin to Odgen to Roger Dean that did the Yes album artwork. Anytime I saw something I liked, like old 60’s posters and psychedelic stuff, I would use all those influences to create my own thing.
What was the reaction?
Well, I always wanted to have the best looking board. You want that flash of colors in your face for that second when you do an off the lip.
So, you essentially created the beginning of art on boards?
I guess so, yes.
Those decks could have been made of dog shit and we still would have bought them because the graphics were so bad ass.
That was one of the selling points when we hooked up with Greg and Jeff these two guys from NY. James [Muir] was the rider and he was doing well in contests and stuff and his name was getting around. The other thing that was getting around was the artwork on the boards, so when he went up and talked to these guys that’s one of the first things they noticed. You know the boards looked really good, this guy’s a hot rider, let’s hook something up. Then they got the idea for multiple riders, multiple graphics and doing each guy’s signature model.
This was at a time after Dogtown had been pretty exploited.
It was the summer after Muir got the cover of Skateboarder Magazine. And then he got the centerfold of Skateboarding Magazine with the bottom of his board smacking off the lip. You don’t get much better advertising than that. We hadn’t even established our company yet. The photos were all taken and then they started showing up in magazines a few months later. Alva beat us to the line with the ten inch. As usual, I made him a board and he took it to his guy and said ‘this is the shit. You gotta make it.’
So, he beat you to the production line, but not the graphics?
Yeah, the only graphic he had was that lipstick shit and that was kind of gay. I just love rippin’ on him. The guy rips and you can’t take anything away from him. He was the best advertising I could ever have. I’d give him a board and and he’d show up all over the magazines. So it was cool.
So the line up production wise went: Jay Adams and his dad producing Z-Flex and then his model?
Yes, that was a heavy board and then with the fiberglass, when you started dingin’ it up . . .Yeah, we used to do a lot of stuff like that to our boards. If we had wood that was too soft we’d throw a layer of fiberglass on it. I was riding a board before the Z Flex came out that flexed. I thought it flexed too much, but I liked the way it was in that bend position, it felt like you were in it. So, I took a rock and string and hung the rock beneath the board and then fiberglassed it and then screwed back in the trucks. The thing was, back then, we used wood screws, not bolts, so I took glass rope (which is how you’d connect a fin) and I’d put them around the trucks and then glass it right down to the bottom of the board. I’d do stuff like that.
You put the first rocker on a skateboard?
Well, I don’t know if I was first, but I was doing it back when the Z Flex was out. I don’t know who was first, I just know it was way back then.
You went into production after Tony?
Tony had his company before us, but he had the narrow boards and he had the laminates. We started experimenting with eleven and twelve inches and there were no twelve inch laminates. Those pictures of me at Gonzo’s, that’s me on a solid piece of wood, twelve inches wide.
Who actually started the production?
Just Jim and I, but I used to make a lot of boards over at Kevin Kaiser’s garage. We used make belly boards and kneeboards for people and fix surfboards. And the whole inside of the garage was just covered with artwork. We’d spray paint waves then draw a guy surfing over it. It was like total surf and skate graffiti. We had big pigs with pimp hats and doobies that said P.O.P. Really rude shit. Every so often, his mom would come in and we’d have to cover stuff up. We’d have chicks with tans and big nipples pointing to the sky. Everything a little pervert could come up with.
How did the wider board come about?
Well, we started making copies of the shapes of the boards and every time we’d make a copy, they’d get fatter, but they felt better. Then, we started making 9 1/2 and 10s and then we jumped to 11 and 12s. My feet were big, so the wider the boards got, the more I liked them. It just felt natural to me. And anytime anybody got on my board, they had to have one. Like the story T.A. told us the other day, about how he got in trouble for riding my board when he had all these pictures taken at Lakewood at the big half pipe. The photos were so perfect of the bottom of the board and him on top. This was after he had his company going and instead of riding one of his own, he was still riding my board.
Some might be happy to know Wes is back shaping boards and drawing. The boards are big and wide and the art, although new, will bring you back. Undoubtedly original, undeniably the Bulldog!