INTERVIEW BY JIM MURPHY
INTRODUCTION BY JIM MURPHY
PHOTO BY GREG FADELL
My first vivid memory of Danforth was sitting in the Turf parking lot and watching Chris Baucom wrestle him down and drawing the word “HATE” on his forehead after Bill’s half hour hate-filled rant. It was hilarious. Bill hated that. We’ve been friends ever since and through the Alva days with Bill being the lone skinhead amongst a gang of hair farmers, Bill kept his sense of humor and integrity intact, along with a steady supply of beer, chicken wings and frontside rocks. Bill is a walking irony of love and hate. Unless you have a good sense of humor, you will hate him as much as he says hates you. It’s all a joke. It’s evident in the heart and soul he puts into every contest run. He only hates that he can’t do more. A blue-collar skater from way back, Danforth is a poser’s nightmare. So when he comes to town, hide your rollerblades and your China wood and buy him a Budweiser because he has something to tell you. Here’s our friend, Bill Danforth.
“I DON’T WANT TO SEE A FRITO’S COMMERCIAL WITH A SKATEBOARDER IN IT. IT’S NOT IN THE SPIRIT OF SKATEBOARDING. WE’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE IN THE LIMELIGHT. WE’RE SUPPOSED TO BE THE SCUTTLEBUTT. WE’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE HEROES. WE’RE SUPPOSED TO BE ZEROES. IF WE LOOK GOOD, WE LOOK BAD.”
Tell us your name, rank and serial number.
Bill Danforth. Detroit, MI. 41 years old. Skateboarding since 1973.
In the basement of my house in Detroit. I seriously started skateboarding in ’76. I had a Bahne with Chicago trucks and wheels. I was skating whatever I could find.
Were you looking at the skate magazines at that point and checking things out?
When we could find them, yeah.
Who were your idols?
Tony Alva and Jay Adams. Tony Alva was really cool.
You looked up to Alva?
Well, he was on every other page of the magazine, so he was hard to avoid. That’s when I saw the difference between the gnarly agro skater and the guys that just had super good style. There are the agro guys like Jay Adams and Tony Alva, and then there are the super smooth Valley guy like Stacy Peralta. On the East Coast and in the Midwest, the only thing we knew was what we saw in the magazines.
Did you guys have any skateparks you were going to or were you building ramps?
We were always putting plywood up on cardboard boxes and calling them ramps. The first skatepark I ever rode was in 1977 in Port Orange, Florida. The park was called Skateboard City. Once I rode that place, I was hooked. I saw guys just ripping that park. In ’78, they built Endless Summer Skatepark in Detroit. That’s when I got my first kicktail board. Then I was really hooked. I’d seen what was going on in Florida, and I was like, “We’re going to do that here.”
What did they have at Endless Summer?
They had a freestyle area, a snake run, a keyhole pool, a peanut pool and a half pipe made out of concrete. Later on, they built a replica of the Dog Bowl. It was built by local contractors, but it came out fairly well.
Did they have a crazy grand opening day?
We had the Variflex team come around a couple of times. Eddie Elguera and Eric Grisham came out to skate twice. Alan Losi, Steve Hirsch and Patty Hoffman came out, too.
How were they when they came to the park?
They were super cool. They hung out with us, like they were our bros. Mike Folmer bailed out on his flight home and spent a extra week in Michigan. I don’t know why anyone would want to hang out in Michigan for a week, but he did.
[Laughs] Was he digging the park?
Yeah, but also, at that time, skateboarding wasn’t super hot yet, so to go places where people appreciated you was a good deal. It wasn’t like the days of staying at the Radisson either. It was the days of, “Hey, do you have a mattress I can sleep on?”
So none of the pros that came through were pulling any rock star attitude toward you?
No, never back then.
Did that surprise you?
I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. That gave me motivation. If those guys were coming all the way from California to Michigan and sleeping on floors, nothing was too good for anybody.
You were seeing those guys in the magazines and then the Varibots were in Detroit hanging out?
It was pretty fucking cool of them, for a bunch of robots. Not bad for someone that ended up selling to K-Mart. They had a cool scene back then. They had a good team.
[Laughs] Were you aware of the Duane versus the Varibots deal that was going on?
I knew what was going on and we were diehard Duane Peters’ fans out here but, the fact is, we only saw Duane one or two times when he came to skate Apple. The Variflex team came every year, which was pretty cool. Just a little of that California experience spreads all year long. When Dave Andrecht came out here with Ted Terrebonne, he blew doors.
Was he doing aerial axle stalls?
Yeah, and he was doing big backside airs, behind the foot. The fact that these heavy pros came to our skatepark got us going. That went a long way. We’d see those guys and that influenced us. It gave everybody the stoke. It made us believe we could be one of those guys. We just had to do it.
Tell us about Apple Skatepark.
That skatepark was rad. It was right outside of Columbus, Ohio, in a city called Worthington. It was a fantastic skatepark. It was way ahead of its time, just like Cherry Hill. If that place were around now, it would be a multi-million dollar skatepark. We were used to riding shitty concrete and then we had two perfect parks to skate.
How many pools did Apple have?
It had three pools. They were definitely over-built considering the standard size pools being built in the Midwest at the time. It had the egg bowl, the tiny keyhole with a foot of vert, and the L Bowl. The L Bowl is the thing everyone always remembers about Apple. It was a perfect little banked bowl similar to what the 9 bowl is at Stone Edge. It was indoors. In the middle of winter, from Detroit to Columbus was a three and half hour trip and we were making it down there on a regular basis to go skate it.
Who was your crew in Detroit?
It was Chris Moore (the drummer for Negative Approach), Bill Ferguson, Ward Cramer, Shawn Snow, Bill Munck and Doug Anne. The skatepark was my high school. I never hung out with anybody from my high school, but we had our own high school at the park. We were a bunch of fukin misfits. We created our own graduating class of skateboarders.
[Laughs] Were you guys into punk rock?
By 1981, everyone was playing in a punk rock band. The whole Toledo crew started hanging out. We’d see Minor Threat, the Misfits and the Necros because they were coming through Detroit a lot. We’d skate the park all day and then roadie all night for the bands. It was a scene that never quit. The skatepark closed at 8pm, but we weren’t done hanging out until four in the morning, and it just kept on going.
What kinds of sessions were happening at Apple?
The locals were Dave Bush, Jinx, Rob Roskopp and Ken Mollica. Kevin Tate was the manager of the park. He brought a lot of guys from California to the park. Jay Smith did a layback and blew his knee out. Jay Adams was cutting hair in the bathroom. That was punk rock. Jay Adams came with Glen Friedman to the park and he didn’t skate, but he cut everyone’s hair. That was a good day. The other park that I have to mention was Surf-N-Turf up in Milwaukee. They called it the Turf after it re-opened. That was after it was a titty bar called Bell E. Buttons.
When did you start going to Surf-N-Turf?
We had a contest series called the G.L.S.A.: the Great Lakes Skateboard Association. We’d go to different concrete parks and have contests and Surf-N-Turf was always one of the stops. Astro Speedway in Grand Rapids and Soaring High in Toledo were some of the other parks we skated. We’d go to the skatepark and enter the contest as a team. We hung out as a team, competed as a team, fought as a team and went home as a team.
What team were you on?
The Endless Summer Skatepark Team. After the last GLSA contest, I got sponsored by Madrid. That was in 1981.
What was it like in the late ’70s, when your team would roll into town and there would be other teams there?
Everyone was cool. You had a little bit of elbowing going on as everyone was waiting to drop in, but it was all in fun. We were just stoked to hang out with each other.
Who was the crew at Surf-N-Turf in those days?
It was the Beaudoin brothers, Marty Jimenez, Donnie Nelson, Worm – the one that did the layback air into invert -and Paul Hugasian. Surf-N-Turf had a really cool scene. We always said that Apple was the best.
Had you guys been to Cherry Hill?
Yeah. Cherry Hill was way better than Apple, but of all the skateparks in our area, we thought Apple was the best.
Who else was skating Apple?
There were guys like Bobby Reeves from Indiana. He was the big Powell rider. I remember him calling Stacy Peralta on the phone from Endless Summer Skatepark. Bill Ferguson beat him and he was crying like a little bitch on the phone. I was like, “Dude, get over it. You got second. Go put on a new set of Cubix, you little baby. You’re going to let your Tracker coper wear out. Oh, shit.”
[Laughs] Were you rocking the Trackers?
In 1981, I got sponsored by Tracker. Neil Blender called my parents’ house. He told my mom, “Oh, Bill’s not there? Well, tell him he’s sponsored by Tracker and there will be a box coming out to him.”
Did you ever see Neil Blender ride your parks in the G.L.S.A. contests?
No, but I skated with him at Lakewood.
What year did you go out to California?
1981. I skated with Mike Smith. Right after that, I met you in Florida at the contest at Kona. I still have your address written on a piece of newsprint Kona magazine.
That was the weekend Chris Baucom wrestled you down and wrote, “Hate” on your forehead.
Oh, yeah. The TV went in the pool and Buck Smith ate acid. They gave Barry Zaritsky’s dog a hit of acid and the dog freaked out. We broke into the back of Newton’s truck and stole a bunch of his t-shirts. Neil Blender and Billy Ruff were both there in nice little colored G&S shirts. They were a bunch of pretty boys. They said “Mrs. Ramos, can we help you carry this stuff inside?” They were being nancy boys.
[Laughs] What did you think when you saw Craig Johnson and John G?
I was so stoked to hang out with them. I knew that I wanted to travel the world with those guys and I ended up doing it, which fuckin ruled.
Those guys were punk as fuck.
Well, I’m 4’ nothing and those guys are 7’10”. They looked like monsters, but they were nice guys. Craig was a fuckin mad man. And give Johnny a guitar and he’ll entertain you all night. All he needs is a guitar, a Marlboro and a Budweiser, and you’re set.
That was a trip. Seeing everyone together like that in Florida was killer. What was it like for you in ’81 when the parks started to close down?
Endless Summer didn’t close down until ’84. We were one of the last four skateparks left. It was Kona, Upland, Del Mar and Endless Summer.
Did you see that crash coming at all?
No, but I saw the uprising of the backyard contests and backyard ramps. We were traveling to people’s backyards and skating their wooden ramps and having a tighter scene than we would have had in the skateparks. We were getting people driving from five or six states away to the old MESS series, which was then the Eastern Blowout Series. People that were involved with that were Ray Underhill, Joe Bowers, Mike Hill and Chris Carter. It’s all the people that are the heads of the industry now. They were the ones that were opening up their houses and saying, “My parents are gone this weekend. Everyone can come over and crash.” Bob Pribble and Jeff Kendall came out of that scene.