INTERVIEW BY JIM MURPHY
INTRODUCTION BY CURT “MEAGER” BAKER
PHOTOS BY CHRIS CAPO
If you named your son Buck, you probably wanted him to have an adventurous life. Hopefully, he’d be a southern man who travels around the country and to foreign lands. Maybe he’d meet a wonderful southern woman and have a beautiful daughter. Of course, he would skate and surf. But, if you also imagined that after over two decades of skating, he still rode with such aggression and purpose that the whole session took a safety step back every time he rolled in, then that kid would grow up to be a lot like BUCK SMITH.
“SKATEBOARDING IS NOT A BUSINESS FOR ME. THAT’S HOW I LIKE IT. I SKATEBOARD FOR THE FUN OF IT.”
What’s up? How you doing?
I’m doing pretty good. How are you doing, man?
I’m dripping wet in Florida sweat. We just skated.
[Laughs.] And you ain’t done yet. Let’s start at the beginning. Where were you born and raised?
I was born in St. Paul, Minnesota.
What were you doing up there?
My dad went to college up there. He met my mom up there, and then he started working for IBM. We came down to Atlanta for about a year and a half, when I was two years old, and then we moved to Jacksonville, FL.
What year were you born?
So you’re in Jacksonville and you’re four years old. What were you doing as a kid?
My dad took me to the beach. He bought me a surfboard when I was five. I started scuba diving in the pool when I was six. He took me diving at the springs and in the Keys when I was pretty young.
You got into surfing when you were really young.
Yeah, I was surfing a lot. I was skating a little bit, too. I had the steel wheels. I got my first board when I was eight years old at a local surf shop in 1976. That was pre-Kona. I got a G&S Fibreflex with some Bennetts and Sims Pure Juice.
Were there any parks in Jacksonville before Kona?
Before Kona, were you skating street and just cruising around?
Well, I had a neighbor who had a cousin from Daytona. He was really into skating. We had a good hill on our street, so everyone in our neighborhood had skateboards. There’d be 12 people doing catamarans down the street. It was all right in front of my house, which was pretty cool. We lived at the top of the hill.
Nice. What year did Kona open up?
I signed my name in the concrete in ’77, so I guess it would have been in the beginning of ‘77.
When you were growing up, and you heard that they were building Kona, did you go by there and check out what they were building?
Remember Duff’s Smorgasbord?
Publix was right there, and that’s where my parents grocery shopped, so we checked it out every trip to the store. We were watching the park being built. I skated there the first week it was open. It was funny, because they wouldn’t let you in the park without inspecting your board first. If you weighed too much and your board was too flexie, they wouldn’t let you ride. It was really crazy. It was all-hippied out in the late ‘70s. It was just a bunch of hesher, hippy, surfer dudes. The smell of swag was all over the parking lot.
Did you know what you were smelling?
Not for a couple of years, until some of the boys took me under their wing.
So when you showed up to Kona, you hadn’t ever really skated tranny?
No, I hadn’t. I was riding a slalom board with no tail. After a few weeks, there was this guy named “Fat Dog” at Kona. He did huge Bertlemanns. He’d drop in the peak and go to a Bertlemann right under the tombstone. He’d just Bertlemann the whole way around that wall. He’d rip his Birdwells all up. He moved my truck up for me, so I had a few inches of kicktail. It was flat, but I could do kickturns and stuff. Then my mom got me a board with a tail.
What was that first day like? Did the Ramos family open it?
No. Originally, it was a couple of business partners.
Was it mandatory wrist guards from the get-go?
[Laughs.] No, there was no such thing as wrist guards back then. You didn’t even have to wear shoes at first. I remember some dude named Tom never skated with shoes.
So you were fully in the hippy scene, surf skating.
Yeah, it was all surfer, hessian hippies. Seriously, that’s what it was. Lynyrd Skynyrd rules, man! Jacksonville!
What did they have in the park at Kona at the beginning?
They added a lot of cement later, but originally all the bowls were separated, even the Kona bowl and the freestyle. They built the tombstone after about two months, and then they connected the bowl to freestyle. That was all pre-Ramoses. They added a little bit of concrete when they added that tombstone. That’s when I signed my name in the concrete.
What were you thinking when you saw them building that tombstone?
We were freaking out. I remember seeing 30 people on the edge of that bowl trying to hit the tombstone. They were just trying to do wheelers and get close to the top. I was like, “There’s no way I’m getting in that session.” I was just a little kid. All the other dudes were older, hippy dudes. We were doing lines around the freestyle bowl. Everyone skated in lines because there were so many people. The snake run would have sessions. It would be downhill sessions for 20 minutes and then they would change it over. For 20 minutes, it would be forevers, where you would go back and forth and try to gyrate and keep going. They called them “forevers”. They would fill the whole snake run up with 40 people doing forevers back and forth.
Were they trying to keep people in order, where you couldn’t snake each other?
No, not at all. There were just so many people. It really worked pretty well. There were the downhill dudes and then the people that wanted to go back and forth, so they just decided to divide it off and have different sessions.
Do you remember Baucom or any of those dudes? Were they on it that early?
No, that would have been George Wilson, Mitch Kaufmann and Jimmy Plumer.
So you saw them skate early on?
Yeah, that’s where I first met George Wilson. I was just a little kid, but he was really cool to me. On un-crowded days, he’d talk to me and show me how to do kickturns. George has always been one of my idols.
He was an East Coast Z-Boy.
Yeah, him and Plumer were both Z-Boys. Plumer was East Coast and West Coast, too.
Was Plumer a Florida native?
Yeah, George and Jimmy are both O.G. Kona locals, home grown. Jimmy’s mom and dad were divorced, and I think his Dad lived out there by Marina somewhere. He got to spend the summers skating Marina, and then he’d come back here and show the boys what was up.
What were you thinking when you saw those guys tearing it up? Were you just blown away or what?
The whole scene was unreal. To me, as a kid, they were just hippie punk skateboarders. I was just a young kid, so I was blown away. I’d never been exposed to anything like that. My parents were pretty conservative. Then I pretty much started living at the skatepark. Then they had the big 7-11 U.S. Open and all of those dudes came out. Martinez was there that year, jumping off the side of the tombstone with the Velcro sky hooks. Alva, Shogo, Peralta and the whole Hobie team were there. We saw all these guys hitting the tombstone, getting out and doing tail taps. It was pretty rad.
That must have been sick. That was ‘78 or ‘79, right?
I think it was ‘78. They were only open for a year or so, and then it was under dirt for a while.
Why did it go under?
They went out of business. They put dirt in it to stop people from skating it. The freestyle and the J filled up with water. You can still see the water lines. A bunch of people shoveled the dirt out of the bowl and made a dam, so you could drop in and then jump out of the bowl. It was all BMXers mostly, at that point.
What did you do when Kona closed?
We just skated the streets. I got into surfing. Backyard skating and riding ramps wasn’t that big of a thing then. Skateboarding was still pretty young.
Who were you hanging with then?
I was skating with the kids on my street, like John Greg, and the guy from Daytona, Tony Warren. Tony was really good. He did the hand presses and all those different handstand things. He could do the Penguin up the curb.
[Laughs.] So were you aware that skating was in a fad state, and that it was kind of going out?
No, I was so young. I wasn’t really aware of nothing. I was just cruising through whatever came my way.
But you kept skating, right?
Yeah, I’d take my board up to the park when it was closed down. I’d ride what I could ride. The BMXers would be freaking out. At one point, they dug enough of the bowl out where I could drop in and go around a little bit. I’d get to the dirt and jump out. They thought I was crazy, all the hippies from Sin City.
[Laughs.] They were like, “Look at the crazy boy go.”
“He’s driving a damn skateboard in here, man. Shit.”
“What the fuck, man? Give me another hit off that joint. Check this boy out.”
[Laughs.] Yeah, Kona is on the edge of a nice neighborhood called Sin City, so there are plenty of derelicts around there.
What about the ‘80s? What was going on?
Well, I remember you guys came down here that first time.
Yeah, I remember showing up and seeing you riding. You were a punker kid with your little blond Mohawk.. We were like, “Who the fuck is this kid?” You were riding a Hosoi board, and blasting backside airs on that fiberglass halfpipe.
It was you, Chuck Treece, Tom Groholski and Steve Herring.
Yeah, we were ready. We’d heard about Kona, up and down the East Coast. It was the only concrete park we had left. We were road tripping to that contest.
Yeah, it was cool. That’s when some good stuff happened. Everybody started getting together. That’s when I really started getting into skating and paying attention to what was happening.
When did they build that fiberglass halfpipe?
I guess it would be 1980.
So after they took the dirt back out of it, they decided to build the halfpipe?
First, the Ramoses built that one halfpipe with no flat bottom. Remember that?
The blue ramp?
Yeah, that was before there were ramps with flat bottom. About a year later, they put the other ramp in. That’s the one they had all the Kona Variflex contests on. That thing was 16 feet wide, with 9 foot of tranny and a foot of vert. A lot of stuff went down there.
Was that the first halfpipe you rode back then?
Pretty much. We rode one good backyard ramp that had flat bottom that was pre-Kona’s flat bottom ramp. It was Toby’s ramp. It was all plywood with no deck on one side and no coping on one side and backyard broomstick coping on the other side. It was great.
What was the deal with Kona? Why did they put fiberglass on that ramp?
Remember Peggy Turner, the girl that skated?
Her dad had something to do with the boat industry. That’s where they first got that idea for those early fiberglass ramps.
Describe to people exactly what that halfpipe was like, man.
It had been patched so many times. They’d overlay those seams so many times.
It was pure fiberglass cloth that they put over it.
Yeah. It was just cloth. They just glassed it. It got re-done so many times, that those seams would rip up and get sharp.
If you ripped it up too much or complained about it, the ramp would have a damn sawhorse in the middle of it for a week.
I remember this session though. At one of the first Kona Variflex contests, all the Zorlac guys came there. On Friday night, they showed up with Newton, with that little trailer. That was the first time we’d ever seen anything like that. Phillips was with Zorlac then. Craig Johnson and Dan Wilkes were, too. Gibson was pro. All the other dudes were amateurs. I remember Gibson was the dude that everyone had to beat. That was the word around the park that night. Everyone else had been there all week, and he’d only been there a few hours. He was doing the backside boneless Andrechts. He was really doing them, clearing the deck and jumping onto his hand. Sessions like that were the raddest things I remember from Kona.
Do you remember seeing Craig with duct tape?
Oh, yeah. Craig and Dan. Those boys were unbelievable. I don’t even know what to say about them. They were always really cool guys.
I felt the same way. That was the first time I’d seen them too. I was like, “Those guys are gnarly.”
It was great, being 14 years old and hanging out with dudes like that. Remember Gerald from Austin? He was with them. It was punk as hell.
Those guys were rad. I learned a lot of stuff at those contests.
When I showed up you were ripping, man. Who were you skating with during those days?
That would have been Brian Fabrigolli, Bill Hodge and Shawn Adams. We grew up at Kona together.