INTERVIEW BY JAY ADAMS
INTRODUCTION BY DAN LEVY
PHOTOS BY BOBBY TRIBAL AND GLEN E. FRIEDMAN
In his youthful years Dennis was a budding star in skateboarding. He was in all the magazines and had plenty of sponsors. With the fame and the glory came the party and a definitive downward spiral that oftentimes looms in that scene. After falling on rough times and being incarcerated, Dennis served time and decided he needed to make a difference. His work with prisoners and his efforts to rehabilitate them is selfless and successful. Jay and Dennis both share the passion of skateboarding and have the scars to prove it. Here is a look into the life of Dennis Martinez.
“WE’RE FOLLOWING THE LIVES OF PEOPLE THAT SOCIETY SAYS WILL NEVER AMOUNT TO ANYTHING AND WE ARE PROVING OTHERWISE.”
Dennis, my brother, what’s going on?
Right now I’m sitting in front of my big screen and just relaxing and talking to Juice Magazine and you.
Let’s go back in time a little bit. Tell me where you were born and what growing up was like where you grew up.
First of all, I grew up in San Diego. As the L.A. boys would say, I’m a down Souther. I come from a good family. I have three brothers and two sisters, so there are six of us. I grew up in a good part of San Diego. I have the best parents any guy could ask for.
How did you stay away from the gang banging thing, being a Mexican kid in San Diego?
The way I avoided it was that I started surfing at a young age. In junior high, it was the Mexicans against the surfers and when that happened, it was easy. At that time, I was a surfer and a skater, but I knew that when the surfers were going to fight the Mexicans, that the Mexicans would win, so I fought on the Mexicans’ side. [Laughs] I wasn’t stupid.
[Laughs] I used to be one of the only 8 or 9 surfers in my junior high school. I remember walking outside the cafeteria and all the gangster kids would say, “Hey, surfer. What’s up, surfer?” It was like it was a bad thing, but that was cool because it kind of influenced me a little bit too. Did you start surfing or skating first?
I started skating first. I started skating in the fifth grade at ten years of age and that moved on to surfing. It was easy for me to get into surfing because the skating helped me, but I never really became a good surfer like you. I was better at skateboarding. After almost drowning at Sunset Beach in Hawaii, I decided to stick to concrete.
Do you remember the first time that you saw a skateboard?
Yeah. I still have my first board. I’ve got one of those Roller Derby red boards with the metal wheels. That was one of my first boards and I kept it all along. It’s in my trophy case right now. It wasn’t until a little bit later that the clay wheels and ball bearings came along. In wood shop in junior high, you’d make your own skateboard. That’s really when the excitement of skateboarding came in. I came into junior high as a skater.
Let’s go to the early ‘70s, when the Cadillac wheels came out. Did you know Gregg Weaver?
Yeah. I knew Gregg Weaver.
Were you a part of that group of La Costa guys, Steve Cathey and all those guys?
Yeah. I was already a youngster coming up in the amateur ranks. I was on Bahne, which was very involved with the Cadillac wheels. Every weekend we were up at La Costa and it was always a treat when we saw the Z Boys come down there. The Logan Brothers, Gordon and Smith and Conrad Miyoshi were there a lot. It was just one of those places to hang out on the weekend with the racing taking place. That’s what drove me to ride hard, to win and be the best.
Who did you look up to as a kid, skate wise? Was it pool riders or freestyle guys?
Well, first it was freestyle and then when pool riding started to get famous in the early ‘70s, people were just trying it out. Before that it was flat land for me, and slalom racing. As vertical skating started happening, we used to skate the San Diego State swimming pool after hours. That’s where I met you and Tony Alva. We were skating the Soul Bowl. The first time I ever hit tile was in Las Vegas in 1975. It was the best pool I’d ever ridden. It was perfect. You might have to go back real far to remember that Jay.
[Laughs] Yeah, it’s a little hard on me, dude, but you’re older, so it’s probably harder on you. It just depends on who fried their brain harder, and we’ll get to that later. Who were the early pool guys that you liked? Was it Tony Alva or Mike Weed? Who were the San Diego rippers in pools that you were looking up to when you first started?
That depends. When you look at Mike Weed and Gregg Weaver and those guys, they couldn’t really hit the top at all at that time. We were the underground skaters. Even Steve Cathey could hit the top then. We were like the pioneers of that. You had some of the guys from the Kona skate team that were hitting the pools, but that was about it. That’s why I spent a lot of my time up in L.A. skating with you guys. You and Shogo were the guys that I liked to skate with. T.A. and I were always rivals. Every time T.A. would show up, it was like dog eat dog. It was all about who could snake each other. Pineapple, Layne Oaks, Frank Zappa, Doug Marker, Mikey Lieras, Bucky, Art Dickey and Dave Andrecht were the guys I was skating with in the beginning.