INTERVIEW & INTRODUCTION by STEVE OLSON
PHOTOS BY C.R. STECYK III AND BILL SHARP
Red-Dog-Town-Original… One of the boys, D.T.S… Innovator, Craftsman, General… Have board, will conquer… Have style, will destroy… O.G. Homie… Big brother, family values… Whatta ya got??? James Muir, one and only… Stories for days, worth reading… Don’t be stupid, and do yourself a favor, and read, and absorb… It only happens once in a while… I must say, it’s nice to know guys like Muir, and his family…
Okay. Where do you come from, Muir?
I come from the Muir clan. I grew up on a little street on the south side of Santa Monica. I was born in Venice and lived there for two years and then my dad bought a house in Santa Monica and that’s where I grew up until I moved out.
The same house is still there?
Yep. My parents still live there. I’m blessed that my parents are still with me.
You’re fortunate to have cool parents.
Yeah. I’m kind of like you.
I totally get that. It’s just dope. I met your parents a little bit ago and I was like, “Oh, now I understand.” They’re just good parents.
They were always supportive. They come from a different day and age, but they still have an understanding of what it was like. I pulled up in their driveway one day on my Triumph 750 Bonneville and I couldn’t get it to kick over. I’m talking to my dad, “Dad, this is a Triumph. It gets a lot of compression and it will kick back on you.” He goes, “Well, I had a ‘38 knucklehead and a ‘35 flathead.” My dad grew up in Oakland and he was doing the blues clubs in ‘50-’52. His father was one of the guys that organized the unions for Safeway markets in San Francisco in the ‘30s, when unions were being organized and heads were getting cracked.
What was your dad doing in the blues clubs?
My dad was enjoying himself, I think.
[Laughs] Right. I didn’t know if he was playing music or something.
I think he just enjoyed the blues clubs. I remember I had my first pair of Doc Martens in ‘84. They were black patent leather with the pink suede toe on the front. I was thinking I was pimping, all rockabilly, looking good, a smooth kind of guy. I’m like, “Dad, don’t be messing with my suede.” He goes, “Oh, yeah? Well, I was wearing blue suede shoes back in ‘52.” That was pre-Elvis style. The rock n’ roll guys took it from the blues guys. The blues guy had the style and the fashion, and the rock n’ roll guys took it. Every new scene is taken from another scene.
So you’re growing up in Santa Monica. Did you start surfing immediately? You weren’t far from the beach.
Yeah. I could walk to the beach in 10 minutes or ride there in five minutes. I could skate there in six or seven minutes. You used to be able to time the lights, so it was easy. I don’t know why, but there was a kid explosion in the early ‘60s, and a bunch of people moved into the neighborhood that had kids. When I was four or five, which was ‘62 or ‘63, I rode my first skateboard, which was a red Roller Derby with metal wheels, which had a cotter pin truck set-up that didn’t turn.
Yeah, but they drilled all the way through.
You’re probably right, but they had metal wheels and they didn’t turn. There was no suspension in them, even though they were “designed to turn.” I’d ride these hills in Sunset Park on the south side of Santa Monica, so you’d start rolling downhill and collect momentum and go as far as you could before you had to jump off and run it out. To us, skateboarding back then was about how far you could go down the hill and who could go the furthest. Somewhere around ‘64 or ‘65, the first clay wheel boards came out. My first clay wheel board was a Sears Wipe-Out Fiberglass board. Everyone bought shit at Sears back then. I wish I could have gotten a Makaha, but that was the premium brand back then. During that first skateboard craze, every company jumped on it and even orange juice companies had skateboards. Someone had created a geometry for skateboarding that, to this day, most trucks are based on. I believe it was the Chicago truck. It was pre-Sure-Grip.
Chicago had the bomb trucks. They were a little more quality. They came off of roller-skates and got into skateboarding. I remember seeing those and thinking they were a far more superior quality truck.
Right. They were the same truck that was on a roller skate. They just put it on a piece of wood. It had that flat sheet-metal baseplate with the triangular hole pattern. The trucks were pop-riveted onto the metal plate. You could actually turn on that board. A lot of the older kids in the neighborhood had started surfing, and skateboarding was called ‘sidewalk surfing.’ The big thing for us was to be able to go to the top of the hill and make it to the bottom. The next thing was to go down the hill and make the turn at the bottom at full speed. We were pushing speeds of 20 or 25 MPH.
It seemed like you were flying.
The first rush from skateboarding, for me, was that you got on this board and it gained speed and you felt the wind. This motion created an adrenalin rush and then you wanted to go do it again, and you wanted to do it longer and faster. Then it became, if you were riding a skateboard, you were some kind of daredevil. We were riding bikes, go-karts, mini-bikes and whatever else would move. We would push the limits. We’d do the same thing with bikes even before there were BMX bikes. They would give you the fake motorcycle handlebars and we’d try to jump our bikes with J.P. and the crew. That was a little later on, but it was about pushing the limits because no one knew what you could do yet. Then these other kids in the neighborhood that were older that surfed had their longboards right out of the Dale Velzy, Hap Jacobs, Miki Dora era. I wanted to surf, but my parents were like, “No. You can’t surf. You’re too young.”
How old were you then?
I was 8 or 9. They had these old classic longboards and they were trying to sell them to me for $20 because they wanted to hustle to get their next board. My parents finally said, “Okay, if you really want to do this, you have to make your own money and buy your own surfboard.” So I got a paper route and bought a surfboard out of the bargain box for $30. The paper route was ridiculous slave labor. I made like $20 or $25 a month. I had to go fold the paper, bag it and then throw it to all of these houses. It took three hours a day, and then I had to collect the money from the customers. If you were really making money, it was because people gave you tips. The real money was in the $10 or $15 extra dollars you would get if the customers liked your delivery service. I saved my money and bought my first surfboard and I couldn’t even get it under my arm. I was trying to ride with it to the beach on my bike. When I first started, we’d get dropped off and picked up.
You got a ride because you couldn’t carry the board?
Right. For a few years before I had the surfboard, I was emulating all the surf moves with all the older kids on a skateboard. We found this little driveway that had a slight incline/bank, so we’d push down this driveway and do a big long bottom turn. It was only about 20-feet long, but it was angled, so we’d go up and do a cutback and a kickturn.
Did you play sports at all?
Yeah. I did all the organized sports. I played baseball, flag football and basketball at the Boys Club. The last organized sport that I was doing was Little League. I made it to the last year of Little League, but I never played Pony League. Everyone else went on to Pony League and Colt League. I was like, “Fuck that. I’m not doing that.” By that time, I had started surfing.
What year was that, just for reference?
It was 1970.
That’s when surfboards first started getting shorter.
The transition was coming down. They had the single fins, but shorter boards were in. They went down to 6 1/2 feet or 7 foot, but they were still single fins. They were big thick fat logs with a single fin.
They were heavy as logs.
Yeah. People were still using the volan cloth and glassing them like it was a longboard. Greenough was just coming into his own, and all the real designers.
They were the dudes starting to take things to the next place. Who did you surf with back then?
I surfed with all the kids from my junior high, so Biniak was there. A bunch of kids were kneeboarders, like Wentzle and Chris Cahill. There were the Valentine brothers, Nelson, Sean and Chris. Sean was a bellyboarder and Nelson was a kneeboarder and Chris was a kneeboarder. Then there was this whole bellyboard crew with bellyboards that Wesley Humpston and Kevin Kaiser used to make. They were a knock-off of the old Paipo boards. It was a flat piece of plywood and they’d glue on a handle and fiberglass the whole board and put two fins on it. They were riding these pieces of plywood, like a glorified lunch tray with two fins on it and a handle. They called them Wooden Ships. They’d charge and get sick barrels on those things.
It was a lot easier to get barreled on a bellyboard or a kneeboard because you’re lower to the face.
Yeah. The best surfer in the group back then was a guy named John Baum, and there were others. Then there were all the crews. There was the Santa Monica crew, the Venice crew and the West L.A. crew. There were all the older guys too.
Who were the older guys?
The older guys were the P.O.P. guys. They were either in high school or they were the older brothers, like Kevin Kaiser had an older brother, Pat. Of course, there was Jeff Ho, Skip Engblom, Ronnie Jay and Wayne Inouye. Just from being at the beach, you’d see who these guys were. There was a well-established hierarchy of who the locals were and how you conducted yourself and what you would do in the water. If you weren’t doing it right, you were educated. There was a little bit of grom abuse, but it was done out of love.
[Laughs] Right. Due pain or pain due.
Yeah. Most of the grom abuse would come from the guys that were two years older and had taken all the grom abuse from the guys that were two years older then them. In junior high school, they had a patio just for the ninth graders and, on the first day of school, they would wait for the new seventh graders to walk through so they could stuff them in trashcans. The only reason the ninth graders were doing that was because when they were in seventh grade, and didn’t know the tradition, they had gotten stuffed into the trashcan.
Where were you guys surfing then?
We surfed Station 27 at Ocean Park Boulevard and Bay Street. Mostly, it was Station 27. I’d ride my bike to the Venice Breakwater and go ride it sometimes, and, eventually, started suring P.O.P. I had a friend who lived in Venice that went to my same church. I was raised a Mormon, so my parents trusted me to go surfing with these older Mormon surfer guys. It was this guy, Steve Field. He worked at Con Surfboards and he’d take me surfing.
So you got to travel a little bit.
Yeah. We went to San Diego and Santa Barbara. Our parents took turns throwing us in station wagons and going up to the County Line or Malibu. When I turned 13, I realized that I could get on the Pacific Coast Highway and hitchhike and get a ride, because they didn’t have public transportation yet.
Surfing didn’t really have an accepted stigma behind it either.
Right. It was still underground. Surfers were drug addicts or bums or people that were off the grid. They definitely weren’t people off Main Street that went to school and got a job and worked at that job for 50 years and raised a family. Surfing was counter-culture. No one was making a living in surfing, unless you made surfboards. How many guys were doing well back then? Hobie Alter?
Didn’t he just die?
Yeah. That’s why I brought him up. He made a career out of it, and did some great shit.
Yeah. He did. How was it as a kid, getting in the pecking order and all of that? You’re the older brother, right? I’m just throwing that out there because I was the younger brother.
Oh, right? That’s a dynamic!
You were closer in age to your brother. There was a four-year difference between you and your brother. My brother was five years younger than me, so I was never in the same school with him.
I was never in the same school with my brother, but I was a little leech.
My brother was just old enough to where he got a taste of it all. When he was around 11, Mike wanted to start surfing but my parents wouldn’t let him. They let him boogie board, but they wouldn’t let him surf. When I got busted for smoking weed the first time, they were like, “When did you start smoking weed?” I was like, “Oh, I was at a surf movie and I couldn’t say no when it was passed to me, right?” My parents wouldn’t let my brother surf, because I smoked weed for the first time at a surf movie, but he could boogie board.
There was the separation between surfing and boogie boarding and it had nothing to do with the fact that they both came from the ocean.
Exactly. They were different crowds. Boogie boarders didn’t have a reputation then. It was just starting. Going to the beach was a big part of our life. My dad was an avid body surfer. He would take us down to the ocean and we went through Styrofoam boards and air mats and the whole nine yards.
That’s so crazy. I was never really a body surfer, but the transition of that went from mats to belly boarding to logs and longboards.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t like Jay Adams or somebody that grew up on the beach with a father that put him on a board when he was three or four years old, like I attempted to do with my son. I traumatized him. [Laughs]
Wait. How was he traumatized?
I had this longboard that I had snapped and I gave it to Chris Cahill and asked him to reshape it and make a board for my kid to go surfing on. The first time I took him on it, it was a small glassy clean day and he had a good time. The second time I took him out at Bay Street in the summertime and it was a really windy day and it was only about two-foot faces, but the ocean was moving all over the place and it was just an uncomfortable experience for him. I pushed him into a wave and I don’t know what happened. He got close to shore and he just started running for the sand. The leash was stuck on his leg and I’m holding the board, and he gets to the top of the hill and he’s still trying to run with one leg in the air. I’m yelling, “You’re okay! You’re okay! You’re okay!” I, basically, had to wait until he was ready again. When he was 10, he started going in the water again. You know how when you’re teaching someone to surf, you tell them to never turn their back on the ocean? Well, he was coming along pretty well, and then there was this one semi-low-tide day, but it had these sneaker head-high waves. I’m watching him and I see he has his back turned to the ocean and here comes this drainer head-high semi-low-tide wave and it just mopped his ass up. He continued to surf, but I was like, “That was a solid head high wave.” From then on, the thought of that head-high wave drilled into his head so hard that he would ask me, “Well, how big is it going to be tomorrow?” If I said, “It’s going to be three-foot to head-high,” he would say, “I don’t want to go.” Then I realized that I had to tell him it was only going to be knee to waist-high and I could get him out there. [Laughs] Everyone eats shits that one time and has that moment of fear that you have to get over. It’s that same thing that we all go through. I would always tell him, “Six months from now, you’re going to laugh at this.” Pretty much that’s what happened. Some kids go on and they end up going to Hawaii and they chase it. Others don’t. It’s the same thing with skateboarding. The biggest killer in skateboarding was the guy that got his license or got a girlfriend or probably both in conjunction. That would kind of kill it. Then you would know if they were a true skateboarder or not.
You started making your own boards in the early ‘70s?
Yeah. I used to make boards because of mandatory wood shop in school. All the schools had trade shops where you worked with metal, wood, plastics and drafting. At our school, one of our main projects was the skateboard, so I started making skateboards there. My dad was always pretty good about putting tools in my hand if there was a project around the house. He had tools, so I had tools at my disposal in the garage, so I would make boards in the garage too. Some were crude and some were good. Some of the boards we made in wood shop were just classic vertical laminates. They had every tool in the world and every exotic wood. We would rip down these pieces of exotic wood and put them in clamps and glue them together and laminate them onto 1/4” plywood. They were just as good as any board that any manufacturer was making at the time. We were using the same tools and same wood. They had to mass-produce stuff and they were just doing re-issues of boards they made in the ‘60s. In 1970, my mom would go to Salvation Army every week on the day that they put out the new stuff. She would nab skateboards for me and buy all these classic old ‘60s boards for $1 or $1.50. A lot of those boards were good enough to ride as is. Some of them were too short, but it they had good trucks, I would pull them off and mount them on a board I would make. Those were the type of boards we rode until getting sponsored by Zephyr Skateboards.
How did that all happen with coming into the Zephyr team for you? You were already hanging out with Biniak and Wentzle, right?
Yeah. We all went to school together. We were the guys on the Zephyr team that were on the south side of town in Santa Monica, along with Chris Cahill. Then there were guys that were from the north side of town like where Tony Alva was from. Before we went to school together in high school, we used to see Tony Alva at the school banks. That’s how I started to develop a relationship with Tony.
When did you guys start skating the banks and driveways and start to see what was possible?
Well, we went from riding hills in our neighborhood in Ocean Park, until, one day, when I was in seventh grade, someone said, “We’re going to go ride St. Clements.”
What was St. Clements?
It was this Catholic school that had this little bank on it. There was a photo of Wentzle Ruml doing a frontside kickturn in it. It was a bowl that was maybe four or five-feet high at the highest point, and we’d push down the bank and hit the bowl and come around. On the bank in the front parking lot on Marine and Second Street, there was a pretty famous photo of Natas doing a boneless off the end of it. It was a bank that went to a block wall. That’s when Natas was coming on as the new and interesting different skateboarder. He saw objects in a different light. When we saw a bank and then we saw our first swimming pool, we looked at it like, “Okay, this is a transition you could ride.” Natas looked at non-round surfaces and non-conventional surfaces and said, “That’s something I can ride.” So we would ride St. Clements every day. Chris Cahill was riding with us too. He was two years older. We’d be riding St. Clements with older guys like Pat Kaiser, and then we’d see them ride off on their bikes. They would be like, “We’re going to go check the Cove.” We’d be like, “What’s the Cove?” And they would say, “Ssssh! Shut up!” I’d say, “What the heck are they talking about?”
How old were you then?
I was 13. Then I realized that there was this spot on the other side of P.O.P. Pier where I had seen guys surfing when I was a kid. When my dad would take me to the beach, I saw Miki Dora paddle out at the Cove.
Did you know it was Miki Dora?
At the time, I didn’t, but once I started surfing Malibu, I realized it was him because he always rode these purple boards. I was like, “There’s Miki Dora.” I realized he was the guy I had seen because P.O.P. was one of his spots. We’d ride this bank at St. Clements and from there I learned about this “guarded” surf spot. Around this time, we started hearing stories about Craig Pracon and how gnarly it was and guys getting their ass kicked and shit thrown at them from the top of the pier. Then I started hearing about the banks at the schoolyards in the Palisades. Those were the school banks that the ‘60s pros like George Trafton, Davey Hilton and all the ‘60s guys, like Ganzer, grew up riding. No one knew about them from our crew, but we started hearing all these stories.
They were perfect.
It just so happened that Paul Revere had just gotten re-paved and the word went out. So we went from this little four-foot high bank to this bank that seemed 20-feet high. It was maybe 14 or 15 feet on the tallest bank.
It seemed like a monster.
Yeah. You got up on there and it seemed steep as all get out. You look down and you think, “Oh, I don’t know.” At first, you’d hold on to the fence and then you’d let go and hang on for dear life. You did that a few times and then you realized that you could take a couple of pushes and drop in. Everyone progressed on it at that level. Pretty soon, you were at the top pushing full speed and dropping in. It was like you’d see in the Go For It movie. Guys would push their ass off and drop in and charge. That was pre-urethane wheels. It was all clay wheels and we still didn’t have grip. I was riding two pieces of plywood glued together that I was making on my own. We’d repurpose surfboard shapes or just straight rectangular boards or coffins. The boards were flat. There were no kicktails then.
This is what I’m saying. Makaha had a kicktail.
Well, if you call a 1/2-inch radius a kicktail.
I’m just thinking, because we made flat boards too. Why wouldn’t we understand that if we put a little leverage point on there that it might work better? Who knows? Never did I think of making a kicktail.
Who made the first wedge tail? I’m not sure.
I don’t know, but I liked it a lot.
It made a huge difference. Even when I was riding for Tom Sims after the Zephyr team, I had boards that didn’t have kicktails on them. There’s a picture of me riding the Carlsbad Skatepark Opening Day on a flat Tom Sims board that was a piece of solid core wood and they took a router and put a router edge with a 1/4” radius. I think they put some kind of clear grip on the top. They were doing their own silica grip. Basically, it was just resin and sand.
That’s so ghetto and excellent.
That’s what I was riding at the time. I went from the Zephyr board to the solid wood board.
So you guys figured out the hush-hush secret spots, too.
Well, the school banks were common knowledge, so we would ride Kenter, Paul Revere and Bellagio. That was the epitome of what skateboarding was at that time. Suddenly, people started manufacturing skateboards again. You had your Bahne fiberglass boards, but they were making the exact same boards they made in the ‘60s. There was no progress. No one had engineered anything new. They were the same trucks and the same shitty clay wheels. That’s where this guy, Steve Field, comes back in. He worked at Con Surfboards, and he would go down to Cardiff all the time to surf. One day, he came back from surfing Cardiff and he goes, “Hey, you’ve got to ride this skateboard.” He gives me this board and I looked at the wheels and I was like, ‘It’s got rubber wheels!” He was like, “You’ve got to get on this thing and ride it.” This was still loose ball bearings. I got on this board and took three pushes and just took off. It was twice as fast and twice the grip. It was so quiet that it sounded like you were on a magic carpet ride. I was like, “Dude, where did you get these? These are the best things ever. They’re unbelievable.” He said, “Some surf shop down in Cardiff was selling them.” I was like, “I need to get some.” He said, “Well, I’m going back down next weekend.” I think I gave the guy $6 for these wheels, but $6 was a lot of money for that time. He brought me back a set, and I showed up to the school banks and I was the first guy with these urethane wheels. No one else had them yet. They were still only in San Diego. They hadn’t started channels of distribution up in our area yet. I’m riding the banks and everyone wants to try my board. I was like, “No. You can’t ride my board, but I’ll tell you where I got the wheels.” So they all started asking this guy, Steve Field, who managed the Con Surf Shop at Pico and Lincoln Blvd, to get them some wheels. He then realized that he better start selling them, so he became the first person to retail Cadillac Wheels in the Santa Monica area. At that time, the Jeff Ho Zephyr Surf Shop was in business, so I took them in there and told those guys that they needed to get these wheels. I think I might have been working at the Jeff Ho Surf Shop at that point. When I was 15 years old, I started working at Jeff Ho Zephyr shop.
What were you doing at the Ho shop?
I was the frickin’ slave. I started off as the hand sander and then I started doing rub outs and polishing boards and then I started doing some sanding. I worked in the factory on the production end of the surfboards. That’s when those guys realized they were onto something with skateboarding, and they started selling the wheels. It wasn’t really cool to go into the Con Surfboard Shop, at that time, because the Jeff Ho Shop was the cool place. When I was 12 or 13 years old, there was a shop there called Select Surf Shop. They were there for a year or so. It was a weird looking place and it was hardly ever open. One day, I’m creeping by and I realized that it had changed hands and it was now the Jeff Ho Zephyr Surf Shop. They had cool stuff. The really cool surf shop before Jeff Ho Zephyr was Natural Progression, but it was on the other side of town. Back then there was a semi-rivalry between the north side and the south side. Everyone had rivalries back then. If I needed to get wax, I had to go to the Natural Progression shop or the Con Surf Shop. When the Zephyr shop opened, that’s where I would go get stuff. Then it was time for me to get a new surfboard because I was progressing. I had this old crappy surfboard, which was that first board I ever bought, and they were making these beautiful sleek Jeff Ho surfboards that were $120 a board.
That’s pretty expensive, even for then.
Yeah. One day I went in there, and they had this brand new 6’4” rounded pin single fin and it said “Zephyr” on the bottom. They had decided to start a discount brand called Zephyr and these boards were $99.99. Zephyr actually became their premium brand. I’m like, “That’s my board.” I said, “Hey, I want to buy this board.” The guy behind the counter was Skipper and he said, “Okay, what’s your name?” I said, “Jim Muir.” He said, “Is your dad Mr. Muir that used to teach at Mark Twain Junior High and Venice High?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Oh, right! Your dad was the only teacher that ever gave me a break!” Here was this grumpy-looking salty guy that’s all gruff, and, all of a sudden, he’s the most jovial nicest guy. He said, “We loved your dad! He was the only cool teacher.” That was my “in” to the shop. That’s how I ended up working there. A couple of people worked at the shop. Wes Humpston worked at the shop, but he was gone by then, because he was a couple of years older. Nathan Pratt was the shop boy, but he was the guy that worked there the longest. He was already working there when I started working there, so I battled Nathan for work. We got paid 50 cents for doing a hand sand job and $1 for a rub out. It was piecework, so I battled him for the work. At the same time, they were starting to develop their surf team and they had some people rallying behind them as the local brand. The main guys were all surfing the Cove, and by then I’m surfing the Cove, and the majority of them were riding Jeff Ho Zephyr Surfboards. They were all the older guys that I looked up to. All the older guys would teach me the unwritten rules of conduct in the water and how you would go and surf other places. A lot of places, you couldn’t go surf, but these guys could go surf everywhere. They were like, “There are ways to do it. Show respect.” Surfing other locations is how I built a lot of the relationships that I still have today. You would go there and then those guys would be like, “Okay, you guys are alright.” A little bit later, the skateparks started opening up, so we built up relationships with all the skateboarders who surfed at these different locations in Santa Barbara, Oxnard, Malibu, South Bay, Huntington, San Clemente and San Diego. That’s how it divided up, until you skipped up to Nor Cal. There were a few guys that surfed central California, but then you had your Nor Cal guys pre-Winchester, like Tim Marting. This was even before Blackhart. There was Kevin Reed, and he was a great all around surfer/skateboarder.
Kevin Reed was great. Wait a minute. So you’re surfing and you’re skating these banks, before the whole thing, so it was this big melting pot. You’re at the banks and everyone is there.
I’ve never gone this deep into the history of this ever. You know how to ask the right questions.
Oh good, because I’m thoroughly interested because you’re my friend. I’m just curious. So you guys are skating the school banks on urethane wheels and you had that whole transition.
Yeah. That was when I told Jeff Ho they needed to start selling those urethane wheels, and there were all these kids skating and surfing. At the time, the Zephyr team was making in-roads with their surf team and they used to have competitions with other shops. The Zephyr crew was big and bold and they had the attitude and they’d go surf wherever they wanted. There was a lot of attitude involved with all of this stuff. Every shop had it. Ventura had their attitude. Oxnard had their attitude. So we had these urethane wheels and this goes into where the Dogtown and Z Boys documentary picks up. You’ve got Skip and Jeff and they’re like, “We’ve got this surf team and this skateboard contest is coming up. We should get into the skateboard business.” Somehow between Jeff, Skip and Jay’s stepdad, Kent Sherwood, they decided to make this skateboard that I feel was modeled off the 1966 Makaha Super Surfer. It was a banana board and it looked like a surfboard. They naturally picked these guys that were hanging out riding their boards. Some of the guys were on the surf team already and then they picked some kids from the neighborhood. I said, “You guys should get this Tony Alva dude.” Tony was a Blue Cheer dude, and Blue Cheer was the shop on the other side of town after Natural Progression moved to Santa Monica Canyon and became more of a Pacific Palisades/ Malibu type entity. Blue Cheer was on Wilshire and 30th. I was like, “You’ve got to get this Tony Alva kid.” Jay Adams was already there with us too. He lived on the South side. The first time I ever saw Jay was at Malibu. At the time, he was riding, CME Surfboards, which was a valley surfboard company. I see Jay and he’s this little kid and he’s surfing pretty good and then he does this maneuver and he’s out of control and he shoots his board out and loses his board. As he’s swimming in, he’s diving down and picking up rocks and he’s throwing rocks at his surfboard as it’s getting washed in. He does that the whole way until he gets up to the surfboard and then he takes a rock and dings it and puts a hole in the bottom. I was like, “Hey, dude, what are you doing?” I scrimped and saved to get money for a board. I had to make money passing out flyers and when I turned 15, I got a work permit and I was working at Kentucky Fried Chicken right there on Lincoln and Pier Ave. It’s a Starbucks now. So I see this punk little kid and he goes, “Fuck it. I’ll just get another board! Arrrgh!” He was sponsored already. That’s when Jay was hanging out with Dave White all the time. Then I saw him at Five Summer Stories. We all go see Five Summer Stories and I see Jay skating for the first time. We were so stoked this surf movie was coming. The Five Summer Stories screening in Santa Monica in ‘72 was this huge scene and everyone was out front skateboarding for three hours before the movie started. We were seeing Gerry Lopez surf Pipeline in slow motion. That’s when they started having the surf movies with the next generation of surfers after Gerry Lopez, Rory Russell, Jackie Dunn, Reno and that crew. The next crew was when Bertlemann started showing up in ‘73. That’s when we started to really emulate those surf moves. No one was doing those low surf maneuvers until those stinger boards came out and Mark Liddell, Larry Bertlemann and Buttons Kaluhiokalani were coming up.
I just remember seeing Bertlemann surfing C Street. He was making bottom turns and hitting the lip and switching stance. I was like, “Who is this maniac?”
He was switching stance at the lip and bringing it back down. So we see Jay skating for the first time. We’re skating these banks and we’re getting to know who all of us are. It’s already me, Biniak, Cahill, Wentzle and the Valentines because we all went to school together, so we had this pretty good crew. Then Jay moved into our neighborhood when Kent and Philaine got the house right by where Wes Humpston lived.
It blows my mind that Five Summer Stories came out in ‘72.
That’s when we started seeing all that stuff and riding our boards that way. Surfing was going off and the whole short board revolution was going to a whole new level. Guys were starting to ride short boards right before the twin fin. That’s when they put the Zephyr surf and skate team together. They had the surf team and then they started the skate team.
Remember when they would show Bertlemann cut his fin? He had the long box and he would put it further up? The snap turns he would do at Ala Moana were insane.
I’ve seen footage of him coming out of the barrel at Kaiser’s and hitting it where it would slow down on the reef and just snapping it back around. It was insane. Bertlemann, Buttons, and Mark Liddell were the guys.
I was surfing Makaha when I was on a family trip as a kid, and there was this dude named Young. He was just this crazy West Side dude, and I’d never seen a dude surf like that. He surfed like those dudes. This was ‘72 or ‘73. Homeboy had it dialed where he could surf regular or goofy, the same. He was just one of those Hawaiian dudes. The Carvalho brothers could rip too. Anyway, this dude would time it to where he was surfing backside and he would come back and get the backwash coming back up and go up and loop himself and as he’s coming up and the lip was exploding, homeboy would get himself locked into the lip and get pitched and switch stance grabbing his rail regular foot, and coming back around almost pulling these barrel roll explosions. I never saw him except for surfing with him at Makaha, but this dude ripped as hard as those dudes. He was one of those Hawaiian cats that just ripped. Those cats were so influential. Okay. So you’re out front skating at the surf movies.
Yeah. These were huge events because we didn’t have the Internet. We didn’t have cell phones. We didn’t have VHS. It would take a guy a whole year to make the movie.
They had these huge sound systems blasting this music too.
Yeah. They would do a tour of civic centers and auditoriums and people would wait for these movies and they were big events. Then you had these guys that put on the Del Mar contest in ‘75, and they came up with the big idea of having this skateboard festival and they sold booths. By this point, in San Diego, you had a skate industry. You had Bahne and G&S, and the Logan guys were involved then. You had different surf brands like Kanoa.
Yeah. Bahne, Logan and G&S were pro.
All the ‘60s guys had come out of the woodwork, so you still had freestyle. The crazy thing about this was the only thing that the media covered was freestyle, slalom and contests. That’s the only thing they knew. We had all these school banks we were riding, and there were some guys in other areas that had little banks here and there, but they didn’t have the banks that we had. To us, it seemed like it was such a simulated wave riding flowing experience. To show up and compete against these other guys, we had to show them who we were, so Skip and Jeff actually had us out there practicing. They realized that you had to be a freestyle guy, so that’s how they found Cris Dawson, and then Cris Dawson got Tom Waller on the team. These guys were out there trying to teach us how to be these freestyle guys. We were like, “Okay, we’ll give it a go.” We had to go and practice on Bay Street next to the shop and then we’d go to Bicknell Hill and do our slalom. What we really wanted to do was skate the banks. In ‘76, right at the end of the Zephyr shop closing, Steven Piccolo, who was a Brentwood guy, was really good at doing handstands. He had been skating Paul Revere, Kenter and Bellagio and his older brother, Chris, was a good skateboarder too. Chris Piccolo was a sponsored skateboarder in the ‘60s. He could do freestyle and he rode all the banks. He was what we’d call “a little shady,” but he was one of our bros. He was a constituent. They were the guys that took us to our first pool. We called it the Barrington pool, which wasn’t a pool; it was a pond with slate rock coping and it almost went to vertical. The house had burned down from the Bel-Air fires in the ‘60s.
Doesn’t Nathan have a picture at the Barrington pool?
Yes. His board is at the middle of the transition and his hands are on the bottom. It’s his attempt at a Bertlemann that Stecyk shot. It was not something that you did within your flow. It didn’t go to vertical. It went to 65 degrees plus. It was like a saucer bowl with rocks at the top. You could get in there and ride and carry speed and carry your flow. Once we started riding there, there was no going backwards. At that point, we realized that you could ride pools. A lot of the guys took on the freestyle thing and really got serious about it, but I always thought it was a joke. I would go through the motions. I could do all those tricks like the one-footed nosewheelie, but I couldn’t do the 360’s like those guys could do. I always thought it was lame. You’d see Tony go out there and do freestyle at Del Mar, just like they showed in the Dogtown and Z-Boys documentary. Everyone was doing wheelies and headstands and handstands. Then you see Jay and Tony go out there and they had this little tiny 6-inch high angled bank type thing and they were coming up and whipping it around and then we all went out and did the same thing. We were all pushing around as fast as we could, and gyrating and throwing Berts and backside slashes, and we’d throw in a little wheelie in between. Although I did get into slalom, it was like going back to the first time of going down a hill. It had that flow and adrenalin, with a competitive aspect.
There’s a little amount of adrenalin going there.
That burst of speed and that adrenalin opened up the door to me and that’s why I like action sports. I did slalom and there was a lot of thrill with that. Going up and charging hills in a canyon that you’ve never seen before, just going from the top all the way to the bottom, there was definitely a huge rush in that. By this time, we had found the second pool we rode, which was called the Rabbit Hole. It was, literally, a pool shaped like a rabbit head. It was super steep and gnarly and a lot of people got hurt there. Pat Kaiser tore his Achilles tendon there. He was a great surfer and he was out for a year. Tony was such a competitive guy. The Rabbit Hole was tight and small and it had benches on it and Tony got in there and actually rode the thing. That’s when I knew that he was skateboard talent and he was committed to being the gnarliest at it. No matter what anyone did, he always had to one-up someone. I was like, “Whoa, Trigger, slow down.” By that time, Barrington was a bust. Then these kids came by the Rabbit Hole pool and said, “There’s another pool down in Santa Monica Canyon.” That was the Canyon pool, which was the first big open kidney, so that opened up a whole other door. Now we have the Canyon pool and we’d go there, but these guys still wanted to go ride slalom at La Costa. I was like, “What? I’m not driving two hours for that.” I did it a few times, and enjoyed it. We were friends with all those guys and we had our friendly rivalries, but those guys were so serious about it. At that point, none of us were practicing. We’d just freestyle hills, and the slalom guys were going to La Costa every weekend where they would set up cones and race. We would just show up at the contest and go head-to-head with them. Every one of us beat one of them at one time. The last contest I went to where I realized the format really sucked was at the California Free Former event at the Long Beach Arena. They blew it up and had huge media and made it a huge thing, but they made all these stupid ugly obstacles. They put this wannabe transition bank to wall ride for the highest kickturn and they had barrel and high jumps. The floor was the most slippery surface with a plywood starting ramp with cones set up in a straight line across the auditorium floor. I was doing slalom on the shittiest course ever and I thought, “This sucks. This is not skateboarding.” That moment was a big difference for me. At that point, I realized that pool riding was the future for me, and skateboarding, in general. I actually rode for G&S at that Free Former contest. I rode for G&S for one week.
I was there as an observer.
Fibreflex put me on the team hoping I was going to come in and be this great performer and I slid out on the slalom course. I was like, “I’m not a high jumper or a barrel jumper. That’s great for Tony Alva, Ty Page and Mark Bowden.” The Free Former guys were barrel jumpers, except for Ty Page. Ty Page was a good all around athlete. I was like, “This crap is whack.” Skateboarding had gone backwards to worse than what it was at Del Mar. At this point, you had to be sponsored, so I was looking around and that’s when I got on Sims. I went to a couple of contests with Sims and did well and made some good relationships with Davey Miller, Doug De Montmorency, John Stevenson, Lonnie Toft, Stevie Monahan and his sister. Everyone liked Stevie Monahan’s sister. By then, I was hanging out with Wes Humpston all the time. Then skateparks started coming around.
What about Carlsbad?
In 1976, Carlsbad Skatepark, the very first skatepark, opened and I was riding for Sims. They had that little bowl and the snake run. We were like, “This is where you can pump and go fast and throw your weight and get your speed and your flow and simulate your surfing moves and it’s a rush. You can put tricks together. This is what skateboarding is about.” A lot of people were like, “What’s a skatepark?” We would all draw pictures of the obstacles you could put into skateparks, but skateboards hadn’t progressed because we were still riding flat skateboards. We still didn’t have kicktails, but the wheels had gotten a little bigger and better. We were riding the Sims Pure Juice wheels and we had Bennett trucks. We were still doing contests, so I went up to San Francisco with the Sims team to the Cow Palace contest, and I beat Tom Sims (R.I.P.) on this stupid plywood ramp and then came up against Henry Hester. I slid out on one cone and beat him on the second run, but all he had to do was make the second run to advance. In my opinion, Tom Sims never forgot the fact that I beat him at Cow Palace. [Laughs] He knew I was one of the guys. He had Lonnie Toft, Biniak and me. We were his three bowlrider, pool rider and downhill guys. When it came time for the Signal Hill downhill contest, they only allowed two riders from each team to go in, so he put Biniak and himself in, instead of me, and I was all pissed off about it.
Oh really? How long did you ride for Sims?
I was on Sims for a little bit. I did a few contests. There were a lot of events that were starting to go on.
Skateboarder was out by now too.
First, it was the Skateboard magazine, which Jim O’Mahoney did in ‘75, and then Skateboarder came out and we started doing photo shoots with Bolster. Sims had started doing the taperkick boards and I give Sims a lot of credit because he was an innovator. He was the smart guy because he was the guy that used to ride a waterski as a skateboard back in the day. When he needed to find manufacturing for his skateboards, Sims found a waterski manufacturer called Endo’s Skis, which was owned by Mike Plunkett. Plunkett had been the world’s barefoot speed skier world record holder. I think he was a water ski record holder too.
Yeah. The boards, to this day, are some of the most beautiful boards ever made. I think the Maherajah boards were made there too and they were good looking boards also. You had people up and down the coast getting into skateboard manufacturing. You had guys in San Jose, San Francisco, San Diego and Huntington and all the surf companies.
All the surf companies jumped in.
You had all these hokey contests going on up and down the coast. We had been doing the contest circuit with the Zephyr team and then the Sims team. One day, Binak and I went to the Sims factory and Tom had these three skateboards there. They were the first laminated bent kicktail boards ever manufactured. They were 30” long and they had a bend in them like a waterski. I don’t know who came up with the idea, but they already had the molds from making water skis. To make wood bend, you have to use laminated wood. To make a board last, it needs to be laminated. We found out the hard way that you can’t do it with solid core wood. Sims gave one board to me, one to Biniak and one to Lonnie Toft. Mine was a 1/2” thick three-ply laminate and Biniak’s was even thinner and lighter, but it had fiberglass in it. It’s material that’s probably illegal to do now. [Laughs] We started riding those boards and that’s when we found the Keyhole. The Keyhole was above and beyond the deepest and most interesting-shaped pool we’d seen at that point. When you start thinking about fantasy pools you’d like to skate, the Keyhole was it.
How did the Keyhole come about though?
By this point, there was a whole other interesting crew of characters from Beverly Hills. Amongst that group was the Grimes brothers, who didn’t live in Beverly Hills, but went to school there. We skated that with Marty Grimes and the BYO guys, A.K.A. the Better Youth Organization.
The Stern brothers were there skating?
Yep. That crew from Beverly Hills High School spawned BYO and Youth Brigade. There are all these interlinking tangibles of what was going on in skateboarding and how the music scene evolved. There was the whole element of skating, partying and rock n’ roll. We built relationships with these guys through skating pools and going to see live music.
You were good at building up relationships. You were smart. I remember when we met you and it wasn’t like you were trying to get something out of these guys. You were just making friends with everyone.
I looked at it like creating a circuit. It was a riding circuit and a friend circuit. Then you had your inland guys like Wally and Strople. This was pre-Upland skatepark. You had your Baldy Pipeline guys. A lot of those guys were interlinked through the Sims team or other teams. We learned, at this point, everyone had their own spots. Sometimes if you wanted to keep your spot, you might have to not tell anyone about it. We found that out the hard way too. There were certain people that we used to skate with all the time that we couldn’t tell them anything. We ended up getting down to a more serious pool crew. I ended up having a crew of Bobby Biniak, Wes Humpston, John Palfreyman, Gary Rozsa, and sometimes we would include Stacy Peralta, because Stacy had a car. If you watch the Dogtown documentary, you see Stacy say that he was the only guy with a car. Well, he wasn’t the only guy with a car, but he had a reliable car, so if we needed a ride, we’d call him sometimes. At one point, we were like, “We have to get Stacy riding pools because the guy is too much of a freestyler.” [Laughs] He was the star for G&S with the 360 hair. That was Stacy. We had progressed, so I quit riding contests. I wasn’t riding anymore slalom. All we were doing was searching for pools to ride. These kids told us about the Canyon Pool, so we rolled that and then we hooked up with the network of guys that turned us on to the Keyhole, which was in the middle of Beverly Hills. It was this mansion that was being remodeled and this pool was shaped like an old-fashioned skeleton keyhole. Some of these pools that we rode were probably some of the best pools ever ridden. We just got super lucky. The Canyon Pool was this huge wide kidney. If we had known better, the things that we could have been doing in that pool were unbelievable. Each pool had some story about it. The Canyon Pool was this abandoned property in the Santa Monica Canyon that was completely overgrown. Peter Graves lived across the street. He was the guy that was in Mission: Impossible, the TV series. After a while, he figured out what was going on over there, so this Mission: Impossible guy, started calling the cops on us, so we had to start going stealth on him. We had to hide our cars down the street, sneak in through the bushes, or climb through the hillside. There was a tree house on the hillside, so we had a lookout to watch for the cops. If we saw anyone, we would run and hide. That’s where the whole cat and mouse thing came in. Then they tried to fill up the pool, so we went and found another pool in the valley. It was at an abandoned place and then we found a pool pump.
We were like, “That’s coming home with us. Okay, now why don’t we try to go back to the Canyon Pool?” By then, the Canyon Pool was a bust because of Peter Graves, so we had moved on to the Keyhole pool. Then we realized that people thought the Canyon Pool was over, so we took this gasoline-powered pool pump and pumped the pool out. We were there for two or three hours every day and then we’d stash the pump. We would pump water out of it for a few hours and then split. We were trying to figure out schedules of when we could go do stuff.
The Beverly Hills guys turned us on to the Keyhole and the Keyhole was badass. There are shots of Biniak and me skating there in the “Pool Symposium” article in Skateboarder magazine. If you look at the article, everyone was asked the question, “How long have you been riding pools?” It was me, Brad Logan, Tony Alva, Biniak, Arthur Lake, Gregg Weaver, Murray Estes and Lonnie Toft. I’m missing a couple of guys. They had the roller-skate guy, Kenny Means.
Did it have Waldo in it?
Waldo Autry was in it and Mike Weed.
You were friends with Waldo, right?
Yeah. We were friends with Waldo. We were friends with all those guys. The thing was that if you looked at all the pictures from that time, most of those guys were just barely past the vertical line on the pool. If you look at the photos of Biniak, me and Tony, we were all either hitting the coping or on the tiles. Tony was riding a Logan Earth Ski at the time. You know how they say, “It’s not the board. It’s the rider.” There’s a certain amount to be said for that. We were riding far superior equipment, but Tony was doing everything we were doing, if not more, on this shitty Bruce Logan model from Logan Earth Ski. The board weighed twice as much. Biniak and I were riding these lighter boards and it was great. Then the Keyhole became a bust and when the police would come in one way, we’d go out the other way.
Then we were there filming with Hal Jepson. This was the first time I got caught for trespassing, for skating a pool. We took Hal Jepson there. It was me, Hal Jepson, Tony, Stacy, Biniak, Ray Allen… We all got hauled off to the Beverly Hills Police Station for trespassing. That was the first time these cops had ever dealt with skateboarding as a crime. That’s why we got away with a lot of this stuff because they had never dealt with that before. They didn’t know what we were doing and we didn’t really know what we were doing yet. We didn’t know the possibilities.
You weren’t really trying to trespass. You were just riding the pool.
Yeah. We were just looking for the next best riding experience. We were trying to keep that adrenalin rush going. We were trying to keep that flow going. You could only surf in the morning and, if the surf was flat, maybe sometimes we’d go skate early. That way you could beat the crowds. There are guys that still do that to this day. Most people nowadays don’t like to get up early if they skateboard, because they can skate all day long, unless it’s raining. We were pool-riding junkies and that’s what we were all about. We knew that we were onto something. By this time, different crews started to have their own pools. There were some pools down in San Diego. There were the pools where they tore down all the houses from the LAX expansion. The guys up in Ventura rode pools. I saw pictures of Lonnie Toft riding one of those pools, but there was a big difference at that time. In this story, “Pool Symposium,” everyone was asked how long they had been riding pools. Everyone said, “Nine months,” except Tony Alva said, “Three to four years.” A few other guys were saying a year and a quarter or a year and a half. I’m like, “I’ve been skating with Tony for a couple of years now and he never rode any pools before the Barrington Pool.” That’s how quickly it progressed. From the Barrington pool to the Canyon Pool to the Keyhole to the “Pool Symposium” article was only about nine months. The transition happened fast. Biniak and I are riding these boards, and then Biniak wore his out and gave it to Wes Humpston. In the meantime, I had gone to Mt. Baldy Pipeline and done a photo shoot with Warren Bolster. This is where I thank Tom Sims for everything he did to push me into making skateboards.
My mom, who used to go to the Salvation Army, found this old ‘60s Makaha Skateboard Club patch on an article of clothing and I was like, “Wow. That’s really cool. That’s classic.” It goes back to the Makaha Super Surfer skateboard that I never had as a kid. I said, “Can you sew that onto my shorts right here?” I was really stoked on that patch. By that time, I had built up respect for my elders and I was into the history of things. I understood that the early guys in Southern California, like Miki Dora, had realized that there was a certain way to conduct yourself and you have to earn respect. It was the unwritten law of how to do things the right way and the wrong way that still exists today at certain levels at different locations. In other places, it’s completely out the window. It’s how you conduct yourself without making a nuisance of yourself. So I was really stoked on this classic Makaha patch. I never thought it would cause a problem, so I wore it to that photo shoot. We stopped at the Tom Sims factory on the way home to say, “Hey, we just did the photo shoot at Mt. Baldy Pipeline!” When we first got there, we couldn’t find anyone in the place and then Tom walked out naked. He was in his warehouse naked with the doors wide open where anyone could walk in during business hours.
We were like, “What the fuck? Put on some clothes, bro.” I think Tom was doing a lot of blow then. We told him we had done the photo shoot with Bolster, and he looks down and sees that Makaha patch. Makaha wasn’t even a company anymore, but they were suing everyone over the kicktail. Makaha had the patent for the 1/2-inch radius kicktail, and the Logan guys had those wedgetail solid core boards. It was Kanoa, Logan and some other companies.
I just remember Logan.
That’s right when Makaha decided to try to sue everyone, so Tom was super pissed. He was like, “What are you doing wearing a Makaha patch? Those guys are suing everybody! I can’t believe you wore that to a photo shoot! It’s on your frontside too!” I was the big frontside guy.
You had the frontside attack.
Yeah. That’s the day that they got that photo of Biniak on the flat wall that ended up being the iconic Skateboarder magazine poster. Bolster took photos of me at Carlsbad and Mt. Baldy Pipeline and at other places, but that day it was me, Biniak, Waldo and Mike Weed. That was Bolster’s period of time that he got good skate photos because after that he switched to just being a surf photographer.
Right. He jumped. He was done.
Skateboarder was done and he went to Surfer. He followed the employment track.
I think Bolster really pushed his photography. He was just going for it. So you never got any photos from that session?
No. From that session, Waldo got a photo and Biniak got that poster at Baldy.
There’s that one good shot of Weed from there.
Yeah. He was just coming out of the pipe right at the lip.
Yeah. He was wearing orange sweat pants.
Yeah. Waldo had the iconic Baldy photo, which was a backside kickturn, and Biniak had the regular foot side, high on the flat wall, and his style was epic. He looked like he was glued to his board. At that point, those two guys careers were based off of what they could do on the vertical wall at Mt. Baldy Pipeline because the equipment hadn’t evolved yet. The equipment still sucked. A lot of photos came out of that day, but never anything of me.
Why do you think that is? Was it because Sims was pissed?
He was pissed because I had this Makaha Skateboard Club patch like I wasn’t being true to the brand. I’m like, “Bro, it’s just a classic patch. My mom sewed it on.” He was like, “Fuck you! Fuck you!” And he kicked me off the team.
No. Really? [Laughs]
Yeah. Here I am, I’ve got this board and it’s the best board I’ve ever ridden in my life, hands down. It was a 1/2-inch laminated, bent tail, no wedge tail, and no one else had one. Biniak had one. Lonnie Toft had one and I had one. Now I’m not on the Sims team, so I’m semi-out of touch with Lonnie because we weren’t doing any team-related stuff. Biniak got picked up by Logan Earth Ski, so now Biniak is riding Logans. I was like, “I can’t ride those boards. Those boards suck. How am I going to make a board like that Sims board?” Biniak gave his board to Humpston and by this time Humpston and I are riding together. We had our core pool crew of guys that were really into it. That’s when we knew that if we found a pool, to keep it from being a bust, you had to be really low profile. That’s also when we realized that you could find pools just by driving around looking for them. We were looking from different vantage points and looking down alleys and there were tons of pools because that’s when the drought was going on. By then, skateboarding was super popular, so as you were driving down the street and saw a group of kids, you could yell, “Hey, do you know where any empty swimming pools are?” We were riding these boards and they’re almost done. I was like, “Wes, what are we going to frickin’ ride? I’m not sponsored. I don’t want to ride one of those crap boards. All I want to do is recreate this ride.” I’m working at the Zephyr shop and sort of becoming a semi-craftsman. I know how to handle a grinder and all the shop tools like jigsaws, so I’m cutting out my own boards, and I had already made a bunch of boards in the past. When I was 15, I had a part time job doing construction during the summer and this guy would take me to this place that was a hardwood distributor. I told Wes that this was the place that we could find the good wood. We knew we had to get something light. We knew enough about surfboard design and skating that we realized lighter was better. That’s where some of the quotes came from. One of my famous quotes in Stecyk’s articles is, “Dead weight is lost energy.” We realized that lighter was better and that’s what had started to happen with surfboards too. They were getting smaller, lighter and more maneuverable. We knew we had to find the right wood that best simulated the laminated boards that we were riding. We first went to oak, but when we went to the thinner 1/2-inch oak, we realized that it split too easily. That’s why oak was always 3/4-inch because it could take the impact. We tried maple, birch, ash, alder and poplar, and we figured out that there were three kinds of wood you could ride in 1/2-inch. You could ride birch, ash and maple, but ash was by far the lightest to strength ratio, so that’s the wood that we used for ourselves. We bought the first couple of pieces of wood and cut out the shapes and decided to just bend the tail, so we soaked it in water. You learn about this stuff in shop class. We soaked it in water for three days. We put as much weight as we could on the back of this thing. Sure enough, we got nice bends in the wood after three days. We were like, “Yeah! We got it!” We set up the boards and went and rode the pool and, by the end of the session, the tail had gone back to being flat because a solid piece of wood won’t hold the bend. That’s why you have molds and different plies going in different directions. Basically, it was what Eames did with furniture. All of the original board makers were either furniture makers or water ski guys that bent wood for furniture or water skis. We realized, “We’re just going to have to put a wedge tail on it.” It’s interesting because I got paid to testify for Makaha and I said that if you didn’t have a kicktail, you couldn’t ride the skateboard. They came to me and said, “We’ll pay you to say that you need to ride a kicktail.” So I got $200 for going and doing an affidavit for Makaha.
Wow. That was good money then.
Yeah, back then, that was big money. I was like, “Okay. I’ll say it because it’s true.” They only asked me one question. “Does the kicktail hold your foot on the board and serve a function?” So then we went and got the next pieces of wood and cut them out and tried to figure out how to glue on a piece of wood. A guy in wood shop said we had to use two-part epoxy. The only place you could get that was at the art store, so we went to the art store and five-finger-lifted this stuff, mixed it up and clamped the kicktail on, but we first had to make our own kicktail with the grinder. We had to sit there and grind the bevel into it. We set these boards up and rode them and it was like, “Whoa.” It was the same shape as those Sims boards. Those boards were maybe 6 1/2-inches wide. We tried other glues that didn’t work. They would just pop off on impact. I don’t remember what they were because they didn’t work.
Wait. After Carlsbad Skatepark opened, more skateparks got built, like Upland, Lakewood, Spring Valley and Marina.
Yeah, Upland first opened up without the combi bowl. They had the bowl and the pipe connected with the six-inch rounded edge where a bunch of people learned lip tricks. There was Lakewood with that halfpipe and the rust bowls in the Marina where Stacy learned all his slides. There was that weird banked pill capsule bowl at the Marina. No one skated that except for Stacy. He rode those rust bowls for hours and hours learning his tricks. We’d see him down there when we were riding the pool. We were like, “Fuck, Stacy, c’mon and ride the pool.” He took all those tricks into the rust bowl and when the halfpipe at Lakewood came along, he took all his tricks onto that and did them with speed and flow. I saw Ray Bones and Cab for the first time at Lakewood. I’d already seen you around. Guys were starting to do some really progressive skateboarding. When Upland built the combi bowl, Salba and Miller and those guys really came on and the Hester series was going. That’s all skateboarding was at that point. It was all about the Hester series and a few skateparks.
You’re right. That’s all it was really. That was crazy.
From the Zephyr team, the guys that continued in skateboarding were Shogo, Paul Constantineau, Tony, Stacy, Wentzle, Jay, Biniak and me. All the other guys went surfing or just dropped out or moved to Hawaii. Baby Paul hung in there. By that time, Shogo was at the top of the game, but there was no money to be made anymore.
Shogo moved to Cherry Hill.
Yeah. He moved to Cherry Hill and got super, super good. He had the cleanest style.
He had a wicked tail tap.
He had the tail tap and the layback. All those guys modeled their laybacks after Shogo, like Christian Hosoi. Jay Smith’s layback was gnarly.
Yeah. What about John Stevenson? John Stevenson was the rubber man from up above Oxnard. Okay. What about the movie Skateboard? Were you in that movie?
Yes. I was in that dumbass movie starring Leif Garrett. That was a complete and utter nightmare of debauchery and people thinking that they were Hollywood.
That was Dick Wolf right?
Yeah. He does CSI and has had a huge career.
Who was in that movie?
Tony Alva got a spot. Ellen O’Neal was the girl in there. Leif Garrett was the biggest teenage heartthrob at the time and he was the star.
He was huge.
Yeah. So a bunch of us got these extra spots. They put all the skateboarders in a bus and drove around to different events. Manny Bloom was the team captain.
Who was the Jefferson Starship dude that was in there?
Did you know Chuy Madrigal back then?
Yeah. He was one of the racers in it, just like me. I got paid a few different times to show up at Skatercross and some hill where they were filming a downhill contest. At Skatercross, you got to see the competitive nature of skateboarders. My team was skating against Tony Alva’s team, so I’m competing against Tony in the race. If you watch the movie Skateboard, you’ll see Tony and I pushing against each other going into the first turn. Tony was on the left and I was on the right. I didn’t really take it serious. I was just there to do the thing. Tony is pushing hard though, so I had to keep up. We both come into the bowl at the same time and since I’m at the lower part, he was at the top, so he had the better line. I was down lower, so I had to not hit him. If I had stayed on my line, I would have pushed up into him and knocked him out of the bowl. I tried to keep a lower line, which I wasn’t used to. I had so much speed going on that little shitty skateboard that I just hit the bowl and crumbled and sprained my ankle really bad. I had it all wrapped up with an Ace bandage after that. We did about ten runs so they could get the takes they needed. After that, it just wasn’t worth it to me to get hurt anymore, but I had to finish the day to get my check. You can see that Tony had the lead on me the whole rest of the way.
What was it like going into the Valley to go skate, knowing there were some good things to ride?
The first time we went, we had heard about this pool in the Valley and it was this square pool. That’s where I met Shreddi Repas. He showed up there. That was another place I got hurt. Shreddi was there and he was the little rat kid. I don’t even know if he was hanging out with Jer and those guys because he was the first Valley guy I met and those guys weren’t around. Anyway, Shreddi was killing it. He was really good at this shitty square pool, but it was super slippery. I ended up breaking my wrist for the first time in that pool. Prior to that, we had all these great round pools. We had rode one shitty square pool up in Topanga that had Manson Family writing all over it. It was super small and tight. That pool sucked. Sometimes I would go to these pools only one time because the pool sucked. We had the Canyon Pool and the Keyhole and these unbelievable pools that spoiled us.
I get it. Why would you go ride a shitty pool, if you have a good pool?
Yeah. Then I realized that there are all kinds of pools out in the Valley.” The title of Craig Stecyk’s Skateboarder article was “Things Are Really Getting Hot In The Valley.” Then we were like, “Okay, how do we find pools? We have to go to where pools are.” We’d go to the valley and the canyons. There were tons of pools and then we started finding these abandoned houses. The first benefit of that was the Devonshire pool, which was a pretty big open kidney. It was a true kidney. The Canyon pool was sort of a kidney. It had an offset wall and it went around and it had a hip on it. The Devonshire was the first real hip that we rode, where you could come around and hit the hip and do a backside carve around the kidney and come up and do a frontside on the hip and go into the shallow end. That’s where we got our first pump. There was a gas-run pool pump, so we grabbed that. We figured out that anyplace we go we’d better look to see if there was any abandoned pool equipment. We ended up having electric pumps and gas pumps, extension cords, gas cans, brooms, hoses, duct tape, street signs and whatever we could find to cover up the drains or if the light was knocked out. We had a pretty good search and strike team. It was Humpston, Biniak and John Palfreyman.
How old were you guys at this point?
We were 18 or 19. We were all out of school at that point. Humpston was two years older than the rest of us. Me, Biniak and Palfreyman were all the same age. There was another guy named Thom Lund who used to be Palfreyman’s sidecar partner in the motorcycle sidecar races. He was in there. Constantineau would come with us sometimes, and so would T.A. We soon realized, not only did you have to find your own spots, if you wanted to get coverage, you had to keep your spots a secret and bring a photographer there. If you showed other people, they would instantly be there with a photographer. You’d do all the work and find the spot and clean it up and you’d be there having fun and, next thing you know, this other guy would be there and get the coverage. Skateboarding was progressing, so you had to show a sense of professionalism, even though that wasn’t really there yet. I think the first guy out of our crew that actually started getting paid was Peralta from the G&S Warptail. He got paid 50 cents a board.
How much were boards then?
They weren’t cheap, but they weren’t expensive. I think most of them started around $30. If you look at the old mail order ads, when laminated boards came in, the prices went up. The solid core boards were cheaper.
I thought they were more expensive than that.
Maybe they were $35.
I just remember I couldn’t afford to buy a board.
So Peralta was making cash.
Yeah. The problem was that as soon as you found a good pool, you kind of quit looking for another pool. You’d have droughts in between good pools, so you’d show up and ride these little tiny kidneys and shitty square pools. For a lot of people, that’s all they had, so that’s how people got good at riding all that weird transition and being good at shallow ends. They rode what they had. For me, being a hardcore surf skater, I was still trying to emulate that surf flow of being in the water. We were trying to find that type of surface, so when Upland came along and had the pipe, that’s what we rode. We’d go out to Upland and ride the pipe all the time. All the pool searching went out the window. Then you had all these other guys like the Jer and his crew and those guys started finding pools too.
There were a lot of pools.
There were a lot of pools at that point. They had a ton of pools. Tom Inouye and Salba and those guys had a lot of pools. We had searched for them so much that we kind of splintered off and didn’t ride them as much as we did the pipe. We kind of got lazy. The good thing was when we found that gas pump, we were able to sneak back to the Canyon pool and revisit spots again. We pumped out the Canyon pool and we were able to ride the Canyon pool at a whole other level. Then they came in and tarred it and threw the water in. At a certain point, it becomes too much of a battle and you just give up on spots. The police came a lot too.
With the strike and search crew, you had the additional problem of not getting busted.
Yeah. The Devonshire pool, it was great because it was at an old house that had been abandoned forever in a bad part of the Valley. so no one cared that we were in there. They thought we were just kids having fun, so we got to ride that pool for a long time. Eventually, that got busted too and they filled it up with water. So we were driving around and asking kids about pools and this kid says, “Hey, there’s a pool down the street. A fireman lives there.” This was like the ultimate pool. This is where a lot of the stories come from that are in the Lords of Dogtown movie, about sneaking in and out of people’s property. They said, “The guy is a fireman and he does 24 hour shifts.” We were like, “Oh yeah? Do you know what days he works? Do you know what kind of car he drives?” They said, “Yeah. He works, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and he always parks his car in the driveway.” They gave us all the information and showed us where it was. I think his car was there that day, so we came back the next day. Sure enough, we rode that place for about two months. Finally, the guy came home one day after the neighbors figured out what was going on. A good thing can only last so long. Too many people found out about it, but for a while there, it was our own little private pool. That’s where skateboarding for us went from going over the blue tiles and over the light and then touching the coping. Then it went to carves in the shallow end to continual lines back and forth onto the coping. Between that pool and the Devonshire pool is where that first started happening. We took it up above the tiles and onto the coping. Frontside grinds and one wheelers became standard issue. There weren’t any airs done yet.
From that footage you showed me, it looked like it was just starting to hit at Gonzales.
We went from search and seek and destroy to having pools that we actually had permission to skate. One was the Gonzales pool owned by the actor, Jose Gonzales. Ray Flores spoke Spanish, so he knocked on Mr. Gonzales’ door and talked him into letting us skate there. Jose’s son, Terry, set up a hot dog stand and sold drinks to the skaters. Finally, they got sick of us and shut us down. After that is when Wayne Babcock from the north side of Santa Monica said he knew Dino who had terminal leukemia and lived in the San Vicente estates. Wayne was stoner buddies with him, so Dino asked his parents if it was okay for us to ride the pool and his parents wanted to make him happy for the short period of time he had left, so they gave permission for us to ride the pool. By this time, we were getting publicity and skateboarding was taking off and you had Skateboarder magazine, which was switching content from contest coverage, slalom and bank riding stuff to starting to cover the pools. A couple of Stecyk’s first articles came out and the pool thing was coming along. They selected a group of the best pool riders at the time and did an article called “The Pool Symposium.” They had Kenny Means the roller skater, Brad Logan, Rodney Jesse, Gregg Weaver, Waldo, Murray Estes, me, Tony, Stacy and Biniak.
Was Worm in it?
No. Worm was around back then, but he found his own secret set of pools down in Palos Verdes or Torrance. He was in the South Bay area. He was a strong skater. He can still skate to this day, I believe.
What about Vermont Drop?
We were still on Zephyr boards or whatever boards we could get our hands on at the Vermont Drop and at all the ditches. There was a whole period when ditches were a big deal. When we started getting busted for riding the school banks, we started riding ditches. We were riding ditches in South Bay, Compton and Gardena and you had the Vermont drop and the Toilet Bowl up in Beverly Glen Canyon. At the same time we were looking for pools, we were looking for ditches. All the ditches we were finding were the real steep kinked kind of things, so we kind of gave up on that, but there was a whole bunch of guys still doing that. That’s when the Phoenix guys really started coming along because they became big ditch guys. The Phoenix guys paved their way on ditches before they started finding pools. There were a lot of pools in Arizona. There was a crew of guys out there with Brian Brannon and those guys. The ditches were important because it was still skateboarding and it was fun. At that point, we rode what there was to ride. We rode what was offered up to us, because we were still figuring out what you could ride, and what was out there and what you could do.
What about skating pipes?
I think the first guys that rode pipes were riding some shitty little pipes down at the Hyperion Treatment plant. Guys were riding the small 10 or 11 footers. It was right down in El Segundo where the shit treatment plant is. Guys were out there attempting to ride those little things. I remember we went there one time and it was so tight. It might have even been a 9-foot diameter. We rode those before we rode Baldy, but then Baldy became the spot. Everyone was still riding on really shitty equipment, so if you look at the footage of people skating back then, guys were just hanging on with the maneuvers they were doing. Not everything was the smoothest of rides because the skateboards were so skinny and the trucks were skinny. The terrain we were riding was improving more than the equipment.
How did you start Dogtown Skateboards?
At the Fireman pool, we were riding handmade Dogtown boards that Wes and I made trying to recreate the Tom Sims laminated 6 1/2” wide boards that were 1/2” thick, which were the predecessor to what laminated skateboards are to this day.
When you guys made boards, weren’t they solid wood?
Yeah. The handmade boards were solid wood at first, but they were also super light. We had to figure out which hardwoods were the best for the strength to weight ratio and durability and we ended up with ash. It was the lightest and it had the best grain pattern. The grain had a lot of wave to it, so the boards wouldn’t split down the middle when you would impact the nose. Some of the old boards that Wes and I rode had chunks taken out where the grain would split and pieces would come out. So we were riding those boards and since they didn’t last long, we’d just re-template around the old board with a Marks-A-Lot marker, so each board we did was a 1/4” bigger. Within three boards, we went from riding a 6 3/4” board to 7 1/2” wide board. We were like, “Whoa. These wide boards ride better.” We were just playing with shapes. If you look at the article, “Getting Down on Pigs,” an interview in Skateboarder with Wes and me. Together we pioneered the wide boards. In there, I’m saying, “I like a board that’s about 8 1/2” wide, but we are experimenting with boards that are up to 10”. Wes had just made that 10” board for Gunnar Haugo because he was a big guy. At 6’5”, He was bigger than me by two inches.
He could do Christies on the coping.
The guy was actually a decent pool rider. As soon as we broke the barriers, everyone realized that you could ride the coping. At that time, we were working with the Skateboard World crew a lot and they had their crew of Valley guys. Stan and Bill Sharp published Skateboard World out of their local area.
Who ran Skateboard World?
Stan Sharp was the editor.
He wasn’t the publisher though.
I don’t know who the publisher was.
I don’t know either, but they covered a lot of pools.
Those guys had a ton of pools. Stecyk being the journalist that he is, realized that there was this hotbed of skaters going on out there. That’s when he did the article, “Things are Getting Really Hot in the Valley” in Skateboarder magazine, and he featured all those guys.
Those guys were pretty good pool skaters. They had so many pools and they were aggressive. Being from the valley, they really thought they had a lot to prove. There was the Jer, Kent and Scott Senatore, Dave Ferry and Shreddi. Shreddi was a great skateboarder. He was a guy that was really good, but never got the notoriety.
He could do a long ass frontside grind at the Dog Bowl.
He was a great skateboarder, so that created a rivalry. When the Sharp brothers started covering us, the Dogtown guys and the Valley guys all got to intermingle. Then it was the Dogtown guys versus the San Diego guys. Then it was the Upland guys. Actually, the first crew was the freestylers and the slalomers and they came from all over. Then we came along and we were the first crew of skateboarders that changed how people approached skateboarding. We paved the way for the progression of modern skateboarding. It’s like a kid nowadays knows he can go down a handrail, so he just goes up to the handrail and does it. When you’re coming up to some over vertical pipe or pool and you’re trying it, it’s like the first time a kid rode down a hill. “Can I ride to the bottom of this hill? Is this too steep? Am I going to go too fast? Am I going to get speed wobbles? Is this bank too steep? Am I going to go too high?” I remember being at Paul Revere and looking down and going, “Whoa. That’s gnarly.” It’s the same feeling as someone paddling out into big waves for the first time at some gnarly spot. Can you imagine the first time you’re paddling out at Pipe? Do you know what I’m saying?
[Laughs] Yes. I do.
So what happened with all these crews is that it became really healthy for the growth of skateboarding. It was like, “Oh, I see what those guys are doing. And here I’ve got my spots, so I can do that.” Each person would have their tricks, and then you’d see that you could do it too, and so it became this evolution of skateboard tricks that was just going berserk. At the same time, we were developing these new handmade boards. We’re riding these wide boards and that’s starting to get some notoriety, but it still hadn’t really changed what people were manufacturing. Alva was the first guy to come out with the laminated bent-tail board, which was a progressive wider board. Stacy had his G&S deal at 50 cents a board, but Alva was the first guy who had his own pro skateboard company named after him. Who knows how his deal was set up? I’m assuming he got a percentage of sales. We’ll never know. In the meantime, we’d been making these handmade boards and we were on our way to the Fireman pool with Craig Stecyk, Humpston, Stacy Peralta and me in Stacy’s Volkswagen station wagon. We had this new pool and we wanted to go get our coverage, yet our boards were blank. There were no names on them. They were 1/2” ash or 1/2” hardwood. We’re on the way to this pool and Wes and I talking, “Okay, we have these boards now. What do we call these boards? We have to have a name for them. No one else is doing them. These boards are different. They’re cool.” Biniak was on a Logan Earth Ski 3/4” board. Alva was on a Logan Earth Ski. We were like, “Well, we’re the Dogtown guys and we’re making these boards in Dogtown, so why don’t we call them Dogtown Skates?” We’re in the car going out there with Stecyk, and he had created the Dogtown mystique with his Dogtown articles. We asked, “Hey, we’re creating these boards and we’re Dogtown guys. Can we call them Dogtown Skates?” Stecyk said, “Ok. Cool. No problem.” So Wes is in the back of the car drawing D.T.S. on the bottom of the board. That was before Stecyk dropped the Dogtown cross in the articles.
There was no Dogtown cross yet?
Right. Dogtown actually started as D.T.S., which was short for Dog Town Skateboards. So we went to the Fireman pool and Stecyk showed up with the WWII fighter pilot camera that came out of the WWII fighter pilot planes used to record the dogfights.
This was the first sequence in skateboarding photography?
Yeah. I don’t know how many frames per second. It was one of the first cameras with a motor drive. Then the article that came out was called “Sequential Overdrive.” They were the first sequential shots in skateboarding. There was a frontside kickturn shot from behind, which was a 6 or 8-shot sequence. The other was a frontside kickturn of me coming up and doing a one-wheeler on the coping. It was the first frontside kickturn ever on coping in skateboarding. There were a bunch of firsts. There was another article of these tales of how we would go and sneak into this pool and ride the Fireman pool. In the meantime, I see skateboarding is growing. Stacy is pimping. There was a huge expansion of skateboarding all over the place. We’re making these boards and drawing on the bottom of them. Stecyk does the cross, so Wes started putting the cross on them.
Stecyk did the cross?
Yes. Stecyk did the spray-painted cross on the wall behind Nathan Pratt, holding this stupid ugly skinny skateboard dressed up as an ese. I don’t know what nationality Nathan is, but he’s pretty white.
Stecyk dresses him up and puts him up against the wall with this gnarly Dogtown graffiti and rats and all this stuff. It was a strong image. Immediately, Wes started drawing the cross on the boards. I wasn’t near the artist that Wes was, but I would draw on my boards too. Wes gave me the template for the cross and I did some hand drawings. There’s a shot of me by Glen Friedman and I’m doing a kickturn at Skatercross on a burned in branded board. I took a wood burner and did the cross with that. All of a sudden, we’re the Dogtown brand and we’re making our own boards. Next thing we knew, everyone wanted these boards because they were better than what they were riding. We had Biniak riding them. Shogo was riding them. Tony was riding them. Baby Paul was riding them. Paul Constantineau was riding them. Arthur Lake was riding them. And these just happened to be the guys that were getting all the photos in the magazines fueling the pool riding experience. Communities were starting to organize themselves and rally behind getting legal skateparks. This riding style and the rapid rise in popularity of skateboarding was creating a need for the first skateparks. Suddenly, all the photos in Skateboarder and Skateboard World featured Dogtown boys riding handmade and hand-drawn Dogtown boards. These photos really drove the popularity of skateboarding to new levels. Kent Sherwood, who was Jay Adam’s stepdad, used to make the Zephyr boards and, at some point, there was a falling out between Jeff Ho and Skip and Kent. The second generation Zephyr board actually became the first generation Z-Flex board, because of the break up, which was the Jay Adams fiberglass Z-Flex board. Kent lived two houses away from Wesley on Highland at Ocean Park, so we were hanging out there all the time. Wes and I are making boards in Wes’ backyard with Kevin Kaiser, and we’re making them in my backyard. Kent was like, “You guy should really look into trademarking that name because someone is going to try to steal it from you.” I was like, “Oh shit.”
Were you actually making boards to sell or were you just making them for the boys?
We were still making boards by hand and selling them in the neighborhood. I realized at one point that I wasn’t that great of an artist, so I was letting Wes do all the art stuff and he was selling them for $25 or $30 to people with his drawing on them. I was selling boards for $15 or $20 with just the basic cross or no graphic. These boards only cost us $2 or $3 to make, so I would sit there all day and make between 12-15 boards depending on what I was able to afford at that time, and sell those boards within a week. I would sell them for $20 a piece and back then, $300 was a lot of frickin’ cash in one week.
Yeah. That’s $1200 a month.
Yeah. We couldn’t make them fast enough for people because they would break and they wouldn’t last, but they were the best things going.
That’s a good business model.
Yeah. There were certain things you had to do to be in business, right? We had to do a DBA, so we went down to the Evening Outlook, which was the local paper at the time, and we took out a DBA. We did an advertisement in the Santa Monica Skate News. Philaine, Jay’s mom, actually started doing the Santa Monica Skate News. We did the DBA and I went into the yellow pages and looked up “Trademark Attorney” and picked some guy and went to his office and said, “Here’s our logo.” It cost $350 to trademark the name in the skateboarding class, which is class 25. Suddenly, we have this trademark. Now we’re trying to figure out how to do this. We wanted to do it on our own, so we’re having meetings with my parents and Wesley’s parents. In the meantime, Tony did his deal, and then all these guys started coming out of the woodwork, wanting to do companies. Actually, there was a shop called Skate Shop of Dogtown and they tried to put out boards and we went and knocked on their door. We were like, “We own this name. You can’t do this. It’s our trademark.” Three or four guys tried to file for our trademark, but we did it just in time. Then people realized we had the trademark, so we had guys talking to us about doing business licensing. I was 19 years old, and we didn’t know jack shit about this stuff. We were stumbling through it. I realized, “We have to get this deal done A.S.A.P. because the thing is growing and we’re losing money.” The skateboarding world was evolving quickly.