INTERVIEW WITH WES HUMPSTON
INTERVIEW AND INTRODUCTION BY ARI MARSH
By the time he was only 20 years old, Wes Humpston, was already a legend. Wes was one of those characters whose reputation was not just intimidating, but awe-inspiring. Humpston wasn’t just another bad-ass Dogtowner with a tough attitude. He was an artist, an innovator, and a creator. He was one of the few individuals who actually propelled the entire DT scene. Wes wasn’t just riding the wave, he was influencing it, and fueling it. Wes Humpston refined the art of skateboard making and designing, took it to completely new levels, and created the raw, territorial art that became synonymous with Dogtown. Today, Wes “Bulldog” Humpston is carrying on the mystique of Dogtown with his company Bulldog Skates, producing radical, super high quality, old school boards with fresh and amazing new artwork. Wes has recently published a new book, “Bulldog’s Art”, chronicling the history of his legendary DT skate art and classic board designs.
“I WANTED MY ART TO BE IN YOUR FACE. I WANTED TO MAKE SOMETHING THAT WOULD REALLY CATCH YOUR EYE AND MAKE YOU JUMP BACK.”
Wes, how are you? Do you live in Oceanside now?
I’m doing great. Yeah, I’m in Oceanside. I like it down here. I’ve always liked San Diego. One of my friends, before we got out of high school, moved down here to Del Mar. When the partying got really heavy in L.A., and I needed a place to go to clean out, I’d run down here for a month or so and hang out.
How are things at the BDS office?
Well, it’s my house, but it’s sometimes my dungeon. I don’t get out of here for days. It’s starting to pay off, so I’m doing something right.
You must be feeling pretty good. Your company, Bulldog Skates, is doing amazingly well. Every BDS deck is a sell-out. You have a new book called “Bulldog’s Art,” chronicling the history of your art. How are you feeling?
It’s really good. I’m stoked and proud of what’s going on. I just try to keep focused and make sure I do the best that I can on each thing that I do. I think that’s the key to keep people coming back. You have to show them something new, and try to blown people away with each board. That keeps people coming back.
Is your primary focus on board making now, as opposed to skating?
Yeah. Business is my primary thing. I skate a little with my kids, but I don’t have much time for skating these days. The last time I rode a pool was in the mid ’80s. It was at Reseda Skatepark, one of the pools the local kids dug out. I ate it so bad. I bailed and then stepped back on my board as it was coming down underneath me. It threw me down like a judo slam. My skin just stuck to the bowl, I hit so hard.
Concrete is not forgiving.
When I was skating, I always made the commitment to being in shape and on top of my game. I wouldn’t even play around like that in pools. When you get thrown down, you get hurt.
How old are you now?
When I was groveling around Santa Monica as a kid, you and the Z-Boys were already legends.
I’m two years older than Muir and Alva. Shogo and Jay are another four years behind those guys. I was working for Jeff Ho in ’72, when I was in high school. It was actually a surf team then. I used to go to the Cove with Kevin Keiser and just watch guys’ boards break. I’d yell down from the catwalk, “I can fix it!” All of a sudden, the board would hit another piling. It would break into three pieces instead of two. Then I’d yell, “You need a new board.” Keiser and I used to get up in the catwalk, above where everyone would drop into that angled piling, and just watch them.
In my opinion, the most hardcore image in skateboarding is the Dogtown cross. It was one of the most powerful symbols of our youth. Is it true that Stecyk actually came up with the cross, and then you and Muir asked for his permission to use it?
Stecyk spray-painted it on a wall and then shot a photo of it. He used it in one of his articles. Dogtown already had the nickname. Then Jim and I were making boards and we were calling them Dogtown Skates. They were Dogtown Skates made by Dogtowners for Dogtowners. I took the cross and put the banner at the bottom. We used the cross and the banner. When Jim and I were just starting to make boards, we were going out to a pool and we asked Stecyk about it. It was that sequential overdrive where Muir had a sequence in the Fireman pool. He has a DTS on the bottom of his board. We were in the car on the way there. Muir got Stacy to drive. This was the only time I ever went anywhere with Stacy, or really saw him anywhere. Stacy drove, Stecyk was up front, and Muir and I were in the back. I wrote DTS on Muir’s board for that session. We were talking to Stecyk on the way out there. I said, “Is it cool if we call them Dogtown Skates?” He said, “Go for it.” That was the beginning of it. Then I took it, twisted it around, and made it everything that it was. I made all these logos with dragons and waves. It was something that just kept evolving.
That first photo of the Dogtown cross that Stecyk took, was that the one with Nathan in front of it?
What’s a Nathan?
Are you at odds with Pratt?
No. I never knew Pratt. I worked with him in ’72 for just a few months before all the Z-Boys skateboard stuff happened. I just didn’t like him. I thought he and Stacy were wannabes. I heard that when they used to come down to the beach, Wayne Saunders and Pat Keiser used to chase them right back onto the bus. They were Mar Vista guys. They weren’t Venice or Santa Monica. I don’t know what their deal was. I’m still amazed to this day that Stacy considers himself Dogtown. I don’t know what that’s all about. Whatever. To me, it’s hallucinations in his brain. Nobody in Santa Monica considered him Dogtown. The guys that were my friends back then are still my friends. Stacy and Nathan were never my friends. I didn’t hang out with them.
Who were the Santa Monica heads that influenced you?
TA took Keiser and me to the first pool we ever rode, and blew our minds. Jay lived right up the street from me. I was always skating with Jay. Kent, Jay’s dad, took us surfing and skating to the new skateparks. I’d hang out with Kent, and I worked for him one summer, doing fiberglass and all kinds of shit. I was always around the scene. I used to skate with Muir. We used to go look for and ride pools. I used to skate with JP, Rosa, and Lund. We used to go to Beverly Hills in Rosa’s old truck and all over the valley in JP’s car. Ray Flores turned us onto Gonzos. He and I were the first from Dogtown to ride that one. Bob Biniak was a ripper in every pool I ever saw him ride. I went to MDR many mornings before it opened. I skated many pools with all of those guys.
Is Ray your age?
He’s five years older than me.
He looks great.
He’s well preserved.
Can you recall the first time you drew the actual cross on the bottom of a skate?
At first, it was three letters – “DTS”. Then there was a mention in the magazine by Stecyk. Then people started asking for the boards. Jay’s mom, Felane, also did a newspaper, so we took out an ad. People started shooting us letters with checks to get the boards. Muir and I started making boards in my backyard. We were both riding the same type of board at that time. It was only 7 inches wide with a 5-inch kicktail on it. It was a full glider and weighed a pound. We used to compare it to a glider, because if it hit something, it would split. They were so light. They couldn’t take much because it was just one piece of wood. If you took care of it and didn’t throw it, you could ride it for days or weeks. We started producing them. We made a template of the cross that would fit on a board. Jim would take the template and draw the cross. Then he’d give it to me and I’d put the letters in it.
Were you doing those letters by hand?
Yeah. We set up a little assembly line with Jim and me. He’d do his thing and I’d do my thing. We were making boards like that and selling them. We’d trade them for weed. We’d trade them for gas money. We had money once we started doing that. People would ride them. Then they’d split. They’d bring them back and say, “This was the best board I ever had. Make me another one just like it.”
What year was this?
We started making them in 1975.
When you and Muir went into full production with DT Skates, did you feel like that was the zenith of your designs and artwork?
No, not at all. I was constantly coming up with better boards and art and making new boards for whatever we were riding. I try to make every board better than the last one. That’s the way it still is. It’s just a continuation of what I used to do, but way better. Everything now is more elaborate and more technical. The boards now are the best you can get. They’re made on a CNC. Everything from the mold to the finished product is all cut and done on a CNC. It’s all hand sanded. It’s the best board you can get. It’s hand-screened just like it was in the ’70s. I don’t like that paper transfer stuff.
When did you start Bulldog Skates?
I started making boards again in ’95, because I missed it. I felt like I was good at it, so I just started doing them again. Then one day, Ray Flores came by. He just about shit when I showed him what I was doing. The boards were 10 to 11 inches wide and 32 or 36 inches long. He was like, “Nobody is making boards like this.” Everyone was making Popsicle sticks. He was tripping out that I even found blanks that size. He was like, “You’ve got to sell these in the shop. You can’t even find boards like this anymore.” I was just stoked to be doing it again. I had been in graphic arts for 20 years doing prepress printing and had worked on a Mac for five years. I started applying what I had learned, to reproduce my artwork. I started doing more and more elaborate artwork because of the Mac. Making skateboards is just something that I really love to do.
There’s a whole underground movement that has an opportunity to connect through the Bulldog Skates website and message boards.
Sure. There are a lot of people that are really into it. There are over 1100 people on our website that are registered. Then there are the lurkers that just come and check it out. There are a lot of funny guys on there. If you have questions, someone will try to help you out. A lot of people contribute and help. Like when Polar Bear died, a lot of people chipped in and tried to help out his family.
What’s Rich Fosmire’s role in all of this?
Without Rich, I probably wouldn’t be doing it. Ray and I had our deal, and then I was going my own way. I was pretty much done with skateboarding. Then I did a show that Terri and Dan from “Juice” helped put together out in Silverlake. I didn’t know what to expect. I’d never done an art show. I asked Rich if he would help me out with some posters and limited edition boards. Rich is also in printing and knows prepress, and sells printing for the biggest printer in LA. I needed to get some film, so I asked if he could hook me up with some, and he did. He showed up at the art show to check it out. He’s also a skateboard collector. He had all the old ’70s Dogtown boards and tons of cool stuff. He came to the show early and it was already getting crazy. You couldn’t park. There were like 1,000 people there. It looked more like a concert than an art show. They had spotlights and a ramp outside. Everybody was there. PC, Biniak, Jeff Ho, Muir, Skipper, Billy-Z-Kid, Alva… Wynn Miller had one side of the gallery with photos of Alva from the ’70s and ’80s. I had the other half of the gallery with my art and boards. Ray was deejaying. It really went off. There were so many people there. Rich looked at it and said, “You’ve got some kind of crazy cult following going on here. It’s huge.” I was like, “Yeah.” I was kind of shocked, too. I had no clue. I live in my little bubble. I was totally stoked. He said, “Maybe we should talk about doing something.” He was looking at it like a financial backer. That’s the one thing I’ve never had. I’ve always had guys that needed to put the money in their own pockets, instead of trying to make the business grow. Rich and I talked and got along really well. It seemed like a good thing and we just kept going with it. It’s been really good.
You have a following of legitimate old school skaters that are carrying on the soul of skateboarding. They’re all gravitating around Bulldog Skates.
Yeah. There are guys my age that have grown up skateboarding. There are guys that are my age that have really good jobs. They remember boards that they used to have, or have always wanted, and they’re not afraid to throw the money down. I get pictures of guys’ offices or homes with the gnarliest collections on the walls. There are a lot of different aspects to it. There’s the average guy that loves the boards and grabs a couple of them. If he runs into a situation where he needs money or whatever, he can sell them and make money because they hold their value. It’s like money in the bank. Other guys say their collection is like their retirement fund. There are guys that have been looking for the Bigfoot forever. I had no idea how many people were into it, and it seems there’s new guys coming in all the time.
Are you more serious now in producing your art?
I try to seriously do a good job, but I try not to take myself too seriously. It’s skateboarding. It’s supposed to be fun. I do catch myself being too serious sometimes. I know I sometimes take things too seriously. I just have to smack myself in the head, and remember that it’s supposed to be fun.
What amazes me about your book is that you’ve kept and collected your old notebook paper with doodles and old sketches and designs. The collection in the book is so thorough. How did you compile it?
Well, it’s a mix of a bunch of different things. The ’70s production Dogtown Skates are mostly Mike Teele’s boards. He’s Skateboardpimp.com. A lot of the ’80s stuff is Steve Fish’s. I went to Rip City and to Ray’s shop, the Board Gallery in Venice. Then I shot my board collection. Charles “Chaz” Rodriguez shot a lot of the photos. We spent a day driving around getting all of these shots. We shot 1000 photos. Then I shot another 600 photos of my collection. I had all the Bulldog boards. I’ve always kept my artwork and sketches. Actually, I sold some at the art show in Silverlake. I kind of wish I’d kept it for the book, but I had more than enough stuff. There’s another guy named Steven Church from England that snagged a lot of the old ’70s boards. Since he was in England, he had a professional photographer come in and shoot some of his boards. Then there’s Glen Friedman. He had a bunch of boards. Brad Ellman shot his collection. Everyone helped out. Then I sat down and tried to put it all together. I tried to make sense of it. Like Tim Jackson’s board from the ’80s. I always had these drawings of rats on this gray-blue paper. When I saw that board, I realized those were my sketches for that board. I was doing the sketches and showing them to him. He was like, “Yeah, dude. Rats.” I drew it like a big rat looking in a hole at you. Things came together that I’d forgotten all about.
Do you ever see any hand done DT boards from the ’70s on eBay that you want?
Yes, and no. I always think, “I can just redo it.”
Do you have a favorite board?
I really like the way Shogo’s longboard turned out. I liked the one on the cover of the book for a hand-drawn board. I like the board My Chemical Imbalance, which is a new one that I just did. That was just a shocker. People don’t like it. It’s a little too wild. It got bounced off a TV show. Ian that used to work at Dark Horse works for Fuel TV now and he needed boards to put around in the background for interviews. He put some of my boards up there. Then he called and told me that they wouldn’t put the My Chemical Imbalance board up there. They said it was too gnarly. I was like, “No way.”
It reminds me of some early Suicidal Tendencies artwork.
It was supposed to be some mad scientist. I was listening to that retard Tom Cruise, going on about Brooke Shields’ chemical imbalance and how she shouldn’t go to see doctors. I was just laughing. I was thinking, “You know what, dude? If you don’t have a chemical imbalance, then go out, drink beer, smoke doobs and give yourself one.” I would bet almost everybody’s got one. Whether it’s coffee, cigarettes, candy, food, drinking or drugs.
What about the flip side? Is there a board that you hate?
Yeah. I did one for XLarge. Ron told me what they wanted. I hated it.
What’s the graphic on that one?
It’s a gorilla. I didn’t put it in the book. I gave mine away, but people like them. They go for $500. Part of the problem was that Ron worked at Ray’s shop. Ray had the guys who made the boards silkscreen them. I guess they knew nothing about silk-screening, because they looked like abortions. I was like, “What the fuck happened?” It was beyond retarded. It was too fucked up to believe.
Are you ever going to make a Bulldog skateboard with the original Dogtown cross?
I’ve talked to Jim about leasing the Dogtown Skates logo for maybe three boards a year. I’ve talked to Jay and Tony. I was thinking of giving those guys ‘x’ amount of money and making ‘x’ amount of boards. They’d sign the boards and we’d give them money. Then we could sell them on the website. Actually, Jim is making the boards we used to make in the backyard. They’re the little skinny boards made with oak and maple. We were talking about doing some of those with the DTS. I told him I’d buy some from him. I’d make them have old ’70s artwork. I’m talking about doing different things. I’ve been talking to the board manufacturer about doing unique shapes and stuff that no one has ever done. I want to make cool-looking boards. We try to do a chunk of the wood for production. Then we also try to cater to the collectors. We do super-limited runs for certain collectors.
Do you think this market exploded due to the Dogtown documentary?
Partially. Also, it had its own momentum way before that. We started doing boards again back in ’95. It was a part-time gig on the side. Ray was doing them out of his shop. We had people hitting us up all the time, wanting old school boards. Every time we went to ASR, you could see another new company doing old school boards. We met Terri, Dan, Murf and Kessler at one of those ASRs back in ’98. That was years before Stacy’s movie. The second Dogtown movie was a flop. I don’t think that one should have even been made. It’s like one of those “after school specials” that you try to watch with your kid. The whole time you’re going, “No way.” You put your feet up and close your eyes. I thought it was pretty sad.
That’s too bad. They should have just let it be after the documentary.
That’s the thing. Why would you want to do the same thing twice? I thought the second movie was just lame. They say it’s based on a true story, but I don’t think much of it is.
I think what people don’t understand is the hardcore aggressiveness that was going on.
Yeah. It’s pretty sad to see Stacy up on the screen taking credit for it, when I can’t remember him being around. I don’t remember seeing him at POP or the pools. I skated most of the pools and I never saw him. Whatever. It’s all Hollywood.