Grant Brittain

Interview by JIM MURPHY

Growing up skating in the ‘70s, it was magazine photographs that took your imagination into the world of skateboarding and inspired a generation to dream of what could be done on a skateboard. Grant Brittain was there right when the skatepark explosion of the ‘70s took off and, from his home base of Del Mar skatepark, he began his documentation of the evolution of vertical concrete pool riding. His hobby of photography while managing the Del Mar Skate Ranch started to evolve into an actual paying gig when he was brought into the TransWorld skate mag world. The raddest part of this interview was Grant saying when presented with the “skate and create” mantra of the mag, he thought it was lame and wanted to make the mag cool. That is Grant Brittain! His love for skateboarding was honed by all the people he met that came through Del Mar and skaters he met up and down the California coast. His eventual kinship with MoFo is a great read into how we are all united around skateboarding regardless of where you’re from or what brand you are aligned with. Grant has been through the highs and lows of skateboarding for the last 40 years, and his perspective on the evolution and Devolution of skateboarding is a wisdom built on hard work and dedication to that rider on the other side of the lens – no matter what terrain is being ridden. He is older, wiser, but don’t let him fool ya, he is still that humble kid who just wants to take photos and never takes for granted that he can actually do this for a living.

Let’s get this interview going. Name, rank and serial number.
Jordan Grant Brittain. Skate photographer. My serial number is three.

Killer. Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Fallbrook, California, in 1955.

When did skateboarding start coming into your life? Was it the mid-‘60s?
Yeah. My brother and I got skateboards for Christmas. That year we got BB guns, walkie talkies and skateboards, so we’d skate around with our BB guns and walkie talkies.

You were stoked. Did you have a wooden board with roller skate wheels?
It was a wooden board with really funky trucks and weird hollow clay wheels. They weren’t metal wheels. Some of my friends in the neighborhood had the red boards with the metal wheels. Ours were one step up from that.

Were you into it or was it just like the BB gun, more of a toy?
It was just like riding bikes. We’d ride down big hills and stuff. We went to the movies every Saturday and I remember we saw “Skaterdater”. They showed it before the movie and we were like, “Wow. So that’s what you can do.” Then we were always doing coffins and trying to go under big trucks and stuff. That’s before I started surfing.

When did you start surfing?
I started surfing in 1970, the summer between 8th and 9th grade. I got a surfboard and started surfing with my brother and then he quit after the first summer. He thought it was boring. He didn’t like sitting out in the water and waiting for waves, but that’s the part I like. I like being out there and sitting and waiting for waves. I like that experience.

Just chilling. Were you getting some good rides the first year?
No. Not at first. It took a few years to get better.

By ’73, you were getting some barrels?
Oh yeah. I graduated in 1973 and, within a year, I moved to Cardiff and I was living at the beach.

Did you go to college?
Yeah. I started going to Palomar College in ’73. I was just surfing and taking art classes and General Ed for the next few years. I went to junior college for ten years, in the end. It was a two-year school.

What were you doing for ten years?
I was just going off and on and taking what I wanted to take.

Were you taking any photography courses?
No. That started after I started working at Del Mar.

Okay. Bring us into it. By the mid’ 70s, they started building concrete parks out there, right?
Yeah. We were skating the street, and surf skating, getting two pushes and doing typical early ‘70s stuff. Urethane wheels came in and that’s when I really started to get into skating. It was like, “Oh, you can go over rocks and stuff now. Cool.” When we weren’t surfing, we were skating. We were inspired by people like Larry Bertlemann.

Who were you hanging out with then?
It was local guys from my neighborhood. They were guys that were all a lot better than me. I’d go skate reservoirs and ditches with them. I liked pools, reservoirs and ditches. A lot of pros lived in Cardiff at the time. Ed Economy and Wally Inouye lived next door to me. Waldo Autry and Strople and all these people would come there and Curtis Hesselgrave lived in that house too. Wally was one of the only pro skaters I knew. I used to hang out with him because he was my neighbor. He came over on my birthday in 1978 and gave me a new Caster board. He told me they were building a skatepark in Del Mar that he helped design and Ed Economy was going to be the manager in the pro shop and they could get me a job there. I was like, “Yeah! Let’s do it.” The second day it was open, I got a job there.

At that point, you were aware of skateboarding and you were into the magazines, so you were aware of all these people and all these names around you?
Yeah, but I was still really into surfing too. I just kind of hung out with my friends and we would just skate for fun. We would bomb hills and go out to the reservoir a lot. I was a surfer and a skater, but I wasn’t really into the pro side of skating, until I started working at the skatepark.

You weren’t really looking at the skate mags and idolizing people? You were just like, “Whatever.”
Well, I worked at a surf shop before I worked at Del Mar. They were going to have the Ocean Festival at Del Mar Fairgrounds and that’s when I saw the Z-Boys for the first time in person.

You saw the Del Mar Skate Jam? Sick. What did you think when you were watching those guys skate?
Well, that’s the way we wanted to skate. We were into surfing and it looked like they were bringing surfing into skating. It was all that low pivotal stuff and slides. It was cool. It wasn’t just 360s and tricks like that. We identified with that kind of skating more than the Ty Page kind of skating and 360s and jumping barrels and doing handstands. I started working at Del Mar and I was looking at the magazines like Skateboarder and Wide World of Skateboarding. The photos were so cool and I’d see the photographers come to the park with the skaters. I’d see Warren Bolster and Cassimus and Terrebonne and Friedman and people like that. I looked at those guys and I was like, “That’s kind of cool.” Those guys were kind of stars too, in my eyes. They were kind of calling the shots and directing the skater and I thought that was cool. Working at Del Mar, we had such Del Mar love. A few months later, you’d see the photos and you remembered when they shot those photos and then we’d see them and be like, “Oh, yeah! Del Mar!”

You were stoked.
Yeah. The park opened in August of ’78 and then, in February of ’79, I borrowed my roommate’s camera and shot some photos of Kyle Jenson. He was a local at the park. My roommate had to load my film for me. It was a roll of Kodachrome 64. I go, “What do you do?” He said, “Make sure you match the exposure needle and make sure the sun is behind you and just focus the lens.” I had been studying photos, but I didn’t know anything about photography. I got two usable photos on that roll when I got them back. That’s the day it started in February 1979.

At that point, you were working at Del Mar, so who were the locals?
It was Owen Nieder and Dave Eckles and later on Dave Swift and Tod Swank. Strople was there a lot because he helped design the park. Wally and all these pros came through. That was at the end of the ‘70s. That’s when it was maxing out. There would be six of us working and there would be 100 people out in the park. The parking lot was crazy with people selling gear and smoking weed. It was a full on scene in ’78.

Were you working so hard that you didn’t get to check out many skate sessions or what?
Well, I was one of the worker bees, so I was cleaning up trash and hosing down the park and working at the counter at the snack bar and in the pro shop. You worked wherever you had to work. We were sewing up kneepads and fixing them and spraying them with Lysol.

[Laughs] Yeah.
Then we had to go out and clean up the miniature golf course because the holes would get plugged up. We’d have to run a hose down and get the balls out. We were doing all that stuff. There was an arcade, so we had to give people red quarters when their money got ripped off. We were doing everything. I was just a worker.

Was that the first time you had seen pool skating first hand?
No. I had gone to all the local parks in San Diego. I had been to Spring Valley and Home Avenue. There were nine skateparks at one time in San Diego County. We’d go to backyard pools and reservoirs and stuff, but it was my first time around a lot of pros.

Do you remember some of the early sessions that went down and some of the pro skaters you saw throwing down in the Keyhole at Del Mar?
Right about the time that I started shooting photos, Brad Bowman would come out and he was so stylish. I was working there when Stacy walked up and said, “Hey Grant, I want you to meet Alan Gelfand and Mike McGill.” There were a lot of local sessions late at night. When skating died, going into 1980, the park was like our clubhouse. There were no skaters coming through. The locals had the park to ourselves. We didn’t have any adults. We were the adults. I was working there and I eventually ended up as the manager. We’d cut the lights at eleven and wait for everybody to leave and then we’d turn on the lights again and have sessions. One of my co-workers would keep rum in his trunk for rum and Cokes and we’d be skating around the park by ourselves and playing Asteroids until 2AM.

When I grew up out East, skateboarding was huge and we had Cherry Hill. When things started to die, did you see it coming? When you were there in ’78, seeing how huge it was, over those years at the skatepark, did you see the end coming?
Well, it started to slack off and then, all of a sudden, it was just dead. There were a lot of reasons, but it just died really fast. When it opened, we thought it wouldn’t last long, but it ended up being open for nine years. We were living in the moment, so we didn’t really think of the future too much. We just enjoyed it while we could. When it finally died nine years later, we were like, “What are we going to do now?” Then everybody started building ramps. Tony moved out to Fallbrook and built his ramp and there was the Fallbrook ramp later. All of these ramps started to appear because nobody had any parks to skate. The parks were closing, so skaters adapted and started building shit.

Let’s talk about that whole evolution from Del Mar to Upland and all of the new tricks. You’d see trick after trick. Were you blown away by how fast it was evolving trick-wise? You must have seen guys just going for new shit all the time.
I saw the first Elguerial’s. He learned them some place else, but I remember the first time he did it at Del Mar. I saw those and the Miller flip and, when I saw those two tricks, I went, “Wow. There are no limits. You guys are upside down.” Everything went three-dimensional. It wasn’t just grinds and airs. It was starting to evolve through all these different people. It was cool. You were in a lab type situation where people would come and do new tricks at the skatepark, so you saw it out in the open. There were only like 30 pros back then. You know. When you were skating, everyone knew each other and you’d hear about everything right away.

Totally. You were a photographer so were you thinking about getting photos of these new tricks?
Well, I didn’t start working for a magazine until 1983, so from 1980 to 1983, I was just shooting for fun. I was shooting my friends and shooting the locals and shooting the pros. I’d be working at the skate shop and I’d go, “Hey, I’m going to go out and shoot photos of this guy.” That’s when guys from the East Coast or Texas would come out. I’d have to run out and shoot some photos because I didn’t know when I’d get another chance. This was before I started traveling. Del Mar was my place. The only times I shot at other parks was during ASPO because I was taking the Del Mar park team to these contests, and then I’d get to shoot at Reseda and Upland and Colton. I had no money and I didn’t even have a car in those days. My boss would go, “Here’s $40. Take the team to Upland and go to the contest and feed them lunch.” Aaron Astorga was our 12 and under guy and we had Owen Nieder and Dave Eckles on the team and Sonny Miller was our 18 and over guy.

Was there a rivalry when the guys from Del Mar would show up at Upland?
Oh yeah.

What was that vibe like? Was it like the Duane spitting on Tony Hawk kind of thing or what?
I wasn’t exposed to that kind of stuff. It was all amateur stuff. Everyone was pretty cool because they’d all go to each other’s parks. It was just fun. Everybody was still friends and you’d see the guys that ripped their parks the best. People hated coming to Del Mar because it wasn’t perfect. The keyhole was not a perfect pool. In photos, it looks perfect, but it wasn’t. People hated Del Mar, but the locals loved Del Mar. Everyone was afraid to go to Upland because it was so gnarly, you know?

That place was gnarly.
The other thing that got me really into shooting was Sonny Miller. After I lived in that one house, I lived with Sonny Miller. He was on the park team and I met Sonny at Del Mar in the beginning. It was him, Jeff Tatum, Art Mingeaud and some other dudes. They were some of the hardcore locals. They were from the Kona bowl out in Escondido. That’s where they got their pool skating in and they would only skate that little kidney at Del Mar and they were ripping it better than anybody else. I was living with Sonny Miller at a house his mom owned in Cardiff and I was still doing the art thing and I hadn’t developed any of my black and white film. I was shooting black and white because it was cheaper and I would just hold it up against the sun and look at the negatives. Sonny said, “Hey, why don’t you bring your negatives to school tomorrow and I’ll take them in the darkroom and print some of your pictures?” I was like, “Oh, yeah. Cool.” I took them in and Sonny showed me the darkroom and how to use the enlarger and everything and I put the print in the bath, in the developer, and it came up and that was a life changing moment. I was like, “This is what I want to do. I want to do photography.” There was no such thing as a skate photographer at the time really. Skating was dead. It wasn’t like anyone was saying, “I want to be a skate photographer when I grow up, like some kids do now.” I just went in there watched those photos come up and I went the next week and changed all my classes over to photo classes. I knew nothing about photography. All I knew about photography was skateboarding because that’s how I learned to shoot photos, so I took every photo class for the next couple of years. I was there from the time they opened at nine in the morning until five o’clock and then I’d go to work at Del Mar and I’d be at Del Mar until 11 o’clock. My whole life centered around learning to shoot photos and honing my skills and going to Palomar College and learning from teachers how to do photography and how to light things. I adapted and took all that and that helped me to take skate photos.

Your photography was skate photos, and it’s such quick action. That’s a whole other animal. How hard was it to adapt to shooting a skater going 100MPH? How did you learn to do that right?
I was looking over people’s shoulders and asking. Jim Goodrich was a local San Diego photographer and he would come to Del Mar a lot and I would ask him questions. Jim would be shooting with a flash during the day or the evening with an orange filter. I’d ask him, “So you can be shooting with a flash right now?’ He would show me what was going on and he would give me tips. I kept looking at magazines and then Skateboarder ended in 1980.

Yeah. It changed to Action Now in 1980 and that was over in 1982.
Right. So I was just looking at old magazines and trying to figure out what to do and, during the day, I found that if you shoot at 1/500ths of a second, that will stop the action. I didn’t know about shutter speeds and F-Stops. That was the hardest part of it, figuring out the mechanics. I was trying to learn it on my own and I was learning from my mistakes. I was shooting so much film and sometimes it would come back and be total crap and then I would learn from my mistakes. That took time too. I had to get money to develop the film and I was broke back in those days.

I hear you. You probably weren’t getting paid much to work at Del Mar, right?
No. When I took over as manager, I was making more than other people, but it was still only $8 an hour. I felt bad about scheduling people to work on holidays, so I would work on holidays. I just felt weird telling people what to do, especially my friends. I just learned to take pictures back in those days by trying and wasting film pretty much.

I think that made you a better photographer because you went through that and you know the mechanics of it.
Well, I tell kids now, if you have the money, you can get a film camera for super cheap, and I think working with film really tells you about light. It’s not automatic. Digital is automatic. When you slow everything down with film and you have to make every shot count, you pre-visualize the photo before you take it. Once you get into working in the darkroom, you can manipulate photos in the dark room. You can over-expose or push the film and change it in the dark room, so I would shoot a certain way to make it easier to print photos in the darkroom. I got to know the film and the way light works and I learned about shooting at certain times of the day. I remember my first flash was some flash that K-Mart made. Then I was like, “I need to get a Vivitar. That’s the flash I need.” I saved up and got that flash. This was before slave units and you just shot straight with your flash on your camera.

Getting back to the ‘80s, I remember the days that Action Now hit and Skateboarder was done and we were like, “Wow. It’s really over now.” Skateboarding was completely dead. Del Mar was still going, and then, all of a sudden, we saw Thrasher magazine. Do you remember when that mag hit in ‘81?
Oh yeah.

What did you think when you saw that, because to us that was like a savior? We were like, “Maybe skateboarding will stay alive.”
Yeah. I knew all those dudes because they used to come down to Del Mar for contests. It was like a savior. It was like, “Oh, it’s back. Good.” We had no spokesperson for skating. We had zines.

Swank had a zine, right?
Yeah. Swank had a zine and I had a zine. Everybody had a zine at that point.

What was your zine?
Air Zine. I did three issues of it.

Were they 8 x 11’s or smaller ones?
It was a piece of regular paper folded in half. When Thrasher came out, we were glad there was a magazine out again. By then, my photos were a little better and there was a rumor going around that I worked for Thrasher, but I never did. They would call and tell me if they needed a photo of Billy Ruff or somebody from San Diego. I had maybe six photos total in Thrasher over a couple of years.

Is that when you were getting shots of Billy doing way overhead tabletop airs?
Yeah. I think there was also a shot of Gator. They wouldn’t run any photos of anyone that wasn’t riding Indy’s though. Thatcher would call me and ask for anybody that was riding Indys that was from San Diego. I was stoked because those were my first photos printed in a magazine.

That’s killer. Were you thinking that this could turn into something?
Well, there was no money in it. I was just shooting my friends. That’s the way it was for all of us. Nobody was making money at it. I never made a cent from Thrasher. I think I got $25 once from Z-Flex for a couple of shots of Stelmasky. I don’t think I got my name on the ad though. I sent photos to James Cassimus at Action Now, at one point, and he sent them back. [Laughs]

What did he say? [Laughs]
He said, “We don’t need these.” I kept the letter. I’ve still got it in my folder some place. I ended up working with him later at TransWorld because he worked for TransWorld Snowboarding.

Tell us about that. I can’t remember when I saw my first TransWorld. Were you aware of TransWorld when it was first starting?
Yes. I was in the first issue. Larry Balma knew me from working at the park and he knew that I shot photos and he knew that I had a couple of photos in Thrasher. He said, “Hey, we’re doing a newsletter. Do you want to give us a bunch of photos for this newsletter?” I thought it was going to be a Tracker newsletter, so I gave him a bunch of photos. He called me a few weeks later and he said, “Do you want to come up and check out the newsletter?” So I went to Tracker up in Oceanside and I go into his office and there are 40 some pages on the wall. I was like, “Wait. This is not a newsletter. This is a magazine.” I was like, “Wow.” I was blown away that they were starting a magazine and that I had photos in it. It was crazy. I was still working at the park at the time and a few weeks later, Larry came in and dropped off these magazines and all these people were laughing at it because it had the “Be Good” thing and the “Skate and Create” article. They just didn’t get “Skate and Destroy.” They thought that meant skate and destroy stuff. No. It’s about attitude. At that point, we were by ourselves. Nobody cared about skateboarding besides skateboarders. I thought, “Well, I’m not giving them anymore of my photos.”

You thought it was lame? [Laughs]
Yeah. I thought it was lame. Then they were working on the second issue and they called and said, “Hey, we need photos of these guys.” I was like, “Okay.” I always say this, but, it was the only game in town. I wasn’t getting anything in the up North mags because I was down South. It’s cool, but I still didn’t look at it as work. It was just fun. I thought it might last a few issues, but a couple of issues in, Larry asked me if I wanted to help them do this magazine. I was like, “Okay.” I was going to Palomar College and developing and printing the whole magazine at the college. I was still working at Del Mar in 1983 and sending all the work through Palomar College. The lab tech was complaining about all the skateboard photography that he had to dry.

Were you getting paid at all?
No. I was working for free, but then I went on a couple of trips. We drove up to the Capitola Downhill contest and Larry rented a car for us. I started working with Neil Blender, Lance Mountain, Bryan Ridgeway, GSD and Marty Jimenez and, later on, Bob Pribble and all these dudes. A lot of those guys didn’t even have a place to live then, so they were living at Tracker. We started going to contests and then I flew to my first contest at Kona. I think that’s when I met you, Murf. Weren’t you at one of the first Kona contests?

Yeah. In ‘83, I got on Zorlac. That’s when Craig Johnson showed up covered in duct tape.
That was the first contest where I got to fly some place and I realized that it was turning into something. I finally told Larry, “You’ve got to give me some money and get me out of this skatepark because the arcade is driving me crazy.” [Laughs] I just wanted to do photography, so I quit working at the skatepark in 1984. That’s when Chip Morton took over as manager. He was my assistant. I started doing the magazine full time and I set up a darkroom at Tracker when TransWorld and Tracker were together. I didn’t have a girlfriend, at the time, so I was there from morning until midnight working on the magazine. We were all working on it together. We didn’t know how to do anything. We just learned it.

Let’s back up just a little bit. I want to know what the reaction was. There was a perception that it was the Tracker magazine versus the Indy mag. Did you get any vibe about that? For instance, when you went up to Capitola, was there any type of vibe or was it all cool? Did you see Fausto and the Santa Cruz guys there? Was there any of that dynamic or was it just good all around?
There was that dynamic. We were the slick glossy magazine and we weren’t cool. I’d go up there and Fausto would be like, “Hey Brittain, where’s Larry?” He’d just kind of vibe me. Certain people would vibe me, but a lot of the people up there were people that came down South that I knew because of my job at Del Mar. I was the manager there and I tried to be cool to everybody. A lot of people came to Del Mar because they wanted to watch the pros. I let pros skate for free, and the amateurs would give me a board a month for the pro shop and they got to skate. The locals got to skate if they picked up trash and I was trying to keep everything cool. Just being cool to people is the way to do everything, but I’d go up north and get totally vibed. MoFo would vibe me, but when they came down to Del Mar, they were all cool. [Laughs] I would go up there and get vibed all day. Some people hated our magazine, but everyone wanted to be in it. They were stoked when they got a shot in it. We never pushed that whole Tracker thing. It was kind of embarrassing to ride for Tracker. I rode Trackers because I got them for free. The first good trucks I ever had were Trackers. There was that whole Indy versus Tracker thing, but we always tried to keep it on the down low as far as that whole thing. We wanted to run other skaters in the mag besides Tracker skaters. It was all around skateboarding to us. We knew people from all over the world and we wanted to show everybody that looked good. We were skaters and we didn’t want it to be the “Be Good” magazine.

Was it the first cover of TransWorld that had Caballero at Palmdale doing an Indy air?
Yes. That was the first issue. Frank Hawk shot that photo.

Was he riding Trackers or Indys?
I can’t remember. Everyone, at one time, rode Trackers.

I know. I just think it’s funny. There was that weird vibe. At the end of the day, you were working at Del Mar and you were cool to everybody.
Yeah. Everybody was friends. Nobody had beef with each other personally. There weren’t too many bad vibes back then. There were only 30 pros back then, so when you’d go to a contest, you’d recognize almost everybody. They were a friend or a friend of a friend or in somebody’s posse. We were just having a good time. You see photos of contests back then and there were maybe 100 people at the contest. I watched footage on YouTube from the Kona contest on the vert ramp and the bleachers weren’t even full.

Yeah. It was baking hot with 100% humidity. I know. I was just happy to see skateboarding was still alive and the more magazines the better.
Yeah. The mag got a little better with every issue I think. I think the thing with MoFo and I was that MoFo kept me trying to get better all the time. It was a full peer thing where every time I was shooting photos, I wanted my photos to look better than MoFo’s. I was all about quality and we got put down for being this glossy magazine and I was going, “Yeah, but photographers want their photos to look good.” The quality was looking better with every issue. I was trying to bring quality into skate photography, even though I was still learning.

It’s like Skateboarder in the ‘70s. There was some seriously good photography in there. You wanted to get even better than that, right?
Yeah. I was doing at least half the photography in the magazine in the mid ‘80s. Every other photo had my name on it. I was the Photo Editor and I was going to every contest. When it started to get crowded, MoFo and I started working together at contests to control the photographer situation.

How did you guys do that?
You had all these dudes on the ramp and they were in the way of the skaters. They weren’t good photographers and the skaters really didn’t want those guys up there. It was like, “What are you getting out of this? Are you seeing any of these photos? These guys don’t work for magazines.” We had to control that, so MoFo would say, “I’m going to shoot the first part of the contest on that side and then we’ll switch off halfway through, okay?” We didn’t want to shoot all from one side. We started working together as professional skate photographers. I think MoFo and I brought it up where it was like, “Hey, you can make a living off of this now.” We were shooting ads and working for magazines. We were serious about it. We were trying to show skateboarding in the way that it should be shown with proper lighting and quality. We were trying to make it better. We were trying to promote skateboarding for our friends and promote the companies that we worked for. We just wanted to share skateboarding with more people. That’s how we always felt and that’s how I still feel.

You guys were there when the gnarliest skateboarding was going down.
Yeah. I call it the Golden Age of Skateboarding. Then street skating started getting in there too and we had to figure out how to shoot street skating.

You have vert skating and you’ve got Hosoi going overhead and Tony Hawk was slaying it and everyone was killing it and then street skating comes in. When you first saw a street skating event, what were you thinking as a guy running a mag?
I don’t know what I thought. It was just skateboarding. The guys that were skating vert were also street skating. I was going out and shooting street skating with Gator, Lance and Tony. They skated street for fun. When the parks got dozed, that’s when street skating got even bigger, and then you’ve got Gonz and Natas. I was so fortunate to see all of that.

When you started seeing Gonz and Natas ollieing, what were you thinking?
Well, I had already quit putting limits on skateboarding because of what was going on in pools and then you had McTwists and all of that and it all went topsy-turvy, literally. I just quit putting limits on anything. This is skateboarding. It’s not being forced. This is just what skaters do. It was just natural to photograph anything. If Natas was doing something, I wanted to shoot photos of it. If Gonz was doing this or that, I wanted to shoot photos of it. Then there was the pleasure of hanging out with those dudes and seeing their characters and personalities. There was that whole part of it too. All of these skaters had personalities. I just wanted to shoot photos. I was shooting photos every day back then. I wasn’t lazy like I am now. [Laughs]

There was so much going on, plus, you have a magazine to fill and you have to decide what’s going in. In the late ‘80s, street skating started taking over. As someone running a magazine, did you have to make a decision to focus more on street skating because that’s where skateboarding was going?
Well, the company owners back then were trying to get the magazines to do what they wanted. They were like, “Hey, I have all these freestyle wheels and freestyle boards. We need to push freestyle.” I think the magazines, probably TransWorld more than Thrasher, showed freestyle more. I like freestyle and I know that it has so much influence on street skating, but I felt like it lasted a little too long as far as the magazine goes. That’s just how business is. I always felt like the magazines should be leading and be at the cutting edge of everything. I will probably get flak for that from some of my freestyle friends, but that was a hard time to shoot. Freestyle was tough because I would always have to find a good backdrop because freestyle was all about the backdrop and the lighting. It’s hard to shoot freestyle. It’s more of a sequence thing. It just got difficult to shoot freestyle. When there are people flying off of shit, like buildings and down rails, I’d much rather be off shooting that. It’s just more exciting for me, instead of laying on the ground trying to shoot freestyle, but then it got that way too with street skating in the ‘90s when people had to do video grabs. It was hard to shoot street skating. We were burning through so much film because it was so technical. You’d be laying on the bottom of a one-foot ledge and it became where it wasn’t creative photographically. You’re just trying to document things. You can do it on video, but I didn’t like that part of it. I really respected Dyrdek and all the technical dudes, but it was hard to shoot that stuff and make it look as good as it was.

As a vert pro, I saw that vert just totally died out of the magazines. Running a magazine, did your distribution drop or did it stay consistent because you were covering street skating?
In the late ‘80s and 1990, it dropped. That’s when we went down to 72 pages. It really died out, but then it came back. We kind of knew that skateboarding goes up and down. We were just trying to make a living. We adapted. All we knew was how to make a skate magazine. I wasn’t going anywhere. I never even thought of leaving. It was like, “Okay, I’ve got less pages to fill, but we’ll make it work.” As far as vert goes, there were times in the early ‘90s, where we’d run one vert photo in the magazine and we’d get death threats.

Death threats? What do you mean?
Street skaters would get mad. They’d say, “There is too much vert in the mag.” You’d count it and there would only be one or two vert photos in the mag, but you’d get shit for running a vert photo. It was bad. Everything was about street then.

That was probably tough for you. You had grown up with vert skaters and you had traveled the world with all of your friends that were vert skaters and the skatepark thing was another dreamland that we all shared and loved. All of a sudden, here come the ‘90s and all that stuff was gone and you had to deal with street skating. Did it lose its soul for you or did it lose that excitement and family vibe that you were used to?
No. I’ve always said that you can’t control skateboarding. It’s just a monster. Nobody can control skateboarding. You can try to point in a certain direction, like Steve Rocco did, but you can’t really control it, so I just went along with it. I was like, “Skateboarding is like this now, and skateboarding will be like this later.” I always use the word “adapt.” We were adapting. I like to shoot skate photos, so whatever I have to do to get out there and shoot the top guys or the most talented people, I will just go out and do it. I was glad when it changed later to anything goes. It’s not the era of white shirts and baggy jeans and small wheels and you can’t touch your board anymore.

Was TransWorld still independent or was it bought out during that time?
We were bought in 1997 by Times Mirror. They owned the L.A. Times, and then they sold it to whoever owned the Chicago newspaper. Then they sold off the publishing part of it to Time Warner. They bought the snowboard mag first and we thought, “They’ll never buy the skate mag.” All of a sudden, they pulled us into a meeting and Larry got up and said he had sold the magazine to Time Warner.

How did that affect you?
I was not that corpo dude, so I was almost crying. My eyes watered up when he said that. I was like, “Oh my god. Now things are going to change.”

Did they?

Well, I guess you were lucky to still have a job, right?
Yeah. We just kept working and doing it the way we were doing it. That’s when they were able to really expand because there was an influx of money. We got to go places and we had credit cards and we didn’t have to sleep in bathtubs in a hotel room. It got easier to be a photographer and I could buy more film and buy a new camera.

Did you get a raise and get paid well?
Yeah. I got some extra money and I started going on trips. I looked at it like, “I’m shooting with their film and I got per diem and I got to go to Europe.” I didn’t stay at hotels the whole time. I would stay at skater’s houses. I wasn’t living like we had all this money. I took advantage of shooting film and, when I needed a new lens, I would ask if I could get one. Things got better and then things got weird, when it went corporate. It just got so weird.

How did it get weird? Larry was out of the picture, so you had other people to answer to that weren’t skateboarders?
Well, they had some really good managers. One of Larry’s partners, Brian Sellstrom, was the manager of the whole deal with the publishing side of it. He worked there with Larry and Peggy. He was in charge when Time Warner came in. He was a rad boss. He would be the last say where you could actually get stuff done. You could say, “Hey, Brian, I’m having this problem.” He would be like, “Okay, let’s just take care of it.” He was a no-nonsense dude, but he was fair. When his job was done there, after he managed it for a few years for Time Warner, he left. Then they bumped somebody up and they’d have a new guy coming in on Monday and then they started laying people off. It wasn’t from the skate mag. It was the surf mag and the snowboard mag and Stance. We saw a bunch of our friends getting laid off. One of our friends, Tim Wrisley, was the publisher and then, one day, he got laid off, and Dave and I just looked at each other and went, “Wow.” He was the wall between us and New York. He still had a love for the magazine and, when he got laid off, that’s when we thought maybe we should look into leaving. That was in 2003.

You needed to cover your asses, right?
Yeah. We just wanted to take pictures and do a magazine. That’s all we ever wanted to do, and just have a cool lifestyle. I still think it’s super cool to be a skateboard photographer.

It’s rad. You get to travel and take photos and it’s pretty low impact.
Yeah. It’s a cool job. When people ask me what I do, I’m like, “Oh, I’m a photographer.” A lot of times I just say that I’m a photographer, because they don’t understand it when you say that you’re a skate photographer. If they ask what I shoot, I say, “I shoot skateboarding.” Now the public knows skateboarding because of the X Games and Tony Hawk’s video games and they always want to talk to you about it. Back in the day, if you said that you were a skate photographer, they were like, “Uh? What?”

The first question, after finding out that you’re a skate photographer, is if you know Tony Hawk, right?
Oh, yeah. Actually, the last person that asked me about it asked if I knew Tony Alva. I was like, “Yeah. He’s my age. I know Tony Alva.”


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