INTERVIEW by JIM MURPHY
PHOTOS BY JIM GOODRICH AND GEOFF GRAHAM
Being a vert skater takes a lot of dedication, the ability to endure extreme pain on a daily basis and the desire to push yourself beyond what seems possible. The Virginia Beach Fork crew has a long-standing history of vert skating and Henry’s attitude towards skating and life has always been about having fun and enjoying it with friends. That’s why it makes complete sense that he rides for Embassy, the gnarliest skate team in Texas, all of whom share the same view of skateboarding. For the last 30 years, Henry has ridden the roller coaster of vert skating’s popularity and this vert soldier never surrendered his love for blasting airs and 540s!
Okay, first question. When and where were you born?
I was born in 1964. My parents are from the Philippines, so I was born there. I ended up in Oxnard, California when I was three years old. We moved to Virginia Beach when I was seven.
Were your parents in the military?
Yeah, my dad was in the Navy forever.
So was my dad. He was based out of Pensacola, Florida. I was born on a naval base. How about you?
I wasn’t born on a Navy base, but I lived on bases when I was a little kid.
When did you start skating?
I didn’t start skateboarding until I got to Virginia Beach. It was probably around ‘73.
You were moving around a lot. Were you making friends and then getting bummed when you had to move again? What was that like for you?
I was such a little kid that it didn’t matter, and I had both of my brothers, Eddie and Glenn. We were like the three musketeers. When I started skateboarding, they were riding BMX bikes. They didn’t start skating until 1980 and then we all skated together. When you have two brothers and you’re all close to the same age, and you’re all into skateboarding, you always have someone to skate with. It was a cool thing.
What was your first deck?
I had a Nash goofy foot with loose ball bearings. Trashmore was where I first really skated. Even before the asphalt park, it had a soapbox derby hill. It was smooth asphalt back then. Mount Trashmore was a lot steeper then too. It was really steep and fast, and people would cruise down it. They were clocking people going down it for the soapbox derby at 45mph. The asphalt part is gone now and the hill is a lot flatter, so there’s no way you could go that fast down it now.
Were you going that fast on your board down that hill?
[Laughs] No. I wasn’t going that fast. I was just a little kid. I broke my collarbone going down it. I rolled about 50 times. That was the first bone I ever broke. It was pretty gnarly.
Did your parents freak out and tell you to stop skateboarding?
I knew that they would say that, so I hid it for a couple of days and pretended that it didn’t hurt and then they found out. They didn’t understand skateboarding back then. It was kind of funny.
So they didn’t come down on you too hard and threaten to take your skateboard away?
No. Everybody was skateboarding in the ‘70s. Everyone in Virginia Beach went to Trashmore to skate the hill. It’s crazy how Trashmore, in the ‘70s, was the place to go and then, in the ‘80s, we had the first city vert ramp. Now we have a park with a modern day big vert ramp with big trannies and everything.
Before the ‘80s ramps, did you have any late ‘70s concrete parks?
Virginia Beach had three concrete parks. We had the Thunder Bowl. It had a round pool that was deep for back then. It was probably ten feet deep with three feet of vert with pool coping. It was a total pool. Then we had the Skatepark of Norfolk, which had a pretty deep pool. Then we had this place called the Concrete Pipeline. This was all around ‘76 and ‘77 in V.B.
What kind of boards were you riding?
I rode an Alva with Mid Tracks and the green Sims Snakes. I was on the Concrete Pipeline park team and we weren’t as good as the Thunder Bowl team or the Norfolk team, but it was fun.
What got you into concrete skating because you went from shooting hills to skating bowls?
It was from going down hills, and then riding quarterpipes that the older kids in our neighborhood would set up. It just progressed from that. Mount Trashmore was here the whole time. It was here during the ‘80s pro contests. It was like an asphalt snake run. Trashmore was less than five minutes from my house in ‘76, so I’d skate that every day. That was my home spot for the longest time. I rode that until everything died.
Back in the ‘70s, Skateboarder Magazine was out with Alva, Olson and the whole punk rock thing. Who were you looking up to back in the day when you looked at the magazines?
I would say Duane Peters. We were little kids on the East Coast that just saw the mags. I always loved seeing pictures of Duane. He was the guy that connected punk rock to skateboarding. All the classic pictures that we would see would always amp us out. We’d read about them and be so stoked.
Do you remember when things started to go to Action Now magazine, and skateboarding started to die? In 1980, did they start taking out your concrete parks?
The parks closed down but, for two years, we had the Concrete Pipeline that was shut down, but people would still skate it, abandoned skatepark style. Norfolk shut down and got wrecked. Parts of Thunder Bowl were around for three years, so we’d skate that commando style for a long time.
Were you sponsored at that time for trucks, wheels or boards?
No. I didn’t get sponsored until ‘84. When the parks died, John Fudala built this halfpipe in his backyard, and that was our home spot for the longest time. Our whole crew would skate that. It was my brothers, Eddie and Glenn, me, Mike Crescini, Allen Midgette and Fudala. We’d ride his halfpipe all the time and that was when nothing was going on. Then we heard about the Mid-Eastern Skateboard Series (the MESS contest) that Britt Parrott threw back then. We’d see stuff in the mags about it and we were like, “We have to go to one of these.” The first year went by and we didn’t go, but the second year, we ended up driving all the way to Mike Hill’s in Fairborn. That’s where one of the contests was. It was Allen Midgette, Mike Crescini and me at Mike Hill’s ramp. He ended up talking to Brad Dorfman and getting me on Sims. That was the first time I met Tom Groholski. I had never seen guys that good before. Skating with everybody was such an awesome thing.
Did you ever have any direct contact with Tom Sims or was it all Dorfman?
It was all Dorfman. Sims had already sold it. It was pretty much Vision.
Were you stoked to get sponsored?
Totally. As a kid, you’re getting free stuff. It was just unimaginable. You’re getting boxes of boards and wheels. I think my first truck sponsor was Gullwing.
Did you ever get those 50/50 Sims wheels that were half black, half white?
I remember going to Kona and riding in those contests with Buck Smith and I remember seeing Buck riding a Hosoi board with those 50/50s. Did you know Buck back then? Did you guys ever get down to Kona?
I didn’t go to Kona until way later, but I’d always see photos and video of Buck and think, “Whoa, this dude is great.” He was winning all of the amateur contests. I’d see photos of everybody and then I’d see Buck and he was still amateur. I was like, “Wow! Buck should be pro.”
He was killing it. Do you remember when we were at that contest in South Carolina and we were in that hotel with the Rancheros playing that drinking game?
Yeah. It was in Greenville, SC, and it was the third year of the M.E.S.S. series. I think it was the last M.E.S.S. contests. All of us were there. That was the very first time I had ever seen Blaize Blouin skate. We were like, “Who is this kid? He’s so good.” None of us had ever heard of him. We went there, and it was me, Midgette and Crescini. We were thinking we were going to rule it, and then we saw Blaize, and we were thinking we were done because he was ripping on everybody. The cool thing about that whole experience was it didn’t matter that much. There were all these crews from all over the East Coast. You guys were there from Jersey, and the Rancheros were there. We were there from V.B. Everyone just met at this spot.
That was the first time I met you guys.
That was definitely the first time. John Fudala and Andy Howell and some other guys had gone up to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and skated with you and some other guys in a contest and they came back saying, “There’s this guy, Jim Murphy, and he does these frontside footplants grabbing the front of it. It was funny because now everyone calls them slobplants, but we’ve always known them as a “Murfplant.” I have to give you props for that.
Right on, bro. Thanks. That contest was epic.
So back to Greenville. It was the night of the contest. Everyone stayed at the same hotel and everyone was partying and, for some reason, we ended up in this one room. There were 20 of us in this room playing quarters. All of the Rancheros didn’t know who we were. We were just these stupid kids from V.B., and these guys were tougher than us. We were playing quarters, and someone had to drink and couldn’t do it. Load just called somebody out and flipped the table over. He said, “Drink you weasel shit!” For about 30 seconds, the whole hotel room was like a washing machine. You had 15 dudes bouncing off the walls. All of a sudden, Lenny Byrd just bounced right through the window.
Yeah, it was Lenny and some other dude from V.B., and they bounced from bed to bed and then out the window. When that happened, everyone just split. We were out of there. Wasn’t that your room?
Yeah. We got kicked out and had nowhere to go, so we went to the ramp and just camped out there. You were there already camping out.
It was something like that. [Laughs] Those were really good times. What I remember the most about that contest was all the different styles. You had the V.B. style with you and Crescini and your whole crew, and then you had the Rancheros style with all those guys. That was the best thing about that contest, to see all those different styles.
They put a clinic on of “how to snake.” When we left there, all of us just snaked each other every day, because of that contest. It was so funny.
[Laughs] I forget what contest was after that, but you guys had Lynnhaven and Trashmore. Wasn’t there a third one?
Yeah, it was Lynnhaven, Trashmore and Bayville.
Okay, let’s back up. You guys lose the parks, and skateboarding dies down a little bit. How did you guys get the city of Virginia Beach to build you three vert ramps? Did you and Crescini and the boys get together and go to public meetings?
It was more than us. It was bigger than us. We had our own ramp at Fudala’s house, but in Virginia Beach, there were at least 15 to 20 other little ramps that people had in their backyards.
Was it legit to have a backyard ramp in Virginia Beach?
It was, at first. Everybody had a ramp. The average ramp was 12-feet wide and 8-feet tall. There were at least 15 of them in Virginia Beach within 10 miles of each other. With that many ramps going on, and kids stealing plywood from construction sites, in combination with the noise in people’s neighborhoods, that made them say, “We’re going to make it illegal to have ramps in your backyard.” Then the parents started complaining and saying, “We want these kids to be able to skate somewhere.” That forced the city into building ramps. The city already had the asphalt snake run.
Let’s talk about tearing down the ramps. Did you have crazy ramp parties before you had to tear them up? Was it depressing or was it a big party?
Fudala’s ramp was there until the end. The other ramps had to come down, and it was depressing, especially when there were all these spots.
You were tearing down your ramps and the public ramps weren’t built yet, so were you feeling like they better build you some ramps?
Yeah, we totally felt that way, but you know what? The plans that went into the ramps were good. All the ramps that we had were 12-feet wide and 8-feet tall, and we were like, “We’re going to get a 32-foot wide ramp.” Back then there was nothing that wide. The dimensions were 32-feet wide and 10-feet tall with a foot of vert. For back then, that was the ultimate. When we heard they were going to build three of them, we weren’t bummed that the backyard ramps were going to have to come down.
All those ramps at Mount Trashmore were plywood coated ramps, right?
It’s funny because they went through all the stages of ramp evolution. They started off with all plywood with PVC coping.
Were they coated with Marine Spar Varnish to stand up to the weather?
Exactly. The first pro contest at Mount Trashmore was the first version of it. That one had pool coping, but before that, it had PVC coping.
It was wood painted white, right?
It was painted blue, before it was painted white.
It was plywood before it was fiberglass.
Yeah. It was PVC coping with wood.
PVC was the norm. There weren’t many ramps with pool coping. The ramps started with PVC coping, and then we had the city put pool coping on them. Then it was pool coping and wood. That was around the time the first pro contest happened here.
Talk about that first pro contest. What was that like for you guys?
As East Coast kids growing up, I didn’t go to California and see the evolution of the whole thing. It was the ‘80s, and we grew up in the ramp phase of it. The pro contest was going to happen, but we’d never seen any of these guys come here. The first West Coast pro that any of us saw came here two weeks ahead of the contest. Mike Smith came to Virginia Beach, by himself, two weeks in advance and he just hung with us for a whole week.
How cool was that? What did you guys do with Mike Smith for a week?
Mike Smith was a rager. He was full on and he was at his prime. He was in party mode, but he was still able to rip hard the next morning. That’s how we were back then. We all loved Mike Smith because he was the first West Coast pro we’d ever seen.
Did he have a cool vibe? What was he like when you met him?
He was pretty normal. He had a little bit of a “Yeah, I’m Mike Smith” thing going, but he’s allowed to because he is Mike Smith. He didn’t care about anything except where to find the next bag of weed, more than finding out where to skate the next day. We hung with Mike Smith for a week, and then Lance Mountain showed up. It was right when he learned 540s, and he came to our ramp, and the first day he skated it, he was making 540s. We were like, “Whoa.” We just couldn’t comprehend it. It was crazy.
Did you get to hang with him?
Not so much. It’s funny that we’re talking about him because I just saw the Bones Brigade documentary. We were the kids that rode the local vert ramp and those dudes were bigger than life. We didn’t get to hang with Lance. They were just on a different level.
Who else started showing up?
People started trickling in, and then the Texas dudes all showed up at one time. It was Phillips, Gibson and Craig. Those guys all hung together. Wilkes came later. He wasn’t hanging with them for some reason. Those guys came and they were chillin’ with my other homeboys, and they were bringing them to all the different parties. I think they were here for about five days and the thing that freaked me out about them was that I don’t think they slept the whole time they were here. [Laughs] I was partying with them the night before the contest until 4 a.m. The contest was the next day at 11 a.m. I rode my bike there, and they were already skating. I was like “What the hell is going on here?” It was so funny.
[Laughs] What do you remember about Craig, John and Phillips?
I just remember that the Texas dudes were totally different than the California dudes. You could tell. They were different in that they seemed to have more fun just being there. It was fun skateboarding, but they had more fun just being at the event, and living life. They made a big impression on me, and all of us here. Hanging with them, it was like, “That’s how you should take on skateboarding. Just have fun.”
What did you think when you saw Craig Johnson skate?
Everyone knows he shakes the ramp when he skates, but when you saw him fly on a ramp with 9-foot transitions and a foot of vert, he was huge! He was as big as the ramp. When he rode it, you had to look because it just didn’t make sense that a guy that big could ride it that powerful and that good. If he was riding, you couldn’t look away. You’d have to watch him. That goes for Phillips and Gibson, too. To this day, I always thought Gibson had the raddest style. Everything he did was amazing. No one skated like him. He had this nonchalant, cruisin’ style. His bonelesses and tuck knees had so much style. Everything was done the Texas way. They all had their own styles, but you knew they were from Texas.
[Laughs] Yeah. Phillips was a machine.
When I watched Phillips, I said, “This guy has skateboarding wired. He can do anything. It was just the way he would pump out of his tricks, and go into anything he wanted to and never fall. Every moment when he rode was full and maxed out. With guys today, you could say a few of them are comparable to Phillips, but nobody really is. You’re not going to find that. Even when we’re gone, and there are kids doing what they’re doing, I don’t think there’s going to be anybody like Phillips.
They broke the mold when he passed on. It was his consistency, style and everything about him. At that contest, were you skating the sponsored amateur event?
The first year, there was no sponsored amateur event. It was all pro. The second year there was an amateur event.
What was the first pro contest like?
To say I was there, and part of skateboarding history is awesome because that contest goes down in skateboarding history. It really does. It was one of the big outside vert ramp contests. You had the ones before it like the Midwest Melee and Joe’s Ramp Jam, but this was on a wider than normal, perfect, public vert ramp.
Who won that first contest?
Hawk won the first year and Phillips won the second year.
When you’re watching that first contest, what were guys experiencing?
It was not true to life because we were reading about these guys in the magazines and reading about these contests, and there weren’t many videos then. There were the Powell videos, so you knew what Lance Mountain, Steve Caballero and Tony Hawk skated like, but then we saw Joe Lopes, and he ripped, and we saw John Grigley and he ripped. You’d see his big Andrechts in the magazines, and then you’re seeing them in your face. That was one of the coolest things about it. I got to see everybody that I didn’t normally see in the videos or magazines. You got to see it up close and it was like, “Wow, this dude rips.”
After that contest, you guys started trying those tricks, right?
Oh, yeah. After that contest, it just made everybody in V.B. want to be that good. What was cool was that we all hung together.
It was you, Sergie, Midgette, Fudala, Crescini and your two bros. You guys had up-and-coming talent all over the place. Was Gator there that first year? Did Dorfman show up?
Dorfman was there and Gator was there, but we all went to Lynnhaven to skate. Everyone was going back and forth from Lynnhaven to Trashmore. Gator went to Lynnhaven to skate and did something crazy and went off the side of the ramp and got clotheslined by the stairs, so he couldn’t skate.
Did you see that?
I totally saw it. Christian did a backside air and landed on the edge of the ramp and grinded down the edge of the ramp, and messed himself up and that put him out too.
Was that at Lynnhaven too?
No, Christian got hurt at Trashmore and Gator got hurt at Lynnhaven.
What was that clothesline like? That must have been gnarly.
[Laughs] It was. He went off the side of the ramp and the stairs were horizontal to the ramp, and he got clotheslined by the stairs. It got him on the chest and neck.
Gnar. So that was your fellow Sims rider. Did you guys have any camaraderie going because of Sims and Vision?
No. That was the first time I’d met all those guys.
Did you feel like you were part of it?
No. It was cool meeting everybody, but it wasn’t until later, when I started skating pro and traveling around with everybody, that I felt connected. Back then I was just a little kid in awe.
So they showed up and they were like, “Right on, Henry, you’re on the team.”
Yeah. I got my first “Check Out” in Transworld around that time. It was pretty stoking.
Was that your first time in the mags?
No. It wasn’t during that contest, but right before, I was doing a channel sweeper, and Thrasher sent Dave Omer over to do a photo shoot on the ramps. I got this big double page picture of a sweeper.
What did you think of getting your first picture in a magazine?
I was totally blown away. You have these things that happen in your life, step-by-step, and you get so stoked. That was one thing that made me love skateboarding even more. It made me strive to go even farther.
So year two of the event, what was it looking like? That contest had a sponsored amateur and pro division, right?
Yeah. The second year, the ramp was fiberglass with metal pipe coping.
What did you think of the fiberglass thing? Why did they go with fiberglass?
It was because they were replacing plywood sheets every month. They wanted something that was more maintainable. Kona’s ramp was fiberglass, so that’s why the city went that route. I don’t know if they actually talked to Marty Ramos and his family, but they did some research and decided to do it. They said, “This is a ramp that we can do pro contests on.” So they did it at Trashmore.
What did you think of that?
It was slippery, but it was faster than plywood. The plywood was pretty damn slow.
I remember those splinters too, and then I remember going to Kona and how slippery it was. I was like, “Okay, now we’ve got to ride 95-durometers.” It was faster and just different.
It was different. For years, we had this sugar water coating to make it sticky.
Where did you get that idea?
I don’t really know who first did it or the source of it. I’m pretty sure that we were one of the first ones to actually do it. It started off with just taking Coke and pouring it on the ramp to make it sticky. With Coke, you had to buy the soda, and then that would make it too grippy.
Do you even remember how that thought came about? That was a genius idea.
I don’t remember who came up with it, but I remember when we first did it, it was like night and day. With fiberglass ramps, they would re-layer it every so often, and when they first put it on, it would be grippy for about a week, and then it would turn instantly slippery. When we discovered the Coke thing, it was grippy every day. Every day we skated it, we’d put Coke or sugar water on it. With sugar water, you could control the mixture and figure out how grippy you wanted it, and how much dirt would accumulate on your wheels based on how much sugar you put in it.
Today, they’ve got it so easy, huh?
Yeah, they’ve got Skatelite.
Yeah. We got to the metal stage and all the ramps in V.B. were metal with metal pipe on them.
Let’s go back to year two. You’ve got the fiberglass ramp with pipe coping. What made the pool coping go away?
The city decided. The pool coping went because of the maintenance of it, and it had huge gaps in it. If you see the videos of Allen Losi grinding all the way across it with his copers, you’d go, “Wow. No problem.” We were stupid. We all rode copers back then. Even with copers, the pool coping just chunked away. The city was tired of paying for pool coping, so that’s when the city put the pipe coping on. Then all the vert ramps had pipe coping instead of pool coping.
At a certain point, you just can’t fight it anymore. So let’s get to the second year contest. You had the amateurs and pros. You were in the amateurs, right?
When the second year came, I was in the amateur contest. The first year was good and it hyped everybody up on the second year. Everybody came from everywhere. Crescini won the amateur, Jeff Jones got second and I got third. Jeff Phillips won the pro, and Hawk got second in the pro.
What was that like being in that amateur contest, being a local?
It was cool because, being a local, I was used to the ramp, and everybody else was having a hard time with the slipperiness of the ramp and the fiberglass. We definitely had an advantage.
Did you feel any pressure going into that contest?
Yeah, the whole park was filled with thousands of people, and I’d never skated in front of that many people. Brad Dorfman was there, and before the contest even happened, he asked me to turn pro for him. I was like, “I don’t know. No one knows who I am. I’m just going to skate amateur and see what happens.” So I did that and I ended up doing all right. This was when Frank Hawk ran the NSA and somebody from each region would go to the finals. The finals were in Anaheim that December, so I went to that, and Reese Simpson won.
Wasn’t that the Vision contest?
Yeah. I think Social Distortion played on the ramp.
Was that the one with the spine ramp attached to it?
No. That was the second year. It was the year where you see footage of Hosoi doing the highest air. It was just a flat ramp in Anaheim. It was the first big indoor huge event. It had big TV monitors all over the place. It was one of the big first time ever vert contests for skateboarding. It was crazy. Reese won. I don’t remember if I got second or third. After that, I ended up going to Vancouver for the World Amateur Championships. I won that contest and that’s when I finally went pro.
What was it like winning that contest?
It was weird because it was a regular pro event, but they wanted to make the amateur event have an Olympics-type feel to it, where you had different countries represented. They had an East Coast team and a West Coast team. I was on the East Coast team with Buck Smith and Allen Midgette. The West Coast team had everyone else you would expect. They made you do the high jump, freestyle and vert, too. You had to enter three events. I entered the vert contest, but I didn’t enter any of the other contests. They had a bowl contest too.
All of a sudden, you’re getting flown around the world to skate.
Yeah. It was awesome. When I turned pro, it was crazy, because traveling the world is super fun, and the life experiences, I’ll never forget.
What was it like when you turned pro for Dorfman?
It was cool, but I skated for Sims, and Sims was like Dorfman’s redheaded, stepchild of a company. Vision got most of his money. Phillips was the best guy on Sims, but in no way was Phillips treated like Gator. It was different, but it was still cool. Getting paid was great. It wasn’t very much, but we didn’t have to work. As kids, we got to travel around and skate all over the world.
Did you get paid royalties?
I think it was $1.50 a board.
What was the most you made off boards in a month?
I think it was $1,500 in one month. That was out of the norm, and then everything else after that wasn’t much at all. Everyone on Vision was probably making double that. Vision boards were promoted way harder than the Sims board.
What was your first pro contest for Sims?
It was Stone Mountain, Georgia. Wasn’t that your first one too?
There were a lot of people that turned pro at that contest at Stone Mountain.
Did it feel weird to go pro or were you stoked?
It was weird, but it also seemed unreal. At the same time, it felt right. You just fell into it. All of the guys I was skating with turned pro too. Then there were all you guys that I was skating amateur with and you all turned pro too. It wasn’t that strange because it happened to everyone. It was more along the lines of, “Cool. Now we get to go to all these other contests.” Back then it was crazy, because every contest was more like a party than anything else. Every contest you went to, everyone was trying to be crazier than everyone else to get mentioned in a magazine, which was kind of funny. Those were good times.
Did you feel pressured to do well in those contests?
I always wanted to do good, but I always ended up partying too hard back then. I would be bummed when I didn’t do good, because I’d just get caught up in the party scene.
Would Dorfman come down on you, or did he care?
He never cared. That was the one cool thing about skating for him. There was no pressure like that.
Was Hogan running Gullwing then?
Hogan ran Gullwing prior to that, but Hogan was running Vision. It went through stages. At first, Everett Rosecrans ran it and then it was Hogan towards the end.
Who was running Gullwing?
At first, it was Goodrich, and then it was Hogan, and then Hogan started working for Vision and running the team.
So you were in the Gullwing Army. Did you ever get in any of those ads?
No. I skated for Gullwing, but I don’t think I ever got an ad. I switched to Tracker because I was friends with Bryan Ridgeway. I got a pretty good deal with them, so I rolled with it.
That’s cool. So when you toured, in ‘87 and ‘88, vert skating was huge. Were you on the road with Phillips or were you guys traveling separately?
I would always see Phillips, but I never did a tour with him, or the other guys. There were contests every couple of weeks, so Rosecrans or Hogan would come pick us up from the airport. It was probably different from how people do things today, because people just do stuff on their own now. We’d get our per diem and hang out and they took care of us and brought us to the contests. It was kind of like a team.
Buck Smith would be there with you too, right?
Totally. Buck Smith would be there. It was me, Buck Smith and Eric Nash; triple trouble.
What was it like going to contests with those guys? They were totally cool dudes with no ego and no attitude.
Yeah. We all turned pro at the same time and we all had our boards come out at the same time, and they marketed us as the three guys. We had to share our ads, but it was cool. Buck was this crazy Florida rager, and Eric was this laid back Arcadia, California, dude and I was this laid back V.B. dude that liked to party. We had fun. It was definitely cool. All our styles were a little bit different, and it was a good time.
All of you guys were cool when we were on the road together. Then you had Midgette, Sergie, you and who else?
He was Vision, but would you guys hang?
Yeah. It wasn’t like everybody from Sims got in one van and everyone from Vision got in another van. We were all on the same team basically. The Vision guys just got hyped up more.
You mentioned Crescini. Let’s talk about the Fork Crew and why that started, how it started and who started the Fork Crew.
Well, you grow up skateboarding and you have all the guys that you’re basically brothers with. You eat, sleep and live skateboarding. It came from a brotherhood thing. It was during the Fudala ramp days. Fudala started the fork thing at a party. I don’t know why he had a three-prong fork, because it’s only three-prong forks. Four prong forks aren’t it. So he had one, and he burned himself being drunk and stupid. Then Crescini wanted to do it too. It ended up that everyone that skated Fud’s ramp and partied at his house one night, ended up getting a fork burn. It was just a moment in time. Then it became something cool. It was something where we were all connected in some way. We weren’t mixing blood, but we all had fork burns. It was a symbol. It was our crew. This was how we were rolling. You had the Rancheros. We were the Fork Crew. It was cool like that. Anybody that came and skated with us that we thought was worthy enough would have to get a fork burn.
Who were the first guys to get the fork burn that first night?
It was John Fudala, Mike Crescini, me, my brother Eddie, my brother Glenn, Sean Collie, Midgette, Sergie… We all ended up turning pro and getting our boards at the same time, and we all decided to put forks in our graphics.
That was sick, dude. In ‘87, ‘88 and ‘89, you guys were all on the road, and then things started transitioning to street. Did you see where things were going or did you see an endless tunnel of vert skating?
We saw it happening. Everything was turning to street, but my first love was always vert, so I just kept riding vert. All of the guys that I hung with did the same thing. We knew the direction skateboarding was going, but we didn’t care. Our board royalties were dwindling to nothing, but all of us just kept skating vert. Much respect to the direction that skateboarding went, but we just loved skating vert and we were going to keep doing it.
Were people like Dorfman saying, “Hey, do you want to try some street skating?”
Never. I ended up quitting Sims/Vision around ‘91, and I started riding for Airbourne/Zorlac.
What made you do that?
Well, Newton had already sold Zorlac to this guy Dave Brown. He was using Zorlac as a legitimacy thing for their company, Airbourne. They were making a Metallica board, and I think that was their best selling board at the time. Everyone on Zorlac had pretty much moved on to Alva. Mertz, Stanton and Donny Myhre were the main dudes at the time. Airbourne decided they wanted a warehouse here on the East Coast, so they plopped one in Virginia Beach and I ended up working for them.
Why did they choose Virginia Beach?
I think it was because they saw Atlantic Skates Distribution up north and they saw Reggie Barnes down south and we were in the middle and they wanted us to merge in on the territory, but it never happened. I started working for them and it was a natural progression. They offered me a better deal to skate for Airbourne and I took it. At the time, it was a grasping thing because vert was dying and you had to get what you could. I did that for a while, but it just wasn’t working out. I was going to school the whole time and I got a degree in information systems in ‘93. In ‘94, I got my first computer programming job and I’ve been doing that ever since.
In the early ‘90s, vert was totally dead. You, Midgette, Sergie and your brothers were the hardcore vert riders, so what were you guys doing?
We were just in our own little bubble. We liked skating vert. We still had Trashmore, but the city wasn’t putting money into it because not a lot of kids were skating it. In the mid-’90s, Rob Bradford came up with the idea to build a skatepark. I put money into it and I was part owner of it, and we had our own skatepark in Virginia Beach.
Was this an outdoor park?
No, it was an indoor park. It was called the Skatepark of Virginia Beach. We called it the V.B. Skatepark. From ‘94 to ‘99, we had an indoor vert ramp, a street area and a mini ramp. That got us through the ‘90s for skating.
How many kids skated there everyday?
It was worthwhile for a bit, and then like anything, if you don’t change it up, kids get bored with it, and that’s what happened. Bradford had the last say-so on what was going on because it was mostly his deal, and he decided to take the vert ramp down and make the street area bigger. Once that happened, I was out. I had school, and he had to do what he had to do. I was bummed because we had this indoor vert ramp for all that time. It was fun while it lasted.
Who was riding your indoor vert ramp? Was it all the boys, like your brothers, Sergie, Midgette and Fud?
Fud had already moved to New York, but Sergie was there on a regular basis. He was still making money. He was still finding people to pay his way around the world, and he skated our park while he was in town. Mike Conroy would show up and skate every now and then. In the ‘90s, Rob Agliam, A.K.A. Pee Wee, really excelled and was better than everyone else. He turned pro and represented. Both of my brothers were still skating. When the park went down, it was devastating. It was more devastating than when the ‘80s vert thing died because then we really didn’t have a place to skate. Trashmore was beyond repair, so we didn’t have a vert ramp to skate. The Vans Park went up in D.C. and I bought a van just so all of us could go there every weekend. My van had probably ten people in it going to Vans every weekend to ride. That was our home spot for a long time.
When you started seeing the Vans Parks getting built, did anything click in your head, like skateboarding is back because these concrete parks are getting built again and people were willing to put money into it like Vans?
Totally. That was the re-emergence of it. Around that time, you had the X Games and the corporate thing going on too. I was just having fun. I just got self-fulfillment from riding. If I don’t ride, I get depressed. That era was fun, and we went to Vans every weekend and rode the pool and the vert ramp, but all good things come to an end. It was up for three years, and then they ended up closing it. When they closed it, we didn’t have anything to skate. There was nowhere to ride here, and that’s when Wanchese got built.
Tell people about Wanchese.
Wanchese is this wooden Skatelite bowl in the shape of an 8-foot round with hips in the middle towards a square that was probably 9-foot on one side. It was all Skatelite and it was in Wanchese, NC, in the Outer Banks. That was our spot every weekend for two years. We rode there for the longest time. In fact, every year, around September, they have a party called Cornfest, and everyone goes back there and skates. It’s still there and people still ride it and people still rip. It’s an iconic spot. East Coast-wise, it’s a mandatory place to go.
So this whole time of the Vans Park and Wanchese, you’re working a full time job?
Totally. I’m still doing software development. It’s full time work. After work and on the weekends is when I skate. For me, it’s self-fulfillment, and if I don’t skate, there’s just something missing. We went to Wanchese and skated the whole time. Then the City of Virginia Beach decided to put money into a public park. They saw that more kids wanted to skate, so they said that they were going to build a big killer concrete park. Things kind of rolled around in the city’s mind, and they didn’t have the money for it, so they gave us a pop-up park. That’s what we have for a street area. Then they gave us a wooden bowl and a vert ramp in 2006, so we’ve got a modern day vert ramp.
What are the trannies and vert on that?
It’s 11 ½’ and 2’. It’s awesome. I’ve been riding it since 2006. You get used to the big transitions and it’s easy on your body, and it’s good for airs. It’s something that I had a hard time getting used to, but now I feel good about it. I’m an old dude, so the fact that it has big transitions makes it easier on my body, and it helps with the longevity of how long you can skate. Now we have a brand new park too. It’s concrete, and the main pool has a round 8-foot, a round 10-foot and a square 12-foot, so it’s combi style. Team Pain built it and it’s really good, so we’re stoked.
You’ve been riding vert this whole time, so what do you want to ride more, that pool or a vert ramp?
It’s funny, because all of us talk about that because Virginia Beach has a history of vert ramps, and we don’t want that to die. We’re all riding the new pool, because it has LED lights and it’s open at night, and we’re always going to be there, but we all agreed that we all have to skate Trashmore at least one day a week.
Cool. Do you have young kids wanting to ride the vert ramp too?
We do. We have a strong vert scene. There are a lot of kids that skate our vert ramp. Right now, the kids I see carrying the torch from here are Collin Graham, and Ronnie O’Neal. They’re both super good at pools and vert. They are both getting noticed for sure.
They’re like you guys and they want to ride both pools and vert ramps?
They want to ride both. You always go where the session is. You know the session is always going to be at the new park, but I still love blasting airs at a vert ramp. I can’t get away from it.
Did you ever think we’d have this much concrete around the country?
Hell, no. I never thought it would be like this.
Do you see more skaters in Virginia Beach than you did in the past, or is it the same as it was in the ‘80s?
I think it’s way bigger than it was in the ‘80s. I thought we had a big scene in the ‘80s, because you knew everyone that skated, but now wherever you are, a skateboard is something that a kid always has. It’s way bigger than it used to be, definitely.
How many parks do you have now in the V.B. area?
We have a concrete park in Norfolk, which is ten miles from my house. It’s a really good park with a combi style pool, but the deep end isn’t that deep. It’s probably like 9-foot.
Who built that park?
That was Monk’s deal with Grindline. The newest one they built in Virginia Beach is a Team Pain park.
How do the two parks compare?
Well, they don’t compare. Norfolk is fun, but our park is beyond expectations. I have to give props to Tony Walsh and Chris Berry of Team Pain who put it together. They knew what the locals here wanted and they catered it to how they envisioned us riding it. They built a big deep bowl that’s super good for airs. It doesn’t compare to Norfolk. Norfolk is fun, but it’s more tight trannies and not that deep. It’s more of a grind bowl and not an air bowl.
Gotcha. Bucky Lasek and the boys could go to the new park and go way overhead?
Oh, yeah. People will be able to blast in this thing. It’s built to do big airs. That thing is buttery smooth. People are stoked on it.
How much bigger do you see it getting?
I see it getting bigger. I think it has the potential of getting way bigger. In Virginia Beach alone, they already want to build another park, beyond the one we’ve already got.
How does that happen? Is it another part of town saying that they want one too?
Well, Trashmore is maxed out. There are so many people that come ride it. That’s why they built the concrete park, and they know that one will be the same way. For the amount of people that use it, Parks and Recreation knows they have to provide something else. It’s crazy. It’s definitely gotten to that point. Why couldn’t this have happened 20 years ago? I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep skating at the level that I’m skating now. That’s what drives me. I think, “Well, tomorrow, I might not be able to ride how I did today, so I have to get it while I can.”
That’s cool. Now all of these parks are coming back, and you’re sponsored again. What’s that been like for you?
It’s great. I skate for Embassy Skateboards.
How did that come about?
Well, Lee Leal and John Gibson own it, and it was around the time that I got invited to this Tony Hawk ‘80s vert thing that happened at a trade show. Lee was there and he was like, “Hey, do you want to skate for us?” I was like, “Hell, yeah!” I have been sponsored again for the last few years and I’m stoked. I’m honored to be skating for someone like Lee Leal and John Gibson. There are roots there and it’s core. It feels good. I’m just having fun and representing and Lee takes care of me and it’s awesome. We’ve got Ben Johnson, Ken Fillion and the whole crew. It’s a really cool vibe. It’s more fun because we’re doing what we’re doing because it’s fun.
It’s for Texas, which is killer. Who do you skate with every day now? Is Midgette in full effect or what?
I skate with Midgette a lot. We skate at least two or three days a week. He’s ripping again. He’s doing all his old shit. He got it all back. He’s been tearing it up. Remember his lien airs to smith grinds? He’s doing them so good again.
Didn’t he have the backside smiths down too?
Yeah. He’s still doing them so good, and alley-oops, too. He still has it.
That’s killer. I remember seeing Losi and Midgette on tour in Amsterdam. Do you remember that?
Oh, yeah. LSD was under Airbourne, so I would hang and travel with them. As soon as we’d get off the ferry from England into Amsterdam, they were gone. The minute we got there, they were like kids in a candy store. I didn’t see them again until days later. They just hauled ass. It was pretty funny.
Those days were classic. We have to get Midgette an interview soon.
That would be rad. He’d love it.
Sick. You have these new concrete parks. Is there any word of a legit concrete park contest series going down?
The city is open to something big. I’ve heard them talking about it, but there are no concrete plans yet. Maybe World Cup will do something here.
I’m so stoked that you’re skating hard and that you got that epic park. I’m jealous.
I’m way stoked on that park. I still have that fire. I’m still skating and having fun.
Cool. Is there anyone you’d like to thank?
I had beers earlier and if I forget to give out the right shout outs, I might get beat up. [Laughs] Okay, here goes. Thanks to Susan Casciato, my brothers Ed and Glenn, Virgil Tripp, Roy Buni, Bob Kuehn, Troy Lowman, Allen Midgette, the O’Neals, Shane Graham, Collin Graham, Derek Krasauskas, Jessie Fritch, Andy Howell, Bushka Vidal, Rob Agliam, Jr. Pernites, Joel White, Jesse Irish, Fud, Mark Nichols, Mike Conroy, Peanut Brown, Phil Lusk, Rob Bradford, Buck Smith, Eric Nash, Sergie Ventura, Mike Crescini, Rob Mertz, Scott Stanton, Lee Leal, Tom Groholski, Matt Dove, Jaime Stapula, Everett Rosecrans, Ian Parnell, Shrewgy, Scissors, Bob Umbel, Ray Fennessey, the OBX crew, Vets Crew, PPS, The Loud Ones, the GA Rancheros, the Fairborn Squids, Public Menace boys (PA) and the East Coast Toke Team! Right on, Murf.
All right, Henry Gutierrez, V.B. local, Team Embassy, Fork Crew killing it. Thanks for everything, Henry.
Okay, Murf. Peace.
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