INTERVIEW AND INTRODUCTION BY JIM MURPHY
PHOTOS BY J. GRANT BRITTAIN
Texas is the reason why John Gibson is one of the coolest skaters you’re ever gonna meet. Ya see, when you go to Texas, there’s a whole different attitude when it comes to skateboarding and playing music. It’s about just having fun. John Gibson is the quintessential Texan skateboarder who skates for fun, plays music for fun and has partied Texas style wherever he goes. He was the outsider that came on the southern California contest circuit and torched up the competition from out of nowhere. He became a hero to all of us looking in from outside of the seemingly inpenetrable California skate scene. After the ’70s skatepark crash, Tex was one of the original Zorlac pros and then he joined the infamous Alva posse, and the rest is history. Sit back, relax and read about one of our long time heroes, John “Tex” Gibson, hailing from Stinkadena, TX! Don’t mess with Texas!
“I WAS WATCHING SALBA DROPPING IN AND ROLLING IN ON PEOPLE, AND TAKING OVER. HE WAS JUST DOMINATING. HE WAS BLOWING SNOT BOOGERS OUT AT PEOPLE WHILE HE WAS DROPPING IN WITH HIS LEOPARD SKIN SHORTS ON. IT WAS SO PUNK ROCK.”
What’s happening, Gibson? Are you ready to do this?
Yeah, I’m going to give it hell.
[Laughs] Okay. Let’s go. Where were you born and raised?
I was born in 1964 in Houston, Texas and grew up in Pasadena, TX. Or as we like to say, “Pass-a-dip-down-dena.” It’s just a little chemical valley outside of Houston. Some people call it Stinkadena where the grass is greener and the girls are meaner.
[Laughs] What was it like growing up in Texas?
It was rough. I grew up with red hair in Pasadena, TX. They’d come up to me and go, “I’d rather be dead than red on the head.” My brothers taught me to say, “It’s better than being brown in a mound like the shit on the ground.” It was a bunch of rednecks, so you had to learn how to fight real quick growing up in Texas. When I started skating, it was even worse with all the jocks and the rednecks. They didn’t know what to think.
When did you start skating?
That was around ’74 or ’75.
What was your first set up?
I got a hand-me-down from my brothers. It was a blue plastic Bigfoot board. I wore that tail out. We had a guy at the end of the street that had started skating around and he was making these wooden boards. He’d wood screw the trucks in and every crack we hit would rip the trucks right off.
What were you skating?
We were just skating the street. We had these killer round curbs in front of my house and we’d skate this ditch down on the Bayou. There were 15-foot walls with three feet of flat. It was totally gnarly.
This was pre-skatepark days, right?
Yeah. Then the skateparks started popping up. There was a skatepark in Pasadena called Skater’s Crater. It was a pit. It was one run that you could barely ride and it was uphill until you get to the bowl. You’d drop in the bowl and there were these huge cracks in it. I skated it like there was no tomorrow. It was the only place we didn’t get run off for skating.
Who were you skating with?
At that point, I was skating with Toby Herrera the monster, Daryl Campbell, and Randy Pie. Randy was a local hot shot out at Skater’s Crater. I finally made it on the team there. We were all on the team. Randy Pie had a driver’s license, so he used to drive us around and we’d go skate ditches and find pools. It was pretty cool. Randy was a great skater. He’s out in Hawaii now just ripping it up surfing, big time.
He was taking you to backyard pools and draining them and shit?
Yeah, we’d go to this one place out at the Miller cutoff for the 225. The first time I ever went there, my brothers took me. It was a big thing around the city that it was this haunted house. You had to walk down this driveway with all these trees on it. They took us there at night and it was spooky. You go down through this tunnel of trees and we finally saw this house. It had all these weird paintings on it. They say there used to be devil worshippers there. It scared the crap out of me. Later on, we went back there during the day and there was a pool there. We spent a week draining that crap. That was one of the first pools that we sessioned all of the time.
What did you think of skating a backyard pool?
It was awesome, man. It was killer. It was a kink pit, but we loved it. We skated it every day. If you were grinding it, you were like, “No way.” Your tail was scraping going up the wall.
What kind of board were you riding?
At that time, I was riding Trackers with 60mm Kryptonics. My board was something I scammed or it was a hand-me-down. I skated anything I could get my hands on. The main board I started on was a Logan Earthski. It had no kicktail. It was flat. I had Stoker wheels on it. With the Stokers you could punch out the ball bearings, when precision bearings came out. I only had enough money to buy bearings for three wheels, so I had three wheels with precision bearings and one ball bearing wheel and the one with ball bearings always kept coming off. I’d have to get BBs and put it back in. I used to ride that board constantly. I rode it barefooted all the time. That was the first board that I was riding when I was getting up on vert and shit.
How stoked were you?
Those were the days.
That was the mid ’70s?
It was around ’76 or ’77.
Were you reading the skate magazines and thinking that you wanted to get sponsored?
We didn’t know anything about sponsorship. We were just looking at the magazines and seeing Jay Adams ripping pools. It was way frickin’ cool. We were searching out pools and had a lot of ditches around. There were tons of drainage ditches. The pools were hard to find here in Houston. Once you drain them, they stayed drained for a while. If you don’t pull the plug on that drain, they’d pop out of the ground for a while. We had the big ass public pools that they would drain every once in a while. We used to skate this one called Parker pool. We still skate that pool every winter.
Nice. Were you getting any concrete parks in ’77 or ’78?
Across town there were some parks popping up like Skateboard City and a place called Solid Surf. Later on, Solid Surf added a pool, but right when they got the pool they closed down. On our side of town, this one park opened up called Gulf Coast Skatepark. I was out there all the time. That’s where I met Ken Fillion.
We got jobs there when we were like 12 or 13. We were park patrol. We’d make sure the kids wore their helmets and pads, but we never wore our pads. We just terrorized and skated around. We got free Cokes and we got paid minimum wage just to raise hell.
The vibe was killer, but there was no vert. It was all banks. You could do speed runs and everything. There was this 15-foot bowl that was killer, but it didn’t quite make it to vert.
Were you getting out of the top of that thing?
Oh, yeah. We were doing lipslides in. I was doing Indy airs. That’s when all the pros out in California were doing their tours and they’d come to town and people would be driving around in limos and going to all the skateparks.
What pros came through that park?
I saw Chris Strople, Shogo Kubo, Dennis Martinez, Steve Cathey, Tony Jetton and a few other guys The only people that were allowed to skate with them was Ken and me and a few other local guys. All these people were there checking it out. We were doing our thing. Ken and I used to do doubles. I was the same size as him back then, but he never grew. I grew three feet taller. He was a Leprechaun. He’s the funniest dude I’ve ever met.
[Laughs] I know man. Was he the same then? Was he always cracking jokes?
Oh, yeah, constantly. You could never be serious when you talked to him. It was nonstop. I was like, “Stop it, man. I need a straight answer.” It was funny.
What was it like to be skating with the pros?
It was like, “No way. They’re coming here?” You had the hype of the ’70s, too. The pros were all touring around and then they came and we were skating with them. I remember Strople was like, “Man, you’re pretty good. Here.” He gave me his autographed board. It was an old Caster with the wedge tail. I was so stoked. I fully set it up and rode it. Nine months later, Zorlac was around. Newton was making these little boards out of his garage. He gave me one of his boards. He was like, “Do you want to ride for Zorlac?” I was like, “Cool.”
What was that like for you to get on Zorlac?
You have to understand that I’m from Houston. Craig Johnson, Dan Wilkes and all those guys were up in Dallas. There was a big rivalry back then. We had our parks here and they had parks up there. We’d have contests and they’d come down and be all stuck up and everything. No one was talking to each other.
The Dallas guys were the stuck up guys?
Yeah, totally. They were fully snubbing everything. We’d go to Dallas to skate their parks and they wouldn’t give us the time of day.
Why were they getting all hoity-toity on you?
You know how Dallas is. They came around after a while. I’d be going up there and skating. My mom would drop me off in Dallas to skate these contests. Then Newton came out of the blue. I’d seen those Zorlac boards, but they weren’t really being sold anywhere. He was just doing it out of his garage, so he gave me a board. Then I went back to Dallas a few more times and took some pictures and stuff like that. That’s when they had the Oklahoma State Championships. That was the first time I flew on a plane. I flew up there to Dallas and I was only 13 years old. Newton picked me up at the airport and then we drove in his truck to Oklahoma to the Oklahoma State Championships. It was so white trash. It was funny. It was really hilarious. We were up there skating this park and the pros that had come through Houston before, like Strople and Shogo, were coming through Tulsa. They had this plexi-glass ramp. It was the same ramp that Zorlac ended up having many years later. It was one of those Pepsi ramps. It had no flat and no platform. They had one of those that they’d set up at the park. That was the only thing that had vert in the park. Vertical was very scarce in public skateparks in Texas and Oklahoma. That was about the time that the ollie air had just come out. We were seeing them in the magazines and I had already learned them. Strople comes back around and sees me doing these ollie airs on this plexiglass ramp. He was freaking out. He was like, “What?” He said, “I’m going to bring you out to California. Come and skate some contests out there.” I was like, “Okay, cool.”
Wait. Newton was there and you were sponsored by Zorlac, right?
Yeah. I rode with Newton there in the truck. Strople says, “I want you to ride for Caster. I’m going to fly you out.” He wanted to fly me out to California, and this was the summer of ’79. I was like, “Cool!” I didn’t even think about anything. Then Newton comes up to me and says, “I heard Chris Strople asked you to ride for Caster.” I said, “Yeah, he did.” He goes, “Well, what did you say?” I said, “I said, “Hell, yes.” He was all bummed. I remember Strople gave him a pair of Tracker Mags. He was trying to calm him down. I had to ride all the way back home to Dallas with him and then he had to put me on a plane and fly me back home.
Oh, dude. What was that ride back to Dallas like?
It was a pretty quiet drive.
[Laughs] That was a pretty ballsy move.
I didn’t even think. It was Strople, man. It was Shogo too. They were all talking to me. They saw me ride in Oklahoma. Dennis Martinez was like, “Hey, do you want to ride for G&S?” Shogo was like, “Do you want to ride for Dogtown?”
Why did you go with Caster over Dogtown or anyone else?
Caster just seemed really cool. The boards were really good. They didn’t have a huge team. They weren’t all glammed out. There was Strople. He had his CS mode on Caster. There was Wally Inouye and he had his Inouye Pool Service model on Caster. I thought the boards were killer. When Strople had come through Houston and given me that board of his, the wedge tail, I rode it until there was just one little piece of the wedge left on the tail. I rode it to the very end. They had those fiberglass layers in between the wood. Those boards were killer. They were really thin too with only six plies. They were super light and flexed good. It was a small little surf company that was making their own boards there. Watson was doing it. It was killer.
Did Newton say anything to encourage you? Was he stoked for you at all?
No. He was mad. He couldn’t believe I said yes. I was like, “What are you thinking?” I was just a kid. I started to get the impression that maybe I did something wrong. I didn’t think I did anything wrong. He came around though. He realized that he wasn’t going to be able to fly me out to the Hester Series. I couldn’t spend my summers out in California riding for him.
What happened next? Did Strople call you and fly you out to California?
Well, that’s what was so weird. I came back home at the end of summer. I tell my mom, “This guy from California is flying me out there next summer for these contests.” She was like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever.” Then the school year starts and I don’t hear anything for the whole school year. Then summer comes around. He had given me a board and I had been riding it all that school year. It had no nose. He never called me or sent me another deck or anything.
What did the other local skaters say after you came back and told them you were sponsored by Strople and Caster?
When I told them I was going to California they thought it was cool, but you could tell that they didn’t believe it. Then school was out and I was looking at the magazines and seeing the upcoming contests. The Hester Series had been going on and the final contest was coming up at Del Mar. It was a big pro/am. Mike McGill and Alan Gelfand had their big interview in Skateboarder magazine. They were talking about how they were going to be there. Then that first day of summer the phone rang and it was Chris Strople. He goes, “Are you ready to come to California?” I was like, “Yeah!” He goes, “Your plane leaves at 9am tomorrow morning.” I was like, “No way!” I think I was 14 then. So I go to my mom and tell her. I said, “You have to take me to the airport at 9am. I’ve got to go to California.” She was like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever.” I was stoked, but no one really believed me. I had to make her drive me to the airport. We go up to the ticket counter and she doesn’t think there’s going to be a ticket there. She was just going to let me crash and burn. When they said, “Okay. Here’s your ticket.” She was like, “What? You’re not going to California. You’re only 14 years old. You can’t go out there by yourself.” I had to get Strople on the phone to talk to my mom. Then Strople’s mom had to talk to my mom. My mom had to be convinced. I was 14 years old. I was just this little kid from Pasadena, TX, and I was going to fly out to California. She thought it was the land of Charlie Manson. I went out there and stayed for about a month and a half. It was killer. It was unbelievable.
When you landed at the airport, was Strople there with the limo or what?
[Laughs] No. When you fly into San Diego, you fly right over the mountains, so I was freaking out. That was the longest that I’d ever been on an airplane. I was totally freaking out. We land and there are Hare Krishnas everywhere. It was California, the land of mixed nuts and loose fruits.
All of those clichés were coming true. I’m in the airport just standing there. All of a sudden I see Tom Inouye. I recognized him because of his arm that was all cockeyed. He was this little wiry guy. I guess he recognized me because Chris had been telling him stuff. He was like, “Come on. Let’s get your stuff.” I had my board, which was an Inouye board that I’d been given. It had no nose and the tail was all cracked up. Inouye started laughing when he saw it. He was like, “You don’t have a new board?” I was like, “No, man. I’ve been riding this one until the end.” He was just laughing. Then he says, “Chris is getting the car.” We’re standing out there and here comes this red beat up Volkswagen. We get in the Volkswagen and I’m thinking, “Whoa. This is rad.” I couldn’t believe the weather either. There was a cool wind and no humidity. We get in and Chris starts doing his crazy driving thing where he’s weaving in and out of traffic. We were going up these mountains and around these turns. We get up to the freeway and he’s like, “Del Mar is right up over this hill. You’re going to be stoked.” It was the Hester Series and all the pros were going to be there. We made it up to the top of the hill and the VW just ran out of gas and we coasted at least four miles all the way down. We made the exit and almost made it to the AMPM. We get across the street and all jump out and start to push. I remember this car pulled up and someone yells, “Hey, Strople!” It was Scott Dunlap from the Badlands and Upland. He jumps out of his car and helps us push the VW up to the gas station. We put some gas in and then we had to push start it to get it going from the gas station. Then we cruise up to Del Mar. I’ll never forget on the marquis it said, “Look Sharp.” It was some Joe Jackson album that had just come out. Then we pull up into the parking lot and the first person that comes up is Salba. He was like, “Hey, what’s up?” I was thinking, “That’s Steve Alba. No way.” They were all walking in to the pro shop, and there was Alan Gelfand. Pineapple was there and then I saw Dennis Martinez. He remembered me. He was like, “Hey, what’s going on?” This was back in Del Mar at the keyhole. In the later days, everyone dropped in from the flat, but back then, they didn’t. It was a total snake session big time. I just remember Salba constantly riding anytime he wanted. He was snaking everybody. He was rolling out and rolling in. Pineapple dropped in and did this rock n’ roll board slide like 15 coping blocks. I was just sitting there in awe. I went and skated the half pipe. They still hadn’t gotten me a board yet either.
[Laughs] So you were 14 years old. Were you freaking out or what?
Yeah. I ate it up. I dove right in. I couldn’t skate the pool because it was this big pro snake session. You name it. They were there. They were all fighting for it. Dave Andrecht was dropping in. I went to ride the half pipe because there weren’t as many people there and I see this little bitty kid. He’s got his Powell/Peralta board standing up and it’s up to his shoulder. I’m like, “Check out that kid.” He rolls in frontside and blasts this huge backside air into a frontside invert. It turns out that it was Caballero. That’s the first time I ever saw him. He was little, too, and he was killing it. I swear his board was almost taller than him. When I saw him roll in and do that frontside invert, I was like, “Damn.”
He was still amateur then, right?
I think that was the contest where he went pro. I think Gelfand went pro there too.
So you were skating with Strople and the boys. Were they being cool to you?
Yeah, man. I couldn’t believe it. When I was watching Salba dropping in and rolling in on people, and just taking over, he was just dominating. He was blowing snot boogs out at people while he was dropping in with his leopard skin shorts on. It was so punk rock. It was all new to me. I remember being in the pro shop and Salba comes in and says, “So what’s up, Gibson?” I was like, “You know my name?” I was shocked. I was getting my picture taken for my membership card at Del Mar. He said, “Let me see it.” My middle name is Keith. So he says, “John Keith. I’m going to call you John K.” I was thinking, “Is he messing with me or what?” He turned out to be cool. Since I was with Strople and Inouye, there was major respect for those guys. It was pretty rad. I stayed out there a month and a half. They threw me in the ocean and made me learn how to surf. I didn’t even know how to swim.
How did you do in that contest? Did they have an amateur contest in that pool?
They had the Pro/Am in the pool and the halfpipe. I got most of my practice on the halfpipe. I rode the pool when I could get in the pool. It was really political. The first day was the semi finals. I was skating the half pipe and McGill was there. Bob Serafin, Eddie Meeks and Scott Foss were all there. I still haven’t gotten a new board. I was like, “I need to get a new board from those guys.” The judge was Curtis Hesselgrave, the skate doctor. He was good friends with Strople and Hester. George Orton was a judge too, I think. This is the first time anyone had ever seen me skate. No one knew my name or anything. I thought I was doing good in the half pipe. I qualified first. In the pool, I qualified third.
Wow. Were people blown away?
Yeah, they were blow away, but McGill and Gelfand were the hot shots. Peralta was walking them around and showboating them. When I qualified first, McGill threw this huge hissy fit. He was screaming at the judges. The next day was the finals. By then, I was even more used to the halfpipe. I skated it better that day, but sure enough they gave me second. Strople went up to the judges and almost decked them, but they just bowed down to Peralta.
Did McGill win it?
Yeah. He got first and I got second. I dropped down in the pool contest too, which I also thought I skated better the second day. I had more practice. Peralta laid into him so hard. McGill was really bummed out on semi-final day. Strople was like, “Don’t pay any attention to him. Just concentrate and drop in.” He was being the full mentor. Strople was up there yelling at Curtis, but Stacy had already talked to everybody. It’s been like that ever since.
[Laughs] The politics of skateboarding. What was your feeling after that contest?
I was still blown away from being out there. I was like, “I got second. Cool.” I just kept on skating until I had to go.