INTERVIEW WITH LAURA THORNHILL-CASWELL
INTERVIEW BY JAMES O’MAHONEY
INTRODUCTION BY JAMES O’MAHONEY
PHOTOS BY JAMES O’MAHONEY
1975 was probably the most significant year in skateboard history. We had the urethane wheel, sealed bearings, the kicktail, the First World Skateboard Championships, the first Guinness Skateboard World Records and Del Mar. There was a small core of competitive girl skaters that numbered about 15. Competition, at the time, consisted of freestyle and slalom. Laura excelled at both. Besides 360 hairspins, the schoolyard banks and the Vermont Drop, she was out attacking pools and pipes. She was the only one duking it out with the boys; acid dropping into the pools at Steve’s Superbowl in Torrance (first park with a 20ft. pipe) carving Baldy, and terrorizing the desert pipes of Arizona. Written in cement, she was the TA of the chicks.
“We went in search of those pipes not knowing if we would actually find them, let alone be able to get to them without being caught and kicked out.”
Your name is?
Are you married?
Yes, I am. I got married in 1987.
Do you have any kids?
Two. Sage and Kylie.
Do your kids skate and surf?
Kylie is an aspiring surfer. She was into skateboarding for a little while. My son Sage is totally into skateboarding. He’s quite well-known in the professional and amateur ranks of the skateboarding world as a filmer and an editor and is now very into the DJ thing and mixing music.
What do they think of mom being skateboard pioneer and champion?
They think it’s pretty stinking cool. All of their friends think I’m the coolest mom on the block, which is true, so what are you going to do?
[Laughs.] Where were you born?
Dallas, Texas at Baylor Hospital.
1961, March 23rd.
Do you have brothers or sisters?
I have one brother, one stepbrother and four stepsisters.
Did anyone else in your family skate?
No. My brother skateboarded a little bit, but I was the odd one of the group. I was always into sports and being the jock of the family. I did every team sport imaginable growing up and had surfing in P.E. in high school. I was always really a natural athlete, so skateboarding came naturally.
When did you come to California?
Super Bowl Sunday, 1974.
Did you skate in Texas? Did you have people to skate with as a kid?
I had just started skating. There was a family of six boys that lived next door and they had a beater skateboard with clay wheels. They would always leave it out on their lawn and I’d go steal it. I’d skateboard down my driveway and up and down the sidewalk. That’s where I learned how to kickturn. Then I moved out to California in 1974 and the urethane wheel had recently come out. I was big into roller-skating in Texas, so I already knew about the urethane wheel from the roller rink, but hadn’t seen them on skateboards yet. As far as having anyone to skate with, the answer would be no, at least not in Texas. It was such a new thing that nobody had anything of quality yet.
Where in California did you move?
I moved to the Hollywood Riviera in Redondo Beach.
What’s your earliest recollection of skateboarding?
Skating all over the Hollywood Riviera, at Riviera Elementary School and down on the strand.
Did you watch Saturday cartoon shows?
All of the time. I liked the old Popeye and Speed Racer.
What was your first board?
A Black Knight with black clay wheels. I got it for my 13th birthday. That was the first board that I owned.
Were you excited when you got the board?
I thought I was the coolest and was determined to become the best girl out there.
What is shooting the duck and walking the dog?
Shooting the duck would be looking duck-like on one foot and squatting down low and scooting along, or arcing into a turn. “Daffy” is one foot on the nose and one foot on the tail with the other end sticking up in the air and kind of balancing about, looking, once again like a duck. Walking the dog is hard to describe, but I could kick ass showing it to you!
[Laughs.] What was your first trick?
It was a very impressive 360 and then multiple 360s. Shortly thereafter, I was intent on mastering the handstand.
What was the first bank you rode?
It was at Riviera Elementary School by Rocketship Park. They had a couple of great banks. They finally put railroad ties at the bottom so the kids couldn’t skate it. That’s where I had my first wrist fracture. Then I skated the Funnel in South Bay, but it had horribly rough trannie at the bottom of the banks.
The Funnel was also known as the Vermont Drop.
That was in 1974 and 1975.
Did you skate with any other girls?
Not really, but the first girls that I ever rode with were Andrea Malczewski and Debi Eldridge on the strand in Hermosa Beach. They were both on the Unity Skateboard Team.
Where did you first go vert?
It was at a pool near my house that I actually got thrown in jail for riding one day. It was a house that was being remodeled and the pool happened to be empty. We were ditching school for this potential day of fun and then the cops showed up. They could have taken us in for trespassing, truancy and lack of supervision, but only took us all in for lack of supervision. That was the first pool that I tiled and grinded. I have to say that that’s probably the first place that I ever experienced vert.
What was your first contest?
I skated in a contest at my middle school and I won. I was the only girl that entered and I beat out all the boys.
Your first big skateboarding contest was at Steve’s South Bay in 1975. The teams that were there were Unity Skateboard, Hobie, Logan Earth Ski, Zephyr and X-Calibur.Were you eyeballing to get on a team at that contest?
At that time I wanted to get on the Unity team. Ty Page, Mark Boden, Bryan Beardsley, Debi Eldredge and Andrea Malczewski were all on that team. They all lived in the South Bay in Hermosa Beach. Going into that contest, I felt that was the team to be on. I was told that if I did well in that contest then I was a shoe-in to be on the team. I ended up taking first in freestyle and first in slalom. That day, after I kicked ass, Danny Bearer who was a very well-known skater from the ‘60s, came up and asked me to be on the Logan team. They were one of the biggest teams, and even though they were located down south in Leucadia and Encinitas, it was an honor, and it had become clear throughout the day that it was indeed the team to be on. It was very cool moment in my young 13-year-old life and was a day that proved to change the course of my life forever. I had gone into that contest hoping to be good enough to be asked to join the Unity Team and ended up getting asked to be on Logan with some of the most legendary characters and talent skateboarding knew at that time. With Logan, I ended up with the very first female signature model skateboard, which was a milestone in itself. I stayed loyal to the Logan team for many years, even through all of the years when everyone was jumping ship, chasing the money and not giving a rat’s ass about the quality of a product. Towards the end of the ‘70s, I did finally jump and rode for Free Former, which had some decent product, but also had a low end line of crap plastic.
What did Logan give you? Did you get a t-shirt or something to be on the team?
That day they gave me a shirt and some shorts and a board. They invited me to come down to San Diego and go out to La Costa and groove with the legendary Sunday Slalom Races, which was always major fun and big action. They instantly rigged me out with a load of boards and got me all hooked up. They introduced me to Warren Bolster and, in a matter of weeks, it just all took off. It was amazing!
How long before Logan made the Laura Thornhill model skateboard?
That’s a good question. I don’t remember what year that was, probably within a year and a half.
When did you hook up with Warren Bolster to shoot photos?
It was in 1975. I had just started up with Logan and Warren did the first female “Who’s Hot?!!!” on me. It used to be a feature in the early years of Skateboarder. Warren took me on as his favorite female pet project, so I was really in an amazing position to shine. I had always wanted to be the best, ever since seeing a few pictures of girls in the first issue of Skateboarder. I also had the good fortune of having the very first female centerfold in the magazine, which was a shot taken out in the desert at the notoriously amazing Arizona pipes. The best though was having the very first female interview in Skateboarder.
What were the early skateboarding teams like?
You were there. You know how great it was. Those were the days. Everyone knew each other. The contests were great. There was a real cool camaraderie and a lot of goofing off. It was like a group of carnies. Everyone traveled around and did all the contests. It was just a real great batch of crazy characters. And you were one of the ringleaders!
It was a lot of fun. I was just one of a handful of girls that were really in the loop. Robin Logan was just getting into the scene and was my best pal in those pioneering days, as well as Kim Cespedes. There were other girls in the mix too like Peggy Oki, Andrea Malczewski, Debbie Eldredge, Edie Robertson, Robin Alaway, Tina Trefethen, Ellen O’Neal, Ellen Berryman, Kathy Bomiester, Desiree Von Essen, Patti Monahan, Deana Caulkins and Vicky Vickers. It wasn’t a huge group of girls. The group that I was hanging out with on the Logan team, it was Robin Logan, Kim Cespedes and I. When I first got asked to be on the Logan team it was great because it was just me and a bunch of guys!