INTERVIEW BY JIM MURPHY
INTRODUCTION BY JIM MURPHY
PHOTOS BY BRYCE KANIGHTS
Artist, motivator and roundwall destroyer, Mark Conahan has been in the skateboarding game for over two decades. He’s not in it for the fame or the accolades. He’s in it for the fun and the support of the community. Mark charges every session as hard as he ever has and always makes the most of the terrain he rides. If you travel to the Northwest and are looking for someone who is down to ride, look for Mark because he is probably already at the session. Juice Magazine presents Mark Conahan.
“WE STARTED AT BURNSIDE, AND THEN HIT THOSE FOUR PARKS IN WASHINGTON AND THEN CAME BACK TO THE PORTLAND AREA AND SKATED ALL THE GOOD PARKS THERE. WE FINISHED UP AT AUMSVILLE, WHERE THEY HAVE LIGHTS. WE HIT 16 SKATEPARKS IN ONE DAY.”
Where were you born and raised?
I was born in New York at Lennox Hill Hospital but moved out to southern California when I was two. I pretty much grew up in Los Angeles.
When were you born?
What brought you guys out to California?
My dad met my mom in California and she moved back to New York to go to school. After that, they moved back.
When did you start to skateboard?
I was about 12 years old, so it would have been about ’73.
What was your first set up?
We started out on metal wheels. My dad lived near the beach, so we learned to surf when we were kids and then got interested in skateboarding. I found a metal-wheeled skateboard somewhere. It was the one with the 15 toes design on the top. I pretty much learned to skateboard on the sidewalks, but there was this bank up at this place called Steve’s South Bay Sporting Goods. That was the site of some early contests in Torrance, California. We lived in that neighborhood and there were some banks we used to go skate. We’d go skate at the schools up in Palos Verdes and places like that.
When did you start getting turned on to skateparks with pools? Did you skate any backyard pools before the skateparks hit?
It was about the same time that they opened that Montebello skatepark. That was one of the first ones down there. I guess we had skated one before that. There’s a place called Phil’s Pool in Lomita where I lived. I used to see T. A. and those guys there.
What was that like?
That was pretty insane. The local guy was a guy named Kevin Anderson. I saw Tony Alva skate there when I was 14 and that was pretty amazing.
Was he rock-star-ing out or was he cool to you?
We were totally intimidated. It was like, ‘Oh man, I hope we can come back when those guys aren’t here so we can learn how to do it.’ It was insane. I can still remember that pivot kickturn. I went to school up in Beverly Hills and a couple of years later, when I was first starting to drive, I was hitting Reseda Skatercross and I used to run into those guys up there too.
You had a crew you were hanging out with?
It was neighborhood kids, pretty much. We built a quarter pipe on the front of our garage and that turned into the spot for a little while.
Did you get sponsored early or were you even feeling that?
I did have kind of a sponsorship with a company called X-Calibur. They used to make trucks, boards, wheels and stuff. I got sponsored right before I was done with High School. In ’79, while I was in college in Portland, I got an offer from Kanoa Surf to come down and skate in the DogBowl Pro at Marina Del Rey Skatepark for them.
So you were ridin’ at pro level in ’79?
Well, I didn’t do that well because I was up here in Oregon skating half pipes with no flat. I flew down there and tried to get used to the flat and pools again, but it took me a while.
How did Kanoa find out about you if you’re up in Portland?
I used to ride with some of those guys in southern Californian right before I went to school. I went to Portland when I was 16 to go to college, but I had been skating at the parks down there. I knew this kid named Ray Oriel and he recommended me to Tuzo Jerger, the owner of Kanoa Surf.
What was it like riding in that contest?
It was pretty amazing. I got pretty beat up trying to get used to everything while I was practicing the day before. I was pretty sore by the time the contest started. I had bad hippers on both sides. When I got back to school, I could hardly walk.
What do you remember skating to warm up for that contest?
I remember hanging out in the upper keyhole with Duane Peters. The Dog Bowl practice was pretty hairy. It was hard to get a ride, so I figured I’d do better to practice up there in that little keyhole. At one point, I was riding with Duane and I had just started to work on the layback. Jay Smith was there, so you know there was one guy who could do it.
Was he killing those or what?
Oh yeah, Jay Smith was insane, but Duane hadn’t done it yet. We kind of worked on that for a little while. I could put my hand down and ride out of it, but nothing like what people like Jay Smith were doing. Of course nobody does it like Jay. Have you seen that footage of Peter Hewitt going over that doorway at Pier Park? It’s like this full 4-wheel drift with the noise and everything. Jay Smith was kind of like that. You know the guy would totally throw it into a slide and be lying down on the wall.
I just remember the sequence of that thing. It was so crazy. We just rolled and emulated that shit. What was Elguera skating like back then?
At that point, I think he had the Elguerial. It’s a fakie frontside invert 360. We called it a fakie flip back then. There was a long carve contest too. There was a guy named Art Dickey that carved over the first tape and then dipped below the tiles and then turned back up over the second tape for a really long carve.
Entering that contest, were you nervous or what?
I was fairly confident because I had a lot of tricks back then. That was when people were first starting to do ollies and I could do a front side ollie on the vert. I could do inverts, rocks and all these tricks. If I had a week maybe I could have done better.
What was it like hanging out at contests? What antics were going on at night? Were people raging and partying?
I was pretty young, so I didn’t see much of that. I don’t think Duane had any tattoos yet. He had pretty long hair, at that point, and was still in his surfer phase. I think he still was on Hobie. It was right after the flyaway helmet came out. I think he was one of the early dudes to have one of those.
Were people vibing you like, ‘This guy is coming from Portland. What the hell is he doing here?’
I don’t think I noticed any of that. The guys on the Kanoa Team were pretty close. They were showing me around. I knew the neighborhood, but they were cool. They took care of me. Howard Hood and Lonnie Hiramoto both rode in that contest and there was a dude named George. He was the team manager who was driving us around, so it was cool. I got to see my family, too. I was in college at that point, so I was skating on the weekends. All of my friends, my brother and all our neighborhood buddies were at the contest watching, so I had friends there.
After that, skateboarding kind of died out. Companies were starting to go out of business. What was the skate scene like in Portland in the late ’70s and early ’80s?
There was a pretty big half pipe indoors, in Portland, so we skated that all the time. A couple of other guys we knew had ramps and that was when people started to put flat bottom on them. Over the years, we cut that thing apart, added flat and made it wider. It was mostly a ramp scene.
After the Action Now days and when Thrasher started, were you still up in Portland?
I was. I started to do a zine called BodySlam. At one point I got a letter from MoFo asking if I was interested in doing some comics for Thrasher. I did eight or ten of those. Over a couple years, I did a few more issues of the zine. After college, I moved out to the Boston area.
What brought you to Boston?
In the early ’80s, I got married and my wife had a gig at a riding stable. She took her horse out there and traded her labor for lessons. I went along on the trip to check it out.
Did you hook up with any of the Boston locals like Kevin Day?
I did. I was out last year and skated with Kevin.
What was the Boston scene like?
It was pretty much the same thing with a lot of ramps. The C Pool was going, but mostly people had ramps. There was a short period where there was an indoor skate ramp in Boston. It was called Skate Lab or something like that. Shawn McClean had a ramp in Braintree, Massachusetts. He was friends with Fred Smith, Frank Lannon, Dave LeMieux, Metal Man, Kevin Day and Tom Putnam. I used to run into those guys at Shawn’s ramp.
Were those good sessions?
It was pretty amazing. It was a long drive. I was up north in Boston, so it was like an hour away.
How long were you in Boston?
Did you ever get down to hang out with Fred and do any tours outside of Boston?
I did. I also skated that blue ramp down in Rhode Island. Do you know a guy named Dave Tobin?
Dave’s here now. I skated at his house yesterday.
You should ask Tobin about Cedar Crest.
He’s told me about it over the years. It sounds pretty amazing, especially with him doing eggplants and stuff. I haven’t seen him do an eggplant in awhile. He has a pretty sick concrete bowl in his backyard.
That’s what I heard, man. Who built it?
It was various Grindline and Dreamland guys and volunteers digging holes and stuff. It’s pretty good. It’s a funky little building behind his house. They made it fill the whole thing. There’s a lot of rain here and we don’t really have much that’s covered except for a couple of private bowls.
Let’s go back to Boston. Where did you go from Boston?
I was up north for a while skating up there with a guy named John Kardash. I went up to his ramp a few times. I ran into him in Boston a lot. Another dude had a ramp up in Maine. They were few and far between, but we hit a few spots over the years. Then my wife and I had our first kid, so, we moved to Oregon to be with the family and then we had another kid a couple of years later.
Thanks. Actually, one of them is back in Boston now. She goes to school back there. I’m actually looking forward to coming back to visit when they finish that Boston Skatepark out there.
I was talking to Grindline about that. They’re having a problem with the toxic dirt on site that might put the job off for a little while.
Oh geez. Oh, man.
It will happen. They’ve got the money in place.
When you got back to Portland, what was the scene like? It was the early ’90s, when skateboarding died all over again, right? Yeah and it was pretty much the same thing. There were a couple of ramps and that was about it for a long time.
Did you meet Mark and Red back then in Portland?
At one of the ramps I was skating, I met Red, but I didn’t really know him at the time. A few years later, I got introduced to him at Burnside and he was like ‘Oh, yeah, I know you. We skated the ramp together.’
Were you there when Burnside started getting developed?
I was. I was just driving by checking out the spot for banks and stuff. One day I’m driving down the freeway and look over there and underneath the Burnside Bridge, there’s a bank, so I went and checked it out. I went back there a little bit later and there was some skateboarding going on.
Were you tripping out because that was pretty much the first skatepark where people were just barging it and building?
It was a little bit crazy and rough, but it was a good spot. I knew there were some ramps, so I would go skate those instead. Then I started going down there really early in the morning. I remember seeing out of town dudes in sleeping bags at the bottom of the bowls while I was trying to skate before work.
How trippy was that? Did you ever think, ‘When are the cops gonna come and have this thing jacked out of here?’
I wondered. It was amazing that those guys could build that stuff down there. I don’t think at the time anybody realized what a historic moment it was, and the significance to that thing being built there like that. I used to go there every once in a while, but never thought it was that great of a place. I love it now, though. It’s amazing. There’s more going on over there right now. They’re doing some crazy shit.