INTERVIEW by JAY ADAMS
PHOTO BY GLEN E. FRIEDMAN
A talent born from the banks of Mar Vista, Marty Grimes has shredded with the gnarliest of them. Classic laybacks, stylish grinds and super speed lines fueled his career in the early days of skateboarding and now still true to the ride, he gives back with his own HoodWood Skateboards. – INTRODUCTION BY DAN LEVY
Marty, how have you been, my man?
I’ve been good, bro.
Well, since we’re all old and stuff now, how old are you? 51 or 52? You’re as old as I am. [Laughs]
I know. I know. [Laughs] I’m probably like 80 inside, but I’m doing good.
I’ve known you forever, but how old were you when you started skateboarding?
I was probably eight. I started skateboarding to emulate surfing. My family friend and god-brother was Rick Blocker. Our families used to go to Mexico together every year. Our fathers used to go fishing. Rick always went surfing and he brought surfboards with him, so I got to see that going on at a pretty early age. It interested me, but I couldn’t get to the beach much living in Midtown Los Angeles. Skating was my surfing, so that’s why I started doing it. I went to Mar Vista Elementary and they had a great bank there, and one thing led to another. As you know, it’s more like a disease than just a sport. It’s hard to get rid of it. [Laughs]
What was it like to be a kid growing up in Midtown L.A. riding a skateboard while other guys were riding bicycles and getting into gangs? You were endangering your life because, in that type of environment, it could have been dangerous for you.
It was dangerous. It was dangerous at home and it was dangerous in the more affluent neighborhoods too.
How did you stay out of gangs and not get into that lifestyle?
My parents were very close to us, we are a tight knit family. Also, Dad and Mom were parents to every kid in the neighborhood and their disapproval carried a lot of weight. A lot of that was just the fact that we did have an interest in skateboarding. Skateboarding was everything to us. Skateboarding wasn’t widely accepted, but it was new. It was new in every neighborhood. It really hadn’t been done before so people were like, “What is this?” I think it was a special time and we didn’t really care. We were going to skate and I think we got respect for it.
The first night I met you, it really surprised me. Do you remember how we met? It was at the Santa Monica Civic.
Yeah. We were at the surf movie and we were skating around. That was our outlet to let that energy go in the positive flow direction of surfing. With skateboarding, the whole city was like a big wave. We would go down and check out the surf films and we met you guys there. You were living legends and we had similar interests and you guys asked us to come down to see if we wanted to be on the team, and it went from there. There was a group of us. It was me, my brother, Clyde, Greg Rachal, Jerry Miller, Chuck Askerneese and a bunch of the guys from the neighborhood that were into skating. It was just a thing that we got hooked on and nobody was going to keep us from doing it.
“You were cool and the bros were cool and that’s why I was on the Z-Flex team. that’s why I have so much pride for it because you were judged on your merit and how you could skate. You could stand up for what you believed was right, rather than being held down by what you looked like.”
That was after the Del Mar contest because you weren’t on the Zephyr team, but you got on the Z-Flex team. Here’s what people don’t realize. That whole group of kids that you just mentioned was shocking for us because there wasn’t a lot of black kids that skateboarded. You came down with your whole crew of guys from South Central L.A. and it was pretty heavy because skateboarding was just a bunch of little white surfer kids that did it back then. I was like, “Whoa, who are these guys?” And you could skate. I was like, “Wow.” You and I instantly became really good friends. I remember I got you and your brother, Clyde, on the EZ Ryder team.
Yeah, you put us on the EZ Ryder team. It was after the Del Mar Contest. I was just going into junior high and my friends and I had our own thing and we loved skateboarding. We emulated surfing, but most of the other groups around weren’t really having us. You guys saw the potential in us and you didn’t care what we looked like. You just cared what we were up to and what we were doing. That’s one of the things about skateboarding that is the best of all. It doesn’t matter what you look like. It’s who you are inside. If you can’t cut it, then get out of the pool.
[Laughs] That was when pools started really coming on. You were one of the early guys riding pools with all of us and you became one of the best. Where did you go to junior high school, Marty?
I went to Paul Revere Junior High, which was in the Palisades. There was a program where I was able to go on a permit. Paul Revere is one of the best banks in the city, so it was a natural progression. You had people there that were into skating and I was there with you guys on the weekends. I was probably there skating more than I was at school. [Laughs]
Wait. Did you go to school on a bus or did you have rich parents that drove you up there?
I was part of the busing program. My family has been in the city since 1917 when my grandfather moved here from Louisiana, so my family has been in the city a long time. My uncle was one of the people that helped start the busing program, so I was a recipient of that. Growing up in my neighborhood, a lot of guys weren’t privileged to that. Most of the guys would fall by the wayside and end up incarcerated, and they just didn’t make it out. I was privileged enough to be part of that busing system and benefit from it.
Paul Revere was a rich white kid school, so did you catch a lot of crap for being bused in from South Central?
Yeah. We caught crap, for sure. We probably should address the prejudice issue. Any kind of prejudice is ugly and we all have it and we are all guilty of it. In the ‘70s, there was a lot of stuff going down. I dealt with prejudice on a daily basis, and there was prejudice on both sides. There was prejudice from people watching you get on the bus and go to an affluent neighborhood and get a good education. When I got there, people weren’t exactly happy to have us in their neighborhood. You do what you have to do. We were kicking the door down. We weren’t just knocking. [Laughs]
Yeah! [Laughs] In Venice, I grew up with Mexican guys, black guys, and a whole interracial group of people. Venice was never a prejudicial kind of place. When you guys came to the Civic that night, I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I was like, “Look at these dudes. These guys are rad.” You guys could skate, so I never thought of the prejudice thing. That never really was part of it to me.
Jay, you’re a very special person and that’s what was cool about the Venice scene and the Z-Boys. They didn’t really give a shit about that, but most people didn’t feel the same way as you did. There was a lot of stuff that you may or may not have recognized, but it wasn’t all champagne and sunglasses like everybody had open arms and said, “Yeah, come on in.” You were cool and the bros were cool and that’s why I was on the Z-Flex team. That’s why I have so much pride for it because you were judged on your merit and how you could skate. You could stand up for what you believed was right, rather than being held down by what you looked like. Naturally, we gravitated towards that. We were very happy to be accepted by a group of Dogtown’s skating caliber.
You were one of the first black skateboarder pros. Your skating ability alone is important. You and your group of guys were the first black guys that I can remember that became professional skateboarders, right?
I think I do have the distinction of being the first professional skateboarder of African descent, but I share that title with my brother. My brother and I went pro at the same time. A lot of that is due to you and people like you. I’m proud of being the first pro, but I’m also proud of the performance that I was able to deliver and to fulfill that part of myself that manifested itself in skateboarding.
Where were you skating when you first started out as a kid?
We were skating all over the city. We were into it. We were hitting every bank, ditch and hill in L.A. We’d hit driveways in front of the house and anything that remotely resembled a wave. That was our territory and we were going to skate it, whatever it took. I started skating at eight years old and by the time I met you I was 13. I think we came up with a natural progression of skating with a surf style. Skating just emulated surfing and we would skate anywhere, driveway, hills, banks… it didn’t matter.
[Laughs] Did you surf too or were you just surfing on your skateboard?
I did surf. I just couldn’t get to the beach as readily as you guys, so the cement jungle of L.A. became our break. I was surfing down in Mexico with one of my mentors, Rick Blocker. He was also a skater and he turned me on to Bellagio, one of the best banks I can recall. It was one of my favorite places to ride. After we tried out for the team, you introduced us to other places. We already knew about Revere and it was just like surfing. When I met you the first time, we skated every hill and every driveway in sight. Everything was just another lip to smack, so we skated everywhere. I think you guys were surprised when we all got together because we were doing the same thing at the same time you were, just in a different place. We were fortunate enough to hook up with you guys and we started skating together. I was skating alongside my heroes and doing the same thing. What could be better?
“Skating was my surfing, so that’s why I started doing it.”
You know what’s funny. We had Peggy Oki who was an Asian girl. Tony Alva was Mexican. Shogo was a Japanese guy. You were black and I was just the white kid. We had a whole group of different races going around skating stuff. It’s pretty cool because, in most other areas like San Diego, it was all little white surfer kids, except for the older guys like Pineapple and Dennis Martinez.
Later on, you had the guys coming in that were right behind me, like Mark Jones, Leo Ambrose and guys like Bruce Thomas, who is still around to this day. I think there were more people of color skating. You just didn’t hear about it or see it. That didn’t mean we weren’t out there skating.
We can’t leave out Solo Scott from Venice. Solo excelled more at surfing, but he reminds me of you. There was another guy named Dexter from Santa Monica that I grew up with too.
Yeah, Solo was an unreal surfer and one of us. Dexter Green was from Midtown too and we went to school together.
Dexter was one of my best friends before I met you. He used to surf Santa Monica Bay Street all the time. I remember he told me, “Jay, I’m going to move to Hawaii someday. It’s offshore there everyday.” He moved to Hawaii and he’s been there ever since. He fulfilled that dream. When I was living in Hawaii, he would come over and surf with me on the North Shore and we’ve remained friends. Dexter is still like a big kid. He just loves surfing. He’s been surfing his whole life.
Yeah. There’s another story to tell because he went through a whole lot to get to that point. He suffered through a lot of problems to make it to be that surfer. Growing up in the hood with brothers that were gang-affiliated, he had a pretty rough go finding his own way to be that surfer. I’m proud of him.
Did you ever catch any crap from gangbanger guys in your neighborhood that were wondering why you guys were all riding around on skateboards together? How did you handle that kind of stuff?
We had a pretty tight block with some pretty hard friends on it and you just deal with it as it comes. A lot of it was cool because skateboarding was so new and gangs were just starting to develop. There were no Bloods. It was just the Crips and the Brims. It was more knives than guns. If problems, came, you just dealt with it. There was prejudice and discrimination on both sides, so it wasn’t an easy road, but somebody had to do it and we did. We had a pretty strong block and we defended ourselves. I think they left us alone because we were just skating and we weren’t trying to muscle in on anybody’s territory. All we wanted to do was skate. These hardcore gang bangers were like “Well, they ain’t into what I’m doing, but what they’re doing is pretty cool, so let them do it.” And we did. It was pretty hard. I remember when you came down to the neighborhood. You really blew their minds. They were like, “What?” [Laughs]
I had my mom drive me down there. Remember how crazy my mom was?
Yes, I do. I loved your mom. She was really cool. She wrote my “Who’s Hot?!” article when I had one in Skateboarder. I’ll never forget that and I really appreciated it. At the time, her pen name was Phil Laine. Nobody knew it was a woman that wrote the articles, but it was your mom and she did a really good job. I appreciated it.
That’s funny. I think she did Wentzle’s too. She did quite a few of them. How did it go when you become a pro skater? Did you just get a model with Z-Flex and then you were pro?
No. It wasn’t like that. Back in the day, if there was a pro contest and you wanted to be in it, you could lose your amateur status and become pro. Way before I ever had a model, I’d already turned pro. My brother and I turned pro at the same time. Back then it was a different game. You were doing it because you loved it and you were trying to show what you could do against your peers and people that could skate. I liked the contest feel of being a pro, but I really think that after the contest when everybody is letting it hang out and you’re with your bros and it’s a session where you’re soul skating, that’s where it really is. It’s when you’re really enjoying yourself with your friends. You’re in the pool and it’s not about establishing yourself. It’s more about your peers saying, “Oh, he’s really ripping tonight.”
Those were good times. We skated a lot of pools.
I remember when we would be at the Canyon Pool and there would be 50 people around and you would be in the deep end making the coping cry. Larry Bertlemann was in the audience watching. It was just a phenomenal time. There were also sessions when it was just you and another guy or just you skating in somebody’s backyard that you didn’t even know when you should probably have been in school. It was one of those times where we were making it up as we went along. It was just a good time to be alive.