INTERVIEW AND INTRODUCTION BY STEVE OLSON
PHOTOS BY ADAM WRIGHT AND GABE MORFORD
Stay true to one’s heart… follow no one, be who you are… When the trend goes one way, go the other…and everything will be alright…If the man says right, go left son… When the man says stop…GO, BABY, GO! Gentleman start your engines….BANG! If any of this makes sense, so does Max Schaaf…
“THERE’S NOTHING BETTER THAN SKATEBAORDING. IT’S THE SICKEST ACTIVITY AND THE PEOPLE THAT DO IT ARE COOL. WE’RE ALL FREAKS AND THAT RULES.”
I just want to know what you do and why you do what you do.
[Laughs] All right.
Where do you come from?
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We moved out to the Bay when I was two years old. We had a bunch of family there. My grandfather was a diesel mechanic there.
I don’t know why I assumed you came from the Bay area.
It’s not too much different between the town of Oakland and Pittsburgh. It’s pretty trippy how similar they are. They’re both old industrial towns.
Pittsburgh is a fun city. Every time I’ve gone there, I’ve had a blast. So you moved from Pennsylvania when you were two?
Yeah, my parents got divorced and my dad moved to this little town out here called Walnut Creek. My mom moved to San Francisco. He split without saying anything to anyone and she tracked him down.
He just moved away?
Yeah, the funny thing was he tried to re-invent himself. He found a new lady and they’d heard about Walnut Creek. It was totally random. He’d heard about a job there, so that’s where we ended up. When my mom found out, she moved out here. She tracked us down and the only job she could find was a dishwashing job at a gay bar. My mom was great. Gay dudes love pretty women.
So we came out here and that’s how it all started.
What did your Pops do for work?
He did retail.
Your grandfather was a mechanic?
Yeah, my mom’s side of the family is the hard-ass side of the family.
Do you think that’s where your motor skills come from?
Well, my dad ran marathons and stuff, but my mom skated. She took us up to Hunters Point. My mom dropped in on a vert ramp. My mom is gnarly. I know that us living with my dad in the ‘burbs killed her, so she jumped into the city so hard. She was going to punk rock shows and skateboarding. If my dad was going to show us the suburbs, when we went to see her it was full-city time.
What year was this?
This was in the late ’70s. It was a really good time for punk rock music. When you’re a ten-year-old kid at a Circle Jerks show, you’re not just taking in the music. You’re tripping out on the whole scene. I know I was.
What is your mom’s name?
Mona. She booked the Bottom of the Hill nightclub.
I know her from that time. That’s cool.
What mom would drive you to an all black neighborhood and hold her own up at the Dish and just let you skate?
When did you start riding a skateboard?
I started skateboarding when I was 11.
Mona would take you up to the Dish?
She would drop me off at the vert ramp down the street and come back and get me three hours later.
Is that where you started to hone your skills?
That’s when it started. Then she moved to Oakland and lived in the Phoenix Ironworks building. Jake Phelps lived with us at that time, So we built a vert ramp inside the warehouse. That’s when it really started. Jake and I have our differences now, but at that time, that dude was my hero. It was that weird thing.
Why was Jake your hero?
I don’t know. I never wanted to punch someone in the face more in my life than Jake. That guy has made me angrier than any person. But at the time, when you’re a kid, you need a hero.
You were impressionable.
Yeah, and I didn’t read comic books. I just wanted to skate and that’s all that Jake has ever wanted to do. At six in the morning or two in the morning, if I said, ‘Hey, Jake, let’s go hit that curb.’ He was down. For a twelve-year-old kid, that was a big deal. And he’d buy me a soda. I thought that was the coolest thing. He was 12 years older than me. He was like an older brother without any weird family head-trip.
Why do you think you started vert skating?
I don’t know. That’s the big question. A lot of my friends ask me that. I was around Julien Stranger, Coco Santiago and Mike Carroll. Those guys were my friends. But you know about vert skating. You’ve done an aerial on vert. You’ve grinded vert. I remember learning backside ollies and going to do pop-shuvits on the ground afterwards and thinking, ‘Fuck, man, I gotta go do backside ollies on a vert ramp because that feels so sick.’ Vert wasn’t cool then. That was when vert skating was already crashing.
What year are you talking about?
It was 1989. It wasn’t like, ‘Fuck. I’m a rebel. I’m a vert skater.’ I really just loved the way vert felt. I wasn’t some retard that couldn’t ollie up a curb. We would go skate street quite a bit, but I just loved the vert ramp. We were hanging out in the warehouse.
On vert, it seems like you’re defying gravity.
Street skating wasn’t like it is now. It’s just ridiculous now, the stuff that people do. To me, vert skating was completely ridiculous with frontside handplants and shit like that. You’d stare at the photos and wonder how this dude was doing that. With street skating back then, I don’t think I was like, ‘Oh, wow. How is that guy doing that?’
Jumping up on a curb was no big deal.
Yeah, that wasn’t a question. I knew if I stood in a square and tried to do a kickflip a thousand times, I was going to do it. I’d rather spend that four hours trying to do some move on vert.
What about the dudes you were hanging out with like Carroll and those guys. Were they like, ‘Why are you riding vert?’
No, not really because when they would come over and skate, they were stoked for me. A lot of kids don’t give it up for other kids because they’re competitive, but they were like, ‘Damn, dude. You are fucking into this.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, this is what I do every day.’ Even with the bikes, it was shock. When I get into something, I get into it. So the vert ramp was in my house. It only made sense for me to become a complete freak shut-in and just skate the vert ramp.
Why do you think you have that passion for skateboarding and motorcycles? It seems like they both have an adrenalin trip behind them.
Yeah, I think that’s it. Sometimes you get wrapped up in your head and nothing feels right and you get depressed, angry or psyched. We’ve all wanted to go skate with each of those feelings. You’re completely pissed; you want to jump on your board. You’re completely depressed; you want to go jump on your board. If you’re completely psyched, you want to go skate. I get trapped in my head a lot and I need an out.
Do you think you’re an over thinker?
Oh, without a doubt. People might say, ‘Oh, that dude is kicked back.’ But really, I’m tapping my foot and thinking, ‘What the fuck are we going to do next? Let’s go. Let’s go somewhere.’
Did it tweak you out when your parents separated?
No, because I was too young to realize what was going on.
In some ways, it’s cool they stayed in the same area.
Yeah, I’d hop on the train and it was only 20 minutes away. I went to school out in the suburbs then I moved in fully with my mom. She wasn’t one of those moms that were like, ‘Oh, do whatever you want.’ She didn’t have a lot of dough, but any mom that would let you put a vert ramp in the middle of the living room was a pretty dope mom. It was sick. I had the coolest mom. I forget it sometimes. We just hung out the other day. She has an old bike too. She rides it around like a fuckin’ maniac. She had a Vespa when we were young in the city. My mom was into bikes. Now she has this old ’70s XS650, like a Bonneville. I look at her and think, ‘Fuck. That’s where I get it.’ Her exposing me to all those things only helped my life.
I understand the whole parenting thing. I still think the kids deserve more of the credit than anything. It’s like you and your mom, and with Alex and me. It’s not my legs and torso doing the skating. I’m just the one that drove him around.
I was jealous sometimes of the kids with normal parents. There was Coca-Cola and Capt. Crunch in the fridge when I stayed at my friend’s house. He had $20 waiting for him in the morning, and his family left him alone. I was like, ‘That’s cool. You get to do whatever the fuck you want.’ But then you get a little older and you realize that the dude’s parents sucked. They were out. They weren’t a part of his life.
When did your skills start to get good and you started to realize that you’re better than you thought you’d ever be?
I think it was once I got to be 16 or 17. That’s when you’re rubber and your feet work right. I just remember starting to try tricks that I would think up or see someone else do. Once you start learning them and you’re learning them quick, you know something is going on. Pros were such a different deal to me. Those were the gods. I remember when Joe Lopes and Fred Smith came over and skated. Those dudes were badass pros. I remember skating with them and they were stoked. There were other pros like Ross Goodman and Rick Windsor. They were dirty badass skaters that would come over to skate. They were like, ‘Oh, this dude is good. He’s all right.’ I guess that’s when I started to realize it. With the pro thing, because I skated vert, I didn’t think I would ever turn pro. So I didn’t ever trip on it. Then it happened because I went to contests and actually did pretty good.
Did you do the amateur trip?
Not too much. At the time, Red Dog was revamping Dogtown and he had Wade, Karma and Cardiel on the team. Stacy Geboe, this guy from Hawaii worked there and he would give me Dogtown boards every once in a while. Then Real ended up approaching me. I’ve skated for Real the whole time.
You never moved anywhere?
No, man. There were a few times when I was being a kook or being immature where I was like, ‘I’m going to skate for this other company.’ But it never happened. Real was cool. At the time, in ’91, street skating was so it. I was stoked on the fact that they were even giving me boards. I didn’t do a ton of am contests, but I’d go when they came around to San Francisco or San Jose. I’d go and check it out. I wasn’t that weird, let’s-get-in-the-car-and-go-to-every-contest kind of thing. I didn’t have any young vert pros my age to travel with, or a car, so that wasn’t going to happen.
But you didn’t really have to roll anywhere. You had your own vert ramp.
Yeah. We listened to our music and skated our ramp.
You had dudes rolling through the city.
Bryce Kanights would come over and shoot photos and he was Thrasher. Kevin Thatcher was around. The word got out. People passed through. Jake built that vert ramp really fucked up. The coping stuck out too much and there were kinks everywhere, but it’s what we knew. People would come over and get completely humbled, and we’d be just jamming around, going, ‘This is ramp is perfect. What do you mean?’
Were there many vert contests going on?
They’d have those Am finals and CASL contests. I did a couple and then I turned pro. I geeked out on them for a while when I was a pro skater. That was a mistake. Those contests became a bunch of bullshit. It’s cool now because the contests don’t matter, unless that’s where you want to get your money.
How old were you when you went pro?
I was 21. I was old at the time. I remember tripping on it at the time. I might have been 22. It took a while.
Did you ever think you’d be a pro skater when you were a kid?
No. I know that’s cliche and people say that, but I really didn’t. I remember the day that I got my first pro board. I had a landscaping job. I went to the dudes I was doing landscaping with and said, ‘Check this out. This is my new board.’
[Laughs] What did they think?
They didn’t care. My dad was tripping. He was like, ‘Be responsible. This shit doesn’t last forever.’ My mom was like, ‘Right on. Enjoy it.’ But I always had a job in the beginning. I always had a side job doing something, so I never imagined that I would be a pro skater. I never imagined that happening.