BONES BRIGADE CHRONICLES:
INTERVIEW by DAN LEVY
PHOTO BY DAN SPARAGNA
It would be impossible to describe skateboarding’s biggest trick innovations without mentioning Mike McGill and the appropriately coined “McTwist.” Although Mike is widely personified by his invention, he is also a truly community-minded facilitator. Mike believes in skateboarding as profoundly as needing oxygen to breathe and it is because of this passion that Mike has found success in his life beyond anything money can buy. It is with great pleasure that we bring you the Juice Magazine Bones Brigade Chronicles with none other than Mike McGill.
It’s the McGill interview. Let’s start at the end. What are you doing?
I just got back from skating an awesome session at Hawk’s ramp with Daniel Cuervo.
Nice. That ramp is perfect, huh?
It is pretty perfect. Now we have to get back to concrete tomorrow because we don’t want to get too spoiled.
Have you skated Bob’s yet?
Yeah. I went to opening day and skated a legends demo with Cab, Eddie Elguera and a few guys. Dave Hackett came out.
Are the transitions all the same or did they change it up? They poured concrete right over the top of the wood ramps, right?
Yeah. You can actually see the old metal coping in the cement. They just left it in place. It goes up another six inches, so they raised the floor up six inches because there’s concrete there. They drilled holes all over the ramp and put pillars in down through the ground to stabilize the whole thing. It’s ridiculous.
Rad. Grindline. Let’s go back to the beginning. When were you born?
I was born September 2, 1964, in Brooklyn, NY, home of the Beastie Boys.
No kidding. Were you raised in New York?
Yeah. I lived there until I was ten, and then I moved to Florida and I started skateboarding in Florida.
Wait. Did you live in Brooklyn the whole time you were in New York?
We lived in Brooklyn for two years and then we moved to Long Island.
Where in Long Island?
I know exactly where that is. I’m from New York too.
No way. I didn’t know that, Dan.
I’m from Syracuse, but my uncle and cousins live in East Islip.
They probably know my cousins that know their cousins. [Laughs]
I bet. It’s not that big of a place. That’s crazy that you’re a New Yorker. I always thought of you as a Floridian.
My parents were both raised in Brooklyn. It was like West Side Story. My dad is Irish and my mom is Italian.
What did your parents do for a living?
My dad worked in family bars, and then he was in the Korean War. When he came back, he was a truck driver in New York for many years. My mom used to babysit the kids of the baseball player, Jackie Robinson.
Wow. What is your fondest memory of growing up there?
It was a bunch of jocks. Growing up in New York, there are a lot of team sports, so that’s what everyone does. In the winter, everyone plays hockey on the lakebed in sneakers. There’s nothing to do, so they play team sports. I did too, for a while.
What did you play?
I played peewee football, baseball, soccer and hockey. Then I moved to Florida and I was just over team sports, as you can tell from the Bones Brigade documentary.
Why did you move to Florida?
My grandfather and grandmother moved there, and my parents were tired of the snow. They liked going there on vacation, so they decided to move there. I have an older brother and sister and they were just coming out of high school and they were into team sports, so they were devastated by the move. My sister was like, “There’s no gymnastics team here? Where is the gymnastics team?” For me, I liked to fish and stuff, just like Mike Frazier, but I needed something more. I would always see this skateboard in this girl’s garage, one block over. I would say, “Let me try that thing because my dad won’t buy me one.” He had forbidden it.
To him, it was dangerous. He didn’t want me doing any of that dangerous stuff, so I just kept borrowing this skateboard. I gravitated towards it. I had to have it. It was a crazy thing. It was so fun and different, and I could do it by myself. I would go over there after school every day for weeks. Once I got brave enough, I begged to take it to my house so I could show my dad. I thought maybe he’d buy me one if I showed him that I could do it. I did that, and he was like, “Wow. Okay. Well, let’s go get you one.”
You had to pretty much audition for your dad?
Yeah. [Laughs] I got my first board and a few weeks later, it was Fourth of July and we went to Clearwater Beach, which was half an hour from our house. It was my mom, my dad and I. We got to the hotel and we hadn’t been there five minutes and I jumped in the pool while my dad was parking the car. I tried a backflip and hit my head on the diving board and had to get seven stitches. I was so bummed because that was my weekend to skate around the hotel, but I was banned to my room and I couldn’t ride my skateboard. It was torture.
What kind of board did you get?
It was a fiberglass flat board with these little tiny trucks with urethane Trickway wheels. They had loose ball bearings in them. I was using it so much that they all fell out because they started wearing out, so I would constantly have to fix them. I would steal the bb’s from my brother’s bb gun to fix it up again. They were almost the right size, so with a little W-D 40, I’d be back in business and rolling around.
[Laughs] What do you think hooked you on skateboarding so much?
I can’t really describe it. I was just drawn to it. It was some force of nature. Maybe it was Animal Chin trying to tell me something. [Laughs] A few months later, one of my friends got a board after seeing me skate and he was like, “Hey, my dad passed by this skateboard park in Tampa and he wants to take us out there.” I was jazzed. We went out to the Skate Wave Skatepark right by the airport. It was an old style park that looked like a volcano with all of these snake runs coming down off it. It was really crude, but really fun, snake runs.
How old were you when you went to the park in Tampa?
I was 11.
Were you able to cruise around the park and do stuff?
I would just go down the snake runs. We would buttboard at first because we didn’t know what we were doing. Then we started standing up and going higher up the hill to get more speed.
How many people were skating at the park?
There were a couple of dozen kids there. I remember these older guys there with these water skis and they’d put these big California slalom trucks with Road Rider wheels on them. They’d cruise down the snake run with the dorkiest style with their feet almost together, but it was cool to see.
In one day, you were standing up and skating down the snake run?
Yeah. We weren’t dropping in from the top. We were going to the bottom and slowly going down and then going up a little higher each time. We were climbing up the bank and turning and then we started kickturning. We had about a half a dozen kids that skated in our neighborhood, so we had enough parents that they would drop us off there once a week, and another parent would pick us up at night. We did that every Sunday for months. Everybody was into it so much. We had these launch ramps that we built that were like four feet high. We’d go up backside and frontside and do these little fakie rock n’ rolls. We started checking out the magazines and I bought a Skateboarder magazine. It had a picture of Jay Adams in the Dog Bowl doing one of the first Andrechts. I had that picture on my wall and I had a picture of Tony Alva riding some ramp with a young Eric Dressen. Then there was a giant poster pull-out of Stacy Peralta. I didn’t know who Stacy Peralta was, but I had that poster on my ceiling and I would just stare at those pictures and think, “It’s so hot and humid in Florida. I want to go to California and skate those parks.” I was thinking it would be cool to meet those guys one day. If you had told me then that, one day, I would be skating for Stacy and meeting T.A., I would not have believed it.
“I actually won the Shut Up and Skate contest in Texas. There are certain times where you’re just on. I don’t know if other skaters feel the same way, but sometimes you’re just so on that you can’t fall. You try things and you make everything. That was just one of those days.”
It’s so unlikely being from the East Coast. You think that there is no way it’s ever going to happen, but you still dream about it.
I was just an 11-year-old kid in Florida who, a few years later, goes on a tour with Tony Alva, Steve Rocco, Tim Scroggs and Alan Gelfand to Venezuela. I was 13 years old and I was on tour in Venezuela. We were there for a week doing a Super Skate Show. Ellen O’Neal was in that, and we skated the halfpipe with Tony Alva.
Wow. How did you end up there?
We were going to the skatepark and then I started entering skate contests at the skatepark. Everybody skated everything. You skated the bowl and you skated above the cones in the snake run. It was kind of hokey stuff, but it was fun. They had the high jump and some freestyle stuff that was kind of wacky. You had to enter everything and the top five would get prizes. You’d get new wheels, boards, helmets and pads. I started getting in the top five and I was like, “Wow. I won this stuff!” It was a lot to us. We didn’t have a lot of money or anything. Then the skatepark asked me if I wanted to be on their skatepark team that would compete with other skatepark teams around Florida. I was like, ‘Yeah!” I’d win some stuff and then I’d trade stuff. When Rainbow Wave Skatepark opened up, they were like, “Hey Mike, why don’t you skate for us?” The other park was kind of dated and didn’t have a proper half pipe, so then I skated for Rainbow Wave and then Skate Wave closed. At Rainbow Wave, I would compete in contests. In Gainesville, where Rodney Mullen is from, we were skating at the Sensation Basin at contests up there. Then I met this skater named Alan Gelfand. He was like, “Hey, I’m going out West to stay at Stacy Peralta’s.” He had gone on a trip to California and Stacy sponsored him through Powell. It was Alan Gelfand, Ray “Bones” Rodriguez, Stacy Peralta and Tim Scroggs from Orlando, FL. Alan and Tim had already told Stacy that there was this kid in Florida that lived in Tampa. I lived five hours from Alan, and Tim lived a couple of hours from me. Stacy was like, “Why don’t you see if he wants to come out to California and he can stay with us?” Alan asked me if I wanted to go, and I remember I had $421 in the bank and that’s what it cost for a ticket to California, so I bought a ticket and we flew to California and met Stacy Peralta.
You’re 12 years old. What were your parents thinking?
I know. What the hell were my parents thinking? First of all, Alan lied to them. He said, “My uncle lives out there, so they’re going to be picking us up and driving us everywhere.” He didn’t even tell them about Stacy Peralta. Stacy was just a kid. He was like 21 at the time. Alan lied to my parents, and I don’t even know what he said. As long as I could go, I didn’t care.
Total skateboard move.
Yeah. I went out to California and had the best two weeks of my life. Stacy took us to Marina Del Rey Skatepark, Del Mar Skatepark and Upland. He took us to some crazy Skatopia park. We skated everywhere. Right before we left, Stacy said, “Hey, this guy named James Cassimus from Skateboarder magazine heard that you were doing this inverted layback air. He wants to get a couple of pictures of you.” I was like, “Alright.” When I was at Stacy’s house, right before the photo shoot, Stacy asked me if I wanted one of his old boards. It had Tracker trucks on it. I took my wheels off and put them on his board and started riding that thing. It was an old Ray Bones experimental board with the Skull and Snake on it with his signature above it with pizza grip. I rode that board in the upper keyhole at Marina Del Rey for the photo session. Guys like Pat Ngoho and Mike Smith were there and that’s when I first met those guys. I saw guys like Dennis “Polar Bear” Agnew riding the Dog Bowl. I didn’t really ride the Dog Bowl because it was a really gnarly pool and it was pretty much off limits to Floridians. [Laughs]
That was definitely a ‘locals only’ bowl.
Yeah. Shogo Kubo, Shreddi Repas and Brad Bowman were there. Those were the locals. We were just skating the upper keyhole and I was in heaven. It was like going from riding a rock street to a perfectly paved street. That was the difference between a Florida park and a California park at the time. It was ridiculous. This guy James Cassimus took some pictures of me and that was that. I didn’t hear anything. I figured he was just documenting it or something. Then we went home to Florida and I got a call from Stacy Peralta. He said, “Would you like to skate for the Bones Brigade? We like what you’re doing and we think you can help us promote the company. Would you be interested?” I said, “Of course, yeah.” I was stoked that Alan Gelfand and Tim Scroggs would think of me and even mention my name to Stacy Peralta. I would have never made it out of Florida otherwise.
When you got back, what were your parents thinking?
They didn’t know what happened out there. They still thought I had been at my friend’s uncle’s house. When I got the call from Stacy, he said, “I almost forgot to tell you. There’s a little picture of you in Skateboarder magazine, if you want to go check it out.” I was like, “Really? That’s cool. Thank you.” I was stoked to get a picture in a magazine. I skated to the drug store that night, four miles away, and I got the magazine and looked at it cover to cover and I didn’t find anything in there. I was like, “Wow. It must be small, but it’s my first picture. I don’t care!” I went through it again and I was like, “Where is this picture?” I get to the centerfold and there it was. I had to look through it twice before I saw it. I couldn’t believe it. I’m doing this layback air inverted, and everybody thought that I had made up that trick. They were like, “This kid from Florida did this crazy layback air,” but I told them that it was Kelly Lynn, a Floridian, who invented the layback air. All I did was invert it a little bit. From there, it just went off.
Did you get the magazine and take it home and show your parents?
Yeah. They were like, “Is this a joke?” They didn’t believe that I did all this in just a week and a half vacation out in California. They were proud. They were totally into whatever I wanted to do. They were the coolest.
Did you bring that thing to school and show everybody? That’s a huge deal that your first photo in skate magazine is a centerfold. Are you kidding me?
No. I didn’t bring it to school. It was only my best friend that skated. He was like, “Yeah. Yeah. Whatever.” At our school, we had the jocks, the nerds and the stoners. I was in a party of two, the skateboarders. [Laughs]
I love that. So you end up in the centerfold of Skateboarder, and Stacy called you and asked you to ride for Powell. Did you have any concept of what it meant to be on a team like Powell?
I had known Alan for six months, so I’d been watching him. Just from reading the magazines, I knew who Stacy Peralta was. I knew who Tony Alva was, I knew who all those guys were. I said, “I can stay at Stacy Peralta’s house with you? Really?”
Do you remember the first box of stuff you got?
It was Brite Lites and the next wheels after the Cubic’s. I was so stoked to get free stuff.
Nice. Let’s fast-forward. Now you’re 13 and you’re on your first skate tour?
Yeah. Later that year, Alan called me and said this radio station wanted him to do this Super Skate Show in an arena in Caracas, Venezuela. They wanted me, Alan and Tim Scroggs to go from Florida. They had a bunch of roller skaters come there and do some type of dancing. I don’t know what they were doing. Then they had Tony Alva, Ellen O’Neal and Steve Rocco skating, and we were the other three skaters. We all wore these capes and we came down these runways, going right and left of the stage. It was the hokiest thing you’ve ever seen in your life. We’d all come down the ramps and then line up and they’d introduce us and then we’d skate the ramp and those guys would skate freestyle. They had this pipe that made a U and I remember Tony Alva would get out there and do a layback and he would grind the lights all the way down and break all the lights, just for the hell of it. The funny thing about it is that we practiced for a day and then we had nine shows to do in six days. We’re getting ready for the first show and we practiced how to come down the ramps and put your skateboard up in the air when they put the spotlight on you, and the first one out of the hole is Ellen O’Neal. She comes down the ramp, and goes flat on her butt. They thought they would wax the floors before the first show.
[Laughs] Oh yeah. Ellen falls and then the rollerskaters come down and they all crash and fall. The rest of us had stopped skating by now, but we had to roll out there and pick them up. There were like 5,000 people at the shows. It was gnarly. I was just stoked to go to another country and skate a new halfpipe. Then Alan and I did a Pepsi commercial down there.
They took the ramp out of the palladium after the show was done. Jim Goodrich has pictures of it. He was on that trip and he photographed the whole thing. They had this guy on a camera and they built him a bridge on the top of the ramp and they would pull him back and forth on a sled. There were five guys on one side and five guys on the other with a rope. He would roll back and forth and try to film. It was the craziest thing.
What was the vibe in Venezuela?
There were guys with machine guns guarding the place. I remember one of the guys stepped on Alan’s board because he wanted to try it and he flew completely back and the machine gun on his back flew off and we all hit the deck. We thought we were going to get shot. It didn’t go off, but everything was in slow motion for a minute when his gun just flew up in the air.
Wow. You’re 13 and you’re in Venezuela surrounded by dudes with machine guns and you’re skating for thousands of people and you don’t speak their language. Where did you guys stay?
We stayed at the Orinoco Hilton. It was like two-story rooms with spiral staircases. It was luxury, man. It was really crazy, considering we were skateboarders. [Laughs] From there, we went back to compete in all of these contests in Florida, in Tampa, Gainesville and Orlando.
So your name was getting known around the contest circuit. Did that put more pressure on you or were you just having a blast and you didn’t care?
I was just having fun, and the big names in Florida were some of my heroes, like George McClellan and Kelly Lynn, who I used to idolize. I wanted to do all the tricks that Kelly did. I saw him and I was like, ‘It must be cool to be sponsored.’ There was Clyde Rodgers and Shawn Peddie. I started competing against all those guys as an amateur. I was slowly climbing the ranks, but I was in a different category from Alan. He was in the older division and I was in the younger division. When we turned pro, we were all in the same division, but then some guys dropped out.
When did you turn pro?
Caballero and I turned pro in 1980. I was 16.
I guess Stacy made people earn it to get to that point.
Absolutely. The second time that Alan and I went out to California to skate, Stacy took us around to a bunch of places and we got this East Coast interview. It was Alan Gelfand and Mike McGill with half of his face and half of my face. Then we became these popular guys that were still amateurs. People were like, “Those guys aren’t even pro and they’re more famous than most of the pros.” It didn’t matter to Stacy. He was like, “You’ve got to earn it.”
So were you starting to have to miss school to go and do skate stuff?
Well, our skate stuff was out in California, so I would leave on a Thursday night flight and Stacy would take us to the park on Friday and the contest would be on Saturday. We’d skate some stuff on Sunday and then fly back to Florida on Sunday night. I’d get back on Monday morning just in time to have missed homeroom. [Laughs] I missed a few days here and there, but most of my teachers were pretty cool about it. They’d give me work to take with me because they thought it was cool that I was actually traveling for skateboarding. There was one teacher that didn’t like it because he was jealous.
There’s always one.
Yeah. He told the principal that I had been missing all this school. The principal said, “Give him his work because this is something special. What other skateboarder has actually left Florida to go skate in California? Come on.” I’d come in on a Monday morning and my friends would be talking about what they had done over the weekend like, “I played football.” Or “I went to Crystal River fishing. What did you do, Mike?” I was like, “Oh, I went to California and skated a skatepark in Santa Monica for three days and I just got back a couple of hours ago.”
They had no clue.
What was your next trip out of the country, after Venezuela, as far as skateboarding goes?
Well, the contests were all in California and Florida.
So the Bones Brigade is going full steam. Had it solidified as you, Cab, Lance, Rodney, Tommy and Tony by then?
Well, this was pre-Tony. I’ll tell you the order of how the guys went on the team. It was Ray Bones Rodriguez and then Stacy Peralta, Alan Gelfand, Tim Scroggs, Jay Smith and the amateur, Mike McGill. By then, Alan had turned pro. Alan had a bigger name, so it was time for him to join the pros. Cab went pro about a month after me. Then it was Scott Foss and Rodney Mullen. There were guys like Mike Jesiolowski and Jami Godfrey. The list goes on from there. During ‘79 and ‘80, it was just me, Cab, Stacy, Jay Smith and Ray Bones. Things moved very quickly after that and a lot of those guys stopped competing, like Jay Smith and Ray Bones, and even Stacy and Alan. Things changed. They were trying to structure skateboarding too much and that didn’t go too well with people like Alan. It was this compulsory bullshit run. It’s skateboarding, not ice-skating. I know that Stacy and Alan hated it. We had to do it because if we didn’t do it, we wouldn’t get flown out to do the next contest. ‘Oh, you want a handplant? No problem.’ That was the name of the game. You had to do well. A few years later we were asked to go to Sweden. Stacy and Alan went to Sweden in 1981, to teach a summer camp for a couple of weeks. In 1982, they asked me and Cab if we wanted to go teach for two weeks during our summer vacation, so we went to Sweden and met all these cool skaters from all over Europe, like Claus Grabke and Hans Jacobson.
“I started to skate the ramp a little bit and I was looking at the spin, so I started to over rotate some mute airs.”
Were the skaters from those other countries as good as you guys or what?
They were good. It wasn’t like we were doing all these airs and they weren’t doing any airs. They were good. We were like, “What? You’re not sponsored?” It’s like an East Coaster coming over to California and skating. They’re like, “You think I’m good? There are so many guys in Florida that aren’t even sponsored. You should see how many good guys are over there, because they’re hungrier.” They’ve got that hunger that drives you. When you’re too spoiled, you don’t really push yourself, I guess.
The East Coast mentality of skating is different. In Florida, it’s so hot and humid, that those perfect days, you have to hit it as hard as you can, but you’re skating on the roughest stuff ever. It’s not smooth and perfect terrain. You have to want it.
Yeah. The other thing is that most of the skateparks in Florida were finished in the rain with a broom. They were so rough. If you fell on them, you’d just got torn up. There were bumps everywhere, but we loved it. We loved to have a place to skate.
Was the terrain in other countries similar to California or Florida?
It was all of the above. It was a whole mixture. They had asphalt skateparks at some of them. It was harder European asphalt. It was crazy. There were a lot of people that were into skating in Europe. It was cool.
You’d been skating in front of these huge crowds, so were you ever nervous to go to these places or were you just excited to skate with people?
The crowds weren’t that big, but they were all skaters. They all knew what we were doing and they were all waiting to see these new tricks. They would take that and build off us and learn those tricks. They were excited for us to be there and we were super excited to show them because they could only see stuff in magazines, too.
So you and Cab were Ams at this point, and you’re in school and you’re doing weekend warrior sessions all over the world. What happened next?
When I was 16, I got my first truck, so I could finally drive to the skatepark. I could only go once a week before that. Now I could drive an hour to the skatepark in Tampa after school every day until it got dark. I’d do that two or three times a week because I was just infatuated. Before I could drive, a pro skater named George McClelland, that I became friends with would actually drive 20 miles to pick me up because he had no one to skate with at Clearwater Skatepark.
Wow. That’s awesome.
My dad would pick me up at night after work. It was the craziest thing. There were a handful of us that just loved to skate. When I was 16, all the parks started closing down. They didn’t have enough money and it all just caved in. They were gone before you knew it. They brought in the wrecking ball and that was it. I was 16, and it was 1980. Our boards were just coming out and the market crashed. I remember Stacy saying, “We can’t even afford to make two models for you and Cab. We were thinking about doing a double model and you guys could share the royalties.” We were like, “Come on, Stacy. There’s got to be a way.” We weren’t bummed or anything, but we didn’t need money. We just wanted our own boards.
You guys were still teenagers living at home with your parents, right?
Right. At the last minute they decided to make two boards, and we both got our own boards. My check was for $1.35 that month. Everything dropped out, but I didn’t pout. I had to find a place to skate. That’s when I built a ramp in my backyard. I already had two little ramps in my yard, and I started to build a bigger ramp, 12-foot wide and 9-foot tall. We had just put all the ribs in and the neighbor complained to the city and I had to tear it down. I didn’t even get to ride it. Then I rebuilt the ramp on my dad’s company’s property and that’s where I had my ramp for the next few years. I had a place to skate while I dreamed of going to skate in California again.
At any point did you think skateboarding was done and it was over?
No. I knew they were skateboarding out in California. Alan Gelfand had built a ramp down in Hollywood, Florida, and I would fly down there for the weekend and it was $20 airfare each way. I’d go stay with Alan for the weekend and skate their ramp and then I would drive to Winter Haven, which is another hour and a half, to Billy Beauregard’s ramp. I’d see Monty Nolder out there. I think he moved there just to skate that ramp, after they closed Sensation Basin in Gainesville.
When you built your ramp, the ramp era was in the formative stages. Was your ramp one of the first in your area to have flat bottom on it?
The Hollywood ramp was one of the first ones to have flat bottom on the East Coast. It made all the difference in the world.
I think it’s good to note that. If they hadn’t built that ramp that way, you guys may not have progressed as fast as you did.
You’re right. I never thought of it that way. That’s what brought on that resurgence of ramps. We were like, “This is even better than the skatepark.” Adding the flat bottom gave you time to set up and do tricks.
I don’t think you would have invented the McTwist on a U ramp, do you think?
Probably not. [Laughs]
So you have your ramp going. Who was at some of those sessions?
We had a couple of friends at school that would come and skate and then everyone disappeared and it was just me. Everything stopped. Alan didn’t skate anymore and his ramp got torn down. I was on my own. I would just wait for the next call from Stacy when he’d send me out to California for a contest. It was hard times because they couldn’t always afford to send me. I remember one contest at Del Mar, Stacy felt so bad that they brought Cab and Scott Foss and they couldn’t afford to bring me. Those guys had to take the bus down from San Jose. They actually called me from Del Mar skatepark on the phone. They were like, “Hey, Mike, we just wanted to say hello. We wish you could be here.” That meant the world to me. I never said anything, but I think Stacy knew that I wanted to be there. It was a slow gradual thing where skateboarding reinvented itself and went to the streets.
Wait. So you were skating your ramp this whole time solo.
Yeah. It sucked. I was thinking I should be in California, but I was only 16. I couldn’t go to California. I couldn’t do anything. I just skated my ramp and dreamed of going to California. It was almost a year, but it felt like ten years that I had to skate by myself. I went to school and I’d wait for those times where I could go to California and skate something different and compare the tricks that I had learned to some of the tricks that the California guys made up. You just hungered for more. I remember one day I was skating my ramp and this group of kids came up. They were a little younger than me and they were like, “Do you mind if we try your ramp?” I was like, “Please, go ahead.” I was amazed because here was a whole new group of guys that were interested in the ramp. Sure enough all these guys started skating and there were all these sessions, and then other guys started building bigger ramps and there was fun stuff popping up everywhere.
What year are we talking now?
This was ‘81 and ‘82. It was slowly coming back and ramps were popping up in backyards everywhere. It was crazy. Guys that used to skate were skating again. Everyone was into it even though there were still no parks.
It all went back to the backyards and then it grew again from there. Did you start getting calls again to come to California as things started picking up?
Yep. Things started picking up. There were more contests and places to go. Then we started traveling and made it back to Europe. We made it to Sweden in ‘82 and again in ‘84, and that’s when I learned the McTwist, in ‘84.
When did you move out to California?
I came out in ‘82, and went to school and stayed at Stacy’s parents house. I took some video classes and stuff, but I was really kind of shy.
What school did you go to? Was this college?
Yeah. It was some private school. I would drive out to Upland or go to Lance’s and skate, or I’d drive down to Del Mar and skate with Tony.
You were staying at Stacy’s parents’ house?
Yeah. Stacy didn’t live there anymore. He had already moved out, so I was renting his old room from his parents right there in Santa Monica. I was there for like 11 months.
That’s crazy. Did they cook you dinners and stuff?
Sometimes she felt bad for me and she’d cook dinner because I was on my own.
Did you ever go to the beach in Venice and skate with Eric D and Murray and those guys?
Yeah. I would see those cats down there. I would see Christian down there. We skated some launch ramp they had up against the wall.
Technically, you were around when the street ollie was forming.
You were at some pretty pivotal places at some insane times. Why did you go to school to take video classes? Did you want to be a director?
Yeah, a little bit. I was interested in film and how things went together. Right after that, we did Animal Chin, so I guess that kind of helped me a little bit. It didn’t help my acting, but it helped me. [Laughs]
Well, no offense, but I’m not going to argue with you on that. [Laughs] The fact that you guys kind of sucked at acting was the best part about that whole thing. Did you start filming that when you were still living with Stacy’s parents?
No. I had already moved out. I moved back to Florida because a hurricane came and wiped out the McGill Plant Nursery. I had to help mom and dad put it back together for another nine months or so. I came back later to San Diego and I lived right by Del Mar Skatepark, right in the hills there. Tony’s brother, Steve Hawk, was hired by Kevin Staab’s grandmother to pick up the maid twice a week and pick up some groceries and he got free room and board in this really nice mansion in Rancho Santa Fe. It overlooked Cardiff, so I took over his spot for a year. I would get the groceries a few times a week and that was it. I would wait for Tony to come home from school. Kevin lived in Arizona, at the time, so he wasn’t there. He would just come home for long weekends. I was the only guy that didn’t have to go to school, so I would just wait for the skatepark to open and wait for those guys to come home and we’d go skate Del Mar.
“They were like, “What are you doing, Mike?” I said, “I’m just checking something out.” I thought if I could just do the first 360, I could bail to my knees. I didn’t want to get trapped upside down and land on my head.”
You’re living in a mansion in Rancho Santa Fe.
Yeah. I was living in the maid’s quarters. I remember sitting there thinking, “I don’t have any bills. I don’t have to pay for electric or rent. All I have to do is pay for my car insurance and I’m set.”
That must have felt great.
It was awesome.
You were skating Del Mar when everyone was really innovating stuff.
Yeah. There were tricks popping up all over the place.
You have a whole bag of tricks, but you’re not an invent-a trick-every-day kind of guy.
No. I’ve always gravitated towards new things, but only if they felt good to me. Certain things, like riding my board backwards, didn’t feel right for me. I just stayed away from anything like that. Although, I applauded it, there’s no way. I just had to say no. It was just wrong. Certain lip tricks always inspired me.
What was a typical session like at Del Mar in ‘83? Who else was around back then besides you and Tony?
Well, besides Kevin Staab, occasionally, it was Ken Park, Owen Nieder, Billy Ruff and a few other locals there. We wouldn’t just skate the pool. I would go back and skate that back pool. That was always fun. There’s one picture that Grant Brittain shot of me in the back there and they made a big poster out of it. It was this big square pool that only had coping on one side. It had a round shallow end that was kinked out here and there. It was fun. I loved it. I would skate that a lot. We would ride the halfpipe back there every once in a while.
Which of the Powell Peralta videos were you filming for at the time?
We filmed the Bones Brigade Video Show the year before when I was in California at Lakewood.
You’re in the first real skate video that really went national. Did you notice that people started to recognize you more after that video came out?
Not really. I think because it was so new, a lot of people didn’t really have the machines to watch them. Only certain people did. It was so new. We were just jazzed because it was a movie with us in it. It was cool to get one of those machines and show our friends. It didn’t really start happening right away. Shortly after that, they thought they were only going to sell a few, and they sold 50 times the amount of initial orders.
Wow. So you were skating Del Mar and then you get a call from the Swedish camps? How did that all go down?
Well, Alan Gelfand and Stacy Peralta went in 1981, and then Stacy recommended that Steve Caballero and I go to the next one, because they weren’t going to go again.
I’m not sure. I guess once was enough for them. [Laughs] You have to want to do it, and we were into it. We went in ‘82 for the first time. That year we went to Scotland and England and did a tour through there. Then we went to Sweden for three weeks. I turned 18 that summer. After we went to Sweden, Stacy called me and said, “This guy is doing this skateboard movie and you’d be great for this one role if you want to try.” I went and auditioned in Hollywood and they liked me. Christian Hosoi was there, and a few other people, and they picked me. I was like, “Okay. I guess I’ll go. Where do I have to go?” They said, “You’re going to Spain for 7 1/2 weeks.” I was like, “By myself?” They were like, “Well, there will be some other actors there.” I was like, “Oh no. I don’t know if I really want to do this.” They had to convince me to go. Stacy was like, “They’re going to build you a ramp and you’re going to be able to skate there.” I was like, “Okay.” So I went. 36 hours later, we get to this place way in the south of Spain and the director comes up to me and said, “Do you know any good skateboarders that are kind of Mexican looking and short?” Of course, I mentioned Caballero. Within 24 hours, they flew him out. I was stoked to have company and we were both turning 18, so it was great.
What movie was that?
It was called California Cowboys or sometimes it’s called Escape From El Diablo. [Laughs]
What in the hell?
It comes on about three in the morning. [Laughs] The big name actors were Ethan Wayne and the guy, Salami, from the White Shadow. He lived in Santa Monica. He was the director of The Sopranos, Timothy Van Patten. He and Ethan Wayne were so cool to us. Some of the other actors I don’t even want to mention because they were jerks to us. Those two guys stuck up for us and we were stoked.
What role did you play?
I played Tommy D.
What did you have to do?
I just skated everywhere and said a couple of lines with a high-pitched voice. It was even worse than Animal Chin. They built a ramp on the beach for us and then they burnt it down the next day for a scene.
That’s a full ramp locals before Thrashin’.
Yeah. It was a ramp they built with little tiny 1×2’s scattered. It was super sketch, but we made it work. We did some inverts and stuff. If you ever watch it, you’ll see.
I’m totally going to watch that thing.
Oh, no. It’s really painful. [Laughs]
I’m already excited about it. Now you’re a movie star, and you were there for 7 1/2 weeks?
Yeah. We were gone for a while. Right after Sweden, we flew to Jacksonville, FL, for the Kona contest. All these guys were practicing all week. We flew in and had one day of practice, and they had head-to-head competition. You take two runs, and they pick the best run and cut it down from 100 guys to 16 guys. Then number one guy goes against number 16 guy. If you lose twice, you’re out. I had tied for 16th place with Allen Losi. Caballero got first, so I had a run-off with Allen Losi and I advanced. I was 16th, so I had to go up against the number one seed, which was Caballero, and he beat me, and I had to go to the losers bracket. I had to skate eight more sets of runs to get back up to skate with Caballero, and then I beat him. He had one loss and then we had to go against each other again and he won. He got first and I got second. It was the craziest contest.
“I went out to California and had the best two weeks of my life. Stacy took us to Marina Del Rey Skatepark, Del Mar Skatepark and Upland. He took us to some crazy Skatopia park. We skated everywhere.”
You had to skate way more than Cab.
I had to skate way more than anyone. [Laughs]
Last chance every run.
Yeah. Stacy flew over there and it was a really good time. Cab and I went and did the movie right after that. We were gone almost six months from our homes.
It’s hard to go from being the butler to being a movie star, huh?
[Laughs] Well, luckily, the palm trees grew at least a foot while we were gone.
Did you come back to the butler house after that?
In 1982, I went to the butler house and then Del Mar closed down.
What was that like?
That sucked. It was terrible. I moved my whole body out here to be in skateboarding and then the skatepark closes. There was nothing else to skate around here. Ken Park had built a ramp at his girlfriend’s horse ranch, so we skated that a lot and then we started skating ramps in Fallbrook. This guy built a ramp in Fallbrook. His parents owned avocado groves, so it was right in the middle of that, and it was perfect. I skated with guys like Ray Underhill, Jason Jessee, Gator and a bunch of guys. Chris Miller would come down and skate. Upland was still going so sometimes we would go up there. Shortly after that, Upland closed. After my job was done as the butler, I rented a house with my friend Barry Saretsky.
Tracker Trucks paid for a third of the house. We had one room that was like a training room for all the Tracker guys. Barry pretty much took care of everybody. Even if they didn’t ride Trackers, he took care of them. That was rad. I lived there for about a year and then we started making a little money from skateboarding.
Were you making the money from board sales?
Yeah. That was the first time of making some real money.
Okay. Let’s talk about 1984 Swedish Summer Camp and the first McTwist.
We went back to Sweden for a second time in 1984, and it was myself, Lance Mountain and Rodney Mullen.
Were you just doing demos or were you teaching kids?
We were teaching kids from all over Europe. There were like 50 or 60 new people every week. They were from England, Sweden, Norway, Germany and a couple from Brazil. It was mostly European. We had new people every week, and they would check in and be assigned to a cabin. As the trainers, we had a cabin to ourselves, and the campers had like 8-10 guys per cabin. You’d meet everybody and then wake up in the morning and they’d have to do some stretches and running around the cabin. Then they had to make their beds and clean up. We didn’t make our beds, but we made them make their beds. [Laughs] Then you’d skate to breakfast and help yourself to the breakfast buffet and then we’d break them up into four groups with different teachers and you’d go skate. You’d swap every 30 or 40 minutes and change teachers or change ramps. Then you’d go to lunch. After lunch, you’d come back and skate again for a few hours. After that, you could do whatever you wanted. You could skate or take a nap or whatever. A lot of times, I would skate after lunch because it was open because a lot of people were tired, so we had free time to do whatever we wanted. We did whatever we wanted most of the time. It was funny. Only the Swedes could understand English. All the Germans and French made like they were listening, but they didn’t know what we were saying, so we had to use a lot of hand movements. [Laughs]
We were teaching these guys to do hand plants and backside airs and frontside airs or whatever they wanted to learn. I would skate in the evenings because it stayed pretty light outside until three o’clock in the morning because it’s so far north, so you could have some pretty good sessions until late. We had taught three weeks of camp and we were going to leave in about four days and I decided that I didn’t want to go to dinner, so I went to go skate. I was skating by myself and I was thinking about this trick that I saw Fred Blood do. He was a roller skater, and in Cherry Hill, NJ, about six months earlier, he had just spun around, on his roller-skates. I thought that was so unfair that he could do that. I was like, “Could you imagine if you could do that on a skateboard?” I was thinking about it for awhile, but I kept thinking that you couldn’t do it low like that because gravity doesn’t work that way with a skateboard, and trying to grab a skateboard and hold it on your feet. I thought about it a lot. I knew that I had to do it out of the ramp to really have a chance of completing it. Those last few days, I brought hip pads and taped my wrist guards up and I didn’t tell anyone. I went to the ramp and there were two kids sitting there hanging out by the ramp. They didn’t go to dinner either, but they weren’t skating. One of the kids was Bod Boyle.
Yeah. He was one of our clients and he was there with one of his friends. I started to skate the ramp a little bit and I was looking at the spin, so I started to over rotate some mute airs. They were like, “What are you doing, Mike?” I said, “I’m just checking something out.” I thought if I could just do the first 360, I could bail to my knees. I didn’t want to get trapped upside down and land on my head. I did it, within 30-40 minutes. I did it, but I was bailing to my knees. They were like, “What are you doing?” I said, “I’m not sure. Give me some time to figure it out.” Another 30 minutes had passed and I actually completed one. Mind you, there were no video cameras there. We didn’t own anything like that, but I was curious that I did it and I wanted to see what it looked like. As I went to ask them, they started running back to the camp like they were afraid or excited or something. They just took off. I guess they went back to the camp and told Lance and Rodney and everyone that I was at the ramp doing this crazy trick and they needed to see it. The whole camp showed up about a half hour later. Lance was like, “Okay, I’ve got to see this. There’s no way you’re doing this trick.” I showed him and I guess the rest is history.
How did you figure out how to huck yourself around the first time?
Well, I thought about how I was going to grab because it didn’t seem feasible any other way, grabbing like a backside air. I knew I needed to grab in the middle of my board. I had never seen anyone do anything like that, so this was the first time. I knew I needed to try to ball up to get my body to spin. I started grabbing mute right off the bat. I had done it so many times in my mind that I knew mute was the way to go. It just worked out. I think if you see it and dream it, you can do it.
I definitely believe in visualize and attack for sure. The first time you actually tried it, what was going through your mind?
Well, I knew if I could bail to my knees, I was more than halfway there. I just kept doing it and doing it a little bit more and then I realized that I could put the thing down and not have to bail and that’s what I did.
When you landed it, what were you thinking the first time you rolled away?
I was pretty excited. I did get very religious before those attempts. I just thought it would be so cool to do something that no one had ever done in the world. I knew that no one had ever done it, so I thought it would be pretty cool.
That’s just a trip. You land it and it was like the shot heard round the world, but nobody really knew what it was.
It was a flat spin at first. We only had a few days left and Lance was like, “We have to get some photos of this for the Intelligence Report.” That was a little mailer that Powell Peralta produced. They would let people know what was happening with the Bones Brigade. I was like, “How are we going to shoot that? You don’t even have a motor drive.” He goes, “Just pick a spot where you want to do the trick and just keep doing the trick right there.” I did about 15 of them in one spot and he took all kinds of still shots, and put them all together for the Intelligence Report.
He shot a sequence of you by shooting you doing it 15 times. That’s genius. Lance is a genius. What was Rodney’s reaction?
I don’t know. You’d have to watch the Bones Brigade video. [Laughs] From what I know, Rodney coined the McTwist, because I was McGill and I was twisting my body.
So you dropped history on Sweden and then you came back to California?
No. I went back to Florida for a few months.
Were you busting them there too?
No. I went to Florida and skated my ramp a little bit and the next month I took a ride up to Jacksonville because I wanted to see what my friend Donny Griffin thought of it. I didn’t say anything, but I went there and skated the Kona Ramp and we were having a session with him and Kevin Lambert. I was like, “I want to try something. Let me know what you guys think of this.” When I was confident enough that I had the ramp wired a little bit, I tried one and I made my first one. Those guys just freaked out and started screaming. They were like, “What did you just do? Do it again!” It was cool. Two weeks after that, I went to Del Mar, and I was just keeping it to myself, but a few people must have heard through the telephone lines that I was doing some crazy trick. The first person that came up to me was Neil Blender and he wouldn’t leave me alone. I was like, “Neil, it’s not that big of a deal. It’s just a little trick.” I was going to pull it out later, but he would not leave me alone. He followed me everywhere at the skatepark. He was like, “Listen, I know it’s more than what you’re saying and I’ve got to see this. I’ve heard you’re doing this incredible trick.” After a few hours, I was like, “Okay, come on. I’ll show you.” It was him and a few other guys there and that was it. After that, everybody and their brother was like, “I have to see it. Do it again. What did you just do?” It was crazy. Del Mar wasn’t the best place to do it. It didn’t have a lot of vert and you hung up as you can see. Sometimes it was hard to pull in, but I was so amped to do it, that it didn’t matter.
It wasn’t at a contest?
We were practicing for a contest.
I saw the video of you in the contest. You threw it into your run, but you didn’t do it as your final trick. You busted it out in the middle of your run and everyone was cheering and then you just kept going and didn’t do it again, and you clicked out and there was this whole world of applause.
Well, it was the kind of trick that you couldn’t just do at the end because it took so much energy to do it. I had to do a big air before it. If I waited until the end of my run, I wouldn’t have the energy to do a big air, let alone do the twist. I had to do it in the beginning.
“I did a lot better in contests. If it was a tough cut, I’d throw in a McTwist to make sure I was in there. That’s how it became for a lot of guys. A lot of guys realized that if they could do a McTwist in their preliminary run, they could be in there too.”
That’s crazy to me. You just straight did a McTwist and then started doing all kinds of inverts. People were tripping. If you think about some of the other tricks that have been invented since, like Tony’s 900, that was it. That would have never happened without the Mctwist. Now you’re propelled back in the spotlight even more because you’ve invented the Mctwist. Were people expecting you to invent more stuff? Was there more pressure? How did that affect you?
No. There wasn’t that much pressure, but some people said that I had ruined skateboarding by going upside down. I was like, “What are you talking about?” There were a lot of good comments too. People said, “Do you know you just made history by doing that trick?” I’m like, “Well, I know I made history by being the first one to do it.” They’re like, “You opened up a whole new world in skateboarding.” I didn’t believe it at first.
You made it so that nobody could win a contest without it.
[Laughs] Oh no.
Yeah. It was like, “If I don’t do a McTwist, I’m not going to win.” Christian said it. Tony said it. Lance said it too. You increased the level of skateboarding to a whole new dimension and everybody had to learn it. That’s heavy.
Yeah. There were a few other tricks like the McEgg, a 540 eggplant. I did that in Animal Chin. I would slide it around. Bucky Lasek does it now straight out.
The McEgg is super gnarly. There’s a lot that can go wrong.
Yeah. I did some little variations of that here and there.
Did you start to dominate at contests because of the McTwist?
Well, I did a lot better in contests. If it was a tough cut, I’d throw in a McTwist to make sure I was in there. That’s how it became for a lot of guys. A lot of guys realized that if they could do a McTwist in their preliminary run, they could be in there too. I actually won the Shut Up and Skate contest in Texas. There are certain times where you’re just on. I don’t know if other skaters feel the same way, but sometimes you’re just so on that you can’t fall. You try things and you make everything. That was just one of those days. That was the contest where Lance, Tony, Stevie, and I switched t-shirts. We were wearing each other’s t-shirts. Lester Kasai and I made the finals and we were practicing runs before the finals and he said, “McGill, it looks like you could do an Elguerial over the channel because you do channel plants all the time. Why don’t you just do an Elguerial over the channel?” I was like, “Okay.” In my practice run, I do an Elguerial over the channel and I made it first try. At that same contest, I threw up in the back of the ramp when I was coming up, but I did all my tricks and twists. I did the Elguerial over the channel, in my final run, and a McEgg at the end, and slid around. It was crazy.