PATRICK TRUITT INTERVIEW BY JIM MURPHY;
PHOTOGRAPHY BY DAN LEVY
I knew Patrick Truitt before I ever even met him in person, as many people did. Word of mouth, ‘coconut wireless’, and firsthand accounts piqued my curiosity with numerous tales of “he climbed several rungs up the telephone pole and did a bomb drop”… “he showed up at the local neighborhood ramp and was trying frontside 540 units (pre-Mctwist)”… “he crashed on my couch for a month”. The last one was from my boss at the pizza place. I was on the Dawn Patrol Hangover Express bus ride to work one day, dozing off in the back, when I became aware of a dude getting on and lighting up the entire crowd with raucous laughter. The bus driver stopped a few blocks up (I doubt she even charged him) and said, “See you later, Pat”. I looked out the window and saw a guy strolling just like David Lee Roth with a Cheshire Cat smile on his face, and said out loud, “Holy shit… that’s Truitt!” A few weeks later, Sergie Ventura took me to another pad where Pat was couch surfing, and the legend had us both in stitches. He also cautioned us, from experience, about the nature of the skateboard business – the industry being a fickle bitch when things switch and would flip on a dime. I subsequently had as much fun hanging with Pat at the local Mitchell’s Market with him telling me about the gassy dangers of drinking too much apple juice, or rapping about NASCAR drivers, but skating with him was the all time cherry on top of the icing. He was pure poetry in motion! Patrick would blast so high, with hang time so long, you could hear him utter in mid air, “Uh oh.” A fun time all around and the true definition of a legend! Wherever I went, California, North Carolina, Florida, Hawaii – if I told people I was from Maryland, they’d ask about Ocean City and ask if I knew Patrick Truitt. I always replied “He’s the Jay Adams of the East Coast.” – INTRODUCTION BY DAYLIN LOUDERBACK
Hey Patrick. How are you doing?
Hey, Murf, I’m doing awesome! I’ve got a thriving business, Brand-X-Toxic Skateboards, and a great partner, Amy; and we live near the beach. You don’t need much more than that.
Cool! Let’s go back and start with when and where were you born.
I was born in March 1964 in Baltimore, Maryland. My dad and I moved to Ocean City right before I turned ten in 1973.
Were you into the surf and skate scene when you hit the ground in Ocean City?
Yeah. My dad purchased and we moved into a hotel in Ocean City, Maryland, where we had stayed for the two years prior. My dad had become really good friends with the owners and they ended up offering to sell it to him, so he bought it. I was learning to surf on boogie boards before we moved there. I could stand up and go down the line, so I was always into it. In the winter of ‘74, I met Josh Marlowe, who lived a block away from me in Ocean City. He was skating up 8th Street to the boardwalk where that concrete break wall is past Malibu’s, which is a surf shop now. It’s been there for generations. There’s a bank up on the boardwalk on 8th Street that went up to the stores and Josh had plywood set up there against that bank. I saw Josh skating towards the beach and I went up there and said, “Hey, let me try that.” Josh was carving down the bank and up onto the plywood and doing kickturns and carves in ‘74. It was killer.
What kind of boards did you guys have?
He had an oak board and the only thing that I had was an old Shark set up with metal wheels. Then my father went to see Dale at Sundancer and bought me a decent set up. It had Cadillac wheels and a fiberglass lay up to it. I think it was a G&S, but it wasn’t a Fibreflex. For my dad, when he was in that Sundancer Surf Shop, the lightbulb went off for him. He had zero knowledge of what was going on with skateboarding before then.
What was he doing for work before that?
He was a race car driver. He raced midgets and sprints – dirt cars. My dad is one of the reasons that roll cages became a thing on the East Coast. They had no caged chassis in 1968. When I was four years old, we were at Hershey Speedway and he was the only car running with a caged chassis and he flipped seven times in between the third and fourth turn. He was unconscious for a month, but he lived. In that time, if you lived through rolling a car on a banked track made out of clay or asphalt, it was a miracle.
Wow. Hell yeah. This was in Hershey, PA?
Yep. He raced in Pennsylvania, Virginia, New Jersey and New York – which was big racing territory. It was fun. I was a little kid and I watched him race from the time I was four until about ten years old, when he retired from racing and we moved to Ocean City.
Was he making money?
No. You couldn’t make real money doing it back then. The prize money just went back into the car. He was winning races and he was a damn good race car driver. He was driving 18-wheelers for Gulf Oil, hauling tankers with gas. When I was little, he raised quarter horses too, so he had his fingers into many things. When we moved to Ocean City, he bought that hotel. That hotel was badass and it was packed all summer long. Our life was always interesting. Then he got into skateboarding. By the time I was 11 years old, I was running the hotel practically on my own, while my dad was out in California, with Tommy Sims, Larry Balma, Brad Dorfman and all those guys, getting skate product and bringing it back East.
Did he have a shop that he was selling out of or was it a distribution company?
It was kind of a combo because there wasn’t any such thing as a skateboard distribution company yet. He had a Chevy van that he would fill with product and he would drive around to skateparks all over Maryland and PA. People knew what day he was going to show up and everyone would be there with their money. From there, it grew and he became the world’s first skateboard distributor.
How did he market that?
Well, there weren’t many skate shops then. It was mostly bike shops, with a very few that sold bikes and skateboards. People got used to his schedule and he’d show up at the skateparks and that’s how it got started. He would keep all of the stock in one of the hotel rooms where we lived. It was badass.
Wow. He would drive to California and get wholesale product and bring it back?
Well, he would fly to LA frequently and then drive up to Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz, because he was getting everything, and then he’d fly it back.
He wasn’t selling through Atlantic Skate Shop yet. It was all grassroots?
Exactly. It grew really fast and then he got a little building by Dorchester Street and started putting stock in there. After school, I’d be there putting completes together. Soon after, he jumped into the building on the corner of Dorchester and Philly. By ‘76, he was slamming it and distributing around the world.
When did you start making your own brands?
My dad started making Atlantic Skates decks and wheels first. That was in the ‘70s. Our wheels were made by Creative, who we are still working with today. Our laminated wood was from Wee Willi Winkle. Lonnie Toft was tight with them and we sold a lot of Willi’s wood. At the very beginning, when we were doing the oak boards, there was a company called Oaks East milling oak boards in Ocean City, and a lot of people in the Mid-Atlantic region rode those boards. Mickey Carmody was milling those boards out of one of our hotel rooms for a winter.
“You had the Texas boys, the Toke Team boys, the Ocean City boys, the VB boys… There were the crews from Baltimore and PA. Every one of those groups had a different personality, but we were all one big skate family and still are.”
Were those just flat oak decks?
Yeah. They had beams down the center where he routed it out for strength, or the appearance of strength. Then Dave Powell did the Ocean Bowl graphic. He was also the one that airbrushed that first vert quarter pipe in the bowl and he did the Atlantic Skates graphic that we still use. He lived in one of the downstairs rooms at the hotel where he did all of his airbrushing in the winter. In the winter, that place was dead, so dad let the skate and surf family live in the rooms.
Nice. When you were growing up, did you see a lot of pro skateboarders coming through and hanging out with Dorsey?
Yeah. By ‘76, he had that big Winnebago that was a traveling trade show and it had Sims and Atlantic Skates and all of the brands’ logos painted on the side of it. I remember Lonnie Toft came and stayed with us for a summer and we toured him around the East Coast. We still have one of his oak decks that he drew his graphic on before his printed laminated decks came out.
Was Lonnie riding the four trucks set up?
Yeah. He had the 8-wheelers and the Toft Designs stickers with the triangle. It was cool. He was a surfer, and we were right there on the beach so, when he was here, he’d go surf.
Were you tripping that your dad had worked it so that you were traveling around with legendary skateboard pros?
Yeah. It was cool, but it’s all I knew. By then, I was working so much that I was starting to get anesthetized to being around it. Later, I got ‘affected’ a few times, running into TA and Jay at Cherry Hill. That was really cool because they were the core that we looked up to.
Would you go and skate Cherry Hill?
Yeah. I won highest air in my first contest there. Marlowe said I got second to McGill in the whole contest.
Was that in the Egg Bowl?
No. They wouldn’t let us skate the Egg Bowl in our division. We had to skate the kidney. I was pissed because I loved the Egg Bowl.
Describe Cherry Hill skatepark. I skated there too and it was the raddest skatepark I ever rode.
Walking into that indoor park in the winter on opening day, every pro skater that you could think of was there and it was insane. When you walked in, there was the freestyle reservoir area and then you’d go up on the raised part and you’re looking at that egg bowl. To this day, that egg bowl is still the prettiest sight I’ve ever seen. The transitions on that thing were perfect.
I couldn’t believe the place had four pools stacked next to each other.
Yeah. After skating Cherry Hill a few times, it was the egg bowl and the kidney that I skated primarily. There was the half pipe and the 3/4 pipe too. Luke Moore, Victor Perez, Mike Jesiolowski and the Godfrey brothers ripped that place apart.
Did you have other killer ‘70s parks in your area? I remember the Crofton park.
I never got to skate Crofton, but that park looked fun. There was Cascade in Baltimore. The following year we had the Haut team come and stay with us for a summer, and we took them to Cascade Park. It was Kevin Reed, Kevin Niccoli, Scott Parsons, Tom Carter and Kiwi Gifford. When we pulled up to that Cascade Park in the Winnebago, the park wasn’t even finished. The bowls were done, but the decks weren’t, so it was all dirt around the bowls. Tom Carter and I were skating one bowl while Kevin Niccoli and those guys were skating the half pipe. I remember going over and dropping in on the half pipe. Kevin heckled me like, “Dude, are you going to drop in on everything?” I said, “Yeah!”
Did the Cascade halfpipe have a platform?
No. That was a U bottom half pipe with no deck. I had to climb up it and balance and drop in real fast before I ate shit. I’d just get up and go. It was all about speed and vert. I just wanted to skate vert. The more vert the better. The more vert, the more speed you could get. That all transitioned into when we started doing airs and blasting. The faster I could go, the higher I could go. There was so much amp about it. Every new park you’d pull up to, you’d just go for it. Everybody was gunning back then. Everybody was into it.
Was the Haut team stoked on what they saw on the East Coast?
Yeah. Kevin Reed was a trip. He always reminded me of the Beastie Boys’ lyric “He’s got his own room at the back of the bus”, because he’d be in the back of the Winnebago smoking weed. He always skated in pants. It was Kiwi, Scott Parsons and Tom Carter, who was my age. I loved the way that Kiwi skated. He had a total surf style, but he was really fast. Kevin had really good surf style. Kevin was doing real airs in the water surfing way before Matt Kechele and Davey Smith.
Was he doing airs like Christian Fletcher?
He was doing it years before CF. CF took it to a whole new level and made it his own. Christian did everything. He did judos, liens and stales and he did them real. He’d land them straight on. He wouldn’t over rotate them. I love surfing with Christian. The Fletcher family is beast. The bloodline from those two families is insane.
It is. Okay, let’s go back to ‘78. You’re a surfer so, with the Haut team, when they came to Ocean City, did you guys wake up early and go surf and then go skate?
In Ocean City, we had surfboards at the hotel, so we’d surf there before the lifeguards came on at 10AM, which is when you had to be out of the water with surfboards. By 10AM, we’d be on the road going to different skateparks. We drove all through Virginia and New Jersey.
Did you hit the Jersey shore and skate the Monster Bowl and places like that?
Yeah. My recollection is that we didn’t skate there long because we had to be at another park for a contest. I remember rolling up and seeing the signs and we were in and out of there quick. It was a blast. There were a few snake runs there that had soft rounded lips with no 90-degree corners. I got to skate it. Unfortunately, not for long.
In ‘78, skateboarding starts to blow up. By ‘79, it’s huge.
Yes. By ‘79, my dad had moved to a bigger location.
At that point, was he a legit distributor with Atlantic Skates?
Yeah. He was the first and largest. At that time AWH and Smoothill and a few different distributors started opening up, but no one else was doing what he was doing; at that volume or intensity. He was shipping all over the U.S., as far west as Texas and to other countries all over the world.
When the downturn for skate business came in the ‘80s, did Dorsey have any idea that was coming?
When everything took a dive and the skateparks shut down, he seemed more prepared than many people.
Do you think that downturn was because skateparks were closing down?
I think it was that and other things too. I was more blinded to it then though, because I was skating Ocean Bowl and we had ramps too, so that was a whole new era of skateboarding. I think that the business flattened from the fad being over and the people that gave it up were only doing it because everyone else was doing it. It wasn’t like you and us at Cherry Hill. If you were there, you were dedicated. You weren’t going there to fuck around. That park was serious. Wally Hollyday must’ve been asked, probably more than any question in his life, after building as many parks as he’s built, “Why don’t you rebuild that egg bowl?” When Wally built Cherry Hill, I’m sure there were parks around the world that had similar aspects, but that egg bowl was really unique. I’ve been skating 47 years now and remember it like it was yesterday.
That egg bowl at Cherry Hill was perfect and I was devastated when that park closed. In 1980, skateboarding crashed. Were you and your dad looking at each other like, “What’s going on?”
Well, my dad had some hustle going on, so he kept moving product. The way that I saw it, he never slowed down. Business slowed down, but he didn’t. He started bringing in new stuff. Before that, he was buying a lot of Tommy Sims stock because everybody got in a pinch for a while, so he would buy whatever he had. He had end users, at that point, so they didn’t stop. Then my dad started getting into roller skates too, because that was so huge. He sold hundreds of thousands of pairs of roller-skates and that paid some bills.
He’s a businessman, so he saw where the demand was and filled it, right?
Right. Do you remember those 65 flat back Krypto wheels? Everyone thinks that those are vintage skateboard wheels, but my dad had them made for roller skates, specifically. My dad also had a case of Fred Blood Revolvers made for roller-skates and riding pools. Those guys ripped on those and rode in the contests with skateboarders. We never sold a single set of The Bloods because I rode every single one of them in the ‘80s. They were comparable with the wheel profiles I ride now.
So your dad is selling roller-skates and then roller skating peaked in ‘78-79. By ‘81, Thrasher started. Did you think it was a comeback for skateboarding?
The best way that I could put it is that I never saw a demise in hardcore skaters. A lot of people did, but it just depends what basket they had all their eggs in. I was still a little grom and dad was a mover-and-shaker in the business, and I was working in it too. Back in the ‘70s and into the ‘80s, we didn’t have the Internet telling us what to think. We didn’t have all these different things going on. We had our core bros and sisters, our core friends and our core families. We lived in a beach town, so every day was new and exciting, and we took it as it came. There was a tremendous amount of levity in the way that we lived back then.
From your perspective, was there any camaraderie in the skateboard industry?
Well, even before that, when my father was out there, he was saying, “We can move this product all over the planet.” Then he started working with Shiner and Titus and he started hustling and getting everything out overseas. That was the camaraderie. I was talking to Bud Smith about it and he said, “What people don’t realize is that all of these guys were big risk takers. They put everything on the line to develop an industry.” When people say ‘skate industry’ now, they don’t realize all of the blood, sweat and tears, and all of the risks that these guys took to make sure there was an industry. We had quality product to sell and we had contests and tours. Bud said, “When you got everybody together, you had to have two rooms for them. One for them and one for their egos.” [Laughs] There was camaraderie and there were people within the group that were friends. They were together at every trade show and they drank together and traveled together.
“I’ve finally found a way to combine my lifelong love and decades of skateboarding history with a livelihood that feels right, and people seem to be enjoying it.”
Then things started to crank again, so what was your job at Atlantic Skates?
I always had my dad’s back, 100%, whatever he needed – from coming to work after school to training other people – I’d do it. We had a lot of employees, at certain points, and I had all sorts of jobs at Atlantic. In the end, I was just a skater that worked for his dad whenever he needed me. Recently, my dad sent me the board marker jig that he had patented in ‘75. Back then, when all the boards came in, they weren’t pre-drilled like today, like the Maherajah, Logan Earth Skis and Sims decks, so I used to put that jig on the front and back of each board and mark that with a punch. Every day after school, I’d start with 100 decks and I’d drill them and grip tape them. I also have the first bearing tool that my dad had made. He drew up the diagram and had it made. I used to lay out the wheels for completes on a piece of plywood on a sawhorse and drop bearings in. I’d take that bearing tool and a hammer and slam! It only took me one shot and the bearings would sink. Then, I’d drop spacers in and do the same thing. We built completes and sold them to retail shops. Every time we increased our inventory, there were trucks coming to pick up the shipments constantly. We went from sending 20 boxes a day to sending out 200. It was awesome.
You’re skateboarding and surfing this whole time too. Did you ever get to skate the Fyber Ryder park up in Lakewood, New Jersey with the fiberglass ramps?
No. I always wanted to skate that because it looked insane, but we ended up getting the Glasswave moved to Ocean City, which became Rolling Surf. We had the blue full pipe and halfpipe and vert ramp, and they built a deck on that and put pool coping on it. We had the minis too. Rolling Surf was just a smaller version of that Fyber Ryder park. Then Ocean City bought a couple more fiberglass ramps and that snake run and put it in at 136th Street. We had the Ocean Bowl, Rolling Surf and 136th Street Park all at once on that ten-mile sandbar, so we were pretty stoked.
Wow! Did the parks last through the ‘80s?
Rolling Surf was gone by ‘81, but it was still in the back lot, so people were rigging it up to skate. The Toke Team guys (me, Dave Tobin, Dan Heyman, Josh Marlowe, John Aires, Tom Eggers) would skate it. Also, Mark “One Time” Hordeman, Dave Morgan, Marc Emond and a lot of the OC/Salisbury guys were there too.
Was Bob Blair there?
Bob Blair was always around and I lived with him along with Tobin, Aires and Pat Clark. We were next to Eggers, Heyman, Marc Emond, Mark Hordeman, Parke Pendleton, Jimmy McNulty, Don McNulty and Marlowe. I love all those guys! They all ran those parks at some point and they were the reason that we had that giant quarter pipe at the Ocean Bowl.
Was that quarter pipe wood or plexi?
It was wood. It had formica at the bottom for the kink. [Laughs]
Was that asphalt to a quarter pipe?
Yeah. It was the original Ocean Bowl from 1976. My buddy, One-Time, started building different versions of different ramps to make it functional and that ended up being the most functional. He kept building it up and re-layering it. I was talking to Heyman about it and he said, “We had that Toke Ramp and that’s why, when we came to Ocean City, we could rip that thing.
In ‘82, did you see shops pop back up?
Yes. There were a lot of new shops as well as many shops from the late ‘70s that never gave up, like Paragon, Ambler and others from PA. Sales began increasing and tons of new shops popped up.
Things started blowing up again in ‘85. Skate shops were selling skateboards, bikes and surfboards on the Jersey shore and they’d sell out of stuff. It was killer.
Yes. If you had inventory, you were going to sell it.
Did you ever go skate Cedar Crest?
Nope. I really wish I had, but I had moved on to other parts of the world by then. I came home from California in the summer of ‘89 and I was skating the blue steel ramp in OC and Josh [Marlowe] was like, “You’ve got to come skate Cedar Crest.” He was telling me that, since I like big air, I would love Cedar Crest. My partner Amy spent a lot of time there in the late ‘80s. She has killer photos of Marlowe, Tobin, Micro, Hounddog, Pat Clark, Wiggy and all the guys skating, as well as those insane ramp jam concerts that went on there. Seriously legendary. Micro was building ramps everywhere at the time. Where were you living then?
I was on the road with Zorlac and then Alva. I went to Rutgers so, the last years I was there, I’d go to Cedar Crest. Once we had metal, that was it. No more splinters. All of the tours would go through there and the pros would show up. It was killer.
Everybody skated that place. I talked to Jesse Martinez about Cedar Crest and he said, “We pulled up and the van broke down, so we were stuck there. I remember pulling up to that ramp and being like, Wow!” That’s how I felt about rolling up to every new bowl or new ramp back then.
Cedar Crest was serious. It was so fast. Micro built it perfect. In ‘89, were you back with Dorsey doing Atlantic Skates?
Yeah. I was back and forth from Ocean City and California and Florida. I went commercial fishing for a little while. I had just gotten back from Puerto Rico and I was in Florida and I called my dad and he said, “You gotta get back up here.” Whenever he got slammed, he’d get me up there. I remember showing up in the middle of winter and we were slammed. We had the propane heaters going and 22 people in the back. We were doing big numbers and running two shifts. I was in trunks and I had on my Walkman headphones and I walked in with a 12-pack and started pulling out boards. I was delegating orders and getting everyone amped. I knew how to work with everybody, and I knew what their strengths were, and we could pack that much more just because of common sense. When you do something for so long, all you have to do is walk in and you see what the situation is. We had domestic orders and overseas orders and we’d have a couple of Roadway trucks pull up every week. It got to the point where I’d say to whoever was loading the containers, “Just make enough room for me to get in there and pull off the labels and put the weigh bills on.” Otherwise, it would have taken me hours to pull all that stuff off the trucks and then put it back on again. It went FOB and it was gone overseas. Dad was crushing it back then and the numbers were ridiculous. Then I was skating a ramp one day outside of Baltimore, in ‘86, and my dad called and said, “Pack your shit. You’re going to California.” That’s when he bought Brand-X. I flew to California and immediately got moving on setting up a new facility for Brand-X.
Brand-X was already an established brand?
Yeah. The owner at the time – the man, the myth, the legend: Bernie Tostenson – who did graphics for Tom Sims and knew my dad from the industry, started Brand-X in 1983 with Bud Fawcett. As you can imagine, when anyone starts a new company, they have some hiccups. It was hard to make and finance skateboards then and Bernie seriously needed capital. He eventually said to my father, “Just buy it from me. You handle all the business and I’ll just keep printing the boards.” In 1986, my father purchased Brand-X and made sure there was plenty of lumber for Bernie to do his thing, as well as payroll, a new facility, and business know-how. That lasted for a few very fun and productive years. Ultimately, as the industry started to change, Brand-X wound down in the beginning of the ‘90s.
Did you see the street skating thing coming?
I did see it coming, but it took a minute for it all to happen. In ‘86, we were at a street contest with kicker ramps and cars and the whole street scene, and you had Gonz, Hensley and Natas starting to blow it up on a completely different level. In ‘91, when we had that recession and skateboarding crashed again, my dad saw that coming. Rob Dykema talks frequently about how, during the second crash, my dad bailed out numerous companies to keep them above water. He was prepared for the downturn more than anyone else, and he shared his success with many of the other companies in the business to keep them going.
Was that just a vert skating crash or was that an economic crash too?
From what I witnessed, there was a big shift in product and a lot of people had to reorganize the way that they were making skateboards. That, coupled with the financial recession, created a bleak environment for many companies.
For me, as a pro skater, when it died, I lost all my sponsors. It went from what it was to what Rocco turned it into with his marketing against the establishment.
Yeah. Rocco’s plan was genius. That’s undeniable.
When it shifted to popsicle sticks, as a distributor, did you think it was just going to be a fad or did you see it as the future?
Well, it was definitely the near-term future at the very least. It was obvious that it wasn’t going away, but I didn’t know if it would shift again. By then, I was making snowboards and surfboards in California, but I was still skating. I watched everything change to big pants and small wheels. I remember you couldn’t even find 58mm wheels anymore; let alone the 65mm Poisons we are making again now.
I know. I hung on to my 63mm Dogtown wheels for like ten years. So you got into snowboarding. What was that like for you? For me, snowboarding was a new rush of wanting to go down mountains and hit some vert and haul ass.
That was the by-product. I was in San Clemente, and my dad had partnered with Barfoot the same year that he took over Brand-X, in 1986. It was two different business situations with those guys. At one point, he was making boards out of Rochester, New York, at Snowtech, and he was having some issues with production quality, so he moved his tooling to one of Rob Dykema’s factories in San Diego. By 1990, he had everything down at Rob’s. In the years leading up to that, people would always ask me for snowboards, and I could get them from Rob’s, so I’d go down there and pick some up. In winter of ‘91/’92, I was snowboarding up at Baldy and I could see that snowboarding was blowing up overnight. I went down to the factory in San Diego and I asked Ernie, “How many of your blem boards can I get?” He said, “You can get as many as we have every day.” These were LaMar, Barfoot, H Street and Vision snowboards’ cosmetic blems, so I immediately put an ad in the Recycler in San Diego and San Bernardino. Within a few weeks, I had pulled in enough money to build my own snowboard company, so I started having my own boards manufactured. I moved enough boards to finance that for the next year. Those years were good, until ‘95, when everything took a dump.
Explain to people what happened in ‘95.
Well, I was at the SIA show in Vegas and I had two snowboard companies. I had a corner booth and I had an order for 10,000 boards.
Was it domestic or international orders?
It was always international. The Japanese pretty much fueled the entire snowboard market during those years. That’s where that whole bandwagon of new companies came from. Those international buyers paid in advance. All of a sudden, you got paid cash up front and you had everything within a few weeks. At the time, it was a gravy train, but it got over-saturated so fast that I decided not to make my boards after I left Vegas. There was too much money flying around and I knew somebody was going to get hit. When I got back to San Clemente, I was sitting in my $400/month office, above Fred’s Liquor, while everybody else was renting huge warehouses and buying sports cars. It just wasn’t sustainable, and I could see it.
Did you get out while you had profits and move on to your next venture?
Well, I moved on but, truth be told, it was all a party to me at the time, and I didn’t plan for the future or save anything.
In ‘95, did the snowboard market crash?
Yeah. The Japanese pulled out, all of a sudden. It almost killed all of the businesses that had invested their money in production based on the anticipated orders. There was no coming back for a lot of those people. It separated the real deal from the rest. For me, I was just about having fun, getting free boards and fueling the non-stop party that was my life at the time.
What did you do after that?
I was always moving on to the next thing. The industry was all over the place at that time and so was I. Eventually, I started running my buddy’s surf company in San Clemente. In ‘99, I went back and forth to Maryland a bit and, by 2003, I was living there again.
Was Atlantic Skates still going strong?
Yeah. My dad had retired, but there were still sales coming in and his wife, Penny, was still working with my dad’s long-term customers. I stayed until 2014 and, during that time, I was selling old stock out of the back warehouse. Dad said, “Go back there and grab that pallet of snowboards.” I found 64 Barfoot returns and factory blems that he had gotten from Rochester. I took a photo of them and put it on Vintage Snowboard Trader and they were sold in ten minutes. That’s when my eyes were opened. I was like, “Whoa. This vintage stuff is interesting.” So I went to my father and I said, “Hey, if you aren’t doing anything with Brand-X or Toxic, could I try to make something with it?” He said, “Do whatever you want. There’s nothing there now, but it’s yours.” It took me a while to figure out how, but that was the beginning of the process to get Amy and I where we are today.
Now you have revived Brand-X and Toxic?
Yeah. Amy and I have a company called Brand-X-Toxic Skateboards. We sell Toxic, Brand-X and High Energy decks and wheels, as well as products from Madrid, Ace, Stereo, FKD, Lurkville and others direct to customers online at brand-x-toxic.com and we wholesale to dealers all around the world. It all started from that off-hand conversation with my dad in 2014. At first, I figured I’d just make a few boards and sell them to my friends and diehard fans. Immediately, I realized how difficult it was going to be without having any funds or the old files, original artwork, molds or screens. All of that had to be recreated from scratch and I didn’t have any resources at the time. Bernie Tostenson, our original Brand-X artist, had passed away in 2009 and I hadn’t reconnected with our original Toxic or High Energy artists. It was a long learning curve that took years to figure out. Eventually, I got things moving in a small manner and begged and borrowed wherever I could to get product made. It all changed in 2019. First, I did a collab with Old Skull on a few Toxic decks, and then Amy and I partnered, and she changed everything.
What was the reaction to the decks? Was it a flashback for people to the old days?
Yeah. The collector community for skateboards is massive. It’s an entire industry of its own. The collectors primarily fueled it and then we took the energy from that and started trying to build a real business. Through time, it’s gotten more exposure and now we’re doing wheels, hardware and soft goods too. In addition to our core customers, we are seeing tremendous interest from different demographics, which include young people loving our superb quality screen-printed decks and wheels, as well as the ‘80s retro graphics and hardcore legacy of the brands. We now make Toxic, Brand-X and High Energy products and we have already recreated about half of our original graphics and shapes. It’s a full-time commitment to say the least.
Are you selling them at a premium price?
No. We’re selling them at a regular mark-up so everyone can enjoy them. Our screen-printed, shaped reissues are premium tier. In the middle tier, we have dozens of killer modern shaped decks, and we also offer extremely affordable pops and shovel nose decks – all hand screen-printed and made in the USA with the finest super-premium 7-ply Canadian hardrock maple. Everything we sell is proudly made in Southern California. We make things ourselves or use trusted manufacturing partners, many of whom we’ve worked with since the Atlantic Skates days in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Nice. Now that skateboarding is in the Olympics and there are more skateparks than ever, do you have a sense of where skateboarding is going these days?
We’re in the middle of another wave of enthusiasm just like we had with the X Games, and all the tours that came as a result of that. During COVID, both surfing and skateboarding increased sales and there are more and more people getting into both.
The amount of characters that you’ve met over the years skating, snowboarding and surfing, how would you describe it?
Each group is a culture within that culture too. You had the Texas boys, the Toke Team boys, the Ocean City boys, the VB boys… There were the crews from Baltimore and PA. Every one of those groups had a different personality, but we were all one big skate family and still are.
How would you describe the East Coast versus the West Coast personalities?
Well, the way I see East Coast skateboarding is that it’s all about doing anything and everything to make it work. It was core. You had D.C. and the whole punk scene and there was so much attitude. In California, the second year that I lived in San Clemente, I was mostly skating and surfing with Christian Fletcher. Christian is the perfect representation of the California surf skate scene.
Hardcore. When Christian came onto the scene, some of the Californian industry scene wasn’t too stoked on him because he was punk as fuck, right?
Christian is still punk as fuck! Until that Lowers contest in ‘89 that he won stomping that air, he wouldn’t get the scores. That’s when Herbie was doing the Wave Warriors and all the videos. Herbie was genius with that whole deal, so he was primed. Christian was the perfect surf/skate punk example. Nate did everything. He would go snowboarding or go ride dirt bikes. I remember him coming back and going to Teahupoo for his first contest when he decided to start surfing again. He showed up at my house with a bunch of neon green Mayhems and he said, “I’m going to Tahiti tomorrow. Do you think you can fix this board for me?” He hadn’t been in the water in a while. Both Christian and I would do the same thing. We’d just take a break from surfing and go skate instead. There is a killer park right up the street and the ocean out my front door.
After being a hardcore skater and riding vert, what is it about surfing that you dig?
Surfing is the closest that I come to being completely relaxed and serene. It’s funny to say, because some people reading this will remember how aggro I used to be. It’s just relaxing to be in the water and surf by yourself. I like doing stuff that I can do on skateboards in the water. I gotta push the edge a little bit in everything I do.They say that a bad day surfing is better than a good day doing anything else. I don’t agree entirely with that, but I will say that it’s pretty close. If you get in the water in the morning, it’s definitely going to change the tempo of your entire day. Some people might want to go train or go skate, but it’s the same kind of thing. It’s a good way to start the day.
It seems to me that guys like you and your dad have a hardcore work ethic too. Is that what gets you through?
Absolutely. I lost everything a couple of times by making bad decisions, but I never looked at it like that. I would say, “Okay. What’s next?” All you gotta do is be above ground and there’s no reason that you can’t make something happen. You just need to charge into each thing you are going to do. Amy and I both have an insane work ethic. We work around the clock, and the number one thing that drives us is our customers. We love talking to everyone each day, making people smile, running our live FB sessions with our old and new friends. It’s all great. We will continue with the gritty, grassroots, unapologetic attitude these brands had in the ‘80s, and do it with amazing, personalized and genuine customer service. After more than a half century, you evolve. I’ve finally found a way to combine my lifelong love and decades of skateboarding history with a livelihood that feels right, and people seem to be enjoying it.
Would you parallel this time to any time in the past with all of the highs and lows in skateboarding? Are we in an uprise?
Yeah. I don’t think it’s going to stop growing. Short of something happening with our economy in this country, skateboarding is going to keep growing. I’ve got groms coming over and buying reissues and vintage skate stuff all the time, like Ugly Sticks and Rip Grip. These kids are ripping and they’re not going to stop. It’s their whole life, just like it was our lives. It’s just a different way that they came up from how we came up. Through our trial and error, we eliminated years from the learning curve for kids today, compared to what we had to figure out. With the development in skateboard products, we went from riding oak planks to ball bearing wheels to figuring it all out. It’s killer because look at what these kids are doing now. They started where we left off and they are growing from there. There are so many parks now too. One of the things that we are most excited about now is Brand-X-Toxic hosting, sponsoring and attending skate events, contest and shows. We did Surf Expo and Shred Fest and sponsored a 3-day music festival in Pennsylvania where one of our Toxic pros, Chuck Treece, performed with his bands, Bing Crosby and McRad. We are looking forward to SkaterCon and many other events too.
Cool. So are you seeing these skateparks getting used pretty consistently?
Yes. The most impressive thing was when we went up to Venice to see Dan at Juice, and Willy Sions met up with us too. We walked over to the Venice Skatepark and it was the most packed I’d seen any park in decades and it was a full-blown melting pot. They were skating the bowls, street course and snakerun, and I was so stoked to be there. I hadn’t seen anything that has had that kind of effect on me in a long time. There was no division in it. It was awesome. The parks are getting used. The beaches are getting used. The water is packed.
Killer. Where do you see Brand-X-Toxic going from here?
We’re going to keep doing exactly what we have been doing and we will expand our dealer network, increase production and participate in more shows and contests. I’ve got an incredible partnership going with Amy. She is an amazing businesswoman who seems able to do anything. She has made this business possible and opened up a lot of doors for us. We hope to keep reissuing original Brand-X, Toxic and High Energy graphics, and introduce new amazing graphics from our original (and some killer new) artists. We’ve got original Toxic pros like Darren Menditto, Denny Riordon, Dave Crabb, Eric Conner, Kyong Kim, and the Fucking Godoys, who are all still ripping. We are reissuing their original shapes and graphics as well as creating modern shape versions at their request. As far as the future, we would like to start a new Brand-X-Toxic team and we are going to keep making the best quality and most killer shapes and graphics on decks and wheels possible. We hope to keep making people happy and enjoying life with good people around us. It’s all about staying positive, keeping good people around and sharing positive vibes. As long as we’re making quality wood and quality wheels, and we’re making sure everyone gets their orders, we’ll keep our options open.
I heard you unearthed a bunch of vintage merch from Atlantic Skates warehouses.
Yeah. We’ve been working with my dad to gather all the vintage, new old stock items from the back of the warehouses. These things have been sitting for decades and our customers have been stoked to see what we come up with each time we find something. We still have all the old Ramp Plan videos, 411 videos and DVDs. We’ve got vintage stuff like Rip Grip, Ugly Sticks, Tracker Risers, embroidered Spitfire hoodies, and tons of stickers. Last time we were there, we shipped two massive pallets of vintage items to ourselves in California.
Hell yeah. Just think where you came from, dropping in with the Haut Team in Ocean City and where things are now. You had all the highs and lows. Skateboarding is an incredible journey. We’re mixing in with surfers and snowboarders and other skateboarders and we’re still doing it and your dad did it too. Your dad raced cars and flipped cars and he still got into skateboarding. I don’t know how crazy this is, but we’re still playing with this wooden toy.
We’re still going and we’re over half a century now. I now can see that everything I learned from my dad was so important. When you’re a kid, growing up with your parents, you’re always contrary to some things, no matter what, but I learned absolutely everything from my father. I didn’t realize it until later in life. Now I recognize where those lessons were learned and how they’re engrained. I’ve got a crazy good memory and I still remember specific lessons I learned from him when I was a kid. When I started making snowboards, my dad was always like, “Pick up that hardware. Pick up the bearings. It all costs money.” Now, Amy says that all the time too [Laughs]. I learned how to operate a business from working with my dad, but I didn’t get it until I had my own company and I had to pay for every bit of tooling and every box and every little thing. The Ocean City skate scene was happening too, from the pools that we were skating and the Ocean City bowl and the Toke Team guys coming down, way before the steel vert and the Masonite Ramp. Before that, when it was at its most core, we were chipping ice out of the bottom of pools so we could skate. It was Richie Holt, One-Time, Josh and his brothers, Brian, Phil and Greg and all those guys. Josh’s mom, Dorothy Haystack Marlowe, is the one that got the bowl built. Jack Crosby was our art teacher in middle school and he made the clay model for the bowl. Ocean City was tiny then and it was core.
Since ‘76, the Ocean Bowl is the oldest operating municipal skatepark in the U.S., so it goes to show how core Ocean City is. You’ve got Atlantic Skates going since the mid ‘70s and your story is real East Coast history and that’s the kind of story that we want to get out there.
Well, my dad took care of people and he was all about skateboarding and skateboarders, and the shops and the distributorship. He may have been hardcore sometimes, but he took care of a lot of people and he is a legend because of it.