R.I.P. Jeff Grosso 1968-2020

As we search for the best way to pay tribute to one of the most influential skateboarders of our time, we could think of no better way than to share Jeff Grosso’s own raw and unfiltered words with you. This interview took place in 2006, a few months into a life of newfound sobriety for Jeff, before Grosso’s “LoveLetters to Skateboarding” and the next chapters of his life with his son began. This is a down-to-earth conversation, between two good friends, that we hope speaks to you in the same way that Grosso always spoke to all of us, honestly and from the heart… R.I.P. Jeffrey Blaine Grosso.

“I am skateboarding. Skateboarding is me. The little wooden toy is a kiss and a curse. It’s everything. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me and the worst thing that ever happened to me, all rolled up into one.”

Grosso in Costa Mesa. Photo by Adam Wright. Jeff floating over the combi. Photo by Brian Fick

JEFF GROSSO

INTERVIEW BY STEVE OLSON

CIRCA 2006 (JUICE MAGAZINE #60)

OLSON: Yeah. Hello.

GROSSO: Yeah.

Totally.

Who am I talking to?

It’s Steve Olson calling from Juice Magazine. What are we doing?

An interview?

Yeah. Sure.

Okay.

Let me get some cigarettes. Are you ready?

Are you ready? We’re off to a blistering start.

This thing hasn’t even started yet. What are you talking about? It’s a false start.

I’m full of false starts.

Basic Bowl BBQ 1999. Photo by Rhino

See, now we’ve started. 

[Laughs.]

Tell me your name.

Grosso or Grasso, depending on if you are Italian or not.

Grasso?

Yeah. In Italian it means “fat”. For some my reason, my family moved over here from Italy and changed it to Grosso to Americanize it. 

You’re Italian?

My dad is 100% Italian. My mom is a Welsh/Euro mutt. I got her red hair and freckles, but I got the Italian nose.

That’s why you’re so fucking sexy.

[Laughs.]

See, now the interview is going somewhere. Where were you born?

I was born in Glendale, CA. 

You’re a native. 

Yeah. I spent the early part of my life in Eagle Rock, but I moved to Arcadia in junior high school. That’s when I started skating. 

Vans Pool Party 2014. Photo by Dan Levy

When did you first step on a board?

It was probably ‘77. The first skateboards that I got were hand me downs. I was a teeny, tiny kid, like five years old. My mom brought home a skateboard from her boss at work. It was a California Surfer board. Urethane wheels were already out, but I had this shitty skateboard with clay wheels and shitty bearings. I lived on a hill in Eagle Rock.

Oh, you did?

Yeah. It was super rough asphalt. I couldn’t stand up on the thing. I had no concept of that at all. I would sit on that board and roll down the hill. I was doing that for a few days until I dissolved the wheels. My mom realized that I liked it, so she took me to go get a skateboard at the toyshop. I got one of those California Comet fiberglass doohickeys. It had Cadillac wheels on it. The skateboard craze was going on. It had to be ‘77. Then my mom had a friend who had an older son who had skateboard magazines. He showed me the magazines and I tripped out on that.

That was it?

Yeah. Then I had this friend at school, and  he had  a skateboarding birthday party. They took us to Montebello. So I got to skate Montebello, but I was a “beginner”. Remember how you had to pass the test? If you were a “beginner” you could only ride certain runs. If you were an “expert” you could ride the snake. We were all a bunch of beginners. We sucked. All we could ride was this little sidewalk with a bank at the end of it. We couldn’t do anything, but I watched everybody and freaked out on the place. 

Who did you see at Montebello?

I have no idea. We were little kids. I still had no concept of it. I was more interested in the cake and the presents the birthday kid got. Remember those Evel Knievel motorcycles?

Yeah.

You’d rev up the wheel…

And launch them.

Yeah. That kid got an Evel Knievel, so I was more enamored by that then the skateboard park. I was like, “If we could bring the Evel Knievel into the skateboard park, we’d be having a good time.”

Throw it right off into the big bowl.

Yeah. I was playing with GI Joes and dolls and stuff, so I put the skateboard on the back burner for a while. Then I moved to Vegas and started doing poorly in school. My mom had a boyfriend out there, and his son was a year older than me. He was a super smart mathematician kid. They wanted to get us together, so maybe the kid would wear off on me and I’d start doing better in school. He skateboarded, so they took us to the Las Vegas Desert Surf Skatepark. That’s when I caught the bug for it. I went skateboarding with him, and he taught me how to carve down the snakes and do that whole trip. I had a mini bike out there, because, you know, I lived in the desert. When we moved back to Arcadia, I begged my mom to sell the mini bike, so I could buy a skateboard. 

What board did you get?

My first real board was a Lonnie Toft. I hate to say this, but I bought Trackers and Sims Snakes. 

What color were your Snakes?

I got two green ones and two red ones, because if you looked in the magazines at that time, the Sims team were riding multi-color wheels. I got two greens and two reds.

Desert Dog Bowl Bash 2006. Photo by Dan Levy

Did you alternate them?

Yeah. One week I’d put the greens in the back and then the next week, I’d put them all on one side. Wheels were softer back then, so you’d cone your wheels out super quick. You’d cone your wheels out in front and then put them on the back. I had to make those wheels last a long time. Then I got to skate Skatopia. I met Eric Nash. Eric Nash had a Lonnie Toft board. That’s why I got it. He was in the same grade as me, and on the first day of school, he was wearing a Sims Snake shirt. He had a broken wrist. I was like, “Do you skateboard?” He was like, “Yeah.” I was like, “Me, too.” Then we lied to each other about how good we were. You know how you are when you’re a little kid. You’re like, “I rip. I can do frontside airs six feet out.” Neither one of us could barely kickturn.

Perfect. 

[Laughs.] We started buddying around. He’d been to Skatopia a bunch of times, so I got to go there a few times before it closed, and a few times after it closed. 

Grosso Lien Air at Soul Bowl in Hermosa Beach 1999. Photo by Rhino

Did you like the halfpipe?

Yeah. We’d just bottom turn at the bottom of it. We sucked. The squared bank funnel thing was more our speed. We were severely beginning. It was more about staying out of everyone’s way, because of the localism back then.

Was there localism going on?

Well, if you were a little kid and you sucked and you were beginning, you knew your place. You stayed out of the way. If there were good guys in the park, you stayed away from them, for fear of getting run over or just getting in the way. It was a respect thing. We were beginners and we knew to stay in the beginner’s section. They had just finished that capsule in the back. The first time we went the capsule was closed. They were putting coping on it, so everyone was skating the halfpipe. We didn’t really get to skate it because it was so crowded. When the capsule opened up, we could ride the halfpipe, because everyone had moved on to the capsule. We bottom turned the thing and tried to figure out how to go frontside and do fakies. We rode it to the best of our ability. Then we started going to Pomona Pipe & Pool. It was only 30 minutes from Arcadia in San Gabriel Valley.

Tell me about Upland.

I wasn’t a big fan of Upland, but we went there a bunch. The magazines back then had coupons to get money off on memberships at all these different parks. Of course, we wanted to go everywhere, and Eric’s dad was always willing to drive us around. We’d go skate SkaterCross and Marina Del Rey.

Grosso invert – 1984 Del Mar – Photo by Kennan

Give a rundown of all the parks that you rode.

I rode Montebello, Las Vegas Desert Surf, Pomona Pipe & Pool. I ended up on Pomona’s Pipe & Pool’s Park Team for ASPO. I skated Upland, Marina Del Rey, Skatercross, Lakewood, Whittier, Del Mar, Glendale Boogie Bowl and Agoura Hills, which had already been closed down for a long time. I rode Colton, Endless Wave, Oxnard and Big O. I entered my second contest at Big O.

We’ll get to that. How old were you then?

I was in fifth grade. It started at the end of fourth grade when I met Eric. In fifth grade, we started skating all the parks. In sixth grade, all the parks started to close down. By seventh and eighth grade, there were just a few left. By then, we were really into it. That’s all we did. We were full-blown skateboarders by sixth grade. We went to skate Skatopia and it was closed. This was right after the Whittier Hester Series had come out in the skateboard magazines, so we made Eric’s dad take us to Whittier instead. We walked in the door and it was like we were home. Every weekend we’d go back to Skate City. We just loved the place. 

That became your home park?

Yep. It was a 30-minute drive for our parents. Everything was 30 minutes. Upland was thirty minutes. Whittier was thirty minutes. Pomona was 20 minutes. If we had our choice, we would pick Skate City every time. Upland sucked, we thought. Pomona was kind of a wasteland. It was barely alive. It was kinky. You had to be gnarly to skate there.

Grossman. Photo by Adam Wright

Did you ever ride Paramount?

Yeah. I rode that one, too; the Verti-Bowl. 

To say the least. 

[Laughs.] We had full run of all those places, because we joined the amateur circuit. We started to compete.

What age category did you compete in when you first started entering contests?

I was in the 12 and under, 1A, the bottom of the barrel.

Who were some of the cats you skated against?

It was Eric Nash and I, and there was a kid named Jeff Heath from Lakewood that was really good. We skated against Eric Juedan and Billy Braden, and some guys out in Upland. Jeff Heath was our competition. He could do layback airs and rock n’ rolls, so we were incredibly jealous of him. We were both already better than him, but I remember being jealous of him.  He came from one of those little league skateboard families, which we couldn’t really fathom. Our parents weren’t as active as that, in the beginning. They got more active later on, but at the beginning our parents were confused by it.  We were just like, “This is awesome. We want to do this.”

What do you think drew you to skateboarding?

Initially, it was the rush of going down a hill, and the wind in your hair – poetic nonsense. The first time that I saw “Skateboarder” magazine, I was seeing the parks and the guys in their high-top Nikes and their socks tucked up in their kneepads and their Sims gloves and Bennett trucks, and all the equipment and bizarre pictures of guys doing airs and stuff. I couldn’t even fathom what they were doing. It was like, “That guy is getting rad.” I wanted to get rad, too. The first time I saw “Skateboarder” magazine, I was hooked. That’s the best way that I can put it. We just studied it. We didn’t even really have a concept of what it was. It was like, “I can’t really do this, but it’s so neat to me that I’m just going to keep trying to do it.” Slowly but surely, I started picking it up.

Lance Mountain, Dave Andrecht, John Lucero, Jeff Grosso at Skateboarding Hall of Fame 2016. Photo by Dan Levy

What did you do when the parks started closing in the ‘80s?

Eric and I were the same age, so we came up together. Eric was sponsored by G&S and I was sponsored by Variflex. Lucero, Lance Mountain, and a bunch of the Whittier locals, like Neil and those guys had befriended me.

How did that happen?

We were the annoying little local kids at Skate City. We were constantly bugging them. They were all a few years older than us, so they just tortured us. I was really a target, because I had a really big head. They nicknamed me “Blockhead. They kept trying to get us to do stupid shit, like roll in when we could barely do kickturns. We’d just do it. We wanted to be liked. It was like, “You’ll think I’m cool if I roll in? Well, fuck. I’ll do it.” I’d just take the slam until I made it. Pretty soon, we were friends with those dudes. They took us under their wing. They tortured us like little brothers, and we loved it. Lucero had gotten sponsored by Variflex, and Lance was getting his pro model. I worshipped Lance when I was a kid. He was totally accessible. He was always really nice to us and really helpful. He got us hooked up through Variflex, and introduced me to Allen Losi. They were like, “Yeah. We’ll give you boards.” I was so stoked. Then Whittier closed. Lance lived in Alhambra, which is like 15 minutes by car from my house and he had this ramp in his backyard. He rebuilt his ramp and made it new and awesome. I started going over there and hanging out with him. Lucero had gotten his driver’s license, so after school during the week I’d get rides to skate Lance’s ramp with him, or Lance would come and pick us up. He’d come over and get us and take us to his house to ride. Lance was awesome. He was so cool. He still is.

Jeff Grosso, Lance Mountain, and Chris Miller at Vans Pool Party 2005. Photo by Dan Levy

That’s crazy that he’d come and pick you up.

He had this little yellow Datsun or Toyota. It barely ran. He’d come and pick us up. We’d skate, and our parents would come and pick us up. He was teaching us how to get to the next level. We started learning airs and inverts. By then, we were 14 or 15 years old.

Were the contests still going on?

ASPO died out and it was replaced by CASL, the California Amateur Skateboard League.

That sounds like little league.

It was totally little league, but that’s how it was back then. Contests were everything. Skateboarding was really small. It was dying. In order to get anywhere in it, you had to enter contests and place well in contests. That’s how you got your name out there, so we entered every contest. That’s how you networked back then, too. We’d go down to Del Mar and skate against the Del Mar guys at their home park. We met Gator and Hawk and all the people that rode down there.

Jeff Ament, Jeff Grosso, Chris Strople, Doug Pineapple Saladino, John Lucero at Vans Pool Party 2014. Photo by Dan Levy

Who did you skate against in CASL?

We were always one step behind. I’m the same age as Hawk, Hosoi, Chris Miller and some of the other guys. Lucero and Neil Blender were in different age categories. We were 3A sponsored, so I didn’t have to compete against Hawk, if that’s what you mean.

I’m just wondering who you were skating against.

I rode against Joe Johnson from Colorado. We rode against Eric Juedan a lot. We skated against Adrian Demain a lot at Del Mar. It was the same five or ten guys at every contest. We were skating against some good guys, but we weren’t skating against East Coasters. This was back when the East Coast was completely overlooked, because the magazines were all out here. 

Do you think that was fair?

No. But skateboarding was a fledgling sport. It was super teeny tiny. The magazines were out here. There was no money in it, so it’s not like they were going to travel around. They had to make do with what was around. I think “Thrasher” had already hit the scene. I was riding for Powell, so this was way down the line. They had a contest in Arkansas. It was the first East Meets West. It was ams and pros from out here against ams and pros from out there. 

Jeff Grosso, Chris Miller and Lance Mountain at Vans Pool Party. Photo by Dan Levy

How did that go down?

It was a super good contest. I won the amateur. 

Was that the first contest that you won?

Oh, no.

I’m sorry. What’s the first contest that you won?

The very first contest that I won was the very first contest that I entered.

Okay. Settle down. Is your head bigger now than it was then?

[Laughs.] No. 

Your first contest was your first victory. Not a bad start, Grosso. 

No. It was pretty good. I have to say that I pulled a chump move, because a month earlier…

You’re coming clean, right now?

Yeah, since you think I’m big headed. 

I’m just kidding, “Blockhead.”

[Laughs.] There was a contest at Marina Del Rey. Nash had the nuts to enter it, but I backed down. I was too scared. I sat there and watched Eric. He got fourth. I saw what I was up against, so I entered my first contest at my home park. 

Maybe that wasn’t a bad idea.

It was a good idea, but I chumped out. Eric had the nuts to show up and roll the dice at a park where he wasn’t a local. It was in the upper keyhole. He still got Top Four.

Soul Bowl at Hermosa Beach Contest. Photos by Rhino

What do you consider good placing at a contest? 

If you got Top Ten now, with 200 pros showing up at Tampa Pro, you’re somebody. Back then, if you broke top ten…

That meant there were 11 guys in the contest. 

No. There were about 100 kids in the contests. You could break top ten, but you couldn’t break top five, because the Bones Brigade and Hosoi ate up the top five. Caballero, Hawk, Mountain, McGill, Hosoi, Gator and Phillips were going to be the top guys. They rotated out depending. If you were pulling a seventh or eighth place as a pro, you were doing pretty good in my book. As an amateur, there was only one place, and that was number one. If you didn’t get first place, you lost. That’s the world that I came from. As a little kid, I used to cry if I got second place. 

Dave Duncan, Eddie Elguera, Jeff Grosso, Chris Miller, Christian Hosoi at Vans Pool Party. Photo by Dan Levy

We’re not even going to dip into that. Would it be safe to say that you’re competitive?

Oh, yeah. It was a great part of my early skateboarding. That’s the way we were brought up. I know people can’t relate to that, because it’s so different now.

Who cares what they think? They weren’t even born yet. 

Yeah. That’s what it was about. It was about contests. That’s what we were raised on. People say, “Oh, that’s little league.” Fuck, yeah! That was me. I was down for it.

Grosso 1999. Photo by Charlie Middleton

How dope was it?

I loved it. There was a downside to it too, which I learned later on. It took some of the fun out of it. You put all this energy into competing, instead of just riding. After the parks closed, we had to take it to the backyard ramps.

Okay that’s fine, but you can’t tell me it wasn’t fun to win a contest.

[Laughs.] No. It was awesome. 

If you won the contest you were stoked. I don’t give a fuck what anyone says. You win a contest you feel great.

Totally. It means you’ve done something. It means you’re good. Here’s my number one trophy that says so. 

Right.

I was a cocky, bigheaded little kid.

You didn’t have a big head. You’re just saying that you had an ego, right?

Yeah. I got an ego early on.

Where do you think you developed the ego?

It’s kind of part of skateboarding. You have to have an ego.

Heimana Reynolds, Jeff Grosso and Sergie Ventura at Vans Pool Party 2014. Photo by Dan Levy

Is it a defense mechanism?

Yeah. When you show up to skate against a bunch of other dudes, you’ve got to believe that you’re the man. 

What was your mindset when you were going into competition?

“I’ve already won this.” 

Jeff Grosso in the Juice Magazine Skateboarding Hall of Fame circa 2000.

They should just give you the trophy and not even have the contest?

Yeah. “You should just give me the trophy, because you guys suck. It’s mine. You can’t beat me. I’m way better than you.” 

Nice.

It sounds fucked to say it. People reading this are probably going to think, “This dude is fucked up.” And they’re right.

No way. Who’s to say what’s right or wrong?

That’s true.

Jeff Grosso in the Juice Skateboarding Hall of Fame circa 2000.

In the early ‘80s, skateboarding was dead. How did you handle it?

It was rough at first, but the seed had been sown. It didn’t matter that everything had died out and everything was gone. “Thrasher” had just started up and there was a Bible to read. We studied it, lived it, ate it and breathed it. If “Thrasher” told you to seek out backyard pools, we did it. They had this thing called the San Jose Pool Exchange. They had a big article on what to do. You gather your backyard pools and find pools with other skaters. We started hunting new terrain. Eric had a Peugeot moped, and we’d just ride all over the valley. We put forklifts on the front that we made in shop class to put our skateboards on. We had a couple of ditches and a full pipe in Irwindale. We had a couple of pools. We just loved it. From the moment we woke up until the moment we went to bed, we were always skateboarding. We built little ramps in our yards and quarter pipes. I had a beer keg quarter pipe. Eric had a couple of ramps at his house. We had Lance’s ramp, so we started riding there a bunch. We had a tight little group of seven or eight guys that rode Lance’s religiously. We were stoked. We had free boards coming in from our various sponsors at the time. 

Chad Muska and Jeff Grosso. Photo by Dan Levy

What was it like when someone said, “We want you to ride for us.” How did it feel to you?

It was a Wednesday afternoon. I got off from school. I rode my bike home.

[Laughs] Do you know the date?

No.

Just checking.

[Laughs.] I got home and my first Variflex box was sitting there. It was a complete Allen Losi model with orange X-wheels. It was totally set up, grip taped and everything. I thought, “I’ve arrived. This is it. I’ll never do anything else.” I just lay on my bed, did inverts and dreamed about how I was going to ride that board. I just loved it. I thought it was the greatest thing ever. There’s nothing better than when the brown truck rolls up at your house. It’s like Christmas. 

Alva, Salba, Olson, Grosso, Strople, Brannon, Murphy and Peters at the U.S. Bombs Video Shoot – Juice Magazine

When did you get your first photo in a magazine?

My very first photo was in “Thrasher”. Stacy and Stecyk went to Magic Mountain for a freestyle and slalom ASPO contest. I’d seen Stacy Peralta skate at Marina. We all knew who he was. Stacy and Stecyk were wandering around being weirdos. They had their sunglasses on, and they thought they were all mysterious. We were just little kids following them around. Stecyk shot a photo of me, and I was all smiling and dumb. It was just a photo of my face. He put it in “Thrasher” in a bunch of TV Sets. They had a picture of Rocco doing a finger flip. They had a picture of someone slalom racing. My very first photo was a dumb picture of my face. 

Were you stoked?

I was super jazzed, but there was a bunch of controversy with my buddy Eric, over whether it was me. They had fuzzed the photos out like a TV screen. I was like, “It’s me!” Eric said, “It’s not you.” He was jealous. A few months later we went to the Palmdale ramp for a contest. I got a photo doing an eggplant channel. There was no mistaking it was me.

How’d it feel to see your photo in the magazine?

It was mind blowing. Everything was coming together. We were skating all these awesome places. We were right on the verge of getting our driver’s licenses. We had pictures in skateboard magazines and free product. Life was good. We were still innocent. This was right before the fucking wave broke. It felt like it was never going to end. It was only going to get better.

Jeff Grosso and John Lucero at Skateboarding Hall of Fame. Photo by Dan Levy

When did it start getting better?

Right around then. Variflex shut down. They were becoming a mass-market brand. The Losi’s were over it. Allen was out in the wind. Lance quit to go ride for Powell. Lucero and I got hooked up with Santa Cruz. I don’t exactly recall how. I think we talked to Tim Piumarta. He might have come to a contest at Upland and seen me ride. He told me if wanted to ride for Santa Cruz, I could. John did all my talking for me back then. He was older, wiser and more hip to the way everything worked. He was my mentor. John and I got hooked up to ride for Santa Cruz, so I started riding Rob Roskopp models. Then there was a contest in Lake Tahoe.

Was it the Mile High?

It was the first Tahoe ramp contest. I begged my parents to go. My mom said, “If you pass your driver’s test, and get your driver’s license, we’ll let you drive the truck up there.” I took my driving test on Friday afternoon, got my driver’s license and packed up my mom’s truck Friday evening. Then I picked up Lucero, Neil Blender and Allen Losi. We drove to Santa Cruz, saw the warehouse, and got a bunch of free product. We were heavily Santa Cruzed out. We thought you guys were just the neatest back then. 

Delusion. 

[Laughs.] Yeah. We were really let down, because they had stopped making Blackharts. We were like, “You stopped making Blackharts? What do you mean?” Lucero really wanted Blackharts. We were going to go skate a Masonite ramp. We were like, “We need Blackharts so we can rip.” Blackharts were the wheels. We got up there and they were like, “We don’t make Blackharts anymore. We’ve got these OJs.” I was like, “Fuck.” Then we went on up to the Mile High Contest. We picked up Rob Roskopp and took him up there. I ended up placing 8th. It was an am versus pro thing. I was the only amateur to make the finals. I made the cut and then Mike Smith made me cry. 

No. How did Mike Smith make you cry?

[Laughs.] I was totally freaked out that I had made the cut.

Do you remember who you were skating against?

It was Christian Hosoi and Joe Lopes. That was the first time I’d skated against Joe Lopes. He was the hot amateur at the contest. Everyone was like, “Lopes is going to turn pro and win this contest. Lopes is on fire.” He was killing it. Then he ended up hurting himself, so he didn’t enter the contest. In the finals, it was Smith, Mountain, Hawk, Hosoi and McGill. It was all the heavy hitters that you’ve come to know and love. I think Neil was in the finals, too. 

How did that feel? Was that a little overwhelming for a little kid to be skating against all those guys?

Yeah. It was pretty heavy. I worshipped those dudes. I actually sat at their altars. Then to have someone go, “You’re in the same league.” It didn’t really register with me. You were talking about defense mechanisms. I was like, “I’m hot and everything, but I didn’t know I was this hot.”

Jeff Grosso 2006. Photo by Adam Wright

You are hot.

[Laughs.] At the time, I had this underlying thing going where I thought that I would never be as good as those guys. To actually be standing on the deck against them, was unreal. 

I know that feeling. Don’t you think that once you go through the initial blow of like, “Whoa, this is heavy”, that you come into your own and go, “I can smoke these dudes.” 

I never really came to grips with that. That was one of my big stumbling blocks. I saw other people rise to the challenge and make their marks in competitive skating back then, but I always kind of fumbled along with that. Smith got up on the deck and I was standing up there next to Lance. He goes, “You’re not even supposed to be here.”

No way. You should have just knocked him out.

You’d think I would have, but it was fucking Mike Smith. 

Even more so.

I had pictures of Mike Smith on my wall at home.

I’m just kidding.

He had wild hair and he was half drunk. I was just a sober little kid. I was like, “Oh, fuck. He’s right. I shouldn’t be up here.” So I climbed back down off the ramp. Lance had to come and get me out of my car. I was choking down tears. He was like, “Dude, you fully should be here.”

Jeff Grosso, Steve Caballero & Lance Mountain at Desert Dog Bowl Bash 2006. Photo by Dan Levy

Lance was the knight in shining armor, per se?

Oh, yeah. Lance, John and Neil brought me up. They’re the ones that taught me how to skate, every step of the way. Those were the guys I hung out with. I skated Lance’s ramp and he’d teach me tricks. He taught me eggplant channels. 

Lance is the best.

On the weekends, Lucero had his driver’s license before I did. He’d drive me down to Del Mar and we’d skate Del Mar Skate Ranch. John would teach me frontside inverts. He wouldn’t even know how to do a frontside invert, but he could teach it to me. Somehow I’d figure it out and pretty soon, he’d be figuring it out. We all pushed each other. It was good. I had a good childhood experience. I grew up skating with the best skateboarders in the world.

What year was this? ‘85?

Yeah. 

Then what happened?

I was skating for Santa Cruz for a while. I was winning all the amateur contests. Lance was doing the Bones Brigade thing. He got me hooked up with Stacy. Stacy put me on Powell. I was the number one amateur guy for a long time. I got to film one of the Powell videos. I got to be in that video, and travel around with the Powell guys. Actually, my first travel experience was with Variflex. 

That doesn’t count.

We went to Jacksonville to Kona for one of those contests.

I’m only kidding. Variflex counts. That’s pushing it though, okay?

[Laughs] Yeah. I skated for Powell for a little while and I was super-jazzed. I thought I was going to be one of the Bones Brigade guys. It became apparent pretty quickly that the Bones Brigade was pretty filled up. I wasn’t going to get to turn pro for them. I was in 11th or 12th grade in high school and I started fucking up in school. I was having problems at home.

Why?

I wouldn’t participate. I was really shy. I was a weird little emo kid. I was way into punk rock. That wasn’t accepted back then, so I was an outcast. I wore that as a badge of honor. I used it to keep everyone at bay. I had a stepbrother that had psychological and drug problems. He was a mess. He kind of sucked all of the energy out of our house, so I was kind of invisible for a while. I just started acting out and fucking up in school. Skateboarding wasn’t helping much, because I was constantly gone. There was always a contest or a trip. Back then, they didn’t understand skateboarding, so they wouldn’t cut me any breaks at school. I started flunking out. Before I could flunk out, I ended up getting in a fight with my step dad and got kicked out of the house. Then I self-emancipated myself and dropped out of high school. That’s when I turned pro for Schmitt Stix. Stacy tried to help out. My mom got him involved and told him what was really going on with me. He called me and said, “You need to finish school. We want you to stay amateur for another year.” I basically laughed at him. I said, “I quit. I’m going to  Schmitt Stix with Lucero, and we’re going to rule the world. The Bones Brigade sucks anyway.”

Jeff Grosso and Tommy Guerrero at Skateboarding Hall of Fame 2015. Photo by Dan Levy

Do you think you really fit in with the Bones Brigade outfit? Do you really fit that mold?

At the time, I thought I did. We were the ones making the trend. It was the skateboarders. It was our time. At the time, I did think I was Bones Brigade. I was the hot up-and-coming guy. If you’re the hottest best guy then you rode for Powell, which was the hottest best company. I could be me, because it was all about being individuals. They let Tony be Tony. They let Cab be Cab. They let Tommy be Tommy. Everybody was so different on Powell.

They were all the same. Here’s the deal. I’m over the Bones Brigade conversation. I want to know more about you and Lucero at Schmitt Stix. How long did you last there?

Maybe a year.

Then where’d you go?

I was back on Santa Cruz.

When? ‘87?

Yeah. It was ‘86 or ‘87.

Grosso Lien – 1987 – Photo by C. Morton

Skateboarding was in full force.

Yeah. It blew up again. It was starting to get big again. Schmitt came out here from Florida and opened up a wood shop with Dorfman. We saw him in the parking lot at Del Mar. We saw some of his boards. They looked like pieces of furniture. He made really good boards. 

And still does.

John and I approached him. We said, “We’re going to ride for you and make Schmitt Stix the biggest company ever.” With John’s artwork, and me as the talent and Lopes and Monty Nolder, we just thought, “This is going to be great.” I rode for Schmitt and turned pro at a contest in Mobile, Alabama. I got eighth place in my first pro contest. It was rad. Hosoi and the boys came out to watch my practice heats. It was pretty cool. It was like, “Grosso’s turning pro. Let’s see how he’s doing.” People were sweating me, which made me feel good. It was like, “I’ve arrived. I’m a pro now. I’m doing to do this.” The whole pro world was kind of a trial by fire. The money started rolling in. I started smoking pot and drinking and living the rock star lifestyle that I’d come to covet. That’s what everybody did. Mike Smith and Gator were leading the pack. Losi got me stoned for the first time. I started down that path.

Now you had a model out with Schmitt?

Yeah. By this time, my head was so big. I thought I was the shit. They were constantly trying to tell me that I needed to be a team player. Santa Cruz Speed Wheels had the best wheels out at the time and Vision was trying to tell me that I had to ride Vision Blurs and Vision Streetwear. I thought Vision Blurs and Vision Streetwear was gay. So I rode Quiksilver, Speed Wheels Santa Cruz and Schmitt Stix. That didn’t go over well with Dorfman, so we started bumping heads. That bummed Schmitt out. Pretty soon, they were really bummed out, which really bummed me out. Then things got said in the heat of the moment. I said, “Fuck you guys. I quit.” I called up Santa Cruz, because they were already trying to get me back. So I went and got a model on their team. I joined their ranks.

Who was on that team?

At the time, it was Roskopp and me. “Spidey” rode for them. He didn’t have a board, but he rode for them. They had Jeff Kendall from Bloomington, Indiana. Kendall and I came up through the ranks together. The O’Brien brothers rode for them. They had Claus Grabke. Jason Jessee was pro for them. Jason, Roskopp, Kendall and I were the four guys that had a model at the time. They gave Claus a board too, for their European guy.

The token European guy.

Yeah. You had to have that back then. I’m not trying to bash. Claus is an excellent skateboarder.

We’re not bagging on the Europeans. That’s just how the industry was back then. Then you guys started making money, right?

Yeah. I was making really good money with Schmitt. We were pulling in $8,000 or $10,000 a month. 

You’re kidding me. Duane is rolling over in his grave, and he’s not even buried yet.

I know. Lucero made me some really good graphics. I was in the right place at the right time. I picked the right board sponsors. Skateboarding popped. All the stars lined up.

The planets were all in a row.

Skateboarding got really big. 

Grosso BS AIR – 1989 – Photo by Geoff Graham

How old were you when you were making this kind of dough?

I was 18. 

That can be kind of scary.

Yeah. I instantly got into cocaine and booze. 

Cocaine and booze?

It was the ‘80s.

How was the whole circuit back then?

It was killer. I got to travel the world and hang out with Hosoi and the Gonz, and the Texans, like Craig Johnson, Gibson and Phillips. I skated with Groholski and all the East Coast dudes, Josh Marlowe and Fred Smith. Skateboarding, as far as the people that did it, was still super small. It had died off and everyone was just doing it for the love of it. Then all this money started coming back into it. If you were on the inner circle, so to speak, you lived in a little microcosm. You’d run around with Gator and all these different freaky dudes that were in the magazines. You got to meet these people from all over the place. It was still small and tight knit. For the most part, we all got along. We all, at least, respected one another.

No one ever thought that the big five were the guys making all the money, and you guys were doing all the work?

We were all painfully aware of that, because of what had gone down with everyone who had come before us. We used to trot that out at Santa Cruz all the time. The powers that be there were like, ”No. It’s different now.’ You can’t really defend Duane’s actions back then, because Duane was throttled. 

There was no money when he was hitting it, so it doesn’t matter. It was dying as they say. 

Everyone was painfully aware that Dorfman was living extremely well and that Novak was living extremely well and that Fausto was living extremely well and that Stacy was taking all the credit and living extremely well. George Powell was living extremely well.  It was all just accepted. That’s just the way it was. There was a lot of talk, while sitting around the hotel room smoking pot, waiting for your practice sessions to start, about how we should all unite and unionize. But it’s the same today. If the top ten don’t show up, then the guys that were getting 20th, 30th and 40th will. The show will go on without the top ten. They’ll just adjust a little bit.

Grosso – Sweeper – 1998 – Photo by James Bunoan

True. But then some questions may be asked. Who knows? No one will ever take that stance. 

I used to take pot shots at Santa Cruz in their ads. They gave me creative control, so I would put ads out that said “Disposable Hero”. That’s when Metallica had that line in their songs. I put the Coke graphic on my board. I did an ad that said, “Catch the wave, because I won’t be around for long. They’ll just throw me out when they use me up.”  I took all these little subliminal pot shots. I was really into biting the hand that fed me at the time. It’s that punk rock ethos that we all know and love so much. They ultimately bit back, and my run came to an end. I foresaw the future. It is what it is. We knew, but we just didn’t know any better. 

Do you think they cooked the books?

Definitely. 

Maybe we all had a little problem with Santa Cruz, but their checks cleared.

Yeah. The checks always cleared. They took really good care of me, and I was a real mess. They sent me all around the world. For that, I’m grateful. 

Santa Cruz is a good thing. Don’t get me wrong.

Yeah. So I worked in the warehouse. Then Lucero started up Lucero Limited. They were bumming on me for being on drugs. They were pretty much going to kick me off. I was really disillusioned with them, but I was fucked up. I was freebasing a lot of coke. 

How did you get into the drinking and drugs?

I started drinking so that I could talk to girls. Pretty soon, I didn’t care about talking to girls because….

You were more interested in getting hammered. 

I couldn’t get girls anyway. I was too shy.

It loosened you up enough that you could talk to the chicks.

That was my initial reason for doing it. You go to high school parties to meet girls and drink some beers.

Jeff Grosso at Vans Pool Party 2006. Photo by Ted Terrebonne

Did you have to go to high school parties or were you too busy traveling?

I lived a dual life. I had my little Arcadian high school world that I dipped in and out of. I was a semi-celebrity in my town. I liked having a home base, so I was around, but the whole thing went hand-in-hand. It was the ‘80s. You had The Grateful Dead, pot smoking and tie-dyed weirdness.

Wait a minute. Did you say The Grateful Dead?

Yeah. Don’t you remember when the Dead came back in the ‘80s before Jerry died?

Can’t say I do, buddy. I can’t say that I do. 

You were out doing your thing, making music and art. 

Did you actually travel around with the Dead?

I went to a couple of shows. 

I hear it was a super fun party.

It was awesome.

Tell me you put on tie-dyed shirts.

I’m totally guilty. 

[Laughs.] This interview is now over. I’m just kidding.

I’m wearing a tie-dyed shirt in my first skating Indy ad.

That’s so rockin’. 

I was into it. I had super long hair. I shaved my eyebrows off and wore tie-dyed shirts. I was all over the board. It was a full identity crisis.

How rad.

[Laughs.]

How did you get into the drug thing?

It was a combo. We were smoking weed and that led me to drinking at home. That led to drinking on the road. John and I got heavily into drinking beer, and traveling up to San Jose. We were trying to get the San Jose girls, because San Jose had a really good scene. Then I had a stepbrother that was really fucked up. I’d hang around my house and my brother was into doing coke. I tried it. I thought it was awesome. The next thing you know, I’ve got a $500 a day habit. I’m smoking the shit, and I’m not showing up to contests. I’m not skating, and I weigh 155 pounds. The skateboard was in the corner with dust on it. The phone was ringing, and Santa Cruz was pissed that I wasn’t in Buenos Aires, Argentina. 

I can’t believe you wouldn’t go down there with all the…

I thought if I went down there, I’d have a heart attack. I had cocaine psychosis. I thought if I went down there, I’d die. 

You were saving your own life by staying here and smoking the bad shit up here?

That was the rationale at the time.

Understandable.

I thought if I went down there, I would disappear and die. I was going to stay right here.

And disappear.

Yeah. I tried to explain that to Gavin O’Brien. He was like, “Oh, man. You’re fucked.” They tried to intervene on me. They tried to get Salba to wrangle me in. I moved into Salba’s house for a while. Then my brother’s girlfriend ended up having a seizure there on Mother’s Day. Salba’s parents had to come out and talk to the cops. I had all this drug paraphernalia and coke in the house. That pretty much ended me living with the Alba brothers. I think they had Salba on payroll as team manager to try to rein me in. He was older and wiser. I obviously looked up to him. It was like, “Hey. Give this kid some direction. He’s lost. He obviously looks up to you.” To Steve’s credit, he tried. I just couldn’t hear it. 

Salba, Omar Hassan and Jeff Grosso at Vans Pool Party 2016. Photo by Dan Levy

You didn’t want to hear it at the time.

I think I wanted to, I just couldn’t. I was in the “Speed Wheels” video and I’m just freebased out of my skull, drinking tequila and shaving my eyebrows. I had people coming up to me on the street and quoting me to me. I was thinking to myself, “If you only knew the whole story.”

I’m interested in the whole story. 

They came down to film the video, and I was locked in my room for two or three days. I wouldn’t come out. They were just sitting there waiting for me to come out and skate. Finally, I wake up from this three-day bender, and I walked out of my room. They instantly started rolling cameras on me. Salba is just shaking his head, “No”. I’m just babbling incoherently. I go out and jump in the pool. It’s in the video. I do a flip off the roof and I’m just babbling nonsense to the camera. I’m swimming in the pool. Then I’m lying on the couch watching “Bonanza”, and talking about how I’m going to get paid. I was like, “This is the life of a pro skateboarder. All I do is lay around and wait for the checks to roll in.” I was just being arrogant and cocky and drugged out. Then they take me out and try to get a meal in me. All I did was sit there and drink tequila. Salba was kind of drunk, too. He was like, “Let’s make you look like Richie Stotts from the Plasmatics. So I shaved my eyebrows off, and he gave me a Mohawk. They filmed the whole thing. The whole time I’m just babbling incoherently, all drugged out. I couldn’t skate because I was all fucked up, so the skate footage they got was just sub par. There’s a little bit of skate footage in the video and it’s just horrible. I’m going like, three feet out. They had to clip it all together, because it’s all bail shots. It’s just horrible. It was just all this drug talk, like, “I’m on the forefront of fashion.” I was just saying all this bullshit. It’s just me on drugs. It’s kind of sad, really. I’m sure if Salba watches it now, he’s like, “Fuck. That’s kind of sad. You’re a fucking idiot, Grosso.” 

Grosso at U.S. Bombs Video Shoot. Photo by Scott Perryman

What year was this all going down?

It was ‘88 or ‘89. I was so far gone by then that I didn’t think it was ever going to end. I had no concept of what was really going on. I wasn’t making plans for the future. I’m a high school drop out. It was like, “I’m a pro skateboarder, and the party is never going to end. I’m indestructible.” I’ve got all these older skateboarders around me, like Salba, who was really working at it. He was getting photos, gathering footage, skating and really being diligent about his career. He’d been through the wringer before. He tried to tell me. I just laughed at him. I’d say, “It’ll be different for me.” I was wrong. 1990 hit and vertical skateboarding was gone.

How did that happen?

Here’s my take on it. I grew up in Arcadia, and Spidey grew up in El Monte, which is the city below me. He had a little ramp in his backyard. Spidey was my road dog for a long time. It was me, Eric Nash, Spidey and this guy, Steve Keenan who became the photographer for Santa Cruz. He’s a really good photographer and a really good friend of mine. He tried to take me under his wing when I got kicked out of the house. Eric Castro was another dude that really tried to help me out. We all hung out together and rode Spidey’s ramp. Lance would come and ride it. It was this piece of shit little ramp. There was this kid there. We called him “Slam Man.” The kid sucked. He could barely skate. He wanted everyone to like him so bad that he’d just go for anything. It was Mark Gonzales. “Slam Man” would ride the bus up from town. We rode with him, and hung out with him. He slowly started getting better. He was showing up to contests. Then Lucero and I coaxed him into entering this freestyle contest in West Covina. We were like, “Just drag your little parking block out there and do street plants on it.” And that’s what he did. He got dead last, but everybody watched. We noticed that everyone was watching. Everyone street skated. Everyone was into it. That’s what you did when there was nothing else to ride. Then we went to another contest out in Virginia Beach, VA. Mike Vallely was there. He was just a little kid. He had all the pros and Stacy watching him do street plants in the parking lot. Kids didn’t always have access to 32 foot wide vert ramps, but they did have access to street ramps and parking blocks, so that’s what they rode. Guys like us that specialized in vert skating quickly became antiquated. We were old hat. 

How did that feel?

At first, you’re in denial about it. The first time that I saw Natas Kaupas, he showed up at Oceanside. All of a sudden, Skipper was showing back up. We were like, “Fucking old man. What are you doing here?” They had Natas with them and all their little weird SMA boards. Natas couldn’t even ride. He’d just run at walls with his board in his hand and bounce off the wall and land on the ground. 

Grosso at the Soul Bowl in Hermosa Beach. 1999. Photo by Charlie Middleton

How did that make you feel about the direction that skateboarding was going?

We just laughed about it. 

How did you feel about the street plant?

I was into the street plant. I did them all the time. I was an invert guy. I loved inverts.

An invert on vert is one thing, but doing a handstand on the street is another. 

Yeah. But you have to realize. It was a novelty thing.

I was at a contest and saw that, and I was like, “That’s it. I have to throw my skateboard away.”

I was thinking it was funny. 

Mary Lou Retton could have done a street plant. 

[Laughs.] Your question was, “How did I feel about it?” We were in denial about the whole thing. All of a sudden, they were saying, “These are the new dudes. This is the new thing.” I was like, “You’ve got to be kidding me. Natas Kaupas can’t even do an axle stall on a 4-foot quarterpipe. You’re telling the world that he’s a better skateboarder than I am?” Later on, Natas became unbelievably good. I’m not talking smack on Natas.

I understand what you’re saying. I just hope Natas understands what you’re saying.

I don’t mean to pick Natas out. There was the thing with Mike V and the streetplants. He wasn’t really well rounded at first. The next time I saw him, he was skating vert and ripping. Gonz was the “Slam Man”. Then all of a sudden, one day, I had to call him “The Gonz”. Everyone was like, “The Gonz. The Gonz.” I was like, “That’s motherfuckin’ ‘Slam Man’.” 

[Laughs.] How did you take all this in?

I was in full-blown denial. I literally could not believe that it was over for us. 

Did that make your substance abuse heavier?

Yeah. Basically. Skateboarding became totally gay. We tried to go to the street contests. It was all fun and games, but the real fun was out in the parking lot with the scumfucks. We were trying to get the local girls in whatever town we were in. We were getting drunk. Fuck all the other stuff. Those guys were new and up and coming. They were hot and hungry, and we weren’t. We were in denial about how skateboarding was changing. 

How old were you?

I was 22 years old.

Pro-Tec Pool Party 2005. Photo by Ted Terrebonne

And your career is over?

Yeah. Pretty much. Right around that time, I went to ride for Black Label, before it was Black Label with Lucero. It was Lucero Limited. We were really excited because we were going to change the face of skateboarding. It was a family. For me to go skate for Black Label, it was a nice transition. John was going to help me die easily. I even had a retirement model come out on Black Label. It had a guy tipping his tip hat and saying, “Farewell, Grosso”. He retired me.

You were retired at 23?

Well, I had moved up to San Jose to try and get off cocaine. I got hooked up with Ross Goodman, Todd Prince, JJ Rogers and the transplant San Jose dudes. The Kennedy ramp was going full tilt. I’d go up there and skate with the city guys.

How did you get into heroin?

That came a little later. 

What about Joe Lopes?

Joey helped me out when I was down and out. He was another one that took me under his wing. He said, “This is how it can be. You don’t need to do certain things. You don’t need to be a certain way that you think you need to be.” I had a little self-esteem issue. Joey put me on the right path.

Let me break it down for you. Everybody does. Some people hide it better than others.

Yeah. Lopes got me laid one of my first times. Lucero got me laid the first time, right after I turned pro. The next girl I slept with, Lopes hooked that up. They were like, “This is how it is. This is how you do it. Follow us.” 

Joey had a fun charisma. 

Yeah. I lived with him at his parent’s house for like a year. We skated, partied and acted like fools. I loved Joey. Joey was the best. He was a completely underrated skateboarder. The guy would give you his right arm if you asked him. I hung out with him and Fish a lot. We did a lot of traveling and had a lot of good times.

Jeff Grosso at the Vans Combi. Photo by Ted Terrebonne

What is your favorite moment in skateboarding?

Like one moment?

Let’s not get too crazy.

I qualified second in this contest in Houston, Texas on the Hurricane Ramp. Everybody was there. It was all the biggest names. At the end of the day, going into the finals, I was in second place. That was pretty rad. I went out that night and did every chemical known to man. Salba gave me mushrooms. Reese Simpson gave me ecstasy. Gibson and the Texas guys gave me coke. I blacked out doing shooters at Lula’s. I ended up naked in some fat girl’s house in the outskirts of Houston. I woke up at one in the afternoon. When I got to the contest, I was still high as a kite, cooking on ecstasy and mushrooms. Everybody was bummed. My board got ripped off. I had to ride a borrowed board. I broke my elbow. 

That’s sounds more like a miserable moment.

It sounds miserable, but it was great.

Coke, mushrooms, ecstasy… Did I say coke? Who cares? Coke, again. And a whole lot of booze. 

Yeah. We were doing kamikaze shots, too. It was cool for me to be in second place, because I was an underdog. Phillips was in third. It was Houston, Texas. It’s Phillips. It’s Texas. I’m at Lula’s that night and everyone is like, “Yeah. Grosso.” It was like I’d already won or something. I knew I wasn’t going to win, but I had a really good sense of community. I felt loved. Everyone was buying me drinks and giving me hugs and giving me praise. It was awesome.

Maybe their strategy was to make sure you didn’t win. That’s a theory, not a conspiracy theory.

You can never not have a good time in Texas. I’ve gone to jail in Houston. Every time I go there, it’s chaos. There are naked girls, drugs, booze, and the coolest people. I just have a blast. I haven’t been there in a long time. I’d love to go back. I had a great time there. It was awesome. 

What happened next?

Schroeder and I did a Black Label tour that we paid for out of pocket. We basically scummed it. We were completely out of money. We were broke by the time we’d landed. We lost all our money to Chicken and Belmar gambling. We were there for six weeks and did the whole thing penniless. That was a good time. Hosoi helped out a lot on that one. He took us under his wing. We got to see France, Germany and Amsterdam. We screwed hookers in Amsterdam and smoked hash. That’s always a good time.

Did you ever think, in your wildest dreams, this would ever happen to you?

No. The way you dream about it and the way it really is, it’s so much more than you can ever imagine.

You owe a lot to skateboarding?

I owe it my life. I am skateboarding. Skateboarding is me. The little wooden toy is a kiss and a curse. It’s everything. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me and the worst thing that ever happened to me, all rolled up into one. It completely defines who I am. I’ve had a skateboard in my life since I was 8. It’s the one consistent thing in my life. I have always owned a skateboard. I can be penniless, homeless, and own no clothes and have to steal a pair of shoes, but I will have a skateboard somewhere. If I’m strung to the gills on heroin, I have a skateboard. You gotta have a skateboard. Whether you’re riding it or not. There it is in the corner. Isn’t it rad? 

Grosso at the Desert Dog Bowl Bash 2006. Photo by Dan Levy

What happened through the ‘90s?

I went to San Jose to get off coke. I ended up just drinking a whole lot up there. We had a little hell house that a bunch of pro skateboarders lived in. We drank and fought. We did everything that pro skateboarders do. I got fat and old. I wasn’t skating. I needed a change of scenery, so I talked to Lucero. He was like, “Come down here.” I came back and bummed out in Arcadia for a while. Skateboarding was pretty much dead. I was hanging out with Schroeder a lot. We were skating Transitions Skatepark in LA. We had a really nice vert ramp that his brother had built. We’d skate down there with Ron Chatman, Mike Vallely and Gonz. It was fun. We did our own thing. I was still drinking heavily, and then Lucero asked me to come work for Black Label. I moved down to the beach, yet again. Then I hooked up with Ricky Barnes, Lucero and Lohrman. They had a really good scene going. The San Juan bowl was going on. Everyone was hanging out and skating. Then, Chicken and Belmar built their bowls, so we had their bowls to skate. We were just doing our own thing and reading “Big Brother” magazine, and saying, “Skateboarding is so weird now.” I worked at Black Label and struggled along. I was supposed to be the sales rep, but I was horrible at it. I was always drunk, or on the nightly speed hit. I started doing a lot of speed, because I was drinking too much. If I did speed, I wouldn’t be such a drunken asshole, which people were starting to bum on. I got really wrapped in doing speed and that lead me to some bad places. I started going to jail. I was hanging around with weird speed freak people. Meth is a fucked up drug. Pretty soon, there were hypodermic needles around. I’d moved in with Christian Fletcher. We were all doing our own thing. The next thing I know, I was shooting dope. Then I was selling skateboards out of the back of Black Label, and robbing John blind to support my habit. I wasn’t doing the work that I was supposed to do, so he had to fire me and kick me off the team. I just wandered around, strung out for a few years. 

Cab, Miller and Grosso at Vans Pool Party. Photo by Dan Levy

Were you skating then?

We’d go ride Belmar’s and Chicken’s. In my head, I didn’t have a problem as long as I could skate well. That’s the psychosis of it. I was like, “You can say what you want about me. I’m an asshole.” I kind of relished the image that I had built for myself. I was clinging to it really hard. I wasn’t aware of the reality of the situation. I was like, “I still skate. I still rip. Do you still skate and rip? No. You don’t. Who are you to tell me anything? I may be shooting two or three grams of heroin a day, but I can stall Andrechts. Can you? That’s what I thought. Shut the fuck up. If I want to get high I’ll get high. If I want to skate. I’ll skate. Don’t tell me I need to get a job and pay rent.” I was really bitter and lost. Around ‘97, I hit the wall. I started overdosing and all the stuff that comes along with drug addiction. The cops picked me up. That’s when I really started to try to clean my shit up. I went to rehab, and started to pull it together.

How many trips have you made to rehab?

I’ve been in rehab twice now. I started getting sober in 1997. It’s 2006 and I’ve got about six months clean right now. Some people can get sober and stay sober. Other people struggle with it. It’s something that I have to work at it on a daily basis. If I don’t stay right with myself, and try to stay small, I get in my head and I think the world is out to get me. The next thing you know I’m loaded.

What do you tell a little kid that’s just starting to go through all of this?

It doesn’t matter what I say. I didn’t listen. You can’t really hear. I had people that went through it themselves that I respected immensely, try to sit me down and tell me. They were like, “You’re headed down the wrong path. This is what happened to me. Don’t you believe me?” I believed them, but I was like, “Yeah, but that’s not going to happen to me. I’m going to be different. You don’t understand. I know what I’m doing. I’m in control.” I learned later that I have a disease. If I start drinking or doing drugs, it just takes over. I get obsessed with it and I can’t stop. I’ve proven it to myself time and time again. It would be nice if we all learned from the people that paved the road before us, but unfortunately, everyone has to go down their own road. I would hope if someone were doing that stuff, they would stop and think, “Why am I doing this to myself?” We’re all basically killing ourselves. I smoke two packs of cigarettes a day. I think, “I shouldn’t do that.” Cigarettes are bad for you. They don’t get you high. They don’t do much for you.” 

I’m on my third pack, Grosso.

[Laughs.] You have to handle your own life the way you see fit. The thing to know when it comes to drugs or anything, is that none of us are alone. You think that no one has ever been through what you’ve been through and that no one could ever understand, but there are people out there that do understand. There are places to go to get help. Don’t give up. I used to be a really weird suicidal emo guy, and I’m stoked on life now. I just got married. I have a cute little house, a car and a really good job. I go skateboarding a few times a week. I’m jazzed. Coming from where I’ve come from, I never thought I’d enjoy anything ever again. I was like, “How do you enjoy life without drugs?”

Without. 

When I got sober, I was like, “You mean I can’t even smoke weed or drink a few beers?” I couldn’t imagine it. I thought there was no way I could do that, but it’s totally possible. It’s up to everyone to figure out if drinking and drugging is a problem in their lives. If you’re miserable, change it. I used to think, “I’m miserable. I deserve to be miserable.” Well, I didn’t deserve to be miserable. If there’s someone out there thinking they deserve to be miserable, because they think they’re a piece of shit, or they feel like they deserve it. They don’t. Everyone deserves to be happy. People can change. 

Grosso at the Vans Pool Party 2013. Photo by Dan Levy

How was it when you entered the combi bowl contest at Vans?

I heard a lot of people say that it was the best skateboard contest ever. I had a blast. For a cement pool contest and the level of skateboarding now, everybody came with their “A” game and rolled the dice and did their best. It was amazing skateboarding. I was super stoked at how well I did. I didn’t think I’d do that well. I was hurt and stuff beforehand. I made a shit load of money, so I could buy my girl a wedding ring, and get out of debt a little. It opened up some doors for me. I got a shoe deal out of it. Everyone’s like, “Grosso’s back.” I never had a shoe before. Not that I deserve one, but these people said, “Let’s put your name on a shoe and see how it sells.” I got married and we want to have a family and we’d like to buy a house. My dream has always been to have a pool in the backyard, so I can look out my window and see some friend of mine throw a frontside air and then go, ‘Yeah. I’m going to go skate.” I’d BBQ, ride the pool, play with the kids, feed the dog, kiss my wife and call it a day.

How long do you think you’ll keep skating?

I don’t know. My health is pretty fucked up, but Duane had the raddest quote. “If you can walk you can skate.” I’d like to say that I’m never going to quit. I watch you guys and take notes. My love for skateboarding hasn’t diminished at all. I still love to go skate. I can still learn new tricks. They’re new to me, anyway. I just learned tailslides. I think that’s the coolest thing in the world. It’s a basic trick, but for me it was like, “Fuck, yeah.” I didn’t learn Smith grinds until I was 30 years old. It took me 12 years to learn Smith grinds. I never did 540s when I was a kid, and I tried, too. You had to do 540s to be competitive, but I didn’t have the balls back then. 

I want you to call me when you do the 900.

Well, that ain’t going to happen. But that’s what’s rocking about skateboarding. It doesn’t matter how old you are. We can all progress in our own way. Every time I go skate, it’s still a new deal to me. It’s new, fresh and exciting. As long as I get that feeling of excitement from it, I’ll keep doing it regardless of how my back or my hips or my head is holding up. I love skateboarding. I took skateboarding for granted when I was younger. Big time.

Grosso, Megan, and Nicole Zuck at Vans Pool Party 2006. Photo by Dan Levy

Everybody does.

Now that I have to work for a living, when I get a chance to go skateboarding and hang out with some friends and do a couple of 50-50s, I’m stoked. I relish in the fellowship of it. I like just hanging out and talking shit with a couple of buddies, trying to impress one another.

Is there anything else that you wanted to really talk about?

I don’t know. That’s a lot right there. I owe a whole bunch of thanks to a whole bunch of people, but I’m not going to list them all off. They all know who they are. I’ve been really fortunate to have a lot of really good people touch my life through my skateboarding. They’ve gotten me to the place that I am now. I’m really grateful that I’ve had all those people in my life, because I’m stoked on where I’m at right now. I owe each and every one of them, because they’ve all made me who I am. I wouldn’t be here without them. There’s Keenan, Castro, Schroeder, Lucero, Lance, Blender, Nash, my parents, Nash’s parents, Keenan’s parents, Bill and Trish, the Lopes family, Joey Lopes, Fish, Ricky Barnes, all the Huntington guys, Chicken, Belmar and the list goes on and on. It just seems like at every major crossroads in my life when I really needed it, there has been someone put in my life that has been able to give me a little direction and send me on my merry way. I’m stoked for all those people. I don’t know what I’d do without them. I’d be lost. I’d be dead. I tried that. You’ll find out on the other end of it, that life is a much better gig. Thanks to Greco, too. Greco called me one time when I was all down and out. He was like, “Dude, you have to get it together.” I was like, “No shit. Really? Why don’t you send me some money and maybe I’ll get it together, Jim. Send me one of those Vans checks.” [Laughs.] I never got a Vans check, but the sentiment was nice.

Maybe that’s better than money.  

Yeah. Life is a trip.

Yes. It is. We’re just beginning the journey.

Yeah. I’ve got another 20 years in me. 

You’ll probably be tortured and have a little longer.

You think?

Yeah. 

I’ve got Swiss cheese for a liver. We’ll see. 

Old School Skate Jam at Skatelab. Photo by Lang Shepherd

Livers can heal themselves.

That’s what they tell me, except for those little buggers in there eating it. 

Those can be killed, so the happy ones can replenish. 

[Laughs.] I like your optimism.

It’s the only thing I have in my life.

What do you think? Is that good?

It was excellent. We should skate again soon.

Yeah. Let’s do it this weekend. I’ll give you a call. 

[© JUICE MAGAZINE #60 CIRCA 2006]

PHOTOS BY DAN LEVY, ADAM WRIGHT, STEVE KEENAN, C. MORTON, GEOFF GRAHAM, JAMES BUNOAN, TED TERREBONNE BRIAN FICK, LANG SHEPHERD, SCOTT PERRYMAN, RHINO & ANTHONY ACOSTA.

Josh Brolin and Jeff Grosso at Juice Magazine filming Love Letters to Skateboarding and the Tony Alva Movie in 2019. Photo by Dan Levy

Editor’s Note: Juice Magazine would like to extend our condolences to Jeff Grosso’s son and all of his family and friends and loved ones and to the family of skateboarding worldwide. We will miss Grosso and we will never forget his great contributions to skateboarding. Thank you, Grosso. R.I.P.

R.I.P. Grosso. Photo by Gish

A few words in tribute to Jeff Grosso…

“The last image I saw of Jeff, he was dancing around with his son, Oliver, and I that moment I thought that was the definition of pure love and happiness. Jeff gave back so much to skateboarding through his love for people and those who have inspired him in his life, from growing up in the skateboard world in the early days. His attitude and approach was always written on his sleeve with zero filter! His soul and passion was representative of what a lot of us felt in our hearts spark by our childhood dreams. This is a huge loss and I hope his family knows we are all here for them! Rock and roll boards sides forever Jeff!” – Murf

“Skateboarding lost a great one today never to be replaced. Long live memories of Jeff Grosso. Long board slides in heaven brother. I’m gonna miss you.” – Danforth

“There is a heavy crew sessioning in heaven right now.” – Jesse Martinez

“The world has lost one of skateboarding’s most revered characters with the passing of Jeff Grosso. Jeff had a lust for life that embedded itself into the fabric of skateboarding through his relentless passion for our beloved art. His opinions and attitude were always served fast, real and straight with an edge of unpredictability, like hanging up on a backside air when you least expect it. Take the slam and pick yourself up with a sinister satisfying smile on your face knowing you are going to go for it again. This, in my opinion, was Jeff Grosso, all heart and no filter, just the way skateboarding is in its purest form. R.I.P. Jeff Grosso.” – Dan Levy

“It’s with heavy hearts that we share the news that long-time member of our Vans Family, Jeff Grosso, has sadly passed away Tuesday morning. Jeff is the epitome of skateboarding. From curating content that highlighted the global community of skateboarding, his unique and raw commentary of the skate industry, to mentoring up-and-coming athletes – there was nothing that Jeff wouldn’t do to uplift skateboarding and the people around it. To say Jeff’s impact on our brand, our people and skateboarding was unparalleled, would be an underestimation of how much of a role Jeff played in the lives of us all. We’ve spoken with Jeff’s family and will continue to support them throughout this difficult time. Many of you have worked with Jeff closely, and our hearts are with you all as we mourn the loss of a dear friend.” – Doug Palladini & Steve Van Doren of Vans

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