Steve Alba Surf Skate Style

SURF SKATE STYLE WITH STEVE ALBA.
INTERVIEW BY DAN LEVY.
PHOTO BY JIM GOODRICH.

When did you first hear of SurfSkate style?

We heard it when we were younger and then we saw it in the magazines around 1975 or 1976. Out where we lived, we saw it because everyone came through, including the Dogtown guys, but they weren’t really calling it SurfSkate style at that point. It really wasn’t called that until Skateboarder magazine came out and Stecyk called it that, from what I remember. I remember reading stories about it, because we didn’t live by the beach. A lot of dudes that I grew up with all surfed, like Tay Hunt, Steve Evans, Rick Howell, Don Hoffman and some of the older Badlands guys that knew what’s up, like this guy Spiff who surfed. They were all into the surf style as opposed to the skate style, but at that point, it was such a new thing.

Everyone says that the Dogtown guys started the whole pool thing, and they kind of did on one hand but, on the other hand, everyone else was doing it too. I mean we were skating pools at that point too. I started skating in 1974 and I was skating pools within the first 7 or 8 months. We didn’t know it came from surfing because we lived in Fontana/Montclair, and it was 38 miles to the beach. My mom and dad worked, so I never got to go to the beach with them. The only time I got to go to the beach was with my good buddy’s mom who would take us and we would go boogie boarding. SurfSkate style was there and we were aware of it and most of the guys that surfed were better skaters because they surfed. I didn’t surf at that time at all. I was completely clueless, like a Valley chick. For me, what I lacked in surf skills, I definitely made up for in pool skills. It was trippy. A little later, I started hanging out and getting to know certain people like Jay Adams who was one of the first Dogtown guys I met. At that point, the Dogtown guys were so gnarly and aggro.

We were friends with Kevin Anderson, the Worm, and the South Bay guys like Steve Forest, Rod Saunders, Gregg Ayres and Doug Schneider. Through Doug Schneider, I met Rick Blackhart. We saw all those dudes at pools and Baldy Pipe, and they started skating out here with us, Waldo included. We saw Mike Weed too. We didn’t really know Mike and Waldo because they were older than us, but some of the other guys would talk to us. What I’m getting at is that Jay, from the get-go, even at the first contest at Spring Valley, came right up to us and talked to us. I wasn’t known as Salba then. I was just Alba, and he said, “Alba! You’re alright, man. You skate good. You’re a true skater.” I would always be stoked that Jay would say stuff like that because Jay was very encouraging to me as a kid. Shogo was cool. Muir was gnarly because he was tall and all crazy. We were just little dudes. I was the youngest of our group, just like Jay and Baby Paul were the youngest in their group. Jay was always cool to me, so I was always hyped on that.

What does SurfSkate style mean to you?

Well, what it means to me is that you can do both, surf and skate. There’s a definite style when you surf and you skate. There’s a lot of guys that have that surf skate thing and because I skate pools, I tend to see that quite a bit. A lot of the guys that skate pools are surfers, not so much park skaters. You get it in the parks too, and with real hardcore surf dudes who were the real hardcore skate dudes, like dudes from Hawaii like G.O. and some of the DogTown dudes that still surf and skate. Bennett Harada is a perfect example of that. He’s got that real low slashy style. He’s just insane the way he skates. He has style, and his style hearkens back to an era of SurfSkate style. You can see it. Certain people have it and certain people don’t. I think of guys like Aaron Murray, he skates pools and parks and he can skate street pretty rad too and he’s definitely got that SurfSkate slash style. Eric Dressen has it too. He’s made his own style, especially with the salad grind and all the stuff he did. He’s really low to the ground and I love Eric. We have skated together forever, since the days in the ‘70s parks. He definitely has great SurfSkate style. Hosoi has that slashy SurfSkate style, but Hosoi never surfed. He was like me in the sense that we were more modern skaters that didn’t surf.

The funny thing is that I want to surf as much as I want to skate now. I remember the Big O contest when I was a kid, and I won $1,000 and a moped and a surfboard. That surfboard was phenomenal. I tried to go surf at that point, but I was so clueless and I didn’t have any good friends to show me what to do. I would just drop in straight and I didn’t know how to go down the line. I wasn’t ever afraid until I almost drowned at Huntington Beach one day when I was 16 or 17. It was 10’+ plus and I didn’t know how gnarly the ocean could be. After that, I was so afraid of the ocean. I was over it.

I didn’t really get a clue until later when I went to Hawaii and hung out with some of those dudes. They were like, “You have to go surfing. You’re the pool skating master. You have to go surfing!” They were pushing me into it. We went and I was scared as fuck. I’m not going to say I wasn’t because I was. Every time I went to Hawaii, I surfed and that’s when I caught the bug. I was almost 40 then. Anyhow, I surf a lot now, as much as I can. I still kind of suck, but I kind of know what I’m doing now, and I get it. I can go down the line and catch waves now. I still suck at paddling and duck diving, but I’m getting better at it. I have good days and bad days. Let’s put it this way. I can completely relate to SurfSkate style now, even though I come from more of a skate background. I still don’t surf as well as any of the DT guys or guys like Olson. Those guys have way more years of experience than me. I love the feeling and I can totally grasp what Jay and those guys were telling me back in the day. A few days before he died, Jay called me up. Before he went to Mexico, we were skating together a lot. We’d go skate Ridiculous and we were both riding for Hurley, so we’d see each other all the time, and he was going skating with us a lot. It was rad. We’d go to the combi here and there, and he’d be like, “This place is huge.” Then I’d take him to Ridiculous pool. I’d go surf with him and Nathan Fletcher a few times, which was insane. They’re both so gnarly. Jay called me from Mexico a few days before he died, and he said, “When I get back, I’m going to teach you to surf better like me, and you’re going to teach me to skate pools more like you.” I always think of that phone call. Of all the DT dudes, me and Jay had a pretty rad relationship. I was       totally hyped on that. We hung out and talked a lot and I really miss that dude. Now I really get that SurfSkate connection. It’s full circle. Even guys like Hackett are stoked. He’s like, “You get it now.” That’s cool. Now I go surfing and get the feeling.

That is cool. Okay. In your opinion, who has good SurfSkate style?

There are so many. The SurfSkate style is evident in a lot of the guys I skate pools with. I see it in Tony Farmer and he definitely surfs and he’s got that SurfSkate slash style. I also think of Bennett Harada, right off the bat. He’s got that super low SurfSkate style. Aaron Murray and Scott Oster have super crazy good SurfSkate style. The dude with the super sick surf carving skate style is Olson. Olson just has that flare when he surfs or skates. When you watch him do both, he looks so similar in both surfing and skating and that’s so rad to me. Hackett has the slash thing going. Brian Brannon and Mouse have it too. There are a lot of dudes. There’s Carter and you’ve got Blake from Hawaii, a super slash rat. A lot of the Hawaiians have that slash SurfSkate style. It’s super low full slashing style.

You know it’s crazy, because I ride for Hurley, and they’ve got super crazy SurfSkate style guys like John John. The last Trestles contest, there were a couple of days before that and we all went skating with PK. John John, one of the best in the whole world, was in the finals and he waited until the final day to surf, and then PK said, “John John wants to go skate pools with us.” So we went and skated and some of the stuff that those dudes do is insane. It’s just SurfSkate style slashing radness. We were at Hurley a few days later and they were like, “What do you mean you went skating with Salba?” John John didn’t even tell them. He didn’t want them to get bummed. He just wanted to go skate and have fun and do his trip. I thought that was super sick. Here’s one of the raddest surfers ever and he just wanted to go skate. You have to appreciate that. That’s insane. He’s got that SurfSkate style too. Greyson Fletcher has it too. He’s radical, and he’s got that slashy surf skate thing going on, and he’s a powerhouse. Raven Tershy is a powerhouse too. Raven is definitely more skate, but he’s got it too. Greyson comes from a full surf family, so it comes natural to him. It goes across the board. There are all kinds of dudes. Most of the dudes surf.

For the longest time, I saw it, but it didn’t come full circle for me until I started surfing a lot. The one thing is that when you see them do a lien to tail, they have that surf style when they put their foot on the board at an angle, just like riding a surfboard. Most skaters, like me and Lance, put our foot at a 90 degree angle on the board where your front truck is. There’s no angle to our feet whatsoever. Hosoi puts his foot at a 90 degree angle like us too. Most of the surf skate dudes have their foot kind of turned on a board where they have a lot of angle. That’s a sign of a SurfSkate slasher, from the get-go. You can tell. That’s one thing that you can see. That comes from surfing, because you have to put your foot across the board to control the board. It’s such a wide board, so your foot can move as the waves move. That’s the thing about skating. It’s such a static thing. The pool is not moving. You’re moving, but the surface is not moving. That’s the thing. That’s how you can tell the SurfSkate slash dudes. That’s one of the first things I notice is how they put their foot on a board at more of an angle.

Wow. Great answer. Okay, how has surfing influenced skateboarding and how has skateboarding influenced surfing?

That’s where you have to go back in time and all the low skating came, especially from Jay and Stacy and Tony. They weren’t the only components of it, there were a lot of other dudes doing it too, but they were all doing that low style like Bertlemann and getting under the wave and carving and turning. There were dudes in Australia like Wayne Lynch and the whole Hawaiian thing too. At that point in surfing, the standard look was super smooth. That’s not to say they weren’t getting rad, but these other dudes were getting lower and making bottom turns and turning into the wave and almost touching it. Using that style and getting super low, that really helps show style. When you do a big fat bottom turn, and you propel up to the lip, if your legs are all extended, there’s no way to get back down. You have to have your legs kind of compressed. It’s almost like you’re skating a pipe. When you go to skate a full pipe, you kind of thrust your wheels out from underneath you. It’s almost the same process as when you’re surfing and you’re going on a lip and you’re thrusting your fins underneath you. Even though it’s not the same exact feeling, it’s the closest feeling you can get to skateboarding. The closest feeling of surfing like that is skateboarding in a full pipe because you can kind of carve low like you’re going down a line, and then go from a backside to a frontside and then hit a little frontside and then a big backside almost like you’re on the lip, because the lip is also going over vert too, especially in bigger waves, so it’s the same kind of feeling.

To have that compression is very important in both aspects. I think that’s why the original surf guys made that happen and understood that process and just your whole body positioning. Even Tony Alva doing frontside airs, they weren’t even doing it at that time yet, but it set the foreground for what’s happening now. You’ve got guys like Christian Fletcher who loves to skate and do airs and ollies with Jason Jessee and everybody and he took that to a whole other level in surfing. Now it’s kind of funny because it’s such a common thing and Christian doesn’t really get proper credit for it and what he was doing. I just think that being said, he was the first dude to get out of the whole surf mold, of you don’t have to surf like these guys. You can be yourself and be a punk rock maniac, which was super sick because all those dudes at that time hated him for that. That made me like him even more, and he was a punk rocker on top of all of that. He was like, “Fuck all these other guys.” It was almost like a skater would. He did what skaters would do. That’s exactly what he did. He took surfing to a whole level as a skater. So right there the SurfSkate style was so evident already. He was at the forefront. He changed everything and brought surfing to a whole other level. That’s how I think surfing helped and influenced skating and, in turn, skating then helped and influenced surfing. Now, it’s so big with all the airs and kickflips and ollies that dudes do on waves. It’s so like skating now that it’s crazy. Everyone copies skating now. Skateboarding is influencing everything, like surfing and snowboarding too. Skateboarding influences everything now. The whole trip is on commercials and TV. It’s everywhere. There’s some commercial on TV right now for men’s suits and they’re showing skateboarding in the background.   

Is SurfSkate style important today?

Yeah, I think so because it’s the same thing. When we were coming up, we got super clued in real quick. The first arena we were skating in, the first of the coliseums so to speak, were these gnarly pool sessions. There was the Fruit Bowl, the Egg Bowl, 25th & Euclid, and those were insane, and it established a pecking order, and you had to learn what was up in that pecking order. I see a lot of kids these days that are trying things that are super rad or super tech and super killer tricks, but sometimes it doesn’t look good and they’re not flowing from point A to point B. That’s why I think that style is super important. I’m not talking about all of the newer dudes, because a lot of them don’t have the same style as some of the older dudes do that have that super rad flow. It all depends on where you come from too. There is so much skating nowadays and there is so much concrete, that not everybody can skate pools because pools are mostly where it’s hot like California, Arizona and Nevada and there are some in Texas. I mean there are pools everywhere, but the majority of the pools are in those four states, so not everyone back East gets to skate a lot of pools because they don’t have access to it. Everyone has access to street skating and rails and that kind of stuff. It’s like apples and oranges. Sometimes other stuff kind of overlays it and it’s not good or bad. To me, I just like dudes that have style more because I think it looks better. The other thing is, knowing that my kids skate, and they’re both pretty rad in their own right, and I watch their style. I think I have pretty damn good style. I work really hard to look decent when I skate, and the funny thing is that when I was a kid, people would see me skate and say, “Wow. It almost looks like you’re surfing when you skate.” I say, “Well, I can’t really surf, but now when I skate a pool, I visualize it like I’m surfing.” Now that I can actually surf, I can say that now. I couldn’t say that when I was a kid. I think it’s kind of funny. It took me a long time to figure out this whole other trip and I love it so much now. You’re just in the water and you’re in with nature. Skating gets you outside, but you’re not totally with Mother Nature. In the water, there’s all of this stuff underneath you, and you see sharks and dolphins all over the place and there are birds diving into the water beside you and there is stuff moving underneath you. It’s the natural movement of things. That’s one of the things about surfing that’s super sick, the whole nature aspect. That’s one of the things that you don’t have in skating. In skating, you have this energy that you can create. It’s almost as good if not radder at times that you can actually propel yourself on what some people call a “wooden toy”. Some people say, “When are you going to give it up, Steve? You’re 52 years old and you’re still riding that damn skateboard.” But that skateboard makes me feel good.

Salba tucked up at the Upland Skatepark in 1978, where the only waves this far inland were deep gnarly concrete ones that showed no mercy! Salba style for miles! Photo © Goodrich

JUICE MAGAZINE SURF SKATE STYLE STORY:

The influence of surfing on skateboarding has been discussed since the beginning of both, yet we have now entered a new era, where skateboarding has returned the favor with its own unique influence on the surfing world. In order to get to the core of this cross over and to try to define the origins and current state and status of surf skate style, we’ve interviewed some of the most innovative skateboarders, surfers, artists, documentarians, photographers, filmmakers and musicians on the planet. In honor of the great, Shogo Kubo, who once said, “To me, style is everything…” welcome to our exploration of Surf Skate Style featuring interviews with Aaron Murray, Aaron Astorga, Abraham Paskowitz, Art Brewer, Bennett Harada, Brad Bowman, Brandon Cruz, Brian Brannon, Carter Slade, Chris Miller, Chris Strople, Christian Fletcher, Christian Hosoi, Craig Stecyk III, Darren Ho, Dave Tourje, David Hackett, Dennis Martinez, Dibi Fletcher, Don Redondo, Eric Britton, Garrett McNamara, Gerry Lopez, Glen E. Friedman, Greg Falk, Greg Galbraith, Greyson Fletcher, Herbie Fletcher, James O’Mahoney, Jef Hartsel, Jeff Ament, Jeff Divine, Jeff Ho, Jim Fitzpatrick, Jim Gray, John Van Hamersveld, Jonathan Paskowitz, Josh “Bagel” Klassman, Kalani David, Keith Morris, Kirra Kehoe, Larry Bertlemann, Laura Thornhill, Lizzie Armanto, Marc Emond, Michael Denicola, Michael Early, Nano Nobrega, Nathan Fletcher, Nathan Florence, Neil Stratton, Norton Wisdom, Pat Bareis, Randy Katen, Ray Flores, Rob Nelson, Robert Trujillo, Scott Oster, Shane Allen, Shaun Tomson, Shota Kubo, Solo Scott, Stacy Peralta, Steve Alba, Steve Olson, Takuji Masuda, Terry Nails, Tim Curran, Tim Hendricks, Tim Kerr, Tom Groholski, Tony Alva, Wes Humpston and Zach Miller.

FOR THE REST OF THE STORY, ORDER ISSUE #75 AT THE JUICE SHOP…

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