From a time of cultural phenomena… From Bruce Lee to Muhammad Ali… The list goes on, too many to mention. A teenage Mexican American would let the world know one thing… He was out to be the best… With the heart of a champion and an attitude to match, Tony Alva did just that… Able to make adjustments, as well as the ambition to boot, T.A. did exactly what he set out to do. Taking no prisoners, like a one man army, he set the world of skateboarding ablaze… Style, Confidence, Will and Ego… Nothing would stand in his way… Like never before, it will go down in the books. Some were witness, lucky enough to see. Others only hear the stories of what is… To say the least, TA was beast. With grace and individuality, his responsibility was to himself. To follow a dream, and make it come true… It’s true… They do come true!!! Thank you. – INTRODUCTION BY STEVE OLSON
OLSON: Hey, TA.
ALVA: Hey. Let me turn down this music. I’m listening to that song I talked to you about.
Oh, turn it up.
It’s that song “Time” on Aladdin Sane. It’s a David Bowie song and Mick Ronson does the sickest lead on it, bro. I have a little Sonos set up, so I have three different rooms where I can control the volume and it gets pretty good sound. I even have a little old school turntable that we got from the early ‘80s, so I can play some vinyl. My band produces all our own vinyl. [dog barks] Hey! You button it!
Is that your dog?
Yeah. They’re like kids. You have to slap them around a little. [Laughs] No. I should slap them around a little, but I don’t because I don’t want to do the tough love thing like my dad used to do to me. It doesn’t work. It didn’t work for me, so why would it work for them?
Yeah. Is that a form of love or frustration?
That’s a good question.
People always say there are no books on love, but love is something you give.
There are books on love, but it’s just other people’s perception of what they think. Unconditional love is the goal with anything, especially in a spiritual sense. A lot of people spend their entire life trying to work towards attaining that level of love for a person, place or thing. I think more than anything in the world I just love being in nature and surfing and skating. That’s been my ultimate love from the get go and still is.
When I go into the ocean, it’s a sort of cleansing somehow. It’s amazing and I love surfing. I wanted to ask you, did you start surfing or skateboarding first?
I think I skated first. I messed around, like a hobby, on my skateboard first, and then I started surfing. When I got serious about surfing, I knew which direction I wanted to go with my skateboarding. It’s still that way.
Yeah. I started skating first, but like you said it was a hobby. Unconditional love can go hand in hand with how you and I love surfing truly unconditionally. I’ll go out in shitty waves and still be psyched.
The better you get in shitty waves then, when the waves get good, you’re ripping. Why do you think Kelly Slater is eleven time world champion? Look where he came from.
I know. Wasn’t it Cocoa Beach, Florida?
Yeah. Shitty waves, but fun. That’s what makes you a really good surfer. That makes you hungry too. It’s like with skateboarding nowadays. I think some of the best skateboarders in the world are a handful of kids from third world countries. They’re hungry and they’re not doing it for the money. They’re not doing it for the fame. They’re doing it because they love it. When it gets to the point where somebody skates to actually make it and gets sponsored, that’s super great. That one kid from Brazil –Tiago Lemos – he’s amazing.
“You have to do 100% every day. You’re not going to get something for nothing. Nothing is free, especially in the 21st Century. Right now it’s the toughest it’s ever been for just being secure and safe and successful and all of those things that make us feel like things are still good. It’s a tough time.
I only know the name. What’s his story?
He’s a skater from a small town in Brazil and he ended up coming to the States and getting sponsored and getting his own board model and then he went back to Brazil, after making a handful of cash, and bought his mom a house. He’s a third world Brazilian kid who is super good and has an amazing attitude. He’s just a really pure skateboarder. He did it for himself to begin with and then his family and, last but not least, his mom. His mom believed in him. The local guy that ran the skatepark said to her one day, “I think your son is going to be a professional skateboarder.” She was like, “What’s that?” It’s kind of like what my dad did when I was 19. I was like, “Yeah, dad, I’m going to be a pro skateboarder.” He was like, “There’s no future in that.”
How is that, as a kid, going through that?
It’s the gnarliest thing ever. I look back on it now and it’s probably one of the best things my dad ever said to me because he turned the flame up to scorching, so I went out and scorched the earth.
Yes! After you started skating, when did you realize you could really skate?
By the time I was in high school and into my teenage years, I knew there was nobody that was gonna beat me, especially in a competitive event. It didn’t matter what it was. It could be barrel jumping or shooting a hill or doing 360s in a box of space like those stupid contests in a parking lot. When it came to bowls and riding walls and banks, I was like, “I’m going to smoke these guys.” That was a young man’s attitude, of course. That’s how you feel when you’re at that age. I’m sure you experienced the same thing because I saw you skating in the Gold Cup and you had that same attitude. If you don’t have that attitude, you’re not the top dog. Look at Pedro Barros. When Pedro loses a contest, he’s exactly the same as I used to be like when I was 19 years old. He’s like, “Fuck everybody! I won and you guys didn’t give me the trophy and the money? You guys suck!” That’s skateboarder meets aggro, ego and confidence. For me, skateboarding now is all about cross training and having fun and just doing what I do best and polishing, refining and making what I do easier. Every time I go out, I try to make my technique a little bit more graceful. I still practice. It’s just like I do with my band. I practice and rehearse so that when I have to go out in public and do my job for my sponsors and my board company, I’m on top of my game. You know?
“By the time I was in high school and into my teenage years, I knew there was nobody that was gonna beat me, especially in a competitive event. It didn’t matter what it was. It could be barrel jumping or shooting a hill or doing 360s in a box of space like those stupid contests in a parking lot. When it came to bowls and riding walls and banks, I was like, “I’m going to smoke these guys.”
Yes. I feel you completely.
You can’t be going out and flailing. You have to be ripping every day.
You’re still pioneering. You’re skating and surfing all the time at age 63.
Well, that’s because it’s one day at a time. We’re pushing the envelope because we’ve been there and done that and now it’s a whole new era. I get gunslingers coming out for me surfing and they want to butt heads and play bumper cars with me on waves and I’m like, “I’m not taking that shit from anybody.” Everybody thinks, “He’s an asshole.” Or they think, “He’s a super mellow guy now because he’s been sober for a while.” I still snap sometimes. If people push me too far, I go right at them like I used to, full Maddog. It’s a bummer when I do that though because I’m really hurting myself. I get that full on emotional hangover and it sucks, because I don’t get loaded anymore, so my emotions are there. Anger is a drug. Then again, being happy and free is a drug as well, for me. That’s my drug of choice at this point in my life, but it’s not always easy to obtain. You can’t just go buy it on the corner in a baggie.
“I knew that I was going to be World Champion at the time because of the fact that I was coached by a gnarly dude. My manager/trainer was this guy Bunker Spreckels and he told me straight to my face, “You’re the guy.” I was like ‘Alvis’. Bunker said, “We’re going to go out there and kick everybody’s ass and we’re taking no prisoners and we’re going to get the money and the trophies and the chicks and then we’re going to split and go back to Hollywood and party! Can you do that?” I was like, “I can do that.”
You’ve been able to prolong your career forever, which is such an accomplishment.
Yeah. My story continues, but I’m definitely not the one running the script. The script is just to stay in the moment. It’s just like today, I’m chilling, but the last two days I went big and surfed hard. Driving around L.A., in itself, can be a test of love and tolerance. Now I’m just living life on life’s terms, but it’s not always in my control what’s going to happen. I just have to be wise enough to make the right decisions when things go good or bad. I have to react to my environment in the wisest and most intuitive way that I can. It’s not easy sometimes.
Yeah. Every day we keep learning new lessons, no?
Of course. That’s why I try to not make as many mistakes as I used to. When I make mistakes, I’m supposed to learn from that, but I don’t always.
Easier said than done.
I just have an infantile ego and sometimes it pops out. It’s the “Do you know who the fuck I am?” attitude. I say and I do harsh shit sometimes. I tell people to go fuck themselves and I cut people off. I think, “Aren’t you over that yet?” Then I’m like, “No, not really, not yet.” I’m working on it, but it still can be an issue occasionally. With skateboarding, I’m pretty cool with where I’m at because I know my place and I feel comfortable there. When I’m around the young guys, I’m still learning from those guys, but I’m looking at them humbly as well as respectfully. I try to give them the same respect as I would ask from them. If you do that, you’re cool. If I think I’m going to go out and butt heads with some guy like Elijah Berle, I’m blowing smoke up my own ass. Those guys are my bros, but they’re gnarly. When it comes down to it, they are the technological aspect of skateboarding mixed with the aggression that comes from our neighborhood and those guys are in a class of their own. That’s where skateboarding is now. That’s the state of the art. I’m part of that, if I want to be a part of it and if I can be humble enough. If I try to be 19 years old again in a 63-year-old body, I’m in for a rude awakening. It doesn’t matter how good you are. When you go out and try to battle concrete, you’re not going to win. The thing is to go with the flow and learn how to fall like Bruce Lee and try to stay on your board no matter what and, hopefully, you won’t be that next guy going to the urgent care. I don’t even wear pads. Occasionally, I’ll wear a helmet, and I’m out skating some pretty gnarly shit still. I don’t have anything to prove to anybody else, so I’m just doing it purely for my own enjoyment.
Don’t we start doing it for that part of it anyway?
Yeah. You gotta keep it real. If I can keep it real until I’m not able to do anything but paddle out and catch one or two waves, then I’ve lived my life to its fullest and that’s cool.
At the same time, you are Tony Alva. There’s a thing with being Tony Alva.
There is, but the whole ego thing is what gets me in trouble.
I get it and I’m saying it’s not easy to be that guy.
Yeah. When I’m out in the water and these guys recognize me and, all of a sudden, they want to try to cut me off or bump rails with me, that’s when I get annoyed really quick and I’m ready to rip somebody’s head off. At the same time, if I start acting up and creating wreckage, I’m ready to clean it up immediately too. I’ve had to follow guys onto the beach and put my board down and they thought I was going to sock ‘em and I just go, “Dude, you know what? I was wrong. I’m sorry I said that to you. I’m sorry I acted like that. It won’t happen again. Will you accept my apology?” Usually, they look at me like, “What? Are you crazy?” They don’t even believe it. I go, “Yep. This is for real.” They look at me and go, “Thanks, bro. Yeah. I accept your apology.” Then I’m like, “Okay, cool. Gotta go. See you next time.” I just don’t want any more enemies and I don’t want to create any more wreckage in my life. I’ve already done enough damage to create a Titanic of bad karma. Now I have a really good band and we play killer rock n’ roll music with some really good people. We have an amazing drummer and his wife is our singer. I have my own board company still and that’s my life. I have an amazing soul sister, Katy. We’ve been together, on and off, for 20 years now and we’ve done some magical shit together and it’s rad. She supports me with her heart and soul, even though sometimes I can put her through the meat grinder too. Sometimes I’m just a really intense person and it’s not easy for her to deal with me. She and I have to communicate in order to work things out. The other day we got into it because she was driving slower than I thought she should be and didn’t turn at a spot where we ended up lost. I was like, “What are you doing?” I started snapping on her and it’s like, this is a person you’re supposed to love and here you are being a total tyrant to them.
I totally understand. It just comes out under certain conditions.
Yep. It’s that Virgo thing in us where things have to be our way or we don’t feel comfortable. It’s almost a mental OCD in a form of trying to control other people, places and things around you, and I really don’t have control over anything but myself. I have to realize that, but sometimes I forget.
Well, like I said, it’s easier said than done. So you’ve been sober for a while now.
It’s been 14 years. It was September of 2006 when I got sober. It was when I started that art gallery in LA. I was partying like a rock star before that manifested in my life and I was just burnt out and super angry all the time. I was really searching for something that I couldn’t find through drugs and alcohol. That low grade experience with drugs and alcohol beat me up so bad that I had to try something different. That’s what I’ve been doing for 14 years and, believe me, it’s a lot different.
“It was September of 2006 when I got sober. It was right when I started that art gallery in LA. I was partying like a rock star before that manifested in my life and I was just burnt out and super angry all the time. I was really searching for something that I couldn’t find through drugs and alcohol. That low grade experience with drugs and alcohol just beat me up so bad that I had to try something different. That’s what I’ve been doing now for over 14 years and believe me, it’s a lot different.”
It’s changed for the better, no?
Definitely. There is no comparison to the comfortableness in my own skin and just the fact that I know who I am at this point and I’m satisfied with that. There is still progress to be made, but the bottom line is that I’m not searching for something that I’m not. I’m not trying to be something that I’m not. This might sound weird to some people because it’s more religious than spiritual, but I’m comfortable with whatever God’s will is for me today. I’m just in the moment here and now, talking to you about our lives and soaking up a little bit of Southern California weather. We’ve had so much rain and sometimes I get stir crazy. I’ll go out and surf in the rain, just to keep moving.
We have to keep moving.
That’s what surfing and skateboarding and music and all those creative things have given us. When I’m in the moment being creative, I’m connected to my higher power and I feel like this is what I’m supposed to be doing.
Your higher power is driving you to do what you can do.
Exactly. It’s not all about that 19-year-old self will ego thing that I did when I was a kid. If I try to run it on that now, I burn my gears out. I slide out or I get stuck in the sand, metaphorically. It’s like my little truck. If I burn it too hard at too many RPMs, I’m not going to get anywhere. I’m just going to sit in the sand with my tires spinning really fast.
When you were a kid, did you think you were going to be a skateboarding icon?
No. Not at all. I knew that I was going to be World Champion, at the time, because of the fact that I was coached by a gnarly dude. My manager and trainer was this guy Bunker Spreckels and he told me straight to my face, “You’re the guy.” I was like ‘Alvis’. Bunker said, “We’re going to go out there and kick everybody’s ass and we’re taking no prisoners and we’re going to get the money and the trophies and the chicks and then we’re going to split and go back to Hollywood and party! Can you do that?” I was like, “I can do that.” He was like, “Okay, I got your back. Let’s do this!”
“Look at how different the world is now because of the fact that the Z-Boys did what they did. I don’t want to brag about it or try to make people think that we’re more important than we are, but I’m telling you, the Z-Boys had a radical revolutionary effect on youth culture in the entire world. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, as they say. It will probably get you high. Just watch out for the resin.”
[Laughs] Yes! You did it and you pulled it.
Yeah. Bunker spent money on getting me a racing suit from Nudie’s and we had limos and the whole deal. We had our bag of weed and our bag of coke and our bottles of champagne and all that. I didn’t use that to get to where I was trying to get to, but I used it afterwards to celebrate. That’s typical of an alcoholic or a drug addict though. We reward ourselves with drugs and alcohol when we do something that we think is good, but then, if I do something bad and I fuck up or get thrown in jail, what’s the first thing I do when I get out? I go and get loaded again. I’m just explaining what my brain does when I’m using drugs and alcohol to escape reality. I’d drink and use drugs so I didn’t feel the pain. It’s pretty crazy, and I’m glad I don’t do that anymore. It’s not an option for me anymore. If I get loaded again, I’ll end up dead or they’ll throw me in an insane asylum or prison maybe, which I probably couldn’t survive for even a month. The other thing is that I’d end up prematurely kicking out on the best wave of my entire session. It’s just like Jake [Phelps] did. Look at other guys and see where they’re kicking out and, if you see the reef is that shallow, you better do a floater.
Yeah. You better do something to miss that reef or you’re going to get shredded.
You better do a soul arch or a floater over that shallow section, bro.
Or do something that helps you pop out the back.
Yeah. Do a standing island, where you pull the rail through and pop through the back and start paddling again.
That helps in some situations.
I saw a lot of guys like Jake before their end and I tried to reach out and share my experience with them and help them. Andy Irons was one of them. They just didn’t want it. They were like, “Nah, I got this. I’m going to do it my way.” What are you going to tell somebody like that?
I know it all too well. When you hear that they’ve died, it’s like, “Wow.”
Yeah. Look at Todd [Barnes] from T.S.O.L. back in the day.
I saw it with Johnny O’Shei and I was like, “Dude, you’re going too hard.” It’s the path one chooses. It comes down to choices. You’re still surfing and skating and charging. That is really incredibly impressive and beyond inspirational.
Well, I wouldn’t be doing it if it weren’t what you and I just discussed though. That’s the thing. That’s why guys like Christian Hosoi ended up in and out of prison. That had to happen so that Christian could get to where he’s at right now in his life. I’m so fortunate in my life that I didn’t have to go to prison, because I’ve done stuff just as bad or worse than what Christian was doing. I’m grateful. Today, I’m one of the most grateful guys on this planet. I’m also quick to forget and go back to being really ornery and self-centered, so I’m working on my spiritual condition on a daily basis. I do a little bit of prayer and quite a bit of meditation and I surf and I play really groovy psychedelic rock music and I’m having fun with it. I don’t give a fuck what people think of me but, at the same time, I’m going to try not to create any more animosity or judgment against my character by doing things that are wrong. It’s just living life and trying to make progress and not being that same old same old. The last time I got into it with a guy out in the water, he told me straight to my face, “Oh, I heard you were an asshole.” That’s the first thing he said to me, so I knew straight up that I was showing my asshole colors. I was just saying to him, “Look, if you see me paddling, don’t even fucking go. That’s my wave.” I went all Surf Punks on his ass. I was like, “I don’t give a fuck, dude. I’ve been out here for 40 years and, if you see a wave coming that’s good and I’m paddling for it, don’t even think about it.”
It’s not always about making money and having the fancy car and all the material stuff. I think it’s more about how you feel inside. The thing for me is freedom. Knowing that I’m not a slave to anything outside of myself, I’m free.”
Does that work?
No. [Laughs] It works about 60% of the time and then there’s the 40% of the time that you’ll run into another gunslinger, and then it’s a battle. It usually starts verbally and then it can escalate. If you want to take it to the limit and you end up getting in a fistfight or a gunfight or a knife fight, you better hope you’ve got your game on, because someone is gonna get hurt. I try not to take it to that level. That’s way too far. I get a little snappy sometimes, but you can’t help it when you surf crowded spots in Malibu.
It happens. It’s part of it. What surfboards are you riding now?
I ride a lot of George Greenough-influenced bottoms and Simmons-style hydrodynamic shapes. Some of them have really nice glassed on keel fins. I ride single fins and quads, but I won’t ride a thruster. Thrusters feel like an anchor with the middle fin all the way back on the tail. I don’t really dig it. If I ride a fin all the way back on the tail, it’s more like a knife, double ended, with foil on both sides, and I use it more as a stabilizer for bigger hollower waves. I ride some crazy boards. I like surfboards that feel like a skateboard on a wave where you can carve and slide and take off really late and just pull in and go super fast. Those are the kind of boards I love.
Where do you surf usually?
I usually surf north of where I live. I surf all of the little nooks and crannies anywhere between Point Dume and Point Mugu. I surf locally too. I surf the beach breaks where I grew up surfing as a kid and I get them good all the time. People don’t even know. I’m like the only guy out there after a rainy day, just catching little barrels right in front of where Miki Dora grew up. I know all of the secret spots, bro. I call them secret spots, but they’re not. They’re just there and people don’t even know that there are some really fun and good waves there. I surf the south side of Santa Monica Pier sometimes and nobody surfs there. I surf that corner off the pylon and it gets good out there.
What about Malibu?
I surf Malibu when nobody knows there’s going to be a swell. Andy Lyons would be the only guy out there that I knew, or Matt Rapf at Point Dume. It’s usually a couple of guys that I know and everybody else is just all of these new guys.
“The better you get in shitty waves, then when the waves get good, you’re ripping. Why do you think Kelly Slater is eleven time world champion? Look where he came from.”
Right. Some of them get in the way.
Some of them do. Some of them get out of the way. The bitchen thing is when you surf the way we do and you skate the way I like to, you get to go to places like Portugal or Chile or Japan and people look at you with respect. They trip out. They’re like, where did this guy come from? You don’t always get recognized. They might just think you’re some old school dude that came out of the woodwork. In the wintertime, I have a big beard because the water is cold. I don’t care. I’m just going to go form and function. A lot of people don’t recognize me if I show up at the skatepark or the surf spot. It’s not really to my advantage to be some celebrity or whatever. It’s more about being one of the guys and fitting in and being respectful to the locals too. You can’t just barge. I go to Zavial in Portugal and the waves are super good and I just try to melt into the pack, but I’ve still got that aggressive paddling style and I’m still going to take off deep. It’s the same thing with the skatepark. When I go to the skatepark. I’m going to let the kids have their space and do what they do. I’m not going to go in there and try and act like I’m the guy and go, “Get out of the way. Can’t you see that I’m the man?” I just go out there and have fun. They know after they see me take a few runs. They’re like, “Wait a second.” The way that we skate, and I’m saying you and I and guys from our era, kids don’t skate like that anymore. When kids see our style and the way that we skate, they’re like, “Wow. That’s cool.” You know how it is when we’d go to Chelsea Pier. It’s all of the street skater kids and they’re all smoking weed and everything. When we roll in, they’re like, “Whoa, wait a second.” Then Mark Gonzales rolls up on his bicycle with no skateboard. We’re like, “Get on my board and ride.” We were making him ride the Grosso board or all the old school shapes, like, “Try this one.” Finally, he finds one that he likes and he starts sessioning with us. That’s how the adventures are nowadays. When the old school guys get together, it’s really fun.
What about when you get to travel? You are intensely traveling, promoting and spreading the word about skateboarding.
Yeah. I travel a lot for Vans. Vans is my corporate sponsor and they take care of skateboarders the way that skateboarders really should be taken care of. It’s cool. I go business class overseas and all of my flights are taken care of and I stay in nice hotels. People pick me up at the airport and the whole deal and it makes traveling easy. As the Beatles would say, “All I gotta do is act naturally.” I don’t think they wrote that song though. Who wrote that song? Was it Gene Autry or someone?
I’m not quite sure if it was Gene Autry. Either way.
I know it was a country song before it was a Beatles song. Go out and act naturally, but represent. I did a trip to Shanghai and they posted some stuff on the social scene of me just skating through the city and talking about skateboarding. If that’s all I have to do for one day out of my week-long trip there to pay for my trip, I’m stoked. Then I get to go do whatever I want to do. A lot of cultural things are really cool to do in countries like China. If you really want to learn to appreciate other countries, you gotta learn about their culture and history. I study that stuff and I know you do too. I know you’re traveling all over the world and I see you going to places that are cultural locations and events. If you don’t do that stuff, you’re missing out on half of the enjoyment of exploring places outside of our own little bubble here in LA.
Yes. It opens up your mind completely. It’s amazing.
It also makes you appreciate L.A. when you get back here too. Sometimes I get pissed off at my neighborhood because it’s gentrifying. They closed Abbot’s Habit, I mean, come on, dude! Give me a break. I get pissed sometimes, but I have my favorite saying that comes from a skateboarder’s perspective of Venice and Santa Monica and Dogtown in general. On the sidewalks, the cracks are still the same. It’s still the same cracks in the sidewalks, from when I was ten years old, and that isn’t going to change no matter how many yuppies come in and think that they’re from Venice.
Right. Growing up in Santa Monica and Venice is different than growing up in other places around California or all over the world.
We’re very fortunate. At the same time, it was tough when we were kids. We didn’t have a lot of money. We didn’t have a lot of anything except drive, imagination and the innate ability to ride a piece of wood with wheels on it.
The drive and the determination to do something with that is incredible.
Well, we had a dream. It’s like Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I have a dream.” We lived the dream, a lot of us. The other thing is that you start to develop this technique, but you also have to have faith in something. For me, faith is like something I heard Martin Luther King Jr. say. “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” Who cares where it’s going? I just know I’m going in that direction, because I see the light.
Yes! Trusting and believing in it helps too.
You gotta believe in the unseen. You can’t always see what your goal is at the end of things. You gotta have faith that something good is at the end of that staircase. For me, that’s part of the journey. I might even be able to help someone else with my experience. I was looking at what Kobe Bryant said about all of his hardships and the gnarly shit he had to go through, and how he just wanted to try to help other people not have to go through that the way he did. Kobe had a love for the game and passion for excellence that rivals any great surfer or skater that I have ever witnessed. God bless him and his beautiful ladies. May he rest in peace.
Yes. It makes sense though to share your experience and the knowledge that you gained through the ups and the downs.
Yes. That’s how it is as a father too. You know how it is with you and your son. I have a son that has turned 25 now and he’s a knucklehead, but I gotta let him do what he’s going to do and have respect for him as his own entity, so that he can make the mistakes that he has to make in order to grow. I’m not going to tell him what to do because if I do, he’s going to do the opposite. So I’m going to live my life and probably set a good example for him if I continue to do what I’m doing now.
When is Zeph’s birthday?
It’s March 18th, right after Saint Patrick’s Day.
My kid turned 34 March 16th and Zeph’s birthday is March 18th. That’s a trip.
It’s crazy. Pedro Barros and my son have the same birthday. They’re both Pisces and they’re both experimenters. Zeph is a cool kid. He loves surfing and he’s just exploring life right now. He doesn’t know exactly what he wants to do, but that’s part of being a young dude. He’s still out there experimenting and it’s all good. My daughter is a different story. She knows exactly what she wants to do and she’s doing it. She’s part of the wisdom tree that one. She’s really smart and she just understands a lot of things about life because, I think, she’s been around so much craziness as a child that she just knows what she wants from her life. She’s 28 years old now and she went to UCLA to get her Masters Degree. She’s into philosophy and psychology and religious history and trippy stuff where I just go, “Huh? How did she even end up there?”
I know she ended up there because the universe guided her in that direction. She’s doing the same thing that I do. She is going where the light is shining and heading towards her goals. Avalon is amazing. I’m not saying she’s better or worse than my son. I’m just saying that Avalon is amazing. The things she’s going to accomplish in her life will be at a level I never could have imagined. As a father, you can only be proud of that.
How psyched are you? That’s incredible.
I’m pretty stoked. At the same time, I don’t want to put too much pride into it. The bottom line is that I feel good about where she’s going in her life. She and I communicate really well too, at this point.
That’s also a dope thing to have happen too. Guaranteed.
Yeah. To see your child become successful and educated and happy, it’s great.
How did you ever get into music?
I wanted to be in my brother’s punk band and I sucked and I couldn’t even play, so there was no way they were going to let me play in that band, so I started my own band, the Skoundrelz, with Bela Horvath. We started playing our own crazy, original, loud, obnoxious punk rock. Then I attracted a couple of guys that were good guitarists and they were friends with a guy named Dave Hurricane who was an amazing singer, kind of Peter Murphy-style. We started the Skoundrelz with the two original guitarists from Suicidal Tendencies, Mike Dunnigan and Mike Ball. It was the two O.G.s. I had to learn how to play because, if I hadn’t, those guys would have kicked me out of the band. The bottom line is, if you have two guys from Suicidal and you’ve got a decent bass, it’s on. I had a 4001 Rickenbacker, which was a rad guitar back then, and I bought some shitty amp. Later on, I got a decent amp from Ray Flores. I learned how to play by playing Jimi Hendrix songs and Black Sabbath, and then starting to play punk rock. I’m totally self-taught, but I can read music now to a certain extent. If you tell me a note, I know right where to find it. If you tell me a progression, I know how to do the progression. If I hear a trained musician tell me how the chorus goes and where the bridge is and here’s the verse, boom, I’m there with them. I’d like to start a band with Izzy Stradlin. He came by my shop and bought some skate stuff. That would be fun.
That would be fun. I love Izzy Stradlin.
Nah. That’s just a hypothetical. I have a good band, so it’s all good.
“Punk rock and skateboarding were hand in hand. If you weren’t in a punk band or into punk music, or you weren’t wearing your JAK’S colors or your leather jacket, you weren’t connected. That was part of the scene. You had to have some affiliation with punk rock music and punk rock attitude to really be part of what skateboarding was about at that time. That’s why we ended up learning to play punk rock music.”
Do you approach music like you would skating or surfing?
In the manner of practice makes permanent, yes. I don’t go for perfection. I’m going for progress and a feeling. I want to feel like I can play the song or be in the moment, so I don’t have to think about it. I just do it. If you’re up there in the lights and you think everybody out there is looking at you, while you’re playing, you’re full of shit. You can’t be getting that shit in your head. You just have to be part of the band and play your position. Bass players are part of the rhythm and I have a really good drummer that I’ve been playing with for seven years now, so I stay really tight with him. He’s the pocket man and I just stay in his side pocket.
You hang in his pocket and everyone else can do what they have to do. When you have a strong pocket, it’s happening.
Yes. The rock stars are playing guitar or singing. I’m the rhythm guy and I’m there to be right in the rhythm pocket with the drummer and that’s what I do. I’ve gotten good at it too.
You have to stay in the pocket in that world, I think.
Surfing too. You don’t have to do anything fancy on the wave. I just stay in the pocket. It’s the same as being a bass player. I just stay trimming fast in the pocket and that’s tight. That makes a good band tight. If you have a super good rhythm section, no matter how shitty the rest of the band is, the band is at least batting 500, you know. The only thing that fucks bands up really bad is ego. When one person in the band thinks they are the band and it’s all about them, that’s when the band is going to break up. It’s gonna implode.
Yeah. That’s a drag, but there are bands that have been together forever and my hat’s off to them.
Totally. Look at a band like T.S.O.L. You gotta just be like, “Wow.”
They’re still going strong, which is cool.
Yeah. All those guys are great, and I love Ronnie. That’s my guitar hero. Ron Emory and Greg Hetson are my favorites. I like Greg as a person too.
He’s great. He knows the pocket as well as anyone.
He’s a straight up punk rock guitarist.
He’s a good one, which separates him from the pack.
Yeah. He plays with Marky Ramone now.
I love that. That makes perfect sense.
Are you still playing?
Me? I play all the time.
Good for you.
I goof around on guitar but, when I’m going to play bass, hanging in the pocket with the drummer is always cool.
Joey C. is the guy you want to play with.
Oh, I know. You guys played, right?
Yeah. He’s the guy. I haven’t played with him lately, but that’s the guy you want to play with if you get the chance. He’s the bomb. He’s definitely one of the best drummers in LA, as far as I’m concerned. He’s rad.
Do you travel and tour with your band?
Yeah. We’ve played in Korea for Vans events and we’ve played down in Mexico and we’ve played up and down the West Coast. We play all over the place. His Eyes Have Fangs is the name of the band and Matt Rainwater is the drummer that I was talking about. His wife is Rachel Anne Rainwater and she’s our little diva singer. We started with Ray Barbee playing guitar and went through another guy named Vulcho Bonev, who played guitar with us for a little while and then he ended up going back to be more of a producer and technician because he has a studio in Orange County. We have two new guys in the band now, Sonny and Alex, and they play keyboards and guitar. They’re really good. Those guys are serious Rock to Recovery guys. They can read music and write music and play anything you tell them in a matter of ten seconds. They’re that good. They’re like studio musicians, but they can play live.
Do you guys have records out?
Yeah. We have two records out. We have an EP, which was our first release. It comes in a mint green vinyl edition that has the MP3 card that comes with it and then we did an LP called Blue 4 U and it has nine tracks all done on analog two-inch tape. We went back to the way that Fleetwood Mac and Pink Floyd and The Doors did it. We have had Robbie Krieger from The Doors come and play live with us. We’ve had a lot of cool opportunities. We’ve played a lot and we’re not about being famous and doing the rock star thing. We’re more about just sharing the music and playing live as much as possible and practicing and writing original music.
How much do you guys practice?
When live shows are coming up, we practice at least a dozen times a month. We jam, bro. We don’t fuck around. We take it seriously, but not so seriously that we take the fun out of it. I’ll rehearse with them a couple of times a week and then once on the weekend and then we’ll go out and play a show. We don’t care whether it’s a shitty little bar in Long Beach or an arena in Hollywood.
You just want to play.
Yeah. We want to play good.
You guys do play good.
We play pretty good. We’re getting better all the time.
I saw you guys when Robbie Krieger came and played with you in Malibu.
Yeah. That was fun.
You’re still skating pools all the time, too?
I skate pools occasionally. Over the hill, there’s quite a few of them and I’ve got my little scouts out there that are constantly looking for them and cleaning them out. Most of the time I’m skating my local bowls and skateparks in my neighborhood. I still skate Bronson. I go and skate banks and I skate street a little bit still. Most of the time, you can find me skating the clover over there in Culver City. I sneak down into Venice occasionally when it’s not too crowded. I skate the overhang thing at the Cove. I love that thing. I go out and skate Ojai. I skate up in San Francisco at Potrero, which was Jake’s favorite. I go skate the Los Osos skatepark in the middle of nowhere in Central California. I go to weird spots. I just show up unexpected at places all the time. That’s my favorite thing to do. I don’t let anyone know when I’m going. I’ll just show up and skate with whoever is there.
You still have the same attitude. Just show up and rip wherever you go.
That’s my favorite. It’s fun. I’m the same way with surfing. I don’t wait for nobody. I don’t take nobody with me. I don’t know where I’m going. I just show up. I know when the window is best. I’m looking for the window.
Right. There are variables to the window.
Big time with surfing.
It’s so good in the early morning when it’s offshore and so beautiful.
That’s why I like wintertime better than summer. I think summer is overrated.
When it’s perfectly offshore at 5:30 in the morning, it’s dope.
It gets like that right in front of Andy Lyon’s old house in Malibu. It’s straight offshore, waist to shoulder high, perfect, just the way you described. It’s the best shit ever.
Yeah. I’m so curious to reflect on your past to where you’ve gotten. You start off as a kid and then realize that you have talent and you’re going to do something with it. A lot of people don’t take advantage of it and they fall into other traps, but you persevered and pulled it.
Well, I had a few good people that were guiding me too. I mentioned Bunker Spreckels and I had another guy named Pete Zehnder, who guided me in the entrepreneurial direction. Then I had another dude named Eric Monson who was a freak of nature artist that did shit that looks like it’s done on a Macintosh, but he was doing it back in the ‘70s with no computer. I had photographers around me, like Wynn Miller and Raul Vega. The list of photographers goes on, like Friedman and Stecyk. I had a lot of influences around me. My other influences were Gerry Lopez, Larry Bertlemann, Rabbit Bartholomew, Wayne Lynch, Reno Abellira, Terry Fitzgerald, Ted Spencer and George Greenough. All those guys influenced me to take it one step further than even where they were heading in their pursuits of that crazy revolutionary way of surfing and skateboarding. Everything connected to rock n’ roll music and it still does. I’ve kind of figured out why and where and how we’re headed in the direction that leads to that discovery of why we even started doing this to begin with.
Yes. You became Tony Alva. From my perspective, I was a surfer and a skater.
We grew up together, you and me.
Yeah, but I gotta give it up to you. We had influences outside of surfing and skateboarding, like Cassius Clay and Bruce Lee.
I loved both of them.
If someone asks me about influences, I say that there were cats doing things outside of skateboarding and surfing too. Then there is Tony Alva who was as large of a figure as those guys ever were, to me. Nowadays, I don’t know if we have those kind of cats. It was just insane to be able to pull and be influenced by cats like that.
It’s good to have somebody that inspires you that you can look back at and even people that you can relate to and talk to nowadays. A lot of the guys are gone so, for me and you to even be able to have a discussion like this is important, just for the fact that it’s going to maybe inspire somebody else.
It seems like you’re not going to stop, and I know that I’m not going to stop.
You know what one of my favorite things is on a daily basis? It’s not what you’ve done. It’s what you’re doing. It’s not about what you did yesterday. It’s about what you did today.
I agree. Yesterday is over and then there’s tomorrow, which looks really awesome.
That’s what I’m saying. Tomorrow is a dream. Today is going to be a good day if I’m living today properly.
Absolutely. It comes down to great choices as well. We learn to make better choices as we get older and wiser.
If you don’t, you’re fucked. You mentioned Muhammad Ali, and Ali says, “The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.” That’s wisdom from the champ. He was the greatest of all time, a boxer, a philosopher and the whole ball of wax. That guy was a shining example of perseverance and determination and reaching goals.
And sticking to your beliefs completely.
Totally. He was carrying the message of hope and faith and all of those gnarly things. I don’t know what’s it’s like to be an African American. It’s gotta be gnarly. I know the Mexican part of me came from my dad and that’s kind of a gnarly part.
It went from Alva being my last name to my dad who was ashamed of his Latin heritage and tried to cover it up and hide it. I was a little more proud of it, growing up on the Westside. A lot of people look down on you and think you’re less than because of the fact that you’re not some pure Aryan type and that’s bullshit. It’s ignorance. My mom is from Amsterdam, pure white Dutch European, but having a mom from Amsterdam was liking having one of the Beatles as your parent, which in a way is cool and in another way is like, “Wow.”
Your mom is excellent.
She’s a funny lady and I love her. My dad passed on.
I’m sorry about that. My mom passed on.
I had a feeling she did. That was Punker Pat.
Yes! I remember taking her clothes and she was like, “Steve, take that off. I like that scarf.” She was a comic.
Yes. She was like, “I like this shirt. I like that scarf.”
Well, for you, growing up as Tony Alva, I’m trying to get to the point that it’s not as easy as, “He’s lucky. He gets to do this.” You’ve worked to be who you are.
Yeah. Well, you have to. Half measures avail us nothing. You have to do 100% every day. You’re not going to get something for nothing. Nothing is free, especially in the 21st Century. Right now it’s the toughest it’s ever been for just being secure and safe and successful and all of those things that make us feel like things are still good. It’s a tough time. It’s not always about making money and having the fancy car and all of the material stuff. I think it’s more about how you feel inside. The thing for me is freedom. Knowing that I’m not a slave to anything outside of myself, I’m free. Deep down inside, I feel comfortable with myself today. I’m free to make my decisions based on what I feel, which is attached to intuition and wisdom. Those are the two most important things in my life now. I’m not going to stress out about my bank account or anything other than my spiritual maintenance. My life just needs equanimity, which means balance. If you’re a surfer or a skater or a musician and you don’t have equanimity, you’ll never be 100% good at what you do. You’ll always be off-kilter. You gotta learn to go switch. You gotta learn to be ambidextrous. I learned that from watching Jay Adams skate or surf. He could go any which way at any time. I try to do that now, even all these years after Jay left us, and I have to carry on. He died 8-15-14, but it seems like ten years already. For me, I have to carry on. I have to continue sharing what Jay and I believed in. With or without Jay here to hold my hand, I have to take it forward. I knew Jay well enough to know which direction he would have taken it, and I’m going to show the world that we’re connected to the culture of West Los Angeles through the roots of surfing and we’re still part of a revolution that is changing the entire world. Look at what we’ve done, as kids even. Look at how different the world is now because of the fact that the Z-Boys did what they did. I don’t want to brag about it or try to make people think that we’re more important than we are, but I’m telling you, the Z-Boys had a radical revolutionary effect on youth culture in the entire world. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, as they say. It will probably get you high. Just watch out for the resin.
It will at least make you think.
You’ll get perma-dosed. Perma-dosed is when, no matter how long you’ve been sober, you’ve still got that hallucinogenic stuff in your DNA. You’re always going to be a little whacked out.
Yeah. Perma-dosed. Jake Phelps was like that. You could tell. From the fact that he was born in San Francisco and then they took him to Boston and then he made it back to San Francisco, he was perma-dosed from the moment he was born. It was in such a super unique and cool way though.
He followed his dream. He truly loved skateboarding. He loved what he did. Whether you liked him or hated him, he was real to what he did.
I think Jake liked to be controversial. I don’t think anybody really hated him. He just liked to be controversial. He liked to rub people the wrong way sometimes. Fausto and those guys saw that in him, so that’s why they hired him. They knew Jake was the right guy at the right time for the job. I miss guys like that. I miss Bobby Biniak and Shogo Kubo, but today is today and we’re here. We need to just remember that, if you’re here, you are still responsible for inspiring and carrying on the tradition and the principles of what the Westside of L.A. stands for, and for just keeping it real. Pat Ngoho said it about Red Bull doing that thing down in Venice. He’s like, “These guys come here and they’re extracting our culture and they don’t even mention one thing about the roots and that’s just wrong.” I hate to say it, brother, but somebody has got to say it and I totally agree with Pat 100%.
He’s got a valid point.
That’s the world nowadays. A lot of people come in and act like they are the innovators of everything that was core. Taking credit for that Venice scene, back in the day, that shit would have got you shot. It was some Red Bull shit. If they think they can take claim for that, good luck with that. When you come down to the park next time and you get mobbed deep and the old school homies roll up on you, you’re going to know you messed with one bean now you get the whole burrito. [Laughs] I always used to say that about Jesse Martinez and those guys, like the Mexican Surfing Association. If you mess with one bean, you get the whole burrito. That’s not to be racist or anything either. That’s just a play on words. That’s Venice code. Don’t mess with even one of those dudes.
That’s just reality.
Wentzle Ruml would say it. It almost happened to me. Believe me. I had run ins with those guys when I was younger and it was tough.
“I think, more than anything in the world, I just love being in nature and surfing and skating. That’s been my ultimate love from the get go and still is.”
What about being this guy that helped innovate pool skating and take it to a whole different world?
Well, that’s where I get respect now, which is cool, because those guys realize that. I don’t have any enemies at this point, because of the fact of what comes around goes around. What I’ve done is established something that was significant and that people respect. Nowadays I don’t have to look over my shoulder when I go down to Venice. I get love and respect from everybody. I can walk through Brooklyn. I can walk through South Central LA. I’m not tripping. I’m comfortable. I’m like Popeye. “I am what I am and that’s all that I am.” If worse comes to worse, I go have some spinach. Back in the day, I’d be smoking it. Nowadays, I’ll just eat it.
It’s all good.
Better to eat it. I know you love your ciggies, but me, I can’t smoke anything.
That was just a bad habit that I gave up.
I was watching Viggo Mortensen the other day in the Green Book. Did you see that movie?
Yes. I loved that movie so much.
He reminded me of you. I was like, “That’s like Olson there driving the Cadi.” He had his sandwich and his cigarette and his nice pants on and he had his hair combed all nice. He was like, “Fuck this. What do you want me doing now, boss? Let’s go.” When he pulls out his gun and fires it up in the air so those guys don’t rob the guy because he flashed his wad at the soul bar, the guy was like, “I thought you said you didn’t have a gun.” Viggo was like, “Um, yeah. Okay.”
It’s so good. I love how the pianist dude jumps up there and jams.
It’s great. Viggo has a kid with Exene. He’s all grown up now, but he looks so much like Exene. Did you know that?
Yeah. How was the punk rock scene for you when you were getting into it? It was such a natural thing.
Punk rock and skateboarding were hand in hand. If you weren’t in a punk band or into punk music, or you weren’t wearing your Jak’s colors or your leather jacket, you weren’t connected. That was part of the scene. You had to have some affiliation with punk rock music and punk rock attitude to really be part of what skateboarding was about at that time. That’s why we ended up learning to play punk rock music.
Exactly. It opened the doors to all sorts of different things that maybe we would have never been shown.
It’s more sophisticated than you would think. If you look at Iggy Pop and the Damned and the Jam and the Clash and the Ramones, that shit seems like caveman shit, but if you really look into it, it’s way more sophisticated than it seems. Iggy Pop, the Dead Boys, come on, those guys were real rockers.
Yeah. Truly rock n’ roll.
I’m not saying that the Stones or the Beatles or the Who aren’t because they are too, but those guys got so big at one point that punk rock had to shatter that illusion that you had to be like those guys to be a rock star. Punk rock shattered the illusion. The Clash is still my favorite band of all time.
Do you remember when we saw The Clash with The Cramps and the Dead Kennedys at the Kezart?
Of course, I do. It was at the basketball auditorium in San Francisco. That was great.
That was insane.
I think Jello got mobbed and got his pants torn off or something crazy like that and he didn’t even care. He was just going for it.
I love that.
Yeah. Biafra is the man. I never liked him that much then, but now, when I think about Jello Biafra, I’m like, “Wow. He’s something else.” He’s not as cool as Lux Interior was, but he’s cool. I don’t think too many people were as cool as Lux Interior though.
The original Cramps were so cool.
They were cool, cool, cool.
Yeah. I saw the Dead Boys on Sunset Blvd back then and they were all pale white in black with dark sunglasses and I was like, “Wow. That’s cool.”
They were rock ’n’ roll goth New York dudes. Stiv Bators was a super small dude, but he was gnarly.
They were excellent. Where do you draw your musical influences from now?
A lot of my stuff comes from the blues and psychedelic stuff. I would say stuff from Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac and Bowie all the way to Radiohead and Mogwai and crazy shit, like really psychedelic weird stuff. I like all of that stuff.
I remember Joey Tershay was telling me, “Oh, yeah, I was with T.A. one time and we went by this drum and bass thing and he just took his shirt off and was like, ‘Yeah, this is my scene.’ And he split.”
Yeah. I love drum and bass because it’s so tribal. I used to love it, especially if I was drinking. I would mix those crazy super pills those kids take there and I would get into this trance rhythm thing with that kind of music. I used to like that kind of music. For that kind of music, I needed that extra stimulation to really get to where I could connect with the music. Nowadays, that would be more difficult for me. I would rather connect with something on a pure and simple level, rather than to add the drugs and alcohol to the experience, because the next day I was just tore up from the floor up. I love playing with my band because we do a completely clean and sober version of rock ’n’ roll but it’s not different than what we would do if we were still getting loaded, but our perception is so different. We’re really seeing and feeling and we have a clarity and perception of the music and the whole experience that we didn’t have before when we were getting loaded.
You can dig it more.
It’s more of a pure experience. It’s psychedelic still, but we don’t have to add LSD.
Right. The vibrations can take you there.
Totally. Sound is god. The guys that play the sitar and tabla drums say, “It’s Nada Brahma.” Nada means sound and brahma means god, so they’re saying sound is god. It also goes the other way. God is sound. When the first word was spoken, it was musical. That’s why when people mediate and do spiritual things that are geared towards sound, they do the Om vibration. Om is the first word and it came from a higher power. It came from something much bigger than we could ever understand. I think that’s why music is so beautiful and important, because it’s that big and amazing.
It is amazing for sure.
That’s my understanding of music. I can hear music where someone is speaking a foreign language and I don’t even have to know the language. I know what they’re saying.
I think opening up and letting it fly helps out completely.
It’s openminded. Frank Zappa said, “A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it is not open.” Zappa was the ultimate straight-edge scientific psychedelic rocker. I loved freaks like Frank Zappa. That’s a real freak.
He was beyond talented.
Totally. I’m glad we could have this discussion, Steve. This is the best discussion we’ve had in a long time, you and I.
Yes. Well, I don’t get to see you too much because we’re always on different sides of the planet.
Life is moving fast. Make sure you give your dad a big hug for me.
I will. I know he says hi. We will now move on to our next journeys.
Cool. I’ll leave this with you. It’s something I read today and it’s really cool. “Pray for wisdom because with wisdom, everything else comes. Don’t be controlled by your moods but by wisdom. With that wisdom, develop creative thinking and activity.” Those are words from a wise man. Not my words, but something that I can live by.
I live by that too.
Hopefully, you can. It’s progress. One day at a time.
Thank you. I’ll talk to you later, T.
Love you, man.
Love you too.
I’ll see you again soon.
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