INTERVIEW BY STEVE OLSON
INTRODUCTION BY STEVE OLSON
PHOTOS BY DAN LEVY AND JAMES O’MAHONEY
If you don’t know… Where Waldo is, he’s right here… Pioneers-Daredevils-Adrenaline Junkies… One in the same… But not the same exact types… If you know what I mean… And if you don’t…Waldo is what I mean… And what I mean is, Waldo is one crazy fun loving P.D.A.J. Figure it out, then you’ll know what I mean… Here’s Waldo!
“WE’D TRY SOMETHING, PUSH IT AND GET BROKEN A LITTLE. IF SOMEONE WAS DOING THIS, I WAS GOING TO DO THAT. IF SOMEONE DID THAT, I HAD TO DO THAT TOO. IT WS IN ME TO PUSH IT. IF THEY WERE GOING TO JUMP OVER A CAR, I WAS GOING TO JUMP OVER A GARAGE.”
Just so you know, I go all over.
[Laughs.] I know. I don’t wear any armor or anything.
[Laughs.] What is your name?
My name is Don Autry otherwise known as Donald Kevin Autry. I turned into ‘Waldo’ in 1972.
Where did ‘Waldo’ come from?
That was from this character named Roger Finstead. He went around the corner by my house on a Honda 50 and went down. I was calling him ‘Sausage’ for a long time and he finally got sick of that and said, ‘Well, you’re Waldo!’
I thought that would blow right over because it had nothing to do with anything, but he said it in front of my next-door neighbor’s dad who was sponsoring me in motorcycle racing a little bit. He just kept rubbing it in until all of a sudden the skateboard thing came out. I always wanted to get him back and make him say it with respect.
[Laughs.] Wait a minute. What do you mean motorcycle racing?
I was doing a little motocross. It was fun stuff.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Long Beach.
North Long Beach is right next door to Compton, but back then it wasn’t as gnarly.
It’s where the 91 Freeway is now. When I grew up, there was no highway. It was under construction. Mom would say, ‘Go play on the freeway.’ My mom would make me go out and play knowing that I was going to be inventing some kind of crazy little stunt. She would run out there and just about tell me to stop because I might hurt myself. I would see her running at me, and she’d turn around and go back in the house. She would be like, ‘Once he figures it out, I want my turn.’ We’d have some crazy little cart thing and we’d get it all figured out and have it wired. She’d take us up the hill and have us shooting off little jumps on doors with axles, lawn mower wheels and C-tops. It was just a bunch of wood that was going to break up and be sticking through your body if you did something wrong.
[Laughs.] So you were born in Long Beach?
Yeah. I was born at Seaside Memorial. Seaside Memorial is now a school.
I was born at St. Mary’s.
Oh wow. Cool. Here I am in Seal Beach and all these people are talking about being locals, but there isn’t any hospital in Seal Beach. I was born closer to Seal Beach than they were. It came full circle and then I was back at home. I was right in the middle of where everyone terrorized.
As a kid, you were into doing the things that gave you an adrenaline rush.
I was doing crazy shit. I had two raccoons. My first raccoon I brought back from Oklahoma. I would ride a six-foot unicycle down the street with a raccoon on my shoulder. My mom worked in the salon down the street. She was at the shop and one of her clients came in and said, ‘You will not believe what I just saw coming down the street.’ My mom would have to say, ‘Oh, my son is coming to see me.’ Every day it was something different. We’d try something, push it and get broken a little. I never thought about it. I just did it all the time. If someone was doing this, I was going to do that. If someone did that, I had to do that too. It was in me to push it. If they were going to jump over a car, I was going to jump over a garage. We made these little ramps in the alley and we were jumping over cars and then I jumped over a garage.
Was it a big garage?
Yeah. I was on a Stingray. Those Stingrays would break when you landed too. They would just break in half. I had a whole bunch of broken bikes lying around, so I made this one big banana chopper thing. I put two bikes together and it looked just like a banana. The back wheel was all crazy. It had the seat in front of it. I made a camel back seat and a sissy bar. It was this 8-foot long bike. You couldn’t turn around on a normal street. I built that at Will J Reid.
What is Will J Reid?
It’s a continuation high school.
[Laughs.] How did I not know that?
In the ninth grade, I was like a pyromaniac.
[Laughs.] Why does that not surprise me?
[Laughs.] I just liked to light fires. I never hurt anybody. It was just fun. You know how you would take off early from P.E. class so you could get showered quick so you’re not in there with a bunch of swinging dicks? Well, I’m in there really early one time. I saw this guy run in and then run out. I’m in the shower giggling and then everyone runs in. It was the vice principal and the coach and everyone. As they ran in, there was smoke billowing out of somebody’s locker over behind the benches. I’d set it on fire. They’d been trying to catch me lighting these fires for a long time. One day, I was walking with the vice principal through the lunch area and he was talking to me about it and I had a book of matches in my hand. I flicked it real quick and shot it behind me into the trashcan as we were walking. We were at the other end of the lunch area and, all of a sudden, this trashcan was going up. The vice principal turns to me and goes, ‘Oh, no.’ It was all real innocent. Then this one guy lit a bad fire and I was there, so I got kicked out at the end of the ninth grade. I was stoked anyway. I’d get into all these beefs because I was bored with school. I wasn’t on chapter one with everyone else. I’d already read chapter 15. In continuation school, you can study as fast as you want. As soon as you get through these chapters and take these tests, you get this amount of credit. I’d make up enough credits so that when there were waves, I could say, ‘That’s it. I’m going surfing.’ I was already well ahead of my class, I thought, but I didn’t know that getting kicked out at the end of the ninth grade would cost me the whole ninth grade credits.
You thought you had ninth.
Yeah. So I made it all up and then went back to normal school. I ended up in the same grade as my little kid sister. I was pissed. I stayed in long enough to make the surf scene curtains for my ’56 Ford Truck. It had the big utility body on the back with the windows. I was making these curtains of the surf scene with all my buddies drawn in. I didn’t leave school until I finished that in Arts and Crafts class.
[Laughs.] Did you take all the shop classes too?
I was into photography class and crafts class and all that. When I was at Will J Reid. I was working on the truck with Perry. We were partners on the truck. I’d pull it into the shop class and we’d work on it. Later on in life, I ran into these hot little girls. They were like, ‘You were my body shop class
teacher.’ I was like, ‘I was actually sneaking in there and working on the truck and helping you guys out.’
How did you get into skateboarding?
The first time I got on a skateboard was when I stole/borrowed my buddy’s brother’s Black Knight.
That was 1970 or something. Later on, my mom busts out this footage of me in the church parking lot in 1964. All these older kids were doing the skate car thing with the box on the front and then they broke it and threw it in the trash. I went and got it and jumped on it. I threw the box on the ground and started pushing around.
When were you born?
You’re an Elvis baby. You’re a rock n’ roll baby.
Yeah. I was born on April Fool’s Day, too. I have the best excuse of anybody.
[Laughs.] So you started skateboarding in ’64?
Yeah. That was first phase and then it was the Black Knight phase. With that, I was just having fun. I’d ride to the beach. We lived a long way from the beach, but when we got there, we were stoked. Some days it was flat and we were miserable. Then we’d take the skateboard to a spot right next to my house. It was a 50-foot concrete embankment with a road going down it off the LA River bed. We morphed into riding that. We were riding down there with clay wheels, and as you know, those didn’t last all day long.
I know. You needed two sets of wheels.
Yeah, they only lasted two-thirds of the day and then the bearings would explode. If you were on the side of the river, you did the Superman thing in your Vans and Katin’s.
And you’d lose a lot of skin.
Then you had to go try and catch Zody’s before it closed so you could steal some more clay wheels. The weird thing about those clay wheels was they kept on stocking them. I guess they didn’t do very good inventory control. They just kept stocking them, but no one was buying them.
[Laughs.] They kept disappearing.
Yeah, we were going through them. All week long, we were riding the riverbed and they just kept falling apart.
Everyone had a Black Knight back then.
Yeah. I didn’t have that Black Knight for very long. I was already at Will J Reid making little Gerry Lopez swallow tail Lightning Bolts just like you’d see in the movies. The boards looked exactly like the one in the movie.
I made my own skateboards in shop class. How much cooler was it to ride a skateboard that you built in comparison to buying some stock thing?
We were calling this place Kaena Point. We’re riding Kaena Point on these crazy, cool little Lighting Bolt skateboards. It was as realistic to us as surfing.
Everything was simulating surfing though.
When it was small at the beach, skateboarding was always there. Our wave never gets any smaller, it never gets blown out. It gets rained out sometimes, but it’s always there.
You have the fact of making your own skateboard and then, all of a sudden, you’re riding this thing that you made. That’s dope.
Yeah. And I forgot what kind of trucks we had. They were some kind of Sure Grips or something like that.
There was Chicago Trucks and Sure Grips.
Do you know what the first urethane wheels were?
Well, maybe. You tell me.
No, you tell me.
I want to say Metaflex.
It was Metaflex.
They had the color too.
We got them from the roller skating rink. The roller skating rink came out with them first. They had the trucks and precision bearings. We scored on those right away. Then we were riding these metallic blue Metaflex racing slicks.
I remember the Roller Derby was a better version of the Black Knight. It was more expensive, maybe ten bucks more.
Well, it was the cheaper version at first. The Black Knight was the upgrade version. Then it kept going up.
Yeah. I was like, ‘Whoa.You got a Roller Derby?’
Then again, I’ve looked through some of these guys’ collections of old skateboards and had no idea some of these other things were out there. I was a just a country bumpkin up in North Long Beach. I was a hillbilly. I was a redneck.
[Laughs.] You’re a hillbilly from North Long Beach. I was talking to Hackett about this session at the Fruit Bowl and he was like, ‘I remember seeing Waldo double carving the stairs and thought, ‘Oh, my God!’ You were like a freight train going 100 miles an hour.
I just kept going faster and faster and faster until I crashed and broke my eye open. I’d find a piece of tape, tape my eye back together and jump back in there. People would say, ‘That guy is crazy.’ Most of those carves, were on this little bit of my front wheel. The back wheels were up there floating around in ‘Never-Never-Land’.
[Laughs.] In the negative space.
Somehow I made it most of the time, until I got tired. People were handing me joints as I was carving the stairs. I’d carve until I’d smoked half of their joint and give it back to them.
[Laughs.] So you were skating the riverbanks and you got the Black Knight and then you were making your own boards. How did the progression happen?
There was a point that I was doing downhill stuff and doing handstands. Most people don’t know this.
I remember seeing handstands from the Pepsi team.
Yeah, but I’m talking about doing handstands on banks. The first time I did it was at the Golf N’ Stuff at the Firestone ramp. I pushed off, jumped up into a handstand and went up on the bank. I was carving rollercoasters and then I dropped back in and hit the road again and did a bottom turn. Doing a bottom turn on a handstand means your face is right near the road. If anything slips, you lose your face.
You didn’t lose your face because it’s right here intact.
[Laughs.] It’s not as pretty as it sounds.
[Laughs.] I was thinking you were pretty handsome for an older guy.
[Laughs.] The thing is I was doing this at the Funnel at the steep part. I would take off and push as fast as I could, jump up into a handstand, rollercoaster, bottom turn, go back up, rollercoaster again, drop down into the very bottom and do a bottom turn in a handstand in the sand.
How did you get into pools?
Well, like everyone else, we saw the cover with Weaver. We found a pool almost the next day. On the very first run I went for coping and sprained my ankle. Everyone else got to ride the pool for a few days and I was just watching. Then I got caught up with everyone and surpassed them pretty quickly.
Who were you riding with?
It was Perry, Vance and I. We were heading towards the Home Street Pool on the West Side. It was deep on the West Side, almost San Pedro. We just pounded that place. We figured that one out straightaway. We were hitting coping in that thing and blasting it.
What year was this?
That was 1973 or somewhere around there. I was just a kid having fun. That’s where I feel like I progressed. I’d never seen anyone doing a kickturn. I’m carving around this pool and the faster I went, the further I got around the bowl and the more I was flying by the steps. I was coming back down and almost doing a ‘Mr. Wilson’. Should I explain that?
[Laughs.] A ‘Mr. Wilson’ is when you run down the side of the pool and the skateboard is somewhere in between your legs and you’re doing this little step over.
[Laughs.] It’s like the Safety Dance.
You’re trying not to step on that thing so you don’t get the head bonk. Mr. Wilson is the guy in ‘Dennis the Menace’. You’ve seen the comic strip. In real life, it hurt a little more than it hurt Mr. Wilson.
[Laughs.] So you find the pools and you’re starting to carve them and you’re going for the top. How did you come up with kickturning?
I just started going faster and faster and going all the way around. The board was so much underneath my feet as I was going down, at one point, I thought, ‘If it’s right there and I’m almost stepping on it and doing a Mr. Wilson anyways, I’ll just step on it and go.’ All of a sudden, I made it. A little bit later we ended up at Mt. Baldy. Rodney Jesse, Scott Williams and Murray Estes were carving it pretty stylish. When I saw that, I figured I could do it, so I threw up this big fat carve. They were doing about 9:30 carves, so I just went ‘Waldo’ and did a 10:30 and pitched to the other side so hard. I got my bell rung.
Did you have to jump the gap?
That was always gnarly.
Yeah. It always was. Mike Weed was there too.
Mike Weed could skateboard.
Yeah. So anyway, here I am still ringing from that 10:30 carve. I was like, ‘That wasn’t very smart. I’m not going to do it like that.’ Then I saw Weed going down and doing these little freestyle kickturns on the bottom of the pipe. I was like, ‘Wait.’ I started putting that together with a kickturn in a pool. I tried that and the next run I came down and caught it right away. I was a third of the way down the pipe and I was like, ‘Oh, yeah.’ I came out of the pipe and everyone was like, ‘What the hell?’
You got the cover of The Skateboard Magazine. I remember that as a kid. It was gnarly. As a kid, you looked at that magazine, it was like, ‘Wow.’
It was trippy. It was pretty far from what anyone was doing.
How did you find Baldy?
Tom Inouye told me about it. He must have mentioned me 50 times in his Juice interview. When he got first discovered, I took him to the opening of the Concrete Wave Skatepark.
I was on the outside of the fence.
That’s right. Bucky was in there for a little bit. He got in there when Gary Caccaro was chasing Wally out.
We’re too far forward now. So how do the directions come to you for Baldy?
When Wally gave me the directions, we had to find it. We somehow came up the other side. We hiked across this field. They’d told me there was this bad farmer dude that had dogs and sure enough, it was like that. We somehow made it through. If you think it’s gnarly going across the gap from this side, the other side has no way in. I think we went up over the dam. I forgot how we got in, but we got in.
How was it coming across Baldy as a teenager?
I was listening to things like Pink Floyd Welcome to the Machine at the time. All of a sudden, you’re listening to this echo in the pipe. It’s magic. It was insane. You get back in there and the noise was so surreal.