After Lords of Dogtown came out in 2005, I was curious about a whole bunch of things. Allen Sarlo and I had been caught in the same massive traffic jam trying to get to the premiere of Lords of Dogtown at Mann’s Chinese Theater. I barely saw the movie, but I came out of there with a lot of questions. Sarlo lives in Malibu and surfs First Point as much as I do, and it wasn’t too hard to get him talking about the movie, and the documentary and the books, and the myths, legends, rumors and lies of· the Z Boys/Dogtown myths.
This is the long version of the interview, part of which appeared on www.surfermag.com in 2005. Sarlo has gotten his swimming pool very expensively fixed since then, and it’s a good place for a party –especially if you invite a harem of belly dancers to dance around it.
Ironically, Allen Sarlo is now the owner of an empty, skateable swimming pool. It is attached to his house, up in the Malibu hills, at his house overlooking the ocean. Doubly ironically, where the empty pools of Lords of Dogtown were from the drought, Sarlo’s pool was damaged and had to be emptied because of the monsoonal rains of the winter of 2004/2005, which turned his hillside to liquid mud and caved in half of his house.
Thirty years ago, Sarlo probably would have invited the whole team to his house for a pool party, blasting AC/DC and Ted Nugent until the neighbors complained. But that was then. Thirty years ago, Sarlo was a teenager at Venice High – in the same class as Nathan Pratt and Stacy Peralta – and a member of the Zephyr team, a young surfer sponsored by Skip Engblom and Jeff Ho. Where some of the Zephyr team were frustrated surf stars who turned to skating, Sarlo concentrated on the surf star bit and had a good run of it as a competitor, traveler and big-wave surfer.
Now, Sarlo is a hard-working, harder surfing father of two. He has a successful real estate business in that golden strip from Marina del Rey to Malibu, and he surfs more than humanly possible – flying to Tahiti or Indo or Hawaii or Mexico at the slightest wisp of swell. During the week of May 22, Sarlo took a limo with his daughter Sophie and Skip Engblom to see the Hollywood premiere of Lords of Dogtown and then the next night, he took his son Colton to the cast and crew showing of the movie in Westwood.
Sarlo is never short on words, and he had some stories to tell on how he saw Lords of Dogtown from someone who was there.
How is your pool?
We’re getting there. It’s coming.
Here is the million-dollar question: If a bunch of kids snuck up the road and tried to skate your pool, what would you do?
I’d chase them out. Vals go home!
Hey I don’t want to get sued. I got enough problems back there.
So you’ve seen the movie twice now. That’s your life up there, sort of. What did you think?
I thought it was really really good. I thought it was insane. I think my daughter Sophie summed it up best. What did you think of the movie, Sophie?
Sophie Sarlo: I thought the skateboarding stunts were incredible! I thought it was a lot better than Blue Crush! Hopefully all the people who got into surfing because of Blue Crush will get into skateboarding and this summer won’t be so crowded.
Allen Sarlo: That’s my girl.
Nathan Pratt was at the cast and crew show. He came out teary-eyed, but at some point I heard him say he thought the skateboarding was a little weak.
You’ve got to remember that the skateboarders that were skating were actors and you can’t compare them to Tony Alva and Jay Adams and Stacy. Those guys were magic.
Those were the actors going over the light in some of the pool scenes.
Yeah, they learned how to do it so that was pretty good, but they’re not Jay and Tony and Stacy.
You knew these guys very very well, so was that actor like Stacy and where those actors like Jay and Tony?
Yeah, I thought the actor did a really good job with Jay.
Because in the movie Jay kind of goes through a Darth Vader transformation from Anakin Skywalker to the dark side. Is that pretty accurate?
Yeah Jay got heavy into punk rock and going to Hollywood and partying but he was a hardcore surfer. We used to get up every morning and go over to his house and Philaine would take us to the beach or we would ride our bikes to the beach or we would walk to the beach.
Philaine is Jay’s mom…
Yeah, Philaine would drive us to Topanga…
So was Jay’s mom as whacked out as Rebecca de Mornay portrayed her to be?
Jay’s mom was the sweetest lady in the world. She wasn’t high like that all the time. She took us to the beach and fed us and laughed and she was like part of the boys.
Were they really that poor?
Yeah they rented the house for like 250 bucks and Jay’s stepdad Kent, he glassed for Dave Sweet and he had a big background in surfboard making and that’s how he came up with the fiberglass Zephyr skateboards you know – out of the mold.
Did Tony Alva really have a hot sister?
Yeah. She was definitely hot.
What about the actor who portrayed Tony Alva?
Tony… that is how Tony was. It was all about him all the time and he had a huge ego. It was fun being around him because you were on the Tony show.· Stacy was quiet and responsible and a nice guy.
What about Stacy’s family?
Stacy’s dad was a hard-working guy and his mom was a housewife. They lived in Venice – Mar Vista.
They owned the house?
Stacy’s mom still lives in the house and I believe Stacy’s dad passed away.
Did Stacy ever get in fights?
No he avoided that whole…
Was Stacy that good of a skateboarder?
In the beginning you know Stacy wasn’t that good but Nathan and I told Stacy he should be doing 360s. He was always practicing his 360s at lunchtime and after school he’d go, “Allen! Nathan! Come here! Let me how you how many 60s I can do!” Like he did like five 360s with his hair spinning around. And then we go, “Hey man we gotta get you in front of Skipper to do that,” and that is how he got on the skateboard team.
Did you all go to the same high school?
To Venice High School.
Same year in high school?
Stacy and Jay and Tony.
No, Stacy, me and Nathan were the same age. Tony was a year younger and I think Jay was like three or four years younger.
Alva’s dad wasn’t around much and they lived in sort of Santa Monica like on 26th Street and we all hung out at Jay’s house or we hung out at the shop. Jay lived in Ocean Park and it was all about surfing and skating and… having fun.
The Sid character was for real?
Sid was somebody that wanted to hang out with the Zephyr team and he had cancer so his dad let him drain the pool so the Zephyr team could come skate. In the movie Sid is the shop guy but back in the day I think the shop guy was Nathan. I think Sid was two characters, Nathan and the shop guy.
Was Sid that good friends with everyone?
I think he was friends with the pool skaters.
Sid is the rich kid in the movie, with a nice house and maids and a big pool. Where were they from?
They were north of Montana, in Santa Monica.
Do you see those guys often?
I see Jay all the time on the North Shore. I surf with him all the time. He just got married to a 24-year-old, beautiful girl who is a hot skateboarder.
So he’s still there and he still surfs?
He surfs so good. Still super-stoked.
So he is that good of a surfer?
He is a really good surfer. Always has been. Back then we would walk or ride our bikes to Santa Monica or Venice Jetty. Jay was always the inspirational surfer… we used to laugh because when he surfed he looked like BK and Larry Bertlemann, you know. He had the BK takeoff and bottom turn and then he would go right into the Larry Bertlemann cutback. And then he went to Hawaii with his mom, after the whole Dogtown thing and became really good on the North Shore.
Did Jay make that much money?
No, because you see his step-father Kent made the Zephyr skateboards. He made the molds and he was popping them out. So when Tony went to Sims first and Stacy went to G& S, Jay felt a lot of pressure to stay with Kent. Jay could have made a lot more money if he had left Zephyr, but his step-father was really cool. He helped Jay out when he was growing up, so he felt loyal and didn’t want to leave the whole stepfather, Zephyr thing.
Why did people leave Zephyr?
There weren’t that many skateboarders in LA. It was more of a San Diego, San Clemente thing and those were the… I mean, LA? Who was skateboarding in LA? Not that many people. There were way more surfers in Huntington and San Clemente and San Diego and that is where all the big skateboard companies were.
It was really weird. That summer… the summer of ’75 when all this went down I was really focused on surfing the WSA contests and winning the Malibu AAAA contest. I used to skateboard Bicknell but when those guys got into the pools they would come back hurt, with broken ankles and broken wrists… I was into surfing.
You didn’t want to get hurt.
I didn’t want to get hurt. It’s hard to surf after you have a big raspberry, you know? Your heat is starting and you’re trying to put on your Body Glove jacket with a broken wrist.
Those 70s wetsuits were hard enough to get on.
Did you win the Malibu AAAA?
I did. Youngest ever.
And that was pretty hotly contested, no?
Oh my god yeah. It was Mike Purpus, Kevin Reed, Mark Levy, Chris O’Rourke.
Tom Stone was the only Hawaiian who came over for it, but who was the guy on the G&S team? Tony Staples. They all showed up at Malibu and the waves were perfect, like four or five feet.
First or Third Point?
Third Point and it was really good. Nathan Pratt got a wave that was so long from Third to First, they stopped judging him while he was still going. I guess if they could have judged the wave they would have scored him higher. As it was Nathan and I were like… and Jay Adams and Tony was a really good surfer who dominated…
Was Stacy a good surfer?
Stacy was a really good surfer, he was a goofyfoot, he was really smooth. Like we had the surf contest against the ET Surf Team. Stacy was up against Derek Levy· and did some backside radical upside down off the lip on like a 7’ 4” Zephyr single fin and we were like “Oh my God!”
Is that movie pretty much one summer?
It was one summer. Everything happened in one summer. I mean the skateboard team was an idea of Jeff Ho’s and Skipper, because they were going to have the contest at Del Mar and so that is why we started the skateboard team. So they had the contest at Del Mar and everything just blew up because by the next summer the shop was gone.
Why did the shop only last a year?
They were really good at making surfboards and skateboards but they weren’t that good at business. And back then surfing wasn’t… there weren’t that many surfers so you couldn’t sell that many surfboards and there wasn’t that many skaters. We had the product and it was ahead of its time but there wasn’t a big market. Jeff was definitely ahead with the surfboards and Kent and Skipper and CR were ahead of the time with skateboards. We had a product that was light-years ahead… but it wasn’t really catching on. They could have paced themselves a little bit more but everyone wanted to do things right away.
That was the summer the urethane wheels came in?
Kids these days don’t realize what a big deal that was. Cadillac wheels. Gregg Weaver.
I know before that you were getting stubbed on every pebble. Your skateboard was doing big Brodie’s on every pebble, with clay wheels.
They were horrible. You know Herbie Fletcher has a photo of himself skating a pool on clay wheels.
I skated pools a little bit but I was so heavy into surfing and all the surf contests were in the summer and we had a summer drought. Everyone was skating pools but Malibu was going off and so I ended up surfing Malibu more than I skated, you know. It was like, are you going to surf Malibu or are you going to skate pools?
Couldn’t do both.
Were you working in the summer?
No but I also was playing football.
You didn’t want to get hurt so you played football?
Hey, I saw a lot more people get hurt skateboarding than playing football. This was before wrist guards and kneepads and all that. People were just learning how to fall.
What else grabbed you from the movie where you thought, “They got that right.”
Like skating down the streets in Dogtown – that brought back a lot of memories. The Zephyr parties, the parties we had. The greatest thing about those parties is that back in the 70s there was basically no cops. There was a handful of police officers on the force.
Your dad was one of them?
No my dad worked for the Culver City police force and we lived in Venice but the cops didn’t show up to the parties. They would show up at like 1:00 in the morning. They wouldn’t show up at 10:00 so the parties didn’t get busted like they do now.
In the movie the guy Topher Burke, he’s walking out of the party where Skip Engblom is up on the roof destroying surfboards and he says, “Zephyr has the best parties!” Was that a real guy, Topher Burke?
I didn’t really remember him. I think he’s the guy who owns Sims skateboards or something.
So it’s a play on that. Like Sims Skateboards or something.
Sophie Sarlo: I thought that was Kid Rock at first, but it was that Johnny Knoxville guy. And I thought Heath Ledger was Val Kilmer, at first. I thought Heath Ledger really nailed Skipper.
Yeah, he did a really really good job with Skip. He must have watched movies of him or something. Well he hung out with Skip before he made it, yeah But Skip now is not Skip then.
Well they had those pictures and stuff, because the way he talked and… Skipper ate more burritos back then. He liked Mexican food. He didn’t like hamburgers as much, like in the movie he is eating a hamburger in every scene. Back then it was more Mexican food.
Was Jeff Ho a part of Zephyr, or a different deal?
Jeff Ho and Skipper were Zephyr Surf Shop. It was Jeff Ho surfboards and Zephyr Surf Shop. It was really… there were two surfboards, there were Jeff Ho surfboards and Zephyr surfboards. Zephyr was like a B surfboard and a Jeff Ho as like an A surfboard but it was the same thing. It was two models, basically. It was Jeff Ho and Zephyr. Jeff Ho/Zephyr, Zephyr/Jeff Ho.
Did someone really punch Tony Alva in the eye at a contest?
I don’t think that was accurate. If anyone had punched Tony Alva the whole Zephyr team would have jumped on and gang-banged the guy, so no one punched… if anybody touched anybody on the Zephyr team the whole Zephyr team would have ganged up and beat them up.
Did that happen?
Well what would happen is those guys would get in a lot of trouble and then call me in and go “Sarlo! Come and straighten this situation out.” I was like the backup guy. I was on the football team and I was bigger than these guys so they’d call me and you know… If I was around everything went pretty smooth.
How often did they call you?
We got in more mischief than we got in fights. We’d throw rocks at the bus and pull people’s wigs off. Old lady’s wigs, we used to pull them off. And like Muir broke a window outside the Zephyr shop and almost got kicked off the Zephyr team.
That was in the movie, breaking a window.
So, we were just mischiefy.
Who was the enemy? Vato guys? Valley guys?
Oh definitely Vals and the north of Wilshire guys. I think they thought we were the enemy – the north of Wilshire guys. We used to go up and invade on Malibu and start taking over. Terry Lucoff was the owner of Natural Progression shop. Lucoff and Jay Riddle would go, “Oh my God! It’s the Zephyr team! And the Mad Chinaman!”
Jeff Ho was the mad Chinaman?
Of the people who aren’t really included in the movie – there is no Nathan Pratt, no Jeff Ho and no Allen Sarlo.
They just gave Peggy a little spot, right? Wentzle, Biniak got a little spot. Paul Constantineau, um…
But you aren’t even represented there, at all.
Nope. Lords of Dogtown is a movie about skateboarding. If they do another movie about surfing, and how radical the surf team was, I’ll be in that one.
Were you a skater at all?
I skated in the Del Mar contest and I got like sixth place or fourth place in the slalom. I beat Ty Page in the slalom. I actually ran over the cone. I was so determined to beat him and a he was a little bit ahead of me so like the last cone I had to run over like skiing.
It didn’t stop me and made it and everyone was laughing, “Sarlo ran the cone over.” But you know the great thing about the Del Mar contest is we all went down in my van, and the surf was six foot and perfect at Seaside Reef and… Cardiff by the Sea. It was six foot and perfect so we surfed that morning – the whole Zephyr Team – and then we showed up at the contest at like 9:30.
Think that made a difference?
Aw we were all so high – aw man the surf was so good – and then we ended up like surfing on the piece of plywood they had there.
Did Skip really punch someone out at the Del Mar Contest?
Aw, no, there was like a heated conversation because Jay wasn’t getting scored like he should have been getting scored and Tony… They never saw what we were doing before you know so it was obviously not getting scored.
Where did that kind of skateboarding coming from?
Well it came from surfing and… the summer before that, Larry Bertlemann was in the magazines and he and Ben Aipa came over to the Zephyr shop and a lot of the boards had a serious Ben Aipa influence: Stingers and swallowtails. We were like idolizing Larry Bertlemann, Terry Fitzgerald and Gerry Lopez. So the surf skate thing came from that along with the drought and the pools being available and skating down Bicknell Hill.
Would Tony Alva really shoot it like he did in the movie – time the light so it turned green just in time so he didn’t get squished.
Yeah there’s a lot of hills at Ocean Park area the Marina Hill and the Navy Hill. We skated all those hills and missed cars.
Anyone ever get killed?
Nope. Close though. Like here’s a great story. I had this old Chevy surfer van that we took to the Del Mar contest. You know the off ramps how they go around and they have ramps on it? We did an off the lip on the ramp with everybody in the car because everyone is in the car screaming “Do an off the lip! Do an off the lip!” So I did an off the lip in my van on the ramp and we kept driving and we got to the Del Mar contest and the wheel fell off. I had my dad’s credit card so I had it towed to the gas station.
You must have hit a pebble.
The wheel came off my van. They left that part out.
Story By Ben Marcus from The Good, The Rad, and The Gnarly
Photos by Lucia Griggi
From the book The Good The Rad and The Gnarly by Ben Marcus, Photos by Lucia Griggi. Tony Hawk’s first skateboard was a blue Bahne, a gift from his brother Steve: “It’s true that Tony’s first board was a blue Bahne,” big brother Steve said in an email.
“It was a hand-me-down. I gave it to him when I visited home from college one weekend. That was probably 1977. He would’ve been eight or nine. I was 21 or 22. He and my folks lived in San Diego, I was just finishing up school at UCSB. Don’t remember where I got it in the first place. I either bought it myself or got it as a present from my parents.Tony Hawks first Skateboard And He still has it.
Tony still has that board. The wheels are fused with rust. I’ve heard it might end up in the Smithsonian.” Tony Hawk was not alone.
Tony Hawk hasn’t kept all his thousands of boards, but he kept his first one, a blue Bahne that was a gift from his brother Steve. Bahne helped launch Tony Hawk, but Bahne were also one of the first skateboard companies to go big in the Urethane Era – learning lessons and establishing margins and doing good things and bad things that helped the skateboard market evolve.
Story by Ben Marcus
Photos by Lucia Griggi
From The Good, The Rad, and the Gnarly by Ben Marcus. Of all the skateboard truck companies that bubbled up in the 1970s, the three that are still going are Tracker, Independent and Gull Wing. Those companies, their founders and the products get their own sections of this book.
Below is an alphabetical list of some of the many truck companies that flamed up in the 1970s, and then flamed out. There were a lot, but we didn’t get them all. Aficionados will notice there are no Blazer, Megatron, Pittsburgh, Randal, Santana, Track Force, XL-700 trucks or Z-Roller, and there are probably a dozen other companies left out – some of them legit for a time, some of them Mickey Mouse: but we only photographed the trucks on the 70s-era boards photographed by Lucia Griggi.
ACS In Skateboard Industry News for Dec/Jan 1977, an ad for ACS explained that American Cycle Systems were “the country’s largest producer of aluminum hubs for bicycles” and they had used their experience in precision-machined casting to deliver 356 aluminum-magnesium alloy heat treated to the T-6 condition. “Against all competition, ACS has became of the world’s largest manufacturer of premium skate-board trucks.” A bold statement, that may or may not have been true, but ACS was (and still is?) a player in a market that would become dominated – in the long run – by Tracker and Independent.
APEX Just as in the 1960s, some of the companies jumping into the skateboard market in the 1970s took the hot car route, instead of the surf route. Apex Sports Products from La Mirada, California, made a line of Super Sport mag wheels for skateboards: “The 100% pure urethane tire gives a smoother, faster, quieter ride and more grip.”
Apex apparently thought their wheels were too hot for all other trucks, so they made their own out of A356-T6 aluminum sand castings.
BAHNE Bahne skateboards used basic trucks at first to connect their pultruded decks with Cadillac Wheels. But as the market heated up, Bahne manufactured their own custom-designed trucks at a foundry in Los Angeles.
CAL GX Another mystery marque, that doesn’t show up in Skateboarder or Skateboard Industry News or anywhere else for that matter.
D-BEAM Some time in the 1970s, a truck innovator took the “Plastics, Benjamin” thing too far and made skateboard trucks out of nylon. The D-Beam, by all accounts, was not such a great idea. One contemporary skateboard truck exec harrumphed: “Those trucks were ridiculous. Dogtown D-Beam. At that point I lost all of the respect. Strike that. I never actually respected the Dogtown guys, so…. the trucks didn’t work and I felt that if you are going to put your name on something that didn’t work, at least have the guts to call them experimental or funky or something other than a decent replacement for a conventional truck.· Besides that, they broke. I always wondered who in the world was responsible for the design and manufacturing of the D-Beam.”
However, Nathan Pratt wasn’t sure about the Dogtown connection: “I haven’t ever seen these before. If they have a ‘Dogtown’ brand on them you would need to contact Jim Muir to find out their history. I seem to remember a ‘Dogtown roller’ brand that was some sort of rip off. It had nothing to do with us.”
Larry Balma, co-founder of Tracker and 70s skateboard truck aficionado said: “They look like the second version of the Mattel truck.· The first one had no post under the beam and when you stood on it they compressed right down to the underside of the deck and the wheels could not even roll.· Can you imagine someone designing and producing a skateboard truck that they never even stood on, not even rode?· They installed the post to hold the axle away from the board after they got our phone calls and the truck would then turn…It was a cheap toy.”
DYNO FIBER-FLEXI Like Bahne and Makaha and other 1970s skateboard deck manufacturers, Dyno Skateboards of Santa Ana, California found it more economical to manufacture their own “Dyno Flier” trucks. Dyne made a line of Flexi boards from 24 to27” and the complete boards came with Roller Sports Stoker wheels.
GREN TEC According to their ad in Skateboard Industry News from February/March 1978, GT was short for Grentec, and GT stood for Good Times!!!! GT may or may not have stood for Great Trucks as well, but GT boards were another brand of not-entirely-on-the-cool-bus that did well during the Urethane Revolution.
HOBIE SUNDANCER What the @#%@%%? Hobie Skateboards were no longer affiliated with the Hiltons or Vita-Pakt· in the 1970s but Hobie had a thriving team and business that lead to experiments like the Sundancer. Possibly good for applying paint on smooth road surface, but the double-wheel innovation didn’t catch on for some reason.
LAZER How hot? Lazer hot! Another player making a serious play in the world of 70s skateboard trucks, Lazers could be found under the decks of beginners and pros.
MAKAHA Out of the 1960s and into the 1970s, Makaha Skateboards were still haggling with some elements of the skateboard industry over the patent rights to the kicktail. As this ad claims, in 1973 Makaha patented the first adjustable truck base. Makaha sold a lot of skateboards in the 1970s, and they found it better to manufacture their own trucks then rely on other companies.
NAGEMA The Germans love an engineering and machining challenge, and in the 1970s, the Nagema company came up with their ideas of how a skateboard should be built.
Note that rubber stopper is on the nose of the board, not the tail. Or maybe that is the tail.
Since it was hard to make heads or tails of this board, it was necessary to contact Konstantin Butz, a German chap who had spent time in California in the spring of 2010, doing research on Skater Punk for his PhD. Dissertation.
We got a good response: You found my favorite board there. It really is odd! Funny, I just saw one of these in a VANS store in Berlin this weekend. I saw it for the first time at SKATELAB in Simi Valley…
The board is from the German GDR – the German Democratic Republic, aka East Germany. NAGEMA is an acronym that stands for: Nahrungsmittel, Genussmittel, Maschinenbau. That means: Food, Luxury Food, Mechanical Engineering. Now, line by line:
VEB Schokoladen-Verarbeitungsmachinen Werningerode:
VEB is short for “Volkseigener Betrieb” meaning something like “People’s Enterprise” because, apparently, companies were “owned” by the people in the GDR.
“Schokoladen-Verarbeitungsmachine” means “chocolate manufacturing machines” and Werningerode is the town. So I guess there was a factory that built machines for chocolate production while throwing in a couple of skateboards in between. Hilarious! Socialism rules!
Let’s go on:
“BEACHTE” means “beware!” or “attention!”
“Befahren öffentlicher Verkehrsflächen verboten” = “Do not use in public traffic.”
“Üben nur auf ebenem Gelände” = “Only practice on flat ground.”
“Unebenheiten und Rollsplitt meiden” = “Avoid surface irregularities and loose gravel.”
“Kopf. Hände. Ellenbogen und Knie schützen” = “Protect head, hands, elbows and knees.”
“Festen sitz von Rädern und Muttern prüfen” = “Check wheels and screws.” “Abspringen nur nach vorne” = “Only jump off to the front.” (I love that one!) “Fallen und Abrollen üben” = “Practice falling and rolling.” “Kugellager reinigen/kontrollieren” – “Check/clean bearings”
That’s it. They give you all these ridiculous instructions, making this poor thing the “uncoolest” skateboard ever and then they put this “brake” to the front, which will just kill you…
Great! I really love this board. Wish I would own one. I really think it’s a perfect example for how it must have been like to be a teenager in the GDR. Rules, rules, rules…
NASH A stalwart board-maker in the 1960s, Nash was still very much in the game when skateboarding fired back up in the 1970s. They experimented with plastics and other materials, and also fired their own trucks, down there in Texas.
PRO CLASS Pro Class was a company out of Orange, California who rode their equipment hard. In May of 1978, the Pro Class team went to Lion Country Safari in Irvine and rode “a standard Pro Class production line board for 24 hours non-stop, with absolutely no mechanical problems, top that.” We can only assume that board was equipped with Pro Class trucks, similar to this board from the collection of Terry Campion.
ROLLBREIT More fine German engineering from the Rollbreit people. It took six screws to hold these babies in place, as opposed to four for most skateboard trucks beyond the Continent.
X-CALIBER Wasn’t sure about these trucks, at first. There was a skateboard company in the 1970s called Valtee who proudly considered themselves the “Brand X” of skateboarding, and thought this might be them. But few people on earth know 70s skateboard trucks better than Larry Balma who confirmed: “The first X-Calibers in 1974 were a Sure Grip roller skate truck knock off with an X on the top of the hanger.· Much later they made skateboard trucks with their name on top of the hanger.”
In the parking lot at Malibu during a south swell in August of 2010, Steve Olson said he wasn’t the Missing Link. I had told him I wanted to interview him for the end of Chapter Five of the skateboard book, because he was a major player toward the end of the 1970s, and I was hoping he would be the skater I was looking for – the first major figure who didn’t start out as a surfer. The guy who was the figurehead for what skateboarding would become in the 1980s – as Skateboarder Magazine folded and Thrasher started up, and skateboarding moved away from the sunny surf to the shady turf.
Olson said he wasn’t that guy, but Salba was. I knew we had a good portrait of Salba taken at the Vans skate park and I was going to contact him and then I remembered that curious German chap named Konstantin Butz who had emailed the California Surf Museum in Oceanside saying: “I am a Ph.D. student from Cologne, Germany and the working title of my dissertation is “The Californian Body in Rebellion: An Intersectional Analysis of Skateboarding and Hardcorepunk.” Basically, I deal with the phenomenon of skatepunk and its site-specific “origins” in suburban Southern California and the local punk and surf culture. In that, I focus on the body and body theories.”
Huh? And I thought I was weird.
But Julie Cox at the CSM sent Konstantin to me and I loaned him my pass to get into the Action Sports Retailer show in San Diego and pointed him in some directions I was only learning myself. Mo at Thrasher. Steve Olson.
And he returned the favor by letting me use his interview he recorded with Steve Alba and Lance Mountain at the Fontana Skate Park, on March 24th, 2010.
Mountain and Salba were two guys who came, from out of the east, in the late 1970s, with no surf connection at all. They were skatepark kids, who also were involved in the early days of punk.
These guys were the missing links, taking cutting edge skateboarding away from Led Zeppelin and Foghat and the bushy bushy blonde hairdos of the 1970s and into the jagged, bleached, safety-pinned 80s – with a whole new soundtrack: Blondie, Devo, Cramps, Dead Kennedys.
Steve Alba goes so far as to claim it was skateboarders who invented slam dancing. But these guys were my missing links. These weren’t surfers. These guys were inlanders. Skaters. Skate punks. And they lead skateboarding out of the 1970s and into the 1980s.
Konstantin: So why don’t we just start and talk about how you got into skateboarding and then also into punk rock: which was first?
Well, I got into skateboarding first.
Which was when?
It was 1974, right around there.
How did you get into that? Did you grow up around here?
We’re in Fontana right now but I didn’t grow up in this area. I grew up west of here. Back in the day the Hell’s Angels ruled this place. You didn’t come out here unless you were a Hells Angel in those days. Well, Fontana, the city. Not the skate park. Fontana was gnarly dude. They used to advertise for the KKK on the 10 freeway in the 70s and I’m dead serious. I used to trip on that. They had a total KKK chapter out here.
So you grew up west of here?
Yeah, we grew up in Montclair, which was called the San Gabriel Valley and had a 714 area code. Now we’re the Inland Empire: Montclair, Upland, Ontario, Pomona, Claremont. I got into skateboarding because it looked cool and fun to do. My best friend’s brother skateboarded. He was the first guy that I saw… Gary Lazone was his name. Back in those days most guys were skating in a straight line. But Gary Lazone could do nose wheelies and tail wheelies and he could do a three-sixty and jump over a broom stick. Then he set up these slalom cones made out of Coke cans or whatever. This guy could actually skateboard, so we used to follow him around and asked him to use his board all the time and after a while he just got sick of us trying to use his stuff. We eventually got our own skateboards and learned to do all that stuff.
The street they lived on had a slight downhill angle, the sidewalk inclined and turned to the right or the left and there was a brick wall where the planters were. That was our way of learning how to go right or go left. We didn’t even call it frontside or backside. One thing led to another and we kept following this guy around and that lead to this alleyway called “Stoner Alley.” We were in sixth grade and we knew down that alley the Mexicans were at one end and the stoner kids were at the other end. They were always kicking people out and getting in fights so we were tripping out: “What’s going on down that alley?”
So Gary Lazone came through with this little buddies following. They jumped over this fence and we were: “What are they doing?”
So, we walked up to the fence but we didn’t jump over cause we couldn’t see them but we could hear them. We could hear that swoosh of pool skating. It’s a weird sound that is hard to describe but once you actually hear the swoosh of pool skating you don’t ever forget that sound.
We went back home but later that day we went back and jumped over the fence and checked it out and saw the little pool there. So, we start riding it, too: start halfway up and try to carve around deep end. That’s all we did.
Why was the pool empty?
This is the mid 70s and California had a gnarly drought going on. If your pool was empty you could not fill it up, because there was a law against it and if you used water, the water meter at your house would show you went through five, six thousand or whatever gallons it takes to fill the pool up. You’d get fined or even go to jail because that’s how serious the drought was.
We skated for a whole year before we got into pools – this was the spring and summer of ’75. After that our focus shifted away from learning nose wheelies and tail wheelies and three-sixties and jumping over broomsticks and going around Coke cans and going down hills and just all the basic stuff.
At that early point, did music play any role in skateboarding?
Well, back in those days, Gary Lazone was God. Not only did he skateboard, but he surfed, he boogie boarded, he played guitar. He knew how to play Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin and Foghat… Ted Nugent. Everything we were reading about in Cream Magazine, a rock magazine that had all these crazy bands on the cover. We started liking bands that looked really freaky and weird: Alice Cooper and David Bowie, and Iggy Pop was another weird dude.
We had no clue who they were but they were in Cream Magazine, which also covered glam rock and punk rock a little bit later. So we looked into the magazines and tripped on that and really got into Kiss and then the New York Dolls: “Who are those dudes?”
I think we were attracted to some whackness from the get-go. When we started skating the music at the contests was hard rock: Van Halen and Santana. But as skate style and music changed the New York Dolls started coming in and then New York City started coming in: the Ramones and Blondie and the Talking Heads and the Cramps all came out of New York. The music started getting crazier I still credit Steve Olson as the first guy to get into punk rock as a skater. He’s the guy that got people hooked.
How did he do that?
He just played this music. I’m pretty sure he saw Cream Magazine, too, but after a while we went out of our way to look for music. If there’s punk rock in New York, why can’t there be punk rock in California or England? At that time punk rock was the Sex Pistols and the Clash and it was all going on at the same time but we were still really little. In ’78 I was 15 so I was just starting to get into it. We hadn’t cut our hair yet. We started getting thrift shop clothes and you’d see Olson with a pair of crazy ass old man shoes that he spray-painted white and maybe put a pink stripe on them or whatever:
“Dude, what’d you do? Where’d you?”
“I just went to this shop, man…”
That was his thing but to this day I go to thrift shops, because you get the raddest clothes. So probably around ‘78, it started changing, and it was definitely Olson who was the first guy getting into it. Then it was me and after me it was probably Tony Alva. And after Alva it’s probably Duane Peters.
I wouldn’t say I’m a punk rocker now because I’m an old fart and don’t really dress the part but Duane’s definitely a true punk because he lives that style. , just out of control f#%@#% chaos – tornado all the time.
I just want a more stable life. I never wanted to stick needles into my arm either. I never got into that because I never saw the point. Why waste your time? But it’s trippy how punk rock and skating collided and bounced off each other for a while.
How did that happen? Why did that happen? How do they fit together?
As I see it, they’re both aggressive and full of do-it-yourself: You can’t buy it, make it. Cause we all did that in the old days: We made your own clothes. We got thrift store clothes and spray-painted them or put paint on them or put zippers on them. We copied England for a while. You like something and you copy it and don’t even really mean to; it’s a subconscious thing. It’s something in the styles you’re digging and that’s just human nature and that’s the seam of life. That’s how it works, man.
Lance Mountain was sitting next to us listening to the conversation. At this point he joins in. In the following Alba’s parts are marked as SA, Mountain’s parts are marked as LM.
LM: Skateboarding had reached this professional level in ’77, ’78, ’79, with guys like this guy here [Salba]. The guys before these guys really dug Led Zeppelin and that music but the next generation found their own music that fit what they wanted it to represent. I think a lot of skaters knew that they were into something that was really special but the world didn’t see it or care about it. And I think it just went hand in hand with punk: “Ok, I’m gonna make people see this. I’m gonna annoy them. I’m gonna show them and be seen.”
SA: I used to be annoying on purpose just to piss people off.
LM: They wanted to get under people’s skins, ‘cause they were really good at something only a hundred people in the world were doing. It was special and interesting but no one cared. They didn’t have big sports saying, “Hey, this is important,” so they went out and said… I know this cause where I went to school there were only one or two skaters and punks at school, and their whole play was different. They just let people know they were there. They didn’t want people to like them really. They just wanted to let them know that they’re there. That music and the skateboarding happened at the same time.
So, what environment was that to make them feel that?
SA: It was just anti whatever they had.
How did you grow up?
SA: Where I grew up we all played Little League and Pop Warner cause that was something to do in those days. Most of us did that. Montclair was a small town and we had only one high school, two junior highs and four elementary schools. So the people who I grew up with, from eight years old all the way until high school, they were all my friends and buddies, and when first I started skateboarding, they were, “Oh, whatever, this guy is…”
They didn’t give me too much trouble for it because it was that fad thing. You’re cool because you’re skateboarding. But when I started getting into punk rock, they just wanted to disassociate because it was different and it was weird and didn’t go with the flow and status quo.
At first I couldn’t understand why friends who I hung out with and who I played sports with wouldn’t trust me anymore and made fun of me. I tripped on it. It didn’t really hurt my feelings or whatever. I just figured it was me against you, us against them. They were jocks, we were punks. If they had long hair, we’d cut our hair short. If they wore flare pants we wore tight pants. If they wore whacky shoes we wore Converse or the weirdest, loudest shoes we could find. Everything we did was anti everything they did. We were different.
LM: Most of the early skateboarders were the goofy guys. They were more creative and interesting and then a few years later it became more a rebellious and violent thing. But at first skateboarding was for creative and artsy dudes. Olson wasn’t an aggressive angry, anti, violent dude. He was a creative, interesting dude.
The early punk bands were creative and interesting and then two or three years later they were the more aggressive football skinhead punks. In the beginning the skateboarders were more creative and quirky and that music… I remember, when I was young it was all Led Zeppelin but I used to hear a radio show called “Dr. Demento” and it was all this comedy music, – silly, funny music.
Dr. Demento played Devo and I thought: “This is an interesting band.” At the skate contests they’d play rock, rock, rock. Then I went to this contest and all of a sudden they were playing Blondie. Steve had a Devo shirt and I was: “That’s that band!” And pretty soon the skaters seemed to say: “Oh, that’s our music.”
SA: He’s right about… we were the younger guys. Skateboarding already had its established stars at that point. The Dogtown guys were the first guys, but once they kicked the door down a whole bunch of new guys came in. It was me, Steve Olson…
LM: It was a skate park thing.
SA: Yeah, it was all the skate parks.
LM: The early skateboarders were trying to make it an accepted sport, then these guys came along. The Dogtown guys did a lot of vert skating but supposedly you can’t judge it. I mean they never really had a vert contest for those dudes ever. And when they did, Steve won the first one. So okay, this is a new wave. This is a new way of doing things. That’s the same time I believe punk was getting…
SA: Definitely! It all happened simultaneously. The skaters before us had long hair and were surfer guys. They were cool – some of them were actually really cool. But at the same time they were really afraid of us because we were taking away what they had. That’s when pool riding came in; pool riding turned into park riding. And then later park riding turned into ramp riding. And then later ramp riding turned into mini-ramp riding and then street started to happen.
Did you use the term “skatepunk”?
LM: No, that’s more …
SA: We didn’t use it. Originally, I think, it was just made up by Mo and the guys at Thrasher. Really more of a joke.
LM: That’s that second stage of punk. The original guys were into the dorky, arty music. That was a lot different than this second wave of aggressive skate rock.
SA: I’d say it began in 1978, so in ’79 and ’80 the first wave of guys was me, Alva, Duane. Then the second wave of guys when hardcore came in, it was different. Not to say that it wasn’t any better or any radder, cause it was alright. But I think the original punk rock was better. So, there was a first wave and there was a second wave.
So, could you compare that to what was going on in the L.A. punk scene? Because there you had X and the Germs and then you had Black Flag.
SA: Well I grew up with all those bands. The funny thing is, dude, we were kids coming in to watch all those bands. We were 15 when we first started going to the Masque [a pioneering punk club in Hollywood, which ran shows intermittently from 1977 to 1979]. I went to the original Masque, and there’s not a lot of people who can claim that. At first it was a very small group of people, and it was almost: “We’re hipper than all the other people.” I’ve seen every band L.A. had to offer probably at least eight to ten times. That was what we did, man. We just followed all the bands.
Were there bands who had a real connection to skateboarding?
I wouldn’t say that we were connected to skateboarding with those guys at all. They were aware of what we were doing because at the same time the skateboarders were the same guys that made up slam dancing. That was our version of Pogo – which was English. Slam dancing was our version of the pogo in California and it was me, Tony Alva, Steve Olson, Fausto Vitello.
When was that?
SA: This was in San Francisco in ’78 when we saw the Clash, Dead Kennedys and the Cramps.
LM: Instead of Pogoing vertically…
SA: …we just crashed into each other, man.
How did you come up with that?
SA: We wanted to get up on stage. ‘cause the Clash was gonna play and we wanted to touch the same stage that the Clash was on. The Clash was God, as far as punk rock bands go. The Sex Pistols faded, and let’s face it, the Pistols were rad on record but they sucked when Glen Matlock wasn’t with them.
I started playing guitar when I was 18, right around the same period. I was learning how to play and getting better and better as time went on. I paid attention to music and paid attention to guitar players and that’s why I was always trying to get up in front of the stage and would do it at any cost. In those days they didn’t have barricades. You got crushed. When we saw the Clash at that show, I’m telling you man, all of us, all we wanted to do was touch the damn stage that the Clash was on.
And that’s how you came up with the slam dance?
SA: Yeah, we were trying to get to the stage no matter what it took. We were drunk off our ass. We were drinking heavy. I’m not gonna say we weren’t cause we were. And all the other guys were probably loaded up on drugs. But yeah, it was rad. We’d climb over the crowd, dance to ourselves. I remember between the Dead Kennedys playing and waiting for the Clash to come on, we were so amped. It was energy. We just wanted to have more music.
And when the Ramones came out of the PA system between the Dead Kennedys and the Clash, we loved the Ramones at that time and we just started getting crazy and pulling each other down and hitting each other and tackling each other and sliding into each other and one thing led to another. We crashed into the crowd and the crowd started to get mad pushing back and we’re “F@#%@#% you!” and cracking the crowd.
I got in a fight with two big chicks and everyone was fighting with everyone and it was just nuts. Any time the skaters got together at any show, that’s all our deal was: get on stage. No matter what it took. And that’s how we started the whole deal.
Do you think it mattered that you were there as skateboarders?
SA: Yeah, we thought we were crazier than anybody else. And if we weren’t we’d do anything in our power to be more crazy. That was just our nature.
You said you were very young, 15, when you started going to shows. What did your parents say about that?
SA: Well, half the time my parents didn’t know when we were going to L.A. Half the time I was just telling them we were going to the skate park. I had my own car when I was 16. I was first. And I had a friend – she was a girl – who would drive us around before I had my license.
LM: That’s how skatepunk started actually. When the shows started being at the skate parks.
SA: That did happen. Yeah, it did. At “Pomona Pipe and Pool” they had a Devo day and then later on the Joneses and my band the Wild Ones opened up for them. Olson was playing in the Joneses at that time, so it was rad. Olson said, “Yeah, we’re gonna play. I’m gonna get you guys on the bill.” And it was rad. Even though we couldn’t play it was still fun.
What was your band called?
SA: Back in those days we were the Wild Ones. It was our very first band. We were all into Marlon Brando. We tried to play rockabilly, punk rock or whatever.
Thrasher Magazine came out in 1981. What do you think about the role of Thrasher in terms of music and stuff that? Because people tell me, “That’s where we learned about music; that’s where we learned about punk rock.” And you tell me all about the stuff that was going on before that…
The thing is, Mofo participated in a lot of stuff with us. He was there at the Clash with us and he was the guy who wrote for Thrasher. So he’d already been doing his version of punk rock since ’76 or ‘77. When I met Mo the first time, it was really early ’78. Probably at [the Hester Pro Bowl event at] Newark because he hung out with Kevin Thatcher and Rick Blackheart – and those guys came to skate with us at Upland all the time. So, that’s how we made that connection – San Jose and the San Francisco connection. Most of the guys who were from San Jose started Thrasher Magazine – Kevin Thatcher was the first publisher and editor and Mofo was the first big writer. That was their deal, too and it was do-it-yourself. Fausto founded the magazine and they just started doing what they had to do.
It appears that Thrasher is one of the first magazines that really seems to emphasize this connection to punk…
SA: I’m telling you man, Thrasher in those days, they actively participated in punk rock. Kevin Thatcher included – he would go to shows with us all the time, they all did.
LM: The Thrasher guys were skaters.
SA: Yeah, skated with us. They were the skaters. That’s what they did and they presented what they did and that’s why Thrasher in those days was a little bit different than it is now. All the dudes who wrote for the magazine, they all skated and went to shows. Mo has seen as many bands as I have seen in the city. Once we started riding for Indy I used to go up there a lot. We’d go to Fausto’s house and I would stay there for a week or stay in San Jose with Mofo, since there were all kinds of bands up there, too, that you wouldn’t see in L.A.
But I’ve seen pretty much every single band for the most part. Except for the Sex Pistols, ehm, what other band haven’t I really seen? I’ve pretty much seen them all really. Except for Generation X. That’s the one band I haven’t really seen. But everybody else… Saw Stiff Little Fingers, UK Subs, X. I thought Billy Zoom was rad as hell. The Germs…
LM: Do you remember the first band you saw? Punk band?
SA: The first punk band we ever really saw was 999 and the Dickies after some San Diego thing. That was the first show I remember going to. We weren’t really punk rock yet. We were on the verge.
LM: Back then, you didn’t have to look punk rock to be punk rock.
SA: Yeah, I guess you’re right. But in my mind you had to really be punk.
LM: You went to shows earlier than me for sure but the first show I went to, there was a pretty broad spectrum of people.
What show was that?
LM: It was a band called Suburban Lawns. I don’t know how I ended up going there. None of the bands that we really knew or saw were around. It was a lot different when there was no internet. So you’d see an album cover – Blondie or Devo or whatever – and think: maybe this is a good one. But we never saw that they played anywhere. There was this place close to my house and we started going to shows of bands just because like Steve said all we wanted to do was jump around and fly on stage.
We were skating and we just wanted to get more aggressive. We were just stupid, basically. I went to a show and there was a guy doing back flips off the speakers. There was a circle pit and we’d jump from stage and there was a double stack of speakers above that and there’s this black dude doing back flips off of it. We’re just, “Dude!” We ended up talking to him and he was, “Oh, I skateboard everyday.” So, he came to our ramp the next day and he would ride up the wall, take a step from the wall and back flip off. That would be his trick. That’s all he did. He was the “back flip dude.” We’re, “This guy is gnarly!”
Then I remember going to a contest where they were playing Blondie, and I remember Steve’s Devo shirt.
SA: That was Lakewood then.
LM: Yeah, Lakewood. My dad is English and I went to England a few times thinking, ‘Ok, I’ve got to see this music. It’s punk. Were in England. Punk!’ Everything is going on. But punk was completely dead at that time in England. They were all into Motörhead and they were all gnarly…
That was when?
LM: That was ’79. I was thinking, ‘Ok, I’m gonna see all this stuff.’ I went to King’s Road and there was no punk music at all.
SA: When I went there in ’81 I thought I’d see the same thing but by then rockabilly was really big. The Stray Cats were coming in.
LM: So, I didn’t see bands until late. All the bands that we wanted to see weren’t really playing. It was very rare. The Clash came later. I saw them. Stiff Little Fingers… very rare. So were going to all this nonsense L.A. stuff.
SA: It was every weekend, there was something going on. Whether it was Alley Cats, The Plugz or…
LM: Out of all those bands I thought the Adolescents were actually interesting.
SA: Yeah, but they were a little later. We’d go to shows in L.A. and we used to see Mike Ness [from Social Distortion] we used to see Rikk Agnew. We didn’t really know who they were at that time. We didn’t know that until a little later after we started skating and they’d go, “Hey we saw you skating,” and blablabla and “I’m in this band called the Adolescents.” Mike Ness’s bass player was this guy Brent [Liles], we were good buddies and we used to skate at Pipeline; we used to skate at Skatopia. That’s how we met; it was through skateboarding. It was a small world and a group of people who really got into the first wave of all these really early early L.A. bands.
So at some point I said, “We’re gonna try do this ourselves.” But by the time you learn an instrument and get as good as you’re supposed to be the scene has changed. X was still around in ’81 but the Alley Cats weren’t. The Weirdos really weren’t. The Dickies still were. You’d still see Siouxsie and the Banshees at that point. Stiff Little Fingers had a big draw in L.A. The Clash had a big draw in L.A. The Vibrators had a pretty big draw, so…
So, what people today actually call or refer to as skatepunk that was something that came later?
LM: I think skatepunk is later when all the skaters started making bands. They did the same as the punk guys: ‘This is easy. I can play this chord. Why don’t we do this, too?’
A lot of skateboarders actually made up bands. That’s what skatepunk is, isn’t it?
SA: For me, when I think of skatepunk the first band that comes to mind would be JFA [Jodie Foster’s Army]. But I know those guys pretty damn good; I’ve known them for years. They don’t even really pitch with skatepunk cause that’s a term that doesn’t really span the horizon of what they are. At the same point they were definitely the forerunners of it. And they were regional, too. There was the Big Boys from Texas, JFA was from Phoenix.
Would you call Agent Orange a skatepunk band? It’s a term that’s a pigeonhole to me.
LM: Agent Orange were in a lot of skateboard videos. So, that’s why people would consider them skatepunk.
What skate videos would be…
LM: They were in a Vision video. I think the whole soundtrack was Agent Orange.
What other videos should I look at? What about Santa Cruz’ Streets on Fire?
SA: I was in those.
I mean, they’re full of SST bands, right?
SA: They licensed them out to Santa Cruz to get more exposure for SST, originally. But it was cool that we could actually use some of these bands. I was stoked on my couple of songs on there. To this day people ask me about those songs. It’s funny.
Which songs are you skating to in that?
SA: Well, there’s a song called Instro. That’s one I wrote. The one that goes, “Dadadada.” that’s my band and then I think we did Kings of Trash on the other one.
Could you choose the music for the videos?
LM: No, when I rode for a company called Powell Peralta, Stacy Peralta made the first skate video. There were movies before but that was actually the first video made. We didn’t pick our music back then. I think they used Youth Brigade or something. But that was around ’84.
Well, when you mentioned the Suburban Lawns, just the name of it… It seems that in California the punk scene – especially the second wave, the Adolescents and bands like that – along with the skateboarding scene. That all came out of these suburban places. Do you think that plays a special role in how things developed?
LM: Well I think anything out of L.A. is suburban. There is no downtown L.A. Every city is suburban, no?
SA: Suburbia is a thing that didn’t have to do anything with anybody at that time. It was more a label thing. It wasn’t ever a conscious thing. Some bands like The Descendents made fun of it. Suburbia is a theme in some of their songs.
So, you grew up in the suburbs, too?
LM: I grew up in East L.A, which is very… cholos. It was Mexican gangs. I lived right on the border of this very rich area but I was light years away from these skateboarders. I could skateboard to downtown in about 40 minutes but I thought I lived five states away from Hollywood when I was a kid.
SA: Where we lived the beach was how far away: 35 miles at least, 40 miles. We were definitely inlanders, and I always wanted to go to the beach but my mom and dad hardly ever took us. We’d go to the beach in the summertime maybe once a month. But I craved going to the beach. And I wanted to be a surfer. So, the closest thing to surfing was skateboarding – at least for me.
LM: I can say the same for me. I craved to be a skateboarder but I had to go to Montebello Skate Park. Montebello was the sad dwarf cousin of every skate park. It was outdated when it opened, while these guys were riding15 foot bowls.
SA: Yeah, our skate park [Upland?] was the first vertical skate park. It was gnarly, insane. Looking back now, I’m just stoked we got to skate that stuff. That’s where I learned. It’s pretty much the gnarliest skate park ever built, really, in the old days. At least old day skate parks.
When was that built?
SA In 1977. It lasted from ’77 to ’88.
Why did they close it?
SA: For insurance purposes. Couldn’t keep it afloat cause the economy was bad, too, at that time.
LM: Skateboarding was gone. Nobody skateboarded. A lot of the skate parks were pretty unsupervised. It’s a bunch of 13 to 18 year old kids basically at a summer camp on their own. It was a pretty high level of chaos and I think that the shows were just another place for that to happen even more extreme. Those early shows were pretty unsupervised. Anything could happen. There came a time in L.A. when they would not have punk shows any more, ever. Around The Decline of Western Civilization showings it was riots. Constantly.
SA: There was a riot at Santa Monica Civic, too, where ____ – I got to say this to get the whole thing – I was sitting right there when it happened, dude. He threw a beer bottle at a police car, right through the windshield. And then he got another beer bottle and threw it through the big old window of the front of the Santa Monica Civic. I was in the middle of pretty much every major riot that happened in L.A.
LM: It got to the point where the cop cars would just get lined up.
SA: First it was the weird art freaks, and then the skaters were mingling and then after the skaters got out, it was friends of skaters and then other weird whatever guys – and it was all those dudes that started the gnarliness. All the fights, the riots. It was unsupervised shows, there was hardly any security. It just exploded, until the cops and the people just couldn’t take it anymore.
So how did skate parks fit into this? If you think about it, in terms of punk, you would think that skateboarders would say, “I don’t care about a skate park.” Because it seems as if it concentrates skaters where people can control them.
It was totally different than now. All the skate parks before were privately owned. A doctor and his son wanted to skate so they built a park. In the beginning they were trying to make them into realistic things but that didn’t work so they just became these empty wastelands and kids basically running themselves. They weren’t a controlled space.
Think about the alley in the back of the school where all the guys would go smoke and sniff glue. Oh, here’s the alley behind the school to smoke glue? That’s the skate park thing. Here’s our little place. We get in here, we control ourselves, no one comes in here. All sorts of chaos can happen. Everyone had bands upstairs. It was a club house. Totally different! Just a different time. I mean, there was two kids out of every city skateboarding that’d meet up so at the skate park there’s 15. Skate parks got really dead at the end of the 1970s. By 1980, they were dead.
Jeff Ho was the first person I interviewed and Lucia Griggi photographed for this book. This was way back in the spring of 2009, when I was working on a couple of other books and was too frazzled to be doing anything right.
I started skating first.
In the Fifties. I was a metal wheel guy. And that one board you have a photo of was for the mid-sixties. I used to skate Revere with that. So when they talk about skating the banks, and surf/skate emulation, you know, we were doing that back in the Sixties. But we didn’t have the urethane wheels. Now when the urethane wheel came out, that gave you so much grip and made the ride so much smoother you could run over stuff easier and faster.
A lot more fun.
Well yeah it was like the grip. You still had the same loose ball bearings but that wheel gave you the extra grip that you needed to start turning quicker and do maneuvers and not slide out. With clay, chunks of the wheel would fall off, or you would hit like a little pebble and stop. But with the urethane wheels you could roll over that stuff and it gave you an advantage.
World of difference.
A World of difference.
Okay I started to write a long caption for you but it sucks and sounds like Wikipedia. Let me read that to you and you can breathe some life into it.
See the part I have problems with is Skip Engblom and Craig Stecyk. Stecyk is cool but Skip should have no credit.
In 1975 the young surf team members asked Ho and Engblom to start a skate team separate from the surf team. Cahill, Pratt, Adams, Sarlo, Peralta and Alva were the founding members.
They didn’t ask me to start the skate team, I just started it. I have to give you some backstory.
That is what I need.
Okay this is the real story. I bought the shop. It was my money. I financed it. Those guys want to take credit for it. That’s not right. And they’ve done it and all the articles, all the movies, all that crap. Everybody is taking credit for stuff that I did, and it doesn’t sit right with me. It was my money. I started the shop. I actually bought the shop from – what’s his name – Phil Castagnola. Because it was Select Surf Shop and I used to sell his boards out of the shop. Before I met Craig, before I met Skip, before I met any of those guys I used to work out of this shop and sell boards to Select. I bought the shop from Castagnola. I was on my way out… to Hawaii.
When was this, what year?
I can’t remember, but it was early 70s – ’71 or 72.
Why were you headed for Hawaii? For better waves?
No I was going to buy a piece of land. I had money to buy land and it was like five grand for an acre. And I was just going to go over there…
Either Oahu or the Big Island, it didn’t matter. I was just going to get myself some land.
Are you from Hawaii originally?
No I’m from California. From the Santa Monica, LA, Venice, Culver City area = West LA. I’ve surfed on and off at these beaches since I was a kid. A very very young kid.
So it was you that started Jeff Ho Surfboards and Zephyr Productions and it was you that started the skateboard team.· Then it reads: “Cahill, Pratt, Adams, Sarlo, Peralta and Alva were the founding members. Soon after, the team grew with the addition of local skaters Bob Biniak, Paul Constantineau, Jim Muir, Peggy Oki, Shogo Kubo and Wentzle Ruml.
Yeah but, you know… before those guys we had John Baum. We had the Tavares brothers, we had Craig Freebairn. On and on and on and on.· There’s so many names that they just left out of this whole deal, and it’s kind of disgusting. The way that the played it. The way they used stuff that I did and put a spin on it.
You say “They.”
I mean “they,” dude. There’s some crap in these magazines… interviews that these other people have done, talking about boards and who did what and who did this and how they named that or whatever. Craig Stecyk was the artist, the journalist, the photographer, the intellectual. What have you.
He was the media brains of the operation.
You’ve got to give him credit, because Dogtown was his name. He made the Dogtown. There are some other people trying to take credit for coming up with that name. It was all Craig Stecyk.
Do you still get along with Stecyk?
You know what? I don’t know what Stacy does. Stacy… God bless him he is in his own world. But you know what I am trying to do it is correct some of the things that have been mistaken in the media.
That’s what this is for. That’s great.
There are so many rumors and so many stories that aren’t true. Whatever. I mean, you go “whatever” and you want to move on. Just move on, but some of it is….
It gnaws at you.
No it’s repulsive, is what it is.
And it does a disservice to the people who are really fans. They deserve to know what the real truth is. They don’t need to know some… some fantasy. That is why they called that one movie a “docudrama.” And the other was a fiction.
Okay… what happens is.. Skip used to sit inside the shop. I used to bring these guys out here in this parking lot, right here, and we used to have team meetings. I’d ask them to practice and show me their new trick. Anybody who runs a skate team knows the guys you have on the team have to practice. They have to learn new tricks, otherwise what’s the point? They’re supposed to be promoting the brand. Even today team managers are asking their guys: “Well are you learning new tricks?” And their job is to learn new tricks, and to become better and to win.
We used to practice here in the parking lot behind the old surf shop and also in the parking lot of Star Liquors. They had more pavement across the street. We also practiced in the middle of Bay Street. And the downhill slalom courses· we used to run at Bicknell.
At night? Can’t see you putting slalom cones on Bicknell in the modern world. You’d have the SWAT team on you.
No, we would just do it during the day. Wednesday was our team meeting day. Team practice. There’s a lot of misconceptions about the team, you know.
The Zephyr team.
The team was a surf team in the beginning. Nobody was doing any skate contests. Skateboards were used as transportation.
There was no organization.
There were no organized functions. You asked who should be included in this book. You’ve gotta go to Bill Bahne, you know. He did fin boxes and he did fins. I used to go down there and buy fins and boxes from him.
We took portraits of him in Encinitas and I think he has been in that one spot all along.
Down to Encinitas. He’s got a factory down there. He’s still down there. Still doing fins. He came up TO LA? and got a bunch of material and he came up with the fiberglass skateboard. And so they started using the extruded glass and the Chicago trucks and they got the wheels from Frank Nasworthy and that’s really how the whole situation started.
I’m giving Bill Bahne the credit. He’s the guy who kind of major league started this – the distribution of the urethane wheel to more of a mainstream thing.
One day I go down there to pick up some fins. Bill shows me a skateboard and says “Hey you know check this thing out.” So I rode one and I said “Well give me a couple of those and I’ll take them up to the shop and see how you go.”
What year do you think this is?
I can’t remember. It was in the Seventies, you know. He was using the Cadillac Wheels. We brought the wheels up here, and then it was on. They started having skateboard contests, and Jay Adams was the first to go to some of the skateboard contests because his folks took him. He was on the surf team.
Yeah, the Zephyr/Jeff Ho Surf Team. He was riding for me. I’ve known Jay since he was a little grom. One of the first times I met him he paddled up to me in the water and he goes “Are you Jeff Ho?”· And I go “Yeah, who are you?” And he says, “I’m Jay Adams.” And he’s riding this really little board and he goes, “Yeah my dad works for Dave Sweet.” I said, “Dude, all right.”
So as the years went by I got to know him and put him on the surf team. And you’ve gotta give it to Jay Adams. He was one of the first guys to go skate contests. So we started sponsoring some of the guys that surfed and getting them to the skate contests.
When I talk to others about the Bahne-Cadillac contest in 1975, you will hear some rather loud raspberries about the way that contest was painted – and the Z Boys influence there.
Well it was a pinnacle deal. During that time period in ’74 and ’75 when the transition was taking place more skateboard contests started showing up at these fairgrounds: Orange County, Ventura and then they did Del Mar. Again, Bill Bahne was responsible for that. Sponsoring that contest. He put that contest up. The Bahne/Cadillac.
A lot of people don’t give Bill credit. He was responsible for a lot.
Tony Hawk’s first board was a Bahne. He’s one of those guys who has an engineering background and he has always been an innovator and trying to innovate something for the surfboard.
Okay we were talking about the Del Mar Nationals. This is what I wrote:· “This was the first major skateboard contest since the original skateboard heydays of the mid 1960’s. Jay Adams was the first and the youngest to compete and then the rest of the Dirty Dozen backed him up. At the end of the competition, half of the finalists were members of the Z-BOY crew. The results were: Women’s: Oki 1st, Junior Freestyle: Adams 3rd, Alva 4th, Junior Slalom: Harney 2nd, Pratt 4th. The older skateboard establishment was not ready for the aggressive surf style and free spirited approach that the Z-Boys exhibited and could not comprehend that they had just witnessed a revolution. The popularity of the Z-Boy style with vertical and airborne moves would sweep around the world.”
Okay what’s also wrong is we’re leaving Tony Alva out of this. Tony Alva was an integral part of the surf/skate movement. He was a little bit older than Jay and he had the drive. He had the edge and he was really highly self-motivated.
He was just motivated and I don’t know whether it was money or pride or what, you know? He was just self-motivated. He wanted to be good at something and I guess skateboarding was it – one of his tickets. He was a good surfer back then and he did win contests and stuff.
Jay flowed. Jay could flow and he had some natural ability but Tony took it up a notch because he had that edge – the motivation or drive to become better or the best in the world.
Yes I read that a lot about Tony and when you read the results in all the skateboard contests in the 1970s, he was up there like Kobe. Always at or near #1.
He was always doing stuff and getting his board to go faster and doing big big maneuvers. So it was no question that he was going to be one of the best in the world, whether it be speed-skating downhill, going the fastest or launching the biggest air. Tony’s just got this mad dog… Tony the mad dog. That is how he gets his nickname.
He was just so explosive when he skated. It wasn’t like he did some tricky move or whatever, a little pirouette. Whenever Tony did something it was always bigger and faster than everybody else.
Let’s see here. Baloney baloney baloney. But then it goes: “Jeff Ho still shapes surfboards and makes skateboards from his warehouse in Santa Monica.”
I’m inland, but call it like Venice.
I thought this was Venice?
I’m not doing them here. I have another place. Well kind of Venice/Marina Del Rey. Right in that unincorporated area.
Okay so now it gets into the bad interview we did before. I ask: “Why Zephyr?” And you say, “Why Zephyr? Zephyr is the god of the west wind. It comes from Greek mythology, ya know? Greek mythology and the symbol of the waxing crescent moon.”
Waxing crescent moon.
I asked: “What is the oldest board here?” and you said, “This is that one, the Revere one.· This skated Paul Revere Junior High, back in the day, in the sixties, when I was a kid. I was a skater before I was a surfer.” But that is not your first skateboard?
No. My first was custom made and had Metal wheels.
A little flat piece of two by four or one by six. Some of the boards back then were a little wider. I had that with Chicago skate metal wheels. When I was a kid I was small, and I used to bomb a hill at Hauser and Pico. When I look at it now, it’s a little bump. But when I was a kid, on metal wheels, that was the fastest, biggest hill I knew of. We also used to bomb Tuller Hill in Culver City.
And then I say, “I want to know what genius put that perfect terrain at a junior high school in Los Angeles.” And you say: “I don’t know dude. Paul Revere has been around for decades. It was there before we found it and it was virgin, ya know?” So what about Paul Revere. People were there before you, do you think?
I don’t really know who was the first person to skate it. The Hiltons and that group used to skate it, and we found it in the 1960s. But we called it Ranch Road, because old Ranch Road comes right down from Benedict Canyon right into where the baseball field used to be. It’s like a wave. I just know that I skated with a bunch of guys and we used to go up there and climb the fence on Saturdays and we’d go.
Was this the 50s?
It had to be the 60s. The early to mid-60s.· With Chris Dawson. You see, here’s another thing they don’t talk about: Chris Dawson.
Chris Dawson taught Stacy Peralta how to do these 360s and the moves that made Stacy famous! The nose 360 and the tail 360. Those were all moves that Chris Dawson did when he was on the Hobie team, back in the 60s. We brought some of that 60s influence into the 70s. But there’s no mention of Chris Dawson anywhere.
Well he gets some credit in this book. I interview him during what I call The Dark Ages, between 1965 to urethane.
Well that’s good.
So this wood board was your Paul Revere Special?
These are the Hobie Super Surfer wheels. I put these on in about 1968. I got them from Jay Stone and he must have got them from Hobie Vita-Pakt. This was probably the last set of wheels I had on this. There’s probably been about five sets of wheels on this board.
Now what about this board? I remember these boards from the 1970s. If the material polypropylene?
This board here was put together and made in this shop and I screened it in the shop down at the end of the street. And there’s probably about twenty of these made. This one had the um, color coat on top of it.
It’s fruity. Makes me want to lick it like that Willy Wonka wallpaper. This is like an old crap one I had laying around. The big long one is an old one. They’re all old. Oh, that one is a template from the seventies.
That one, the blue one is like the competition team logo, and all that. That’s a team board. This board has a 70s outline as well. I had many surfboards that had that outline.That was like…and these are templates back from the late seventies when boards were starting to evolve.
Now, these are like…I found these when I was just looking around but these are some of my templates… this is from seventy-eight. And then these are, I don’t know…ones a narrow tail, this one’s a wide tail. Ya know, they’re kinda…this ones a thirty-two, ten-and-a half. This one was six-nine, seventy-eight. Yeah, so these are some old templates and stuff.
…These ones are likes classics from the period. This is like a hand-painted one. This one has been in storage since eighty-five or eight-six. What year is it? Over twenty years.· And this one, so that’s how mint condition that one is, in the original wrapper and stuff. I did that one when I was up in West LA. This one here is something. This is an original board from seventy-five and this was a different process from some of the other ones. This is one of the boards that we hand-screened. Ya know? So there’s probably only like twenty of these.
Story By Ben Marcus from The Good The Rad and the Gnarly
Photos by Lucia Griggi
The many faces of Steve Caballero and friends. Cab is a classic case of a skate park kid made good. Born in 1964 – the Year of the Dragon – Caballero utilized the dragon theme in his graphics, as he became one of the leading skateboard stars out of the 1970s and into the 1980s. He started off riding BMX inspired by Evel Knievel – a major cult hero of the 1970s. He began skateboarding at the age of 12, just goofing around, when just making the turn from the driveway to the sidewalk was a big deal. A big fan of comic books and monster magazines, skateboard magazines also caught Caballero’s fancy and inspired a deeper interest – beyond the driveway. Caballero became a teenager just as skate parks were sprouting up around the world.
His first experienced was at Concrete Wave Skatepark in Anaheim – during trips with dad to Disneyland.· Closer to home, Caballero became a regular at the Winchester Skate Park in Campbell and then bailed on Winchester for the Campbell Skate Park – because it was only $1 a day to skate. Caballero competed with the Campbell Skate Park team. He had a natural talent and a driven enthusiasm – because skateboarding was something where a little big man could excel. Stacy Peralta saw that excellence early on, and Caballero became one of the first team members for Powell Peralta in 1978 – at the age of 14.
By 1980, Caballero was already a veteran of skate park bowl competitions and he had christened his own trick: The Caballerial, aka a fakie 360 ollie. The Half Cab is a fakie 180 ollie. Into the 1980s, Caballero was one of the star members of the Bones Brigade, featured in the series of action sports videos produced by Stacy Peralta and Craig Stecyk for Powell-Peralta. Steve Caballero was one of the major skateboard stars of the 1980s, and he surprised himself and his parents by earning a very good living with board sales and shoe sales. One of his better qualities is that he is very loyal to the companies who first sponsored him.
Thirty years later, he is still with Vans and Powell-Peralta. This portrait was taken in the winter of 2010 at Caballero’s home in Campbell, where lives surrounded by comic books and superheroes with his wife Rachel, daughter Kayla, revved-up son Caleb and two protective dogs.
Photos by Lucia Griggi
The answer is: We may never know. Many inventors and corporations are quick to stake a claim, but finding that first commercially produced skateboard may be a futile search. In the first edition of the Quarterly Skateboarder, a full-page ad by Skee Skate of California makes a heavy claim: “This is it!!!! The skateboard that started it all.” Others begs to differ. Many historians and collectors believe the eponymous skateboard launched by the Roller Derby Skate Corporation was the first mass-produced skateboard. It well may be, although no one is certain when it was launched.
The Roller Derby was a wooden plank with a rounded tip at one end and modified roller-skate steel wheels attached. It boasted no concave or even kicktail, no mention grip tape, but it did have a snazzy bright-red paint scheme. Many believe the Roller Derby made its debut in 1959. But the company itself claims it introduced the board in 1963. David Kennedy, Roller Derby’s current vice president and CFO in Bottoms up views of the Humco Surfer which got all high tech with a spring loaded suspension. Humco courtesy G&S. Litchfield, Illinois, responded to this important query by producing a nine-page Roller Derby skateboard promotional brochure—first published in 1964.
Jim Scheller was Roller Derby vice president at the time. He began working for the company in 1957: “I don’t recall any skateboards in 1959. I believe that the first skateboard production for Roller Derby was in late 1963 and the beginning of 1964. The idea came from California, where we had a warehouse managed by a guy named· Sloniger. We did a little retooling at the plant in Litchfield but not much, and it turned out to be a good· business. Very good.” While the Roller Derby may not have been the first commercially produced skateboard, it was likely the first mass produced board, as many of them survive today.
Written By Ben Marcus: The Good The Rad and the Gnarly
Still, other skateboards may have arrived earlier. Historian Iain Borden claims in his Skateboard, Space and the City: Art and the Body (2001) that 1956 was the first year: “The first commercial skateboards—like the Humco five-ply deck with ‘Sidewalk Swinger’ spring-loaded trucks (1956), the Sport Flite, and the Roller Derby (late 1950s to early 1960s)—came with steel wheels around 50mm in diameter and 10mm wide.” In his book Skateboard Retrospective: A Collector’s Guide, Rhyn Noll points out a two-wheeled contraption from the 1930s owned by Randy Beck from Chatsworth, California. This machine has two wheels attached to a piece of wood, but if we’re using the strict definition of four wheels and two trucks, this doesn’t quite fit in.
Noll also mentions a Mr. Carl Jensen: “I hear tales of Mr. Carl Jensen in the late fifties, a man who built early skateboards and brought them into my dad’s shop, Greg Noll Surfboards. Greg recalls Mr. Jensen as the first to sell skateboards to his Hermosa Beach shop in 1958, and considers him a founder of the commercial skateboard.” The book also points to 1958 as the year A. C. Boyden “better known as Humco, patented one of the earliest recognizable skateboards.” Looking through the collections of Todd Huber, Paul Naude, Gordon & Smith, and others, there are numerous odd-looking skateboards—some made of metal, some made of wood—that seem to have come out of the 1950s. There are boards by the Chicago Roller Skate Company, and it would make sense that it would be among the first to manufacture a skateboard, as it was one of the Big Four that controlled roller-skate production in the 1950s.
So which came first? Skee Skate? Roller Derby? Chicago? Humco? Or that Carl Jensen chap? I talked with Greg Noll, who made a good argument that Carl Jensen was the first guy to make a commercial· skateboard—and Noll himself may have been there at the start as well. Now, I don’t really care about this all that much and I don’t want to go around claiming that I made the first commercial boards, but first of all, in the 1950s we called those board “bun boards,” because when you fell you were always busting your ass. I opened my first shop on Pacific Coast Highway across from Center Street School in Hermosa Beach. At the time there was this guy Jensen who had five or six guys rolling around on the strand on the north side of the Hermosa Beach pier, riding these boards that had old roller-skate equipment with steel wheels.
Jensen brought them to the shop and said, “This is going to be a good thing.” Well, I got so tired of hearing all this BS, but I put a couple in the showcase and they sold. So then I started making some outlines and laminating them and I had a rubber stamp that said “Greg Noll Surfboards,” but all the time I was thinking, “These things will never sell.” I sold maybe fifty of the boards over the course of a year, but I didn’t really see the potential in it and as usual I was left standing at the train station as the train was pulling away, because then Hobie and Makaha and Gordon & Smith came along and of course they sold millions of the things—everyone’s making a bunch of dough.
I don’t have one of those original Greg Noll stamped skateboards and I wish I did. But just this year Element came out with a special edition of those bun boards, and they look pretty much the same as what we were making back there in the late 1950s, early 1960s. So am I the first guy to make a commercial skateboard? I don’t give a damn. All I know is, a lot of guys got rich from something I didn’t think was going anywhere.