1- How did you start skateboarding?
I can’t recall exactly when I first stepped on a board… but I was young, and urethane wheels were new. I think I was seven or eight? I was nine years old at the latest, because we moved the summer I turned nine. I recall the old GT (GrenTec) commercials coming out on TV around that time, but it was my next door neighbor, Mike, who was a few years older, who let us take our first rides on his board. He had a couple at least. Me and my friend Danny, and my younger brother all got our first stoke on four wheels.
2- Did you just ride sidewalks? Parks?
At first it was just trying to do wheelies and 360’s. We used to put up a broomstick to do high jumps, and a pile of crap on the sidewalk to jump over with a landing board on the far side – like the old barrel jumps that were common before transition skating became a thing. My first board was plastic, but soon I got one of the cool fiberglass boards. Later I got a Makaha fiberglass setup. It wasn’t until I turned thirteen or fourteen that I got a real wood board. Still no kicktail, and I had no idea that there were skateparks in the SF Bay Area until we found our first one, Skatepark Victoria in Milpitas, by accident in 1980. It was also the last park left in the bay area by the end of that summer, and then it was dozed too. From then on it was backyard pools, ditches, and ramps.
3- Who were your earliest influences? Who was the first Pro you looked up to? Who was the first Pro you saw in person?
I’ve had the center spread mini poster of Steve Alba going over Scott Dunlap at the Pipeline on my wall since I was young, but never had a Skateboarder Mag subscription, and it was dead (or almost so?) by the time I got into riding bowls at the park. Still, I was aware of Tony Alva, Mike Weed, and many more of the pioneers. I can’t be sure who the first pro we met was… Me and my best friend Troy, would take the bus down to Milpitas every weekend for the whole summer until it went under. We met some of the skaters there, but we weren’t good enough to go ride with the rad guys in the bigger pools yet. The first one I knew for sure that was a one hundred percent legit pro was Steve Caballero, and that wasn’t until around 1984 at Joe Lopes ramp.
4- How did you come to ride vert?
After the park was gone (Winchester and the others in the bay area, none of which I even saw, were all gone by the end of the summer of 1980) we found a couple of ramps… Joe Arabia had a micro mini ramp (almost like a ditch) that we got to ride once when we were at Gremic skates in Los Gatos. After that, we found a couple more ramps in Palo Alto near where we lived, and eventually, a couple ramps that went to vert. These were limited access, and as they went away, we built our own mini – a small six foot transition ramp that was four feet tall. Later we added two more feet to get it to vert, and then added a foot of vert to that. I rode that ramp the first half of high school and then we found bigger/better ramps, and helped build others. Finally we found Joe Lopes ramp, which is when the rest of the skateboard world opened up to us.
5- What was your early sponsorship like & most meaningful contest?
Back at Milpitas, some guy from Motobuilt gave me a set of their last generation, wide trucks, and sold me a generic Powell dragon board. My first wide setup. After that I bought Indy’s of course and rode those for years, until one day at Joe’s ramp, Fausto saw me riding and gave me a set of trucks and his contact info. Later, I got hooked up with Santa Cruz boards through Joey, and around the time Joe went to Schmitt Stix, I was getting regular flow from Santa Cruz. For me the most memorable contests were the two Mile High comps in Tahoe (’84 and ’85). Getting to ride with pretty much every active pro and top AM in skateboarding at the time was awesome, though I was just trying to get some runs in, and they were probably wondering who this weird skinny hippie kid was sketching around the ramp. I’d met a few pros from skating at Joe’s, and didn’t want to fan out… I was just too stoked on skating to get caught up in the fact that I was getting to skate with these guys.
6- Talk about your lapse and industry changes. How did you deal with flying around the world, selling boards and have the thing you love turn into kids falling down stairs and ledges? How did you cope?
The weird thing about street skating was the fact that we all did it, all the time, for years… well before the first (official) street contest in SF. We went to that and had fun, but it wasn’t serious, it was just goofing around. We probably rode more street all the years even when I was focused on riding vert… before and after vert sessions, backyard pools, etc., you’d slap some curbs, you know? There were plenty of days of almost no transition, just street skating. But then, after a few years of the street contests being a side thing, it got serious for some guys. I entered the contests for a while, but I loved pools and ramps. Weightlessness, airs and inverts were the big thrill and no amount of flat ground ollies, bonelesses, or curbslides made up for transition. Then the street-only guys started breaking new ground, and most of the older guys ended up leaving the street comps to them. I remember taking those dumb “Skateboarding is not a Crime” stickers, and cutting them up to say, “Skate vert”. This was not to disrespect street skating – it was more of a reminder… a rebuttal to the kids, magazines and companies giving up on transition and vert, to focus only on street. Of course you should skate street, but you should ride a pool too. Anyway, after all the vert ramps got torn down, or cut down to minis, and the sponsors stopped helping most of the vert guys get to contests, I rode street. We had a tight crew, including the young Phil Shao before he got on the bigger sponsors. We skated at Stanford campus, and around Redwood City, Menlo Park, & Palo Alto in the early to mid 90’s.
7- What about quitting? Did you and why?
I can honestly say I never “Quit”… But that didn’t change the fact that over time, with fewer friends to ride with, and a lack of spots & sessions to go to, I kinda fell out of riding. I’d moved further away from my scene, other guys had moved on, my kids were getting older, my job was taking more of my time… Leaving my kids with my girlfriend while I skated for hours wasn’t really going to work. Not as often as I felt I *needed* to skate to keep my skills and prevent the dumb slams that happen when you don’t ride enough. And as the frequency of skating went down, so did my abilities. I am not a ‘natural’… If I don’t ride often, it all goes away. Each time I finally got a session in, it was worse than the last one, and I was frustrated at trying to relearn things. This made me depressed, and the snowball of shittiness got bigger – a negative reenforcement cycle formed. At some point, unless a friend would drag me out to ride, I just didn’t make time to ride on my own. Days between sessions would turn into weeks. Weeks into months. Then I was thirty-something and thought I “knew” I was “too old” and that all the stuff I used to do was gone. I really thought my balance was FUBAR… it was *that bad* when I did try to ride. I can’t even claim addiction or anything got in the way… Who knows, maybe there was some medical condition I was unaware of, but I just put my head down, went to work, came home to the family and thought, “This is being grown up.” I’m glad I finally woke back up.
‘…I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.’
8-What are your outside skating hobbies and passions?
During those boring years I was working at Sega, and then other video game companies, and I got into games of course. I played Quake a lot in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. It was the first solid 3D games, and there were things you could do in the game that reminded me of skating. It was fun as hell for a while, but, you might notice, I was still comparing it to skating. Over that time, with lack of exercise and this weird thing that happens as you get older, I gained weight. At first I was stoked. I mean, I couldn’t gain weight no matter what I tried when I was younger. I never got over one hundred thirty five pounds. So one forty five was awesome! Ben & Jerry’s was good, I still liked my beer, and of course I didn’t keep track. At some point I was shocked when I found I was around two hundred pounds, but “oh well, that’s just part of getting older” I thought. I knew I’d never do regular exercise, and skateboarding was out, right? I sucked and would only get hurt trying to relive my youth….
9-Talk about your reemergence.
After Potrero skatepark was built in SF, I went to check it out. The day after the grand opening I took a few runs, cruising around. I went back a few other times, but my car got broken into, and that left a bad taste… I lagged a bit on it, still thinking I’d never get any of my old tricks – or just good carving and balance – back. But one day at lunch with my old friend Schmitty, we talked and my motivation to lose weight was peaking. I told Greg, “I’m going to start riding at least once a week, no matter what, even if I suck and can only do ‘old man laps’ below coping around the pool”. I went to Potrero that night after work, and within fifteen minutes, had broken my wrist badly. It was during my healing, getting laid off from work (they closed down the company,) finding old friends on stupid Facebook, and going to watch a couple contests (Oregon Trifecta in 2009 and the Tim Brauch Memorial contest at Lake Cunningham skatepark) that I really decided all my previous thoughts on skating and age were bullshit. It took months before I could get back on board again, and it was slow going at first, but once I lost a bit of weight and got some of my balance and motivation back, some of the old tricks came back too. Once I found a local vert ramp, the stoke and addiction to skating was back in full. I couldn’t get enough, skating as much as I could, relearning and really living again.
10-Do you ever feel twelve again? Why? What does it for you?
Oh hell yes. Especially when I relearned a few things that I had thought I’d never do again. We are all still in our teens – somewhere in the back of our heads. That kid is still in there. Feed that part of yourself a healthy diet of stoke, weightlessness, close calls and slams, and it will flourish. Its been almost six years since I got back on my board on a weekly basis, and I’ve gone through a few injuries, have to relearn a lot of stuff each time I get back on, and I still love it. I’m not quite as spastically eager as I was a few years ago maybe, but I still can’t wait to ride. I’m going to the vert ramp that restarted it all for me, tonight. I rode yesterday, and last weekend, and try to get at least two or three sessions a week in. Sometimes more.
11- Do you like where skating is? Why or why not?
The state of skate is good. Sure, there are things that make me groan. The mass of younger skaters’ lack of knowledge (or even interest) in the history of skateboarding is a sad thing, but there are still plenty who do know, or crave to know. There are political things, like skateboarding in the Olympics? No thanks. But it will happen anyway…. eventually. And it won’t be good, but some good can still come of it I suppose. In the end nothing that happens in the industry, or even with other skater’s attitudes and choices, that will stop me from being stoked on rolling.
12- Who do you like these days? (pros / ams … if such a thing still exists)
I always struggle with identifying favorites… you’ll always leave someone out that, given a different conversation, you would not have. I can say that seeing guys like Brad McClain and Raven Tershy come up from local rippers to well known pros has been incredible. The rulers of modern vert are all just unbelievably rad. Jimmy Wilkins, Alex Perelson …there are quite a few great skaters… and Bucky, still at forty plus killing it! The guys who keep the backyard pool scene going, away from coverage or sponsors, make me smile deep inside. The crews I ride with around here, and the extended family that meets up for occasional non-tests, like Nav’s Rumble, Mike-a-Palooza, Supersession, and etc., make skateboarding what it really is, at the grass roots level. Pure fun with friends, and an ongoing adventure in balance and weightlessness.
13- Anything else?
Yeah… I talk too much.
Thank you to Jeff Hedges for taking the time with us and thank you to Lorrie Palmos, MRZ, Dan Kuhns, Alec Shroeder, Noah Martineau, Jim Goodrich and Andy Bittner for the images. Skate- Ozzie