The road towards Malibu was winding and perilous. Cars moved like a long metal snake, twisting and sinuous. The sun’s glare rested on the horizon and burned. Summer. Angelo’s clover bowl was the destination and I looked forward to skating with my friends. Jerry Valdez was going to be there and I was stoked. I met Jerry for the first time at the Old School Skate Jam in 2001. He was larger than life. I recall photographs of Jerry in Skateboard World magazine in the nineteen-seventies. He seemed way ahead of his peers. It was strange to me that there was so little information about Jerry. He came on the scene, burned white-hot and disappeared for decades. I was anxious to talk to him and get the back story to so many pools from that time. Recently, I heard he was skating again after a long hiatus. It would be good to roll with this early influential rider.
The hillsides of Malibu rose up out of the Pacific Ocean and meandered off towards the east. Huge estates balanced precariously on the edges of the hills and black fences wrapped these properties. I drove up past Pepperdine University until I found the street I was looking for. There were several cars out in front of Angelo’s and the dogs started barking as I pulled to a stop. Once down by Angelo’s clover bowl, I saw that William Sharp, Jerry Valdez, Jay Adams and several other skaters were already there with Angelo. I said hello and quickly joined the session. After a few hours, everyone sat around and talked. There was a wide swath of shit talk that came out of everyone. Buttons were pushed, old rivalries discussed and stories words rose up like smoke. I asked Jerry about some pools. He answered that I’d need a bigger note pad if I was going to walk down that road with him. I smiled. He was just like the stories I’d always heard about him.
A few days later, I spoke with Jerry and he told me that he was in Los Feliz. I asked him if we could get together and talk. I met up with him at his place and we drove over towards Mulholland Drive. Everything moved at a snails pace. We cruised up Laurel Canyon and past the Laurel Canyon store where Mama Cass and Jim Morrison once held sway. Jerry eased the car up the hill in traffic. “You see, I started skating as a means of transportation. This was way back. It was for going to and from school. I liked it but it didn’t really bite me at first. I had balance and that stuff through gymnastics and martial arts at that age. I didn’t really get broke off right away because of this. Most people that slam hard in the beginning, quit pretty quickly. My balance and sense were well-developed and I knew where I was in the moment and that’s really how you have to be when skating.” I understood what Jerry was telling me. I felt the same way. When I’m skating, I can really think of little else. Pure escape. In the moment.
“I used my skateboard for transportation at first all around Hollywood where I lived. I ended up meeting some guys that skated and we became a crew. Marc Smith, Dave Ferry and a couple of other people. We were just getting through high school. We started skating on clay wheels at that time… there was this magic shop on Hollywood Boulevard and they had this little novelty glass case with the first Cadillac Wheels we had ever seen. We were like, “They would be insane!” I eventually scraped enough money to get a set and I had an immense feeling of ‘awakening’ riding those. One day we walked into this liquor store and there on the shelf was Skateboarder magazine. We couldn’t believe it! A magazine for us. We had never seen it. On the cover was Greg Weaver. Right then and there, I said to myself, ‘If this guy can get on the cover of a magazine, I’m not going to stop until I do.’ That moment was when I made the choice to drive myself and push beyond anything I had previously done. I became committed to a lifestyle.”
Mulholland wound its way off into the distance as Jerry and I drove the spine of Los Angeles. The ridges slipped down into canyons and I could see the San Fernando Valley spread out to my right. Houses hung from the ridges and often I could see a pool shimmering in the afternoon heat. Jerry swung the car towards the left and slowed down. I could see a chain link fence with bushes and trees masking it. Vines wove their way through the fence and one could barely see what was beyond it. Jerry switched the engine off and waved for me to follow him. We walked up the hill and he stopped at a spot between two huge trees. I recognized the place. Skyline ditch.
I recalled this spot from a long time ago. The magazines had photographs from the catch basins in the Hollywood Hills. Jerry pointed out the surrounding houses. “Many of these weren’t here back then. We went from riding the streets, to bombing the hills of Mount Olympus — before the houses were built — to riding Bronson Park and Skyline.
Each of these spots had its local riders so we got to meet others like ourselves. At Skyline, I met Kent Senatore and some other kids. It’s amazing how these spots all tie in together. When I started skating swimming pools, I was living in Hollywood at Cockroach Haven. My dad said I had to get out, so I left. I ended up being an early couch surfer. Ultimately, I ended up staying at Kent’s house in the tool shed.
It was at this time that I went into Val Surf with Kent and saw all of the high-end, great equipment that they had. It really opened my eyes. I had a bit of recognition by that time in the skate scene and the Val Surf owner said, “Let’s try a sponsorship.” I was starving so it was pretty easy to agree to that. Val Surf never really wanted to pay, but they gave us a bunch of merchandise and that’s how we did it. Rode one. Sold one.
We walked around the edge of the Skyline catch basin. It was surreal being there with Jerry. He sat on a tree stump and continued. “We rode all of the catch basins in these hills. Vipers was really good and we spent a great deal of time there. More people started coming to these spots and sessions were pretty heated. My friends couldn’t believe the stuff that came out of my mouth but I learned early on that I could say the craziest thing and then I’d push in and take a run. I got respect very quickly. It was a lesson I utilized again and again. I just psyched people out and then let my riding speak for itself. We were starting to ride pools more often at this time as well. We would do these little demo things for Val Surf and kids would say, “We got this great pool.” We ended up riding pools that way. They just started coming to us. I believe that’s how we ended up at Buddha pool. I took Hugh Holland up there and to the catch basins very early on.”
We drove back across the backbone of Los Angeles. Mulholland rose up against the sky and Jerry kept his eyes on the road as he spoke. I asked him about his early days. “We were just skating on the streets and sidewalks. As skateboarding exploded in popularity, we evolved with it. I never had a global picture… a big picture in my mind. Stacy Peralta and a few others had that vision. I never did. I was just trying to make a mark. I would’ve never believed that I’d go from skating the sidewalks of Hollywood to skating in a half time event in a coliseum! It was like that. They were the craziest times and those times moved very quickly.”
Jerry talked about the pools in Los Angeles. I was particularly interested in the legendary pools of the times and simply pools in general. He turned the car down Coldwater Canyon and continued, “We would do it much in the same way you do it today. We had a crew where the vibes were good and we could push each other harder every session. Every pool was that way. Sometimes we’d ride it once or twice and others remained for a time. Pools always come and go… you know how it is. We’d be on to the next thing.”
We drove into Hollywood to stop for some food. As we cruised through the city, I told Jerry how I thought most people walked around as if they were being filmed in a TV show. They all think they are so ‘Hollywood’. He laughed and stated, “I’m from here. I was Hollywood in yearbooks. I had been homeless for awhile and couch surfed. As the skateboarding thing took off, I found myself traveling more and more. The Pepsi Skateboard Team started up and it was really something. I was an original member and the Pepsi team helped put skateboarding on a larger map. We did demonstrations all over California, the midwest and east coast.” I recalled seeing the Pepsi Half Pipe at one point and photographs of it in the magazines of the late nineteen seventies.
Jerry started relating how skateparks started being developed and how concrete contractors were trying to make these parks without understanding skateboarding itself. “These guys never rode. They had no idea about transitions and hips. No idea about what worked. They just built the things. There was a guy we met and he worked for NORAD and built missile silos for the US Government. He called Val Surf and invited Marc Smith and I out to dinner. He was building a skatepark and was smart enough to want an experienced skateboarders input. We ended up designing Endless Wave in Oxnard and two other parks. Endless Wave in Oxnard immediately became a hotbed of activity. Everyone started making the drive up to Ventura County. The sessions were intense and there would be a hundred people standing around watching.”
Jerry continued, “It was at Oxnard that I shot one of the early Vans Skateboard Shoe advertisements. Around this time, things were happening for me. I was getting paid and traveling. Skateboarding was changing fast. I had met Stan Sharp and also William. They were shooting the Altieri brothers early on and began to come shoot at the pools we were riding. They were always taking photographs for the magazine Skateboard World. Torque Publications had a BMX and motorcycle magazine so they decided to come out with a skateboard magazine as well. Stan and William were the primary guys behind it. One day Stan said, “I’m planning a trip to the huge desert pipes on Arizona. I was definitely into that. It ended up being me, TA, Hackett and a few other guys. There was nothing smoother than those pipes. The surface was like glass. They were about twenty-two foot high but also only twenty foot wide. So, when you got pretty high up there, you’d turn and fly down so fast… often you’d be merely inches from the edge of the pipe. It was very intense. I had learned how to twist my body up in gymnastics when I was young and it really helped when I went frontside high up in the pipe. I’d push my hips and legs up and torque my body… I’d literally free-fall down sometimes as my body tried to catch up with my board.”
“By this time, I was going all over the place and riding. Our crew would hit a new park being built or opening up. We’d roll into the place and just go for it. We rode more pools and radical spots than most anyone else and — truth be told — everybody knew it. Mt Baldy, Arizona pipes, pools, parks… we rode everything.”
I recalled Jerry riding for Arrow Skateboards and asked him about the details. “Well, Pepsi actually sent to me to England and when I was there, I ran into Bobby Piercy. He told me that he was there and was working with a billionaire who was dumping tons of money into an international skateboarding team. Bobby offered me a bunch of money, a car and a place to live. I ended up going to England and I stayed there over a year and a half. I brought a ton of skateboarders over during my time with Arrow and Traknology.
We ordered some coffee and I scribbled notes. My fingers ached. It seemed as though everything he was telling me… was a pearl of wisdom. When I was sitting in my isolated frozen world of Pennsylvania in the late nineteen seventies, I studied the photographs in the magazine and dreamed. Now, here I was, getting a crash course in skate history… real stories. Truth.
“What about the Turningpoint Ramp?” I asked. Jerry sipped his coffee and slipped into a reverie. “Well… that’s an interesting story. Scott and Kent Senatore’s mom had a very wealthy boyfriend and he was funding the construction of the Turningpoint Ramp. It was probably a half-million dollars. This was in 1978-1979. She also funded the film Skateboard Madness and other things associated with Turningpoint skateboarding. The ramp was clear plexiglass and wobbled around. It was difficult to ride but I agreed to go on tour with it and I feel that we ended up really putting that thing to the test. We’d regularly go way over vert on our carves…” Our Arizona pipe trips seemed to help prepare us for that ramp.”
Jerry sat back in his chair. He laughed and told me story after story. It would’ve been unbelievable except I knew all of it to be true. I’d heard some of these tales before and often confirmed by history itself. There are no versions of the truth… It just is. We finished our meal and headed to my place. I had a copy of the William Sharp book ‘Back in the Day’. I had poured five years of my life and anxiety into making the book as good as I could get it. Jerry was predominantly featured along with about a hundred other skateboarding greats. He looked at the book page by page. His eyes wandered over the images. Some brought a laugh, others a story… history written by a victor.
He turned the page to the Marina del Rey skate park section. He paused… there was an image of him in full layback position. He pointed to the expanse of white paper to the right side of the photograph. “My life has been a crazy ride. With nothing, I created everything that is good in my life and it all goes back to skateboarding. He tapped the white paper… your life is a blank sheet of paper. It’s up to you how you write it.”
Thanks to Jerry Valdez for the words and experiences. Thank you to Noemy. Thank you to William Sharp, King James Cassimus, Hugh Holland and Boyd Harnell RIP for all of the great photographs. Be kind out there… Ozzie