The fountain of youth is often drained.
3.31.21. It’s been a year. In the midst of the most chaotic and confusing times we have all been experiencing, and through a sea of confusing and constant changes, some things haven’t changed at all. One of these constants is the void left behind when Jeffrey Grosso departed this mortal coil far too early. Everything went black. There is no other way to accurately put it into words. This void has given rise to the discomforting concept of having to speak of a dear friend in the past tense and the constant reflection on that painful reality. Perhaps delusion would be easier, living in a constant state of denial. Pretending. But that’s not the path anyone should take. The catharsis may remain incomplete for years to come and it may or may not be true that time heals all wounds. It hasn’t helped that the pandemic prevented us from being able to come together to mourn as well as celebrate our friend’s life. But let this not be a long-winded lament, nor tear-invoking eulogy, nor a string of endless reminders of our collective grief. As I often remind myself the last thing Jeff would want us all to be doing would be soaking in a lukewarm bath of self-pity and never-ending sadness. He’d be screaming at us to get out and get it on. How could he not be? He was that way in life and that is what should echo into eternity.
Gordon Lightfoot. The undisputed King of the Ollie
I first “met” Jeff in the mid 1980’s. It was just prior to his defection from Schmitt Stix to Santa Cruz and he came to a session at the Page Mill vert ramp one day, unannounced, with no real fanfare or egocentric flair. I use the term “met” loosely because Jeff and I didn’t have any sort of real conversation, just the normal banter of a session. To say he left a lasting impression would be an understatement. His skateboarding was a full power trip, every move done with authority, and he would stand up straight through the flat heading towards each wall as if he were looking for a fight. Needless to say, when Jeff jumped on Santa Cruz, I rode perhaps a dozen of his Demon Bat decks. A year or two later we crossed paths at the Kennedy warehouse a couple of times. The 80’s nod/what’s up was about the extent of our interaction. Now if anyone had said to me back then: “One day Jeff will be one of your closest friends and you will be creating the majority of his deck graphics”. Well, I would have said that they were both imaginative and full of shit. But 20 years later, that friendship and working relationship started in a completely random and organic way. Ray Zimmerman and myself were the chief content creators for Concrete Disciples, a website that was dedicated to pool, pipe, park, and other forms of transition skating that the standard media had mostly abandoned in favor of street skating. We would organize events and invite our community to come out for an all day shred fest. Jeff showed up randomly at one of our so-called “bomb drops” in 2004. It may sound silly but I couldn’t help fanning out on him and I was honestly surprised that he even showed up. He rolled right up to me, extended his hand, and told me he was a fan of my writing, before I had a chance to work up the fortitude to even approach him without worrying about saying something completely stupid. We made some small talk about skateboarding and sobriety, perhaps even the weather. Some days later Jeff called me out of the blue and wanted to talk skateboarding, I’m not even sure how he got my number. We spent some 3 hours on the phone during which he put me through a sort of friendly interrogation about my life in skateboarding and we swapped stories of the variety that are seldom believed unless you actually witnessed them. By the end of that call, It felt very much as if we had been friends for years, which was mind-blowing because it started as a random call. Thus begun a friendship and a relationship in which we shared highs and lows, countless hours of skateboarding, travels, intense dialogues, and a nearly daily download of thoughts, ideas, feelings. What surprised me about Jeff, I soon discovered, was all based in my own stupid assumptions about what kind of human being I thought he might be. Rare are those who carry themselves with the the level of honesty, generosity, and self-analysis the way Jeff did. Some of his “flaws” were what made him such a charismatic and lovable person. Self-deprecating to a fault. OCD and mildly neurotic. Unafraid to make mistakes, but never afraid to admit them. He seemed to be in a constant state of evolution as a person, even if on rare occasions he might have taken one step forward and two steps back. Sometimes down, never out.
Smiles were never in short supply.
Way back in 2009 Ray Zimmerman and myself decided to publish a Grosso interview feature on the website. The following is the verbatim intro to the piece.
If you ask most people to run down a list of their favorite skaters of all time, 99 times out of 100, Jeff Grosso will be on that list, and usually near the top of it. To a skateboarder, the reasons for this are obvious. One of Jeff’s tricks is worth at least three of anyone else’s. So much Power, so much style, his skating is truly in a class of it’s own. A beautiful and raw thing to witness, a true show of greatness. But to an outsider, a non-skateboarder, Jeff might not even rate as a “decent” human being. Why not? Well Jeff didn’t have the fabled and illustrious competitive pro career, with dozens of contest wins. He turned pro when it all went to shit. He didn’t become a poster child for milkTM or become a marketable commodity that could be paraded on television
for the sake of selling products. Jeff didn’t become a household name synonymous with video games, cheap Chinese made toys, or extreme sports stage shows. Instead Jeff floored it, down what some might consider to be the highway to hell. This is a recurring concept that we have seen repeatedly throughout history in the lives of the gifted, the brilliant, and the talented. “Fuck it. Fuck it all.” And in the last year or so, when Grosso was getting some coverage and interviews, it seemed as though a large part of those features’ focus was his ride down that so-called highway. Since he isn’t afraid to tell anybody anything, most of us are already familiar with the basic story line. Why dwell on the same old shit? I’ve been fortunate enough to witness Jeff’s skating in brief installments, from early on, right up until the present. Mile High, Page Mill, Upland, Del Mar, Kennedy Warehouse, and on and on. The one characteristic that has always struck me about his riding is how such a big powerful guy can put such finesse to a trick. I have often imagined video footage of his runs in which a giant exclamation point would flash on the screen after each trick. It just seemed somehow appropriate, because everything he does is carried out with authority. That’s the thing with Grosso, he tells the absolute truth through it all. In an era where we could all use a lot more truth, in times where the bullshit is piled higher than the drop-in for the mega-ramp, we should all be very grateful that he is here. His skateboarding is among the purest truths ever told, along with his words. – BLKPRJKT
At some point, a few years down the road from that interview, Jeff made the following absurd statement: “You and Ray singlehandedly resurrected my career.’ Ridiculous. He did it all by himself. We were simply documenting the process and we were honored to do it. His humility, coupled with a sharp sense of humor, and his penchant to make flamboyant statements. Personality disorder or endearing traits. But all of it was 100% genuine. No punches pulled, no holds barred. Warts and all. I have never laughed as hard or smiled as much as when I talked with him.
Grosso practicing what he preached. “Tuck your fucking leg when you do a boneless.”
Not long after Oliver was born, Jeff told me “It’s so fucked, I haven’t slept in 3 months, I love this kid, a total terrorist already”. Jeff and Ray had a deep and close friendship, and when Oliver came along they shared fatherhood stuff. Jeff would often tell me about how he would find himself out of patience and at the end of a so-called rope with regards to being a dad and how much he appreciated Ray’s counsel when it came to raising a child. When Oliver began skating, that bond of skateboarding and being a dad they shared only grew stronger. They would go off on skate adventures together and I would get downloads of stoke from Jeff after each and every one. Seeing how Jeff interacted with Oliver, his intense love for his son was blatantly obvious. Through everything, Jeff’s love for Oliver, for his family and friends, and for skateboarding never wavered.
Throughout the years of Jeff’s professional tenure with Anti Hero, I had the distinct honor and privilege of doing several of his graphics. Our interactions surrounding the art will always be among my favorite memories from this life. He encouraged me to let it all fly, to never hold back, and he never once treated me as a “sensitive artist”. His brutal honesty made him a far better muse than most artists are worthy of. Each and every graphic was an honor for me to create, and it never felt like “work”. It was quite the embarrassment of riches to be his personal art attache to Anti Hero, and I never took it for granted.
Assorted graphics shenanigans.
A lot of love and passion went into each and every graphic, it wouldn’t be possible to do any of them without approaching them in such a way. He eventually dragged me into working on the graphics for the Love Letters to Skateboarding with Buddy and Rick at Six Stair as well. Jeff was always quick to help a friend or extend an opportunity to someone who needed it. That’s just how he was.
The infamous “End Game” graphic and the un-released “AHRP Skate Coach” graphic.
Love is really the key point of Jeff’s legacy. His lasting imprint is everywhere. Enough photographs to choke a horse, video footage spanning 4 decades, and 10 years worth of the Love Letters To Skateboarding. But more important than the documentation is the impression he left on nearly everyone whose lives he touched and the pure love for skateboarding and skateboarders he shared with us all. For my part, I will remain eternally grateful for the all-too- short time we shared and the indelible mark he left on my life. We laughed. We cried. We rolled.
Thank you to BLKPRJKT for the words and memories on a continuing painful subject. Thank you to Ray Zimmerman for images and my heart goes out to all of Jeff’s family and friends. He made the world a better place and is missed. – Ozzie