Charlie Wilkins

Boston’s Best

‘California felt so fake to me. I’d rather fight it out for footage on the bricks, cracks and cold in good old Boston.’

November 2022

On World Cup Skateboarding’s website, it says that you give back to the skate community by designing and building skateparks, judging contests and running skate camps. What do you like doing the most?
Honestly, I like all three for different reasons. Designing and building parks is amazing because I’m leaving a “permanent” stamp on different skate communities around the world. I sometimes watch YouTube videos of kids skating a park I designed or helped build and it fills me with happiness. Judging is fun because I get to still travel the world and be a part of the skate scene even though I’m essentially a retired pro. I also like to use my knowledge of skateboarding to help ensure that the best skater of the contest gets the win. And finally, running skate camps is just a pleasure because some slight instruction that I might give a kid could help him land his very first kickflip and that is a feeling and a celebration like no other in the world of skateboarding.

In your Juice Magazine interview you say that there should not be any skateboard contests at all. That view seems like a bit of a conflict of interest for someone that builds parks for these contests and judges them too.
You are absolutely correct. The reason I said that is because skateboarding is not a sport in my eyes. It is a sisterhood and brotherhood with the sole aim, have fun and stoked out your fellow skaters. When I got sponsored and turned pro, that ethos was magnified because of the platform I now had. Mike Vallely told me on the day I got sponsored by Powell that the upcoming summer tour I was going on was my first and it also could be my last, it all depended on how I carried myself being on that stage. No one likes meeting a pro in real life and they’re an asshole, when you looked up to them before you met them.

That being said, the reason I like to judge contests is because they will happen whether I participate or not. The same is true with designing skateparks. They will get designed and built whether I am involved or not, and we all have seen some horribly designed skateparks. I wanted to use my years of experience to first, judge fairly and honestly and second, to design quality parks that I would want to skate.

Feeble-Wilkins_1998 - Boston - Giovanni Reda
Feeble • Boston • 1998  © Giovanni Reda

You turned pro in 1996 but you stayed in Boston. You have been quoted as saying “I am not willing to compromise my ideals and priorities in pursuit of skateboarding fame and fortune.” Now looking back, do you think this decision had an impact on your skateboarding career?
Of course. Even back then I knew that decision would stunt my career. The most palpable example of that came when I was skating for Maple Skateboards in the early 2000’s. My team manager, Ed Dominick, asked me to move from Boston to San Diego with the incentive of a larger salary. I knew I was basically throwing away money by staying on the East Coast, but there’s just something about East Coast skaters and the spots here. They’re gritty, determined, hardened, brash, and ultimately the real deal. California felt so fake to me. I’d rather fight it out for footage on the bricks, cracks and cold in good old Boston. The added bonus was that the folks deciding what photos to publish in the magazines were hungry for any images that wasn’t a school with a palm tree laden background, boasting a perfect ten stair handrail with perfect run up and perfect landing. That gets old fast.

Which sponsor stands out the most for you personally and why?
Powell – It was my first “real” sponsor. It was a dream company to skate for (being that I started in 1985 and Powell Peralta was everything), I mean friggin’ Steve Caballero and Mike Valley put me on the team!!! Does it get better than that? Granted, I got sponsored in 1993 and Powell was not held in the best esteem at that point in skate history. The great thing about skating for Powell at that time is that I was a part of its rejuvenation and return to greatness. I also turned pro for Powell and had a pro board in the works before, Mike Vallely, Stacy Lowery, and I left Powell to start Transit Skateboards.

Transit Skateboards – That company was groundbreaking when it popped onto the stage in ‘97. It made news in the skate world and I was so proud to be a part of it. My first pro boards ever came out when Transit was around. It was raw, it was East Coast, it was real. Pure skateboarding. It fell apart within a year for a few reasons, but it shined bright while it lasted. Head to YouTube and search for Transit Promo. You may see me pushing clotted blood out of my hip and into a bathtub.

‘I mean friggin’ Steve Caballero and Mike Valley put me on the team!!! Does it get better than that?’

NBS-Wilkins_1997 - Boston - Nose Blunt Slide - Possibly Geoff Kula
Nose Blunt Slide • Boston  © unknown

Do you think skate pros have it any easier today compared to when you were one?
In some ways absolutely, and in other ways no. There are so many more companies and opportunities for AMs and PROs these days. More sponsors with deep deep pockets that are willing to fund filming trips all over the world. Also, those companies pay higher salaries making it much easier to make a living being a Pro. In my later years as a pro, I wasn’t making as much money, so I had to get a job to keep paying the bills. That meant I couldn’t go skate and film as much which only leads to more sponsors dropping you. It’s a catch 22.

On the other hand, the sheer number of amazing skaters out there is mind blowing so the competition to get sponsored is higher than ever. You gotta bust your ass and have sponsors take notice. There’s a lot more skate stopped spots as well. But all in all, I do think Pros have it better today.

How would you describe the Boston skateboard scene and its community?
I can’t really speak for it today, but I will answer as I knew it when I and the rest of my skate homies were living it. It was amazing…. It was a time in skating when if someone grinded a huge rail or did a crazy ledge trick/line combo (PJ Ladd), it shook the skateboard world and the skaters involved couldn’t wait to get the footage and photos out. Lots of underutilized spots in cities worldwide (Love Park fountain gap was a huge one). There was no Instagram, no Internet. You just had to send off slides and tapes to the magazines/ sponsors/411 Video Magazine and hope they used it. When a “Never Been Done” trick happened on a spot in Boston, everyone in the scene tripped out. We would meet up at Copley Square fountain and talk about where we wanted to skate and film that day, grab a posse, a filmer, and a photographer and go get it! Most times the best sessions were spontaneous and iconic footage would come out of those impromptu sessions. Those were the kind of days/ sessions that made the skate scene in Boston so tight. Parties and hanging out at Positive Skateshop only strengthened those bonds. There were cliques, for sure but at the end of the day we all were skaters just trying to shred as hard as we could. I do know that the new generations of Boston skaters are holding it down in a big way. Lots of amazing skaters these days.

How was the Boston skateboard community seen from the West coast back then?
Lots of west coast pros would visit Boston and NYC because of the gritty skate spots and unique architecture. Just like now-a-days when pros travel to or live in other countries to get unique footage, skaters would come to the East Coast for the same thing. Funny part is that sometimes skaters would complain about how rough and hard to skate all the spots were. We were/are tough out here. To get the trick, you gotta be gnarly!

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BS Ollie • Portland • 2011  © Rich Burton

What are some of the local skateboard brands in Boston/New England?
Respect I gotta say that Jahmal Williams is killing it with Hopps. He’s an original Boston pro that is now living in NYC and someone that helped me get sponsored by Powell in the first place. Other notable brands over the years were. 3D Innovations, Versatile Urethane, Joint 109, Big Top. There were obviously many many more up and down the coast.

What are the skaters in Boston most proud of?
My list is long and I’m sure I’ll forget people but here goes. Mike Bell, Ezra Brown, Jahmal Williams, Robbie Gangemi, Eli Reed, Ryan Gallant, Anthony Shetler, Matt Willigan, Brandon Westgate, Zered Bassett, Matt Pailes, Vanik Hacobian, Vinnie Ponte.

Who are some of the talented skaters in Boston that are making a name for themselves?
Basically all the folks I listed above with a few exceptions. Now-a-days there are a lot of others, but I don’t claim to know all the heavy hitters.

What are some of the underground heroes?
Pete Gardini, Kevin Day, Dougie Death, Pete Talbot, Ryan Weibust, Sean Hernadez, Tom Dupere, Adam Beliveau, Roger Bagley, Kyle Vadeboncoeur, Bro Gumpwright, Pete Gardini, Ed Driscole, Chris Trembley, Fat Ram, Eastie, Sea Bass, and many more.

What are the most popular skate spots in Boston in your day and present?
Copley Square Fountain, better known as the Fountain or just Copley. Basically a ledge or 3 big block gap spot that acted as a warm up/meet up spot before skaters broke off for bigger filming missions all around the city. Truly the heart of the skate scene back in the day. These days, the most iconic spot would have to be Eggs. It’s a truly epic granite ledge spot that the generation of skaters is absolutely destroying. I wish I had that spot when I was in my prime!

‘We were/are tough out here. To get the trick, you gotta be gnarly!’

LATEST_Sheep-Rail-Wilkins_1997 - New York - Geoff Kula
50-50 • New York State • Sheep ad 1997  © Geoff Kula

What is the most iconic skate spot in Boston for you and why?
I’ll take this question to speak about the epic spots and have ever or still do exist in Boston. Many have been demolished but new spots are getting built every year.

Probably the most epic and legendary (the late Jake Phelps used to rave about this spot) was the Cambridge Pool, or C-Bowl. It was a municipal pool that could fit 200 swimming kids. But when deranged, it was a 12 Feet deep, with a kink to 3 feet of vert, rough ass, ground water leaky concrete pit that was proving ground for all Boston skaters and many other skate pilgrims. Truly an epic spot since the mid 70’s. A kid drowned in the pool and wasn’t discovered for a few days, so sadly it was filled in to 4 feet deep, so you could see the dead kids sooner.

Metals. A giant angular metal sculpture from around the early 80’s, this spot looked like two icebergs floating next to each other. The first time I saw this spot, and the first time I saw “modern skateboarding”, was in 1984 when my father and I were driving to see a Celtics game. We drove by Metal, and I saw 10 to 20 skaters doing boneless’s, grinds, and wall rides all over it. My face was plastered against the window because I couldn’t understand what I just saw. Maybe a year later I was skating that very spot and loving life.

BCH or Boston City Hospital. Made famous by Gonz and Preston Meigeter, that spot consisted of two brick volcanos that concealed ventilation shafts. Absolutely epic natural spot. They made the large volcano mostly unskateable, but for some reason the smaller pill shaped one was left for us to shred in between getting kicked out. Those volcanoes were leveled, but there was and still are some decent straight banks to skate.

‘Oh, one more MIT rail. Me and Mike Bell. First ever double trick on the same handrail. Look it up.’

Transworld cover • Jan 1998

Turtles. Made out of tennis court material, this spot sucked to skate in the hot summer sun. It was an undulating, multi-leveled playground from the 70’s with the main feature being three, 4 to 4.5 foot tall concrete tubes on their sides at the top of a natural bump to bump. Super hard to ollie over because of the angle of approach you had to navigate to get speed enough for the trick. Not many tricks were done besides a straight ollie. One thing that haunts me is that I nearly backside kickflipped it but didn’t. Then next chance I got to try it again, the bulldozers were there wrecking the place. Heartache…. I’m gonna stop there cause I could fill up your whole magazine with my spot stories. Oh, one more MIT rail. Me and Mike Bell. First ever double trick on the same handrail. Look it up.

Turtles • Powell ad

Where is skateboarding happening in Winter? Are there any indoor parks?
Back in my time, we skaters of Boston were blessed to have Z.T. Maximus skatepark right across the road from the C-Bowl. It opened in the mid 80’s and lasted until the early 2000’s. The first demo I ever saw was a Powell Peralta demo in 1989. Tony Hawk was trying backside kickflips (not grabbing) on the 9’ tall mini-vert ramp. Sooooo ahead of the time. I was 14 years old. The coolest thing for me is that years later (1994), Jahmal suggested I come to a Powell demo that Mike Vallely and Steve Caballero were gonna be at because they were looking for new skaters to sponsor. I skated at that demo with those guys like my life depended on it. During a session on that very vert ramp, Steve (a childhood idol of mine) said I was ripping. I nearly melted. By the end of the demo, Mike V. asked me if I wanted to skate for Powell.

Last question. If you could interview a person, who would it be and why?
I would like to interview Jake Phelps. He was from New England and he was the truest skateboarder I have ever known. He knew how hard, how cold, how rough, how gritty this area is when you’re trying to go skateboarding. He saw it all, he lived it all, he was unapologetic, he was a true skateboarder. He epitomized the raw angst that skaters felt from the general public until such a time that skateboarding was cool and in the Olympics and even when that happened, he still railed on such a thing happening. He was all about the purity of a great skate session with your buds where you cheer, you fail, you bleed, and you triumph. It’s a glorious thing and that’s why we all do it until we can’t walk anymore and need hip surgery (like I do). If ever there was a shamen of skateboarding, it was Jake Phelps. Why, in this day and age of all digital media, is Thrasher Magazine the only skate mag still in print? Because of him. He is the heart of skateboarding, pure and simple.

‘If ever there was a shamen of skateboarding, it was Jake Phelps.’

Light_Back-D-Switzerland_Dave Swift
BS Disaster • Lausanne, Switzerland • 1998  © Dave Swift
Screenshot 2022-09-03 at 14.56.54