Were you one of those surfers that skated when there was no swell?
No. I was a belly boarder (though I can surf) and out of Beach Haven, New jersey. I belly boarded from 10 to 16 years of age in the summers. Then I switched over to motocross riding, living breathing what we called MX in the states. I started racing at 17 (1973) and in a year and a half became quite proficient.
When and where did you start skating and why?
So I was racing MX and my friends showed me a skateboard and a few simple tricks some time when I was in college closest I can figure is summer 1974. That was in southeastern Pennsylvania. Friend was Ernie Martin. Looking back, I don’t know what happened, but I can remember making a conscious decision to move from bike to skate. I sold my Honda Elsinore 125, my leather, my helmet, the whole shebang and moved into skateboarding. We smoked up and went skating. First place we found that was smooth was on Stout Rd in Philadelphia PA. We got T shirts made ‘Team Stout!’ I was hooked. We did have urethane wheels but the bearings were loose. It wasn’t until later that sealed bearings were developed. All the gear as very rudimentary in the mid 1975 time frame. That urethane was developed by Frank Nasworthy. HE is really the reason skateboarding today is so popular. In the beginning we focused on free style and downhill. I worked for a long time to perfect my freestyle including nose wheelies!
How did the general public perceive skaters at that time?
I’d like to say we were scum and they hated us. But that’s not so. Though we were all long haired pot smoking hippies we were a curiosity. People weren’t quite sure what to make of us! There’s a Pulitzer Prize winning book called ‘Barbarian days’ that describes how a surfer bum was viewed by society as he drifted around the Pacific. (The book is over written and 5X too long). But it makes a statement. It was only in Australia that surfing was respected and recognized as a main stream sport!!
‘That urethane was developed by Frank Nasworthy. HE is really the reason skateboarding today is so popular.’
‘I saw next to no one on east coast who could do this into a hand stand in one continuous movement.’
Which skaters did you look up to around the time and why?
So skaters from Los Angeles California dominated America’s conscious. On the ‘East Coast’, Florida to Maine, we read Skateboarder magazine and tried to do what they were doing. So out of South Florida we looked at pictures and read stories and dreamed. What were they doing, how did they do it? I was in college when I heard the word, my friend Ernie Martin had gone to California and won the high jump competition. He set a Guiness book world record that held for a LONG TIME. He got a contract for U$36,000 a year and a Corvette from Solar Skateboards. I was so psyched when I heard the news. Eventually I moved to their team too. We skated a lot together and I say if there was one person I looked up to it was Ernie.
Did they pay you to be on the Solar Team?
Solar did pay me but only a few hundred dollars. All equipment free. I also skated for Freedom, Casino, Pepsi and Sims…the pinnacle of skateboarding. Kenny Freedom gave me my first boards. He ran a great surf shop and in Beach Haven they built this lame skatepark. It was long winding uneven snake runs. Many people came from far and wide. We dominated so much Kenny gave us boards. Then I went to the East Coast Championship in Asbury Park NJ and my friend Ernie Martin was there skating for team Casino. He said do you want to join? I said no I skate for Freedom. Then he came out in his uniform.I changed on the spot. Kenny showed up to contest and was like WHAT??
Was there any rivalry between the skaters from the West to the East Coast?
In general yes but it never amounted to much because we rarely met. Some were jerks, most were pretty good guys. We had Shugo K in Cherry Hill NJ at what was the best park on the east coast. And we took him to diner at benihana. restuarant (table served Japanse steak house) He looked chinese. The waitresses came over and started”Koichema yang yen chi….” SHuko said “Eowwww keep away from me I’m American.”
Who was the skateboarder that everyone looked up to?
Tony Alva was probably the mist looked up to. While I respected him, I did not idolize him!!!
‘I’d like to say we were scum and they hated us. But that’s not so.’
Were there any competitions?
I skated in a lot of competitions. Won many. My specialty in the beginning was freestyle, wheelies handstands, gorilla grip, V sits etc. At one event, called the East Coast Championships Asbury Park, NJ, I won 2 meds in one day. Slalom and Barrel Jumping. I did not go to any Cal contests, but many did come to a big $ contests in Jacksonville Florida.
Any skatemags at the time?
It was all Skateboarder magazine. I found out after the fact the Ellen D was editor. This girl could skate and she was deeply involved in California skateboarding. I had a direct connection to her, but she died unexpectedly in 2020.
Did you appear in one?
Yeah but I don’t remember where. Not much just some quarter page black and white. I did once get filmed by a camera crew slaloming pretty aggressively between beer cans. They used it as background to weather forecasts on local TV station. Ran every fifth day or so for a year or two.
‘At one event, called the East Coast Championships Asbury Park, NJ, I won 2 meds in one day. Slalom and Barrel Jumping.’
‘Another one of my signature maneuvers. I did extensive 1 and 2 foot wheelies front and back of board’
What was your proudest moment as a skateboarder?
I can say I taught Allen Gelfand how to skateboard.
Wait a minute. You taught the guy who invented the ollie how to skate?
YES. THAT IS CORRECT. I can say that I was 500% better then Ollie at the time. He was literally like 11-13 years old. 4’11’’ getting 1/2’’ of air. I was gorilla gripping 3’…but then I went fishing and he went on to celebrity with Stacey Peralta’s Bones Brigade. Tom Sims was always upset I hadn’t roped him in.
‘…but then I went fishing and he went on to celebrity with Stacey Peralta’s Bones Brigade.’
‘This is when he was still a rat (size wise). This is the purest Ollie picture in existence if you ask me.’
What were some of your favorite tricks you were doing back in those early days?
I was really good at wheelies. V sits into handstands. But it was the Gorilla grip that I did the most versatile tricks with.
Regarding the gorilla grip. Do you have any recollection on who came up with this trick?
That clearly was Skitch Hitchcock in Cal. I saw the pictures and said hmmm. I never met him but I suspect I took the trick to levels he never dreamed about.
‘Solar did pay me but only a few hundred dollars. All equipment free. I also skated for Freedom, Casino, Pepsi and Sims…the pinnacle of skateboarding.’
Can you elaborate how you took the trick to the next level?
It was my signature move so to speak. I never met Skitch but from his pics he never seemed to do anything but ‘air’ on flat land. I launched off of 5’ embankments. I did 360’s in the air. I cleared many obstacles airborne. I did 360’s off of walls. Look at the picture of me in the pool. I was at a big contest afterwards all blowing off steam in pool. I looked at high dive and said….hmmmmm. Took my 24” Bayne with keep wheels and trucks (knowing it was a sacrifice to h2o) went up and did a 540 twist off high dive into water. I n fact I first saw this picture some 35 years after it was taken. It made such an impression on someone he had it all that time. Look at every face surrounding the pool. everybody was like WHAT!!!!!
‘I had totally forgotten about it until I was sent this pic in 2015 time frame. A big rush to see it. Mind blowing that someone had the pic, much less that he saved it and thought so much of it to forward it to Craig Snyder (Author of ‘Secret history of the Ollie)’.
I guess you had to skate barefoot to do this trick but at what point did you start wearing shoes? If so, what type (or brand) were you wearing?
I did a huge amount of my skating barefoot. But I would put them on for safety. I had TOUGH callouses and unusually wide feet and could stand hot pavement and rough riding. While I did have some Vans sneakers, I used to like tennis sneakers, without socks most of the time. My friend Ernie to this day still wonders how I did all those tricks barefoot!
Do you remember the brand of the tennis sneakers?
Tretorn! They were flat and light. The joke was I did not wear socks and I perspired alot!!
With shoes came new tricks. Have you embraced the biggest trick in skateboarding history called ‘Ollie’ when it became popular?
As I said I can claim to have taught Ollie how to skate. He was doings trick as he tried to hook a small turn on flat land. I watched Alan (he was like a 90 pound 4’8” rug rat) do his trick and said “You are not getting any air”. Maybe he was getting 1/2” on just the back wheels. I’d say that was Jan 1978. Dates are a little foggy. SO here’s what happened, I swear it’s the truth. One really good skater in Florida at the time was Mike Fulmer. Mike went to California. The skateparks there summer 1978 (or 79 or 80?) were out of this world. Half pipes and pools the whole monty. Mike Fulmer started doing the turns (with air) at the top of a half pipe. Somebody got the picture of Mike Fulmer with all wheels off the ground levitating the whole skateboard without touching it. The cover shot. Skateboarding was changed forever. Alan started it, Mike perfected/ broadcasted it. Alan went on to join the Bones Brigade and as you now, it’s the essential trick. I can’t do it!!!
‘While I did have some Vans sneakers, I used to like tennis sneakers, without socks most of the time.’
‘Rough ramp built in backyard on Radical Trucks owner name forgotten.’
When did you stop skating and why?
It was time. I would smash once or twice an outing. I knew my body wasn’t going to be able to stand the abuse. I WENT FISHING.
When you look at the skateboarding late80ies/90ies, did you feel that it was going in the wrong direction? If so, can you tell us why?
At the end of my run, I skated for Sims. Actually knew Tom Sims and had all Sims gear and jersey. I heard from Cal skaters. I remember Hobie (They make surfboard still this this day. Hobie clothing as well. Top notch. More respected then Kryptonics) telling me that Tony Alva ruined skateboarding with his full interview published in Skateboard Magazine. While I never understood that I did hear them. Their stern statements registered with me and I never forgot. Personally, I felt it had just gone too far and was due to become less popular for a while. Which it did. If you watch DogTown or whatever the movie about Tony Alva is called, I say it’s complete bullshit. Alva and co were NOT freestyle skaters. They never were. They had next to no free style talent. What they did have was vertical (pool) talent. They were ahead of everyone. They blazed new terrain and the movie never even discussed it. I think it was Alva who first just rode out of a pool over the coping and right back in. Real talent. But not at freestyle, slalom, high jump, our downhill.
What is your view on skating being part of the Olympics?
I was very happy to see it. For me skateboarding should be freestyle, slalom and Vertical/Pool riding. I was extremely let down by the events. Giving Gold to 12 year olds who can do one trick that lasts 3 seconds is not skating!
‘I was extremely let down by the events. Giving Gold to 12 year olds who can do one trick that lasts 3 seconds is not skating!’
How has skateboarding shaped your life to who you are today?
I used to be the guy and that’s OK with me. My wife laughs whenever I see a skate rat and borrow his stick to show him how it’s done. Most kids today can’t even do a 360. Watching a 60 year old guy in suit and wingtip shoes slashing away on their sticks always gets a rise out of them.
…and out of you I would imagine. Last question: If you could interview one person, who will it be, why and what would you ask?
Guys come and go. They were flashes in the pan. Many I’d cherish the opportunity but there’s one person. She was like a editor for Skateboarder magazine for a long time. I communicated with her thru FB. She was unafraid to state her beliefs and was blasted by many ultra libs in california. She was a strong intelligent woman who was very warm, friendly, and open. If you search Gary J Spatola on FB and tell him I referred you HE is w wealth of info and has kept close touch with skaters all over america….and knew ellen well She recently died at 61 or so from heart attack. (Then they all pretended to love her unconditionally). Ellen Oneal Deason.