‘Forty-six years and I never stopped.’
Tell me something about Boston that people might not know?
Driving in Boston is very challenging, roads are confusing to navigate. Most of the streets are simply the original paths that the people and livestock used when Boston was first settled. Except for the Back Bay, which was filled in with dirt from the digging of the first subway tunnel from Boston to Cambridge in 1897.
How many years have you been skating?
Forty-six years and I never stopped. I was walking past a friend’s house in the spring of 1976. He had left a plastic skateboard on the lawn for a few days……So I liberated that board, and from that day forward I was pushing past his house! Thanks Joel!
What local skaters did you look up to when first started riding? I think for a couple of months I rolled around my neighborhood in Cambridge before going into Boston and met some other skaters who rode at the common. It was a small scene, maybe ten skaters? We all seemed to be at the same level of riding ability. Nobody really stood out. The next year in the spring I found the Cambridge pool, where I met these surfers that skated. They were older in their twenties and had been riding the pool for a couple of years. So, these guys would be the first heroes in skateboarding for me – Brian Mcginn, Steve Ellis, Barry and Joe Walsh. I should say that BEFORE finding the Cambridge pool, skateboarding was easy. We rode hills, some small banks and did freestyle tricks. But riding the pool changed all that, this place was challenging and dangerous! What more could a fifteen-year-old possibly want?! When I say pool, most people would think of beautiful transitions and curves in a lush tropical setting. The Cambridge pool is none of these things! It’s a large public pool in a bad part of town, broken glass on the surface and dust and garbage swirling in the wind. Always windy there. This bowl was huge, twelve feet deep with three feet of vertical and a bone jarring kink. I rode there for a month or so, slowly getting more confidence. I was riding there after school by myself, and I fell and broke my leg. I spent most of the summer all casted up and recuperating. In September of 1977 Zero Gravity skatepark opened, I think it was the first indoor wood built skatepark opened in America. The park had a huge halfpipe, sixty feet long, fifteen-foot transitions with five feet of vertical. There was no lip, the vert went all the way to the ceiling! So, in the fall of 1977 skaters in Boston had an incredible indoor skatepark and the Cambridge pool, which went on to be an iconic skate spot for thirty-five years.
‘How about the biggest opportunity that I screwed up?’
You have a company called PainCheaters, what made you decide to make knee pads?
In the 80’s a lot of skaters were layering two knee pads on each knee to try and get good protection for the increasingly demanding terrain that was available. It seems the pads never kept up with the progression of the sport. I felt that I could improve on the designs and construction of the knee pads that were on the market at that time. But I should say I never was going to start a company, I don’t have a business plan or partners. I just started making pads for myself and skaters started asking me to make them some PainCheaters! Now thirty years and forty design changes later, here I am still making knee pads for people who want something better than mass produced gear that’s available. My mission with PainCheaters is to make the best pads, but the best part of the business is connecting with skaters all over the world who are interested in my product.
So, it is all by order?
I was thinking of mass production that is pushed into skate shops. I don’t do any of that. It’s so funny because you’re halfway across the world and you know about my company which is awesome ’cause I don’t advertise. It’s all word of mouth. I do all the sewing myself on a 1926 singer which I got out of the garbage. I am still wearing the same pads that I made 20 years ago. However, I am 60 and should not fall anymore. No one else grown too old to play depending on how much milage you have on your body now.
Any special moments in your pad business you want to share?
How about the biggest opportunity that I screwed up?
In 1996 I got a call from an olympics director asking if I could make forty pairs of pads for the closing ceremony of the Atlanta games, which had skateboarders, bmx and inline skaters doing a demo. There wasn’t enough time to complete that order without quitting my job in the real world at Whole foods. And I don’t think at that time I had the confidence in my company and skills to make PainCheaters my main source of income. And looking back as we are, I don’t know that making knee pads could ever be my only job. I need multiple angles in this day and age to find my way in society. By the way I was reluctant to make this interview, but I saw Charlie Wilkins post on you and a couple of days later on Andy Mac’s story.
‘But riding the pool changed all that, this place was challenging and dangerous!’
Charlie was great as he gave me more contacts into the Boston skate scene and Andy Mac responded instantly to my DM. Super nice guy, so I am wondering why he was not fully respected within the skate community. What is your take one this?
I think I met Andy when he was fourteen at Turtles. Turtles was a kids park with all the usual stuff, slide, swings and climbing structures, but it also an amazing skate spot, curved banks weird angled things and stuff to ride on. Andy seemed determined and focused and learned tricks very quickly. You know the jock mentality and training aspect in skating has never been taken seriously.
Within a few years he was one of best skaters around New England. We took him on a few trips down the east coast with us. He tolerated our endless billowing clouds of weed smoke, and it was great to see him ride some new place, figure it out and then start ripping! I have some spine mini ramp footage of Andy where he took one run that lasted more than two and a half minutes! With no tricks repeated. Andy has always had the same attitude, I really respect that about him, having a sober lifestyle at the time was not the “cool thing to do”. It took him a few years after moving to California to find his place in skateboarding with Powell, but he’s still at the top of his game!
“After all Andy Mac is my straightedge hero! He’s not one of us stoner zeros.”
There’s a band BAD SHIT that has a song “All hail Cardiel” and we thought our band should do a song about Andy Mcdonald. He has New England roots and it’s a great contrast to John Cardiel. I try to tell some of his early skate life in the song.
“He went from fluff boy to Shamoo and still showed all of you”
Andy did a Fluff A Nutter commercial. Fluff is a spreadable marshmallow product invented in Somerville MA 1914. So, for a few years before moving to California Andy’s nickname was FluffBoy and when he got to San Diego the only job he could find was dressing up as Shamoo the whale at Sea World! In another verse it goes:
“He got dissed by Real over a letter- maybe that’s all for the better”
When Andy was moving out west, he sent out sponsor me letters to skate companies, and one of Real’s riders got the letter and made fun of Andy. Looking back Andy would have never fit the image of Real skateboards anyway.
Oh, I have a bit of New England skate history for you. Back in the 70s one of the best early skate wheels was Road Riders. So, these wheels were made in Cranston Rhode Island! And Sid Abbruzzi of Water Brothers (surf and skate shop in Newport RI) told me that he would go after hours and grab wheels from the dumpster! I love skate history and trivia.
‘Growing up in Boston I looked up to the Loud Ones.
Kevin Day and Fred Smith in particular.’
Any embarrassing moments in your career?
I can’t think of any embarrassing things…. But I should say that slamming in front of a big crowd or having to call into work and tell them I got broke off…..again are both rather humiliating. One point about growing up skating in the 70’s: The scene was small, a few dozen skaters in the whole city. You were happy to see anybody else rolling. In the 80s as skateboarding and punk rock evolved into a cultural turning point, skating became more aggressive, verbal abuse, intimidation became ways to control the session. The snaking and heckling progressed as skateboarding was growing. It got crowded! Now if you treat kids like that, you would be up on charges!
Can I ask you a non-skateboard question?
You already did.
Which one? Ah, that one.
Common. I am the one smoking weed here.
What are some of the challenges that people face in Boston today?
I would say housing, cost of living, and racism.
What is your proudest moment in skating?
Definitely all the lifelong friends that skateboarding brought into my life! My ability to overcome injuries, and still being able to walk at sixty! I would like to mention that the rapid increase of skate parks being made around the world, has allowed skaters who normally wouldn’t participate in society, to become incredible craftsmen molding the terrain for our future.
Last question. If you could interview a person, who would it be and why?
I would go with Tom Sims who’s dead now and Frank Nasworthy. Not sure if he is still alive.
‘Now if you treat kids like that, you would be up on charges!’