Wax the Coping: Jesse Garza the Deck Restorer
EVER SEEN A BADASS FULLY RESTORED ‘57 CHEVY, all cherry’d out looking like it just rolled off the showroom floor? Well my buddy Jesse Garza does similar work but with skate decks. He can take your dusted, crusted old plank and time machine that bad boy straight back to the ‘80s. I hit him up to see what goes into restoring a skate deck and why it’s such a rare discipline. —Michael Sieben
Photos by Dharam Khalsa
How’d you get into deck restoration and what was the first board you worked on?
I worked on a Mark Gonzales for a buddy here locally in San Antonio, Texas. After doing his board I realized there was an actual market for this and little by little started doing more boards after that.
So did you post it to social media and people saw it and were, like, “Whoa, I want my old deck fixed up!”
Yeah, that was basically it. I didn’t realize that there already was somewhat of a deck restoration community already out there, so I just figured let me see what I can do with this. And nobody was actually restoring decks with screen printing, so it just became a really cool and unique thing because screen printing is such a dying art form. You don’t see a lot of people doing it. And all the guys who are doing it, it’s just so expensive, you know, that you just don’t really see it around.
So the other deck restorers that you found, were they hand painting the graphics on the boards?
Yeah, most of these guys are painting them by hand with a brush or they’ll mask off the design and they’ll airbrush the different color separations color by color and then will paint at the very end. And those are really cool and that’s been the accepted way of doing things. But obviously the preferred way of doing it is to do it the absolute original way that it was initially done: screen printing it the same way using the same inks, same type of art separations that were done in the ‘80s and there’s just nothing that beats that. That’s the ultimate.
How do you find the original art for these boards?
I started out with a big collection of my own, so most of the restorations that I’ve done are boards that I already had, so I was able to scan them and get the graphics that way. But a lot of times I’ll go to buddies of mine who are skate collectors who have a lot of rare decks that I don’t have and they’ll help me out by sending photos and reference materials so I can build the graphic back up in the computer as accurately as possible.
To date, what’s been the most challenging graphic you’ve tried to recreate?
A Jeff Phillips BBC Subway Card graphic. I’m not sure if that’s the actual name of the deck. But I basically couldn’t do it. It was too complicated. It was just so complex, so many colors. I probably spent about 40 hours redrawing the graphic and doing the separations only to get frustrated with it. And I even had a few of the original boards so it should have been easy. I ended up chopping it down to a two-color graphic instead of the six-color graphic that it was supposed to be. It was still a pretty cool project in the end, though.
In your opinion, who’s the gnarliest skate-graphic illustrator in terms of details?
I’m gonna say VCJ.
Have you recreated any of his old Powell Peralta graphics?
Yeah, I’ve had several customers who have had me recreate old Powell graphics. I’ve been fortunate enough to have owned almost all of them, so I’ve been able to recreate the art fairly easily because of that. The quality of his art has blown me away since I was a kid. There’s so many good artists out there but he’s the guy that made me really love skateboard graphics when I was younger.
Is there a dream board that you’d like to restore? Do you have a holy grail?
No, I don’t actually. There are some boards that I’ve gotten from people that I’ve turned down because they’re just too rare. But the boards that I restore are holy grails to the people that I’m restoring them for.
Have you encountered any purists that don’t like what you’re doing?
Oh yeah. I think in every group of people there’s always, like, five out of 100 who are haters for whatever reason. There’s an elitist collector group who feel like if you restore a skateboard you’re taking the soul out of it, that every mark means something. But maybe somebody bought a board from someone and those marks don’t mean anything to them. They just want to have it restored and look like it did when they were a kid.
Have you ever gotten to the last screen and made a mistake and had to start over from scratch?
Yes. Too many times. That’s probably one of the reasons that screen printing isn’t done that much anymore. It’s such a rare thing. It’s really being phased out because it’s so difficult. There’s so many variables; there’s so many things that can go wrong. I’ve had to re-strip a board at the last screen, start over and then get to the last screen and make another mistake—two attempts.
How long does a typical restoration take from start to finish?
It’s usually about three days, but that’s just for the skateboard itself. The art process is a thing unto itself. Tracking down the art and redrawing every tiny little detail can take 20 to 25 hours to get a graphic right.
In broad strokes, what’s the process?
First you have to get the artwork done. Then you take the skateboard and start to repair it. Sometimes the decks don’t have any tails on them whatsoever, so I have to go in there and reinforce it with Bondo and basically just reshape the thing into a new tail. Then you paint the board and screen print the graphics on there.
What do you typically charge someone for a full restoration?
Between $250 and $450 and it really just depends on how much time I have to spend repairing the board and if the graphic is really rare and hard to find—there’s a lot of time that I have to invest in researching the shape and making sure that it’s right. Everything has to be just perfect, otherwise it’s just not worth doing for me.
Do you have any advice for somebody who would like to attempt a deck restoration at home?
The best thing to do is to go online and look up some DIY skateboard printing videos. Do some research and watch some videos before doing anything. And watch videos on how to screen print and get a good foundation of that. Having some graphic knowledge and knowing how to use Photoshop would definitely be a plus. But anybody can get started doing it. It doesn’t require a lot of expensive equipment. There’s a lot of information out there that wasn’t available even five years ago. It used to be such a guarded secret in the industry. After that it’s just a matter of buying screens and trying it.
Who would be a dream pro to send you a board from their childhood?
I guess Steve Caballero would probably do it for me. That was my first pro board. As a kid, that guy was just really awesome to me. That would be an honor.
So in addition to restoring skate decks, you also run your own screen printing company called Cat Palace. How did you first get into screen printing?
I got into screenprinting in the 8th grade. I was in a hardcore band and we wanted to make shirts. My buddy’s dad owned a sign shop and had us over to watch him do it. The process blew my mind and I was instantly hooked. I’ve been screenprinting ever since. So please hit me up for your next skate event or whatever you want printed on a t-shirt or skateboard.
Where did the name Cat Palace come from?
The name came about because we found a litter of kittens at our shop and then found another litter shortly after that. We kept the cats because the property was crawling with rattlesnakes and cats eat up all the snake food like mice and lizards, so it just worked out perfectly. If you ever visit you'll definitely notice the cats. They love visitors and always go down to the bowl to watch the shredders.
So what’s up with your bowl? When did you get that thing built?
I’ve always wanted a backyard bowl and finally got the chance to build one about four years ago. I built it for me and my friends. I have plans to build a full-on skatepark on five acress of my wooded property. The concrete mini ramp should be done by this summer. I raise all the funds by selling Cat Palace shirts and decks that I make here at the shop.
How do you regulate the sessions? Is anybody welcome to come shred?
The San Antonio skate scene is like a big giant family and all my friends are always welcome to come skate. Everyone knows me in this city so it’s just a matter of texting me to come ride. I always get hit up by out-of-state people and pros to come skate when they’re traveling. That’s what makes this all worth it for me: meeting other people with the same love for skateboarding keeps my happy.
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