Jeff Grosso: On Vert Ramps
By Michael Burnett
A boy and his ramp. Photo: Burnett
Obviously skating vertical terrain first happened in pools, but how soon did halfpipes appear?
I think almost immediately. Once they figured out how to ride up walls, the kids started banging nails through wood. You go way back into the 70’s, with the birth of Skateboarder Magazine and you got kids everywhere without access to skateboard parks. Everybody was trying to emulate the California dream, what they saw in the magazines. Some kid in Boise, Idaho, Wichita Falls or wherever the fuck doesn’t have a skatepark. What do you do? You build a little quarter-pipe. I had a 4x8 sheet of wood leaned up to a keg my stepdad had. That’s how we rolled. Almost immediately I think.
The first tricks came from pools though, right?
Yeah, back then, as far as the pros were concerned, everything was skateboard park or backyard pool influenced. So yeah, I’m a skatepark kid. Skateparks slowly started to close and that pushed everybody back into the streets and into backyards.
When did the transition from concrete parks to wooden ramps occur?
It was between 1980 and 1984. A four-year timespan. A year in skateboarding is a long fucking time. It was kind of sad for all of us, out here in my world. The skateparks were our babysitters, it’s where we grew up. We spent a lot of time there. You’re either in the streets, street skating, at somebody’s back yard ramp or if you were fortunate enough, you were at the skateboard park on the weekends. It was sad because all of the stuff was going away but it was also kind of empowering. A lot of people were dropping out and growing up, going to school, getting jobs and moving on with of their lives. The rest of us were left to fend for ourselves, to figure out what we wanted to do with it. I was fortunate enough to grow up near Lance Mountain so we started riding Lance’s a lot. He fixed his ramp up. There was this other kid, Phil, who lived by Lance that was building a ramp out of stolen wood. I funneled him a bunch of my skateboard money so he could finish the ramp. Lance shut his ramp down when he had Cyril. He was trying to calm down his home life. We all moved over to Phil’s.
Grosso, loft at Lance’s. Smith’s tripping’ on those yellow shorts! Photo: MOFO
Was there a period of time where you were simultaneously skating the skateparks and vert ramps?
Yeah, it was ’82, ’83. It was around the time Skate City closed. There was a six-month lapse there. It sat closed, dormant and empty for a couple months. We were so nerdy that we didn’t even think about jumping the fence. Lucero called us one day and he told us that they were riding Skate City. Then we started jumping the fence and skating there anyway. That lasted about a month or two and it was gone. They bulldozed it. We found later that they were thinking of reopening it but since all the punkers tagged it, Mr. Gigliotti, the owner was just like, Fuck em. If they’re going to treat it like that, I’ll just bulldoze it. He was planning on reopening it.
How did halfpipes themselves evolve, from the 8-ft-wide, no flat bottom, plexiglass Pepsi thing to the modern version we have now?
I think Thrasher did an article about it. The summer tour issue in ’83 or something. They did a little article and I believe— I could be wrong but I think the Ramp Ranch guys in Atlanta, GA are credited as the first guys to put flat bottoms on ramps. The advent of eight, ten, twelve feet of flat bottom was a fuckin’ revelation. Everybody starting mimicking the Ramp Ranch. It was this huge, beautiful structure and everybody just thought that was the way to do it. You have all these ramps popping up. The Hollywood ramp in Florida was another one. That ramp was well documented in Skateboarder. Allan “Ollie” Gelfand, the frontside ollies on that wood ramp. Those ramps were the first ones to do a legitimate flat bottom. Once they put flat bottom on it, you could pump and airs got a little higher.
Flat bottom helped. So did roll-out decks. Tex makes do in ’82. Photo: Newton
Let’s talk about what half-pipes did to trick progression.
Originally the trick explosion started in the skateboard parks. You had all of the generation one and two guys: the Alvas, the Hacketts, the Olsons, all that stuff. All of a sudden you had the Lances, the Blenders, Billy Ruff and those guys coming up behind them. When they started to really go for it, boost their airs and stuff, it’s right when the parks started to close. Everything went backyard. Thrasher did the first Joe’s Ramp Jam. They did a whole little circuit. Thrasher really promoted it hard. The pushed really hard for a while; the whole backyard vert thing. This was before they decided to turn and go street. Shit, I lost my train of thought. I went on a whole different train of thought. You were talking about trick progression?
Yeah. As far as new tricks, inventing them and how they were done, how did the halfpipe change that?
It’s a much more forgiving terrain. The swing set, everything is back and forth, it’s as perfect as you can get it. It’s a much more forgiving wall – to fall on, to ride up, the whole nine yards. You can sit down and hyper-focus on just doing moves. Back then, you were lucky if you had a 24-foot wide vert ramp. That was a super wide vert ramp. It’s insane to think about now. Vert ramps are like 80-feet wide now! It’s a bunch of kids sitting in a backyard, hyper-focusing on one thing. What could we do with this? Kids being kids, they come up with some insane ideas. That’s when everything took off. It was a timing thing. I think if skateparks were still around, it would’ve happened regardless. Unfortunately, they weren’t so you had vert ramps. Everything pushed in that direction. It was a how do we sell and present this stuff to people? Everything was competition based. The idea of putting a vert ramp up and bringing the pros to town seemed like a good bet at the time, for the powers to be.
Kids coming up with insane ideas. Lance in the backyard in 1985. Photo: MOFO
Backing it up just a quick second, were there guys who were absolutely amazing at the concrete skateparks that never quite translated to the vert ramp? Were there pros or guys that didn’t make the transition to wood?
Yes, but not in the way you’re presenting the question. There were definitely skaters that shined more skating concrete. Skating round walls as opposed to skating flat walls, there’s just a lot more you can do in a pool. Of course, I’m talking about a skatepark pool, something that’s actually built for skating, not a backyard pool. A skater like Gator for instance, Gator was insanely good at skating skatepark pools. He really shined skating concrete. When you moved him over to just going back and forth on a vert ramp, his shine was a little bit diminished. He really flourished on skating round walls. Well, at least I think he did. Other people might disagree with me. Somebody like Hosoi, he’s really, really good at skating round walls. The flipside happened for him. He really took off and got really good when the ramps came in. He’s just got that incredible pump of his. He could just blast! Back and forth, higher and higher. He really shined when vert ramps took off. It was a timing thing as well. How old these kids were and all that kind of stuff. Some people look really good skating halfpipes and other people don’t. Take a skater like Peter Hewitt. He looks fantastic skating both. But he really, really shines when you put him in a pool. That’s his jam. You put him on a halfpipe and he’s equally as beautiful, but— does that make sense?
Saying it out loud makes it sound like I’m bashing the skaters. I’m probably the best analogy for this. I’m a skatepark kid so I can skate pools better than I can skate halfpipes. I did okay on the halfpipes. Most of my so called “pro career” was competing on halfpipes but I think I shine better in a pool.
With the Pabiches as his witness, Peter Hewitt blasts a booster at dusk. Photo: Burnett
What was it like being a pro halfpipe skater in the '80s?
It was great for as long as it lasted. Hindsight being 20/20 now, I understand why it all imploded and went away. It’s just not accessible for everybody. It takes a certain mindset to want to do that form of skateboarding. It’s not for everybody. I had a blast. I loved it. I could’ve forgone some of the competitive part of it. I think the competitive part of skateboarding is kind of wrong. I think that’s a whole different rap.
What was your best halfpipe finish as a pro?
I don’t know, I think sixth was the highest I’ve ever rose in a big time pro ramp battle. I was super happy. The Houston thing, I qualified second and everybody told me I was going to win, that I was going to do great. I was like no, because Tony Hawk does the bare minimum to make the finals. I threw everything I had at the wall, straight out of the gate. My very best qualifies me in second but these guys haven’t even shown their C and D-tier skating. Tomorrow, they’re going to wipe the floor with me. And they did. I got all loaded that night and I ended up breaking my elbow in the final jam but that’s a whole different story.
Soaring above the mere mortals of Trashmore, Cab kicks Jeff out of the finals with a massive mute. Photo: MOFO
I thought you got third in Houston.
No, I qualified second. Phillips qualified third. It’s one of my prouder moments. You have to understand, in my day I came up with Hawk, Hosoi, Blender, McGill. The first five spots in any skate contest are eaten up. You’re not going to beat Jeff Phillips, Neil Blender, Lance Mountain. You’re going to come in behind them. We used to have this conversation with Santa Cruz all the time. They wanted a winner. Jason Jessee and I were doing the best we could. If we got sixth or eighth, that’s basically first. You’re not going to beat Steve Caballero in 1987. You’re just not going to do it. Those guys were all super gods and we were mere mortals.
Nineteen minutes in, Jason Jessee gets first place in his own mind. Photo: Nik Frietas
Between pro contests, what was your life like in terms of skating? Where was your local ramp? Did you work on tricks? Did you have a line you were constantly trying to perfect?
No, no. That shit is for fuckin’ jocks and nerds. Some people rolled that way but that was never my bag. I localized Lance’s house, then Phil’s in Alhambra. I bankrolled that ramp. You just go and skate with your friends. Lien airs feel good today, maybe I could take my foot off. Now I’m taking my foot off. Maybe I could take them to tail and do a Madonna. Just learning how to skateboard. You kind of go with what feels good. A lot of it started out as jokes, trying to make each other laugh. Gymnast plants. The ugliest, most stupid thing in the world but it made us laugh when we did them. The way a bunch of those tricks are born, it’s just like, you can do this too but it’s ugly so never do that again. Flash forward 30 years and you got a bunch of guys doing one-footed eggplants. You’re just like oh God, that thing reared its ugly head? We did it as a joke one afternoon but it’s still around.
What are your dos and don’ts at a vert session?
I think it’s a pretty universal thing – you don’t one-up people. Somebody’s trying something, you don’t just drop in and do it; steal their little moment of glory or photo. You let them do their thing. You get stoked for them and you try something else. Depending on the session, the crew and where you grew up, some people are really into snake sessions. Other people aren’t. You kind of have to crawl up there and read the lay of the land. Depending on how it’s going, you get involved in the mix. You try to bring something to the session and not take away from it. Not diminish it. Skateboarding sessions are little entities, they take on a life of their own and they build. There’s a crescendo, everyone’s all hyped, there’s hugs and high fives. Everyone laughs. Everything that goes along with it, you try to get in that mix and build on it. Just get the stoke rolling. If you’re one of those dudes that bums everyone out, you’re diminishing the session. Use your eyes, use your ears and get involved. Make it good. Don’t be a kook.
No snaking at Ramona. Auby Taylor keeps the peace… to fakie. Photo: Burnett
Let’s talk about wild tales of the halfpipe. Have you seen any snake sessions erupt into violence?
Yes. I have actually. Quite a few times. It always gets dicey when there’s money or fame, contests; when ego gets involved. I’ve seen people run into each other, some pretty classic hits. Sometimes on purpose, sometimes on accident. Skateboarding’s fucking hard. It’s more of a psychological game rather than a physical one. You’ve got all these little weirdos, trying to tap into this energy and it can be incredibly frustrating at times. I’ve seen people stand on flat bottoms, scream and yell at each other. I’ve stood on flat bottoms, screamed and yelled at people. People hucking their boards, all kinds of shit. Skateboarding is gnarly.
Were you there when Justin Lynch got clotheslined?
Which time? I was there the time that Schroeder laid him out at Transitions in LA. He was warned. Justin is a sweet guy, he means well but he always had a really hard time with everyone. We weren’t helping the situation much. I think Phillips ran into him somewhere else. It’s been 30 years now. It’s hard to tap into those memories. I remember Ben alley-oop 5050’d into him. Just fuckin’ crushing him. He literally dissolved. Ben got up and told him, I told you stay out of my way, fuck you.
You don’t want to run into anyone big, or have them fall on top of you for that matter. Cab’s down to risk it. Fakie ollie beneath the Bird. Photo: Burnett
Speaking of which, who’s the last person you want to meet in the flat bottom at full speed?
Anyone big. Well that’s not necessarily true either though. I’ve seen Lance run into people; he’s a little dude. I saw Lance run into Monty Nolder at a Virginia Beach contest. Both of them came down off of airs at full speed and hit dead center of the flat. Both of them just got fuckin’ crushed. Monty was a really big dude, he was one of the larger skateboarders at the time and Lance was one of the smaller dudes but they both got annihilated. That’s shits a bummer when it gets like that. Everyone gets whipped into a frenzy. It’s not the best atmosphere to try to skateboard in. It happens. Big dudes, you don’t want to run into someone big. You don’t want to run into Schroeder or me. I’ve creamed a couple 10, 12-year-olds in my day and it’s super scary. It’s a bummer. No one wants to put someone else in the hospital.
Have you ever fallen off the back of the ramp?
Yes. I have. A few times. I did an eggplant at Lance’s one time and stalled it too long, over-rotated it, then tried to step out on the coping but I was right on the edge of the ramp. I back flipped off the side of the ramp. There was this prickle bush next to the fence and I landed back first on the bush. Steve Keenan pushed me off the back of Lance’s ramp one day. They use to call me Two-Four-H, 24-Hour Hard-On. It was because I was always talking. I was annoying the shit out of him. He climbed up the ramp and I was just babbling. He just pushed me and I flew off the ramp, onto my back in the mud. Another time I stalled an invert on Lance’s ramp without a deck because he was still working on it. We were skating it, trying to set the PVC coping and I went to stall an invert and fell over the back of it, through the ribbing. That was fun. I’ve flown off a bunch of them. I’ve done a bunch and I’ve seen people do it a bunch.
While Grosso pries himself from the pricker bush, Jeff Phillips ollie oops the channel. Photo: MOFO
You ever made love on a ramp?
That’s a good question. No. Not on a ramp. In pools and on the top of semiss, but not on the top of a ramp. I’ve made out on a few of them.
That’s something. Let’s talk about channels. How should a channel be on a vert ramp?
How do you want it? That’s the beautiful thing about vert ramps. They’re custom tailored for you and your crew. Some people like them super big and wide. I think Kona’s got an eight-foot wide one on their ramp. They can be any size you want. I like little tiny ones because it’s a throwback to my memories of being a kid. Channels were either three or four feet wide back in the day. We had a two-and-a-half-foot one on Phil’s ramp because it was only 20-feet wide. Eight-foot wide wall and a two-and-a-half-foot-wide channel. It was ridiculous. You could step across this thing. It was a little obstacle to jump over. I personally like the three-foot ones but that’s just me. It’s easier to go over your shoulders when you do eggplants or frontside inverts over them. You shoot a wider channel over to shoulder and it gets a little hard on your shoulders. It’s fucking ridiculous.
Three-foot channels are good, but twenty foot chopper drops are Danny Way’s cup o’ tea. Jee-zus! Photo: Ogden
What about riding surfaces? What would you say is the best and go down the list to the shittiest vert ramp surfaces?
They make that Skate-Lite, Gator Skins. They make marine-grade Masonite. They put their name on it. Those are the two companies that do it, there’s another one and they might get mad at me, sorry. That’s custom made for skateboarding. It seems to work really well, at least in an outdoor capacity. You put Skate -Lite indoors and it gets a little slippery. All the surfaces on ramps and pools; they all have to be maintained. I really like metal. It is an entirely different experience. You skate metal, it’ll ruin you for everything. It’s so lightning fast. It could be your best friend one second— it’s an evil mistress. I think the East Coasters were the first to do all of that. With the humidity, you can’t put Masonite because it just dissolves. Skate-Lite, to metal, to Masonite, to wood; birch. Birch is probably the best wood surface. Put birch at a 45-degree angle and it works pretty well but it’s a little slow. You have to have Russian birch, not Chinese Birch. That’s a good tip. Then just regular wood. Good ol’ wood ramp. We had marine-grade wood on Lance’s at one point, it was pretty rad. We painted it blue. It always ends up splintering, it gets real sketchy for your feet and your knee pads.
Where do you stand on fiberglass?
Fiberglass is deadly man. I forgot about fiberglass. Kona, Florida, Virginia Beach. It was fiberglass the first time I went there. It’s super deadly. It always ripples. You’re skating on this lumpy surface and it’s real slippery. You end up having to make Coca-Cola solutions, dump Coke and water on your ramp. It gets all over everything. If you live on the east coast and you’re having to deal with severe weather, whether it be wind, rain, sleet, snow or extreme humidity and heat, you probably want to go steel. These days I think steel is cheaper than Skate-Lite. You never have to replace it.
Jeff Phillips feared no fiberglass. Iconic booster on Dallas’ Clown Ramp. Photo: MOFO
Have you skated Bob’s concrete vert ramp?
No, I have not. I went there when they were pouring it to go see it. Go talk about a rad engineering feat. Grindline is amazing because it was a rotted out, old monolith of a vert ramp and they poured concrete over the whole structure. It didn’t crack or fall down. That’s amazing. The decks on that beast alone are fucking insane. It looks kind of gnarly because it was pre-existing. I don’t know what the dimensions are on it but there’s like 14-ft of flat. They poured 6 inches of concrete on it so it lost that flat bottom. So now it’s down to 12 or 13-ft of flat. The size of that vert ramp, it needs more flat. It’s gnarly. That’s definitely a game changer. You want to test your mettle? Go to Bob’s.
Let’s fast forward to today. We’re here on the occasion of the Jeff Grosso vertical halfpipe in the Vans parking. There’s all of this incredible concrete now. Why did you want a vert ramp?
It’s super fucking embarrassing that my name is on it but it’s very sweet of Steve Van Doren to do that. What happened was, in the late '90s, Vans decided to build skateparks in malls. The first one they built was at The Block in Orange, here in Orange County. We had a 70-foot-wide vert ramp there. Throughout the years of the park, trying to keep the park open, they kept remodeling. They covered up bowls and widened up the street course. It came to the point where they had the 70-foot-wide vert ramp but no one really used it. There were maybe like six guys that skated on it. None of them paid to skate. It was Neal Hendrix, Lincoln Ueda, Brian Patch, there was a handful of guys and none of them paid to ride. They’re all pro skateboarders. There was all this space and they were remolding the street course, had Team Pain come out and do it, so there was a bunch of talk of what to do with the vert ramp. They had called and asked me what to do, so I told them to turn it into a giant, wide mini ramp. That way there were way more people that wanted to use the park and that way the park won’t close. That’s what would save the Combi, basically was our train of thought. We tore the vert ramp out and I took a bunch of heat. Everyone got real mad at me. I guess rightfully so, it was the only vert ramp in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Orange Counties. There’s no vert ramps in this neck of the woods in Southern California. If you want to ride vert in California, you have to go to North County, San Diego or Berkeley. That’s all there is. I co-signed tearing the vert ramp out and making a mini ramp. All of a sudden everyone was really angry. At the time I was thinking Why did everyone get so fucking angry? None of you used it. I skated it, I learned 540’s on that ramp. I loved that ramp but it’s not about me and having a vert ramp. It’s about keeping the skatepark open and people didn’t use it, so out it came. Everybody got mad at me and I tried to figure out over the years how to get another vert ramp back, so that we would have one in this neck of the woods. It took all of seven years and I had a bunch of different ideas of where it could go, what it could look like and all that nonsense but ultimately the stars aligned: Neal Mims’ academy was closing down, Brent Kronmueller had built that ramp. Everyone liked that ramp, it was a mini vert ramp. Rob Mertz had Neal Mims recreate Ceder Crest in its dimensions. It was in storage and I thought, Why don’t we buy that and widen it out? Van Doren was cool with it and wanted to put it in the Vans HB skatepark, that way everyone could skate it if they want. There’s space there, but unfortunately they’re doing some work on HB so we couldn’t put it up there. The timing was such that we had to get it while we could so Van Doren was kind enough to send it into the parking lot. It’ll be semi-private or whatever. It’ll sit there for six-to-eight months and when they’re done with HB, they’re gonna take it down and move it over there.
Big dude, small ramp. Chafe slide at the Zeuner’s. Photo: Burnett
Why do you want a vert ramp? What do you like about skating a vert ramp at this point?
Bottom line, they’re fun. Well I’m fucking old. I’m old and I’m broken. I’ve had a several surgeries over the past few years, my spine seems to be deteriorating and they’re fun. It’s what I grew up skating. It’s the type of skateboarding that I enjoy. I love pool skating, that’s rad too but there’s lots of pools around. They seem to always be building more. Skateparks are back. It’s something different to do. Those little mini vert ramps, that’s a great crossover thing. The padless dudes, the all-terrain guys like the Ronnie Sandovals and Chris Russells of the world, Grant Taylors, whatever, they can come and ride them along with Alex Perelson, Jimmy Wilkins, Christian Hosoi, me and Cab. It’s a nice little neutral ground. Everyone can enjoy each other’s company and throw a couple frontside inverts. That’s why I guess. We needed one. We don’t have one.
Outtake from Lizzie’s recent vert cover. Photo: Burnett
Who are the three new vert skaters who you’re the most stoked on right now, that you like to watch?
I’m a big fan of Sam Beckett, I really like how he rides. Jimmy Wilkins is fucking otherworldly amazing. Alex Perelson is just a fucking anomaly, a freak of nature. Those guys are all pushing the envelope. Clay Kreiner is insane. Fuck, I really like the way Zach Miller rides. He’s badass. Shea Donovan is really good. There’s a bunch of kids. Vert’s alive and well. There’s a whole world. It’s off to the side, doing its own thing. It’s always over there, percolating. It goes unmentioned and unseen, they coil over the in corner with their craft without a lot of hype. I mean besides them getting to go to X-Games but that’s a whole other shit show. Sammy, Alex and Jimmy. All of those dudes are amazing skateboarders.
Who are some of the greatest vertical halfpipe riders of all time?
We pretty much know because there was a whole era of skateboarding that was completely dedicated to competing on vert ramps. First and foremost, you probably have to go Tony Hawk. Tony’s contributions to skateboarding, they’re amazing. They’re bar none. He’s the king of kings. Hosoi in his heyday, he was a fucking sight to behold.
A sight to behold, Hosoi’s lein methods were legendary!
Chris Miller, once he finally rose to power and got his girlfriend, married and shit together, rode for Schmitt Stix, starting staying on? Jesus Christ! Phillips was a fuckin’ mean motherfucker. That guy could roll. I’m a big Blender/Mountain guy so I have to throw their names into the hat. Caballero in his heyday was super fucking good too, man. We’re forgetting about Danny Way and Bob Burnquist. He was fucking evil when he hit the scene. There’s different eras. You got Bob, Danny, Colin, and their little crew, those guys were all really fucking good. What they did for vert skating really sunk the nail into what no one really understands. I mean shit, I do the stuff and I still don’t understand it.
What’s a vertical half-pipe trick that you would really love to be able to do but probably won’t ever get there?
If I had Kenny Anderson’s back noseblunt slide, I would probably give up a testicle. Just carve up going mach-9 and backside noseblunt slide like eight feet long and just pop it in. Roll down the wall. That would be fucking great. I know there’s no God because I tried to sell my soul to have Jason Jessee’s invert to fakie. I still can’t do invert to fakies, so there’s that. There’s another one: Jason was fucking evil! Steve Claar, he was a great halfpipe skater; fucking beautiful frontside ollies. This isn’t even getting into the East Coast names or Europeans. There’s tons of fucking rippers. Rune Glifberg is one of the raddest guys I’ve ever seen rip vert. When he was young and fucking on it? So good. What was the question?
Who’s the biggest ramp hog of all time?
You mentioned Justin Lynch, I knew he wasn’t very well liked. McGill was kind of a rough one in the early days. That’s a tough one man. It’s hard to single people out as you suck!
Clay wheels on Masonite. Gonz at the Widowmaker in 1993. Photo: Kanights
I just said ramp hog, not who sucks.
Well if you’re a ramp hog, you suck. Like I said earlier, it’s about the life of the session. Contributing to the session and making it the best it could be. If you’re hogging the ramp and taking all the rides – the Chrome Domers. They all sucked. I’ll throw them under the bus. Remy Stratton and his crew: Seth of Death, Cernicky of Death. All their nicknames end with “of Death” because they were all incredible snakes, they would just drop in on everybody and skate for two minutes— which is impressive but if you’re dropping in every other run and skating for two minutes a pop, then everyone else isn’t able to have any fun. I don’t care how good you are, fuck you, you suck. You’re a ramp hog.
Have you ever burnt down a ramp?
No, I have not. That’s kind of sacrilegious. Well, yeah, I mean we’ve had to tear down ramps and the wood ends up going in the fire pit but not in the Thrashin’ sense. I didn’t put my Dagger vest on, pour gasoline on the local ramp and burn it down or anything like that.
What’s the greatest ramp graffiti you’ve ever seen painted on a halfpipe?
“Wasted Youth.” The WY. I’ve seen some pretty good graffiti. “Drop LSD”, “so and so is a pussy”. But “Wasted Youth” is probably the best. Every time I see that one pop up, and it pops up all over the place; backyard pools, ramps, whatever, I’m like Fuck yeah, Wasted Youth. I’m down.
A cool crew makes all the difference. Photo: Burnett
Who had the worst smelling pads of all time?
My joke was going to be, “Sorry, but the correct answer is Lee Ralph”.
Shit, I didn’t even mention Lee. There’s a top five of all time for sure. He was an amazing skateboarder. He came over here from New Zealand, lived at Lance’s. Yvette would make him bathe because he never would. He just stunk, he doesn’t like to bathe. He’s not into deodorant. He’s au natural. Standing next to him was always especially brutal on a ramp. There’s a reverse end of it too, equally as bad is standing next to Mr. Cologne. The guy who’s always doused in cologne.
Chris Miller, crossboning in Houston. 1987. Photo: Burnett
Wait. Who at the Vision Skate Escape would skate with cologne?
Not at the Skate Escape, but Sergie Ventura comes to mind. Sometimes you’d be standing in the line up and I’d rather smell Tiger Balm than Drakkar Noir, you know what I mean? To each their own.
What’s the most heinous injury, drop-in related or otherwise you’ve ever seen on a halfpipe?
Oh God. It’s always really scary when you see people knock themselves out. Head injuries, it’s kind of like in football, where they don’t talk about head injuries that much. In skateboarding there’s a lot of them going on. It’s sketchy, it’s a bummer and now people are starting to lose their minds, a la Duane, from hitting their heads too many times on the ground. That’s always sad and scary. Fuck, I was there when Gator blew his teeth out at Lance’s. That sucked. A lot of blood. People breaking their wrist, blood and bones sticking out. Marty Jimenez knocked himself out at Tahoe Two. He was seizing up on the flat bottom. Fausto ran up, took his wallet out and shoved his wallet in his mouth. That was sketchy.
That was the only medical treatment he could imagine.
Yeah fuck it, shove your wallet in his mouth. Thank God Fausto knew what the fuck was going on and that he had his wallet in his pocket. I remember thinking, Fuck, that wallet is thick, with a shit ton of shit in it. Jammed it down Marty’s throat. People knocking themselves out is always the worst one. Broken ankles, wrists, blown out knees, elbows are always scary and stuff but the head injuries are the ones that scares me. The guy has to go home, don’t go to sleep and all of that shit. What else you got?
The exact moment Peter Hewitt realized Jordan had put poison oak in his knee pads. UCSD RTS. 1989. Photo: Headlock
I always like a good anecdote that really catches the spirit of what we’re talking about. Do you have the ultimate half-pipe story? Something you and your friends have been talking about for the past 30 years?
The dead cat toss at Tahoe Two comes to mind.
What was that?
Thrasher did the Tahoe contest and Mike Chantry built that Tahoe ramp. So, the first one went down, did really good and they decided to do Tahoe Two. Now everyone knew about it so all of skateboarding showed up in Lake Tahoe, California. Somebody found a dead cat on the side of the road, scooped it up and brought it down to the contest. People were lighting off Piccolo Pete’s, skyrockets and stuff so there was smoke in the air. Lance is winning the contest and all of a sudden, somebody whips out this dead cat and throws it into the crowd like a beach ball. This dead cat is landing on people, and they’re like, Ow fuck, what the fuck? so they throw it again. This dead cat gets throw around for a few seconds and much to the dismay of the NSA people. This is unacceptable behavior! Yeah it is. Welcome to skateboarding. There’s so many good stories! We had a ramp up Sierra Madre called the Damn Ramp that Schroeder kind of spearheaded. It was sitting on the side of a mountain, next to a creek, right at the foot of a dam. They called the town Munchkin land; all of the hippies live up in this canyon. We used to go up there, smoke weed and kick ass. Phillips came one time and just destroyed the place. I went up there to go skate with them, was frying on acid. That was pretty rad, watching him zip around. Jason Jessee at Fallbrook, skating padless doing eight-foot method to fakies in pegged black 501s. Jason would come and skate for 20 minutes a day; it was the length of his session. He would do everything he would know how to do, kick off all of his pads and do two or three runs; doing everything he knows but padless. That at the time was really fucking impressive to me. There’s all kinds of shenanigans. Paul Votava, the pro rollerskater would come over to Lance’s and he would change naked on the flat bottom in front of all of us. He was a punk rocker, a bouncer at all of the punk clubs. You weren’t going to say anything to him. He’s getting naked on the flat bottom in front of Lance’s mom. What are you going to do? Just dumb shit like that. Hewitt and his buddies use to have fun stories from Linda Vista. They use to rub poison oak in each other’s pads and sabotage each other. All kinds of pee and fecal matter weirdness too. All the shit that 13 and 14-year-old boys do. Pee on each other’s skateboards to bum each other out. Make each other laugh. The poison oak in each other pads is pretty fucking brutal. I guess it was a thing they all did at Linda Vista. I never rode there and they were all a little bit younger than me but I would be so bummed if I put my pads on and got poison oak all over my body because Hewitt rubbed it in my knee pads.
The Jeff Grosso Vert Ramp meets the Wiliis Kimbel FSO. Photo: Burnett
Well congratulations on your new ramp. Who do you have to know to ride this thing?
We haven’t worked it out yet. Van Doren and his sister the human resources lady have to sit down and figure out how it’s going to all work. Basically, if you know a Van’ pro or flow rider, then you could talk to them. If they want to take you up there, you can go and ride it. There’s well over a hundred of them and I’m sure at least 20 of them are vert trogs or at least enjoy playing with vert a little bit. Like I said, I wasn’t trying to make the ramp a private affair, in fact it was the complete opposite. The ramp is ultimately going to live at the Huntington Beach skatepark. In six months or so, when they’re done working on the HB skatepark, they’ll move that ramp over there and everyone will have access to it. I wanted it to be for everybody.
4/28/2021Buddy and Rick dig into the archives of The Letters for Vans to celebrate Grosso’s birthday with a good sample of sound bites and big airs.
4/14/2021An '80s kid from Omaha, Nebraska, Joe fell in love with skateboarding in a time when you really had to want it and eventually made it to the mag. He also ripped! He was sweet man and a true skater. We will miss him terribly. Our love goes out to his family and many, many friends.
3/29/2021Bastien’s story is not another cautionary tale. This career-spanning interview shows a man that's far from finished blowing our minds.
3/26/2021From the Baker van to King of the Road to 20-plus years of shooting photos, Burnett’s done a lot of miles and met a lot of folks working for the Mag. Check out who made an impression on Phelper’s right-hand man. As seen in our March 2021 issue.
3/22/2021John’s one of the best pool rippers in the game. When he ain’t attackin' the backyards, you can find him fabricating a skate-inspired bong—trucks and all. Get the lowdown on all things bowl burning, straight from the pages of our February, ‘21 mag.