By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
A main highlight of the Dogtown and Z-Boys documentary was the direct link the Zephyr team made between surfing and skating, executing the cutbacks of surfer Larry Bertleman on concrete.
Skateboarding was once exclusively seen as something to do when the waves were flat—it was called sidewalk surfing for a reason. Riding styles in the ’60s and ’70s were much smoother, twisting, turning and spinning in a fluid-like motion, almost like ice dancing on a concrete surface. Because of this obvious marriage between the two sports, many argue that a geographic advantage and better waves helped paved the way for South County’s advancements in skateboarding.
“We’d skate when we didn’t surf,” explains Skitch. “Surfing is way better. And these kooks that can surf, skate and do X-Games and stuff? You can tell if they know how to surf or not. A surfer has a distinct style.”
Legendary surfer, San Clemente resident and former skateboarder Herbie Fletcher recalls witnessing the Salt Creek crew skateboarding in the ’70s.
“They’d skate everywhere around Dana Point. And they worked at it. Every sunrise, they’d be down at Salt Creek surfing. And then it’d blow out, and they’d skateboard all day—like all day,” he says and smiles. “Skitch was good. He was one of the guys leading the pack.”
When asked about the Dogtown documentary, Fletcher states, “Dogtown was a cute story. They made a great story. They were not the first ones to ride pools, and it was self-promoting—but so was everybody. They claimed a lot. And just like in surfing, there’s a lot of things going on, but it’s a movement.”
* * *
“I still watch cartoons,” Skitch explains. “I sold my comic-book collection. I had the third-biggest collection in Long Beach. After I sold that, I stopped buying them because they stink. They used to have good artists and themes—like Spider-Man; he has a continuing theme. He lost his girlfriend, she died, and when Peter Parker’s daughter got killed by the Green Goblin and his roommate had a problem with drugs and Spider-Man spun around Manhattan listening to Jethro Tull on his Walkman . . . You gotta belieeeeve, you gotta believe!”
It’s just one tangent of many throughout the afternoon’s conversation. Later, Smith (whom Skitch calls Stumpy—“because he’s stumpy”) and Weekly photographer John Gilhooley would pull out their cell phones and compare lengthy voice mails left by Skitch. (Smith’s won: In it, he spoke of passing off bits of poop as doughnut holes that were blue and pink and purple with sprinkles and everything.)
Even at 57, Skitch’s jokester reputation precedes him. Stories of his fondness for farting on the faces of sleeping friends permeate the Internet—right next to a list of his amazing feats. His friends’ faces light up as they speak of him with clear admiration, in a tone slightly reminiscent of a proud set of parents.
Skitch still has a head of long, flowing hair (now salt-and-peppered) past his shoulders, with a straight fringe cut across his forehead, which recalls a Ramone or two. He wears a brown T-shirt emblazoned with the image of skater Denis Shufelt (a.k.a. “Shuffy”), crouched down on his board, with one hand outstretched to the ground. Reader’s Digest once compared Skitch to Mick Jagger in his youth. Actually, Skitch sort of resembles present-day Roky Erickson, with his wide-set eyes, friendly face, protruding belly and—most important—a steadfast refusal to grow up.
“Skitch has always been a trip,” Garrison comments. “I call him Peter Pan, 180 IQ, genius. He can recite the Bible. He can design anything; he can innovate anything. He can draw and sketch and do blueprints.”
Skitch was born and raised in Long Beach, surfing 72nd Street with Smith when Long Beach was still surfable in the ’60s, prior to the expansion of the sea wall that stopped swells from entering. And as soon as one of them got a car—a Falcon Smith’s mechanic father had tuned up, for $25—the friends were off to Seal Beach, Huntington Beach, Dana Point and Newport Beach. Four-thirty morning sessions with Smith weren’t an uncommon thing. “Sometimes, we made it to school,” jokes Skitch.
And whenever they weren’t surfing, the pair skated wherever they could, finding natural skate parks in the cityscape, much like the Z-Boys did with school grounds.
“We used to skate this place called Argon Alley in Long Beach. My house was the first house that started this alley, and it was on this real steep hill,” Skitch explains in his sing-song voice. “The driveways all came down into this cement alley, and we’d drop in like that. It would bowl out because of the gradation of the thing. It had about six different waves, six different banks. It was a surfing-style skate park.”
Throughout their careers, Skitch would treat younger brother Garrison as a guinea pig of sorts for his experiments.
“Gary was Skitch’s test pilot,” Smith says with a smile. “Gary was a fearless warrior for Skitch in his pursuit to design and make stuff that nobody else was making. It really was like a space-travel kind of deal. ‘How big of a hill do you want me to go down? How big of a wave do you want to surf? What do you want me to do? I’m ready to do it. Hey, you want to put me in this car and push me down a hill? Sure!’ That’s Gary.”