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
“Skateboarding went from absolutely nothing in ’72—nobody had done a kickturn, nothing. Like the wheel hadn’t been invented yet! And in way less than a decade, they were doing 3-foot airs and Skitch was doing the gorilla grip, getting air and 30 360s and kickflips,” Weed remarks. “When I first skated in ’74, nobody would think you could just do a kickflip—what was that? How’d you come up with that? That era invited all that stuff.”
Weed recalls watching Dogtown for the first time.
“The film was definitely well-done. But they left out the fact that there were tons of great skaters in Southern California. [Hobie was] basically their rival. I went to so many sessions where I was a rival with Tony Alva. I’m not going to say I was better, but I definitely held my own. I could run circles around him on freestyle,” says Weed. “He wasn’t a freestyler; he wasn’t even invited. [Dogtown] couldn’t do demos. People now say freestyle wasn’t cool, but freestyle is basically what street was back then. Nobody was all up on curbs, but it was tricks! Tricks were the future of skateboarding, and we were the ones to bring the tricks to vert. I was in the first eight contests on vert, whereas you didn’t see Jay Adams. He never showed up. Tony Alva came to one contest. Stacy never came. And the reason they didn’t come was because they were going to get blown away.”
Skitch does admit the documentary did amazing things for the sport of skateboarding. “It got the bills paid and allowed us to skateboard,” he says. “If people are interested in it and it all comes under the heading of skateboarding, then it benefited an entire industry.”
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In 1975, Skitch built out of fiberglass the first wave ramp with a compound curve—what he claims to be the first vertical ramp. He made boards with a foam core, designing boards to flex in a certain way to help his style. He would practice handstands on self-made and self-designed fiberglass hand skateboards—complete with thumb brakes. He designed a live axle and even the world’s first closed skate car for Garrison, something that everyone from car designers to aerospace engineers would soon emulate.
“Skitch was the mad professor of skateboarding. He was designing and coming up with the future of skateboarding,” Smith boasts.
Skitch was even the first to skate a full loop in 1977, like a toy car speeding on a Hot Wheels track, which he pulled off during a touring show called Skateboard Mania, as the stuntman stand-in for Tony Jetton. The show’s plot involved aliens coming to Earth to show the earthlings how to skate. The 22-foot loop would be daunting even today—and an accomplishment Tony Hawk and Bob Burnquist only recently achieved.
Skitch toured the world doing demos for Hobie, who in turn took care of their skaters. While the Z-Boys famously rode on the roofs of cars looking for pools, he remembers Hobie renting a $200-per-afternoon Cessna during the 1976 California drought. Skitch—along with Weed, Bob Jarvis and Tim Carew—could search for empty Inland Empire pools to skate in, taking a Marshall Guide up in the air and marking Xs as they went. Skitch came home only to enter contests, design skate parks in Riverside and Argentina in 1979, and, eventually, plaster houses in 1984. Old skateboard injuries (he had broken his hands alone 12 times) began to take a toll, leaving him in constant pain.
“I caused my own demise. It’s nothing that I can blame on anyone else. I’ve been in pain since I was 28, the kind of pain where you wish you wouldn’t live anymore,” Skitch says. “It’s serious every day, every minute of the day, every second of the minute excruciating pain. And the only way I knew how to get out of it was to drink. So I did that pretty well—well enough to ruin my health.”
A disastrous marriage that resulted in two children, now 21 and 16, who weren’t biologically his caused Skitch to gravitate even more to the bottle.
“I’m in end-phase liver disease. I was supposed to be dead a year and a half ago,” Skitch says now. He shows off his different daily medications: soma, Xanax, methadone, liquid potassium, lactulose, the latter of which he downs, resulting in teary eyes.
“I knew Skitch was going to make it,” Smith explains with a faint smile, “when I went to the bathroom in his hospital room, and Skitch got up and put a chair in front of the door so I couldn’t get out. That’s when I knew.”
Smith promised a bedridden Skitch he’d make a skateboard model for him if he survived. Royalties and proceeds from the model now go toward Skitch’s medical expenses.
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Of course, the history of skateboarding, like all mostly oral histories, differs from storyteller to storyteller, from decade to decade and generation to generation, morphing its focus to vertical in the ’80s and then to street skating soon after.