Excerpts from a journey to the origins of skate punk.
Text Konstantin Butz
“I love doing this!” smiles Steve Olson, sweat dripping from his greying hair. It’s late March but the Los Angeles sun already burns as if it were July. Before I can ask what he’s talking about, he takes his lighter and hurls it down an alleyway, where it explodes on the asphalt with an ear-piercing blast. I’m surprised, slightly impressed, and a little bit confused.
I’ve come to Los Angeles to learn how, and why, skateboarding and punk rock came together in California and went on to become such a global force. My interest is not only personal. In a way, it’s my job. You see, as a grad student at the University of Cologne, I’ve come up with a nifty way of uniting what I ‘do’ with what I ‘love’: I’m writing a dissertation on skate punk. Sounds weird, right? Let me explain.
Like most kids growing up in Germany, I spent my childhood transfixed by all things USA; the TV I watched, the music I listened to, the magazines I read – everything I consumed was doused in Americana. And I loved it. Then something changed. A few months before my tenth birthday the so-called Gulf War broke out, and although I didn’t really understand the political dimensions of that conflict, my perception of the US started to change. Talk of blood and oil scared me, and I suddenly felt ambiguous about the country I so admired. Don’t get me wrong: I’m still obsessed with American pop culture. Only now I feel a need to peel back the layers of the things I love – skate, punk, attitude, style – and understand the forces behind their global spread.
This fascination with the interplay between society, politics and culture got me thinking about skate punk – or, more specifically, skateboarding and punk as two separate entities. What’s the connection? Why did they unite on the sidewalks of SoCal? What role did suburbia play? And what the hell is ‘skate punk’ anyway? Why not ‘surf punk’, or ‘skate hip hop’? After skimming through piles of ’zines, after watching tons of skate videos and listening to hundreds of punk songs, I sensed there must be something between the lines of these narratives. Something intangible – a social force, perhaps – that made these two subcultures collide.
To aid me in my journey, I’ve enlisted the help of a few pioneers. First up, there’s the aforementioned Steve Olson, the Californian madman credited with injecting SoCal’s laidback skate scene with a heavy dose of mayhem. Then there’s Brian Brannon, former Thrasher editor and frontman of seminal skate punk band Jody Foster’s Army (JFA), who’s agreed to meet for lunch at a strip mall in Los Alamitos. Other ‘sources’ include Steve Alba – aka ‘Salba’ – who, along with Olson and Duane Peters, helped cement Santa Cruz’s rep as an anarchic skate brand. When I meet Alba at Fontana skate park, he’s joined by Lance Mountain, legendary member of the Bones Brigade and one of the most modest guys you could hope to meet. Last but not least, there’s the formidable Greg Ginn, founder of proto-hardcore punk band Black Flag and influential eighties label SST Records, who will sit down with me in a dusty parking lot and share some nuggets of punk history gold. Over the next few days, these agitators will share eyewitness accounts of how the phenomenon unfurled. They’re the guys who know exactly what went down. And I’m hoping they’ll guide me through my academic abyss.
With Olson as my first go-to guy, I start my search. We meet at his studio off Melrose Avenue in Hollywood. Beneath a huge canvas that reads ‘Fag It’ in letters made from cigarette boxes, Olson starts retelling his version of skateboarding’s first encounter with the punk rock persuasion – and by the sound of things, he played cupid in the match. In 1978 Skateboarder Magazine made Olson ‘Skateboarder of the Year’, but the award ceremony didn’t quite go down as the mag men planned.
“I had cut my hair and was totally into the world of punk rock,” says Olson, plastering pieces of cigarette boxes onto a fake female torso. “I thought it was fucking amazing. I got the award and they wanted me to [make] a speech [but] I picked my nose, flipped boogers at them and spat at them [instead]. The magazine was like, ‘We don’t think [these guys] are good representatives of skateboarding.’ Little did they know, [my attitude] was gonna change the whole fucking look [of] skateboarding.”
Check out the full feature in HUCK#025, out now. http://www.huckmagazine.com/