Jim Fitzpatrick’s interview Part II 1957 to 1969: The first wave of skateboarding
|Bruce Logan with a signature nose wheelie.|
In the early 1960's companies such as Larry Stevenson's Makaha and Hobie Alter's Hobie began to mass-produce the first true surfing-inspired skateboards. Some of the early champions of surf-style skateboarding included Jim Fitzpatrick, Bill and Mark Richards, Danny Bearer and the recent IASC / Skateboard Hall Of Fame inductees Patty McGee, Bruce Logan and Torger Johnson.
Skateboarding became very popular almost overnight, and companies were fighting to keep up with demand. Over fifty million skateboards were sold within a three year period, and the first skateboard contest was held in Hermosa Beach, CA in 1963. But skateboards were wobblier than hell, moved way too fast and vibrated on the asphalt enough to shake every bone in your body and loosen every tooth. It was more like getting electrocuted than anything else. Wheels? That was whatever came on a roller and generally strictly metal. Going down the Hill was a feat only a few of us could do… Bearings? What the heck are those? We heard about them from somebody's father who was an engineer. But they were kind of sealed into the wheel and you couldn't get at them without totally destroying it. But could you believe the bearings would self extracts from their cradles and we would go running everywhere chasing after them. And we didn't have no truck either. No Independent, Tracker or Thieves…
So, in 1965 a slew of so-called safety experts pronounced skateboarding unsafe - urging stores not to sell them, and parents not to buy them. The skateboarding fad died as quickly as it had started, and the sport entered its first slump.
Part I (10 pages) 1948 to 1957: From early Childhood to Surfin’ USA
1 Topanga Beach
2 Are you experienced in surfing?
Part II (14 pages) 1957 to 1969: The first wave of skateboarding
1 Early skateboarding: do it standing up
2 The legendary Makaha Team
3 The boom of the 60’s
4 European Surfing Holiday
5 Vacations in Biarrtiz
6 European Skateboarding Holiday
7 The crash of the late 60’s
8 The 2 year recovery: 1968/1969
Part III (8 pages) 1972 to 1991: the rise and fall of pool skateboarding
1 1972-1978: The golden age of urethane
2 1985-1991: The Bones Brigade years
Part IV (8 pages) 2000 onward: From Hazardous Recreational Activity to the rebirth of the skateparks and vertical skateboarding
1 International Association of Skateboard Companies
2 The new skate park craze
Part V (8 pages) Food for thought: Vietnam, Politics and Education
1 The rebel years
2 Education in America
1- 1957-1962 Early Skateboarding: stand-up, stay standing, still standing, do it standing up!
isTia: How did you get in touch with skateboarding?
Jim Fitzpatrick: We made them ourselves. It was something to do, and then it was THE thing to do. I loved it because NOBODY else was doing it.
isTia: What’s your first board?
Jim Fitzpatrick: Hand made by me, a steel-wheeled roller skate nailed to a board.
Jim Fitzpatrick: 1957.
isTia: Who is George P. Wilson? A surfer? An engineer?
Jim Fitzpatrick: George P. Wilson “Buster” was a friend of my father; they went to high school together, and they ‘surfed’ together at the beaches in San Diego…they “body surfed,” I don’t think I ever saw them even consider a surfboard.
Buster had 4 or 5 Jaguar automobiles, and at least one or two was always being rebuilt in his garage. He had high-end bicycles, too, and rifles, and hunting bows. He was always building or remaking something, and one afternoon he said, “Hey, quit bothering me, make these!” and he showed us (his sons and I) how to make a skateboard. “We used to make these when we were kids, here, this is how you do it!” And that was the beginning for me.
isTia: What word you were using to call a “skateboard” before it was called sidewalk surfing, and then skateboards?
Jim Fitzpatrick: We always called them skateboards. I lived on the other side of San Diego from the Wilsons; they lived in Point Loma, and we lived in Bird Rock, close to La Jolla, about 20 miles away. I took my first skateboard from Point Loma back to Bird Rock and went over to Danny Diven’s house and announced, “Look at this!”
isTia: At what moment did the name « skateboard » won over « sidewalk surfing » and under what circumstances?
Jim Fitzpatrick: Sidewalk Surfing was never a phrase or term used by us, it was a Jan and Dean (Beach Boy-like) lyric for their song, and it was stupid then and stupid now. Plus, I was skateboarding before I was surfing (1957 was my first skateboard; one year before I stood up on a surfboard in 1958), so I was a skateboarder before I was a surfer.
isTia: What were your favorite spots?
Jim Fitzpatrick: In 1957 we skated on sidewalks and at Bird Rock Elementary School. Eventually I skateboarded in parking lots, too, including the parking lot at La Jolla Shores beach, because they built a new parking lot along the beach that was enormous, and I could go surfing with my mat and then skateboard in the parking lot.
isTia: What were the first tricks you could do with a skateboard?
Jim Fitzpatrick: Steel wheels! STAND UP! STAY STANDING! STILL STANDING! That was about it. All of my boards had the skates on the nose and on the tail, there was no leverage for turns. It was a straightforward world. Fast was an option.
2 The Legendary Makaha Skateboard Team
Jim Fitzpatrick: Larry was a very busy guy, and he started a surfing magazine, “Surf Guide.” It was in early competition with Surfer Magazine developed by John Severson.
Larry hired Bill Cleary to become editor of Surf Guide. Bill was a UCLA literature graduate, and he was determined to outdo Severson. It became very competitive between the two magazines. Severson was a good friend of Hobie Alter’s and Hobie’s surfboards and skateboards would be become the arch rivals of the early 1960s. Makaha vs. Hobie; “Surf Guide Magazine” vs. Surfer Magazine.
isTia: Did you participate in the development of the first boards he sells in 1963?
Jim Fitzpatrick: Only in the sense that we were all coming up with ideas for how to sell more boards. I was 15 at the time, and my real job that entitled me to more boards was to sweep the floor and help out in the factory.
isTia: How was the setup of the Makaha skate team?
|Danny Bearer (R.I.P)|
Dave Rochlen, Jr., briefly, and then Bob Feigel, who also lived at Topanga Beach, were “Commander Makaha,” and would drive us to different locations, and then there was the idea of contacting other businesses and doing demos for them and then we were doing store openings and any event that a crowd. Feigel is important because he was a local surfer and writer who had a column in Surf Guide Magazine. His column was devoted to parables, and one of parables poked serious fun and John Severson and Surfer Magazine to such an extent that a lawsuit was actually filed by Severson.
isTia: Who were the other skaters of the team?
Jim Fitzpatrick: Greg Carroll and Bruce Logan were from ‘South Bay’ (the locale where LAX is now), and then George Trafton, John Fries, Woody Woodward, Danny Bearer, and for brief while Davey and Steve Hilton, were all part of the team. In 1964 we all did a demo on the Greek Theater stage at Santa Monica High School where I went to school. That was the last demo I did…they were all in junior high, and I was in high school and just spending less time skateboarding (and more time with girls).
isTia: Did you know you all of them before joining the team?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I never really knew Bruce or Greg, and didn’t actually meet Bruce until last year when I was the MC for his induction into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame. We were both really happy to finally have the chance to meet each other!
|Danny Bearer (R.I.P)|
Jim Fitzpatrick: Yes, I was on a few different surf teams; first Con Surfboards (Con Colburn), then Dave Sweet Surfboards for a few years, and finishing on Hobie’s team, which was the most prestigious, but I should have just stayed on the Sweet team. Hobie’s team in our area was managed by Dave Rochlen, Jr., and for awhile he was the Makaha Skateboards team manager. But Hobie wisely had him steal the Hiltons from the Makaha team for the Hobie Skateboard team, and things became very complicated at that stage.
isTia: Did you have a specialty? A trick that you were the only one to do?
Jim Fitzpatrick: “Tricks” were happening so fast, that if you could do something no one else could do, everyone else would immediately copy it and try it until they could do it, too!
isTia: Did you feel that there was a click in American society in relation to the skate? What made skateboarding an American sport? The article in "Life" magazine in 1965? The film "Skatedater" in 1965?
Jim Fitzpatrick: It was “American” because we had the skateboards and the surfing culture to go along with it; which is why we had so much fun in Biarritz in when I showed up in 1964…I had 12 Makaha Skateboards with me and there were five or six of us who skateboarded EVERYWHERE. I left four of those boards behind…Jean Marie and Francois Lartigau; Joel Rosnay? I’m not sure who ended up with the boards I left behind. That would be a story, right, to track down those boards!
That was a marvelous expedition; I was an “ambassador” of southern California culture.
“Skater Dater” was filmed by Michael Murphy, my father’s cameraman, and many years later this became a discussion point between Murphy and myself, because Murphy realized, after my father had died, that if my father had simply shot film of my life and what and how surfing and skateboarding developed in and around me, that it would have been an incredible documentary. But…but my father was busy living his life with his family and his children, and surfing and skateboarding were just something I did. He, nor I, never considered the ‘historical’ aspects of what we were doing.
isTia: Was skateboard even considered as a sport at that time?
Jim Fitzpatrick: Not a sport. It wasn’t recognized as anything. It was skateboarding, and that was enough for us! Nobody really took notice. Because no one else, especially older teenagers or young adults, had any interest there was no interest. Larry Stevenson was one of the few “adults” who actually good visualize skateboarding’s future. He knew, in the earliest days, that eventually skateboarding would be a world-wide phenomenon.
3 The boom of the 60s
Jim Fitzpatrick: The photograph was taken in 1964 at Brentwood Elementary School on San Vicente Blvd. in West Los Angeles. We would skate there as much as we could.
It’s interesting, 10 years later, as a young father my wife and I returned to Santa Monica and we taught school in our classroom at that school. At that time, in 1975, I don’t remember ever seeing anyone skateboard at the school.
Only last year were the embankments totally resurfaced with new asphalt; for years the surface was cracked and filled with weeds—the school didn’t care and was glad that skateboarders couldn’t use the banks.
isTia: Did you have to get over the walls to skate this kind of place?
Jim Fitzpatrick: Nope, at the time in 1960s the schools were wide open. There were four other schools with different terrain that we would visit. Feigel or Jim Ganzer (later he developed Jimmy-Z) would drive us to Bellagio School, or Paul Revere Junior High School, or Palisades High School—they all had embankments of the different heights and lengths. Paul Revere may have been the favorite…Bellagio was step and gnarly like Waimea Bay or some big wave spot.
isTia: Was the income sufficient to live just from skateboarding? How were you paid?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I wasn’t paid anything, but I never bought a skateboard. I had my team jacket, and when I went to Europe in a convoluted way Makaha helped pay for my trip. There were demos and trips, and we didn’t pay for the trips, so our travel was paid and hotels—the Makaha Team went to Hawaii just to show the Hiltons and the Hobie Team that they could go to Hawaii, too. Jim Ganzer was Commander Makaha for that trip, which I wasn’t part of. But there was no “salary” or appearance fees paid for those events.
|Woody Woodward and Michael Sainz, barefoot... Some of the best skaters of the 60's...|
Jim Fitzpatrick: Well, in the beginning it was me (hahahaha), but when I came back from Europe in 1964 I realized that Woody and Frie, Torger, and Danny Bearer, and Trafton, had all sort of left me behind. They were amazing in what they were able to do, and do fast…I sort of hung up my skateboard as I realized they’d left me behind!
Actually, when I returned from Europe I had just a few days before football practice started, and our summer practices were intense “Two-A-Days” with sessions in the morning and sessions in the afternoon. If you wanted to play football you had to survive these practices which concluded right at the beginning of the school year.
|Woody Woodward, skateboarding barefoot...|
Jim Fitzpatrick: In 1964, after I had been in Europe we went to Rand Carter’s home in Pacific Palisades and skated in his pool around the last puddle of water in the deep end. I think Woody was there, and maybe Trafton; Rand knew Danny Bearer and Jim Ganzer, so they would have been there. But all that was accomplished was pushing toward the deep end’s wall and then trying to ride the wall above the water. I don’t remember making it. I think I bailed out each time because of lack of speed, and my board was soaked and the bearings came out; it was a disaster, but I think someone else made it all the way around. Maybe Rand, maybe Danny; I don’t remember anyone else doing it again. I know Mr. Carter was pissed off. He was one of my junior high school teachers for mechanical drawing and drafting, and he was a no nonsense guy who was pissed off when he found out we’d been messing with his pool’s surface.
isTia: Did you skate barefoot?
Jim Fitzpatrick: Early on it was barefoot all the time. But my feet were ragged! Always bloody messes. Shoes were a problem, but lack of traction was a bigger problem. I went to a hardware store where they sold something that was similar to what would later become grip tape—they had strips of rubberized material with sand permeated inside that was used to be put on the edges of stairs, and I glued that on my board.
isTia: Did you have a particular model that you wore to skate?
Jim Fitzpatrick: Jack Purcell. They were made for sailing, really great sole with lots of traction. I’m wearing a pair of Purcells in that photograph.
|Barefoot skateboarding, heels first in a long board. Gregg Noll stance.|
Jim Fitzpatrick: Nope. Never saw it.
isTia: In the 60s, there are dozens of manufacturers. What made the difference between a good and a bad product at that time?
Jim Fitzpatrick: For me a good product was one that someone would give me. I didn’t buy anything that had to do with skateboarding or surfing. My trunks, my t-shirts, anything that I had regarding surfing and skateboarding was given to me—I earned it!
isTia: In 1964, L. Stevenson said he already had developed polyurethane wheels and in 1965, Hobie Alter says he was approached by a company "Amercan Latex" to market urethane wheels. Do you know something about that or is it just hype? Have you had the opportunity to test this type of product at that time?
Jim Fitzpatrick: No. I was too busy “doing” to think about products or what I might be involved with…things would have been different had I paid more attention, but I didn’t care. I just was busy with surfing, with skateboarding, and then, girls. Turns out I liked being with girls more than anything else!
4 1964: European Surfing Holiday
isTia: Tell us about that 1964 idea for a trip launched by "Surfer Magazine's Guide"..
Jim Fitzpatrick: “Surf Guide”’s editor, Bill Cleary, had been to Europe and Morocco in 1963. He also went to the Canary Islands. He was a good writer looking to live like Ernest Hemingway in some far off location with lots of beautiful women around. He wasn’t far off the mark during that trip in 1963. He came back saying, “We all have to go to these places!”
One of his room-mates, Larry Krause, who at the time was a West Los Angeles lifeguard and worked at the Rand Corporation down the hall from Daniel Ellsberg, was looking for something to do that would allow him to make money and not work and hang around the beach with beautiful women.
He and Bill came up with the idea for starting a charter company to take surfers around the world on exotic surfing adventures. The first of these expeditions was “The European Surfing Holiday,” with two weeks in Biarritz and then 6 weeks on your own; those on the holiday could surf, stay in Biarritz, and then decide what else they wanted to do.
So, Surf Guide Magazine was involved by giving advertising and promotional space to the ESH project, and eventually they helped to discount my ticket, too. “Jimmy can go and take 12 skateboards with him, and he’ll skateboard wherever he goes!”
The only problem was that ESH was too far ahead of its time. Surfers weren’t ready to go to Europe, yet, and not enough of them were willing to spend the $400/RT for the airfare. A few days before the flight Larry realized he’d have to tell World Airways he didn’t have enough tickets sold, and their response was, “You can fly on the Super Constellation!”
And that’s what happened; we flew on a propeller plane to Paris. 30 hours? It was a nightmare, but we landed at CDG and I skateboarded from the plane to the terminal! Piston driven, the Super Constellation was the last of the great airliners before jet engines took over.
What was funny is that a few guys from Malibu found out there were available seats on the plane, and they ended up buying round trip tickets for $100—Larry was selling tickets at the airport to be that promised him they would have the money by the time the plane took off.
isTia: What was France for you?
Jim Fitzpatrick: France for me was ‘civilization.’ The language of diplomacy. Cleary was a big influence in my life, as was the ESH’s Larry Krause. Cleary was fluent in Spanish, and Krause in French, and they both loved Europe. It was part of their anti-American bohemian style rejection of the Ugly American. They didn’t want to be Americans in Europe, and so neither did I.
I just loved the whole experience, and I loved the French girls. Their attitude was so completely different and less pretentious than American girls…every time I’m in France I fall in love every moment, regardless of where I am.
I learned to appreciate ‘culture’ in France. Fine food. Simple, delicious food. Simple refined clothing. Everything was ‘better’ and easier and made sense to me.
Later, having gone to school in Italy, I’ve become more efficient in communication with Italian; but I’d still like to live in France. The geology of Biarritz is so similar to southern California, it’s stunning when you compare the beaches and the light. I felt at home when I traveled in France.
isTia: What idea did you have regarding surfing in France?
Jim Fitzpatrick: A gauche! A droite! It was hysterical to announce which direction we were to go when taking off at Grande Plage. Very very funny. At the beach house was my first encounter with a “European” toilet…no seat, just the whole between the foot places! hahahahahaha
isTia: Are you the youngest surfer in that trip?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I think I was, yes. I was 16.
isTia: Despite your young age, did you feel to have a pioneering role?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I think I did, yes, only because there were so many times on that trip that no one knew what I was doing…no one could figure out what I was doing, so it was more that I knew that it was unusual, and that made it special for me.
isTia: How was air travel?
Jim Fitzpatrick: The flight was awful. Terrible. Young passengers drank and got sick. People were drunk and vomiting, and the air conditioning went out and interior of the plane became very very hot. Worst flight of my life.
isTia: How did you feel when you landed in Paris for the first time?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I had this whole weird feeling about Charles Lindbergh; making it to France. I identified heavily with the Jimmy Stewart movie, “The Spirit of St. Louis.” We were on a piston driven airplane, we had propellers to look at out the window. “Were we going to make it?”
Getting off the plane was such a relief, and I skateboarded right toward the terminal until the Gendarmes ran in front of me yelling and screaming.
isTia: What stroked you most? Car size? Street? Dress?
Jim Fitzpatrick: The difference. EVERYTHING was different. I loved the difference.
isTia: How long did you stay in Paris?
Jim Fitzpatrick: Two days in Paris, we went to the Eiffel Tower and I skateboarded there. We stayed on the left bank and I tried to skate around there but the cobblestones…I remember being very frustrated at not finding places to skate around our little hotel on the left bank.
isTia: Where did you skate?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I skated at the airport, outside the terminal; doing little tic-tac turns around in a circle, and maybe a handstand, and people assembled into a circle and clapped and murmured the whole time…when I stopped, and there must have been 150 people, they exploded into applause. It was amazing, I held my board over my head and they clapped louder. Had I stickers or some such, I could have made a big impact, but no stickers, nothing to toss, just their memories of what they saw!
isTia: Did you leave skateboards to someone in Paris?
Jim Fitzpatrick: No, I took all my boards to Biarritz
|Skateboarding in France during the 60's. In the background, the Eiffel Tower.|
Jim Fitzpatrick: My second day in Paris we went to the tower and I skateboarded there for about an hour. At one point there must have 200 people in a circle watching me. Clapping. A great experience for me. I carried my skateboard to the top of the tower.
isTia: How did you go to Biarritz?
Jim Fitzpatrick: My uncle was also one of the passengers on the European Surfing Holiday, and I rode with him in a VW Squareback that he had purchased and taken delivery of in Paris. In fact, he went to pick up his car, and I went to the Eiffel Tower, which is why I have no photographs of the historic event!
My surfboard went with the rest of the group on the train from Gare du Nord to Biarritz. There were about 50 surfboards in the luggage compartment!
isTia: How long did it take for you to go to Biarritz?
Jim Fitzpatrick: We drove in two days to Biarritz.
isTia: Was France very different from the US?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I was studying painting in school, and the Impressionists made a huge impact upon me. It was as if I was stepping into Van Gogh’s paintings. I loved it.
I remember outside Tours there was a roadway closure, or repair, and the traffic was stopped in both directions on a hillside, and I got out of the car and started down the hill, a very long hill. Carving turns side to side on the smooth highway surface, very different from the cobblestone streets in Paris. The traffic was stopped for nearly an hour, and people got out of their cars with bread and cheese and wine and started picnicking along the road and they would cheer as I rode past. Then I’d walk back up the hill and do it again. Cheers!
|A letter from John Severson, the editor of Surfer Magazine to Joel De Rosnay. |
Joel wrote an article about surfing in France in 1961 that was to be published
by Surfer Magazine. Fantastic!
Jim Fitzpatrick: There was a formal greeting from the mayor for the whole Surfing Holiday group, with speeches and champagne and food, and when we left I have given one of the other surfers on the trip one of my skateboards and we skated out of the city hall building into the street and two gendarmes chased after us, so we kept going, and they started yelling and blowing whistles and before giving up the chase. I had no idea what they wanted or what they were yelling.
isTia: How did you meet the De Rosnay brothers?
Jim Fitzpatrick: They had met Bill Cleary the year before we arrived, and Bill had made sure to let them know I was part of the ESH group. At the time I didn’t know there were two surf clubs, that there was political tension between the two groups: Surf Club de France, and The Biarritz Surf Club. I didn’t know, at the time, I was young and Rosnay and Moraiz were always nice to me and very accommodating, but I don’t thing they were friendly to each other…the were rivals attempting to position themselves as THE surf expert for Biarritz.
isTia: What kind of friendship did you have with them?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I felt like I was friends with and befriended by everyone. It was a wonderful time, and I was welcomed into everyone’s lives and homes and businesses.
5 The Biarritz vacations
isTia: What was your feeling when you discover Biarritz and its waves?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I was young and didn’t realize how fantastic Biarritz was; that it had a casino, and was a playground for the wealthy and the sophisticated from across Europe. For me, then, it was a surf spot! I remember riding my clay-wheeled Makaha skateboard from the town to Grand Plage. Past the tower building there, and back along toward the beach.
It’s a beautiful place, and Hossegor and St. Jean de Luz—we surfed the break in the river at St. Jean de Luz, it’s still one of the great surfing experiences of my life. The waves were relatively small, but perfect right and left peaks; about head high, and I rode forever! My memory is that I was moving up the river as much as I was moving along the face of the wave; as if I was going forward but not sideways.
The Spanish guardia were on the breakwater; they had those black hats that were folded on one side so they could lean against a wall and not crush their hats? I remember telling people that if we go to close to the breakwater they lowered their machine guns, but I don’t know if that really happened.
isTia: The time of your stay in Biarritz, you participate in a surfing competition in which you finish 4th. You will find the group of surfers with whom you had made the trip from the United States?
Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, I think I won that contest! Hahahahahahaha
I recall the tide radically affected the surf, which was never too big during the whole time I was there. The day of the contest the surf was poor, but it was a great day and I remember I had white shirt with a numeral on it. I would have won had I caught better waves! hahahahahahaha
isTia: What did you think the level of local surfers at Biarritz was?
Jim Fitzpatrick: There weren’t very many, but I never paid much attention to the level, what I really enjoyed was that everyone in the water LOVED surfing. There was such genuine appreciation for us, “les Americans”, and I was so stoked to be there, and everyone on the ESH was stoked to be there, so we were just one happy group!
isTia: Did you have the same kind of reaction from the spectators who see you skate at Biarritz or are they less surprised?
Jim Fitzpatrick: You know, everyone in Biarritz is so sophisticated they’ve seen everything! Nothing surprises them! Hahahahaha
In fact, there were only a few streets where I could skate, and at Grande Plage I skated every day at the end of the road there, and I shared my board, and it was just fun to do. Everyone there wanted to try…and they were very appreciative of my ability.
isTia: Did you meet people that already know about skateboarding?
Jim Fitzpatrick: De Rosnay, Moraiz, they knew, but I don’t think anyone else had a skateboard.
isTia: Did you try to sell/distribute Makaha skateboards to local retailers/distributors?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I left one board with de Rosnay, and maybe one with Moraiz…
There weren’t any dealers or shops or retailers…there were the two clubs, and there was someone trying to make surfboards, but I don’t think he had a shop.
isTia: A year later, in August 1965, the first championships of France skate will take place in Hossegor. At that time, the French refer to the skateboard, known as "Roll-Surf". Was it a word you used or is that a typically French expression?
Jim Fitzpatrick: No, that wasn’t my expression…
isTia: Have you had time to develop relationships that have turned into friendships with people you've met on site (Biarritz, Paris…)?
Jim Fitzpatrick: Unfortunately, not really. Michele Lartigau? Francois Barland? Was Francois a Barland or a Rosnay? I think Lartigau!
“Francois le Grem” was my age, and he and I surfed together and skateboarded together, and he was a true companion…when I arrived in 1989 he was at the demo and worked for Quicksilver…it was the first time we’d seen each other in 25 years!
isTia: At the time of your departure, were there skaters starting to master skateboarding?
Jim Fitzpatrick: Nope…Francois le Grem was doing well, and that’s why I think I left a board with him.…
|Jo Moraiz at "La barre" (Biarritz-Bidart) in 1965.|
Jim Fitzpatrick: Cleary’s visit had paved the way for my meeting so many of them. I still have my Biarritz Surf Club Membership card; it’s been on my wall every since 1964 (wherever my wall has been!). Jo and Rosnay were rivals? The whole political thing didn’t make sense to me…but Jo Moraiz had his surf shop in 1989 when we were there, and I believe he opened the shop right after the ESH left town, or maybe it was already open, but I don’t recall going to it in 64. Jo seemed very genuine to me, and he was very happy to greet me in 89.
When I worked at Powell Peralta Skateboards I directed the World Tours, but I coordinated the Euro trips with our distributors, not the retailers as in the states. So, the French Distributor was / is from Paris (I’ll remember his name in a minute) and he had coordinated our visit to Biarritz; I didn’t know where we were going or where the demo would be, none of the details. I had sent press packages to be distributed, so Jo knew I was going to be there, and he knew where the demo was and that Mike McGill, Steve Caballero, Marc Saito, and Tommy Guerrero were with me.
|Joel De Rosnay still surfing in France in 2008. He was 71 years old when the picture was taken...|
That first morning in Biarritz I was skateboarding around town on my Powell Peralta longboard, sort of recalling my whole clay-wheeled experience 25 years before, when I suddenly found myself in front of Jo’s surf shop. I was staring in the window when he opened the door and exclaimed, “Jimmy! It’s really you!” I always felt Jo was a real guy. Really into surfing and the lifestyle of surfing and skateboarding.
isTia: Do you still have contacts with Joel De Rosnay?
Jim Fitzpatrick: In Biarritz, in 64 was when I first contacted him, probably the first or second day we were there. I know that Joel was part of the organization of the mayor’s reception. This was a big deal for him, I think. And there were a few of us who didn’t give a dam because they were passing around trays of champagne and as a young teenager we just got silly drunk, and were probably obnoxious. No, no contacts now.
6- 1964 : European Skating Holiday
|Patti McGee. 1965 Skateboard champ and 2010 IASC |
Jim Fitzpatrick: I remember the little hotels and hostels we stayed in were VERY strict about Passport control. The police with their machine guns were always very intimidating, but not so much in the country. We went to Toledo, I skateboarded there. No problem. Sangria!
But I skateboarded in Madrid and a policeman (guarda?) stopped me with a finger, he approached me and wagged his finger back and forth while holding his machine gun against his chest. I stopped.
Barcelona, no problem. Barcelona was like another country. Valencia, no problem.
isTia: You continue your journey in France along the Mediterranean coast. Do you remember having skated in Marseille for example?
Jim Fitzpatrick: Yes. Every time the car stopped I got out and skateboarded. I tried not to walk. The more we traveled the more I became obsessed with “skateboarding across Europe!”
isTia: Of all the countries visited, what is the one who has left the strongest impression of scenery?
Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s a tough question. I know this, I love Europe. I love traveling in Europe, I love being in Europe, I so admire the then and the now. The historical significance folded into present day life is something that still is so important to me. The Renaissance and Enlightenment periods are very important, and when I’m in Europe, especially France and Italy, I feel I’m living that experience.
My wife and I have been to Scotland twice over the past two years, Edinburgh and then to the north country; I skateboarded in Edinburgh in 64 right by the castle and down by the train station. It’s bizarre to be in places and realize, “Wait! I skated here 40 years ago!”
Skateboarding in 1964 was silly and no one could relate to it, and that was perfect for me because it gave me something to do, provided me some identity, and gave me something to relate to those I crossed paths with. If someone was young and curious about Americans, that was one thing, but skateboarding? That was something else.
Remember, in 1964 an American could bring 5 pairs of Levis to Europe and sell them and pay for their airfare to get to Europe and home again.
Skateboarding in Europe in 1989, was again spectacular, and because I was with famous skateboarders the Euro skate community was so receptive; mainstream Europeans could care less, but the energy in Europe for skateboarding in 1989 was enormous. The lifestyle! Bad Boy Club was huge! Vision Streetwear was just coming on, the whole lifestyle was so important to the Europeans, but not so important to the real skateboarders—and there were ‘real’ skateboarders in Europe who were so connected, especially to McGill because he’d done skate camps in Scandinavia. Kids would come up to Mike and say, “I met you at that camp…” and Mike would say, “Hey, yeah, how are you doing?”
We drove around Zurich with the retailer there, in a Chevy convertible with a surfboard sticking up out of the back seat! He had never surfed, but he owned a shop that sold skateboards and surfboards! He looked like a surfer, and that was what he relied upon for getting customers to his store—image.
So, that was a big change for me…to see the impact 25 years later, of what had begun, or what I had done, and then there I was back, and the world was completely different, and skateboarding was a very important part of the new world order. I skateboarded in Zurich in 64, and then in 89 there we were in show with thousands of kids for the vert demo. The change was huge.
isTia: Is there a place where you skated and where people seemed indifferent to skateboarding?
Jim Fitzpatrick: In 64 it seemed everyone took notice. No one was indifferent, bothered maybe, intrigued, but not indifferent. Which is true for me today, because when I skateboard around most people look at me the same way, ‘What the hell is that guy doing?’ It’s just a different reason now, because I’m obviously “too old” to skateboard.
isTia: How many weeks did you stay in Europe in 64 and what are the countries you finally visit ?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I traveled for six weeks. Beginning in Paris to Biarritz. Then to Madrid, Barcelona, Andorra, Marseille, Monte Carlo, Genoa, Pisa, Rome, Naples, Florence, Venice, Lichtenstein, Zurich, Munich, Amsterdam, London, Edinburgh, Dublin and back to Paris for the return flight.
It's weird, because I remember so clearly some of the skateboarding moments. Outside the casino in Monte Carlo there was a stretch of cemented roadway, no cobblestones! In Rome the Piazza Navona had areas that weren't stones, and that's one of the places we visit each time we travel to Europe with students from our school. The fountain of the four rivers, and I remember clearly the experience of skateboarding around the piazza not knowing that historically it had been a race track for horses...I've learned so much since that first trip!
7 - The crash of the late 60
|Shit! This hurts!|
Jim Fitzpatrick: In Surf Guide? Not really, but Cleary did a spoof article on “Woody the King,” which was tongue in cheek story about Woody Woodward, who then went on to win the “World Championships!”
isTia: In 1965 released the first issues of “The Quarterly Skateboarder".
Did you appear in the magazine?
Jim Fitzpatrick: No, I think the first time I a photograph of me was in a skateboard magazine was in Thrasher in 1990 as part of an article by Craig Stecyk about longboards. No, wait, that’s not right, there were photos of me in the Powell Peralta Intelligence Reports in 88-90.
isTia: Was there a rivalry between "The Quarterly Skateboarder" and "Surfer Magazine's Guide"?
Jim Fitzpatrick: No because Surf Guide went out of business during the crash of the late 60s.
isTia: After the explosion of skateboarding, there is an initial rapid decline.
How did you personally experienced this crash of the 60’s? Is it a big disappointment for you?
Jim Fitzpatrick: The “crash” was the result of people discovering that skateboarding is painful. The excitement of “How cool is this?!?” became, “Shit! This hurts!” So, most kids who bought a clay-wheeled skateboard never bought another one. One and done! This is too difficult and it hurts when you fall!
For me, it was more that I graduated from high school in 1965, I went to Africa in 1965 to work on a television series, and I didn’t take my skateboard with me because I was working in the bush and knew that I would be on Safari for two months.
When I got back I was involved with girls, I bought a car (VW van) and I was trying to get on my college’s football team …I was leaving skateboarding behind for awhile, I just didn’t realize it at the time.
8 - A two year recovery 1968/1969
|Larry Stevenson in december 2010 receiving his IASC award...|
Jim Fitzpatrick: Larry was desperate to refresh sales, Makaha’s sales were fantastic for one summer, 1965, and then began to taper off…he tried different models and different names, but even by 1966 the explosion was slowing down…the patented kicktail was the “first” but it was obviously never going to sell itself because its design included pipes around the rails, and even though it offered adjustable extensions, it just wasn’t surfboard-like in appearance and it wasn’t the sort of thing a kid was going to be drawn to…the important and impactful next development wasn’t the kicktail, it was urethane wheels!
|Larry Stevenson's son and a replica of the first makaha board with a kick-tail|
Jim Fitzpatrick: My father died suddenly in 1968 and as a 20 year old my main focus was to pay the rent for the house I was living in, and there was no money in skateboarding for me. No, I was never considered for the new Makaha team. Bill Cleary was long gone from the Makaha world, Surf Guide had collapsed, and Larry was becoming very political with his Young Republicans group. He had also tried to sail solo around the world, and nearly drowned in a storm in the Pacific.
I have always admired Larry, I still do, for his inventiveness and creativity, but even he acknowledges some bad business decisions. He’s been involved in a video production profiling his contributions and challenges with the lawsuits and allegations. Larry was a pioneer. He recognized the ‘team’s’ value; that brand and product was one aspect, but the team is as important as any other aspect, because in markets like skate and surf the value of Word of Mouth Marketing begins with the team.
isTia: It often seems that skateboarding before 1974 is completely obsolete, but it seems that some people continued to believe in rebirth. What memories do you have from this period before the second wave in 74?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I didn’t skate from 68 until 77 after I had moved to Santa Barbara. And I didn’t have a skateboard until I bought one for my daughter in 1985.
No man is an island, entire of itself...
This interview could have not been done without Jim Fitzpatrick, of course, but behind the scenes, a lot of people helped. Claude Queyrel meticulously crafted the questions with his broad knowledge of the history of skateboarding. Claude’s role was instrumental in the success of this interview.
I guess I owe you one board…
Also, thanks to Jim Goodrich, Steve Potwin, Ray Rae for the pictures and Heidi Lemon for the comments.
Visit http://www.rayraepix.com/ to see more pictures of the Venice Skatepark.
Feel free to read the same interview translated into French on Claude Queyrel’s site:
Click on the links below to read the rest of the story:
Jim Fitzpatrick interview, Part I: 1948 to 1957. From early Childhood to Surfin’ USA
Jim Fitzpatrick interview, Part II: 1957 to 1969. The first wave of skateboarding
Jim Fitzpatrick interview, Part III: 1972 to 1991. The rise and fall of pool skateboarding
Jim Fitzpatrick interview, Part IV: 2000 onward. From H.R.A. to the rebirth of the skateparks and vert skateboarding
Jim Fitzpatrick interview: Part V. Food for thought: Vietnam, Politics and Education