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Thursday, January 6, 2011


Jim Fitzpatrick interview, Part IV: 2000 onward. From H.R.A. to the rebirth of the skateparks and vert skateboarding

Part IV: 2000 onward: From Hazardous Recreational Activity to the skateparks and vert rebirth

1- International Association of Skateboard Companies
Kiko Francisco: a future skateboard legend. Pictured by Ray Rae at Venice Skatepark. Fall 2010 See More
 isTia: How and why did you found the IASC (International Association of Skateboard Companies)?
Jim Fitzpatrick:
I served for three years on the Surf Industry’s Manufacturing Association’s (SIMA) board of directors. It was fun, and I was involved with people I knew and who I had done business with. Craig Stecyk and I had begun designing trade show booths and we had a few clients so we were doing projects beyond just skateboarding.

While serving on the SIMA board I noticed how much control they had of the trade show production company (Action Sports Retailer) and the subsequent benefits were not being taken advantage of by the skateboard companies.

I thought if surfing can do this so can skateboarding. So, I faxed out a proposal to every company in the industry. I called people. I met with them. It was 1993 and many of the companies were brand new, new brands, and they were all challenged as businesses. The whole industry was in a slump. Acme. Birdhouse. Think. The Firm. Many of the companies were Powell Peralta alums, and I knew them well, but no one was interested in what IASC might be able to do for them. They just wanted someone or some shop to buy their products!


Asher Bradshaw at Venice Skatepark, you've got in front of your eyes the very future of vert skateboarding.
Photo Matt Fisher, Fall 2010
isTia: Skateboarding is not an organized sport. How did you managed to organize that?
Jim Fitzpatrick:
It was very very difficult, and a slow process, and when changing the liability law became a focus for me, that helped me provide the entire industry information that actually helped them.

Bob Denike at Santa Cruz said, “If I can give someone IASC’s number when they call us and ask, ‘How can I get a skatepark built in my town?’ then that’s worth something to me!” and Santa Cruz joined. Paul Schmitt was a huge supporter with his brands; Larry Balma at Transworld was a big early supporter.
IASC. IASC. The Skateboarding Hall of Fame and the I.A.S.C. formally celebrated the second year of inductions into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame tonight. This years entries were Torger Johnson, Stacy Peralta, Steve Caballero, Eric Koston, Bob Burnquist, and Patti McGee. Also included we two industry awards to Craig Stecyk and Larry Stevenson. They have now joined the class of 2009 inductees: Bruce Logan, Tony Alva, Tony Hawk and Danny Way.
Showtime at the IASC for Jim Fitzpatrick during the Skateboarding Hall of
Fame at Los Angeles in december 2010
 I was working my ass off, sending out information, faxing, calling, mailing everyone what I was doing. I’d organize meetings for the trade shows, I negotiated new arrangements with the trade show company, and then I’d see people and they’d ask, “Hey, Fitz, what’s up? What are you doing now?” I’d be thinking, “Oh, I’m only trying to save skateboarding for the future.”

isTia: Do you think skateboard is getting more organized because it is going mainstream or is it going mainstream because it is more organized?
Jim Fitzpatrick:
It’s still not organized. It is, but it isn’t either, and that’s what makes it such a great sport business thing to be involved with. I didn’t go to NBC and say, “Hey! We want to be in the Olympics!” NBC called me! Then they called again and again.

isTia: Are the Olympics important for skateboarding?
Jim Fitzpatrick:
Not as much as NBC thinks skateboarding is important for the Olympics. Skateboarding doesn’t need the Olympics to grow and develop, but the Olympics are convinced they need skateboarding!

isTia: Is skateboarding losing some identity because it is going mainstream and organized?
Jim Fitzpatrick:
It just has more identities now. Look at how many longboards there are, now. How many types of youth models there are, now. The product line used to be very very limited, and in the past 10 years it’s exploded! Look at how many types of bearings there are, now.


I met Jim Fitzpatrick back in 1996. I had just started SPAUSA (skatepark association USA and he had just started IASC.
He was and still is a great resource. I wish I had a dollar for every meeting we suffered thru...
and believe me Jim had a hard time sitting in meetings. Watching him was entertaining in itself..
He would get up, sit down, stretch, toss papers and fidget endlessly.. Then stand up and give a perfect lecture
on skateboarding or the industry.
Over the years we agreed on some things and disagreed on other things but he was
 always ready to offer his view and share his expertise. Jim worked on legislation that would open the doors for
 skateparks in CA, was a founding board member of USAS, partnered with ASR and introduced the Damn AM series
but I think his real legacy is IASC. Jim brought the skateboard industry together at a time when sales were flat
and helped grow skateboarding from a $600 million a year industry to a well over $2 billion a year industry giant.
 Heidi Lemon Director of SPAUSA
  isTia: In the late 1990s, as the head of the IASC you lead a long process to recognize skateboarding as a "hazardous Recreational activity". What were the methods you have used to achieve this?
Jim Fitzpatrick:
The pen is mightier than the sword. 75,000 letters and postcards and petitions. It was the letter writing campaign that accomplished the impossble.

Frank Capra made great movies, including “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, in which the hero uses letters from a boys home to convince legislators to change things. The movie’s rights were bought by Tom Laughlin, who I wored for as a Montessori teacher before we started our school in Santa Barbara. Tom had developed a Montessori school in Santa Monica in the 1960s, and he wanted Frances and I to start up a new school in the 1970s, while he was working on the remake of Mister Smith; “Billy Jack Goes to Washington”.

Tom was an independent film star and made millions with his original film, Billy Jack.

When I needed support for the skateboard legislation that was the source of my inspiration, I launched a letter writing campaign that everyone seemed to resist, except for Eric Meyer from Simple Shoes. Eric had been in charge of Vision Streetwear’s shoe line, and he supported the IASC letter writing campaign when no one else would.

It worked. In less than 12 months I had more than 50,000 letters from skateboarders all over the world saying, “If you’re going to say we can’t skate here, then give us someplace to skateboard! We want public skateparks!”

isTia: Is the situation of some European public skateparks like Marseille built in 1991 and its success has been an argument that you used in this campaign?
Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah, I already mentioned the Marseille bowl shocked me in 1989. I used it as an example all the time.

isTia: What was the greatest resistance that you met?
Jim Fitzpatrick:
Everyone in skateboarding…well, that’s an exaggeration. Paul Schmitt, IASC would not have succeeded without the support of Paul Schmitt. His support convinced a few others, including Brian Selstrom at Transworld Publications, and Larry Balma. It was a struggle. Even very successful companies were reluctant to join IASC or contribute much support. IASC had little to do with business or increasing business in the short term, but I kept explaining in the long run it would benefit everyone.

I even presented a lesson about pi with a pie, showing that if everyone helped create a bigger pie then their share would haven’t to increase but their size of the pie would increase because the pie was bigger.

isTia: Have you led the fight with the support of associations of in-line skating or BMX?
Jim Fitzpatrick:
No. I eventually attended a few events with Dave Mira, but that was later, I never had contact with inline folks.

2 The new skatepark craze

Sergio Ventura. Picture by Steve Potwin
isTia: Do you think that this law would have much impact in the construction of new parks? Are you surprised by the explosion in the US and all over the world?
Jim Fitzpatrick:
I knew that if we could get the California liability law changed, and we did, then the impact would be felt everywhere. What’s funny is that it started to happen even before the law actually changed in California. Other states and even a few California cities began to recognize there were ways to mitigate the liability, and a few parks opened, and then more were opening, and today there are more than 2000 public skateparks in the United States!

isTia: Does the IASC recommend the size of structures, the materials for skateparks? Is it more Spausa?
Jim Fitzpatrick:
Nope.

isTia: What are the differences between the two eras (70’s and 2000)?
The fact that this equipment is for most public and not private?
Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yes. Liability of individuals is very different than the public entities.

isTia: What do you think of the municipalities, because they built a skatepark, prohibit skateboarding in the city? Is it a perverse effect of the law?
Jim Fitzpatrick:
No, it’s not perverse. It’s a trade-off. My feeling is that we, skateboarders, need to protect skateboarders. Cars are what kill skateboarders, not skateboarders falling on their own. If individuals want to go skate the urban terrain, that’s fine, but young skateboarders should have safe venues that allow them to practice and develop a passion for skateboarding.

isTia: As IASC's founding executive director you changed California's liability laws, what were they before and what has changed now?
Jim Fitzpatrick:
Basically the law now says that if a skateboarder is over the age of 12, and is wearing appropriate safety equipment, that if they hurt themselves in a public or private skateboard park, there is no liability from the city for the injuries; the injuries are the skateboarder’s responsibilities.

Which means, and this is the ridiculous part of the law, if a skateboarder is not wearing ‘appropriate safety equipment’ then they’re breaking the law, and they have no right, at all, to claim liability for any injuries. This is why I always explain to the cities that it’s better for them if they don’t enforce pad and helmet laws, which seems backwards to them, but in terms of their liability it’s safer for them. Not for the skateboarder, but for the city.

isTia: It’s quite a cynical situation…
Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah, it's great, isn't it, that something so ridiculous and confusing is actually 'better.'

How to explain? In California, if I have a visitor come to my house as a guest and they accidentally fall down off a step and injure themselves, as the home owner I am liable for their injuries, especially if there is something wrong with the step (bad construction). Thus, it's important for me as the home owner to have insurance to protect me in case my friend decides to sue me for the medical cost to treat their injuries.

However, if a burglar enters the same house and is trespassing (a crime), and they trip and fall down the very same step, then I as the homeowner am not liable for the injury because the burglar is breaking the law while getting hurt; their injury is their own fault, not the homeowner.

So, the awkward place for me has been to suggest to CA cities this simple solution for them; put up the signs announcing the law that requires skateboarders to wear the safety equipment, BUT don't worry about enforcing the law because it's actually "better" for the community--the community won't be liable for the injuries--if the skateboarders don't wear the safety equipment. I say awkward because I do believe skateboarders should wear safety equipment, I believe skateboarders should wear helmets, especially, simply because I've seen the effects of brain injuries and brain trauma.

Of course, if there were a 'national' health plan in the United States, as there is in France, then this would be a moot point. A youngster skateboarding in Frances falls and breaks an arm; goes to the hospital for treatment; the cost is absorbed by the national health plan. The impact upon the skateboarder and the skateboarder's family is minimal. In the USA the same broken arm can cost thousand of dollars, and the skateboarder and the skateboarder's family is responsible for the cost, whether or not they have medical coverage.

Of course, this is why so many property owners in the US post signs; 'NO SKATEBOARDING." If there is no indication that skateboarding is prohibited then the property owner could be sued if someone is injured on the property while skateboarding. To my knowledge this has not happened recently, but an ambitious attorney could file suit.

Having not explained this before, the insurance issue is my main interest in being part of the USA Skateboarding's organizing efforts. Whether or not it's important that skateboarding ever becomes part of the Olympics is a point of discussion, and even as efforts continue for inclusion in London in 2012, or in Brazil in 2016, my intent is to create a USA Skateboarding membership category for skateboarders of all ages. Membership would include 'accident insurance,' much like Boy Scouts, or other youth organizations, and if a skateboarder was an active member of USA Skateboarding, they would at least be covered for the cost of any injuries sustained while skateboarding, especially if they were skateboarding in an USA Skateboarding sanctioned event or recognized facility.

All of which is a cultural phenomena. The USA does not yet have a true universal health care program (despite Obama's efforts), but instead has complex liability laws all created to point blame of responsibility at others: "You made this happen, so you're going to pay for it!" It's a weird world we live in, isn't it?

Pat Ngoho at Venice Skate Park, 2010. Photo Ray Rae. See More pictures from Ray Rae here.
isTia: Why having skateboarding at the Olympics would change the sport? In what aspect would skateboarders benefits of that recognition?
Jim Fitzpatrick:
It would make working with cities and school districts easier. I still believe every school yard is a skatepark, should be recognized as a skatepark, and that kids should be able to skateboard to school, at school, and back home from school.

Olympic recognition has not hurt snowboarding, and it won’t hurt skateboarding either. Snowboarders are more welcome today, and have greater facilities to use now, because of the exposure…similar circumstances await skateboarding, too.

isTia: You said you lobbied on a par with Heidi Lemon for the construction of the Venice skate part. Can you tell me more about Heidi, SPAUSA, Venice skate park?
Jim Fitzpatrick:
Heidi has been a great force in the Santa Monica and West Los Angeles area. I helped her as much as I could during my time as IASC’s director. We attended meetings together and design consultations; what we both came to discover is that politicians are on a different calendar than the rest of us, especially in local elections. They lose elections, and when the person who has been supporting your project for several years loses their office, so goes the project!

Jesus Correa at Venice Skatepark. Fall 2010. Pic Ray Rae. See More.
isTia: Venice skate park has become a beacon for Venice. Was it time to pay the due to the Dogtown era ?
Jim Fitzpatrick:
West Los Angeles is such a vast area, and Venice is more or less the capital of alternative life-styles in that whole area. It was a long time coming, but the park is a fantastic testament to those that worked so diligently to get it developed, and it’s now a core experience for so many. Yes, of course, the roots of skateboarding in that area go back to the Zephyr Team and the Dogtown era. What’s funny is that many who skate in Venice, and those at the park, don’t know that the building home to Zephyr is still there (2001 Main St.) and that it’s almost as gnarly today as it was in the 70s.

isTia: How many skateboarding books did you write?
Jim Fitzpatrick:
I have written two separate books about “skateboarding;” one has the theme of “healthy activities,” and the other is more about “creative thinking.” The publisher created these themes with different sports in mind, and I was invited (hired) to write the two books about skateboarding. They were great fun to do for me, because they were more than just books about boards and decks and wheels, and those who ride them. The first one was a challenge, but when I started developing the text I realized that 99% of skateboarding IS creative thinking, and the second book endorses the notion that skateboarding is a very healthy activity, especially if you eliminate injuries. Most physical therapists agree that if you exercise your quadriceps (leg muscles) effectively each day then you’re likely exercising your entire body—it’s very difficult to exercise the largest muscle mass in your body and not exercise your whole body!

I also wrote books about surfing and a separate books about snowboarding for the same series.

I also wrote a biography of Tony Hawk, and then one of Shaun White. Tony was very generous and very available for the whole project, but Shaun is now very difficult to reach from the outside. He’s a very genuine and wonderful person, who is now surrounded by ‘professionals’ helping to filter him from the demands of his celebrity. I ended up at the X Games and talked with Shaun before his warm up session. Good guy.

isTia: Last year at Vans, you celebrated 40 years of skateboarding with Bruce Logan, Tony Alva, Tony Hawk and Danny Way; into the Skateboard Hall of Fame at the official inaugural celebration, but skateboarding is now more than 40 year old, so, who are you 5 favorite skaters from: 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, 00’s, 10’s ?
Jim Fitzpatrick:
I don't know how to answer that one...Tony Alva? Tony Hawk? There is such diversity. When Guy Mariano and Rudy and Paolo and Gabriel were being discovered, we spent a morning walking around Stacy's studio in Silverlake, and there was a bus bench, the sequence is in Ban This? and they skated that bus bench for about an hour. I just loved that moment. There was traffic all around us, and the neighborhood was sketchy, and no one in the world cared what these four guys were doing, and what they were doing was like a Renaissance moment; redefining an artform, truly. They sucked that bench dry. They drew every life giving cell out of that bench, and then they skated away. They'd done it. It held nothing more for them, and they skated on.

I guess it's not the skateboarders, it's the 'moments.' I have favorite moments filled with vibrant images, sensational images...I was skateboarding in the Rome train station in 2002. I was traveling with students from our school, and the early morning light, and the long waiting platforms had incredibly smooth cement; maybe it was just the moment to myself? I'll never forget that feeling of speed and freedom. Back and fort on the platform, and then one of the kids yelled, "Jim! Our train is here!"

isTia: Can you tell us what was you position at TWS, what you did and why did you leave?
Jim Fitzpatrick:
I was editor of Transworld Skateboarding's Business Report, a magazine for the trade--sent out to retailers and manufacturers. Eventually there was a separate publication for snowboarding and for surfing, then later they were condensed into one magazine, and now it's an annual report. As editor I worked from Santa Barbara, traveling occasionally to Oceanside to TWS, but when I founded IASC and became the IASC Executive Director it was seen that there was a conflict and I ended up with a column in the magazine and other writers became the editor, including Miki Vuckovich, who is now director of the Tony Hawk Foundation.

Eric Tuma at Venice
isTia: What is (was?) RadRadio? Does that still exist?
Jim Fitzpatrick:
How do you know about RadRadio? That’s funny. Brad J (Lilley) is a local Santa Barbara radio personality, who I have known since we worked at Powell Peralta together. Brad left PP and began working as a DJ on an upstart radio station in Santa Barbara that became very successful. In that time frame I was busy with the folks at ESPN as the Extreme Games developed, and one day one of the producers asked me if I knew anyone who could be an onsite announcer for the events. I said, “YES I DO!” A few days later Brad and I crossed paths and I said, “Here’s her name; here’s her address; send her your demo!” He did, and they hired him. That was almost 20 years ago, and Brad J is still doing the announcing at the events. He’s a great guy, surfs like crazy, is a great skateboarder and snowboarder, and is working all over the place all the time.

He and I more or less realized in conversation with each other that we needed to produce a radio program featuring “extreme” athletes and their lifestyles and music in a two hour broadcast sent out once a week.

We’ve recorded several interviews, done several bits, and one thing we haven’t done is try to sell the show, yet. We also haven’t quite finished packaging it as I’m convinced we could have successful podcasts available too.

RadRadio is a project in the works!

isTia: How do you see people still skateboarding over 40 years old?
Jim Fitzpatrick:
It’s not a surprise to me. When I was a boy there were guys around me surfing who I thought of as “Old Men,” but they’re were younger then than I am now! I still surf with much the same ability that I had 40 years ago; not as much agility, but the same ability!

The same is true for skateboarding, and I’m a much better snowboarder today than I was 40 years ago! Hahahahahahahaha. I started snowboarding 20 years ago, and seriously, I’m better today.

I’m certainly a more intelligent skateboarder today, than I was in the past. My carpet ollies are fairly successful.

Duane Peters. Pic by Steve Potwin
isTia: Could you ever imagine that people like Jeff Grosso, Lance Mountain, Lonnie Hiramoto, Cab, to name a few, who are all well over 45 years old would not only still skate but at a very high level?
Jim Fitzpatrick:
If you stop doing something that means you don’t do it anymore. If you stop you’re done. I saw Grosso skate a bowl a few years ago; RIPPING! Cab? Lance? It’s not that they’re as good as they were; I don’t think it’s fair to compare, but they’re still really good skateboarders! By anyone’s standards, and to see them in a bowl or pool or on a ramp, where they can get a line, find a line, develop a line, those who know begin to really appreciate what a veteran is. They’re veterans! They haven’t done and seen it all, but they’ve seen a helluva lot!

isTia: Do you think that vert is making a comeback or is this just local in Southern California movement?
Jim Fitzpatrick:
Vert is always making a comeback because if you have the ramp someone will skate it, and ramps are still an excellent solution to the question of, “We can have an event, but what will everyone skate?” You put a filing cabinet on its side, and even park a car, and a few other obstacles, BUT, build a 60foot wide vert ramp with two or three feet of vert and watch the crowd’s eyes pop out! Is it skateboarding? Well, maybe not the whole of what skateboarding is, but it sure is exciting!

isTia: With the reemergence of the skateparks you see more and more people in their 40’s starting skateboarding again, like they were born-again skaters…
Jim Fitzpatrick:
Nothing wrong with skateboarding, especially when you can skateboard in a safe environment, surrounded by others who understand, and when you can get a line and have a run and enjoy that feel of freedom…nothing wrong with skateboarding!

isTia: How do you see the Street League in the future of skateboarding? Does the Street League means that skateboard has now attained a “pro” status and is definitely mainstream?
Jim Fitzpatrick:
Not mainstream, it’s all about “packaging” skateboarding. NBC and the Olympic committees are desperate to eliminate judges from their events. The world of figure skating is doomed because of the judges. The Olympics are determined to use only time clocks and scoreboards to determine champions, and I wonder if skateboarding might not strive for something to that end?

I believe I was in the first skateboard contest every organized, in Santa Monica at the tennis courts on Lincoln Blvd., in 1964. There were six of us in the contest, and when I was declared the runner-up I knew the judge had it in for the kid who won, it was his nephew! Judges have been ruining skate contests ever since!

Afterword

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, Matt Fisher for the pictures and Heidi Lemon, Cindy Whitehead and Jim Goodrich for the supports and 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:
http://www.endlesslines.free.fr/ghost/ghostpages/ghostfitzpatrick1.htm

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

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