Surfing and skateboarding have always gone hand-in-hand. Surfing, the original counter-culture sport, gave birth to skateboarding.
First labelled as concrete surfing, skating became popular in the 1950’s with surfers looking for fun on flat days.
Through his love of pool skating Steve has established himself as a true legend of skateboarding. We caught up with Steve to talk about his love of skating, why he later learnt to surf and what it all means.
It was not until the early 70’s when a group of young degenerate surfers from Venice beach were introduced to polyurethane wheels that skateboarding was truly born.
Bring on the Dogtown era, breaking into back yards and the true essence of skateboarding: empty swimming pools. But it was not just the Dogtown guys who were skating pools.
Thirty miles inland an unknown skater called Steve Alba quickly made a name for himself and was the first to rival the Dogtown guys, even beating them all at his first pro contest.
R: How old are you, Steve?
S: I’m 54 now.
R: When did you start skating?
S: I’ve been skating since 1974, so when I was 10.
This is in the 70s, so people are like, y’know, slamming over coke cans, jumping over broomsticks, learning how to do nose wheelies and tail wheelies and taffies
R: What was it that got you into skateboarding?
S: Well, I had some friends in Junior High School, and their older brothers skated quite a bit, and they surfed. We just saw them doing it, so we wanted to do what they did.
This is in the 70s, so people are like, y’know, slamming over coke cans, jumping over broomsticks, learning how to do nose wheelies and tail wheelies and taffies and all that kinda silly, kinda 70s stuff. And then from there we saw these guys go down this alleyway one day.
And we said, “What are they doing down that alleyway, man?” And then we saw them jump a fence. If they would’ve caught us they would’ve kicked our asses.
They didn’t like us following them around, so we kinda hid near these trash cans by these trees. When they left we jumped over the fence to see what was back there, and there was a pool.
I didn’t see the skating at first. I just heard the sound. Pool skating has that certain sound, almost just like surfing has a certain sound, and when you hear it, and when you do it and participate in it, you know what the sound sounds like.
If you don’t really participate in it, you don’t really know what it is. It’s like, “What the hell’s that?” So from there we just started skating pools a lot. That kinda became my main focus.
R: A lot of people who read the magazine might not know the skate history, but they’ve all heard of Dogtown and the Z-boys. And funnily enough you started skating in ‘74, the same year that Tony Alva, Jay Adams, and Stacey [Peralta] were put on the surf team for Dogtown.
S: Yeah. Jay was only a couple of years older than me, and he was the youngest in their group. But all those other guys are a good five years older than me.
Plus they lived at the beach too. They had that experience where they’re right next to the ocean, whereas we’re living inland. We don’t have that easy way to get to the ocean. We’re closer to the mountains.
R: So you were watching guys skating pools who were obviously very much influenced by the surf scene. That whole Dogtown era, which had a big influence on pool skating, was about trying to emulate the surf styles in pools.
S: I think that, but at the same time, y’know, as they were getting in the magazines and we were reading the magazines, we were already doing it, not knowing that they were selling it to the magazines. But there were all kinds of people doing it at the same time, so to speak.
There was a lot of people inland doing it, and the people inland had a little bit of an advantage too. Because the drought of that time, of the 70s, you couldn’t fill your pool up. Where we lived it was all filled with pools. We had a mass selection of pools.
Nowadays a lot of it is hand in hand. Surfers love the skaters and skaters love the surfers, y’know what I mean?
So, y’know, you could say that Dogtown guys did put pool skating on the map. There’s no denying that. They had the first magazine cover and the first exposé’s about ‘em, which to this day in my book is still brilliant.
But at the same time we were skating Baldy Pipe and Nell pool, which was a 12-foot deep pool whereas some of the pools they were skating were like 10-foot pools. So even though, y’know, hand in hand it was all happening at the same time, as they fizzled, we took over.
Our scene, from where we lived in the badlands. A lot of my older friends who lived up here and taught me how to skate all surfed too, even though they were further from the beach. But they had cars. They had access. They were older.
They had licenses. I was only young when I started this stuff. As I got bigger and older I was getting better, but I didn’t have access to the beach. My mom and dad both worked, and I didn’t get a car until I was 17.
Two or three of those guys from out here were really good surfers too. And I’m not saying that they were as good of surfers as Jay or Tony, or even [Steve] Olsen, because they all lived at the beach and learned their craft surfing first before they learned skating, which is a beautiful thing in today’s world.
My claim to fame is that I won the very first pro contest in a pool, and then I won the fourth one, and for winning that one I got a surfboard, a moped, and a $1000.
I tried to learn how to surf. I was 16-17, but then I almost drowned trying to surf too big waves because I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t have anybody to tell me what to do.
Because of that, I was afraid of the ocean all the way up to my 30s. But then when I was about 40, I thought that I needed to get over my fear, so for the last 14 years, I’ve been really trying to learn how to surf better.
Before Jay Adams died, we were skating a lot together in pools, because we both rode for Hurley. I would see him at Hurley all the time and we would talk about surfing, and I would ask him all these questions, and then he was like, “Yeah, y’know, out of all the pool skaters all these years man, you’re one of the only guys that we felt held up to Dogtown standards.” And that made me kind of feel good.
Me and Jay always got along great. Jay called me from Mexico literally two days before he died. He said, “Hey man, when I get back you’re gonna teach me to skate pools like you, and I wanna teach you to surf like me.”
And I was like so looking forward to that moment to learn, to get some more skills, to have some coaching, which would’ve been a beautiful thing. I really miss Jay in that respect. Jay was all stoked that I was finally into surfing. He’d say, “You finally get it dude, you’ve come full circle”, and that made me stoked.
Even Tony Alva said to me, “I heard you surf all the time, like you’ve gone full circle. Now you get what we’ve been doing all these years.” It does make a lot of sense to me. Surfing’s the closest thing to skating, and skating’s the closes thing to surfing.
Dropping a wave is almost like dropping a pool and you get to the bottom cut a turn. So they’re very similar, and I can see the approach. Even when I was trying to surf a pool, I was trying to emulate what I felt like a surfer would do on a wave, if that makes sense. That’s why I think I’m such a line guy.
Everybody’s always like, you got all these lines you do, how do you do these things you do sometimes, even though I don’t have all the tricks these guys got half the time.
R: Well I mean, I’ve watched you skate for years, and it’s kind of astounding hearing that because your style is really surf-orientated.
You’re quintessentially one of the concrete surfers, and I when I watch you skate it makes sense. I was lucky enough to meet and hang out with Jay and a few of the other guys and just talking to them you see how much of an influence surfing was on them.
S: I’m not gonna say I didn’t like Jay [Adams] and Tony [Alva], but Tony was very stand-offish in those days. Very arrogant, and he hated us, even though I rode for him. We’ve had this mutual admiration for each other, but the guys in Dogtown that took a liking to me more than anyone I think were Jay [Adams] and Shogo [Kubo].
They actually went out of their way to be nice to me and talk to me a lot and encourage me, so I was pretty stoked on those two dudes.
R: So when did you start riding for Santa Cruz?
S: Well, I got in a little bit of beef with Kryptonics [Steve’s previous sponsor] and then at the Boulder contest I got pissed off and shot my board in the air.
It’s so funny to think back now because I’ve been shooting my board and breaking my helmets and shit since I was a kid, but they got super mad at me because they thought I wasn’t being professional.
Steve Olson was there, and he rode for Santa Cruz and he was all into punk rock and was like, “Fuck Kryptonics, come ride for Santa Cruz man we’ll be all punk rock and take over”, and I’m like, “Dude alright let’s do it.”
And then shortly after that Dwayne quit his sponsor and jumped on Santa Cruz, and it was me, Olsen, and Dwayne against the world at that time, y’know. It actually worked out pretty well.
R: One of your pro models for Santa Cruz was the Bevel? That was the first board that really had concave and defined tail and nose I presume? Because that was pretty influential on the surf side of things as well, just this kind of movement away from flat skateboards into having concaves.
S: As surfboard technology was moving, so was skateboarding technology, and they were definitely coinciding with each other.
R: A lot of what guys like Lance Mountain, Jeff Kendall, and Christian Hosoi were doing on a skateboard has now moved into surfing and when you see the aerial surfing.
So it’s kind of like surfing almost gave birth to skateboarding, and now skateboarding has given back to surfing. It’s like it’s gone full circle, very much like yourself. Do you follow any of the contest stuff or WSL stuff?
S: I’m good friends with Peter King, who does the Tournotes, and he’s like an avid pool skater, so I’ve been skating with that guy for 20 years too. He got his own ridiculous pool where we used to skate up until when they sold the house this past summer. So just through Peter, and through Hurley, I go to all the contests in California. I like watching ‘em. I have skated with John John
R: He’s an incredible skateboarder.
S: Yeah. When John John was at the Trestles contest, three years ago, like kind of before he got big big, he wanted to go skateboard, and he took off with us to this pool and didn’t tell the Hurley guys. The Hurley guys found him and got kind of pissed off about it.
They were like, “There’s no way you’re skating again when you’re at a contest”, like, “Surf season’s surf season”, y’know what I mean? I thought that was pretty freakin’ cool. Just for me, I always root for John John, number one. We always root for Kelly Slater too, because he’s the old guy.
I like the older guys too ‘cause I’m the older guy. And I like watching the big wave surfers, because I think those guys are crazy.
R: It’s crazy looking at how it used to be. Like surfers kind of transitioned into skateboarding back in the 70s, and then there was almost a phase where surfing wasn’t really cool to skateboarders for a while. Especially on the European side of things.
S: Yeah, especially in the 90s, but nowadays a lot of it is hand in hand. Surfers love the skaters and skaters love the surfers, y’know what I mean?
R: Skateboarding and surfing have always had this kind of intrinsic relationship where, whether they’ve hated each other or loved each other, everything seemed to progress alongside each other, and then, coincidence or not, they just both get in the Olympics at the same time.
S: Yeah, pretty bizarre.
R: You are a kind of original skate punk rocker, so what’s your thoughts on the evolution of surfing and skateboarding into the Olympics?
S: You know, it’s kind of a weird thing, and I don’t dig it at all. But, on the other hand, it is kind of killer because our thing that we do has solidified, so to speak. It’s become interesting in culture.
It’s good for what we do with the pool skating. Sometimes we’ll go to these people’s houses and ask them if we can skate, and they’ll be like, “I saw that on ESPN!” So that definitely opens doors too. Skateboarders still get a lot of prejudice and a lot of “you guys are crazy” sorta comments.
And we’re always fighting against the councils in the cities. We’re always fighting against those guys who get parks built and then close them because kids aren’t wearing pads or they’re drinking and smoking cigarettes. Kids will be kids.
It doesn’t matter whether they’ll be skateboarders, football people, baseball people, it’s in every aspect of the world. So it’s not skateboarders whom are the bad people doing it.
I feel like they still get that stigma, is what I’m trying to get at. And that’s something I’m trying to fight. So now with it being in the Olympics that actually helps our fight.
So on one hand it’s kind of like, man, that’s what we’ve always done. We don’t want that to be there. But then on the other, if it’s done in a positive way, it could make things better.
R: Do you think there’s any divisions being created in surfing and skating? Where you’ve got the anti-establishment, non-conformist skater, and then you’ve got that contest guy that’s playing up for
S: There’s definitely that in both worlds. Even for me, I have my foot in the kinda contests and masters thing, but then I had my foot in the pool world which was kind of anti-that. So it’s good either way. It just depends what you’re into.
All the economics go out the door. All that racist crap goes out the door. Because in skateboarding there is none of that.
The way I look at it, it’s skating, skating, skating. It’s cool however you look at it. And all the divisions that used to be there I think are kinda gone. You could go skate and have a session, and have a seven year old, and a 12 year old, and an 18 year old, and a 50 year old, and everybody’s skating and having a good time and all that shit goes out the door.
That’s the cool thing I like about skateboarding. All the economics go out the door. All that racist crap goes out the door. Because in skateboarding there is none of that. That’s the cool thing. I mean, there’s a little bit more in surfing, but in skateboarding you have more black kids who skate, and you have more Mexican kids, and kids with colour.
And you have white kids, and you have purple kids, and you have polka dot kids, y’know. So it doesn’t matter dude. It doesn’t matter what you’re social standing is. What matters is what you can do on a damn skateboard, and all the kids appreciate that, ‘cause they know how damn hard it is.
Surfing’s kind of the same way, but while surfing’s not a very expensive sport, at the same time you have to buy a board, you gotta buy a wetsuit, you have to get to the beach, unless you live by the beach and have access, so the socioeconomic thing weighs in just a little bit more.
But at the same time, I’ve seen all kinds of kids surfing. Different cases, races. I’ve been to Japan, I’ve been to Brazil. Everywhere I go I skate, but I try to surf too, which is kind of cool, because I get to surf some of these cool spots.
R: So what’s your plans for the rest of the year?
S: I’m gonna go to Carlsbad right now and we’re gonna go surf! That’s the plan.
R: Sweet! I’ll let you crack on. Go get some waves!
Words Richie Inskip Images Eric Palozzolo