Introduction: Lifer. There really aren’t that many so I know one when I see one. Robert definitely falls into the lifer camp. There are plenty of easy jumping off points from skateboarding. Getting a car is the first big one. That one alone wipes out half your skate crew. Trading the skateboard in for a bar stool and/or drugs is the second big one. An unsupportive significant other can claim a skater of any age. Then, come the legitimate jumping off points, college, spouses, kids, bad injures, careers, and limited time which makes it harder to skate like you used to. Robert is one of the few that have navigated all the potential pitfalls and is still going strong. A lot of time has passed from the days of High Roller and Skate in the Shade to the year 2013 but for a lifer it can feel like no time has passed at all. Skateboarding and Rock N Roll are 100% American originals. Teenage kicks that never have to end. We built this way of life and once you are tapped into it you are in for the whole ride. Robert instinctively understands this. A good session and some good tunes and boom, you are eleventeen all over again. Some people will be driving around with a skateboard in their trunk their whole life. A 50 year old skateboarder is an exile on main street. They can count all their skate peers on one hand, and their non-skating peers are counting the days until they can collect social security. What makes them keep on keeping on is that they know something the larger world could never understand…they can tap into the fountain of youth with a simple pop of the truck. Five decades deep, what do you got? -Chris Kelley
So Rob, when did you start skating and what kind of board were you riding? I got my first board, a Nash “15 Toes” in 1965. It went everywhere with me. I was about 24 inches long. I was a small child and it was a perfect place to begin. The first real board I had was a 29 inch Logan Earth Ski Bruce Logan model with Bennett Trucks and Road Rider 4’s. It was a birthday gift from my awesome grandmother in May of 1975. My first pool ripper! I was so stoked!
That’s Rad! I started on clay wheels. Back then it was mainly freestyle. Did you do the freestyle thing? I was OK at freestyle. I was more into the surf style of skateboarding. The gymnastics parts didn’t connect with me. I loved the surf style of the early DogTown guys. Low pivot, concrete touching, surf style. I started making my own longboards and longer short boards because the skate companies (like Sims) were not making them yet. For me, surf style ruled. It still does.
It’s 1975, you’re a Tempe local. What’s your favorite spots? Initially it started as the basketball courts at Rural School in Tempe. Hoss Rogers, Steve Robenalt and myself would skate there after school and during the summer. From there it was on to Larry’s. Larry’s was our local backyard pool. It was a vacant house with a tight 8 foot deep pool in back. Tile coping, good transition, light blue plaster. We could skate it anytime. Rarely was skating there a hassle because the neighbors were pretty cool about it. That pool was a ‘go’ for a couple of years. We were lucky.
You skated Dead Cat before the graffiti. So did I, I loved that pool. Any other pools you would like to mention? The Bean Bowl on Van Buren was killer. It was an old motel pool with a gutter (no coping), Roman style. White plaster with great tranny. We skated that for a year or two. ‘Mellow Slopes’ was a great pool. Just off of Scottsdale Road, north of Tempe. Killer tranny, dark blue walls. Big bowl, 8 footer, mellow shallow end. There was Roosevelt Pool, Nona’s, Northern Pool. The Pink Sink (small pool). The plaster looked pink at sunset. Howard’s Bowl – everyone skated. There would be 20 guys there to skate it on Saturdays. When the coping got blown out, extensions got added. Cool transition in the shallow end. Tight 8 foot bowl. Lots of rippers there. Dead Cat Pool was the most legendary pool. It still is for Arizona. Big wide open bowl. Two love seats near the shallow. West Siders and East Siders alike skated it for years. There was always stoke in the air. I skated it for the first time the second weekend it was going. Word was out and it was special. Dead Cat was no ordinary pool.
The Desert Pipes were poppin’ back then too…tell us one of your pipe stories. It was probably the winter of ’75 or spring of ’76, I was invited to go and skate some pipes up by Lake Pleasant. We pulled up to the base of a downhill section of pipes. The pipes were joined together and sloped at a 15 or 20 degree angle downward. Three inch gaps between the pipes. I could carve it up to 9:30 or 10 o’clock on one of my longer boards. It was an over-vert speed carve thrill-ride! That spot got popular really fast…then the Beeline Pipe…
How about Skate-in-the-Shade Skatepark? That bowl was epic! The transition was modeled after the Dead Cat face wall. That bowl was big and deep. You had to go fast for it to work. There was big gnarly concrete coping that stuck way out. I was riding Gyro Wheels and Indy SFW Trucks at the time which was perfect for that monstrous pool. I clipped my back truck on a long fast frontside in the deep end (12 feet or so). It pitched me to the bottom. I was knocked out cold. I skated with some of the ‘Badlands’ guys there. Scott Dunlap, Charlie Ransom. Those guys killed that place. Ransom would turn the coping to powder.
I remember they used to drain Big Surf and allow people to skate. Did you get in on that? I went to a contest there in ’75 or ’76. A lot of California guys were there. Doug ‘Pineapple’ Saladino, John Hutson and a few others, mainly freestyle guys. In the back they had the baffle-a small slick, vertish wall, with a round lip. I spent most of the day there skating that. Stoked on it. I’d love to skate it again.
OK Rob, enlighten us on what a ‘Field Card’ is. I understand your alias was ‘Van Doren’. If you got busted skating a pool here, the police would not cite or arrest you. They would get a card to fill out your identity and personal information to have on record. This was called a field card. Everyone that skated knew this, so nobody carried a wallet or ID. When we got popped, we would give fake names. They were the names of our skate heroes. Alva, Adams, Peralta, etc. Mine was Van Doren.
You were tight with Doug Hopkins of the “Gin Blossoms”, with whom you met skating. How did that come about? Doug was a cross-town rival, kind of. We went to the same high school (McClintock in Tempe). He was an awesome freestyler. He went to the Long Beach Nationals in ’75 or ’76 and did well. He had all the flat land gymnastics tricks down. My friends and I were more interested in skating banks, pools and pipes. Our other common ground was music. That’s where we really bonded. Were were the best of friends. He was like a brother to me.
In the 1980’s you got back into skating. Ramps were all the rage. Do you like skating ramps? I dig them. Especially the five and six footers. I never built a half pipe, only quarter pipes. I built one with a plexiglass window in it. I was making boards to ride also. I like riding longer decks and Sims was the only one mass producing longer boards (this is all “pre-concave”). I liked wider tails, so I made them myself.
Flash forward to the late 1990’s. Skateparks are popping up everywhere. What are your favorite parks to ride? PV Skatepark is still my favorite. I haven’t been there in awhile due to the city’s whacky times it opens the place. The schedule does not work for the working guy. I love the flow of PV. Shorter board or longer board, it’s always a good time. Pecos is a gas when it’s not crowded. Union Hills is my home park for the last few years though. I love the people who localize that place. That park and its people that frequent it have changed my life. It’s a gas to skate that back bowl too.
You’ve got two sons, do you guys still go out and skate? Oh yeah! My youngest son Nate is an awesome skateboarder. He’s great to skate with. Good vibes, good attitude and good bag of tricks. Foot and flip tricks. He has a new twist on a trick just about every time we skate. It’s cool.
We are both surf style skaters. I got my style from the DT crew. How about you? Me too. Craig Stecyk III, Glen E. Friedman and Warren Bolster captured a very special time for skateboarding. The Bicknell Hills photos, the Paul Revere Banks footage, the Fruit Bowl photos…I could go on and on. I really dug Shogo Kubo’s style. I dug Tony Alva and Jay Adam’s style. That’s the style I was shooting for. I still totally dig those cats.
My goal is to be floating frontside airs at the age of 60. Do you plan on skating into your 60’s and beyond? Laybacks and Bert Slides ‘till the very end!
I want to send a ‘shout out’ to my crew. It’s my second family-you all know who you are. I love you all.
Right on Rob! Great talking to you. Keep ripping my brother, and thanks for the interview. -HO