Interview | Lance Mountain

Lance Mountain Interview
Words and Photos: Jaime Owens

Lance Mountain is one of my all-time favorites, and he grew up during the heyday of SKATEBOARDER Magazine in the late ’70s, so I wanted to get his take on the history of the magazine. I wanted to know what the mag meant to him then and now. Getting to hear Lance reflect on the magazine’s past (and his own) was right up there with actually skating with him. The opportunity to interview him, especially since he brought Duane Peters along, was, well, epic.

What did SKATEBOARDER mean to you as a kid? Was it the first skate magazine you saw?

Yeah, for sure. I actually saw this other magazine before, but we won’t mention it [laughs]. SKATEBOARDER came back around ’75, and that’s when I got a subscription. Skateboarding was so good during that time; it was everything, way different than it is now. At that time, magazines were the only windows into the skateboarding world. You never saw anything live but you saw these photos, and from them you tried to figure out what was going on. I think it made it a little more special. To this day, those SKATEBOARDER magazines are still the draw to how I get inspired. I can still picture almost all the photos. They meant so much to my early skateboarding and still do.
But growing up, I had a friend that skateboarded for a while and when urethane wheels came out he gave me his board and he got a new one and we saw Skateboarder magazine sitting at the local skate shop and we started seeing them at the local 7-elevens. Then we got subscriptions. I didn’t read that much so I was very driven by the photos rather then the editorial.

How old were you then?

I was born in ’64, so I was 11. Is that right? Am I doing the math right? [laughs]

Who were your favorite guys to look at in the mag back then?

I mean, Gregg Weaver, Waldo Autry, Tom Inouye, and Chris Strople, because they lived in my area. Of course, Alva, Jay Adams, and Peralta, too; they were the heavy hitters at that time. Kent Senatore and Jerry Valdez, all the guys from the valley. Then, obviously, the newer dudes like Bobby Valdez, Darrell Miller, Steve Olson, and Steve Alba. Really just all of them. It’s really insane how much of a special time it was.

You grew up in Southern California, so what was it like being in the middle of that scene where you could almost touch it?

I lived on the same street in East LA until I was 37. It was cool. I didn’t think I’d ever actually leave, but I moved a couple of miles away. Even though I was in East LA, I was still far from it. I mean, Dogtown was in Santa Monica/Venice, which is only a few miles away, yet it was a whole other world to me when I was 11, especially since I didn’t start taking the bus until I was 15. There was a skate park called Montebello, which was a really bad skate park for its time. By the time it was finished, it was outdated and there was no vertical there. By ’77, all I was interested in was pools, and this park had none, so you never got to see action from the mags happening there. We did get to see Stacey Peralta there. Piercy, Laura Thornhill, and Wally
were there too because they were locals. However, right down the street were some pools. That’s how we got introduced to pool skating.
SKATEBOARDER had stories on all the skateparks in England and my dad actually took me there to skate them. I even got a little map out of the magazine and went to all of these parks. Kids kept asking me if I was sponsored. I was, like, “Whoa, really?” That made me want to pursue what that really meant. There was a whole contest series happening while I was there, and that’s when I got to see all the other guys skate. Before that, I wasn’t ever at the right place at the right time.
I skated Upland early on, but it was very sporadic. I got to see Tay Hunt skate, and he would blast huge airs. I mean, I did get to see people skate early on, but I didn’t get to see stuff like in the Dogtown movie. That was very closed-off unless you were at the right place at the right time. When the parks started popping up, that’s when you started seeing people. ’79 was the first time I saw a full-on pro contest.

How insane was it to see the pros skate live when all you’d ever seen was photos of them?

Yeah, it was so different back then. It instantly was, “Oh, that’s how you do it.” I remember when we met Stacey at Montebello in ’77. We got to talk to him about doing frontside airs and stuff. When I got to see these guys skate, there was a big difference in how they skated. They had confidence and power. I got to see Alba skate at Upland, and watching him skate was insane. As soon as you see it live, it’s way easier to mimic. So when I saw that contest in ’79, I was, like, “Oh, these guys compete; there’s this whole thing going on.” It really caught my mind. When I looked in the magazines, I always wanted to mimic what they were doing, but it was a fantasy really. And then, when you see it live, you’re, like, “I want to be a part of this.” When I saw photos of Jay Adams in SKATEBOARDER, I had no idea what he was doing and I didn’t know if he made it or not. It just spurred you on to think something was possible and maybe you’d build something in your yard so you could try to do it. Tom “Wally” Inaway got so many photos in SKATEBOARDER back then. I think he had the most covers around that time, maybe three in a row. He always got the back cover. I think he got five covers of SKATEBOARDER, and back then it just told you that these are the guys. As soon as you saw the Alva and Adams stuff in SKATEBOARDER, you didn’t want to see anything else. Man, this takes me back just talking about it. I still have all the old SKATEBOARDER magazines. I dig them out and look at them all the time. They mean a lot to me. It’s why I skateboard. It’s just that feeling. Those photographers too, Bolster, Cassimus, Terrabone, and Goodrich were great and had such rad photos back then.

What did you think when it turned into Action Now and where were you at with your skateboarding career?

The guys in our little crew were older than I was, and they weren’t about getting sponsored, so I followed their lead. When they kind of broke off and got jobs of their own, I was, like, “Man, I’m still in love with this. I want to be a part of this.” So when I got involved in the industry, or whatever you want to call it, it was by being sponsored pretty late. I stayed amateur for a few years, and I was asked to be sponsored, but I was, like, “Nah, nah.” But when I got to a place where I couldn’t do it if I didn’t, I went for it. That’s when I went on a tour, entered these contests, and all of a sudden I was in it. Even though this wasn’t what it was about, in doing so I was staying involved. When I got involved like that I was, like, “Whoa, I wish I would’ve done this a long time ago.” It’s all position, connections, and who you’re with. As soon as you skate with the right guys, you skate better and all that stuff. I thought, “This is awesome. It’s amazing.” But that year all the pros stopped skateboarding. I won an amateur contest, and right then SKATEBOARDER turned into Action Now. I never got to be in SKATEBOARDER, like a full-on picture, you know? Back then, whoever won the amateur contest basically got a full-page picture in SKATEBOARDER. So when I won I thought, “OK, I’m going to open this mag and see my photo.” But, basically, no one knew of me, or thought I was going to win, so they didn’t get a photo of me. So, I’m looking through the magazine and I see a two-page photo of a horse jumping over a log. I was like, “What?”
Neil Blender was so stoked on Action Now; he loved it. I don’t know why, but he was really stoked on it and I didn’t understand it. I was, like, “What are you talking about? SKATEBOARDER is gone, man.” I actually made a ’zine called Awful Now. It was just all of these funny little drawings and stuff, but I was always just a dollar short and a day late or whatever that saying is.

Oh my God, I can’t believe a horse beat you to the punch.

I think in reality that’s why I really stayed in love with it, because I never got to be a part of it back in the day. I was always a big fan of the mag. It’s why I’m such a huge fan of skateboarding. I just looked at it. That’s the way I look at it all. Which, I think, actually makes it better [laughs]. It does make it better, because watching it is better than doing it. I just grew up at the right time.
Skateboarding grew so fast and changed so quickly that those guys got shorthanded in the whole deal. They came and went so quick that the magazines weren’t keeping up. There was always something new. If you look at the SKATEBOARDER poll, which was a poll of who was popular in the last year, by the end of the year skateboarding was so far past that guy already. It was really, really interesting. It changed so fast that it basically skipped over Steve Alba. He was, for sure, the main dude who won all the contests, yet he got second in the poll. There were so many generations packed into those three or four years in that magazine. Even the whole Dogtown period was only about a year. Alva and those guys, if you look at it by the time they had a vertical contest or pro pool contest, none of those guys were in it. But Salba and those guys passed them up, and the whole trick era came in ’78. So, the Dogtown thing was ’76 to ’77, and they were still getting photos and inspiring into ’78. But in that year Salba, Steve Olson, and those guys dominated. By ’79, there was a whole new group of guys like Bowman, Cab, and all those guys. Then ’80 and ’81 all those amateurs turned pro because everyone was gone…they weren’t even old. They were in their 20s but they couldn’t make any money so they only had a lifespan of one year. Salba is only a year older than I am, but from ’77 to ’80 there’s almost four eras of skateboarding. I was an amateur at the end of it all, so I look at it like I wasn’t a part of any of that. The whole skatepark era changed the Dogtown thing. In the second year, there was the Hester Series, followed by the Gold Cup with all brand-new pros like Duane, Eddie Elguera, and Cab. They were way more technically advanced than Salba and Olson, who were winning just the year before. It was always new guys, new faces, new everything. It was still so young back then, but it was awesome. The time was so good, the product was rad, and the photos were just so amazing.

Did you ever want to do anything else growing up or was it just skateboarding?

I always figured I’d have to work because you didn’t make money in skating back then. There was no consideration that you could skateboard for a living. I always had jobs, including building displays with my dad. He wanted me to be an architect, but I didn’t like math. I was young enough to keep skateboarding while working. We just happened to be at the right place at the right time. We were lucky, though. We were the first ones to push past that one age group and make just enough to survive on in the late ’80s. I did continue to work all through the early ’80s, even when I was on Powell. I didn’t stop working after my board came out either. I think I just kept working because I saw how all these dudes got left behind, even though I thought they were the greatest. I didn’t ever want to get left behind, so I tried to figure out how to stay in it. Man, those first few years of the ’80s were the deadest time in skateboarding. There was hardly any money. That’s when Tony got a check for 89 cents and he kept it. I mean, if we made 200 dollars a month we were stoked.
So, yeah, I do still look back at those magazines. At that time, all of those photos were hanging on my wall. I took all the photos I had on my walls and put them in a little book, and then I made these four-by-five paintings of all of my favorite photos from SKATEBOARDER magazine. There are 26 of them. I was going to have an art show with them years ago, but I just never did. I guess magazines just are the same to me these days. Back then, SKATEBOARDER was just so new and special.

What did you think when you heard they were re-launching it? Were you happy or indifferent?

I was stoked. The first thing I thought was, “I can’t wait to see that SKATEBOARDER logo.” Yeah, it might be time to do that again. [laughs] I just couldn’t wait to see full-page pictures without text on them. That’s what I always thought and liked about SKATEBOARDER. There are a lot of photos you can save. I was really stoked to see that one with the Olsons. That was pretty neat, you know?

How did you feel when it went down? If it was a tough era for skateboarding, how did Transworld and Thrasher come along at that time?

A lot of the parks, associations, and magazines were still run by “respectable” people, you know what I mean? Skateboarding was small and going underground. It definitely went into the punk thing, and that scared off all those “respectable” people. People still say that killed it. It didn’t kill it; it was becoming it’s own. It’s like a kid that grows up and moves out of the house: he needs to find himself before he can come into his own. I think skateboarding was becoming its own during that time. Most of the people who built skateparks back then were doctors and lawyers. They were convinced it was a money-making venture. Then they found out it wasn’t. There were a lot of kids at the parks early on, but they couldn’t fill them like they wanted to. I remember going to Montebello when there were hundreds of kids waiting in line, like at a waterpark, just to ride down a sidewalk. There was nothing there, but there was a line to get into it. That faded out really quick.
SKATEBOARDER was a SURFER Publication, so it came out of the surfing industry, and at that time skating was really brutal and broke off until it became its own. Obviously, the people like Fausto made Thrasher happen. There wasn’t a market, and so they made one. Once it broke from the surf industry, which was already a set industry, there wasn’t enough money in it to keep it going. Then Transworld came out of a rejection to what Thrasher was doing.
Man, the magazine industry must be brutal. I wish magazines meant the same to me now. I don’t know if they do to kids now or not. I can still dig out those SKATEBOARDERS and get inspired and happy today.