Special Forces

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Steve Caballero, V21N01

Special Forces
The story of the Bones Brigade’s core unit in the 80s.
Words by Sean Mortimer
A has-been, a shrimp, a scrawny skater with a weird style, a street skater before street skating-this gang of scruffy teenagers headed by an 1970s ex-skateboard champion blasted the industry with a mixture of art and raw talent, becoming the most popular skateboarding team in history. The core unit of the Bones Brigade built an empire that covered the entire world. They dominated contests, caused riots, made hundreds of thousands of dollars, created the modern skateboard video, reinvented advertising, pushed skate progression into a new era, and set the stage for a totally new form of skating called “street style.” Then, just as spectacularly, the Brigade crashed and burned-went down in flames.

No Skateboarding And No Team

In 1979, Stacy Peralta was a top pro and former world champion who knew his professional career was nearing its end. Skating was evolving at a pace that left the older pros in the dust. He quit G&S Skateboards, which made his best-selling signature board, and joined George Powell’s company that made Bones wheels among other products. They formed Powell and Peralta, a truly puny company. “I went from being paid a ton of dough to getting a thousand bucks a month,” Stacy says. “But I had to look at the long term.” Stacy wanted to work with a company he could help mold. “There were only two things I had in mind,” he recalls. “(Build) a great skateboard team, and really tweak advertisements (to create) an incredibly new image.” He recruited his friend and artist Craig Stecyk, a fellow survivor of the infamous Z-Boys-the Zephyr team was a tight crew of underprivileged skaters from the Santa Monica, California area who introduced a raw surf style to skating in the mid 70s. (See the documentary Dogtown And Z-Boys for the complete story). “I wanted to get that same thing (as the Z-Boys), but instead of exploding in a year, I wanted it to last so you could really see the growth of these people-get to know this team.” Stacy and Craig brainstormed. “I want to create this team, but I didn’t want it to say ‘skateboard’ or ‘team,’” Stacy remembers telling his friend. “He looked at me and said, ‘Bones Brigade.’ That was it. Boom!” Powell released camouflage-patterned boards and shirts with bombs on them. As impressive as he was on a skateboard, Stacy discovered an even greater skill-spotting raw, unrefined skateboard talent. Powell had an impressive pro team (Ray Bones Rodriguez and Alan Gelfand, among others), but nothing seriously jelled until Stacy recruited his amateur team. “You’re looking for that spark, a piece of their personality,” Stacy says. “You’re like a tuning fork, and this person has all the right notes. Sometimes they weren’t visible, but you could tell they’d be there with the right nurturing.”

Mike McGill

“McGill had some original tricks that nobody was doing at the time,” Stacy says about a young Mike who had just cracked the teenage years. “You could tell he’d work like a horse.” Mike, an ambitious skater from Florida, piggybacked a Christmas trip to Stacy’s house with his friend and Powell pro Alan Gelfand. Stacy was in his early twenties, world-famous, had plenty of cash, and still lived with his parents. (“They were so cool, I didn’t need to move out,” he says.) Mike had never met Stacy before, but this didn’t bother anybody. Mom and Pop Peralta instantly accepted any of their son’s friends as extended family. Stacy gave Mike one of his old boards and took him to a skatepark to meet a photographer. A few months later, he put Mike on the team and told him to check out the latest issue of Skateboarder. Mike flipped through the mag at the local drugstore. “I opened up the centerfold, and there I was riding Stacy’s old board.” Before they were even on his team, Stacy maneuvered his skaters into areas that would showcase them.

Steve Caballero

In 1979, Powels pro team was at the end of an old-school curve, while the fresh ams were bending the new one. Stacy met Steve when he came down from San Jose, California to a contest in Escondido. “Stacy was really popular, one of the guys you’d always read about in the magazines,” Steve says. Steve placed fifth, but Stacy saw something in him that was missing in the riders who beat him. “In the history of skateboarding, there’s never been a guy that little with that much power. Ever.” Stacy says. “He literally was like some form of primate. He was so strong, so teeny, and he got so damn high.” Stacy asked Steve to ride for him, and he thought about it for a month before saying okay.

Weirdness

As Mike and Steve shot their first ad, they realized Stacy and Craig were veering off the beaten path. “(Craig) was the guy who shot the ads,” Steve says. “I couldn’t really get him. We were shooting things that had nothing to do with skateboarding.” “Stecyk was strange,” Mike recalls. “We just knew him as the guy who did the funky ads. Every ad was weird.” “(The team) was constantly complaining to me, ‘Why can’t we do a skateboard ad? Let’s just show a skateboard,’” Stacy remembers. “Stecyk said, ‘N-O.’ In his opinion, that was the magazine’s job. ‘We’re here to promote something else.’ They were making these guys into skate heroes, helping develop their outward persona.” Powell now had two incendiary amateurs. Only problem was that skating was dead in 1981. “I couldn’t even find anybody to skate with,” Mike says. The older pros had dropped out of the scene, and Stacy focused on Mike and Steve. He was the glue that kept the dwindling Brigade together, calling Mike and Steve weekly. If he couldn’t afford to fly Mike to a contest, he’d find a way to make him feel included. “Stacy made Steve call me. It was cool, like I wasn’t really missing out.”

Tony Hawk

Stacy had watched a toothpick towheaded child skate, and impressed by his determination, wanted him for the Brigade. “In one sense, Tony was the last guy somebody would have put on their team,” Stacy says, “because he wasn’t winning contests, he wasn’t blowing people away at all. He was just unique. They (skaters) all used to make fun of him.” Tony, at age twelve, was five years younger than Steve and Mike, who had recently turned pro. “I thought it was a huge age difference,” Tony says. Steve had already reached icon status in the skinny kid’s mind. “He was the innovator. He did switch inverts. Nobody did switch stuff back then.” One night, an awestruck Tony sat in Stacy’s parents’ hot tub with the two pros. To make an impression, he ate spent chewing gum from between Steve’s toes. Steve, the most fashion conscious Brigade member (once accessorizing his skating with suspenders and a suit vest), noted Tony wore “funky clothes,” and Mike wondered about the purple fuzzy monster doll with rolling eyes that Tony had stuck to the front of his helmet. Weird toys or not, his talent was unmistakable. “I was impressed by the tricks he was doing for how frail he was,” Mike says. “He was shy and didn’t really say much to us.” “I just thought he was a scrawny kid getting on the team,” Steve says. “If Stacy saw potential in Tony, I trusted him.” Tony, one of only amateurs on the team at the time, went to most contests on his own. It wasn’t until he turned pro in 1982 and competed with the rest of the Brigade that he felt like an actual member.

Lance Mountain

During the early 80s, Lance was one of the few remaining people still infatuated with skating. Steve Caballero and a friend discovered this passion when they skated Lance’s home park. “If we went to a new skatepark, we wanted to skate every single run,” Steve says, “and there was this guy following us. He didn’t talk, he’d just follow and skate.” “These were the best guys in the world,” Lance says, laughing. “I just wanted to skate with them. It never crossed my mind that I was the spazz trying to show them up.” Steve asked Stacy, “Who’s this guy following us around?” Stacy replied, “Oh, that’s Lance. He wants to get on Powell.” Lance finally gave up and turned pro for Variflex. Working a manual-labor job to make ends meet, he was over the pro life. “We were making 50 dollars (a month). There was no point in being pro.” Sharing the mutual interests of punk music and drawing, Lance became friends with Steve, and they’d each take fourteen-hour-long bus trips to hang out. Lance’s disappointment with pro skating eventually gave him a skating career. He was eighteen, bumming a ride to a contest from Stacy, whom he openly admired. “My mom basically got me on Powell,” Lance says. “When Stacy picked me up, she asked, ‘Lance doesn’t know what he wants to do. Do you have any suggestions?’” Stacy answered, “Would he want to ride for Powell and learn what I do?” Lance agreed to help Stacy and Craig, continue skating, but never receive a pro model. “Stacy looked at me like I was over (being pro),” Lance says. “I wasn’t really competitive. I’d mess around. I was more interested in what Stecyk and Stacy were doing behind the scenes.” “Stacy felt that Lance wasn’t at the top of the game (compared to) all of us, and he knew Lance was very creative,” Steve says. “But, getting on Powell rekindled something in Lance.” It wasn’t a welcomed embrace from every Brigade member. Steve told Lance that Mike had asked Stacy, “Why are we putting riff-raff on the team?” “I was very aware that Mike thought I was garbage,” Lance says. “That made me want to beat this guy, to be legit, but not in a mean way. My second contest on Powell, I got first at Upland.” “All of a sudden he stepped in after us being there for years,” Mike remembers. “I didn’t like that much.” Mike did see improvements in Lance’s skating, though. “He stepped it up on his own.” Lance had his own opinion of his teammate’s skills until 1984, when Mike invented the 540 McTwist. “My respect for him went through the roof and it stayed there,” Lance says.

Rodney Mullen

There were other impressive pros on Powell-who also competed well-such as Rodney Mullen, Kevin Harris, and Per Welinder, but freestyle was never as popular as vert so they never received the fame or focus of their teammates. “Rodney was as talented as any of them (the core Brigade), without a doubt, but he was a specialist,” Stacy says, “he focused on one thing-freestyle. The most photogenic and entertaining parts of skateboarding were ramps and pools, and that opened up the most opportunity for the other guys. Rodney wouldn’t have fit in with a group of guys skating down a hill in San Francisco.”

Weapons Of Mass Propaganda

Stacy understood his role with his skaters. “You’re not going to trust an absentee parent,” he says. “I was always there for those guys. I was a former big-time skateboarder, but if I had to run and get my guy a glass of water, so be it. Sometimes I’d feel like a kook. I’d show up with all these kids in my car-it wasn’t ‘the cool thing’ to do for guys my age-but, man, I was on a mission.” “Stacy was definitely a mentor, a father figure to me,” Steve says. “He had future plans for us. I watched what he did, the way he was, and I fed off of that. But I respected him more as a friend. We talked about school and girls-he was always somebody I could turn to.” “The biggest thing he did for me was teach me I could adapt my style to different terrain,” Tony says. “I was known for skating Del Mar. He’d say, ‘Let’s go skate this park. Let’s go to some pools.’” Stacy’s talent at spotting and nurturing skaters was now paying off. By 1984, the Brigade dominated competition. The top five of almost every vert contest for the next five years included the four Powell skaters.

Stacy used a new tool for showcasing his team’s popularity in 1984. D. David Moran, Skateboarder magazine’s ex-editor, made short films for a Christian Broadcasting company. He offered to make a Powell and Peralta film for fiveve asked Stacy, “Who’s this guy following us around?” Stacy replied, “Oh, that’s Lance. He wants to get on Powell.” Lance finally gave up and turned pro for Variflex. Working a manual-labor job to make ends meet, he was over the pro life. “We were making 50 dollars (a month). There was no point in being pro.” Sharing the mutual interests of punk music and drawing, Lance became friends with Steve, and they’d each take fourteen-hour-long bus trips to hang out. Lance’s disappointment with pro skating eventually gave him a skating career. He was eighteen, bumming a ride to a contest from Stacy, whom he openly admired. “My mom basically got me on Powell,” Lance says. “When Stacy picked me up, she asked, ‘Lance doesn’t know what he wants to do. Do you have any suggestions?’” Stacy answered, “Would he want to ride for Powell and learn what I do?” Lance agreed to help Stacy and Craig, continue skating, but never receive a pro model. “Stacy looked at me like I was over (being pro),” Lance says. “I wasn’t really competitive. I’d mess around. I was more interested in what Stecyk and Stacy were doing behind the scenes.” “Stacy felt that Lance wasn’t at the top of the game (compared to) all of us, and he knew Lance was very creative,” Steve says. “But, getting on Powell rekindled something in Lance.” It wasn’t a welcomed embrace from every Brigade member. Steve told Lance that Mike had asked Stacy, “Why are we putting riff-raff on the team?” “I was very aware that Mike thought I was garbage,” Lance says. “That made me want to beat this guy, to be legit, but not in a mean way. My second contest on Powell, I got first at Upland.” “All of a sudden he stepped in after us being there for years,” Mike remembers. “I didn’t like that much.” Mike did see improvements in Lance’s skating, though. “He stepped it up on his own.” Lance had his own opinion of his teammate’s skills until 1984, when Mike invented the 540 McTwist. “My respect for him went through the roof and it stayed there,” Lance says.

Rodney Mullen

There were other impressive pros on Powell-who also competed well-such as Rodney Mullen, Kevin Harris, and Per Welinder, but freestyle was never as popular as vert so they never received the fame or focus of their teammates. “Rodney was as talented as any of them (the core Brigade), without a doubt, but he was a specialist,” Stacy says, “he focused on one thing-freestyle. The most photogenic and entertaining parts of skateboarding were ramps and pools, and that opened up the most opportunity for the other guys. Rodney wouldn’t have fit in with a group of guys skating down a hill in San Francisco.”

Weapons Of Mass Propaganda

Stacy understood his role with his skaters. “You’re not going to trust an absentee parent,” he says. “I was always there for those guys. I was a former big-time skateboarder, but if I had to run and get my guy a glass of water, so be it. Sometimes I’d feel like a kook. I’d show up with all these kids in my car-it wasn’t ‘the cool thing’ to do for guys my age-but, man, I was on a mission.” “Stacy was definitely a mentor, a father figure to me,” Steve says. “He had future plans for us. I watched what he did, the way he was, and I fed off of that. But I respected him more as a friend. We talked about school and girls-he was always somebody I could turn to.” “The biggest thing he did for me was teach me I could adapt my style to different terrain,” Tony says. “I was known for skating Del Mar. He’d say, ‘Let’s go skate this park. Let’s go to some pools.’” Stacy’s talent at spotting and nurturing skaters was now paying off. By 1984, the Brigade dominated competition. The top five of almost every vert contest for the next five years included the four Powell skaters.

Stacy used a new tool for showcasing his team’s popularity in 1984. D. David Moran, Skateboarder magazine’s ex-editor, made short films for a Christian Broadcasting company. He offered to make a Powell and Peralta film for five-grand. At the time, most people didn’t even own VCRs, but Stacy, Craig, and George liked the idea-figuring they could move maybe 1,000 copies over a few years. “We felt there was a limit to how magazines could portray skateboarders in action,” Stacy reasoned. Dave bailed to do an acting gig and Stacy took over, directing the first commercial video by a skateboard brand. As with anything Powell at the time, Craig heavily influenced the production, and in the process, a star was born-by mistake. “Lance was the only skater living in L.A. on the team (at the time), so I used him as the glue to bolt the sequences together,” Stacy says. “Lo and behold, the guy became a megastar. He had already faded!” A friend even called, berating, “What did you put this guy on the team for? His career was over!” The Bones Brigade Video Show moved 30,000 copies. After two years without a pro model, a fluke part in an untested medium made Lance a cult hero. Powell began working on his board. Stacy, Craig, and the Powell artist, Court, came up with one of the most popular skateboard graphics ever, cave-wall-style drawings that depicted skating in prehistoric times, dubbed “Future Primitive.” The guy who was never supposed to have a board suddenly had a best seller.

Tommy Guerrero

Stacy had seen Tommy Guerrero skate and dug his style. But nobody knew what to make of all this skating in the streets kids were doing at the time. There were no “pro” street skaters or even street contests at the time. “A lot of people got bummed,” Tommy remembers. “You had these cats who dominated vert, and here comes along this other weird obstacle trip that’s supposed to be ‘street skating.’ They were like, ‘What’s that? Who cares about that stuff?’” Tommy had taken to the streets after the skateparks closed and millions of other kids were in the same situation. Stacy recognized this as the next stage of evolution for skating. (He was also blamed for supposedly “manipulating” skaters by creating a buzz around it.) In 1984, when Tommy placed second at the second street contest ever held, Stacy asked him to join the Brigade. Tommy was in disbelief. “Me and my friend’s called it the ‘dream’ team,” he says. He was in a different position than the rest of the Brigade. At seventeen, he claims he was very headstrong: “I have my own views on life.” But he bonded with Stacy, who at the time filled a gap in his life. “He was somewhat of a father figure for me. I’d call him late night with girl problems. He was really encouraging, supportive-he was always cool.” Tommy’s hilarious sarcasm emphasized his background, vastly different than his more suburban teammates. He grew up in San Francisco, never knew his father, and did whatever was necessary to get by. At four years old, he walked himself to kindergarten class down the hill he lived on and later learned to skate on it. “The reaction on the team, from what I heard, was ‘A street skater? What’s that?’” Tommy remembers. “The idea of being a professional street skater was vague.” But everybody respected Tommy’s skills, and after a while, accepted street skating as a legit part of skating. Surprisingly, the teammates who seemed polar opposites ended up digging each other the most. “We had some really fun times together, some good laughs.” Tommy says of spending time with Tony. “He’s a really, really funny cat-so many people don’t know that. He’s willing to do anything. He (had the image) of being a very serious skater. But you meet him and he’s a really down-to-earth, goofy guy.” Tony says, “We identified with each other’s interest.” They even almost got jacked together in a sketchy part of town one night. The streetwise Tommy worked their way out by sharing his beer with the potential muggers.

The Big Bang

By Stacy’s next video, Future Primitive, he and Craig had found their stride. Much more than just a catalog of tricks, Primitive shows what it’s like to be a skateboarder in the 1980s through

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