Skirting Disaster

Duane Peters Talks

Words by Sean Mortimer

Duane Peters and I are sitting outside a coffee house in Encinitas, legs knocking against the bottom of the table. Duane arrived first and chose a brightly colored kiddie picnic table. “Should I know you?” he asks. It’s part greeting, part apology in case we’ve met before and the notorious years of abuse blasted that memory from his brain. A neat row of safety pins fastens a torn pocket to his shirt and punk patches are carefully sewn on his gas jacket. Everything appears recently laundered, even his golf cap. The 1950s-era sunglasses are never removed and tattoos creep out from his sleeves and collar. Absent is the self-conscious strain of many modern pros dressing up to manufacture an image. Throughout the two-hour long talk, Duane’s iPhone constantly blares a nuclear reactor alarm ringtone. He never breaks conversation, merely glances down and shuts the ringer off. At least he notices. Duane has spent the better part of his life ignoring alarm bells that most people heed. Blind leaps off four-story buildings, jewel heists, snorting, shooting, inhaling a pharmaceutical warehouse worth of substances, detoxing in jail. For most mortals, repping the reckless OG punk attitude harder than any other skater would have paved a road to death or a cardboard-box home, instead Duane is a celebrity. In pictures—and even from a distance—Duane often resembles a reanimated corpse but in person his Eddie Haskell charisma instantly burns away that image. He’s missing teeth and his voice grinds like gravel but his energy magically reverts him back into a mischievous youth. It’s clear that an ” Evel-Knievel-loving-little-kid” powers Duane and the years of abuse miraculously haven’t drained his battery. He sleeps little each night, laughs a lot, tours, plays a ton of music and skates constantly. He’s closing in on 50, celebrating almost a year of sobriety and is clearly one grateful punker. He carpet-bombed the conversation with compliments to fellow skaters and his incendiary love of skating highjacked the talk no matter the original topic. He has the delivery of a combat vet who has seen such consistently heavy action that he’s unable to distinguish what’s incredible/insane to the average person. Numerous times I had to interrupt for details on an outrageous story that he offhandedly touched on while explaining another story. We drank cups of coffee and talked long past closing time and the shop refused to let us use their bathroom. But is there a more apt end to a Duane Peters interview than watching him bark a laugh and stroll behind a dumpster to take a piss?

Ed note: If you saw our “What It Feels Like” column in our January issue, you read about Duane almost recently losing his leg to gangrene. Here more of the story and help support his horrendous medical bills HERE.

Where did you get the nickname “Master of Disaster”?
D. David Morin [publisher of SkateBoarder] gave it to me. He was announcing a contest while me and Daryl Miller were trying to avoid [Frank] Blood and [George] Orton who were really jockey types. The night before we had been on the roof of the hotel leaning over to throw rocks at their windows. They got all gnarly. “Hey! What was that!” The door opens and [Blood and Orton come out to the balcony] I’m already pissing on them. I love ‘em both, but they’re fun to f—k with, like cops.We had to hide. They were going to murder us. We skipped around at the contest the next day and waited until we heard our names announced to skate. Everybody had heard about it and D. David announced, “Here he is, the master of disaster!” Everybody had their little nicknames.

It seemed that in the 1970s there were a lot of rivalries in skating. Dogtown vs. Down South. Dogtown vs. The Badlands.
The media really hyped that up. It kind of existed. I saw a heavy Badlands/Dogtown thing go down the night Upland opened. It wasn’t a fight—it was a full super session. If you read your SkateBoarder magazine everyday, you knew what was going on. But these guys would all go have a beer together and that tripped me out. I believed the media.

Was the Santa Cruz vs. Veriflex grudge that came later for real? You and Eddie Elguera both skated for Hobie and then he went to Veriflex with his coach and you to Santa Cruz.
Very real. That was war. We [Santa Cruz] drank, had no coaches—look, I love all those guys. All of them. But c’mon, when you’re in the bowl, you only get to be that little kid every now and then so you go with the little kid shit. Evel Knievel is my hero and he’s a prick! He’d cheat—do whatever it took. That’s what I love, not this clean sportsmanship. If you can get away with it, do it.

DP and Eddie bust a vintage doubles run in 1979 shortly before the start of the Veriflex/Santa Cruz war.