The 30 Most Influential Skaters Of All Time

Today, our 30 year anniversary issue goes on sale, The 30 Most Influential Skaters Of All Time. Below are short excerpts from the full-length interviews you’ll find in print. We’ve made this Web article for you to reference over the course of 2012, as we drop video interviews with each of these guys that tells the story of skateboarding. So here’s our 30, counting down in order of importance.

30. P-ROD.

Switch backside noseblunt-slide, 2010. Photo: BARTON

On influential careers:

If there's anyone I modeled my career after or wanted to follow in their footsteps, it'd probably be Koston. And Reynolds, because Reynolds did the whole ownership thing, with starting his own companies. But Koston and Reynolds on their longevity, even still going as people who are highly respected, and the impacts they've had, I wish I could have a fraction of their careers, ya know?

29. DAEWON.

Tailslide, 2005. Photo: TRINH

On his five most influential skaters of all time:

Rodney Mullen. Christian Hosoi, just the way he flew—who else could make lycra shorts cool? Tommy Guerrero, Steve Caballero, and Natas Kaupas. Once he spun on that fire hydrant everyone was mesmerized, like going to their first magic show.

28. DILL.

2011. Photo: O’MEALLY

On the one most influential skater of all time:

The most influential skater in the history of skateboarding hands down is Mark Gonzales. If you disagree with that then you're wrong. You can pinpoint Mark back to everything, and know that Mark did it first. A, he did it first; and B, he did it like Mark, which is a really psychotic combo. He did it the best. Everything after was not the same. Everything was so all over the place. Look at Mark's feet on his frontside ollies—nobody's got that. It's like his heels are one the board. It's just the f—king greatest thing ever.

27. WILLIAMS.

Frontside flip, 2008. Photo: TRINH

On his first video and influences:

I didn't see skateboarding until I was eight or nine. When I moved to a different neighborhood I finally got to see skateboarding and my best friends Rassoul and Terence showed me an actual skateboard video. The Blind video [Video Days]. They brought it to my house and said, "This is a skateboard video." The thing I remembered from that video was Guy Mariano and how small he was. I identified with him because I was small and thought I could do this. I figured out how hard it was. Guy Mariano was absolutely the first skateboarder I looked up to. I came in during the World era, so Henry Sanchez, Jovontae Turner, and Guy Mariano are the three most influential skaters in my life besides Kareem Campbell, who came a bit later.

26. ROWLEY.

Frontside hurricane, 2001. Photo: SKIN

On the influence of his generation:

I think my generation—myself, Jamie [Thomas], [Andrew] Reynolds—we're the first street guys to ride these real big obstacles on a daily basis. It wasn't like we do it once for a video. I think we all group up skating like that. I think that's what sets us apart I suppose. The willingness to f—kin' try anything every day.

25. HEATH.

Frontside feeble, 1994. Photo: SKIN

Ed Templeton on Heath Kirchart:

I remember when Heath was in his "I skate alone and at night only phase," that whole idea really took over. Every kid wished they were Heath Kirchart at one point.

24. JESSEE.

Frontside ollie, 1987. Photo: BRITTAIN

On his first issues of TWS:

I still have the first and second TransWorlds. The first was [Steve] Caballero and the second had Tony Hawk on the cover. I bought them when they came out. The first day I went to Del Mar [skatepark] I saw Grant [Brittain] take photos of Tony Hawk, that's when it all started for me.

23. DUANE.

2009. Photo: SKIN

On the influence he's had on skateboarding:

I got to make up a few tricks—I'm not much good at being the humble professional. I'm from a different era—I'm a survivalist. I don't know if I made a mark. I like it when a kid will say something rad. At the liquor store the other day this guys says to me, "Are you responsible for the acid drop?" Well, maybe the deep end. I think TA did the first one in the shallow end. The next contest at Boulder, I needed a trick and took it to the deep end, and it looked good. I'm more the Knievel guy.

22. VALLELY.

Streetplant, 1987. Photo: SWANK

On what influence he's had on skateboarding:

I don't know. I know that the feedback I get feels good. It's mostly about an independent spirit and doing your own thing. Not being a follower and skating how you want to skate. I learned that from all of my heroes. They all have that, but most importantly from Lance. I pattern myself in a way—and others may not see this, most street skaters want to see a little Gonz in them, but I really try to borrow from Gonz the sense of being free and not being inhibited.

21. PENNY.

Frontside bluntslide 180 transfer, 2011. Photo: DOSOUTO

On his first photo in TWS, and first cover:

I was very excited to have the cover of TWS. It was a frontside bluntslide on a curved ledge down a set of stairs in Huntington Beach. It was a good picture with palm trees and a sunset. It looked typical California. I think it's every skater's dream come true to have a cover of a magazine, and to have the cover of TWS magazine, one of the biggest skate magazines in the world, if not the biggest, was a very humbling experience. I'll never forget that day for the rest of my life.

20. ED.

Noseblunt-slide, 1991. Photo: VUCKOVICH

On Toy Machine:

There's a good chance that I wouldn't have been part of it this long if I didn't have Toy Machine and so for that I'm really thankful. All I can take care of is my little corner of skateboarding and try and make it legitimate and respectable and cool and keep it true to the people that skateboard and keep it true to the thing I love.

19. BLENDER.

Lien footplant, 1986. Photo: SWANK

Lance on Blender:

He was one of the first guys to draw his own graphics. He was the first one to give tricks different names. He was our ringleader. Neil's myth is more hidden and harder to find, but there would be no Mark Gonzales without Neil Blender.

18. LANCE.

Noseslide, 2011. Photo: SKIN

On the influence he's had on skateboarding:

I feel like I've influenced in the sense that if you want to do it, do it. If you don't want to do it, don't do it. But don't rely on what people are saying you can do or saying what you can't do.

17. JAMIE.

Head shave before shooting an entire Pro Spotlight in one day, 1995. Photo: SKIN

On some of his first influences:

Mark Gonzales, Natas Kaupas, Mike Vallely, and Tommy Guerrero were the guys in the late '80s era were who I was psyched on. I wanted what was on their grip tape on my griptape. I wanted to try the tricks that they were doing. They were the street pioneers.

16. CARROLL.

Backside lipslide, 1999. Photo: Blabac

On the Embarcadero and seeing skateboarding change:

We didn't look at anyone being better, we were all just sitting there brainstorming together. If one person learned a trick, we would all learn that trick the same day.

15. GUY.

Body jar, 1995. Photo: MOUNTAIN

On Mark Gonzales:

Mark Gonzales is infamously known for thinking outside of the box. He has the gift of turning his imagination into a reality on his board. His life off the board is just as free and wild. He is why we will always believe skateboarding is a form of art.

14. CAB.

Backside air, 2011. Photo: CHAMI

On having the cover of the first issue of TWS:

It was a big deal. I was excited. The fact that it was the first issue… I've always supported TWS. The thing that was impressive to me about TWS was that they always wanted to excel to be better.

13. DUFFY.

2011. Photo: SHIGEO

Matt Hensley on Pat Duffy:

I was skating in Escondido at some bank with other H-Street guys. Mike [Ternasky] said there was an am that was flying out to hang out with us. Duffy showed up and you could tell he could ride a skateboard. We saw this handrail that was the biggest thing I'd ever seen. You wouldn't even contemplate doing it. You used it to hold on to, to climb a mountain. Me and [Steve] Ortega watch him 50-50 grind the thing—the whole thing. That was it.  I looked at Mike and he looked at me and said, "Yep." It blew my mind. Ortega and I just sat in the car and smoked a cigarette. Already things have changed. Whoever this dude is has the biggest balls of all time, and he does. Pat's always charged.

12. MUSKA.

Lipslide, 1997. Photo: SKIN

On his own influence on skateboarding:

I'd like to think that I've brought something to the table. I caused a little bit of a stir at times in the industry when I think it needed it. People can talk shit about me or they love me—I don't know what they think about me—but at least I feel I added something to the industry and I had so much fun doing it.

11. CARDIEL.

Sacramento, 2011. Photo: SKIN

On his part in Sight Unseen:

In Southern California, TransWorld is a staple. I feel you need to give your energy to what's helping you out. TransWorld asked me to do a part, and I thought, "Yeah, I want to contribute to that 'cause they contributed to me to help me live my life through skateboarding." Of course I wanna do that.

10. REYNOLDS.

Frontside flip, Bricktown, 1997. Photo: SKIN

On Mark Gonzales:

Gonz is the most influential skater of all times, no question. Mark Gonzales created how to street skate, for doing handrails and things that no one has ever done. When people were doing a boardslide on the rail and people thought that was super crazy, he was doing 180 nosegrinds and 180 fakie 50-50s. The best and most technical skater today doing the hardest tricks beyond what anyone could think of is not doing what Gonz was doing then. It's just not the same. He was an alien or something.

9. NATAS.

Ollie, 1998. Photo: SKIN

Mike V on Natas:
I went to this kid's house and I looked at this magazine with Natas on the cover. I call this the "over the rainbow" moment. This image of Natas made my world go from a sepia tone to full color. I understood what I was looking at. I understood street skating at that point and thought, "Holy shit, I understand this."

8. ALVA.

2011. Photo: SKIN

On the influence he's had on skateboarding:

Probably speed and style more than anything—how to go fast and make it look good. Being a Z-Boy and having that low-slung surf influence, but also being able to transfer that energy from the beach to concrete. Being able to do aerials. Nobody was able to do aerials before we got into the backyards. Then you see skateparks with bowls. That's all incorporated in street skating too now. If it wasn't for us taking it to the air, do you think that skaters would be ollieing? The first ollie was done on vert by Alan Gelfand, and he showed it by popping his tail out and doing an aerial with no hands.

7. HENSLEY.

Backside ollie indy, 1997. Photo: SKIN

On the origin of the street skating:

While we waited for the Del Mar skatepark to open, we would sit in the parking lot and try to mimic what you did on vert. Generically and out of necessity it just happened. In Vista, the skatepark closed in 1980. There was no park. You had to go to Del Mar and that was a long bus ride. Out of necessity we skated what we could. We skated ditches and street and put a curb on top. We pretended it was the coping and the keyhole.

6. WAY.

Stalefish, 1988. Photo: BRITTAIN

On the birth of the Mega Ramp:

I've always been infatuated with motorcycles and going fast and jumping far and I snowboarded a lot in the early '90s as well. I was always able to jump those distances—60, 70, 80 feet on my dirt bike and all that. Mike T and I used to talk about building big ramps way back in the day; this was when I was super young. I used to draw these big ramps in class all the time too. I always had this fantasy of building these big ramps and doing these bigger airs. I didn't know if skateboard wheels could handle the speed the same as bike tires, I didn't know any of the ramp dimensions either. So I took some of my knowledge in skateboarding and built my own ramp that had its own dimensions. That was my initial commitment to trying to explore what's possible on a skateboard or explore what I think is potentially possible.

5. KOSTON.

Fakie 360 flip, 2007. Photo: BARTON

On what influences him today:

Everything is more accepted now, and there's way more personalities in it. There's a lot of different styles, which is great 'cause it gives you variety. Everyone was the same in the '90s, and it wasn't that awesome. It's not as exciting. Variation is what's needed, and we need to see people's individuality. It used to be like that in the '80s and that's back. I've lived through all the eras, and it's kinda cool to see it all existing in one period.

4. HOSOI.

Christ Air, 1986. Photo: BRITTAIN

On the one most influential skater of all time:

Tony Hawk's carried skateboarding and been the poster child and has opened up doors for me, even today. He's the icon of our sport and really did expand our industry to a place of enormous proportions. He was a huge part of me, driving me to get better. Going from contest to contest, I'd be thinking, "What tricks is he gonna come up with next?" He'd make up tricks and we'd learn 'em. The only way to beat him was to do his tricks higher [laughs]. That's all I thought. That's how fast he made up tricks. I realized there was something about him that was phenomenal. Even today, when you watch him skate, he's still got that same natural ability that all of us have to work for. Doing a 900 at 43 years old?

3. MULLEN.


Ollie over Steve Rocco, 1987. Photo: SWANK

On inventing tricks:

It comes up in interviews where I'm asked, "Are you proud of what you did?" To me it's not so much being proud, when I see guys that I think they're doing it so different. I don't know Andrew [Reynolds] very well. I see him, shake his hand, but when they do what they do… and he's one of the guys who I love his skateboarding. Antwuan [Dixon] too. I look at a guy like that doing what I started doing, and the way they do that thing that I've always loved and yearned for. That defines skating to me. When people are doing things their own way and yet sharing it. It's the language of skateboarding. It's what we do.

2. HAWK.

Crossbone Lien air, 1985. Photo: BRITTAIN

On taking skateboarding to the mainstream:

As far as endorsements and commercialization, I was the first one to dare to go there. I didn't care about the backlash of it. I had been in skating for so long that I was never trying to covet it. I always thought there should be a bigger audience for it and appreciated it. I never knew why they didn't, and so when I had the opportunity to get bigger endorsements, so to speak, my only concern was to get final approval and control over how they present skateboarding. No one else had that opportunity or desire because most of the guys who were in the position to do this had just started to become more successful. I had already had a wave of success in the '80s and I had seen it come and go and seen people do it with a passion and not get compensated for it. I was happy to use McDonald's marketing dollars to bring more people into skating.

1. GONZ

Frontside boneless, Meanwhile 2, London, 2011. Photo: SKIN

Read Mark Gonzales’ Pro Spotlight, A Beautiful Mind by Skin Phillips in our 30 Year Anniversary issue on newsstands now.