Pioneer: Tommy Guerrero, Full Interview—The Streets of San Francisco

When did you first see the flatground ollie?
I don’t remember exactly. It might have just been Rodney (Mullen). I’m not sure. We had probably seen Alan Gelfand doing them on vert in the mags, but we would do an ollie to axle on stairs. They weren’t full on ollies up curbs yet, but we would ollie to axle around ’80, ’81. It was just kind of a functional thing at first then it just went from there.

Was everyone paying attention to it? Or was it just another trick in the mix?
It became one of those things were everyone would sit around and try to figure out how to do the straight ollie. Most of the ollies we did would turn 90 or 180. The straight ollie up curbs changed everything. Because now you would be skating down a hill and all of a sudden there’s something in your way and you can just ollie over it or up it. That opened the door to everything.

Did you ever skate with the San Jose guys during those early days?
Not really. The San Jose dudes I would skate with when we were down there were more Stevie, The O’Brien brothers and all those dudes. Neil (Blender) and Lucero were more down in So-Cal. I’d see them at contests but not much else.

What about the Sacto dudes like Ricky Windsor and Randy Smith?
Yeah. Of course, Ricky, Snaggle, all those guys.Tommy’s TWS Check Out from his early Powell days. Circa ’84.

Where were they at with street skating? Did everyone sort of bring their own style to it?
They had their own approach for sure. They would kill the curbs.

What do you think yourself and SF brought specifically?
I would say for us, the hills were basically your environment. So you would grow up skating fast. Whether or not you were on a hill or not I think people from The City were most comfortable skating fast. Wanting to feel that. Then the ollie from there just really opened up everything. Because now you were cruising down the hill with speed and you had a tool to deal with obstacles or even just to do tricks. Like, “Oh, now I can 50-50 that little stair or ollie over that bush”—while you’re flying down the hill. Now you could keep your speed too. Everybody got into it—after we started skating with Julien (Stranger) and Mic-e, Jim (Thibaud), Joey (Tershay). Everybody started killing it.

Is it fair to say SF became the world’s epicenter for hill skating?
For sure. Geographically speaking there was no other city like it. We would skate from one end of the city to the other on a daily basis. You encounter hills. You just adapt. A lot of people brought things to the table. Then the EMB crew sort of became the second wave to just push ledge/stair skating and everything to a whole new realm.

The highly influential Future Primitive (’85) part.

How did you get on Powell Peralta?
I was skating Joe Lopes’ ramp the day before a street contest was supposed to happen here in the City. It was like the second streetstyle contest with ramps and obstacles. I was skating Joe Lopes’ with a friend. After the session I was just sitting on the roof watching the session and Stacy Peralta came up to me like, “Hey man. I like the way you skate.” I didn’t know what to say. Just like, “Whoa. Okay thanks.” The next day after the contest my brother told me that he had talked to Stacy and that Stacy was interested in me riding for Powell. At that point we called Powell the “Dream Team”. I couldn’t believe it.

Who else was getting on when you got on?
I guess I was the first just solo street skater on Powell. Mark (Gonzales) and I were really the only two pros at first just to turn pro for street skating. Natas was still am at that point. Which is actually an anniversary May 5, since turning pro in ’85. I’m old (Laughs.) Everybody street skated, but for me that was actually my stated job description.

It was understood between you and Powell that you would be a street pro?
Yeah. Definitely.Lofty Frigid air at the height of launch ramp mania. Circa ’86.