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

How did you feel watching the World Industries style coming in? That whole vibe?
It was just a different approach. Things change. I didn’t think much other than, “Wow, these guys are gnarly.” I remember when J.Lee came up here and was doing kickflips to back tail on this curb. We were pretty blown away. With such grace. You could see that the next generation was coming.

Did you feel like you were winding down when Real was starting?
No. Really it was Powell—they put me on the back burner after they got all the young guns coming up (Guy, Rudy, Hill, Barbee, etc…) I knew it. I could tell. It came down to a contest here in San Francisco where our TM came up and started telling me like, “Oh, I heard you’re doing drugs or this or that.” Trying to instigate something. So I skated in the contest and got second and he was like, “Oh.” I was like, “Yeah. I skate every day. That’s what I do.” I knew they were trying to phase me out so I started looking at other options. Thiebaud approached me with Jeff Klindt at the time. Of course, I already knew Fausto Vitello and Eric Swenson—I had known them since I was 10. So they talked to me and told me they wanted to do this thing and I just said “Let’s do it.” I made 1/5 of the money I had been making at Powell, it was one of those big leaps, but I knew we would be able to do what we wanted.

What was the order of Tony (Hawk), Lance, and everybody leaving Powell?
I left first. I was the first one to quit.

Tommy’s last part with Powell Peralta in Ban This (’89) before leaving to start Real.

Was skating changing? How old were you when Real started?
It was ’91. I was already probably about 45 (Laughs.) No. I was still skating hard at that point. It wasn’t until ’95 that I “retired.” And even then Fausto thought it was a bad idea. I had another few years in me. But everything was changing in skateboarding. Everything was evolving. These days it’s different. You can have a board out forever now if it’s like a legacy deal. Either way, you can’t give up skating even if you don’t skate. It’s about the way you perceive things. You’ll never see anything the same again. Ledges, stairs, banks. The average person doesn’t see those things. And that never changes for the rest of your life.

When’s the last time you skated?
I just went to a couple of skateparks this weekend with my son. He’s super into it now, he just turned 8. So we’ve been going to skate. We skated Alameda and Berkeley park on Saturday, then another park on Sunday. I’m feeling it, don’t get me wrong. But my back is f—ked up. My knees have always been f—ked up. But whatever.
Early Real ad in homage to Red Cloud. Circa ’91.

Was Punk Rock kind of fueling a lot of the early street?
Oh yeah. Back then too everybody had a band. If you skated, you were in a band. Everybody had bands. Punk just made sense to us. The whole punk movement came to the West Coast and of course when you’re young you have a ton of energy, a lot of angst and aggression. So it makes sense. Now I’m an old man, so I play more mellow music (Laughs).

Do you still get the same things out of both skating and music?
Yeah. I don’t get to do either enough, but skating and music have the same effect on me. They both help me maintain a certain level of peace, without being completely nuts. Both are forms of therapy—physical and mental. Completely. It just helps me to keep my gears from constantly turning.

How much actual office time do you put in at Deluxe?
It’s not even that much. Jim gets most of that. In the beginning everybody pitched in packing boxes and the whole nine. But now, I’ve been running Krooked, or Art Directing it for almost 10 years now. For a while I was doing all of the layouts. Now I’m trying to diminish that because I just don’t want to stare at a computer all the time. Don’t get me wrong, it’s amazing and I love it, but that’s not why I’m here on this planet—to color Mark’s doodles (Laughs.) I just direct now which is less hands on and I’m happy about that.

Tommy’s part in The Real Video (’93).

Looking at street skating now—do you trip out on where it has gone from where it started?
I would hate to grow up street skating today (Laughs). It is too f—king gnarly. Those guys are incredible.

Do you think the evolution is pretty much complete, or is it still going to change as much as it did in your day?
I honestly don’t think it can. Now it’s more just variations of the building blocks already in place. The human body can only endure so much, so nobody will be jumping down 100 stair gaps. I don’t quite know where it will go. Obviously the technicality is such a high level, and that will probably continue to refine itself. But more or less it’s variations of what has already been done. I think it will get to the point of gymnasts though. Were you have to make everything. I think it will get to that level.

What about the free flowing side though? I feel like that was really the side you brought to the table. Can that still exist even if every spot is illegal?
It will always be there. They can never stop us. It’s like technology. You can program whatever you want but there’s some kid out there hacking it right now. Skateboarders are like civic hackers. You can skate stop everything but they’ll always find a way around it. Nothing is safe.
Timeless style for a timeless spot. China Banks corner air. Circa ’87.