CHRIS HASLAM AND KEVIN HARRIS: OUT OF THE WILD
By Sean Mortimer
You could be born and graduate high school between the gap when Kevin Harris and Chris Haslam discovered skateboarding. Normally, a generational chasm that wide strains a skate connection but these two renegade Canucks have inspired each other for years.
Nicknamed "The Iceman" due to his smooth style, Harris was ranked the second best freestyler in the world in the 1980s. Stacy Peralta describes Harris as the most natural skateboarder he’s ever seen and the number one freestyler of that era, Rodney Mullen, points to Harris as his favorite freestyler. Similar to Harris, Haslam’s created his own distinct style of skating and his unbridled creativity separates him from the hundreds of pros crowding skate mags and video frames. Watching him skate is like chewing a Starburst after a mouthful of Saltines and the avalanche of votes crowning him TWS Reader’s Poll Champ in 2006 proved that skaters appreciated his unique flavor.
Both took lonely routes to skateboard fame that criss-crossed over the years. Harris grew up in Richmond, BC, a small mellow coastal city outside of Vancouver. Haslam recently bought a condo there and was a local at Richmond’s RDS skatepark that Harris opened in 2003. Before relocating to Canada, Haslam spent years skating in Singapore. Tropical, yes, but regarding skate coverage it might as well have been Siberia. At the start of Harris’ career in the late-'70s, Canada actually was an isolated tundra barren of coverage. Unable to follow anybody’s path, Harris trekked out on his own to become his country’s first professional skateboarder.
But Harris and Haslam are thankful for their years in the wild, forced to discover and cultivate skateboarding for themselves. Lacking direction from modern videos and the Internet’s instant info feed, their discrimination wasn’t tainted by industry peer pressure and trends. Instead, they allowed a multi-generational influence to shape their skating. Kevin supercharges 1960s smooth style skateboarding with technical tricks and does it better than it’s ever been done. Haslam isn’t afraid to blow the dust off ancient tricks and hybridize them with modern gnar moves.
The two Canucks met at the Oceanside Pier, the location of some of the earliest pro street contests.
How did you become aware of skating?
Haslam: I lived in Singapore for three years before I got into it. It was November ’93 right before my thirteenth birthday. There weren’t many skaters in Singapore at the time and my brother and I saw a guy from France skating around and we thought it was sick.
There were two shops in Singapore: Go Sports in the mellow area and Spitfire downtown. I always got my boards at Go Sports. Eddie Goh owned Go Sport and he’d been around since the ’80s and had the old videos and I watched those. Was there Internet in 1993? I guess so but I didn’t have it. The only way I learned about skating was from that store and Singapore is a heavy Navy stop point so there’d be skaters from the US stationed there for a week or so and they’d bring their boards.
Harris: It was ’75 and skateboarding was happening in California, but I was in Canada. My friend had gone to California and came over with a skateboard. I didn’t have a clue what skateboarding was but seeing that first skateboard is still vivid: It was red plastic with clear urethane wheels. I got on it and pushed around and the same day I talked my dad into buying me one at the sports store for $19.95.
I had no reference points to understand what it was. My friend told me, “There’s this trick called tic tacks!” Instantly, everything revolved around skating. Anything to do with school, all my other sports--I just stopped and focused on skating.
(Video of ’86 Oceanside contest. Kevin skates at 7:17 to AC/DC)
As you got more into skating, how did you learn about it?
Haslam: Definitely video, but random ones like the Invisible video or English and Australian videos. My parents are from England, so when they’d go back, they’d buy skate videos. Mostly, I skated with my brother.
Harris: We didn’t care about anything else except California--we’d absorb any information about skating there. My friend across the street would buy SkateBoarder--the only skateboard magazine at the time--at 7-Eleven and stay up all night reading it repeatedly. The first magazine we looked at must have been missing fifty pages because we flipped through it so much. And you couldn’t even figure out what skaters were doing in most of the pictures! [Scant sequences back then.]
But a few months after I started skating, the G&S team--one of the best teams--came to our local Dairy Queen. They were touring across Canada to promote the restaurant and skateboarding. Of course, it was raining during the demo and the announcer talked about trying to keep the demo going. I didn’t understand why rain would affect skateboarding.
The big trick was the “Pineapple Flip” [Old-school kickflip: the toe is hooked under the board to flip it] and the announcer told us all to watch very closely because the board was actually going to flip under his feet. That trick blew me away. I'd tell all my family members and friends who didn’t skate about this “skateboard thing” I was doing where you can ride along and actually flip the board under your feet and land back on it!
(Mullen’s favorite freestyler still has it! This video was made by Kolby Harris for this article but it’s been zinging around the internet the past week. The Gonz even rated it a “Right on.” It really starts to kick in after 22 seconds.)
Haslam, what did California represent to you?
Haslam: I lived in Ontario for 10 years before moving to Singapore. Being from Canada, Vancouver seemed more attainable. That’s when the Red Dragons were hitting up and I read the article “Rest in Peace Richmond Skate Ranch” [Harris’ infamous private skatepark]. My goal was to get to Vancouver instead of L.A. I wanted to improve my skating and knew that there were people out there [in Vancouver] who were so much better than me.
Kevin, being a Canadian skater in the late-’70s, it must--
Harris: It sucked! Real pro Canadian skaters didn’t exist at the time. I felt like a second-class skateboard citizen for sure. My goal was always to get to California and into contests. If I really wanted to skate all the time and get sponsored, California was where you had to be. Once I started competing in California, I got quite a few firsts and seconds and became known as “The Canadian Guy.”
It was weird. The contests in Vancouver were higher-end and held in way bigger venues than in California, but they were still considered secondary. [Harris was five-time Canadian champion.] We skated in the Vancouver Coliseum with 5,000 people watching and then I'd come down to the Oceanside contest and less than half the amount of people watched. But the guys you wanted to skate with were in California. The contests were run way crappier, but mattered so much more because California was Mecca.
What was the scene like in Singapore when you started?
Haslam: There were maybe 75 skaters and no skateparks. I only saw the 20 who went to Go Sport and random guys downtown. I knew nobody was going to recognize a skater in Singapore. In ’96, when I was fifteen, I moved back to Ontario for a year and during that time, they built a park in Singapore so I moved back to finish high school.
The park was terrible--six-foot ramps with a foot of vert. I had bought Thrasher Ramp Plans when I moved back to Ontario to build a quarter-pipe and it was better than any ramp in the park.
I was seventeen when I moved to Richmond, BC. A year after I moved there, the Richmond [public] park opened a block away from my house. I knew the level of skating was going to be higher but seeing Sluggo and Rick [Howard] and all these dudes completely shattered my dream of becoming anything in skateboarding. I thought there was a chance in Singapore--then I saw those guys and thought, There’s no way, dude. I didn’t skate with them. I figured they didn’t want anything to do with me, that I was just another kid.
The dream was still there, but I continued going to college and just skated Richmond park every day. I just cruised the park and did my own thing and slowly went in the direction of doing my own type of skating. I didn’t really go to downtown Vancouver to skate, it just wasn’t my thing. I was never into skating with massive crews of people. I learn so much better around dudes I skate with all the time.
No one really skates Richmond [park] anymore. It’s pretty trashed--the asphalt is coming apart in areas. It’s pretty rough, but every time I’m back, I go there almost every day.
Haslam in Momentum’s Por Favor
Harris: I thought the same way Chris did. At the Canadian contests, the organizers would bring in some top California pros and you could pick them out instantly. They looked different, skated with a different style, dressed different because gear out of California didn’t hit Vancouver until a year later back then. I thought I’d never get to their level.
But when I came down to California for amateur contests, the judges scored me in the top five. I didn’t know what was going on. I thought it was because I was a novelty and skated different and they didn’t see me all the time. I thought by the next contest, they’d be used to my style and score me at the bottom.
I really thought I sucked. I was always paranoid that people I respected would tell me I sucked. I had my comfort zone in Richmond. I had a vert ramp in my backyard [arguably the best vert ramp in Canada at the time], ramps in the driveway. Even though the scene was going on in other areas of Vancouver, I had my comfort zone with my friends. And all the best skaters would come ride my ramp--even pros from California like Shogo Kubo and Frank Blood.
Continued in Part 2, coming soon.
Chris Haslam and Kevin Harris at the Oceanside, California Pier, 2008. Photos: Blair