Between 1986 and 1992, street skating transitioned from handstands and launch ramps to kinked rail 50-50s and tricks down double sets. Between the early gap/rail exploits of Mark Gonzales and Natas (86-88) and the ever-cited Pat Duffy part in Questionable ('92)—a key piece to the puzzle, often overlooked by present day accounts—came in the form of Powell Peralta's Frankie Hill. His parts in Public Domain ('88), Ban This ('89), and Propaganda ('90) outright changed skateboarding. In terms of rail/gap pioneers, he effectively picked up the baton Gonz and Natas originated and single-handedly doubled the size of both. In doing so, he directly motivated people like Pat Duffy, Kris Markovich, and Jeremy Wray, who in turn then motivated Jamie Thomas, Geoff Rowley, Chad Muska, Heath Kirchart and onwards. The following are the broad strokes of his pivotal exploits in those three video parts.
This is the full interview text from Frankie Hill’s Pioneer Column in our April 2012 Issue.
Did you just get off work?
Yeah. The dental business is just a nightmare right now.
You've been at that same gig for a while right?
Yeah, for about 12-15 years now. You'd figure you would get to a point where you get in a groove or something. But it's still as tedious.
That's why they call it work.
Yeah. True. The battle just never ends.
First off, I guess Gonz had ollied the Gonz gap in '86, but their wasn't that much video footage of him skating stuff like that at the time. Who was influencing you to and some of the guys you skated with to charge stuff and skate gaps and rails?
I had the sequence of the Gonz ollie on my wall. I just remember looking at that and going, "Holy crap." That was back when we were still just doing jump ramps and street plant stuff. I remember being at a street contest too and seeing Natas Kaupas skate and his whole approach was just gnarly. Mark, Natas, and Mike Vallely had a lot of skill back then that nobody else was getting close to. I tried to emulate those guys. I was super small still and I couldn't really ollie up onto the rails yet. But we were filming for the Public Domain video, going through the UCSB campus and I saw those 11 stairs. I just thought, "This would be sick to get in the video." Brandon Chapman looked at me like I was nuts. Just way outside my talent level. But I hucked a couple down it and somehow made it. I had no clue what was going to happen. But that right there was kind of where it started. It got me thinking. (Continued on Page 2.)
Frankie Hill, Jake Bradley, and Brandon Chapman’s part from Public Domain (’88). See the 11-stair that got Frankie started at 2:08
Did Stacey (Peralta) see the potential in it? Did they push for more big stuff from you?
Pretty much. When Stacey filmed he was good at maximizing people's existing talents. So if it was Ray Barbee doing flatground and flowing, Stacey would push that. Then with me, I think after I jumped that 11 stair, that sort of became my forte in their eyes.
Where Jake and Brandon following your lead on the big stuff after that?
They didn't really follow my lead in that sense. They were a little bit older. A lot of their focus came from just ollieng high off flat over stuff. Brandon Chapman ollied to and frontside boardslid a handrail in that video. He was already sort of well on his way to doing what he wanted to do. Jake unfortunately had the accident but before that he was supposed to go pro next for Powell. There was a little while where Jake was just destroying it.
What happened again? What was the accident exactly?
He was skating down State Street and a tandem bicycle ran a red light and hit him. He hit his head on the curb and went into a coma for like seven days. When he came out, he had to learn to walk and talk all over again so it kind of took the wind out of his sails to put it mildly. Brandon kind of quit after that too. He was like, "F—k it. Until Jake's normal again I'm done with it." It was me, Kit (Ericson), Brandon, and Jake. That was our crew. (Continued on Page 3.)
Who sparked you on the handrail front?
There was a couple of different things. Natas Kaupas had the photo of the boardslide and the 50-50 at the Federal Building in Westwood. But seeing Brandon Chapman boardslide that rail in Public Domain too.
So you just picked it up and ran with it from there?
Yeah. It took me a while just to be big enough to ollie up on them. I wanted to super bad. I used to go to the San Marcos rails and try to ollie all the way to the end and just sack and wreck myself. After about fifteen tries one time Brandon was just like, "Stop man. You're obviously not going to make it onto there."
For Ban This were you pretty much on your own by then for that part?
Basically they told me that I was going to have the opening part of the video. Which once again was just a whole new level to be on. Like, "Are you f—king kidding me?"
Did you realize how big Powell and those videos were at the time?
Yeah. I had been on Dogtown for a while. Brandon and Jake were kind of the Powell guys. They took me up to San Francisco one weekend and we hung out with Tommy Guerrero and Jim Thibaud. Tommy at that point was just rock star status. So I was aware of what it all meant for sure.
Right around then that Police Academy movie came out too. It was almost like every kid in America knew who those dudes were.
Yeah. I remember showing up at the Powell mini ramp at the factory and it was just surreal. I remember walking up and seeing Caballero and Lance laughing back and forth as they skated. It was exactly like something out of Animal Chin. Mindboggling.
I think I just saw footage of that day. You did like a kickflip to fakie.
Yeah. They just released it on their site. That was the very first f—king day I saw those guys. I was totally tripping. It was like you were in a movie. Lance was doing exactly the same shit he did in the videos. I was watching it like holy crap. (Continued on Page 4.)
Footage from the first day Frankie skated with Lance Mountain, Steve Caballero, Danny Way, Mike Vallely, etc. Frankie appears at 2:07.
So was getting that Ban This part just so gnarly that you figured go for broke?
Yeah. I figured they wanted me to take it to the next level. There was quite a bit of stuff that didn't make it into the video actually. Stuff I really hope they release some day. That one boardslide where I ollie on the rail and it cuts to my shoe on the board angle. I was so close to making that but they just thought I was gonna die. I had a nice double kinker in there too that never made it in.
Had anyone ollied that double set in there?
No. That was definitely the first one I ollied. It was at my Junior High School. I don't really know if I saw anyone do one before. Now they skate triple sets like nothing (Laughs.)
What pushed you towards the mute grab in that part?
It goes back to that 11-stair from Public Domain. My feet would just come off the board on bigger stuff. So I'd just grab out of necessity. And the mute was just right in front of my face. I ended up using that grab a lot and then I guess it kind of became what I was known for. (Continued on Page 5.)
Can you give the story of the rail at the end of the Ban This part?
I went to the trade show in Long Beach about six months before the video was released. It's at the Long Beach Convention Center. I was at the show and told people like, "I'm gonna go boardslide this handrail over here. Who wants to video this thing?" I didn't even know how many stairs it was but I just knew I wanted to give it a go. Someone at Powell told me they wouldn't film it because they had to film the tradeshow. I had a little bit of a sore ankle at the time, so Todd Hastings, the team manager, ended up coming along just to make sure I didn't hurt myself. So he's watching and I tried about five times to cave man it. One of the tries, it was just one of those where everything seems to work. I slid the entire thing. It was just a perfect railslide. I fully had it. About five stairs from the bottom I wasn't even sliding that fast and I looked over at Todd and was just like, "Where's the camera?" I jumped off at the very end and just walked out of it because I didn't want to hurt my ankle. Right before when I was walking up too, Natas saw me and was like, "Mark (Gonzales) already did it." (Laughs.) I think he was just f—king with me.
Anyways, when we went back, they were doing construction on the 30-stair side so I ended up having to try the other side, which was like 35 stairs and steeper. I hope they release the slams for that because I ate shit on that one. I tried about 15 times off the jump ramp. I was trying to go as slow as I could because you pick up so much speed on it. I think I had rails too which made you go even faster. I ate shit all over the place. I slid to the end I think one time, or got close. Maybe stepped on the last stair. I tried as hard as I could but couldn't make it that day. (Continued on Page 6.)
Frankie’s breakout Ban This (’89) part (Starts after the TV explodes at 1:16 and ends with his 35 stair attempt at 2:56)
Did they tell you they were going to cut it that way in the video?
I had no idea. I was really hoping they would show more of the boardslide. Because I definitely got further down it then it looks. I almost made it. It definitely tripped me out when I saw it with the "Can you do a handstand?" thing right after. You look back now though and I get what they went for. In retrospect, it was probably the right way to do it.
Was there more pressure to keep upping the danger level after Ban This?
It didn't feel like pressure.
You didn't skate contests or anything right? Your video part kind of became it.
Yeah. That was how I validated anything I had. I would get super nervous before contests. All I had was those parts. I knew Propaganda was coming up. I believe Stacey left before that came out. But I did get the feeling I was running out of gas a little. I tried everything I could think of in Ban This.
Did you ever think of moving to LA?
I thought about it. Maybe LA or San Diego. Just to see a new set of spots outside Santa Barbara. (Continued on Page 7.)
Can you break down the dirt mountain gap in Propaganda? The Ban This part ended with pretty much the biggest rail anybody had tried. Was the idea for that to be the biggest gap anybody had done? Was that the biggest gap you had ever ollied at that point?
Absolutely. By far. I brought those guys there just to show them. I was hung over. The team manager looked at me and basically said, "Your life will never be the same if you make this." He was stoked on it. I was like, "Fuck it." I just had no idea what was going to happen after I ollied. I went as fast as I could at it. And somehow it just felt like rolling off a curb. Somehow there was no impact or anything. After the first try I jumped off and just ran back up like, "I'm gonna make it!" I ran back and tried it again and that's the second try, the one in the video.
Frankie’s Propaganda (’90) part which ends with the giant dirt gap.
Were they all mute grabs?
Yeah. I just figured that was the safest way to do it. I didn't want the board coming off my feel. But I made the second one. The landing was a little sketchy so I went back and did one more clean. But when I rolled away I almost couldn't stand up because my knees were just locked from the impact. The third one was filmed a little further back so I guess the gap looked a little smaller. They were editing the video later on and Tony hawk and Bucky Lasek and a few guys were there. Those dudes were asking about the video and they were like, "Oh yeah. Frankie Hill ollied this hill." (Laughs.) We all watched it and that was the first time I saw it. Everybody was screaming.
Years later Kris Markovich backside 180d it. Did you trip on that?
Yeah. That was gnarly. I heard about that when it happened and I couldn't believe it. They eventually fenced it off. But it was definitely a monster. (Continued on Page 8.)
Was Stacey leaving a big deal?
Yeah. He just seemed to always have a vision for what he was gonna do. After he left Powell definitely lost that to a degree. I didn't think about at the time. But looking back for sure. Videos kind of lost the story feel after Stacey left, It became more like a collection of tricks. Especially after Powell started trying to battle with H-Street and that stuff.
Was it weird to have the tech. stuff and pressure flips come in right as things were getting bigger? Did you battle that at all?
Yeah. I tried to get more tech. Even though that wasn't really what I had been into. I did set a goal to take some of the tech. tricks to something big. That was my whole focus when that stuff came in. Occasionally I'd be able to do it. I learned those 360 double flips and did it down 6 stairs. It was around that same time too that I blew my knee out. So part of me really was like, "Oh, thank god." (Laughs.) I can prolong my career. The knee was at the end of '92. I never had the surgery so I was able to keep going for a while but it just wore out.
How did you react to Pat Duffy when he came out? Did you see that stuff?
The double kink? I was tripping out when I saw all that. I was still pushing around at that point and it felt kind of like being a racehorse. Like you look over your shoulder and see another horse coming up that's just faster and stronger then you are. Like, "Fuck, I'm not going to win this." That's kind of how I felt. It was crazy. The one 50-50 were he ollied off the super steep bank, grinded then ollied back into the bank. That was wild. I heard the rumors that he had gone to the dirt gap ollie and done it too. (Continued on Page 9.)
Did you ever cross paths with Natas and Gonz?
I skated the Skatezone a little bit with Natas. He actually broke his ankle there a little later on. But we skated together a couple of times. I skates with Mark and Jason Lee that one weekend that they asked me to ride for Blind. I'd see Jason at commercial tryouts in LA. I'd run into them from time to time. But mostly what I got from them was what I saw in the magazines and videos. For Hook I was down in LA for six months with Rudy, Guy, and Gabriel. That was a lot of fun.
Frankie’s last part with Powell (No Peralta) in Chaos (’92). Already on an injured knee and in the dark days of the pressure flip.
Was there a low point after the injury? Did you feel like you had gotten ripped off?
I basically quit Powell because I just felt like I couldn't contribute anymore. There was just no way that I could keep going. Chaos was filmed in two weeks. I used whatever I had left for that video. Powell was kind of dying off too. I quit and rode for Consolidated for about six months. I ended up quitting that too. I just started to feel bad taking their money given that I couldn't really skate. I just stopped skating. I couldn't do it. Christmas day that year I decided to skate the double-sided curb at the DMV. Just went alone, tried to boardslide the curb and my knee blew out.
That was really the point where I just hung it up. I knew it was over. Beyond over. I got a job delivering brake parts to gas stations, which basically sucked. I would drive my truck around and see skaters and for a while it was just completely surreal. I went to City College. My focus was really shot. But I didn't really have a choice.
Were any other skaters hanging out with you?
Not really. Kit had moved to San Francisco. Dylan Gardner was like the new guy coming up. It pretty much sucked. (Continued on Page 10.)
When did you get back on your board?
One day I was just limping around the house and my mom just got tired of watching me limp so she called this old workers compensation lawyer and I went down and sat down and told him my story. This was like six years later by then. He said I might have a case. The thing never went to court and I got my surgery paid for. I also ended up with two years of college paid for, which my step dad told me if I went into dental laboratory technology he would get me a job. So I did that for two years in Pasadena. Then basically four or five years later, I had received Kit's board after he passed. I held onto it for like two years then one day I was just thinking about Kit. If I could talk to him he would probably be like, "Dude. Ride my board." I took it out and rolled down the street and my knee didn't hurt. So I slowly got back into it on the side. I did that Revolver video part. They were a local company. I twisted my knee a little while filming for that, so I took another break. And it's been off and on ever since then. Started skating again two years ago and just started my little company called Hill Skateboards.
Frankie present day. 2012 rendition of the classic mute grab that made him famous. Still got it.
You got that Krooked board too right?
Yeah. I got that Krooked Gest board and that kind of sparked me all over. I had bought a house and was going to build a miniramp and all this stuff. I ended up losing the house in the big sub-prime debacle, and right after that while I was just super down I got that Krooked board. I kind of decided right there I'll just keep skating. I love it too much. I'm just going to try to make it last as much as humanely possible.
How does it feel looking back?
I'm really happy with the way everything turned out. I remember a long time ago thinking maybe shouldn't have skated as crazy as I did with the gaps and rails. But really, who cares if that's the way it worked out. I tried to push it as far as I could and this is the way it turned out. I can't complain at all. I never wanted to be the guy that took my foot off the gas. The whole injury, losing it all—I couldn't be happier to be where I'm at today. To be able to skate at all is a real miracle. From my point of view, to be talking about this and have Transworld call me up 20 years later—it's a big deal. I'm grateful for any roll I played.