Skirting Disaster

Duane Peters Talks

Words by Sean Mortimer

Duane Peters and I are sitting outside a coffee house in Encinitas, legs knocking against the bottom of the table. Duane arrived first and chose a brightly colored kiddie picnic table. “Should I know you?” he asks. It’s part greeting, part apology in case we’ve met before and the notorious years of abuse blasted that memory from his brain. A neat row of safety pins fastens a torn pocket to his shirt and punk patches are carefully sewn on his gas jacket. Everything appears recently laundered, even his golf cap. The 1950s-era sunglasses are never removed and tattoos creep out from his sleeves and collar. Absent is the self-conscious strain of many modern pros dressing up to manufacture an image. Throughout the two-hour long talk, Duane’s iPhone constantly blares a nuclear reactor alarm ringtone. He never breaks conversation, merely glances down and shuts the ringer off. At least he notices. Duane has spent the better part of his life ignoring alarm bells that most people heed. Blind leaps off four-story buildings, jewel heists, snorting, shooting, inhaling a pharmaceutical warehouse worth of substances, detoxing in jail. For most mortals, repping the reckless OG punk attitude harder than any other skater would have paved a road to death or a cardboard-box home, instead Duane is a celebrity. In pictures—and even from a distance—Duane often resembles a reanimated corpse but in person his Eddie Haskell charisma instantly burns away that image. He’s missing teeth and his voice grinds like gravel but his energy magically reverts him back into a mischievous youth. It’s clear that an ” Evel-Knievel-loving-little-kid” powers Duane and the years of abuse miraculously haven’t drained his battery. He sleeps little each night, laughs a lot, tours, plays a ton of music and skates constantly. He’s closing in on 50, celebrating almost a year of sobriety and is clearly one grateful punker. He carpet-bombed the conversation with compliments to fellow skaters and his incendiary love of skating highjacked the talk no matter the original topic. He has the delivery of a combat vet who has seen such consistently heavy action that he’s unable to distinguish what’s incredible/insane to the average person. Numerous times I had to interrupt for details on an outrageous story that he offhandedly touched on while explaining another story. We drank cups of coffee and talked long past closing time and the shop refused to let us use their bathroom. But is there a more apt end to a Duane Peters interview than watching him bark a laugh and stroll behind a dumpster to take a piss?

Ed note: If you saw our “What It Feels Like” column in our January issue, you read about Duane almost recently losing his leg to gangrene. Here more of the story and help support his horrendous medical bills HERE.

Where did you get the nickname “Master of Disaster”?
D. David Morin [publisher of SkateBoarder] gave it to me. He was announcing a contest while me and Daryl Miller were trying to avoid [Frank] Blood and [George] Orton who were really jockey types. The night before we had been on the roof of the hotel leaning over to throw rocks at their windows. They got all gnarly. “Hey! What was that!” The door opens and [Blood and Orton come out to the balcony] I’m already pissing on them. I love ’em both, but they’re fun to f—k with, like cops.We had to hide. They were going to murder us. We skipped around at the contest the next day and waited until we heard our names announced to skate. Everybody had heard about it and D. David announced, “Here he is, the master of disaster!” Everybody had their little nicknames.

It seemed that in the 1970s there were a lot of rivalries in skating. Dogtown vs. Down South. Dogtown vs. The Badlands.
The media really hyped that up. It kind of existed. I saw a heavy Badlands/Dogtown thing go down the night Upland opened. It wasn’t a fight—it was a full super session. If you read your SkateBoarder magazine everyday, you knew what was going on. But these guys would all go have a beer together and that tripped me out. I believed the media.

Was the Santa Cruz vs. Veriflex grudge that came later for real? You and Eddie Elguera both skated for Hobie and then he went to Veriflex with his coach and you to Santa Cruz.
Very real. That was war. We [Santa Cruz] drank, had no coaches—look, I love all those guys. All of them. But c’mon, when you're in the bowl, you only get to be that little kid every now and then so you go with the little kid shit. Evel Knievel is my hero and he’s a prick! He’d cheat—do whatever it took. That’s what I love, not this clean sportsmanship. If you can get away with it, do it.

DP and Eddie bust a vintage doubles run in 1979 shortly before the start of the Veriflex/Santa Cruz war.

Lance Mountain told me that you and Eddie skated in the same trick-orientated way, but you understood that skating was theater and that’s why you have a following.
An invert was new back then. Rock-n-Rolls were new. I would do something and he’d copy it. The next time we’d go out there [Eddie’s local park] he’d be doing it at the same place I did. But it wasn’t enough to get me pissed because I had a couple more tricks in my pocket. But I realized this guy was good. I rode for Hobie at the time and my team was getting into Eddie so I gave him a set of Claws [Hobie wheels]. Next thing you know we’re teammates. Dale Smith, aka Sausage Man [Hobie coach], always tried to coach me in the van: “A frontside rock-n-roll is possible! Put your toe—”
“Dude, stick to your freestyle!” I’d say.
“That doesn’t make any sense. I don't do coach. I’d be in football if I did coach.”
Next thing you know, I see Eddie at Colton and he did a frontside rock. I was livid! That guy listened to Smith—and it’s working! Next thing you know I break my elbows at the next contest and he wins the f—ker. Dale and I are still like old wrestlers talking to each other. Nothing is taken personally.

Wait—you broke both elbows?
At Del Mar in ’79. Banked slalom. Ran up there hungover … didn’t tighten the trucks. I got there just in time as they called my name. [Steve] Olson gave me a board, the trucks are still rattling. I didn’t test it out. I was going to win the bowl contest—I had my run down but [I skated in slalom because] I wanted to win overall. Third cone, wheel bite, launch and both elbows are gone. I’m going back on a train with two elbow casts and I hear Eddie won. I was livid. But In my eyes Eddie will always be a better skater than me. He does all that gnarly technical stuff. But I’m in a band—I know what kills an audience. I think it goes back to being the class clown, always wanting attention.

DP displays his knack for theatrics decades before mall shops went “punk.”

How did Punk change skating for you? You and Olson seemed to lead the charge with your styles and Santa Cruz graphics.
Mini Shred had a Ramones tape and that was the first time I heard punk. It was so great! It gave me more attitude and a sense of identity. [Steve] Olson was the first known pro to cut his hair. He had just won SkateBoarder of the Year. Alva dyed his hair blue. We didn’t have one tattoo. We used green food coloring to dye our hair. People would say, “There goes the Martians!” I was getting beat up everyday. We called it “Going to the door to go to war.” Once you got to the skatepark—that was your [safe] zone. We needed recruits. We’d cut their hair [into punk styles]. “Let’s get rid of those dead worms.” I won haircutter of the year at one of the SkateBoarder awards. Olson had the first real punk rock board, which was designed after [Elvis Costello’s album] My Aim is True. I don't know if he’ll admit that. I used the Blondie stripes.

Was the start of punk, around 1980, the peak of your popularity?
Totally. After that the money was gone in skating. I was 19 and my dad was calling me an old loser. I couldn’t afford rent on my $350 apartment. I was told everything was going down. I got a job as a dishwasher at a wedding reception place. I couldn’t handle it. Worked two weeks. Never got my check. Stole all the wine. Called it even. I tried to sell cars for my dad but I never learned how to write a deal. I was doing coke in the bathroom. I did a jewel heist down here [San Diego] with the drummer in my band. We robbed his aunt. I got a $50 check from Santa Cruz and I paid for our train tickets. We used the train’s headrest paper to draw a diagram of the house and planned it. We called from my Dad’s house in La Jolla until she was gone. We all wore black and wrapped our fingers in clear tape, went in through the bathroom, grabbed all her jewelry and I went to the kitchen to make us sandwiches and grabbed three bottles…

Wait, you made sandwiches?
We were hungry. I made some baloney sandwiches. The other guy had to pay off somebody so he got a bigger cut. I got $500 and he gave me his VW squareback and I lived in that forever. All you needed was a piece of hose and an empty milk jug. Pro skating had died for me. That was right when Hawk beat me, around ’82.

“Since being a prisoner is so hip nowadays …” Why isn’t DP doing ad copy in a mega marketing firm? Well, yeah … I guess there are a few reasons.

Do you remember that contest?
Very well. I had to borrow shoes. I found there was a contest at Whittier and I had already won two of them. I had to piece together a board. Got to the contest and I forgot the tennis shoes. I asked kids if any of them were size 11. A guy had Converse but one shoe had a hole in it. I found a kid with Vans and I’d rather have Converse so I just took one of the Vans. Then I got a Catholic girl pregnant. Her dad caught me under the bed. Then she had another [kid]. Her parents took care of us. We moved to different cities, bought different cars, wrecked them, blah blah, blah, I went to jail, heroin habit. I remember grabbing a magazine in the bathroom and seeing Gator on the cover in a stadium and thinking, What’s going on? There are people [watching]! I had just been in a contest with Caballero in the woods. I beat him because he fell, but I won like $300 bucks. I had just hypered my knee going off a four-story building running from the cops and…

Wait. You fell off a four-story building?
I didn’t fall. I jumped. But I thought it was the second floor. It was in a parking garage and the cops thought we were stealing car stereos but we were just doing downhill runs. I always stashed a bottle by an abandoned white station wagon that was always on the second floor. That night it wasn’t there and I put it by another white car on the fourth floor. I went down a couple of times and pulled out of the pack and waited for them to come down again. I hear everybody yelling, “Cops!” and tires screeching. Nobody knew where I was so I stayed hidden and had a couple of swigs. Then I felt guilty so I charged out being Mr. Hero. “Hey cops! Leave ’em alone!” I just remember being rushed. I ran up the ledge thinking it was the second floor. [Mimes turning, standing on a ledge and flipping the cops off.] It was the dark side of the building. I went “F—k you Cops!” and jumped. It was perfect. Then I saw that big 4 that was painted on the wall and went “Arghhh!” I landed in a dumpster. Swear to God. I could have been cut in half. But my knee was bending the other way. I buried myself in trash and started pounding my knee. It had hypered and begun blowing up. But the cops didn’t find me. I was still on Santa Cruz. I moved to Sacramento for a year and learned how to drum as rehab.

By the mid-’80s the National Skateboard Association began organizing contests again.
Yeah, Hawk’s dad put me in LA County in ’86 at a street contest. [Frank Hawk organized the N.S.A.] I was on methadone. I had screws coming up through my board to hold my feet on. I was out of my mind! It was when street style was getting huge and all I could do was a few 360s. They were shooting with a video camera and I didn’t understand how you didn’t have to wait for processing. I said, “Watch this!” I went really fast and smashed into a plant container. I wasn’t going to do good in the contest so I broke some more plants. Somebody had to pay for them, right? I wasn’t thinking about that. Then some windbreaker guy comes up and tells me knock it off. “Who says?” I asked. They pointed over to Mr. Hawk. At that time, our parents weren’t backing us. I remember seeing, way before, Mr. Hawk on the fence watching his kid. Loving his kid. We didn’t have that and I would never have admitted that back then. So I yelled, “This ain’t a place for parents! Why don't you get a job, old man!” I smashed as many plants as I could. Next thing you know I have a herd of windbreakers after me. I run through the contest in the middle of somebody’s run. Here’s Peters running with his board and the screws in it. I jumped over the railing and threw my board into families and I’m running through them. I grabbed a kid’s board and smashed a windbreaker’s nose and that was it. I got the shit beat out of me. Lights out. I thought that was enough. Nope. Carson City jail. I was kicking methadone and there were Crips and Bloods. Then I went to LA County. It was horrific. Guys getting buttf—ked. I dove down the stairs to try and get meds. I had a fake seizure. They laughed at me. I spent 54 days in there. I got jumped in there. My money was stolen. I had a one-armed guy try to teach me to meditate. I’ve never been on methadone again. I’ve had years of drug problems and crash landed for the millionth time but I’ve never been on methadone again. I talked shit when Hawk’s father passed and it started a big thing. But that asshole in me talked … that old punk rock bullshit. Here I am talking shit on his dad and then after I do a bunch of road time and loser scenarios, I came to the conclusion that I would never have been off methadone if his dad hadn’t thrown me in jail. It’s the hardest thing to kick. That’s the only way I would have kicked that shit. I’m too weak. That was the gnarliest kick of my life. That motherf—er saved my life. Years later I was filmed for a documentary on Hawk and I looked in the camera and said, “I want to apologize for that Dad statement. I don't know what you guys want to do with this, but that guy saved my life and I’m sorry [for talking smack] from the bottom of my heart.” You’ve got to clean up what you can. I couldn't live with that shit. Then, when my kid died, I thought for sure Hawk would say, “How’s it feel now, Peters?” [Chess Peters died in a car accident in 2007.] That’s how sick I am. That’s the asshole I am that would think that. My kid was a rad little skater and he looked up to him. He said, “I don't know what happened between you but he does some gnarly tricks!” I remember getting to the point where I thought, Yeah, he does! I don't know how you twist that many times and know where the hell you're at. I know very well that my kid would have freaked out that Tony Hawk knew his name. When Hawk made a point to say he was sorry for Chess, when he said his name, it melted my heart. This is a genuine motherf—ker who doesn’t need to say shit to me.

Do you appreciate skating in a different way now?
Yeah, because of my sobriety trip it’s totally needed because of the endorphin thing. Whatever is wrong with me needs to fix on stuff. Alcoholism … whatever ‘ism’ you want to give it. I drank too much and did way too many drugs and didn’t know when to quit. That’s one of my problems. I’m really not into over-analyzing shit—I’m working on living differently and skating is everything to that because I’m not getting high anymore. Music does it for me as an endorphin rush and maybe a bit of validation and maybe [it’s also about] the monkey in me wanting to be onstage. We talk about how we’re just caged monkeys on a rolling prison that backstage all the time. “Okay Monkeys—out! Dance! Here’s your bananas. Back in your cage!” Then you're hyperspaced to the next show. I started being a monkey at 14 doing Rad Ramp demos. Everybody and their mother have wanted me on anti-depressants. I don't want to be on them. To me right now, the punkest thing I can do is be present and feel all this shit. I’ve gone through so much tragedy and drama and not wanting to be on the planet for these last three years. I’ve never signed up to die like I had the past three years. I was not coming home. I’ve lost many friends, but I’ve weighed it out and there’s nothing worse than losing a child unless you lose your whole family. I had a gun in my mouth over and over. It was the darkest time. Always, at the last second, I stopped because I didn’t want to leave that legacy to my two kids I had left. When a kid passes … everybody is willing to give you advice, to say live for the kids you have. But anybody who’s lost a kid will tell you all that you think about is the one that got away. That’s all I could think about when I was in that heat of depression and anger like I’ve never known. That’s why I’m down here [in Cardiff, CA] now. I was losing my mind. I didn’t want the house on the f—kin hill anymore. That’s what I had been fighting for and thinking, That f—ker has something that I should have. All that victim shit. I got sued by an ex-girlfriend for 3.5 million dollars. I’ve never seen more than $100,000 in my bank account at one time. Ever. I had given her my ten-year’s worth of Sanford and Son goods that I had worked for being on the road ten months out of the year. But a lot has changed. It’s coming up on three years and the suicide thing is wiping away. I didn’t want to start this suicide train for my loved ones. “What did Dad do when it got really rough? He blew his brains out.” That’s always going to be in the back of their heads. That’s the ultimate selfish way out of having to feel it, when you're lost and nobody seems to understand it. At some point you have to come around … I’m starting to come around. And the skating! I go back to that “me” that was semi-innocent in a lot of ways and wanting to experience the planet at full speed. A lot of that guy was right but he didn’t know about karma, thinking you’re going to live forever and not giving a shit about no one. At a certain point I looked at it and thought, That’s not me. I’ve got a character on stage and I’ve got a character in the pool. But those characters came really naturally. My ex-wife Corey taught me a lot. My philosophy used to be, “You’ve got to lose to win!” She’d say, “What are you talking about? Where do you come from, dude?” I thought, Really, you don't have to lose to win?

I think we found somebody who could take on Antwuan in the tat dept. Frontside grind revert the OG way!

It must be great to have a group of friends like Olson and Adams that you’ve skated with for 30 years.
Yeah. Me and Olson are fighting right now. For the last year. We’re like chicks and aren’t talking right now. It’ll blow over. I like the feeling of skating and the endorphin rush afterwards. I think I’m bipolar, well, I think everybody is bipolar, but it’s only been eight months of sobriety so I’m still badly chemically unbalanced. I have my deep depression and anger … just doom. If I go skate, it takes it away. The antidepressants just seem like shit. I'd rather walk through it. Bleed in public. It’s all about making mistakes and if they’re out in the open then maybe it’ll make me grow quicker. I think most skaters are f—ked up, especially from my day. But even right now, you have to have issues to put the time in and push skating to the level it’s at right now. It's insane. I have huge respect for the whole thing. I just want to keep skating and getting better. Right now I go to bed dreaming about skateboarding like I did when I was a kid. There’s never been an answer like my skateboard. It aligns shit in your head. Don't compete, just work on whatever you want to work on. It’s the cure-all for me. I know that sounds lame but it’s the truth.

DP gives SpongeBob a run for his money.