Great chat with a skate legend, one of the first pro skaters from Spain in the 70’s and he’s still active in the Spanish and international scene as a board member of the ISSA. Pay attention to his opinions on the future of longboarding.
Hi Ricardo, where are you from?
I was born in Vitoria, in the Basque Country. I lived in Vitoria for about 23 years. Now I live in Madrid.
When did you start skating?
I started skating around 1974 or 1975. I saw some surfer looking guys going down a hill near my home and I said “Wow that’s cool! I have to do that!”. I “borrowed” (more like stole) an old Sancheski board from my cousin and have been skating since.
In the Basque country?
Yes. That was in Vitoria. Vitoria is in the interior of the Basque Country, but I’ve always spent my summers in Mundaka, which is one of the top surf spots in the world. I always loved surf and surf style. Seeing those guys surf asphalt is what got me.
Did you surf before your first skate experience?
Yes. I did some surf and continued to do so until I was 23/25.
Which do you prefer?
Now, skate. At that time it was more like 50/50. To surf you need a sea and some waves, so if you don’t live on the coast, it’s difficult to progress. Skating- you can do anywhere anytime and you can progress faster.
Have you had any breaks since you started back in ‘74?
A very long break from around 82/83 to around 99/00. Skateboarding in Spain boomed at the end of the seventies/early eighties to come to a complete and sudden full stop. There were no more shops selling stuff, people stopped skating. I was in a skate team then and the public lost interest, so we stopped touring and giving exhibitions.
What was the skate scene like up North?
It was very much were it all started. It all came through the surfing scene that was at that time only happening at spots such Mundaka and Zarauz. It was there where locals picked this skateboarding thing from travelling surfing hippies. It was there where first manufacturers such as Sancheski started to build and sell skateboards. The first skate teams where set up there around the brands. Then it started in Madrid and Barcelona 2 or 3 years after that.
What do you think was responsible for worldwide decline?
I think there was a combination of several things. On one side, ”massification” and positioning of the skateboard as a fad, as a toy. This brought awful materials, sometimes even dangerous, marketed by people with no surfing or skating background in non-specialized point of sales.
On the demand side, the motivation of skateboarding moved from pure enjoyment, based on speed, style and turn, into doing tricks and tricks and more tricks. It got too technical and people lost interest, because you couldn’t enjoy it anymore.
That’s interesting, usually I hear about how skateboarding died because of external forces. This is the first I’ve heard about an internal stimulus as well.
One of the reasons why longboarding has taken off so fast is because “the turn is back”. This makes enjoying skating very easy for everybody. In my personal opinion, the current obsession with tricks in longboarding is a dangerous trend.
Why did you stop skating?
No friends to do it with.
You mentioned earlier you were in a team. What team was this?
This was the mythical Sancheski team. We used to tour Spain in our blue VW Van doing demonstrations in schools, sport events, shops, etc. This was the first skating team in Spain. It was mostly composed of people from Vitoria and San Sebastian. Later, we added some team members from Madrid and Barcelona.
What is Sancheski?
Sancheski was a builder of Skis in Irún, Basque Country (Sancheski= Sanchez + Ski). They also built roller skates. The sons of the owner saw this skateboard thing in the surfing community and decided to build skates with the roller parts.
When did you join the team?
I think it was around 76 or 77.
What was your role?
I was one of their main riders. I won the first vertical skateboard open at the mythical Arenys Skatepark with them back in 78 (or 79?). I was also the first Spanish skateboarder with a pro model (the sancheski RD c. 79). The team was a group of boys from 12 to 17 years old which travelled around in a van having a lot of fun. We didn’t get any money, only the typical boards and wheels, but it was a lot of fun. It’s one of my greatest memories. It was through this team that I met Doc Caribbean and the Sanchez bros, which have been key to development of the sport in Madrid.
Did you have a special uniform?
Of course! We had a number of T-shirts and a horrible tracksuit. Something like orange and blue: horrid. I have photos to prove it.
When did you meet the Doc?
I met him through the Sancheski team. I think the first time I saw him was in a major event we had sponsored by Pepsi at the Madrid “Palacio de Deportes”. It was a skateboard exhibition in front of like 20.000 kids which had got an entry tickets collecting the caps of Pepsi. This was the zenith of skateboard mania in Spain.
What was the best thing about being the star of the show?
You got all the girls. I’m kidding, I was one of the youngest of the team so it was the older guys who got the girls. It was more being able to get extra time in the half pipe and having the respect of the younger skaters.
The girls didn’t have younger sisters?
They were afraid of those punks on wheels haha.
What sort of riding did you find most fun then?
I’ve always loved just cruising and free riding, going down hills. I loved half pipe. Also slalom. But I mostly did freestyle. Vitoria is a rainy city, so much of the time we had to skate on flat in a Jai-Alai pitch that had a roof. That meant it was freestyle or nothing.
After the initial death of skateboarding, when did you come back to the sport?
This was like in 99/00. I was leaving a company I worked for and my colleagues there knew my skating war stories, so they decided to give me this very long board with gullwing trucks and kryptonic wheels as a farewell present. I was intrigued and used it now and then for a couple of years. Then one day I was walking in the Retiro park and I saw Doc Caribbean and a bunch of youngsters going down a hill just cruising and turning. And I got the same feeling I had when I first saw somebody skating. I said to myself: “I have to do that”. I haven’t stopped, and I’m 49 now.
What was it like in those early days, were there many people riding them?
There were like 10-12 guys doing it. First just cruising and turning, then throwing a slide here and there. We hung together and it was very much like a family thing, with a very good vibe. It gradually started to grow and 2011 and 2012 have been like a boom.
As big a boom as you saw in the 70s?
Not as big, but almost. The hard material is more expensive (and better) and the average age of skaters is sensibly higher now. In the 70’s skating was a teenage thing and now it’s more of a twenty something/early thirties thing. While some shitty material have appeared, the demographics of the sport make people want and have the means to pay for better boards, trucks, etc.
Is this the boom before the BOOM?
I hope it’s not the boom before the bust! Some signs of a potential bust are there (skateboard as a fashion accessory, crappy material sold in non specialist point of sale). And surprisingly – the obsession for the trick comes back. The latter is especially dangerous. I keep on seeing guys that do not know how to do a frontside or backside turn try to do a stand-up slide as their first move.
Keeping on trying to do tricks that you’ll never master is the recipe for boredom. It’s also the recipe for non-positive competition and bad vibes. You read a street skate forum or a longboard forum and the vibe is absolutely different. Don’t get me wrong, I also try some tricks. The problem is when skating is just doing tricks. Skateboarding booms when people enjoy it, and the turn is at the core of enjoyment of skate.
On the positive side, I think the demographics will help, as people get older, wiser and with more money.
What was it about tricks that killed skating in the beginning?
It made it too repetitive and boring. You have to try a trick 1000 times to nail it, and that’s not a lot of fun. Especially if it requires some skills (that many people don’t have) to show some level of skill and people realize they’ll never get ”there” and quit.
How many skaters does it take to change a lightbulb?
As many as blondes?
Are you seeing a lot of ‘’fashion skaters’’ in Madrid?
What effect do none specialised shops have on the community?
They sell the wrong products (or even faulty ones) to people. People can’t use it or have a bad experience (or an accident), do not enjoy it and quit. And they tell other people.
You saw it happen in the 80’s, what do we need to do to ensure skating doesn’t die again?
I think people, media and manufacturers should focus on the enjoyment and the experience. People like Concrewave do a good job on this. You do a good job. This is a multidimensional sport, not just tricks like street. You have slalom, downhill, freeride, etc. I also think that we should stress the community/group side of this sport. The fun is in skating with your mates. All these events and meetings around skate (La Noche en Negro, Outlawslalom Series, Buditch, etc) are great. Longboarding should be social. Also, boosting ”associacionism”. I was part of the founding group at MOSS (now SSSA), a skateboard association to drive events and have a common voice in front sponsors, media and authorities. Now I dedicate time to ISSA (International Slalom Skateboard Association), where I’m an EU Marshall and member of the Board.
Where you at La Noche En Negro?
On the first two ones. Now it’s too big, I’m too old and need some sleep.
If it happens this year, you must be there. You’re not even old enough to use that excuse yet!
Ok, but you buy me a beer!
What is the SSSA?
SSSA=Spanish Slalom Skateboard Association. MOSS=Madrid Old Skool Skateboarders. MOSS transformed into a more focused organization, SSSA. I was part of the founding group of MOSS and was the vice-prez for some years. I don’t have any position at SSSA, but I actively collaborate with them. MOSS was the first (and only?) longboard/old skool association in Spain. The Mallorca crew set up a slalom association too this year. There are some talks in the Basque Country on setting some associations up too.
Why are there millions of associations in France, but not many in Spain. ?
Well, there is SSSA and the Mallorca one. There is also the FDI, which deals with the Downhill races.
Generally speaking, skate has been very much an individual sport with an outlaw culture not going very well with associations. On top, Spaniards are very individualist. I have been part on several attempts to create associations and federations over all these years and they always stalled. Not sure why in France it works, which I think it does. It might be a combination of people willing to work for others, institutions that facilitate this and a more gregarious attitude. Usually associations stall here by three reasons: nobody wants to take charge, those who don’t take charge moan about those that do, and…no money.
Is there any chance of another national longboarding association being born. SGSA perhaps?
Not as of today. If it happens, it’ll be as a federation of grassroot local clubs and associations. These clubs (even if not formalized or incorporated) are starting to happen. You have crews in several cities that get organized and set up events and get togethers. I know this happens in Madrid, Bilbao, Vitoria, San Sebastian area, Barcelona, Mallorca, etc. There is some interlinkages between all these guys through social networks and forums. So something might happen in the future.
How will this affect the legal standing of skaters?
If it happens, it might have a positive influence. Now we have none and we get totally screwed. We have a bad press.
Why will it take a long time?
Because it should come naturally through a bottom-up process (local, then regional, national, euros) and we are just starting the local thing.
What do you ride these days?
I mostly do slalom and LDP and some free riding now and then. In slalom I’m still quite good, having won the special race at the Spanish Championship in 2009. I also travel now and then (not that much in 2011) to races abroad. I was #4 on the over 45 category at some point of time. In slalom, 2009 I’ve raced in Paris, Grenoble, Amsterdam and Zurich.
I also co-created and organized the Outlawslalom Series, which has held near 20 races in the last 3 years. I passed the baton to the SSSA this year on this. Too many things to do, too little time.
In terms of quiver, you can imagine that after all those years I have too many boards. The jewels in the crown are two old Sims boards: a taperkick (c. 75) with ol’ gullwings HPIV and kryptos and a Sims Brad Bowman
Is there a story to go with the Brad Bowman?
I bought it in the US in a Californian Skatepark where the Sims Team were training. I thought I was good, but when I saw those guys… oh boy. It was my first super-duper board and the board with which I won at Arenys.
What was the Arenys?
It was the first Skate park of Spain. There, the first Spanish vertical contests were held. It was subsequently buried (!) by the owner when the first boom turned into bust. There are a bunch of guys that are digging it out. There is a documentary of this which I think was sponsored by Nike. It’s an amazing story and the skatepark is like the thread that links all that generations of skaters.
Will it be skatable again?
Part of it is already skatable. I think one bowl and the banked freestyle area is skatable for what I’ve seen in photos. There was also a half-pipe and a snake run, but I think they are not skatable yet.
Not Rad? Just RD?
Just RD. My initials. Not very original I know. It was also the name of my signature board.
When did you first skate outside Spain?
I think it was around 76 or so. Vitoria is close to the French border. We used to go there to buy materials, as there were a lot of surf shops there. There, there was what I think the first skate park of Europe, in St Jean de Luz. A place called Erromardie, which was built out of tarmac and it was a really strange moon like place with long lines and soft slopes. A disaster for the ol’ boards, but it would have been great with today’s longboards!. I used to go there quite often. You can still see the abandoned place in google earth and it’s really strange.
Wow. How did the experience impact you?
I realized we had a lot to learn! You know there was no YouTube at that time, so we tried to imagine how tricks were done out of still pictures from Skateboarder magazine. Sometimes we got it right, many times wrong. Seeing the technique live was mind blowing. I did some super 8 footage and that helped us a lot, especially in vertical. We used to do basically front sides three wheelers at the half pipe. After that, we started with aerials, rock&roll, slides, etc.
Who did you skate with there?
Well I was with the Sims team (Dave Andrech, Brad Bowman) but more like watching with my mouth open.
Vert skating is your one true love?
It was at some point of time. But again it got too technical. What I really enjoy is the freeriding sensation. Going down the hill, some speed, making turns, wind in your face. I’ve always come back to that every time.
Did you ever race?
Downhill back in the 70’s yes, but it was a different thing then (basically straight line, all the speed you could handle on a park board).
What do you enjoy about slalom?
It’s fast, it’s technical so you can have a good competitive level even if you are an old fart like me, it boosts your adrenaline a lot, it’s a fun positive competition with friends, you do it in group. For me it’s a very social thing I do with my mates.
You mentioned LDP earlier, I didn’t realise Spanish people enjoyed distance!
It’s just starting to be honest but it’s getting popular. There is a small group in Madrid and another in the Basque Country. I don’t do ultra-distance, more like 10-15km sessions to be fit.
Who else in Madrid pushes with you?
I usually do it alone. I live close to the Retiro Park, so I sneak there in my odd free-time in week days for a session. Weekends, it’s slalom mostly. Usually at Parque del Oeste with Doc Caribbean & crew.
What do you do when you’re not skating?
I work a lot! I also love music. Indie stuff mostly. I also started running some months ago and I’m quite hooked on it lately. Family, two teenage daughters that demand attention (and increasingly money).
Do the rest of the RD household skate?
They know how to, but are not hooked to it. The younger did seem to enjoy it more and was quite good at it. She holds the 100 cones children WorldWide (WW) record. She’s quite good in vert too. But you really have to push her to do it. It might be this teenage thing that you have to do the opposite that your parents do. Nevertheless, they do surf a lot fortunately.
Do you hold any world records?
Nope. I had the Spanish record of 100 cones but Dany Navarro (18) broke it last year. I shouldn’t have taught him! No seriously, I’m very proud of him. He is now #5 in the WW Amateur slalom ranking. Impressive!
Choose 3 numbers between 1-33.
7, 16, 23
7 – What is your favourite meal?
A good fresh fish from the Cantabrico sea.
16 – Do you have a blog/twitter?
I have a twitter account, but I don’t use it a lot I’m afraid.
33. Daniel.Hawes asks: What’s the most interesting thing regarding string theory you have recently learnt?
That many theoretical physicists (e.g., Stephen Hawking, Edward Witten, Juan Maldacena, and Leonard Susskind) believe that string theory is a step towards the correct fundamental description of nature. This is because string theory allows for the consistent combination of quantum field theory and general relativity, agrees with general insights in quantum gravity (such as the holographic principle and Black hole thermodynamics), and because it has passed many non-trivial checks of its internal consistency
It’s been really really fun talking to you Ricardo, I hope to catch you next time in Madrid.
Same! Keep the stoke! I love this sport and will like to continue skating for a long time. Guys like Doc Caribbean and Flavio are a great example to me. They continue skating and what is more important they continue to help others become better skaters and have more fun skating. This is what I would like to imitate.
Any thank yous?
To the Sanchez Bros (Sancheski), Doc Caribbean and my colleague in organizing skating stuff Javi Navarro. To Gordon MyProfe for all his good photographs.