An ‘iconoclast’ is someone who attacks a set of beliefs or who thumbs their nose at societal norms. Tony Alva is an ‘iconoclast’ & yet has the distinction of becoming an ‘icon’ while doing this. Its a strange dichotomy that cannot easily be explained away. TA started surfing when he was very young in Venice…and -as such- was perfectly situated to be involved at skateboarding’s inception. When the waves were flat, the local surfers would cruise the strand carving back-and-forth, practicing cutbacks and simulating surfing. Los Angeles has many schoolyards built up into the hillsides. The contractors would asphalt the playground lots often creating banked walls around the periphery. TA & his friends would go to these schoolyards & carve the banks…cutting back, slaloming, doing ‘bertlemans’ or ‘berts’ at the top of these banked walls. There were no previous rules laid out. Anything was possible. This had not been done before. All that existed ….were barriers to be torn down; discarded. TA told me numerous times that “ if a person was riding with us, he had to have style! ” Style, speed & flow were paramount.
The drought of ‘74 plunged LA into turmoil. Pools couldn’t be filled & lawns dried up. Desiccation followed all things like a vulture…and TA- with his friends- found themselves at a threshold moment. Coming back from the beach one day, TA & the crew were cruising their boards up an alleyway, and through a paint-chipped fence, saw the white, gleaming plaster of an empty pool. TA figured that since they rode the banked schoolyards…a round, deep pool wall might be ridden as well. It seemed like a natural progression. They hopped the fence & history was written. Imagine the thoughts that ran through their heads as they stood in the shallow end squinting into the sun; looking at the approach down the waterfall to the deep face wall! TA & Wes Humpston both recounted memories of those early sessions.
Wes told me that TA would carve down into the deep end and his legs would go straight out on the tiles. He would seem inverted with his head staying centered over the drain as his legs & the pool wall carried him around in a blistering arc toward the shallow again. Back then, Wes said they would take a run, then all the riders would have to go into the pool & pick up the loose ball bearings as they would pop out of their wheels. The equipment barely kept up with the riders progress.’ Devonshire’,’ Canyon’, ‘Fireman’ and other pools were ridden with previously unknown barriers of fear & discovery conquered. Soon, TA won the World Championships & found himself catapulted into stardom. Skateboarding was white-hot & TA its hottest commodity. At 18 years old, he didn’t mind.
Money & fame, along with their ever-present shadows; drugs, alcohol & misery, quickly ran riot. He thought he handled fame well. He reveled in it. He saw the darkness take his friends through drugs, booze, suicide & prison. Starting Alva skates, TA found himself touring, surfing, skating, promoting & trying to run a hugely successful company. I was riding Cherry Hill skatepark in NJ back then & I would see -virtually- every other kid on an Alva board. Eventually, skating fell into another demise. The death throes were felt throughout the industry. Alva skates fell into a financial hole. TA kept at it. The company ‘Alva’, resurfaced, dusted itself off & ignited as a force to be reckoned with in the mid-80’s skate resurgence. TA rode another wave of popularity. He had by this time become ‘Icon’ status. Few skaters out there could rival his influence, style or longevity. Alva was the man.
Perhaps never before, had skateboarders flexed their collective muscles in money-making or by the ability to influence popular culture. Fashion, music & art were deeply influenced by the skaters of this era. Then came the deluge. Catastrophe. The 90s saw a massive shift in the way skateboards were ridden. Street became master & vert a pale shadow of itself. The previous glory was gone. Vert riders quit & quickly found themselves with day jobs, dreaming of how it was…‘back in the day’. Armchair warriors…complacency. Resent. Some riders turned to drugs & alcohol. Some crossed the line. Some never came back. TA found himself in a bad place. With few board sales & scant interest in pool riding, he was relegated to existing in a small shop in Oceanside. He sold decks & little else out of the small, sparse skate shop. Times were tough. Again, TA struggled with demons. Some days the demons won…
In 1999, Stacy Peralta led the charge to complete a documentary called, “The Z-boys”. TA, Jay Adams, Wes Humpston, & a host of other ‘OG’ Dogtowners, were brought together & the story of their lives was filmed by Stacy. I helped out during the project & they are some of my best memories. The film exploded at Sundance Film Festival that year, winning best documntary. Accolades & money followed. Sony bought the rights & a full-length feature was slated to begin. The film, “The Lords of Dogtown’ was highly successful & TA continues to enjoy doing what he does; surfing, skating & influencing riders everywhere. No longer the contentious, ego-maniacal man of the past, TA has overcome his demons. He is affable. Approachable. He is truly an ‘Icon’. Skate Strong/Skate Long-Ozzie
Special thanks to JGrant Brittain for the photographs.