TA spoke of his early days surfing in Venice. He talked about early skate sessions in the streets. TA moved his plate around and with a flourish of his chopsticks continued- “Well, like I told you, we would come down south. We rode La Costa, bombing hills, slaloming, riding banks and pools… anything. After the Z- boys split up, I started riding for Logan. I was heavily influenced by Torger and he rode for them so it was a natural progression that I went over to Logan Earth Ski. Besides that, Brad Logan - -the youngest of the brothers–was a friend so… I think I was 17 years old at the time. Being on Logan gave me direct exposure in the magazines as well. In 1976, the Hang Ten Championships were held at the Carlsbad Skate Park. The contest had downhill, slalom and other events. It was pretty crazy. I had been learning a great deal of freestyle moves, headstands, high jump and things. I think that these skills really helped me get competitively to another level. I won the Overall World Champion title at the contest that year. I ended up beating the heavily influential Logan brothers and Torger Johnson. Skating was really tight back then. There were only something like one hundred pros. We knew who was who!” I listened attentively then motioned for the waitress and ordered more sashimi. I watched her saunter away. Tony smiled. I asked him who he thought was really good from back then. “Oh… that’s pretty easy. Jay Adams, Torger Johnson, Henry Hester, Bob Skolberg, Bobby Piercy, Stacy Peralta, Ty Page, Bruce Logan, Brian Beardsley, Chris Chaput, Mike Weed, Dennis Martinez, Doug Pineapple Saladino… You have to understand something. There were good skaters from all over California. Just remember, whatever they could do, we did better. It was how it was.” I looked up from my sushi. His voice was impassioned. TA had stated this in all seriousness. It seemed an egotistical statement but given the subsequent impact TA and his friends had on the skateboarding world, I didn’t feel the comment went without merit. Factual. History. Believe it. TA took a sip of green tea as the pretty waitress stopped to check on us. I sat back and stretched. A flute echoed hauntingly from a recessed speaker system as I questioned him about Gonzales pool and the Dog Bowl.
“The Dog Bowl was a pretty unique place. It didn’t receive its name because of Dogtown but because the owners had all these dogs that would run around the lip of the pool while we skated.” I laughed. I had heard the story before. It was ancient skateboarding lore. Myth. Legend. TA went on - “Basically the story goes like this. Paul Constantineau and a friend had heard about the pool. The house was on a huge estate in LA. The son –Dino– was this really young guy who was dying of cancer. His parents were cool. They wanted him to have a good exit and all. They pretty much just let Dino do what he wanted. Well, Paul and his friend went over and checked out the pool. Dino was like - “Sure, go ahead and drain it.” We did and that is how the Dog Bowl came about. It was the summer of 1977. The pool was huge! Dog Bowl was our sanctuary. We would bring our girl friends, smoke weed and skate. It was perfect. Dino would sit there in his wheelchair and smoke out with us all. He would watch and be happy.”
“Dog Bowl was the very first pool where we learned lines and shallow end skating. It was the first place that I did airs. We were hitting the lip. I kept generating so much speed frontside that I was continually pitched out of the top and off of the coping. I thought that maybe I could make it. The next run, I tucked my knees up and floated. It happened. History. I didn’t hang up and I rolled away.” TA sat back and took a sip of water. He looked outside and repositioned himself in his seat. I digested what he had told me. It must have been an awesome experience to be a part of. Boundaries shattered. TA saw me in thought. He added - “Skating was basically in its infant stage. We were behind wrought iron gates riding. No one knew. Unless Craig Stecyk or Glen E. Friedman documented it, we just did what we did. We were kids. There was no sport really. There was no future… we didn’t think that way. What we were doing really didn’t exist until we did it. I recall the Gonzales pool in the same way. It was actually better for us. It was a real secret. Even more so than the Dog Bowl. It was very private and it was ours. We could ride there and take what we learned at the Dog Bowl and apply it. Progression.”
I recalled the Glen E. Friedman images. Skateboarder and Skateboard World magazines. They were in my blood. A part of the collective psyche. Those photographs were burned into our brains. We saw and we wanted it all. TA and the others could not know that what they were doing in a random back yard, would send a signal throughout the world. It was a flag. Anarchy. We followed. Pretty soon the accolades poured in. Life became bigger. Money, fame and its ever-present shadow – decadence– insinuated themselves into their lives. They were young street kids thrown into a world of increasing attention, wealth and popularity. TA reveled in it. I asked him if he ever really believed in the hype surrounding himself. TA moved his hair away from his face with the back of his hand and sighed. Pensive. He didn’t answer. Silence. I sat and said nothing. TA murmured thoughtfully - “People hated me. Once I was World Champion, it really started. It was like - “Put up or shut up!” I won it all. My ego grew. Wherever I went, I rode as hard as I could. I let my skating do the talking for me. Having an ego is one thing but I could back it up. Our crew was like that. We could back it up with our skating.“ As we left the restaurant and headed to the pool to skate, TA told me that those times were crazy. It would’ve been difficult for any young man under 20 years old to become a World Champion, have all the fame, money and women thrown at him and go through it all unscathed. Everywhere that TA went, he shined like the sun on the water. On a skateboard, he was better than everyone and the attention was incredible. Status. Fame. Ego. It was a virtual certainty.
When stars explode in the galaxy it is called a Supernova. A massive torrent of energy is released. Within the laws of physics, some stars grow old in predictable ways. They become dense balls of carbon and oxygen. They are hot… but not hot enough to fuse the carbon and oxygen. Hence - no Supernova. Tony Alva? He was a star that became a Supernova. He won contests, broke new ground and ruled everywhere he skated. He went from Z-Flex to Logan Earth Ski and then rode hand-drawn Wes Bulldog Humpston boards. TA was a white-hot commodity. Finally, with his star hanging high above the horizon, TA started his own board company: Alva Skates. It dominated. Board sales blew through the warehouse supplies and TA was on the road continuously supporting his company and skateboarding. TA unleashed a ‘massive torrent of energy’. He had exploded onto the skateboarding scene. He was the original skateboarding - “Rock Star”. He had learned well. The heir to the Spreckles Sugar Company fortune - Bunker Spreckles - had taught TA the art of rolling in the big leagues.
"Bunker was almost like my Sensei."
While living in Hawaii on the North Shore for a time, TA had traveled and partied with Bunker. They lived the high life. Tony spoke to me of that time. His voice was tinged with regret and sadness. - “Bunker became my mentor. He was almost like my Sensei. But, he had too much money and with that comes all sorts of problems. Too many good drugs. Sniffing, smoking then… It was the times. The beginning of the end. When you have fifty million in the bank and are 27 years old and in the grave… what good is your money!?” TA looked out at the traffic as he drove and his sunglasses couldn’t hide his disappointment. We’ve all witnessed people go down those tracks. Seeing friends die is difficult. Watching the train derail is a whole other mess in itself… Could we have done something? What if…? Questions. Remorse. Guilt. TA- “You know something? I’d rather hold onto what is dear in life. So many people burn bright and then they are gone. I’ve seen a few go that route. I miss people to this day. Bunker was a great guy and he taught me things that I can still apply to my life today.”
Bronson Canyon - Los Angeles