THE CLYDE SINGLETON INTERVIEW: PART ONE
Celebrating Black Excellence With the Mighty Mighty WCRP On Skateboarding
As the ‘80s faded out the progression in the streets was so heavy a lot of pros couldn’t hang. In fact, most pros didn’t get off the deck to even fuck with where street skating was, leading to a lot of hurt feelings and entitlement. Like snowboarding, you didn’t really see people in your burb walking around with helmets and leopard knee pads and shit, so even the look of street skating just made sense and the new crop of pros led the way with a lot of style, creativity, innovation, and sauce.
From his early ads to his footage for 101, Clyde Singleton defined a new era in skateboarding. The tricks, the fits, the personality, and the candor, Clyde’s contributions to skateboarding should be put in a time capsule and preserved for future generations to enjoy but thankfully, he’s not done yet. Yup, the Ollie Llama not only filmed 47 tricks in 2021 but he continues to be a vibrant part of skateboarding’s community through his work in skateboarding on a ground level and his podcast WCRP on Skateboarding.
To celebrate Black History Month, I wanted to catch up with Clyde and get his perspective on skateboarding’s past and present.
Can you go back to your start in skateboarding in the mid-‘80s in Florida? Was there an East Coast Vs. West Coast mentality back then?
Clyde Singleton: With the East-West thing, there were a lot of guys going out West back then, you know? I'll tell you exactly what happened. There were a lot of guys that went out West and found out what fucking time it was. Most of the industry is out West, da da da. So you have to think about it like football. If you wanna be a good football player, you want to go to pros, you wanna play for some of the best teams, you're gonna go to school down South, Alabama, Florida, etc. If you wanna be a good skateboarder, California is where everything's happening—especially back then. That's where the magazines are. Skateboarding was smaller back then, so you kind of had to get in where you fit in. And a lot of people found out exactly what time it was when they went out there. You know, maybe you were Jump Ramp Jimmy® and killing it in Delaware or wherever, but when you got to Cali, you figured out you were… just Jump Ramp Jimmy from Delaware. That’s how it went down but there wasn't really an East Coast-West Coast thing, it was just skateboarding.
If you listen to the podcast, you’ll hear about some of the East Coast people who went out in the ‘80s. Chuck Treece was just talking about it today, he, Grohoski, and a lot of guys were going out there skating in the early ‘80s, but you don’t hear about that much. You just hear about guys, you know, you hear about those guys skating, like the ramps and shit back here, but when they got out there, everything wasn't like it seemed. They had the perfect ramps and all that shit back here back then. So when you get out West they had the big ass bowls and shit in the skate park era, it was a whole different ballgame, you know? I think the only thing that really brought a lot of people together, in my honest opinion, was the interstate contest. That was your proving ground. That's where you were meeting and seeing everybody and you were seeing what was up from everywhere. So if you made it through the trials of that, you were good to go.
I don't think it was an East-West thing; it was a talent thing, and a lot of people were just not really down to go out West and when they did, they probably got their hearts broken. I went out there when I was 17. I had no money, and my sponsor was not, fucking doing anything. They were making me pay for pants and shit, you know what I mean? I turned pro and they were making me pay for pants, so they weren't really helpful. [laughs] Thinking back, could they have done more? Absolutely. But I made the best of it when I was out there, made a bunch of friends and shit like that and that's what helped me. And also, I refused to turn around and go home because I knew once I went home, it was over because the people back home, were not supporting and pushing the new guys. They weren't, they were picking and choosing the new guys. And it had nothing to do with talent whatsoever. So when you got out West, it was like, ‘Are you talented or not?’ It wasn't like, ‘Do you know the guy that runs a skate shop? Or do you know the guy that runs Exile skateboards?’ No, it was none of that shit.
If you were talented, you were getting on; there was no question about it. You went to SF, you were skating well, you were getting on Indy or whatever. It was literally that simple but a lot of people weren't willing to take that risk. I was willing to take that gamble and it paid off for me. I stayed out there, skated my best and that's all I really ever thought of it. I never complained about it. I just knew, ‘Well, if I wanna be in a magazine, I know these fucking hillbillies back home ain't gonna put me in a magazine. They ain't going, they ain't gonna try to get me sponsored or nothing.’ They were still trying to be them dudes. And skateboarding was changing so much between '88 and ’93 but a lot of those were just still holding on to the same old ideas and shit like that, and you still see it right now to this day. So that did not benefit a guy like myself. There was no way being here could have benefited me, because those guys were completely out of touch with shit.
I like that you mentioned the ’88-’93 era because a lot of people quit or stopped being pro back then because of the progression and how street skating was taking over. And they weren’t nice about that shit.
I'm thankful for street skating, man, because the ramps and shit like that, that wasn't made for us, man. That wasn't made for people that didn't have money and shit. And especially down South, there were a lot of ramps that I could not skate because I was Black. And that is an absolute fucking fact. All this “We Are the World” shit is a joke to me. But if you got away from the backyard ramp shit, it didn't matter if you were Black and white when you were street skating; I would say that 1000%, that's when no color was involved. But before that shit, anyone that tells you they didn’t see color is a fuckin’ liar. I'm not saying every ramp, but where I grew up at, you go to ramps with some big-ass rebel flags. Why would you wanna skate there? You already know what time it is. And then also you had to deal with a lot of the parents. A lot of the parents were coming from the civil rights era where they didn't like “n*ggers.” This is real, dude, this is real life. Like the kid that taught me how to skate, his parents didn't like Black people, so I learned how to skate in his garage, like straight up. I couldn't go inside his house.
There was a lot of stuff like that. Like at Kona, I didn't feel welcomed at Kona whatsoever. My friends felt welcomed there, but I didn't feel welcomed there, so I refused to go there. Also, I couldn't afford to go there, and when I could afford to go there, I didn't feel welcomed. So just put those two things together. Thank God for street skating, man, because that saved my skateboarding life, it led me to my friends, and I'm thankful for it every day. I still love skating transition and all that shit but thank God for street skating and the turn skateboarding took around '88, or '89. Because if we would've let them same old dudes hold onto this shit, come on, man. You already see what's going on with the Skateboard Hall of Fame. Yep, that's where skateboarding was heading. And that's why I do the podcast because you're hearing the same stories over and over and over and over. It's like, damn, dog. But there are only 12 people skateboarding? Why is it taking me to talk about these guys at 48 years old? Where have you guys been?
You guys are supposed to be the OGs, you're supposed to be the teachers of this shit. And they failed us; they literally failed us. I didn't know about a lot of the people I’ve spoken to for the podcast until I got older and started researching. No one over here was talking about these guys and shit like that. Dude, I didn't know Chuck Treece was on the cover of Thrasher until I was 20-something. I didn't know. I started skating in '86. It happened two years before me. You think anyone showed me that Thrasher? Fuck no. Do you think that Thrasher was hanging up in Kona? Fuck no. So I didn't know. The only thing I knew was Steve Steadham and then when Steadham left Powell Peralta and started his own thing, that's when I really was like, hold on, ‘Why isn't no one fucking with Steve Steadham like that?’ I thought he was a star—he’s bigger than Tony (Hawk). That's what I thought. Everywhere you go, you see his board, you see his graphic, and he starts his own thing and people hate him, or they're not gonna support him the same? That's when I realized a lot of shit. As a kid, I'd go in the shop and they didn't really wanna sell me his board—they’d try to sell me something else. That's the direction that skating was going. It was either you got in with this weird cliquey thing and/or you just didn't. And that's why street skating was amazing 'cause you didn't have to click up with anybody. That's when you started meeting everybody. You couldn't go to ramps and see… man, I’d go street skating I'd see tons of Filipino kids, tons of Spanish kids. Dude, it's like a fucking cornucopia of skateboarders. You go to a ramp back then, man, you were lucky to find that one Mexican dude and then if you did, it was very random. And if you did, it was probably like a Mexican redneck and shit. It was confusing. [laughs] So it was challenging growing up, man. When street skating hit and then when I went to California I was like, thank God because I knew skateboarding back home, they were just gonna hold onto those same old traditional values and those same old fucking knee-sliding ass dudes. I appreciate what they (older skaters in the South) did for skating, but that shit was dead. Their time had come past. And they didn't see it and they still don't see it, which is fine. Them dudes don't even care to know the name of our tricks. Fuck out, man. So let’s talk about what you mentioned before, the Skateboarding Hall of Fame…
For sure, let’s go in.
Here’s the problem: We respect them old dudes; we showed them nothing but love and respect but they don't show that shit back. They don't care to know the name of our tricks. We know the name of all their parks, all that shit. They don't care. Ask them dudes where Love Park is. They couldn't tell you. So with that being said, why do we care so much about getting respect from people that don't respect us? Like, people gotta think about that shit. That's backward thinking, man. It's like, why are you begging these dudes for respect? Why don't we just start our own shit? They start their own little club. Why don't we start our own shit, man? Because that ain't for us. People need to realize that shit. That shit is not for us. Check this out, I’ve been skateboarding since 1986. I've been pro since 1993. Now, most of them dudes skated for like five or six years, like at the peak of their skating, you know what I'm saying? Motherfuckers love Tom Brady, right? He played 20 seasons. Stop. Tom Brady's had a shorter career than me. But people love Tom and it’s no different in skating. I’m asking why Sean Sheffey isn’t in the Skateboarding Hall of Fame, it's like, yeah, he should be in a different hall of fame because it took Steadham forever to get in there. Dog, you really had to think about Steve Steadham getting into the Hall of Fame? Like, you didn't have to think about puttin’ Devo in there? People are gonna wake up and be like, you know what, man? This probably ain't for us. The same shit happened with the Florida Skateboarding Hall of Fame. They hit me up and were like, yeah man, you got nominated, and I was like, I appreciate it. This is a crazy story. My friend actually told me about it. He was like, “Yo, did you know you got nominated for Florida Hall of Fame?” and I was like, ‘What is that?’ He's like, “I think they're trying to kind of clown you.’ So he sends me the thing and it's like the Big Brother cover which is fine, I did it but the way they wrote about me, you could tell they didn’t know shit about me.
It was almost a joke reading it. So I hit the dude up on the humble, saying thank you for the nomination and but you got a lot of things wrong about me and if we're doing a Florida thing, I have a lot of photos from Florida to just kind of accent what's going on, and if you want me to write my own bio, I will because what you guys got right now isn't helping anything. If this is a nomination, it kind of makes me look stupid. I've been doing this for a very long time, besides Rodney (Mullen) and Kris Markovich, I've had the longest career in Florida because Andrew (Reynolds) went pro after me. This is the kinda shit I'm talking about. This is no slight to Andrew—I fucking love Andrew; Andrew's my man, but it is what it is. So it was John Montessi, Andrew, Markovich, and… Phil Hajal that made it. So anyway, the Florida Hall of Fame sends me this email with their criteria—a list of criteria to get into their hall.
The actual list of criteria above ⬆️
And I'm like, are you guys joking? This can't be for me. I was like, dude, you might be talking about some little dudes. I can take my last three years sober, and this doesn't even make sense to me, dude. I'm like, “This isn't your criteria.”They're like, ‘Yeah, man, you're in fourth place now.’ So do you get into this thing because of your criteria or by voting? You see where I’m going here… THEN they tell me, ‘Maybe we’ll vote you in next year but right now you’re fourth place.” So OK, first you invite me, then you tell me there are criteria that I didn’t meet to get in, and then maybe you’ll vote me in sometime… I was like, ‘Man, y’all can keep that shit.’ It’s laughable because if you look at the actual criteria, I should be first round. Seriously, who are these people judging me? It’s like I told Sal (Barbier), ‘Dude, going to California and getting hooked up with Natas and you were the greatest thing that could have happened; that means more to me than being in any Hall of Fame because that makes me proud of what I had done. That little Hall of Fame bullshit is something for them. That is for those dudes and their little buddies who didn't go to California. Outside of Markovich, Montessi, and Andrew, I don't know who these dudes are. This is what I keep advocating. We need our own shit because them dudes judging me is hilarious.
When all these old heads stepped outta skateboarding and thought skateboarding was dead in the water, who was there? All of us. The Henry Sanchezs, Mike Carrolls, everybody was right there. There was no money. Who the fuck was there? All of us were there and we’re still going at it. We were keeping skateboarding alive. Everyone from that era should hold their fucking head high because they have a piece of history, and don't let these old dudes try to sell you that shit. You dudes are important to fucking skateboarding. Your story is very important. It's probably twice as important as some dude that jumped a couple of barrels or some dude from Florida.
I think that’s my problem with a lot of these Hall of Fame situations or even the documentation of skateboarding. It can be so selective rather than objective.
I'm not here to agree with everybody, man. I'm here to stand up for what's true to me and what's true to everybody else, and I think everyone's story is just as important to skateboarding as them dudes. If you ain't Steve Caballero or them dudes who are really out there, your story is just as important, dog. Don't ever let them dudes fool you. My man said this shit: Can someone tell you where the Skateboard Hall of Fame is? Can someone give you an address? Can you walk up in there? Are they gonna give you a tour? How does it work? There was no official committee or, you know what I mean? Ron Allen is not in the hall of fame. Black people will get reparations before our favorite skateboarders would get into the hall of fame. I’m dead serious. It’s weird, right? If it ain't Eric Koston or somebody of that caliber, I don't care who it is that's judging me. These are the people I look up to, not some dude that we're supposed to look up to.
We need to take more pride in ourselves, our careers, and the things we did.
CONTINUED IN PART TWO… Coming Soon. Stay Dangerous.