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Chapter 5

Powell-Peralta 1987

501 E.Gutierrez, Santa Barbara.
The invisible entrance to the kaleidoscopic circus
of Powell-Peralta's Skateboard empire, 1987

     The Powell-Peralta offices, warehouse, art department and manufacturing were housed in about five or six small nondescript commercial buildings on Gutierrez Street in lower East Side Santa Barbara, with no signs to identify them. The company had started out in a garage somewhere, moved to a little larger place, added another, and another, right around in the same neighborhood.

     I showed up that Monday morning and was met by Joel Watson. It wasn't clear what Joel's title was, and he liked it that way. There wasn't much of an organizational chart at Powell, and he liked it that way. The old personnel manager had left and the new one was due to start the following week, so for the moment there wasn't any personnel manager at all, and Joel liked that especially. He could hire on his sole say-so. You kind of got the feeling that Joel didn't have much tolerance for corporate B.S., and that would get him in trouble from time to time, and he even liked that, too.

     Joel was the kind that would throw the resume in the trash and look you in the eye and ask a few direct questions, then go with his hunch ...which was good for me, since my resume listed 10 people I had built houses for in distant Hawaii, and my only mainland references were the 9 months I had spent at Shirts, Inc., and my California Contractor's license from 1979. Anyway, I got the job. I remember the day I told JW that I had landed a job with the legendary Powell-Peralta. I hadn't told him about the interview ahead of time, not wanting to get his hopes up. We were deliriously ecstatic about our unbelievable good fortune. And I must say, over the decades since, we made the most of it.

     When I started working there, the company was having an exceptional 30 million dollar year, and was selling everything it could produce, trying to catch up with back orders and expanding production, renting additional space. Facilities didn't have a shop, and the company didn't have a skateboard ramp they could call their own and fortunately, they didn't have somebody with my particular set of skills.

     They did have a riverboat mechanic from Missouri, who was our leader, Joel. Next, a grizzly-looking biker, our shop foreman Peter Edwards; and a hippy surfer funnyman, painter, fiberglasser, airbrush artist and general cut-up, Ves Fowler; and a barefoot mountain boy, James Gardner, was the electronics guy and computer tech. That was the Facilities crew when I got there.

     Joel was in charge of Facilities and whatever else he could stick his nose into and there were plenty of peripheral projects that Facilities was involved in that were beyond the realm of an ordinary factory maintenance crew. There were the twice-a-year ASR trade shows in Long Beach that were attended by thousands of "action sports retailers" and Facilities would produce whatever the design group thought up...and they got pretty elaborate.

     Peter Edwards was my original foreman. Peter, you might say, was very fashion conscious. He invariably wore the same style. He never cut his hair or beard, wore a dark baseball cap, Levi's, wallet in the back pocket on a chain, motorcycle boots, and under his jacket, a black t-shirt always with a Harley Davidson logo, usually from one of their innumerable local dealers around Southern California. His pride and joy, of course, was a beautiful classic Harley: a "Pan-head." His skills included a broad range of mechanical and metalworking skills and big rig truck driving. Like most of my friends, he was really good at what he did.

     The position required him to supervise the construction of our trade show exhibits, with the object of knocking them down, packing the parts into large reinforced reusable shipping crates that could be fork lifted onto a flat bed truck or trailer, and strong enough to be left to the union workers who would unload them at the convention center. It was the same trade show that JW and I had been attending as execs of Anti Gravity Device Company.

     Facilities didn't have a shop at first. We could set up a shop and a table saw in the warehouse loading dock, but we had to knock it down at a moment's notice when the UPS truck came. I first encountered Chris Iverson when he came skating off that loading dock with a clipboard in his hand, taking the four-foot drop nonchalantly, hardly looking up from his reading. In a few months Facilities began to share some shop space with Chris and his R&D department behind a couple of roll up doors in an alley around the corner from the company offices. R&D's function was to test the company's various products. I got to know Chris who over time became a very close friend. Chris was the key to joining forces in ramp building, since those efforts were ordinarily not done on company time, but by volunteers among the employees who were skaters, and meā€¦and before long, JW. Events were moving fast when I came on board. The scene in Santa Barbara was the manufacturing end of the business. The team riders, "The Bones Brigade," had come from all over, but by that time they all lived on the West coast. Stacy Peralta and his video making crews, as well as Lance Mountain and Rodney Mullen were in the Los Angeles area, Tony Hawk and Mike McGill lived farther south toward San Diego, Tommy Guerrero and Steve Caballero were from the San Francisco Bay Area of Northern California, and Kevin Harris was from Vancouver.

     The company would occasionally gather them all together for a photo shoot for different ads and promotional purposes, and to make it all worth their while and have it be a fun thing for them to come to Santa Barbara, the company created a skate session. One of the first things I did at Powell was to get ready for one of those events. The company had rented some warehouse space in the "Ver-Cal" building, about 10 blocks from the main cluster of buildings in lower East Side SB. Chris had gotten hold of a mini-ramp in about six sections and Facilities had the job of putting it together for the one-night jam. We created a continuous 100-foot pair of heavy duty PVC pipes on a short stack of bolted-together 2" x 6"s so that the event could boast "world record rail slide," as if anybody cared about that. There was a launch ramp and a "fun box," a term for a skate element that starts out as a reinforced box with any number of launch ramp and rail slide attachments. When I realized that the amateur team was going to be there as well as the pros; and that skaters who worked at the company were also welcome, that was JW's opening. Joel said ask Todd Hastings, the team manger, and JW was in. The event, sort of the ultimate backstage of the skateboard world, was a party to skate with our team riders.

     JW got there early and was helping bolt the last section of the rail slide together when the pros started skating in through the open door and charging the rail slide. In minutes, the team had mastered the 100-foot and could have gone even longer, sliding off the end with momentum to spare. As the evening went on, more and more skaters; pros, amateurs, and employees filled up the room. This was our first rudimentary skatepark: a mini-ramp and some street obstacles. JW was up on the crowded rollout of the halfpipe, waiting for his opportunity to drop in, when he realized that the legendary Tony Hawk was standing right next to him, waiting to drop in also. Tony turned to him and said, "After you!"

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